I asked Wildland Adventures’ South America Program Director, Kirsten Gardner, what she carries in her travel bag, and why. Learn her list of must haves.

“I travel frequently, both for work and pleasure, and my jaunts are usually of an active nature (think camping, hiking, mountain biking, etc), says Gardner.” “Whether I’m preparing for a trek in the Cascades or the Andes, these five items are in my suitcase.” 

Hard at work, Kirsten Gardner

If candle lit nights, questionable drinking water, remote paths, or lengthy transits on public transportation are in your travel plans, read on for Kirsten’s top five trekking essentials. 

1. Headlamp: Because I never know when I’ll need to leave my tent for a midnight bathroom run or locate my socks and boots in the dark to finish the hike to Machu Picchu before the sun rises. Don’t forget to pack backup batteries.

2. Water bottle + Steripen:  I want to be a responsible traveler, so I treat my own water instead of purchasing plastic bottles of water when traveling. I carry a 32 oz Nalgene wide-mouth bottle and use a Steripen for purifying water in remote regions. The thick plastic also works well as a hot water bottle in my sleeping bag for cold nights on high-altitude camping trips.

3. Cocoon Travel Pillow: I find that a pillow goes a long way in making a night on the ground more comfortable. The palm-sized compressible Cocoon Travel Pillow packs easily and provides ample comfort whether I’m on the side of a mountain, leaning against a public bus window, or trying to catch a few ZZZs on an airport bench.

4. ExOfficio Bugs Away Baja Long-Sleeve Shirt: This ExOfficio shirt is the most versatile piece of clothing I own; at home or on the road. It is water resistant, offers UV protection and repels insects with Permethrin for up to seventy washings. Tabs and buttons on the sleeves convert long to short sleeves as needed. And the cut is stylish enough to wear to dinner in the city. Available for men and women. 

5. My Tracks App: I became enamored with this on climbing trips through the Cascades and Olympics last year. Available for Android and iPhone, the My Tracks app records your path, speed, distance and elevation. The data is helpful in recalling the details of a particularly grueling day on the trail and I can export the information to share with friends as well. The app uses the GPS sensor so actual phone service is not needed, an essential feature for off-the-beaten track exploration. 

Wildland Adventures, South America Program Director, Kirsten Gardner 

Kirsten Gardner is an avid hiker, climber, traveler and backpacker, sometimes tour leader and full-time South America Program Director for Wildland Adventures.  She splits her time between Breckenridge, Colorado and Seattle, Washington with frequent trips to the Southern hemisphere mixed in for good measure and is constantly amazed that degrees in anthropology and history with a concentration in Latin American studies are applicable beyond a career in academia. Click here to contact her for more advice on trekking or adventure travel options in South America.

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About Ellen Barone: Consumer travel expert Ellen Barone is the founder and publisher of TravelUpdatesbyEllenBarone.com and YourLifeIsATrip.com. She’s currently at work on her first book - I COULD LIVE HERE. Click here to learn more or stay connected on Twitter at,FacebookGoogle+ and LinkedIn


Ellen Barone has been creating words and images for travel and tourism since 1998. She co-founded and publishes the group travel blog YourLifeIsATrip.com and is currently at work on her first book "I Could Live Here".