On a 30-day backpacking and canoeing trip in Canada’s Yukon Territory, I used only two pairs of hiking underwear and socks (yes, I washed them). You may want to bring more than this, especially because you are not lugging it around on your back, but it is hugely freeing to know your bag will not tip the scales and that you are living simply. You can adapt to less and learn to love it!
A huge portion of this is your attitude. Recognize what makes you comfortable. For me, I know that bringing a real pillow is crucial for good self-care. As we often say in outdoor circles, “Good self-care is good group care.” The concept of self-care rolls right into expedition behavior.
Know what you like for your comfort, but be willing to examine what you truly need. As you shed away the layers while you pack, you can integrate this into your daily life.
You are probably familiar with the basics of what to bring. I challenge you to cut down your packing incrementally. Bring only two pairs of work pants: one for slab day that likely will get coated in concrete, and one for the other days. Bring a t-shirt for every other work day. You can have great hygiene and wear a work shirt for more than one day.
I like to keep one shirt and one pair of comfortable shorts/pants set aside as an evening outfit to wear after cleaning up a bit. You only need one of these for the whole trip, not one for each night. If you come on an overnight trip, you will receive a participant t-shirt--something clean(ish) to wear on the final day!
Even during the summer, it can get chilly at night. I bring one layer of wool long underwear just in case, and a fleece jacket for when the sun goes down. Make sure to bring a rain jacket, even if you keep it packed away in your backpack: better dry than wet!
Recognize that you are living and packing intentionally. Being content in all circumstances, especially with less than you may be accustomed to, provides an opportunity to evaluate the role of your material goods.
Small, intentional actions accumulate. Start by packing one less shirt.
Once you have thinned down your basic items, you can evaluate your comfort items. Below are some of my favorite field-approved products.
Instead of a towel that takes up a huge amount of space and can leave a lingering musty odor, I use a sarong. These loose, large fabric swaths are incredibly versatile. They can be a quick-dry towel, a cover-up, a shawl, and more. Check out your local fair-trade dealer or shop online here or here.
Of course, no trip is complete without flair! This is one of my essentials. I always pack some roll-on glitter or a silly costume piece like a tutu. Having a dress-up night is incredibly fun and freeing. If you are ever in the field with me, come ask for a glitter facial!
Instead of packing cumbersome bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, and hand soap, cut it down to one with Dr. Bronner’s fair-trade soaps. This soap is so great, I use it in my daily life as well as in the field. My personal favorite is the peppermint.
Growing up in Arizona and working in harsh desert climates necessitated excellent skin care. The Super Salve Company uses organic and fair-trade ingredients to make salves, lotions, lip balms, and more. The All-Purpose Salve is great for cracked lips, hands, and feet.
A somewhat difficult and taboo question for women is what to do if they are menstruating during their mission trip. This can often be a challenge in sanitation facilities different than what we are used to. One of my all-time favorite products is a menstrual cup. More than anything else, this has been essential to my comfort in the field. Instead of dealing with tampons, pads, and baggies, I use this all-natural, medical-grade silicone reusable cup. I save money while living out my environmental and material ethic.
A mission trip provides a radical context to step away from the strictures of daily life. As the philosopher Wendell Berry says, “Be a true materialist.” Morgan Hite defines it this way: “Build things of quality, mend what you have and throw away as little as possible.”