We may be created equally but there are certainly some things that just aren’t as easy for female hikers/trekkers. After reflecting on my 8-day Mt Kilimanjaro trek, there are a few little things that I thought provided me with a proportionately large amount of comfort.
- Dry shampoo powder
Never having been the biggest fan of the dry shampoo aerosols, I tried a powder version (Lush No Drought Dry Shampoo) for the first time. It’s not really a revolutionary product, basically just talcum powder with a pleasant and non-overpowering scent through it. But it’s exactly what I needed. Think of it as a mechanism to absorb excess oil (e.g. on your face or hair/scalp) or mask unpleasant scents that you can’t fix.Whilst I appreciated the conventional uses of this product, I was a thousand times more grateful for it when I discovered that the down sleeping bags we rented smelled SO BAD. Our sleeping bag liners prevent direct contact with the stinkbags, but they didn’t do much for the smell. This is where the dry shampoo powder was a godsend. I tested a small area to make sure the powder would absorb fully and not leave a stain. Then I liberally scattered the powder all throughout the stinkbag, and I did this every night. It’s not a substitute for actually cleaning the bag (obviously not possible on the mountain), but it was so very helpful in the smell not keeping me awake at night. We may have been the first customers to return sleeping bags in better condition than when we rented them.I haven’t tried other brands, but the Lush one I used seemed never ending. I bought the smallest bottle (50g) and used a lot (or so I thought) on Justin’s and my sleeping bags, as well as our faces and hair. All that has barely made a dent — amazing!
- Hair ties and bobby pins for French braids
I have reasonably long hair and had to think of a way to stop it from annoying me on the trek. I decided against a colleague’s advice to cut it all off — What? At home, I’m used to washing it on a daily basis and get fussy when I can smell cigarette smoke or other pollutants in it. I knew what I was facing with the trek, and it didn’t faze me. What I was more concerned about was keeping it out of the way. Ponytails seem like the obvious solution, but they don’t work too well when with hoods, hats, or beanies. I found that French braids worked best for me — they kept the hair in place even when putting on or taking off hats, etc. and were more effective with layered hair than regular braids.At night, I pulled my Buff over my hair (kind of like the Do Rag style here) to prevent it from touching my face when I slept. The more your hair touches your face, the oilier it gets, and when you aren’t showering for that long, everything makes a difference. I also have a side-swept fringe which never stays put and always touches my face, so I braided this in a small braid on its own, and then that became part of the overall French braids on each side (pigtails, because my layers wouldn’t have allowed me to just do one braid at the back). I am not skilled with hair at all, so I don’t think anything looked that great. But looks don’t really matter — they just did what I needed them to do!Hair ties and bobby pins are small and light, there’s no reason not to bring extras! How annoyed would you be if you lost or broke your only hair tie? Answer: Very.
- Compact mirror
Maybe you don’t want to even look at yourself when you’re out hiking. In my normal life, I love wearing makeup, but I was not foolish enough to consider bringing any along the trek. That would have been ridiculous. Or not? No judgement here. I advocate bringing what will make you feel most comfortable, within reason. If that means a little concealer, who am I to judge? For me, the compact mirror was used once in the morning and once at night and it helped me: 1) insert/remove my contact lenses, 2) see where I was getting sunburnt (and thus adjust my sunscreening efforts accordingly), 3) just generally check up on how my face was faring after being exposed to the elements for days.
- Multi-purpose moisturiser
The exposure to the air, altitude and sun takes its toll. You’ll be dealing with both oiliness and dryness in your skin. My recommendation is Cetaphil because it’s cheap, unscented, effectively moisturising, and can be used for face and body. Buy or re-purpose a small plastic container so you only bring what you need, and slather it on as needed.
- A fresh pair of underwear for each day of the trek
I read a number of blogs advising against over-packing (which I agree with) and suggesting that you could save space by only bringing a few pairs of underwear and either wash them, wear a pantyliner, or deal with it. How is that a solution? You don’t really get a chance to wash your undies, and can you imagine how uncomfortable it would be to wear a pantyliner every day? This might work for men, but it’s different for women. Again, underwear doesn’t typically take up that much weight or space in a 15kg duffel bag (or whatever your limit is) so I would not recommend skimping on it. Being able to wear a fresh pair of underwear each day was a tiny luxury that I would have hated to give up.
It’s very easy to over-pack on trips like this, especially when you haven’t had much experience on multi-day treks. But if you can stay within your weight limits and bring the items you know will make your life easier, why not? The limit for our duffels on Kilimanjaro was 15kg, and with everything I packed (including sleeping bag, air mat, etc.) mine was still only around 10-11kgs.
All the items I’ve mentioned are pretty small and light but made a huge difference to me. They obviously aren’t essentials, but they don’t have to be. When you go on a guided trek with porters, you are given a weight allowance for a reason, and it’s really easy to pack the essentials and some creature comforts. If you have to carry everything yourself, it’s a totally different story. Also, these are just my personal luxuries; not all of you ladies will appreciate these in the same way I did. I like to be prepared because I don’t want something little to detract from enjoying the experience. If there’s something that will help you through a trek, why not bring it?