Packing List for Travel to Costa Rica – Trek Version
If you plan to travel off the beaten path in Costa Rica you’ll need to plan a packing list for a 25 lb version of your stuff in a single rugged waterproof bag.
We’ve got at least two twenty five pound segments on this trip. First we’ll be flying to the Osa peninsula for eight days and even if we were willing to carry more on our backs while trekking Corocovado and the Golfo Dulce reserve the domestic airlines impose a baggage restriction of 25 – 35 lbs depending on your fare. When we head out on the Pacuare with Green Frog we’ll whitewater raft in to their camp, do some hiking and then out to Siquirres the next day.
The Twenty Five Pound Packing List – 15 lbs of essentials
The essentials for adventure travel in the tropics can be amazingly compact and lightweight especially if you’re trekking from shelter to shelter or rafting from camp to camp rather than tenting it. Our lightweight packing list for Costa Rica includes
- The Bag – These are without a doubt the best bags ever made. Surprisingly the label isn’t Arcteryx, North Face, Moutainsmith or Black Diamond – they are made by Bike Nashbar.
It consists of two parts. A rugged 36 liter dry bag (black) fits into a cordura compression and shoulder strap and waist belt “skeleton” with front, two side holster and a top flap pocket for quick access snacks, waterproof camera etc. The whole thing is lighter weight than most mid-sized packs, the dry bag is completely waterproof and there is a detachable rigid panel that converts the bag into a pannier if you decide you’d rather mountain bike than trek.
- The First Aid Kit – Our first aid kit has developed and evolved over forty years of back-country and international travel and goes everywhere with us. It’s a diminutive 4 x 8 x 2.5 inches (10 x 20 x 7 cm) but contains a whole page worth of critical items.
- Clothes – We prefer plastic (recycled for the most part) or silk for light weight, durability and quick drying. One pair of convertible pants (zip-leg), one pair long pants, swim shorts, hat (nylon wide brim with stow-able neck shade flap), two short sleeve shirts, a long sleeve lightweight breathable poly shirt, a light pile (polar fleece) jacket and an ultralight Gortex rain/wind jacket with hood and pit zips, socks and underwear.
- Hydration – We like the Platypus water bags which are about a quarter of the weight of most in pack water tube to your mouth hydration systems, have no valves to fail and force you to stop once in a while to take a drink and enjoy your surroundings. Our new hollow fiber MSR Hyperflow Microfilter is the smallest and lightest on the market and delvers an incredible 3 liters per minute (half the size and ten times the capacity of the Sweetwater).
We also carry a dozen packets of Gatorade G2 dry mix to replace electrolytes along the trail and a few pharma rehydrant packets in the first aid kit for emergencies.
- Snacks – Bear Valley Meal Packs (best bars in the world), Power Bars, Fire Jolly Ranchers, Diamond Wasabi Almonds and orange Tic-Tacs come with us from the states and we pick up fruit and other snacks along the way.
- Cameras – Between two of us we carry three cameras. A Canon SX30IS 28-880mm equiv. optical zoom for wildlife and HD video and two waterproof shockproof workhorses – the indestructible Olympus SW1030 (not shown – using it to take the photo and the Panasonic TS2 for underwater HD video. Each has spare batteries, charger and extra memory.
Our monopod trekking pole stabilization system is custom made from a Leki telemark backcountry adjustable ski pole with the head assembly from a Manfrotto 785B attached over the grip with a nylon compression ferrule. A spare quick relase mount plate means we can switch cameras in about five seconds and this system allows us to carry a single head that we thread back onto the tripod legs when we’re traveling heavy in an SUV.
- Toiletries – Toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, biodegradable soap, contacts & contact solution, q-tips, kleenex, tampons, and an ultralight recycled plastic pack towel.
- GPS – the Garmin 60csx is water and shock proof. We have it loaded with the best base maps available for Costa Rica but frankly they stink and we carry it mainly because it is essential for geocoding our routes so we can provide them to you! The yellow waterproof journal and pencil are for taking geolocation notes when we’re not carrying a notebook computer to sync with the gps. We also carry topo maps and an old fashioned svea magnetic compass.
- Docs – Passport, WHO immunization card, U.S. cash, traveler’s checks (AmEx), credit card, debit card and driver’s license.
- Sunscreen – Waterproof, sweatproof SPF 30 or higher
- Swiss Army Knife – scissors, magnifying glass, awl, tweezers with sewing needle added, corkscrew with mini glasses screwdriver added, philips and flathead screwdrivers, can opener, bottle opener and flashlight. The yo-yo is a Tom Kuhn aluminum pocket rocket.
Wear Your Heavy Stuff to Get More on the Plane
Especially if you’re taking a very restrictive domestic flight it’s worth wearing at least your boots to help sneak under the baggage weight restrictions.
- Hiking shoes – These are either light boots or water shoes with good support and tread depending on the trip. White water rafting, kayaking and canyoneering are best in water shoes while hiking, trekking and climbing are boot trips.
- Binoculars – It’s fun to look out the window and a pair of binocs weighs as much a couple pair of pants.
We’ve never resorted to wearing three shirts and our jackets but we’ve heard of people who have.
Not Shown or On Other People’s Lists
- Binoculars/Spotting Scope – We no longer carry ours when we’re going light because the Canon SX30IS has such an amazing lens that it’s actually better than a Nikon Monarch
- Sports sandals – If we’re wearing hiking boots then we also carry sports sandals. If we’re wearing water shoes we might skip the sandals.
- Sunglasses – I’m usually wearing them
Carry On Versus Checked Bags
We always check bags. There’s no chance we can ever travel with just a carry-on for a number of reasons. I’m not leaving my Swiss army knife behind. Our sample maps, camera and computer gear weigh a lot, and we’ve always got a couple of extra 50 lb duffel bags filled with climbing harnesses, nursing pillows, baby backpacks, camera lenses, brown sugar, prosciutto – whatever our friends need and can’t get their hands on in Costa Rica.
Since we have to check a couple of bags we usually have the limit and you’ll see us dragging four 49.5 lb bags off the carousel, but if you can get away with just traveling with a carry on you’ll fly right through the airport and don’t have to worry about the airline losing your bag.