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Robert Pelton's Got it in the Bag
Text by Robert Young Pelton   Illustration by Asaf Hanuka
Illustration: Robert Young Pelton
Robert Young Pelton's packing advice, learned the hard way.

Though it's tempting to bring the kitchen sink on your trip, don't. For Robert Young Pelton, it all boils down to six fundamentals.

By the time the train lurched to a stop at the desolate Uzbekistan border, I was pretty sure I'd made a mistake. I was hoboing from Tajikistan to Samarqand during the heyday of the Tajik civil war in the 1990s. For reasons that now escape me, I never considered it problematic to cross international boundaries without a visa on a train full of Tajik refugees. My mistake.
When the cargo door swung open and the large and surly border guard hauled me off to his shed, I knew I wasn't in line for the royal treatment. Pouring the contents of my pack out onto a table, the guard began to arrange two neat piles—one for me (socks, underwear, and T-shirts) and one for him (anything of value). Each time I pulled something away from his pile, he crossed his arms and shook his head, at least until I pulled out a few $20 bills. The question, it seemed, was how much were my belongings worth?
I'd always prided myself on my economic packing ability. But sitting there, sweating in the sand-blown wasteland of Central Asia, I was forced to choose the items that were truly essential. Eventually, I did escape (albeit with a lot of help from Andrew Jackson), and I ended up with a bare-bones around-the-world kit that's second to none. For this Best of Adventure issue, I thought it only appropriate to share my six essential pieces of gear.
The Right Stuff
Backpack: After money and a passport, nothing is more important on the road than a good backpack. For me, that means a small, carefully packed piece that can be grabbed at a moment's notice. I'm a big fan of small, black, military-style rucksacks, and the best one out there is the Eagle Industries Unlimited, Inc., Becker Patrol Pack ($243; At first blush, it breaks most of the rules of luggage: It's military looking, multipocketed, and impossible to lock. But the Becker is small enough to ride with me at all times, from the overheads on planes to my lap on packed buses, and it snugs right to my back for great hands-free motion (try that with a wheeled bag). On the exterior, there is a webbing to clip my canteen onto and six pockets into which I slide Tupperwares filled with knickknacks like wound kits, snacks, and language guides. Inside, the pack is large enough for any basic gear and has one secret Velcro pocket that dupes the savviest of inspectors.

One Tip: Line the interior with a garbage bag to keep clothes dry, and pack it with dirty laundry on top; it keeps out the riffraff.
: You can go days without food, but not without water. I was turned on to Seychelle Water Filtration's Pres 2 Pure self-filtering soft canteen ($25; by a South African mercenary during the war in Liberia in 2002. It is smaller than a separate filter and easier to use. Just fill, squeeze, filter, and drink. 
Poncho: The old surplus-store standby. It's a tarp, a groundsheet, shade on a hot day, and, most important, when it rains it fits over me and my pack. If I'm going to colder climes, I'll substitute a space blanket, which can also work as an emergency shelter.
: While some see a GPS as an extravagance, I see having one as a necessary precaution. I mark all sorts of things—airports, highway turnoffs, rebel checkpoints—as waypoints I can refer to in times of need. My choice is the tried-and-true Garmin eTrex Vista ($289;, which doubles as a clock and a map (if there is a downloadable one available for your destination). The only bummer is that they are heavily restricted in countries like Russia, unless, of course, you pretend it's a cell phone. But you didn't hear that from me.
Flashlight: You know the blindingly bright lights the military uses during night ops? That's the Surefire E2D Executive Defender ($105; The flashlight runs on two lithium batteries, and it's not only compact and incredibly powerful, but, thanks to its serrated edges, also works as a weapon of self-defense.
Digital Camera: Sure, it's fun to take pictures, but a digital camera can also be an indispensable travel tool. Want to find that nice but shifty man who borrowed your passport for a visa, or that nameless restaurant with great food? Whatever the case, I always travel with my compact, six-megapixel Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX9S ($400;; the most nimble-fingered of border guards think twice about grabbing your goods.
Robert Young Pelton is the author of The World's Most Dangerous Places.

Pick up the December 2005/January 2006 issue for our annual coverage of the best of adventure, your guide to everything cool with 15 sports trends, 14 astonishing adventurers, and 45 gear picks that rock.

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