The Elements of an Essential Explorer's Pack - Atlas Obscura
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The Elements of an Essential Explorer’s Pack

According to Atlas Obscura readers.

For some, an adventure can't begin without important letters and buttons.
For some, an adventure can’t begin without important letters and buttons. Tony Chiroldes/Used with Permission

Lots of people have certain items they never go anywhere without. Some of these objects are practical, while others are more emotional, but either way, maintaining a personal ‘explorer’s kit’ can be a key part of leading an adventurous life.

Recently we asked Atlas Obscura readers to tell us what they carry in their adventuring packs, and the results were both utilitarian and unsurprisingly idiosyncratic. By far the most popular item among our readers was the trusty Swiss Army knife. It’s a classic for a reason. Some people leaned heavily toward practical items such as lighters and compasses. Others said they carry objects that help them stay in the right frame of mind for discovery, like an important letter or a collection of stones from previous travels. Each list of items ended up saying a lot about the people who put them together, as well as simply providing great ideas for travel gear.

We’ve compiled some of our favorite reader submissions below. And (blatant, if helpful, plug alert) if you’re looking to fill out your own explorer’s pack, you can check out some of our suggestions in the Atlas Obscura Shop, complete with recommendations from members of our staff. We can all use things that help make our explorations, and indeed our lives, more wondrous.

1. Swiss Army knife
2. Electronics chargers and battery pack
3. Sewing kit
4. First aid kit
5. Torch

“I carry these (and more!) because they’re useful. I have a literal ‘explorer’s kit’ that goes with me everywhere. So my phone never runs out of charge, I can repair any wardrobe malfunctions, patch up any minor injuries, make notes, go shopping (with my reusable shopping bag), light a fire, cut, screw or clip things. I also stay dry (plastic poncho) and clean (soap). I’m also often the only person with jump leads and a car-starting battery pack, a shovel, and with the wherewithal to make minor repairs to an aircraft propeller. It’s surprising how often I’ve needed the useful things I carry, and how often I’m the only person in the group that has what’s needed.” — Tiffany Elliott, England

1. Foldable lawn chair
2. Solo cups, ping pong balls, deck of cards
3. Razor scooter
4. Twirling baton
5. Glowsticks

“These are things not carried on my person, but in the trunk of my car at all times. Never know when you need to have an impromptu party.” — Samantha Byrd, Austin, Texas

Kory Piorkowski/Used with Permission

1. Passports
2. Fuji X100T
3. Adventure journal
4. Detailed map
5. Positive attitude

“My wife loves to document our crazy and usually humorous adventures with what she calls her ‘adventure journal.’ We always make it a habit to have a positive outlook on our travels and try to enjoy the moment versus getting lost in social media documenting. I know there’s so much you can bring with you when exploring new places but these are just a few of our favorite things that we enjoy! No matter what you decide just make sure it’ll add value to your adventure and not be a burden.” — Kory Piorkowski, Cleveland, Ohio

1. Vaseline. Good for cuts, moisturizing, lip balm, etc.
2. A quick-dry towel, à la Hitchhikers Guide
3. Nail clippers/small scissors
4. Tea bags
5. Fruit/nut trail mix

“Everything else changes depending on the trip, but I have these with me if I’m going somewhere longer than a day. Physical comfort is important to enjoying one’s experiences.” — Jamie Vanderzee, New York City, New York

Jonathan Saunders/Used with Permission

1. West Marine compass
2. Signal mirror
3. Plastic whistle, no ball
4. Flashlight
5. Swiss Army knife, multi-tool

“Compass to orient myself in cloud-covered skies, flashlight for dark places, twine for mending stuff, whistle to alert help or scare potential threats, lighter to start fire, knife for multiple uses.” — Jonathan Saunders, Santa Fe, New Mexico

1. Q-tips
2. Scissors (both fabric and paper)
3. Nail clippers
4. Headphones
5. Notebook with several pens (color-coding is my life)

“I am a very particular person, and an extension of that is needing to feel prepared All. Of. The. Time. There is no feeling I hate more in the world than not having what I need on me at all times. I also travel super frequently and my backpack needs to hold as much as possible, so I’ve just gotten used to holding a bunch of toiletries in there. Sometimes my friends make fun of me for carrying all of the things that I do, but none of them seem to complain when they have a hangnail in the middle of class.” — Luke Bagdon, Detroit, Michigan

Elizabeth Denlinger/Used with Permission

1. Tin box containing glasses, cleaning cloth, spare toothpick, spare ink cartridge (for a fountain pen), band-aids, and two toys
2. Tape measure
3. Swiss Army knife (Victorinox) with Magen David
4. Tin box containing ibuprofen
5. Pen, pencil, pencil sharpener, and signal splitter

“These make my daily life possible. As a rare book and manuscript curator, I never know when I will need a tape measure. The Swiss Army knife has the usual useful tools, the scissors being the best; pen and pencil are always necessary, pencil because pens are not allowed in special collections reading rooms; the toys because you never know when you will need to entertain a child; the glasses cleaning cloth the better to see you with, my dear; and the ibuprofen because headaches can strike at any moment.” — Elizabeth Denlinger, New York

1. Swiss Army knife
2. Notebook and pen
3. Chapstick
4. Tiny first aid kit
5. Mini-unicorn

“Most of my things are practical. I think you can get pretty far in life with a Swiss Army knife and a first aid kit! The chapstick is because I can’t live without it, and the unicorn is because what isn’t better with a tiny unicorn?” — Katie, Madison, Wisconsin

1. Dr. Bronner’s lavender hand sanitizer
2. Pen & notebook
3. A St. Christopher medal
4. A package of tissues
5. A chip from the ashes of the World Trade Center

“The hand sanitizer, pen & notebook, and tissues are purely practical. I like to adventure with my five year-old, and the places we visit don’t always have spotless bathrooms or crayons and kid’s menus. I also like to write, so having someplace to jot down ideas when they come to me is important. The St. Christopher medal was given to me by my mother. I think of it as a symbolic reminder of her protection. My mother also gave me the chip from the World Trade Center, that she picked from the ashes when she was stuck in NYC after 9/11. I don’t really know why I keep it in my purse, but I have for 17 years now.” — Claire, Denver, Colorado

Cole Petersen/Used with Permission

1. Honey-infused chapstick
2. Mini nail kit
3. Small crossword puzzle booklet/pen
4. Post–It note with my family/friends numbers on it
5. Charger bank and ear buds/headphones

“Honey infused chapstick: can be used for uncomfortably chapped lips, peeling cuticles, itchy skin spots, and small scrapes (honey has antibiotic properties). Nail kit: i always have to have my nails perfect, plus it functions as a multi-tool (nail clipper, small scissors, file, ect.). I hate being bored but I never want to come off as rude if i’m made to wait, so the crossword puzzle takes care of that. Plus if i need to makes notes, i jot them on the back of the cover. Post–It note with numbers. For a while I worked in a police detainment center and at night police would pick up individuals walking alone and bring them to the center (for their safety). They were allowed to call someone to pick them up. However, the #1 thing people lost after a night at the bars was their phone and many hadn’t memorized the numbers of their closest contacts and then they had to stay the night. So, I keep the post it note in my wallet in case I’m ever in a situation but i lose my phone. Charger bank/headphones: I love music, it both motivates me and calms me down. So if i want to listen to music on the train or am feeling anxious and want to block out the outside world, I can count on my charged phone headphones.” — Cole Petersen, Fargo, North Dakota

1. Bear spray
2. Head lamp
3. Bottle opener
4. Camera
5. Bug spray

“Summers in the Yukon mean that you’re never too far away from wildlife, especially bears. And summers also mean we’re out camping a lot, so the other items are crucial as well!” — Myles Dolphin, Whitehorse, Yukon

1. Peanuts (for any potential squirrel or chipmunk companions I might meet along the way)
2. A hair elastic, safety pin, and carabiner (three essentials that can fix most problems and come in handy at the strangest moments)
3. A mini-Sharpie marker (because you just never know)
4. Ear plugs (years of loud concerts taught me that valuable lesson)
5. A catkin from a pussy willow branch (a little fluffy piece of nature that always reminds me to cherish the small things in life)

“Everything I carry with me has a use, be it an emergency need for a safety pin, or as a reminder to take in everything around me with a deep breath and appreciation of life. For safety, life, and adventure. I’ll never be caught without one when a hungry little squirrel friend holds up his little hands and asks for a peanut.” — Bevin Sane, Toronto, Canada

1. Travel watercolor set
2. Local stamps
3. Chapstick with SPF
4. Socks
5. Plastic bag

“These items, for me, are all about being prepared for spontaneity. When I stumble upon a beautiful scene, I’ll want to paint a landscape on a blank postcard. Slap an address on it, put a local stamp on it, and it’s better than any souvenir. Also, writing postcards is a great way to soak in local life at a cafe. If you travel to sunny countries to eat incredible food, consider the SPF chapstick. If you’ve ever applied lipstick before dinner, you know it gets eaten off. And if you’ve ever had sunburnt lips, it sort of ruins your appetite. SOCKS! Very useful: you’re on a hiking trip and need a quick change in a rain storm; you’re wearing sandals and it gets chilly; you bought a brass deity at an antique shop and need to protect it in your backpack. Ok, now the plastic bag. I love wandering through open air markets and buying local fruit to eat as I wander some more. It’s also great for wet bathing suits, holding stuff you bought, keeping electronics protected from water, and barfing into (you thought that tripe would stay in your intestines… just make sure you remove the electronics first).” — Aliza Gans, New York

Fae Frederick/Used with Permission

1. A small plastic dilophosaurus named Viktor
2. Band-aids
3. Ibuprofen, melatonin, motion sickness medication, and anti diarrhea medication
4. Duct tape and super glue
5. A pack of crackers or granola bar (to save people from my hanger)

“I take a picture of Viktor in front of each country’s flag. He was a gift from friends when I was traveling for work and he’s an excellent conversation starter, although he’s terrible at maintaining them. The medical items are self explanatory. You fix just about anything with duct tape and super glue. I have repaired clothes, shoes, books, and even people with them. Food because you don’t want to see me when I’m hungry.” — Fae, Vietnam

1. Lights (matches, headlamp)
2. Densely packed nutritional snacks and water filter
3. First-aid kit and meds
4. Compass
5. Spare socks and space blanket

“I am 62, female, infirm, AND I hike alone. I plan to enjoy these solo adventures for as long as I can. If I fall or otherwise become stuck, I’d be able to stay alive and strong til found with these basic items. My camo pants pockets carry bug spray, strong knife, notebook/pencil, bandana, and collecting bags.” — Charlee, Vermont

1. Postcards
2. Small notebook to draw with pen
3. Emergency light
4. Woollen cap
5. Water

“While I’m travelling, I love to sketch, which is, in a way, remembering the details of the place, and so I always carry a notebook and a pen so that I can sketch whenever I feel like and also to write numbers or email IDs of the friends that I make on the go. A woollen cap so that when the hair is a mess I can just don a cap in a jiffy and carry on travelling :). I always love the golden times, the bygone eras, and so i always make a habit of writing letters and sending postcards to my dear ones.” — Sheethal, India

Suzanne Colton/Used with Permission

1. A silk bag containing nine stones: hawkeye tigereye, amethyst, raw emerald, herkimer diamond, black garnet, double-terminated Tibetan crystal, labrador, celestine, and a tiny herkimer diamond given to me by a crow
2. A silver turtle for wisdom and longevity
3. A scrap of red felt for luck
4. A pocket-sized “manageable man” because you may never know when you may need one!
5. A black star

“I have carried these items for so long that they have become a part of who I am. It feels very natural to have these items on my person wherever I go. The nine stones have brought insight and prosperity to me over the years. The scrap of red felt was to honor a Chinese New Year tradition, red for good luck! I gave my children scraps of red felt as well, which they carry with them always. The silver turtle I found at a time when I sought wisdom and longevity for a loved one. The black star is a remembrance, to honor the life of David Bowie. Lastly, which is not visible, is a sense of adventure, which you can not see unless you look for the twinkle in my eyes. I thoroughly endorse adventure! It is good for one’s spirit.” — Suzanne Colton, Windsor, Connecticut

1. No-sew buttons
2. A laminated, hand-written note that my late mother wrote for me on the original stationery of the Walt Disney World Polynesian Resort Hotel
3. Spare Rx glasses
4. Monogrammed leather notebook
5. Phone cables/adapters

“I’m pretty practical when it comes to packing. So much so, that I have a printable traveler’s checklist!” — Tony Chiroldes, New York, New York

1. Peanuts and water
2. Ziplocs
3. Flat plastic thing that seals a sink without a plug
4. Batik sarong

“Peanuts are perfect when there’s nowhere to eat, or on a plane. Light, unbreakable, high protein. The perfect snack/survival food. Ziplocs are the way I sort and arrange things. They also make it easy if Customs goes digging around. Sink plug is obvious; cheap hotels are ALWAYS missing the plug. Makes washing out clothes easier. A sarong or any piece of large cloth can be a shawl, skirt, dress, shade, blanket, carry-all, towel… I even saw a Malay family turn one into a hammock for their child in a train once!” — Renee Lajcak, Madison, Wisconsin

1. Wheelbarrow for everything
2. See above
3. See above
4. See above
5. See above

— Bill, United Kingdom