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Featured Resources Squat the Planet's Ultimate Gear Guide

Discussion in 'General Gear Discussion' started by Matt Derrick, Jan 11, 2016.

  1. Matt Derrick

    Matt Derrick StP Founder, Admin, and travel addict
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    Kevin-Russ-Train-Hopping-Travel-Photo-Story-thumbnail.
    What you take on a journey depends on two things. How you plan on getting to your destination, and how comfortable you want to be on your way there. The important thing to remember is that traveling as a lifestyle isn’t much different than planning for a hiking trip in the woods. You’re just going to be gone for a much longer period of time. In this article I’ll be going over a huge list of gear you might want to consider for your travels. Now, this list is going to be long; you’re not meant to take everything you see here. Personal preference will decide what gear is right for you based on how much you’re willing to carry.

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    The best advice I’ve ever heard when it comes to deciding what to take with you on a trip is to gather up everything you think you need and then cut that in half. This forces you to really think about what you need, and what’s just junk you’re probably never going to use. Lugging around fifty pounds of gear will put a serious damper on your fun, so try to take as little as you can with you.

    In my opinion, most people should take no more than thirty pounds of gear with them, and ideally, if you can get that down to twenty pounds, you’re going to be better off than 90% of the travelers out there. Of course, if you have a bigger or smaller body frame, you’ll have to adapt accordingly. Once you’ve shoved everything in your pack, take it around town for a few hours and see how it feels. This should help you decide if your gear is appropriate, of if you need to make adjustments.

    Weather

    If you're like most travelers, you're probably going to be migrating to where the weather is reasonably warm. In the United States of America, that means you'll likely be in the south during the winter, and north in the summer.

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    Even if you follow this migratory pattern, you should still be aware of what kinds of weather you'll be encountering. For example, if you're going to be in New Orleans in the fall, be aware that hurricane season is from June 1st to November 30th. You might not encounter a hurricane, but the torrential rains of that season can hit so hard you'll be soaked even in a decent tent. Using another example, train hopping through the Mt Shasta region of the west coast gets ridiculously cold at night even in the middle of August. It always pays to do a little research to find out what weather you'll encounter in the region you're visiting during certain times of the year.

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    Based on this research, make sure to bring gear that will protect you from that weather. Nothing puts a damper on your travels worse than being exposed to the elements without the right gear. For the sake of simplicity, I will only be listing the gear necessary when weather conditions are most ideal; it's up to you to prepare for the worst.

    Clothing

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    In regards to clothing, there’s definitely a bit of a stereotype when it comes to the punk traveler. Most commonly we have vests with patches, carhartt canvas pants with the crotch sewn up, or dirty dresses that are some kind of weird combination of punk and ragtime you’d expect to see from the 1920’s. It’s a blend of fashion and utility born out of the necessities of the road.

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    As a largely anarchistic culture we often defy those stereotypes as well, so there’s plenty of travelers in our community that look just like anyone else you’d see on the street, so try not to judge :p

    Whether you’re punk as fuck or a little more mainstream, this section is going to go over all the clothing basics you should consider.

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    First, the easy stuff. Traveling around completely naked will probably not attract kind of attention you’re looking for, so at least two sets of clothing are preferable. One for wearing, the other in case you fuck up what you’re wearing and need to change into something else. Or, for when you’ve worn that first set of clothing so long you smell like a sewer; you'll probably want to have that second set of clothing so you can mingle with society once more.

    Personally, I usually carry one set of cargo shorts, a pair of jeans, three shirts, and three pairs of boxer shorts. Throw in about four pairs of socks, and that makes up the clothing portion of my gear. It weighs around four pounds, and will easily last me up to two weeks before I get intolerably rank.

    Thermals are a good thing to consider if you’re going to be heading into cold weather. They’ve come a long way over the past decade or so and there’s plenty of kinds of thermals available that are both warm, thin, and lightweight.

    Socks. Oh god, socks. If you’ve never had the displeasure of having to wear the same pair of socks over and over again until they’re absolutely caked with layers of disgusting-ness, count yourself lucky. I’ve literally seen some gutter punks that had to wash what remained of their socks off their feet. Pretty gross.

    Buying some quality socks are an investment that will pay off enormously during your travels. Avoid the standard cheap white socks and get something a little more expensive. It's better to buy something once and be able to forget about it for a few years than to be constantly trying to replace it. I bought a set of Puma brand athletic socks that cost me thirty bucks for six pairs, but three years later I haven’t had to buy a new pair, so the initial cost is worth it.

    The traditional bandana worn around the neck has made a comeback with train hoppers over the past two decades, and it’s a useful bit of clothing to have for any mode of travel. From cleaning up a mess, to staunching a wound, to making cowboy coffee, bandanas have a dozen uses and should be a part of anyone’s packing list.

    Gloves are great protection against the elements and in any situation you want to protect your hands. It’s not one of those things you think about when you don’t need them, but when you do, you’ll be glad you brought them.

    A hooded sweatshirt (aka hoodie) is a must, even for the hottest of areas. Since weather can change drastically in a short period of time, it pays to have a lightweight hoodie in your pack so you can stay comfortable.

    A hat will help keep your head warm when it’s cold out and also keep the sun off your head when it’s hot. Not having one (especially if you have a bald head like me) can lead to sunburns on your scalp that can be pretty painful.

    Proper footwear is important! Find a pair of shoes that are comfortable and have decent traction for hiking and climbing. Nothing sucks worse than trying to climb up a hill in flat footwear with no tread. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to invest in a pair of boots; in fact most boots don’t breathe very well and can easily lead to foot rot.

    You’re going to be spending long portions of time on your feet, so this is another thing you don’t want to skimp on. Make the initial investment and avoid hours of agony walking down the highway in shoes that hurt to wear.

    I recently bought a pair of Keen’s hiking shoes; they were expensive ($120) but two years later they still have 90% of their tread, and my feet have never been happier.

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    I’ve recently fallen in love with the shemagh. A shemagh is a scarf most commonly found in the middle east and areas of the world where protecting your head from the sun and your face from sandstorms is very important. It also can come down around your neck like a bandana when you don’t need it around your head. It takes a little bit of practice to learn how to wrap it around your head, but I find it fills that perfect slot of being both utilitarian and stylish.

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    For the obsessively organized, take a look at packing cubes. They’re basically lightweight fabric boxes that store your clothes and other items into a tight little rectangle. These combined with my Hobo Roll have put an end to frustratingly trying to find one tiny item in a pack full of loose clothing and gear.

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    The hobo roll is basically a compression sack for your clothes. It’s also sectioned up like a pie, so you can put different kinds of clothing together (e.g. all socks in one slot, underwear in another slot, etc) for even more organization. It closes with a drawstring and the outside straps can compact all your clothing into a neat little sack not much bigger than your sleeping bag.

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    Another tip that works great with the hobo roll (and works without it as well) is actually rolling your clothing instead of folding it. This has been proven to not only make your clothing take up less space, it actually prevents wrinkles as well (in case you’re carrying around a ‘job interview’ shirt in your pack).

    Backpacks

    Choosing a backpack is a largely personal choice. This is because we all come in various body sizes, physical strength, and the kind of life we like to live (aka, shit we don’t mind carrying with us).

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    The most basic (and cheapest) setup is the classic alice pack. They run about 30 dollars, are very durable, and will hold most of your basic items, although you may have to rope your sleeping bag to the outside. The main disadvantages to this pack is that they have no back support whatsoever (unless you get one with a frame), and can be incredibly uncomfortable on your shoulders if you're carrying a lot of weight. It’s not always the best choice for those long, grueling walks to/from the train yard, or to the next town if you get kicked off a train.

    For some reason online retailers think alice packs are worth a small fortune ($60+), so you're probably better off trying to find one in an army surplus or thrift store. One (of the few) advantages of alice packs is that they are generally 'one size fits all', so you can safely order one online without worrying if it's going to fit you or not.

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    On the opposite end of the scale would be a backpack designed for long hiking excursions such as the Deuter ACT Lite 65+10. I bought this in a camping goods store in 2005 for $120. Previously I'd been using an alice pack for most of my travels, and when I switched to a real hiking pack it felt like a godsend. I could essentially carry twice as much, twice as far, and my back was no longer in a slow agony everyday. The Deuter has an internal frame (two aluminum crossbars) that can be taken out so the bag will fit in the washer or roll up for storage.

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    I've recently switched to the Osprey Farpoint 70, since it opens like a piece of luggage, providing more convenient access to my gear. The Deuter opens at the top which can be a pain sometimes when you're trying to find something at the bottom. The Farpoint also has a detachable 'day pack' that I use for carrying around valuables, which is a huge plus.

    There are external frames available for both alice packs and other kinds of backpacks, but I highly recommend getting a pack with an internal frame only. The reason for this is because it's very easy to get the edges of external frames (such as older, 70’s style hiking backpacks) caught on various parts of a train, potentially leading to disaster.

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    For example, my first train ride was from Sacramento to Klamath Falls in 1998. Long story short, I was the last to get off the boxcar, and being scared out of my wits and having no idea how to hop off properly (we'll cover that in another article), I sat on the edge of the open doorway and tried to jump out, minimizing the distance between myself and the ground.

    Unfortunately, I had chosen a hiking pack with an external frame, and it caught on the edge of the doorway. This threw me off completely and I ended up careening forward and doing three barrel rolls next to the train. I got up, bruised as hell, clothes torn, and bunch of bleeding cuts everywhere. I got rid of that pack as soon as I could.

    This warning goes for loose belts and straps on your pack as well. Make sure to cut them off or tuck them in. I've had a nylon strap on my pack get caught on a passing boxcar (while walking around a yard) and been dragged 20-30 feet before the strap broke. Not fun. Be especially wary of loose straps on more expensive backpacks. I've seen a few REI bags that were train hopping death traps.

    As I mentioned in my shopping tips article, a backpack is one of those pieces of gear you’ll definitely want to try on in a physical camping goods store like REI, EMS, etc. Fill them up, walk around, see what feels comfortable to you. Make sure you can carry a lot of weight in it, and make sure the weight of the bag sits on your hips (with the hip belt closed around your waist) and not on your shoulders. There’s a lot to know about finding the right kind of backpack, but if the camping goods store you’re at is any good, they’ll walk you through everything you need to know. Just remember that even if they’re really nice, don’t feel pressured into paying retail. Leave that store and search online for the backpack you liked, or better yet, check and see if you can find a used one on Craigslist.

    Sleeping Gear

    Sleeping bags come in all shapes and sizes, but don’t skimp on something you’re going to be depending on every night. You should get the smallest (compressed size) and lightest weight sleeping bag you can afford. The cheapest solution I've found for the money is the TETON Sports TrailHead +20F Ultralight Sleeping Bag. As of this writing it's about sixty dollars. Considering that most good sleeping bags are $100-300 or more, this is a pretty good deal. It's not the fanciest sleeping bag, but it's completely decent for the price and has held up fairly well over the past few years.

    Teton-Bag-web.

    If you can’t find that particular bag, look around for anything under three pounds, compresses to a reasonable size (around 14.5" x 6.5" x 6.5" or smaller) and doesn’t cost any more than 150 dollars. You’ll still find a lot of choices in this price range. Just keep in mind that while summer bags are lighter and pack smaller, you’re going to want something that is rated to at least thirty degrees. You should always assume that the rating on a sleeping bag is ten degrees less than what it says. So, if a particular sleeping bag is rated at thirty degrees, assume you’re only going to be comfortable (i.e. not freezing) in temperatures down to forty degrees.

    There’s a ridiculous amount of information on the internet about sleeping bags, from the kinds of stuffing, baffels, heat ratings, shapes, foot boxes, and just about anything else you’d want to know. Just like shopping for any other gear, do your research and go to a physical store to see what kinds of sleeping bags are right for you. Once you find something you like check online to see if it’s available somewhere cheaper.

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    A tip for the couples out there is to try and get sleeping bags with the zipper on the opposite side of whatever your partner is getting. If they have a sleeping bag with a zipper on the right, get one on the left. This way you can zip both bags together into one big sleeping bag. They don’t need to be the same brand either, as long as the zippers line up. Your body heat will help keep each other warm, and it's a much more pleasant way to spend your nights under the stars.

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    It’s a bit of a luxury item, but you might find it worth getting a sleeping pad of some kind. There’s about a hundred different kinds and brands; some are made of foam, some are filled with air, but they’re all designed to create a barrier that keeps your body heat from being sucked away by the ground you are sleeping on. Just keep in mind that the cheaper the sleeping pad, the bulkier it’s going to be; expect a cheap foam pad to take up more space than your sleeping bag, while the more expensive pads compress to the size of a large water bottle. Of course if you have access to it, sleeping on a bunch of free cardboard from the dumpster can achieve the same effect.

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    Hammocks ride the line between sleeping gear and shelters depending on the kind you get, but I’m going to include it here. Hammocks are generally best for using in warm climates, but it’s possible to winter camp with them as well. The biggest issue for hammocks seems to be losing body heat through the bottom of the hammock while you’re sleeping. I also find it hard to sleep in a hammock position since I toss and turn pretty frequently.

    Still, there’s hammocks available that are both cheap, extremely lightweight, and compress to the size of a can of soda. So while a hammock is definitely not a requirement, there’s very little to lose by not having one in your pack. Not to mention there’s something to be said for being able to read a book in a swinging hammock on a pleasant sunny day.

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    There’s also more advanced hammocks available that cross into the ‘portable shelter’ category, like the Hennessy Hammock. This hammock is most well known for having both a mosquito net built in, and an optional tarp that hangs over the hammock itself to protect the occupant from the rain. You also climb into it from the bottom instead of coming in through the top. If you’re absolutely in love with hammocks, it’s a pretty good option that will protect you from the elements and free up weight in your pack by not having to carry around a tent.

    Portable Shelters

    I am not a fan of bugs. To a mosquito, I imagine my blood must taste like a fine Cabernet, or like a sidewalk slam to a gutter punk. I say this because any time I sleep outside I spend most of the night swatting away these insects instead of actually sleeping. What little sleep I did get is ruined in the morning by the hundreds of welts I have across my face and body while my travel companions wake up with a full night of rest and no bites of their own to complain about.

    So, enter the tent. Finally, I can get a good nights sleep without being eaten up by bugs! The main problem with tents are how much they weigh, which shouldn't be surprising considering you’re hauling around a portable house on you back. Unfortunately, the weight of your tent is directly related to the size of your wallet. Once you start looking at tents that weigh three pounds or less, the price skyrockets considerably. Luckily, there are a small handful of tents available that are both reasonably priced and won’t break your back.

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    Two of these tents are the Eureka Solitaire, and the Alpine Lynx 1. The solitaire is the lightest of the two, weighing in a just three pounds, and costs a mere $70 usd. I’ve used this tent while hitchhiking the west coast of the United States with my girlfriend, and while it’s labeled a one-person tent, it fit the both of us fine (but very cozy). My main complaint is that it is not a free standing tent, so if you’re camping in a spot where you can’t get the stakes through the ground, you’re basically fucked. It’s also difficult to get in and out of, especially with two people in it.

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    The Alpine Lynx is freestanding, but feels a bit smaller, so I don’t think you could fit more than one person in it. It does have side doors that are easier to get in and out of though, with the only con being that this tent is slightly heavier at three and a half pounds. It’s also a little more expensive; around a hundred dollars.

    As I’ve mentioned before, there are lighter tents available, but most consumer brands get extremely expensive. Fortunately, there’s been quite a boom in the world of do-it-yourself ultralight tents. This has been directly related to the demand for a lighter weight tent from folks that regularly traverse America’s longest hiking paths such as the Appalachian Trail. This demand has led to a lot of innovation in portable shelter technology that started with hikers designing their own tents, and eventually some of them starting companies that make ultralight tents to sell to everyone else.

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    If you have the time, skill, and a sewing machine, you can find plans for making your own ultralight tent for around a hundred dollars in materials. For the rest of us, there’s a few small companies that sell these tents for anywhere around 175 dollars and up. Almost all of these tents sacrifice the weight gained from tent poles and replace it with a hiking stick. This leads to one of their biggest drawbacks, which is that they are almost exclusively non-freestanding tents that are required to be staked into the ground. Although those sacrifices come with a bright side; the tent can weigh as little as one and a half pounds, and with an average price of 200-300 dollars you’ll be hard pressed to find anything lighter or cheaper.

    While we’ve gone over a lot of options here, the question remains: do you really even need a tent? The answer is probably no. Less than 10% of travelers I’ve met carry one (although that may change if they become cheaper/lighter in the future). For most people, it’s just added weight and one more thing to worry about. There’s nothing wrong with camping under the stars without one, unless you're like me and have that 'caviar blood' mosquitoes can't get enough of.

    Before we move on, let’s touch on two small things related to portable shelters. First, if you’re absolutely not concerned about the weather, and you only want to protect yourself from bugs, you could easily get a cheap mosquito net that you can hang from a tree while camping. They’re extremely cheap ($10-20), lightweight, and compress into a tiny sack.

    The other item you might want to bring is a tarp. I’ve never personally traveled with one, but I know plenty of people that swear by it, so it’s something to consider. If you’re camping in the woods you can easily hang it up in the trees over you, or just drape it over yourselves in the well of the train you’re riding on to keep the rain from soaking you. It’s one of those things that you’ll probably be glad you have when you do, and wishing you did when you don’t. Also, if you don’t have a tarp or can’t afford one, keep an eye out for construction sites or newly built houses. The tyvek plastic they use in construction makes for great tarp material.

    Knives

    There are many different kinds of tools you might want to consider while traveling. When it comes to self-defense, you should try to avoid anything authorities might consider illegal. This includes batons, switch blades, butterfly knives, etc. Unfortunately what knives are legal depends on what state you’re in, and is too broad a topic for this guide. Since you’re going to be wandering from state to state, we’ll try to cover knives that are legal just about anywhere.

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    In general, folding knives with a four inch blade or shorter are both sufficient for self defense and won’t get you in trouble with the law. You can find cheap knives at nearly any inter-city convenience store, Walmart, or camping goods store. If you want something higher quality, consider buying a Gerber branded or equivalent knife. Any knife you buy should open easily, and lock when open so it doesn’t close onto your hand. Most of these knives are considered ‘assisted opening’ and were specifically exempted from the Switchblade Act in 2009, so they're legal.

    Remember that a knife is not just a weapon, but also an essential tool. Don’t go traveling without one! Not having one sucks in just about any situation, whether you’re trying to defend yourself from some psycho or just trying to make a peanut butter sandwich.

    The only places you don’t want to take a knife are airports, government buildings, and schools. If you have to fly somewhere, ditch your knife and pick up a new one at your destination. This is one reason I don’t invest in more expensive knives, since the ones you can find for 5-10 bucks are generally good enough and I don’t feel too bad when I have to give it away or throw it in a trash can at the last minute.

    Before we move on, I would like to specifically debunk an odd myth floating around travel circles over the past few years. A lot of people have been telling folks new to traveling that you shouldn’t carry a knife, especially when train hopping. The working theory is that somehow if you are put in a situation in which you need to defend yourself, your attacker could take your knife from you and use it against you. I’ve seen this bizarre logic come up several times, especially when the debate involves women defending themselves on the road.

    Let’s make this very clear; this logic is not only foolish, but dangerous. To my knowledge, there has never been an incident like this in the travel punk community. It is a false logic that is frankly, astoundingly stupid. A person brandishing a knife is going to make even the toughest aggressor think twice before attacking. No one likes getting stabbed, and simply showing someone you have a knife and are willing to use it is enough to defuse almost any attack.

    Overall, whether it’s to use as a tool or for self defense, a good knife is an essential piece of gear (Another good self defense weapon is mace or pepper spray. You can get these just about anywhere, and it comes in a palm-sized can you can clip to your key chain for easy access).

    Tools

    Let’s go over a quick list of tools you might want to take on your travels:

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    P-38 or P-51 army issue can opener. This incredible tool is small enough to fit in your wallet and will help open your tin cans of food in seconds. You can find these at your local army surplus store and they cost less than a dollar. It’s usefulness combined with it’s small size means there’s really no reason you shouldn’t have one. I prefer the P-51 model since it’s the same as the P-38 but a bit larger and easier to use.

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    Leatherman Multi Tool - Probably one of the most useful tools you can own with multiple uses for just about any situation. Most multi tools include a set of pliers, a knife (or two, or three), one or two screwdrivers, and many other useful items all combined into a single collapsible tool you can hang on your belt. There’s a dozen different sizes and varieties ranging from $25-$100 so do a little research and find one that fits your needs and budget (I personally recommend the Wave). You can also get off-brand multi tools for much cheaper, but they won’t be nearly as high a quality.

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    Spoon/Spork/Food Shovel - Having an eating utensil is important if you want to shovel food into your mouth. What you use is up to you, but try to get something with a keychain clip or carabiner so you can attach it to your pack and not lose it.

    Disposable lighter - Because you’re going to need to set something on fire at some point.

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    Sewing needles, dental floss, and safety pins - Try to put this together into a sewing kit with an extra lighter. Convenient for patching clothing. We use dental floss instead of thread since it’s stronger, and melting the ends of the floss with a lighter makes a nice bead of wax on the end that will keep the floss from coming out; it’s also easier than tying a huge knot in the end of the thread.

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    Flashlight - This can be whatever form of light you prefer, although most folks these days pack a headlamp. Headlamps are worn around your head and generally run on AAA batteries. Most of them are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, so you can easily stuff it in your pocket when you don’t need it. The energizer brand sells cheapo versions at most grocery stores for around $10; while they are completely decent, it’s worth investing a little more ($30-60) for a higher quality light that will last longer and shine brighter (I personally use the Black Diamond ReVolt).

    Sharpie / Grease Pen
    - Useful for all kinds of things, but mostly writing on cardboard signs when hitchhiking or flying a sign. Grease pens are just higher-end sharpies that use paint for ink and are popular with graffiti artists.

    Duct Tape - You already know what this is, but keep in mind that you don’t have to bring the whole roll. Just wrap a decent amount (4-6 feet) around a pencil and throw it in your pack for when you end up really needing it.

    Binoculars / Monocular - I know very few people that actually travel with these, but they can be fun/useful in train yards, especially if you can find one that has night vision.

    Wallet Chain - I’ve never lost my wallet or anything in it. Not once. I attribute this to the fact that I keep my wallet tethered to me with a chain and carabiner. Any dog chain you find in the super market will do, just keep it short so it doesn’t get stuck between park benches when you're sitting.

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    Fire Starter - Usually comes in a rectangular brick of some kind. It’s made of magnesium and you scrape metal against it to create sparks that can start a campfire.

    Fence cutters
    - Another item you won’t find traveler’s carrying that often, but can be convenient in certain situations when you need to make a whole in a fence.

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    Pocket Chain Saw - Just like it sounds. Take the chain off a chain saw and use it by hand. Fortunately camping good stores sell versions of this that fit in a portable tin, and give you handles on each end to make using it easier. If you spend a lot of time camping this is incredibly useful for cutting larger tree branches down into something that’s easy to put in a campfire.

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    Universal Water Key - This is either just the handle to a spigot, or a four-pronged tool designed to let you turn on and off water spigots. Worth having if you come across handle-less spigots often, but you could probably just use a multi-tool and have one less tool to carry around.

    Compass - A reliable compass can be handy since unlike the gps in your cell phone, it doesn’t require batteries to tell you where to go.

    Stoves & Cookware

    While only about a third of the travelers I know carry a cooking stove with them, it can be a handy thing to have if you’re planning on spending some time in the great outdoors. A lot of us don’t wander that far from where food can be easily obtained, so you might decide you don’t need one, which is fine. Cooking your own food though can definitely reduce your food costs, so I recommend taking one with you if you have the room in your pack.

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    There’s an endless variety of camping stoves out there, using all kinds of different fuels and staging apparatuses, but the best invention ever to come into the world of hoboism is the DIY beer can cooking stove. You can use this for heating up food on the road, and all you need to build one is a pocket knife and an aluminum soda can. Click here to see a video explaining how to make one.

    If building one of these on your own doesn’t ever seem to work out, you could try getting one online. There’s a lot of people selling them on Etsy for about nine dollars, which is pretty reasonable, and a lot of them are better made than the version I linked to above.

    When it comes to cookware, you can definitely just use an empty tin can to cook whatever you’re eating that day, but sometimes I like to have nice things, like a good cookware set. If you’re hitchhiking or train hopping or generally living in your pack, this might not be a huge priority, but if you’re van dwelling, bike touring, or traveling in a way where space isn’t quite so precious, having a good cookware set is a huge convenience you might want to consider.

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    My absolute favorite is the Pinnacle Backpacker by GSI. It’s a cookset that has a pot, pan, lid (with built in strainer!) two cups, two bowls, and a wash basin. The best part is that it all compacts into itself, so it only takes up the same amount of space one pot would (minus the handle).

    Food

    If you’ve made it this far in life you probably know how to feed yourself, so I’m not going to go too deep into this subject. Rather, here’s a few special things to think about taking with you when you travel.

    Peanut Butter - When you’re traveling poor, it’s likely you’ll be doing some dumpster diving, so peanut butter can be a wonderful thing to have with you. It’s cheap, high in protein, and spreads great on all those bagels you’ll be eating.

    Salt / Spices - You don’t need to take the whole spice rack with you, some salt packets should be good enough. If you want to get absolutely luxurious, you can find travel-friendly containers that hold many different kinds of spices in one small jar.

    Tea / Coffee - The packets are small, weigh almost nothing and will give you the caffeine fix you're looking for. Good for those long nights of waiting for your train to come in, or getting yourself out of your sleeping bag in the morning.

    Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) - These are army issue food packets that are way to expensive to actually spend money on (seriously, they're around $20 per meal in a surplus store) but I've had folks kick them down to me and I've been given more than I knew what to do with in down south after the hurricane in Katrina, so if you have an opportunity to score some of these for free, do it!

    MREs get a bad rap from the media, but they actually taste pretty damn good (well, most of them anyways). It's a several course meal, and even comes with deserts like M&Ms and teeny-weeny bottles of Tabasco sauce. Even better, they include a heating packet for warming the food up as well.

    Snack Food - I like jerky and cliff bars, which both will tide you over and keep you from starving for a while. Bags of chips are a terrible idea unless you like pouring powdered potatoes down your throat.

    Technology

    I know some of you will scoff at this section of the guide, and I definitely understand; that's a completely valid view. For some of us though, a certain level of tech may be necessary. Remember, just because I list something here doesn't mean you need to put it in your pack.

    It wasn't long ago that having even a crappy little flip phone would get you weird looks in the hobo jungle; but now that the internet has become such a big part of our lives, cheap smartphones, tablets and even laptops are just about everywhere. It's no longer unusual to see even the poorest individuals carrying a cheap tablet or cell phone.

    Still, depending on how you're traveling, it's never a good idea to go flashing all your expensive stuff around. In rougher areas it's definitely a good way to get robbed. I'm not saying it isn't worth having nice things of course, but if you're engaged in the slightly shadier aspects of travel (train hopping, hitchhiking, squatting, 'illegal' camping, etc) you probably don't want to travel with things you can't afford to lose.

    That said, we're in the 21st century, and not having at least one wifi-enabled device on you is like living in the dark ages. So here's a few suggestions for tech you might want to take with you.

    smartphone-market.
    Smart Phones - A smart phone is probably going to be your first choice, since even if you don't have cell phone service, it can double as a music/video player, get you online at the local library, includes navigation via the GPS (you can download maps and use them offline), and the ability to call 911 in an emergency (which a tablet/laptop does not have). This can literally save your life in situations such as being stuck inside a boxcar or letting the fire department know you're trapped in a burning squat.

    At this point in our society, it's almost impossible to find a cell phone that isn't a smart phone. The good news is that you don't have to spend hundreds of dollars on whatever the latest shiny gadget is. The newest iPhone is rarely much better than your typical $100 smart phone these days. Even a used iPhone 4s runs about $85. If you go with an older android phone, the choices are just about endless.

    I bought my LG Optimus G Pro used for $150. Later when I could afford it, I added an extended battery for another $50. This battery gave me five times the power, so I could literally watch movies all day in my tent and still have juice two days later. If you can find a phone that supports upgrading the battery, I highly recommend it. Otherwise you might want to get a cheap battery pack for recharging on the road.

    Overall, android phones are going to be cheaper and have more customization options than their iPhone counterparts, so that's probably the way to go for most people.

    811Ze7EpmXL._SL1500_.
    Tablets - While it doesn't have a lot of the advantages of a cell phone (mainly the ability to call people and a GPS) they can be bought for as little as $50-70 dollars, and are a little more convenient for getting online and surfing the internet. The larger screen is nice, and they are much more pleasant to read books on. This is a good solution if you like to spend a little more time on the net than the average traveler, but don't need the inconvenience of a laptop computer.

    hp-chromebook-11-thumb.
    Laptop - Even though I am a huge computer geek and jacked into the matrix just about 24/7, if you can travel without a laptop, do it. Hell, for some of you, getting away from all this technology is the whole point of traveling! Alas, if you have something you're really passionate about that involves a computer (say, running a website, or editing digital photography, or making YouTube videos of your travels) you'll probably need to bring a more advanced computing device with you on the road.

    I've struggled most of my life with my insatiable need to both travel and compute, but you, if you're just starting out, are lucky my friend. For you are in the age of the laptop that is both powerful enough for just about any task, and lightweight enough that you won't feel like someone snuck a few bricks into your pack (which is a hilarious joke to pull on someone by the way).

    Before buying a laptop for your travels, it's important to understand exactly what you want to be able to do with it. For example, are you a writer? Do you just want to have a comfortable keyboard to type your travel stories on? Or do you want something you can use to edit and upload YouTube videos on? Put some thought into what you are going to actually do with this computer while you're on the road. If you're not really sure, then maybe you should consider a smart phone or a tablet.

    For the writer - Buy a Chromebook. It's google's linux-run laptop that is super easy to use, super lightweight, has absolutely stellar battery life, and is mind boggling-ly cheap. You can pick one up for as little as $100-200 new, or even cheaper on craigslist.

    For the photographer - If you want to take a lot of pictures while traveling and publish them online, you should probably take a step up to an older 'netbook' or 'ultrabook'. This is because you're going to want to use Photoshop and possibly Lightroom to edit and organize your photography. These programs don't necessarily require a high-end processor, especially if you're using an older version of Photoshop/Lightroom.

    Recommendations: Any laptop with eight gigabytes of ram or higher, and at least 256 gigabytes of storage space. Try and get the smallest, lightest laptop you can for under $300, but avoid anything that looks really cheap in terms of construction (especially under the Acer brand).

    For the video editor - The more money you spend, the less time you're going to be sitting around watching progress bars on your screen. Video rendering is processor intensive, and will eat up your battery in no time. Video is probably the most expensive and time consuming way to tell a story. You'll need to be able to run a video editing application like Sony Vegas, Hitfilm, or Adobe Premiere.

    Recommendations: Any laptop with at least eight gigabytes of ram and as much storage space as possible. It's storage should be either an SSD (ideally) or a 7200 rpm hard disk drive (at a minimum). 5200 rpm hard drives are the most common, and they are not fast enough to edit HD video (you'll get lots of stuttering).

    On this end of the spectrum, your main issues are going to be cost and weight. Expect to spend around $600.

    Batteries

    It's inevitable that you're going to need batteries at some point, even if only to power your headlamp/flashlight. Disposable batteries suck for the environment, so I would encourage you to get rechargeables since you can by one set that will last you years.

    01-nimh-battery-charger-panasonic-advanced-630.
    What most people don't realize about charging batteries is if you don't get a 'speed charger' it's going to take forever (10+ hours) to charge even just a single set of four AA batteries. Speed chargers use much higher voltage to force the charge into the batteries quicker, and can recharge your batteries in as little as one and a half hours. This is much more convenient when you're recharging your batteries from an electrical outlet in the park.

    UNU-Ultrapak.
    External battery packs have also gotten very popular in the past few years, since you can charge up the pack and then use it later to keep your cell phone and other devices charged. Most of them are really cheap ($40 or less) and will let you recharge most of your devices several times before needing to be recharged itself. Unfortunately almost all of the battery packs take around 8-12 hours to charge, so they're really only good for when you're couch surfing or have regular access to an electrical outlet. There are a (very) few brands that 'speed charge' like the battery charger mentioned above, but they're expensive. This UNU Ultrapack charges in 1 1/2 hours, but costs $90.

    Camera

    If you only follow one piece of advice in the article, let it be this: take a camera with you! I know far too many people that ignore this advice. Trust me when I say that ten, twenty, or even thirty years from now, memories of your adventures are going to get pretty hazy. Having pictures of those epic journeys will go a long way towards helping you remember those good times.

    Any camera will do, even a cell phone camera is fine. Just bring one! You'll thank yourself later.

    Radio Scanner

    As mentioned in my guide to train hopping, having a radio scanner can be pretty useful for hearing what's going on in a train yard, or even just checking the weather conditions.

    Entertainment

    So now I'm going to go into the category of things you might want to pack in order to keep yourself sane and entertained on the road.

    Notebook - If you're into writing or drawing, you'll probably want to bring a notebook of some kind. I prefer moleskines, since they have covers that hold up to abuse, a bookmark thread, and an inside pocket to keep things I find on the road.

    Books, Zines, other reading material - This should be pretty obvious. If you don't have any good books, check out your local infoshop for free or cheap zines to read. Also, one of my favorite things to do (before I got an ebook reader) was to drop into the local used book store in whatever town I happened to be in. I like old Star Wars novels, and cheap fantasy/sci-fi and other genres like that can be had for as little as a dollar a piece.

    Speaking of ebook readers, they're definitely worth it if you can afford one. The ability to basically google almost any book you want and download it to your ebook reader is pretty fantastic, not to mention the weight you'll save in your pack. You can even find ebook readers in thrift stores these days for as little as $20 or less.

    Music - I remember the days of riding trains with an alice pack full of CDs, a fistful of batteries, and my sony discman. Wow that was a lot to carry! These days we're all spoiled on digital music players, and I don't have a single problem with that. If you have a cell phone, you're probably already using that as your music player. If not, there's so many stupidly cheap digital music players out there it's really not worth going into detail on. The point is you'll want to bring some tunes for those quiet times on the road.

    Podcasts - It's nice to have something to fill your head other than your own thoughts on those long walks between cities or other times in your travels that you're not doing anything else. I'm a big fan of podcasts, as they keep me entertained and awake on long trips across the country. If you're unfamiliar with podcasts and don't know where to start, check out this simple guide.

    Audiobooks - Just like podcasts, it's farily easy to find books on tape (or mp3 rather) to listen to. Just google what you want to read through your ear, and download it to your music player of choice.

    Deck of cards - A simple deck of playing cards is cheap entertainment if you don't have anything else. If you want to get fancy/nerdcore, you could always go with some Magic the Gathering decks...

    Musical Instruments

    Now this probably falls under entertainment as well, but I feel it warrants it's own category since this goes into a whole other realm that includes supporting yourself if you're a decent busker. Most of the instruments travelers carry are Guitars, Banjos, ukuleles, and any variation there of. Less common instruments include the violin, accordion, harmonica, small harps, jaw harps, flutes, kazoos... you get the idea. All have their pros and cons (especially the accordion) but mostly it's a matter of personal taste and what instrument interests you the most.

    My general advice when it comes to musical instruments is to not overdo it (just choose one) and make sure to pack it well. For example, you don't need to take a hard case with your guitar (way too heavy), a soft case will do, just don't throw it off a moving train; for the most part common sense is the only rule you need to follow.

    Hygiene

    Now if you got here because you were inspired by all the romantic dirty kid pictures you've seen online, this might seem like a weird category of gear to be covering, but believe it or not, we're not all complete filth magnets.

    Of course there's nothing wrong with being dirty; in fact, the majority of travelers reject society's concept of hygiene, since it's often an artificially high standard pushed by corporations whose job it is to convince you that no one is going to fuck you unless you buy their products.

    On the other end of the spectrum, there are definitely 'gutter punks' out there that are on some mysterious race to to the bottom to be the filthiest person on earth, but that doesn't have to be you or me. Just like there's nothing wrong with being 'dirty' (by society's standards), there's nothing wrong with being 'clean' by anyone else's standards either. Hygiene is important if you want to live a long, healthy life.

    The point is that you shouldn't buy into the bullshit from either side. Do what you feel comfortable with and treat yourself right. Here's a few ideas for accomplishing that.
    • Toilet paper - Everyone needs it, so you're generally not going to be very far from it unless you're camping in the wilds somewhere away from society. If that's the case, take at least a small roll with you.

    • Toothbrush and toothpaste - Keep them chompers clean and you'll avoid a lot of tooth pain and money spent going to the dentist.

    • Soap - Not always necessary, but nice to have when you need it. You can pack a simple hotel sized shampoo bottle or a tiny bar of soap in a carry case or zip-lock bag.

    • Condoms - It's important to play it safe and pack protection, since nothing ends a traveling career quicker than an unwanted pregnancy.

    • Gold Bond - Probably not a popular topic of discussion, but a lot of walking combined with hot weather can lead to some seriously painful chafing 'down there'. If you think this might happen to you, a bit of gold bond can be a godsend.

    • Chapstick - It's like gold bond for your lips if you're in an area that they dry out and crack easily.

    • Razor - For those that like to have a smooth face/legs/head. I'm a beard guy, so I carry around a beard trimmer.

    • 'Feminine' Products - Tampons, Diva Cups, pads, etc. If you're into the idea of standing up to pee, check out the the Shewee.

    People often wonder how full time travelers do their laundry, and it’s actually not really as hard as it seems. Finding a place to do laundry is easy in most places, and if you care enough about getting your clothes clean it's not a huge expense. Laundromats can be found most anywhere, and if you don't have enough money for soap, I don't see anything wrong with digging through the trash till you find enough, or (more often than not) just washing your clothes without laundry detergent. Most of the time they'll still get clean enough you'll be able to wear them again when they're done.

    Another idea would be to pack a lok sak or some other kind of 'dry bag'. These are basically very durable zip-lock bags that you use to keep things like electronics from getting wet. They're also very useful for doing the opposite; putting water and soap in them and using it to hand wash your clothes.

    Miscellaneous

    Thankfully, we're finally about to reach the end of this ridiculously long list of things to consider for your travels. Here's a few last miscellaneous items you might want to think about.

    Pocket road atlas - Sometimes you can find these at local book stores. It's a road atlas that will literally fit in your back pocket. Useful for just about every kind of travel, and it small enough you might forget you have it.

    Contact lenses and prescription eye wear - If you're sight impaired, bring a backup pair of whatever you wear. Even if you wear contact lenses it's not a bad idea to carry around a pair of prescription eye wear in a hard case so it doesn't get damaged in you pack.

    Sunglasses - If you're going to be out in the ocean, desert, or snow for a long period of time take a pair of sunglasses. They can prevent snow blindness that can occurs in these areas.

    Rain poncho or garbage bags - An emergency rain poncho can be found in just about any grocery store for around a dollar. Garbage bags can be free and easier to find in an emergency, but the poncho will fit in a pouch in your pack until needed and includes a hood to protect your head.

    Emergency Blanket - Comes as a plastic sheet that looks like foil. Can be found at most camping stores for a couple of bucks. Much like the rain poncho, it's folded up into a tiny square for easy storage in a pocket of your pack. I can't say I've ever had to use one, but it barely takes up any space and it's there if I need it.

    Small first aid kit - If you look around there are some really nice first aid kits out there that take up almost no space at all. I don't know a lot of people that travel with one, but the few that do are definitely the heroes of the day when you suffer an injury on the road.

    Sunscreen - If you think you're going to burn, it pays to take along some of this and avoid the hassle.

    Matches - As a backup to your lighter. Should be stored where they won't get wet.

    Parachute cord - Really tough cord that you can get from army surplus stores. It's pretty common to see this sold as 'paracord bracelets'. They're designed so that you can take the bracelet apart and use it in case of an emergency. Similarly, carrying some twine instead can serve the same purpose.

    Water purification tablets - These are tiny enough that they're worth carrying around if you think you'll ever need them.

    crown_royal_bags.
    Crown royal bags - Ever seen those neat little purple bags that Crown Royal rum comes in? Well, turns out they make for neat storage sacks since they sinch up with a cord at the top. Nice for organizing things. A less fancy (but just as useful) version would be to use zip lock freezer bags.

    Conclusion

    While it's impossible to really think of everything one could possibly need for every conceivable situation (and personal preference), I hope this guide gives you a better idea of what to bring on your next adventure.

    This article was born out of the what to pack thread in the General Gear Discussion forum. It took me several weeks to go through the sixteen pages of discussion and compile it into this article, but it would have been much more difficult without the help and suggestions of the StP community. Thank you!

    Disclaimer

    While putting this article together I decided to experiment with inserting some Amazon affiliate links to products I specifically suggest. StP makes a small percentage on your purchase and it won’t cost you anything, even if you buy something different. I'm pretty anti-ads here on StP, but I figured this couldn't hurt.
     
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    #1 Matt Derrick, Jan 11, 2016
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2016
  2. outlawloose

    outlawloose Celebrated Poster

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    Credit photos dude
     
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  3. kokomojoe

    kokomojoe Can't get enough of the site
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    Really well-written and informative article but I'd also recommend doing this just out of courtesy
     
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    Juerito is getting to know the place

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    Sick af :) Teton is a badass affordable company
     
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    Kal Can't get enough of the site

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    Awesome article.
     
  6. Matt Derrick

    Matt Derrick StP Founder, Admin, and travel addict
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    i'll work on it, 90% of them come from google image search. if anyone has pics that i can use to replace what i've used, i'll put a credit/link under it to you.
     
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  7. TrashPanda

    TrashPanda Just signed up

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    Concise article, thanks Matt.
     
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  8. outskirts

    outskirts Sir Posts a Lot
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    Great article!

    Besides carrying my usual large ruled notebooks for writing. I also carry a tiny one to log all my gear and make notes about gear use. I keep records (more like I try to) of what items I have used the most, what items I barely or never used, and which items I would have liked to have had with me. I also keep track of items which have had multiple uses. I also take in account, mode of travel, geography, and season of each trip.

    This is how I manage what gear I pack. Keep in mind that I don't live on the road and just take lots of short trips. Still, keeping such a gear journal does help in the long run, and is a practice to consider.
     
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  9. VeganAnarquist

    VeganAnarquist Just signed up

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    And Awesome beard! :V
     
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    Kal Can't get enough of the site

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    Thanks.
     
  11. Fanatical Steward

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    I certainly appreciate the information that this article provides from Matt Derrick's personal experience on traveling gear. I know from past endeavors that certain "tricks" of a trade rarely find themselves in a book and often require working with more experienced individuals. This guide, along with my minimal personal experience, provides a decent start for planning potential future trips.
     
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  12. roguetrader

    roguetrader Celebrated Poster

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    as far as clothing is concerned i go for as much FLEECE as possible - its lightweight, warm, drys quickly, and is frequently made from recycled plastic bottles.... only downside is it doesn't mix to well with open fires... oh and its not very punk looking but nowadays i put functionality ahead of fashion anyways...
     
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  13. Fanatical Steward

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    @roguetrader
    I think a decent level of concealment and practicality over fashion remains a wise decision on the part of travelers.
     
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  14. roguetrader

    roguetrader Celebrated Poster

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    @Fanatical Steward i agree totally - years ago when me and most of my friends were significantly crustier i started to notice that the straight looking one of our group was also the one who got less police searches, less vehicle document checks, and generally less attention from the authorities ; ultimately he got away with more by blending in.... being a crust lord is also generally being a walking advert saying "i do drugs, i break the law, come fuck with me officer"
     
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  15. quad8

    quad8 Autorack Guru, 35th degree
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    When I was working earlier tonight, this crossed my mind:

    Blue_Milk_Crate.

    There are two ways a milk crate can be used the way I am seeing this. Bottom side up, you can sit. If there is no restroom for miles, have the bottom side facing down and using the crate as a makeshift toilet. It should be just as simple is lining up a plastic grocery bag around the top rim and then sitting at the rim. When you're finished, toss the grocery bag wherever it needs to be. An average milk crate weighs no less than 4 pounds.
     
  16. etpyh

    etpyh Celebrated Poster

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    Pretty useless for no less than 4 pounds if you ask me.
     
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    Does anyone know of a good travel sized, battery powered beard trimmer? All the ones I find are crap...
     
  18. Matt Derrick

    Matt Derrick StP Founder, Admin, and travel addict
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    I don't know if this helps since I can't remember the model number, but this beard trimmer is excellent, I've owned 2. Works for cutting hair as well. If it helps it has a 'vacuum' for sucking up hair while trimming.

    1481667248792. 1481667267242.

    Sent from my LG-H815 using the Squat the Planet mobile app!
     
  19. Potty

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    Thanks man, I'll look into it. And thanks for this site! I'm glad I found it
     
  20. Renegade

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    This is really well written, loved it. Thanks Matt.