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Trail Savvy: Packing woes and long distance trips


We’ve all been there, looking at piles of ‘vital’ items and realising that they’ll never all fit in at the same time. Perhaps you’ve even had massive, heated arguments with your spouse because of their inability to compute the difference between the space available and what they insist must fit in.

Or perhaps it is you who are the gadget freak, and who can’t leave without two of everything in case one of them breaks on the road.

On our recent trip to Malawi (elsewhere in this issue) the packing problem quickly went from annoyance, to frustration, to forcing us to donate excess gear to locals. Making roadside kids happy with free stuff is one thing, but unpacking and repacking every day becomes a time-consuming pain in many parts of the body very quickly.

When overlanding, there is a sweet balance between less-is-more, and your ultimate comfort. Live by the mantra of KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and you’ll have a much more enjoyable time than those who simply have too much stuff.

Bags and clothes

For most overland trips, you won’t need many clothes, despite what you may think. Bring no more than four or five days’ worth, and you’ll be fine. You can wash along the way when you need to. You really don’t need six pairs of shoes – two will do. A duffel bag for clothes is most useful because it is easy to compress and the bag itself takes up little room. Keep a small backpack handy to carry your camera and other useful gear along when you’re going exploring, and have a laundry bag for your dirty clothes.

Camera bags are easy to spot and steal, and it’s critical that they’re kept clean. We stored the camera bag with extra lenses and bodies in one of the canopy drawers where it would be out of sight, and kept only one camera with a multi-purpose lens inside the cab.


Sunnies for the bright days

Shorts, swimming shorts, and jeans

Two pairs of shoes (sandals/slops, and a closed pair)

Four or five shirts

One light waterproof and one warm jacket

One towel (and a kikoi)

Toiletries in a sealed bag

Camera bags that seal against the dust – a pelican case is ideal, but takes up space

Duffel bag

Laundry bag

Clothes pegs and line

Meal time

Depending on where you’ll be travelling, your meals will change; but, for long trips, I store at least three days’ worth of fresh ingredients in the fridge and at least enough for two more meals in the drawer/storage box. Always choose meals that are easy to prepare. If you are not freezing your food, and the reliability of your fridge is questionable, avoid pork and chicken products − or make sure that you eat them as quickly as possible. With a gas stove and your portable braai, you can easily make almost any meal.

Kitchen essentials:


Foil for cooking and wrapping leftovers

Knives and forks


A washing-up bucket

Rubbish bags


Sponges and cloths for washing and drying

Drawer systems and packing solutions

Mugs and glasses

A frying pan and pots

A cutting board

A kettle

Water – Most vital of all commodities. You should, ideally, have a tank built into the vehicle that you use for storing large quantities of water for washing, etc. If this is impossible, then bring at least 10 litres of water per person per day, and wash with wet wipes where possible.

Drawer systems and packing solutions

What I’ve sometimes found is that drawer systems and packing systems can themselves become inefficient. This depends on the drawer-system design, so make sure that the one you choose is space-efficient. Bulky kitchen units can also be a problem, although most of the modern systems are quite compact. You’ll also need a fridge; and, on this front, a fridge slide is the most convenient way of accessing your cold food and beers. I find a fridge drop slide on top of a compact drawer system to be the best option for a bakkie, although this may not work in an SUV with less space.

The essential extras:

Camp chairs

Basic toolkit that rolls up

Braai – Look for one that folds flat; there are several on the market.

Insect repellent

Torches with batteries (head torches work best)

Small spade

Recovery tracks – Bulky, but vital if you’re tackling sand or mud. They double as a spade. Maxtrax are the benchmark.

Gas bottle

Axe for chopping stray bushes and firewood

Basic recovery kit, including ‘D’ shackles and a snatch strap

Table that folds flat

Tents – ideally a rooftop tent for long trips, otherwise a dome ground tent that is easy to pitch and strike.

Jerry cans – When overlanding, you’ll want at least 800km of range, so pack two for a safe margin. Remember that when you’re loaded and off-road, your fuel usage can easily double.