Packing for 3 Weeks Off-Grid in Costa Rica

packing costa rica

Packing for 3 Weeks Off-Grid in Costa Rica

I spent three weeks in Costa Rica in July 2017. The first two of those weeks I camped in a hammock in the jungle, at an off-grid property in the mountains near Chimirol. The last week I spent traveling hotels with a group. Here’s what I packed.

I traveled with two backpacks. One ultralight 35L Mengar pack I bought for the trip, and one very old SwissGear pack of approximately the same size. The Mengar had my clothes and toiletries in it. The SwissGear had my camping stuff and odds and ends… a tenting hammock with rain fly, sleeping bag liner, first aid kit, laundry soap, books, and so on.

A rolling suitcase wasn’t an option, since I knew I’d be spending most of my time up an unpaved road during the rainy season. I initially intended to bring the Mengar pack and a small duffel bag, but the duffel wasn’t big enough for my hammock. So the SwissGear bag was a last minute switch.

Luckily, I really like both of these bags. The Mengar bag folds into itself to pack small. It’s basic and roomy. The only down side was the side compartments started to rip from my pointy water bottle (more on that later). The SwissGear is more rugged–and heavier. I love all its pockets, and it’s been through some wars with me. Over time it has held up exceptionally well. I didn’t need the laptop sleeve for a laptop, but it served for stowing books. I ended up using the snap on the front for holding my sneakers. I wore these shoes on the flight down, but on the way back I was bringing a busted toe with me and flip flops were the better option.

Enough About Bags. Here’s What I Packed.

Clothes First…

Clockwise from upper left: a pair of athletic shorts and a pair of yoga capri tights, three pairs of jean shorts, two plain t-shirts, five tank tops, bathing suit, long sleeve chambray button-up, sweatshirt, zip-off hiking pants.

Bottom: a beach cover-up / shawl thing.

Not pictured: undergarments. For bras, I brought mostly sports bras since I knew I would be working outside a lot. I brought a limited number of socks since I thought I’d be mostly in sandals. The amount of underwear I brought was based on how often I planned to do laundry.

Lessons Learned
  • I brought way too many shorts! July, the rainy season, is the Costa Rica “winter.” And it is chilly in the mountains. The days were warm enough for shorts, but mornings and evenings called for warmer clothes. I never froze, but I would have appreciated more pants, another sweatshirt, and warmer socks to sleep in. What I brought would have been great if I were down by the coast the whole time. I wasn’t.
  • A pretty cover-up is versatile and, yes, pretty. I’ve gotten more use out of that thing than I initially expected.
  • You’ll never find me traveling without a chambray button-up. It’s easy to layer and looks classy. Costa Rica has a ton of hippy backpackers, but the Ticas are feminine and fashionable. They’d wear that chambray, just not with trail sandals.
  • Wear your bulky items to the airport. Use packing cubes for everything else. I used two packing cubes for clothes: a small one for undergarments and a medium-large one for everything else.

The Other Stuff

Everything is listed right to left.

First row: small leather crossbody bag, bungee style clip-less laundry line, microfiber hand towel, microfiber beach towel, tiny LED flashlight, inflatable solar lamp, handkerchief, 100% deet spray, citronella bug repellent wrist bands, bug repellent wipes, non-liquid laundry soap (they’re kind of like dryer sheets but with soap embedded in them).

Second row: tote bag, umbrella, sleep mask, earplugs, gloves (for gardening work, but these are riding gloves), cell phone battery pack, headphones, wristwatch, solar cell phone battery back, selfie stick, sleeping bag liner, water-resistant backpack cover.

Third row: rain jacket, flip flops, sneakers, trail sandals, baseball cap.

Lessons Learned
  • Travelling without a sleep mask and ear plugs will never be in the cards for me.
  • I didn’t use that damn selfie stick. Or the handkerchief.
  • The reviews were right: solar chargers are pretty awful if you’re charging purely with solar. You ┬áneed a bigger solar panel. It worked fine to charge it up in town with an outlet, though.
  • Hats aren’t something I wear in the States, but you bet I had that thing on when working in the Costa Rica sun.
  • A sleeping bag liner is a great, space-saving option for camping in the jungle. I didn’t miss a pillow.
  • Bringing three kinds of mosquito repellent wasn’t a waste. I rotated among them all, and they all seemed to work pretty well.
  • Having multiple bags, like the tote bag and small purse, feels really good for me. The tote bag is great for taking to the beach, and the small purse fits inside or can come on its own for a stroll around town.
  • Having two towels also feels good for me. For a morning toilette, I don’t like dealing with a big towel. Having the hand/face towel might be a luxury in terms of packing space, but no regrets here.
  • Speaking of towels, if you don’t have a microfiber beach towel you are missing out! They dry fast and sand doesn’t stick to them. Plus, they take up a fraction of the space a regular towel takes, so the extra hand towel is a no brainer.

What Else

Not pictured? Sunglasses. The books I brought with me. Pens and journal. First aid kit.

My collapsible water bottle whose corners poked through the side pockets of my Mengar backpack. That water bottle is the best thing though; I don’t even care.

I also haven’t shared anything here about the camping hammock I used, which I loved beyond words, and toiletries. If you’re interested in my hammock camping experience or the toiletries I travel with, or anything else, let me know!

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