By Evan Wishloff
Adventure can take us to many places, and many adventures call for packing light. The lighter your pack, the easier it is to carry around. This is relevant whether your adventure takes you to the top of a mountain on a backcountry trip, an ancient European city on a train-trip, or even just a weekend getaway to a friend's mountain cabin.
Packing light is a great feeling, but what about those adventures where it seems impossible to pack light - those adventures where you have to be prepared for freezing cold temperatures, scorching hot temperatures, AND everything in between? There's a few key items that can help you out, and that's the topic of today's blog - lessons in lightweight gear from an adventure in Africa.
Read on below.
“I have to fit everything I need for 8 days in the countryside of South Africa into one medium wheeled duffel?"
The Cape Epic is no walk in the park. Of course there’s the obvious challenges, like racing a mountain bike 625 kilometers across the Western Cape of South Africa. Or the challenge of doing so over the 8 days of racing without missing a time cut. But there are also less obvious challenges to tackling an ultra-endurance race that has been dubbed the Tour de France of mountain biking, and one of those is packing. I’ve already written about how to use packing cubes to help, but what about the stuff that goes inside the packing cubes?
Before I dive into that, a brief background on the Cape Epic:
The Cape Epic is an 8 day ultra-endurance mountain bike stage race hosted annually in the Western Cape of South Africa. The course changes each year, but always features around 600 km of rugged terrain with approximately 16,000 meters of vertical elevation. That’s right, 16,000 metres, which is the equivalent of climbing Mt. Everest from base camp to summit four and a half times!
Weather along the route can be varied, although it’s usually hot, often uncomfortably so. I recall one day racing in 2017 where it hit 47 degrees out on course. But, weather can be fickle, and racers have had to tackle cold, wind and rain over mountain passes too, so it’s not always sun-tanning and beach weather!
Each stage, the race ends in a town along the route in a fully contained ‘race village.’ Within the race village, tents and sleeping pads are set up for riders, showers are available, and a buffet dinner is served. Racers are provided one wheeled duffel bag, and at the beginning of each stage, it is transported to the day’s finish so a clean pair of clothes and the rest of the racers personal items are available.
Everything you need for 8 days of epic mountain bike racing needs to fit inside that bag.
Space for Nothing, Gear for Everything
The last thing you want to deal with after spending 8+ hours on a mountain bike is to not have the right gear and clothing waiting for you at the finish line. The phrase “Africa hot” exists for a reason, but in the mountains of the Western Cape, the mornings can get chilly, so you can’t just pack shorts and sandals and call it a day.
In packing for 8 days living out of a wheeled duffel, a few key factors weigh in when deciding what to bring:
Packability - after factoring in all the space that sports nutrition powders, bars and electrolyte mixes take up, the race bag isn’t exactly spacious.
Versatility - with space at a premium, everything packed should be as versatile as possible. Multiple uses for a single item is ideal.
Thermoregulation - I know I’ve talked about temperatures quite a bit already, but that’s because it’s such a concern. Mornings can be as cold as 5 degrees or as warm as 30. Daytime highs can reach close to 50. Sometimes, you will even hit all of these temperatures at least once throughout a single week!
So with those 3 things in mind, I started grilling Campers Village Store Guides, looking for the perfect gear to bring with me on an epic (pun intended) trip.
There are a few items that I found worth their weight in gold, which I’ll share below. As extreme as the Cape Epic can be, many of the reasons things found their way into my packing list are just as applicable to someone planning a summer camping or backpacking trip, a lightweight hostelling trip, or even just a weekend camping out of the trunk of your car, so read on:
Sleeping Bags - go modular
With such potentially dramatic swings in temperatures, I had no idea what to pack for a sleeping bag! Do I pack two? One for the chillier nights, and a thin one for the uncomfortably hot nights? And if I was going to pack two, how would I fit them both in my bag?
When I posed these exact questions to a Campers Village Store Guide, they said I was on the right track by packing two, but had a space-saving solution that would be even more versatile.
Lightweight sleeping bag and a liner packed down to around half the size of my a couple pairs of shorts, t-shirts, socks and underwear in the packing cubes behind.
An ultra-light, warm-weather sleeping bag that was so thin, it may as well have been just a shell, and then a liner. Combined and compressed, they’d take up no more space than a warmer sleeping bag, yet would offer ultimate versatility. 30 degree night in store? I’d sleep with just the thin liner. 15 degree night? I’d use just the shell. Chilly night around 5? I’d combine the two together for some added insulation.
I’m embarrassed to say I’d never thought of this before. It makes a lot of sense to buy a sleeping bag suitable for the warmest temperatures you’re expecting, and then use liners to increase the temperature rating for those chillier nights.
I likely don’t need to say much here - down or down-synthetic jackets have become ubiqutious not just out in the wilderness, but even on our city streets.
There’s a reason for that. These jackets are incredibly lightweight, packable, and breathable all while still retaining impressive amounts of warmth. Remember up above when I said packability, versatility, and thermoregulation were key when packing light? A puffy checks all those boxes!
Merino Wool Everything
Okay, okay, not everything. But when it’s possible, opt for merino wool clothing. Why? Because merino wool is:
- Naturally odor resistant - when you have to rewear items a few days in a row, they won’t stink!
- Naturally temperature regulating - there’s a scientific explanation for it if you want to dive into details, but, to me, merino wool is simply magic. It keeps you warm when you want to be warm, and cool when you want to stay cool.
- Fast drying - whether it’s from sweat or rain, it won’t take long for merino wool to dry
- Wrinkle-resistant - roll it, fold it, or crumple it up and stuff it in your bag without worrying about wrinkles.
You can find underwear, socks, shirts and even pants made from merino wool, and I’d highly recommend all of them!
A pack towel can go by many names, like tech towel, travel towel, microfiber towel or more, is essentially an ultra-absorbent, fast-drying towel that packs away much smaller than a traditional cotton towel. It takes up no space in a pack, and dries out fast after using it, meaning you can pack it away again quickly if you’re on the move. Perfect for those days I had to move camps during the race.
A rain jacket is an essential piece to travel with, no matter the destination, but with space limited, I wanted something that wouldn’t be too bulky, while still remaining fully waterproof.
Campers Village sells some amazing 2.5 layer rain jackets. 2.5 layers mean they have an outerlayer, and inner waterproof material, and a protective print next to your skin. They are designed to be extremely light and packable, which is exactly what I was looking for.
A packable rain jacket can work as a windbreaker, a light piece to throw on when it's not quite cold enough for a puffy coat, and of course to be thrown on when water starts falling from the sky. Shop Campers Village collection of Men's Rain Jackets by clicking here and shop their Women's Rainwear Collection here.
I’ve written an entire post on packing cubes, but I’d be remiss not to mention them again here. They help keep things neat and organized, and make packing lighter a breeze.
So there you have it - a few things to help lighten the load for your next adventure!
Heading on a trip where space to pack everything you think you need is challenging? Stop in to your local Campers Village and ask one of the Store Guides for more tips and tricks.