Every year in the Adventure Treks office, we field more than a few phone calls regarding how and what to pack for our trips. We know that sending your child off is already a stressful process, so we want to help make the packing process as anxiety-free as possible. We reached out to some of our long-time Adventure Treks families to ask what they wished they’d known when packing for their students’ very first trip; below is some advice that we hope will save you a bit of time and money. (Advice has been slightly edited for clarity.)
“Less is more; pack as lightly as possible. Students don’t necessarily “change” their clothes as often as one would think. Second, it is pointless to bring new clothing on this trip. I would pack old T-shirts; a lot of it gets thrown out upon return. Also, warm, comfy clothing at night to sleep in is a must, as it gets chilly at night and early in the morning. (Think sweatpants and a fleece jacket.)” – Rosanne, parent from Mamaroneck, NY (seven trips among three children)
“Don’t get too creative with your packing. AT gives you guidelines on what to bring, and they are right. Each time you pack for a backpack, they will tell you exactly what to bring (e.g., pack your puffy jacket, two pairs of pants, etc.). If you bring exactly what is on the packing list, you will have the tools you need for the hike. Also, be creative with your ‘flair!’ But for the main things, follow the advice of Adventure Treks.” – Kevin, student from McLean, VA (three trips)
“Last year, we wish we’d had a bigger duffel. It would have made packing for the trip and packing to come home easier. My son wishes he’d had some extra gallon-sized Ziploc bags while on the trip to help keep things organized and dry in his day pack. He also said it’s a must to have polarized sunglasses that curve around your face to avoid sunburn and snow blindness while summiting mountains. One last thing my son recommends: Don’t forget the flair! It makes things really fun! He’s planning to bring a journal this year to write down some of his most important experiences that he doesn’t want to forget.” – Allison, parent from Chapel Hill, NC (two trips)
“The first year, we wish we’d had a waterproof bottom in our duffel. Somehow, my son’s duffel was put down in a very wet spot and everything got wet—took a few days to dry out. The second year, we were prepared! Other than that, the packing lists are perfect. We follow them to a T.” – Kim, parent from Tampa, FL (three trips)
“My biggest tip would be to pack neatly and save space by folding your clothes, putting them into labeled Ziploc bags, and squeezing all of the air out of them. This helps with finding certain items, fitting more, and separating clean clothes from dirty ones.” – Jennifer, parent from Atlanta, GA (three trips)
“Last year, our girls wish they’d had see-through bags for clothes—this year, we will try Ziploc bags rather than stuff sacks. We also recommend good (not crappy) sunglasses with a leash.” – Lisa, parent from Santa Cruz, CA (four trips between two children)
“I wish I’d known how few clothes I needed to send as my son just wore the same ones over and over. Also, the foldable [Crazy Creek] camp chair is very important when sitting around the campfire.” – Joanne, parent from New York, NY (two trips)
“Force your kids to be a part of the packing process so they remember what’s in their pack and duffel!” – Megan, parent from Alpharetta, GA (two trips)
Between my two kids, I’ve assisted in packing for a whopping 10 (and counting!) trips. Here are some additional tips I’ve picked up over the years.
Never skimp on boots.
We go to our local outfitter and scan the store for the boot-fitting specialist. They ask lots of questions, like “Where are you going?” and “How long will you be hiking?” They’ll also measure your foot and how your ankle aligns as you stand and walk. Many stores have a simulated incline board to test the fit. Be picky and take your time—boots are an important purchase.
After buying boots, it’s time to break them in. Hike in the woods, walk the dog around the neighborhood, do laps up and down the stairs, or even wear them to school. Have your child wear a backpack with some textbooks to simulate carrying a larger backpack. The longer and more often your child wears them, the better. Dealing with blisters and hot spots is downright painful. Though instructors are well-equipped to care for your child, blisters are avoidable, and a small amount of planning makes the difference between a good trip and a phenomenal trip.
When it rains, it pours.
Though everything on the packing list is important, rain gear is another item to hold in high regard. Both the rain jacket and rain pants should be waterproof, not water-resistant—there’s a big difference there. (A poncho does not count as a rain jacket.) Both items need to be loose enough to fit a few layers, like a fleece jacket or baselayer, underneath. Many brands use proprietary waterproofing materials; a few include Gore-Tex (available in many brands), Patagonia’s H2No fabric, Columbia’s Omni-Tech, Marmot’s NanoPro, Mountain Hardware’s Dry.Q, etc. This might seem obvious, but also make sure the rain jacket has a hood (you’d be surprised—students have shown up in jackets without hooded jackets!).
What about all of that other stuff?
While the rain gear and boots should be quality items, that doesn’t mean everything else should break the bank.
- You can find baselayers, headlamps, fleece jackets, and more at Target or other big-box stores for great prices.
- Because camping pack towels are expensive, I usually find yoga towels at Marshall’s or TJ Maxx, and they work just as well.
- Don’t want to buy stuff sacks? No problem—head to the grocery store and grab a box of gallon-sized Ziploc bags (as noted above, some students prefer these because they’re see-through). Label each bag with a Sharpie, and organize accordingly: socks in one, shirts in another, pants in a third, etc. Pack a few extra Ziplocs to separate clean and dirty for the flight home.
- Root around in your closet for that pair of ski gloves or fleece mittens that you use once a year.
- Bandanas go a long way. My son loves the Buff brand; they’re stretchy, durable, washable, and good for both hot and cold, rainy and dry weather.
- For more technical items like trekking poles, check online outlet stores like Sierra Trading Post, REI Garage, the Backcountry.com sale section, and the Campsaver.com outlet section. Last-season models are just as good as current-season models, and they’re often half the price. My daughter was dead-set against having trekking poles on her first trip, but I packed them anyway (against her will), and she ended up using and liking them (whew).
- Should you pack a camera or GoPro? The answer is yes! Check out our blog on what kind of camera to bring here.
What exactly is flair?
This is where students get to be creative in their packing; flair is a great opportunity for students to express their personalities. First-timers are a little hesitant, but when they see what instructors and other students have brought, they’ll be glad to have packed the tackiest item they own. Go through old Halloween costumes or check out the local thrift shop. Sparkly sequin tops and bottoms, onesies, colorful wigs, oversized glasses, tutus—you name it, and someone will have the silliest version of that.
Pay attention to details
You’ll notice on the packing list that we ask for both cotton and non-cotton socks, shirts, and pants. Cotton is acceptable for frontcountry use (like hanging out at camp), but not for most backcountry or active sections of the trip (like whitewater rafting, backpacking, etc.). This is where synthetic or merino wool materials are key: They are quick to dry and keep you warm even when wet. My son’s middle school director always said, “There is no such thing as a wet or cold child; just an unprepared one.” Fore more about the difference between cotton and non-cotton items, check out this blog.
If you still feel overwhelmed by the packing list, please give us a call at the office anytime. We are always happy to answer questions or help you find the right item that you need!