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Are culture and mountaineering incompatible?
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Chris Lee
(leeds_manc) - F

Locale: UK
Are culture and mountaineering incompatible? on 05/31/2008 07:26:03 MDT Print View

Hi guys,

There are some great threads on here which have in part inspired a group of my friends and I to 'do' South America and all that it offers.

Starting in January, we'll be travelling to as many countries in South America as possible, with the amount of time we stay out there dependent on funds.

The initial idea was to take heavy packs with top quality gear so as to experience a sense of freedom in being able to do exactly what we wanted to do. Be it live in the Andes for a week or chill out in a city.

However, an interesting point has been raised after i suggested we do the Torres del Paine. Would the amount of gear needed to do some proper mountain trekking preclude us from sampling the culture and having fun? Would we be able to stay in a city for a few days meeting locals and chatting to fellow travellers, or would that be impractical?

The point being, would we be able to keep our expensive gear safe, and would we have to carry our heavy sacks everywhere we went, and would this mean we wouldn't be able to have fun. Should we abandon some aspects of this trip and focus on either/or?

Any general advice, warnings, criticism and ideas you may have are very welcome!


Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Are culture and mountaineering incompatible? on 05/31/2008 10:27:49 MDT Print View

Not at all. Just bring a small day pack. Whenever you want to explore a town, leave your backpack at your hotel and just grab your day pack. Try to pick towns that are conveniently located near multiple cultural attractions and base yourself at each town for a few days -- to reduce the need to change hotels / lug heavy backpack.

Your hiking and travel clothing can be / should be one and the same. The same principles of keeping comfortable by layering and wearing quick-drying synthetics apply to traveling as well. Choose clothing with neutral colors and simple styling and two sets of clothing plus an insulation layer and a shell layer are all that you need. With synthetics, you only need to spend maybe 5 minutes doing laundry in your hotel sink late at night, and your clothes will be dry by early morning. With 2 sets of clothing -- one on you and one in your pack, you NEVER have to lug dirty laundry!

Indeed, when I hike and travel, I pack exactly the same as I do for a hike -- and then just add the following:

1. passport and airline tickets
2. debit card and credit cards
3. small umbrella
4. guide book

That's it. Enjoy!

Chris Lee
(leeds_manc) - F

Locale: UK
Hostels on 06/01/2008 19:08:11 MDT Print View

Thanks very much Benjamin, that's a very reassuring response! and I like the suggestion of only having neutral coloured clothes.

I think we'll be staying in hostels mostly, would the same apply? Would it be worth the extra cost and safer to stay in proper hotels?

I suppose I'm quite apprehensive about South America because my friend was mugged in Mexico and my girlfriend was robbed at gunpoint in Brazil!

Does anyone have any experience or tips about keeping your gear safe? Is it all just common sense? A link to any relevant threads would be good :)

Chris Starkie
(chris2dhs) - F
Mugged on 06/02/2008 01:45:07 MDT Print View


I'm the friend who got mugged, (and also one of the party returning to "do" South America with Chris)!

I thought i should get myself on here so i could ask a few questions myself - especially considering the helpful response already offered!

Last time i travelled i took way too much - a typical beginners mistake. This didn't affect the trip too much as i ended up changing my plans and travelling by bike anyway.

This time i've learnt from my mistakes - and as all my gear was stolen i have some questions to answer before i get new gear.

What would you suggest was the best camp mat to take on this trip?

I'm split between a traditional closed cell foam mat and a therm-a-rest prolite 4 or similar. Last time i had a therm-a-rest trail lite, which was great but was too bulky and heavy.

Any suggestions would be most appreciated!


Jeremy Greene
(tippymcstagger) - F

Locale: North Texas
Chris & Chris: safety and travel abroad on 06/02/2008 05:38:49 MDT Print View

You are on the right track. I've had good experiences traveling with a backpack like the hiking bags discussed in this forum (and quite a bit smaller at times). Looking and being unencumbered decreases your vulnerability and target value. The idea is that even while you are carrying all your gear, you only appear to be out on a day trip. Always look like your main luggage is at the hotel (along with passport, currency, etc.) For this system, gear volume is more important than gear weight.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Are culture and mountaineering incompatible? on 06/02/2008 09:05:04 MDT Print View

There are a lot of good resources on the web. I have collected a few on my travel page. One of the most fun is the art of travel. I don't 100% agree with his "gear" recommendations, but the spirit of this guide is great.

I would agree with the observation that alpine and "cultural" orient treks can be compatible. A small daypack (or my preference is a shoulder bag which I can use while wearing my backpack) will let you leave stuff in the hotel / hostel when you are around the city.

The main change I make is being a bit more conscious of "style". Along with the suggestion of neutral cools... I would suggest to bring clothing that looks "normal". For example, nylon hiking pants which don't have the huge cargo pockets on the side, rather that using an outdoor styled 100wt fleece, bring a nice looking, dark colored sweater made from wool or micro-fleece.

As to safety... the bottom line is that there is nothing that will assure safety... but improving your situational awareness can help a lot. Preserving life is more important that your stuff. Just have a way to re-equip. We typically have an extra credit card stashed somewhere. You might want to see if there is a travel club near you that runs workshops on safety, spotting pick pockets, etc.

As to Chris' question about a pad... I would recommended an insulated air mat might the BA insulated air core. More comfortable than therm-a-rest or closed cell pad, a better weight / insulation value than either (though heavier unless you are going to be sleeping down to 20F) and packs much more compactly.


Edited by verber on 06/02/2008 09:11:35 MDT.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Dealing with Theft on 06/02/2008 10:21:20 MDT Print View

Chris and Chris:

There is nothing you can do to absolutely prevent theft and loss -- on the road or in "real life" back home. To me, the trick is to equip yourself so that if theft should occur, it would just be an annoyance and not a show stopper. This is what I do -- and you might want to pick and choose what works for you:

1. I never bring with me anything that I can't replace -- either financially or sentimentally.

2. I stay in decent hostels/hotels. No guarantees, but you can minimize chance of theft by avoiding the truly dodgy places.

3. My clothing and pack are all simple and inconspicuous. We travelers are always going to stick out -- but we don't have to make it any worse by wearing loud colors, funky styles, expensive brands, or using those ridiculous looking Pacsafe nettings, etc.

4. I spread my stash of money and cards as follows:

A. Wallet - driver's license, medical insurance card, 1 debit card, 1 credit card plus 3 days' worth of cash. I put my wallet inside a zippered pocket that's somewhat safe but still convenient.

B. Second stash -- I stash all important docs (passport, tickets), another 2-3 days' worth of cash plus 2nd credit card in a separate, more secure trouser pocket.

C. Third stash -- I stash some emergency cash (euro or dollar) plus a third credit card deep inside my backpack.

With the above, whether I get pickpocketed or lose my backpack -- I can still continue on with my travels. This helps to provide peace of mind so I can enjoy my travels and not subconsciously give off any bad vibes of fear or paranoia that thieves and robbers can sense a mile away.

Finally, it's a good idea to write down the account numbers and emergency contact numbers of your passport, cards, travel insurance, etc. DON'T write down everything (I leave out bank names and PIN's, for example, since I know what they are) and scramble the info. a bit so it won't look so obvious. You can print out a hardcopy and/or email the info. to yourself so you can access it wherever there is internet connection.

Hope this helps.

Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: Re: Dealing with Theft on 06/02/2008 11:13:44 MDT Print View

When I travel internationally, I keep a copy of the front inside page of my passport in a safe place. If you're in a country that has significant exit requirements, you may want to also consider copying the exit visa stamp page.

It is no substitute for a passport, but it can make the recovery effort much easier.

good luck,

Roger B
(rogerb) - MLife

Locale: Here and there
Re: Dealing with Theft on 06/02/2008 11:30:22 MDT Print View

Thanks Ben, your advice is spot on and as you say in this age of technology email important information to yourself is one way to go. Also leaving the details with a contact person in your home country or elsewhere will also provide peace of mind. Critically when traveling outside your home country passport information and knowing where the local consulate/embassy is are vital as they can get you out of situations that may be difficult otherwise.

Tohru Ohnuki
(erdferkel) - F

Locale: S. California
Trick for daypacks on 06/02/2008 13:24:23 MDT Print View

We learned this the hard way. To prevent run and grab theft of your daypack or regular pack when sitting at bus stations, restaurants or anywhere, put the chair or bench leg through your pack strap.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Securing Your Pack to a Luggage Rack on 06/02/2008 15:11:13 MDT Print View

Reading Tohru's post reminded me of another trick: when traveling on long distance buses or trains, you can thread one of your pack straps through the luggage rack and then buckle. This will help prevent opportunistic "grab and run" attempts.

For the more paranoid among us, you can buy this. Now, when riding the train, you won't feel compelled to keep staring at your pack -- or not going to the toilet for hours because you are too afraid to leave your pack unattended.

Edited by ben2world on 06/02/2008 15:12:35 MDT.

Jeremy Greene
(tippymcstagger) - F

Locale: North Texas
Re: Re: Securing Your Pack to a Luggage Rack on 06/02/2008 16:46:32 MDT Print View

I've always slept with one shoulder strap looped a couple times around a limb, but that doesn't take care of the toilet break issue.

This cheap gadget could work for both. If you have to leave the bag for a minute, stick the transmitter under your seat and the screamer in the bag.

vanessa schiff
(michaeyk) - MLife

Locale: Argentina
RE: Are culture and mountaineering incompatible? on 06/02/2008 21:49:44 MDT Print View

For me at least, travel and outdoor gear overlap a lot. My favorite piece of gear when traveling is a clothesline. We usually wash our clothes in the sink every other night. Most hostels have private rooms that have bathrooms to do laundry. If you're with a couple buddies, it shouldn't cost much more to get a private room.

As far as safety, South America is safe in my book. I've been living in Buenos Aires for 3 years and traveled around quite a bit. I find it much safer than Los Angeles where I was robbed at gun point at least once in recent memory. I've heard scary things about Brazil (going this year), but I think common sense and a dose of paranoia should keep you out of trouble.

If you guys are starting in January... start from the south as it will be unbearably hot and muggy in and around Buenos Aires. Torre del Paine is awesome.

PM me when you have your itinerary and I'll send you some what I have about your destinations...

Edited by michaeyk on 06/02/2008 21:51:13 MDT.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
RE: Are culture and mountaineering incompatible? on 06/02/2008 22:59:39 MDT Print View

Not American bashing, but simply calling it as it is: with just a few exceptions -- if you live in a metropolitan area in America -- your odds of staying safe will increase dramatically the minute you land in just about any other country in the world!

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
"Here the people are all friendly....." on 06/04/2008 01:58:16 MDT Print View

"but further down the highway they are all criminals, and they will kill you in your sleep. It is a miracle you have managed to make it alive past the those murderers up the highway. Let us celebrate with a meal together"

This was the advice I received every night I stopped on my bike trip through Mexico. Don't be put off by people telling you how dangerous the rest of the world is. There are some great people out there, waiting to be met.