I’ve never been that person that shows up to an airport with just carry-on for a 10 day trip and emerges every day of that trip in fresh and fit-for-purpose outfits, from trail to resort. I am the person with my bathroom scales at the front door, chucking things out to make the weight limit, as my driver revs the engine in the driveway. I then get to my destination with NOTHING to wear.
You can imagine camping and roadtrips send me into a whole new level of luggage anxiety. I can report, however, on this last trip up north, I almost cracked the code. This is what I know.
Puffy Vest – In the West and NT over summer is roasting hot. See posts about Karratha, and any destination north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Every trip, my trusty down puffy vest pleads to come along. I relent, given its ability to reduce to the size of a medium sized potato, and imperceptible weight. Barring the months June to August, it stays stuffed in a corner of my bag, and only on winter nights does it get to bathe in the dancing light of the campfire. Vests are an excellent layering item. Pop on top of a short or long sleeve tee, and you have instant Sporty Person Does Semi-Formal. Heck, I even feel sportier wearing it. Mind the errant campfire embers. With a fffssspt and whiff of industrial plastics, you have little burn holes in your new favourite wardrobe item. Think North Face or Eddie Bauer, leave Burberry and Gucci at home for Saturday brunch in the zesty chill of an outdoor table in Melbourne.
Its a fine line between practical and as a dear friend of mine would say, “No, darling”. If there is any red dust in your future, it will be drawn to your outfit like a lemon wedge to Corona. Do not even bother bending at the waist and extending arms to full stretch during basecamp construction. I can attest this attempt to escape contact with road-weary surfaces is a futile endeavour. Rather, look at every item with a view to a dusty outcome. It can be tempting to wander into one of those outdoor stores staffed by wiry rock-climbers, and deck yourself out in ‘performance fabrics’ that dry in an hour. This path leads you to a land of zips, velcro, and an storm of static electricity. Grab the aforementioned down puffy vest in black, and run for your life. A couple of years ago I was in Broome, and, desperate for hardy earth-coloured clothing, happened across a store that had the largest collection of active travel/outdoor clothing I had ever seen. I dashed from rack to rack and caught in the frenzy, carried out 3 pairs of cargo style shorts and 2 quick-dry shirts. Rounded out with my otherwise cool cowboy sun-hat, I felt positively stylin’. Then I got home and realised this would be a look that struggles to transfer to my metro existence. They sit on death row, awaiting their trip to the Salvos.
Tops – Think neutrals, earth tones, landed gentry on safari, and explorers, and the opportunity for a pop of vibrancy around your head. Proceed with haste to Target. Snap up great little tank tops and cargo style cap sleeve tees featuring metal buttons and tabs for about $7 on sale in varying colours. I have a Bonds khaki singlet with built-in bra from Coles that refuses to die. It pilled from Day One, but shows no dirt, works with plaid shorts (a miracle pattern where dirt is concerned), can be walked in for hours, yet perks up with some statement earrings for a rare counter meal at that beacon of food that is unholy – The Roadhouse. Take two white tees or singlets. They will turn grey from the campground washing machines, and brown from dust, but snooker them away in a sealed pocket and bring them out when you think you can take no more. Defying sense with a fresh white tee is an unparalleled gift to a dusty spirit.
Bottoms – Shorts need to be comfortable but hip slouchy loose is a no-no and cargo pants are no good for cargo. If you are walking for hours you will never put things in the multiple pockets of a pair of cargo shorts. Loose shorts need yanking up all the time. Err on the well fitted side, with a hint of stretch, in dark colours or zany plaid or checks.
Footwear – Thongs/flipflops/jandels are indispensible for avoiding contact with shower surfaces, a break from the close confines of walking shoes, and perfect for stumbling about in the night. Birkenstocks are a hidden gem for long periods of walking, when you dont need serious grip. Coming in a myraid of colours and finishes like patent and metallics, they swing from day trail to dinner. They dont love a dip in the ocean, but otherwise up for all sorts of abuse. When walking through long grass or bush trails, closed shoes are advisable. Choose camo patterns with a pop of pink or something that hides dirt because those new Nike Airs in lime and amethyst will be ruined day 3.
Accessories – Hats are vital yet can be hot. I love my Akubra, but it is only bearable in winter. Panamas are a perfect blend of practical shade, safari style and the genuine article is hardy enough to bounce back from being stuffed in the back seat pocket. Take a watch that loves having sunscreen, sweat, and dust washed off – bright colours and rubber are good. Take cheerful earrings – I have a pair of jointed hula dancers that scream outback adventure.
I’ve saved the biggest tip for last. If you ignore everything up to here, ignore this last tip at your peril. Buy a fly net thing that sits on top of your hat. They can be bought for about $5 and their bang for buck is unmatched. I can put up with many things, but flies in facial openings send me over the edge. I swear this tiny investment saves marriages. As the sun sets, your beekeeper-meets-mourning accroutrement will attract envy.