Monday, February 8, 2010

Packing List: FAQs

Last updated: April 8, 2010

The packing lists provide the "bare bones" of what our students need to bring, but it is easy to get lost when trying to decide on types, brands, sizes, etc. of each item. In order to make packing easier for incoming students, we have started compiling the questions receive via email. See below for our packing list email correspondence:

Q: "The head lamp that is on the packing list do I need to get one of those, will we be using it?"
Q: "Is a flashlight an acceptable substitute?"

A: "Head lamp - DEFINITELY. This is one of the things you will use the most, especially if you wake up at night and have to use the bathroom!
A: "It IS like a flashlight (only strapped to your head), but it is so important to have free hands for meals, tasks, etc in the dark."

Q: "Where will we be sleeping? Do I really need a mosquito net or a hammock?"
A: "You don't need either because you will either be sleeping in a tent, under a tarp, at one of our bases, or in a homestay.  Read 'Packing List: Sleeping' to learn more about this."

Q: "What kind of carabiner do we need/what are we using it for? The list says 'the small kind that would fit in the palm of your hand,' which I'm assuming needs to be safe for climbing, but I don't want to buy the wrong kind."

A: "The carabiners do not need to be any special size or have any special functions. They are not for climbing or any other technical activity, but rather they're for practical uses such as carrying items on the outside of your backpack. It's amazing how handy they can be while on course."

Q: "The hiking boots that I currently own aren't waterproof- how much of the trails that we are going to be on will be really wet? (I sprayed them with waterproof spray the last time I went on an extended backpacking trip and they didn't stay waterproof for very long)."

A: "For the shoes, you can read about picking out hiking boots on our newsletter. Or, if you want to use your existing ones, it's hard to say how muddy it will be. Even if it doesn't rain while you're on course, it is still likely that the ground will be muddy from the cloud forest misty climate and the fact that rain starts in May on most afternoons. Basically, waterproof spray on non-waterproof boots is worthless, says our Programming Associate. It only helps strengthen the waterproof abilities of an already-waterproof material. Waterproof boots, on the other hand, do help decrease the moisture that gets to your socks, especially when combined with gaiters. A waterproof material elongates the boot life (because it's not getting so wet on the inside) AND it alleviates the amount of blisters on your feet."

Q: "What are gaiters? Should I purchase tall or short gaiters?"

A: "Gaiters protect your hiking boots from any additional mud or water entering your boots. Purchase tall gaiters for added protection while on course. Our instructor Donna explains how to use gaiters in this video."

Q: "Do I really need Zip-Lock bags? What are they used for?"

A: "In a nutshell: yes, you do need them. They are extremely useful, especially for separating dirty & clean, wet & dry, liquid & solid, or perishable & nonparishable items. Our instructor, Donna, explains more in this video."

Q: "For water bottles, it says 'nalgene' on the list. If I have a 1L stainless steel bottle, will that work or should I bring nalgene bottles?"

A: "Any water bottle that withstands a lot of abuse is good, this includes steel water bottles and Nalgene bottles. It's very important to have these bottles for day trips (to the river, beach, waterfall, service), but not as the primary source for backpacking and hiking. Camelbacks (bottom right) are crucial for staying hydrated during rigorous and long activities. The tube near the face is not only a constant reminder to hikers to continue drinking water, but it is also easier to access and holds more water than a water bottle. Our instructor, Donna, explains more about camelbacks versus water bottles while hiking."

Q: "Is it really nescesary to buy a backpack cover?"
A: "These are great in the rain if you don't want your whole bag soaking wet, BUT a big black trash bag will be just fine for shorter courses - there's no need to buy the "special" one. There's no way to know how MUCH it will rain, and our suggestion is to at least have something to protect your bag." For more extensive information about purchasing a backpack cover, how to make one from a trash bag, and how to apply it, go to our blog, Packing List: Backpack Covers.

Q: "I was going over the suggested packing list and came across the mandatory non-velcro sandals. I was just wondering if a water shoe (also known as a Water Sock) is ok or does it have to be a sandal? I just kind of wanted to know how essential they are and if you really need a water hiking sandal."

A: "Yep! Those are just fine! You need something that won't fall off, has traction on the bottom, and will dry easily. FLIP-FLOPS ARE NOT SUFFICIENT. The water socks you show will work great." Danny, one of our long-time river instructors, explains more in this video.

Q: "What are sock liners? And how necessary is all of the special outdoor clothing that's on the packing list?"

A: "The most important thing to remember is to bring as little cotton as possible. It is in your best interest to bring quick-dry, polyester-blend fabrics because cotton soaks up water and holds it. This can be really uncomfortable, especially after many days without dry climates and washing machines." Read and watch more in this blog further explaining basic clothing that's best for the rainforest.

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