An essential packing list guide for surf travel.
Surfing and travel are inseparable – whether it’s exploring your own coastline or taking off on an around the world adventure, surfers will always want to seek out new and different waves. The journey to surf these waves and the experiences we encounter make surf travel and exploration an addictive way of life.
So when it comes to packing for these trips what essentials do you need to take? Of course there are a lot of variables; how long is the trip, is it to a cold, temperate or tropical location, will you be camping or in hotels etc? So based on many years of travel, exploration and adventure experience I’ve brought together a packing list below which should cover most of the bases:
The surf basics:
- Surfboards: If you’re on a short trip and know the surf forecast in advance you could select a single board which is right for the conditions. However if you’re away for a longer trip 3 surfboards is a good balance, 1st would be your go to everyday board, 2nd something a bit longer for bigger days and 3rd a shorter thicker board for the smaller mellower days.
- A travel board bag: For a single board the Northcore “Board Jacket” is a good option with 10mm nose/tail padding and 5mm body which can be bulked up with a wetsuit, towels etc across the deck and rails. The bag can then also be used as a day bag without being too heavy. For more serious trips with more boards a 10mm+ padded coffin bag with wheels to lighten the load is the way to go. Extra bubble wrap and padding is always a good thing as your boards will get abused by airline baggage handlers (thanks for the dings Ryanair!). Also try wrapping “Fragile” tape around the bag.
- Spares: At least one extra set of fins, one leash, two fin keys and some wax are a must. Fins can snap off or you can try a different set out to change the feel of your board. A spare leash is a must so maybe try taking a thinner 5mm leash for smaller days and a thicker back up for bigger surf. A block or two of your favourite wax is essential as you never know if you be able to pick any up at your destination. Make sure you have the right temp wax for your trip as well!
- Earplugs: Cold water, water born pollution and disease can all damage your hearing so a good set of earplugs are essential.
- Wetsuit: Chose the right thickness for the locations you’re going to surf. If you’re going cold anything below 10°C water temp and a 5mm wetsuit paired with hood and gloves are a must. 6°C and below you’re into 6mm and 7mm wetsuit territory. For tropical trips a rash vest or 1mm neoprene vest are handy for sun protection or fending off windchill on breezy days plus a pair of reef boots for walking out across sharp rocks or coral reef. For extended trips a 4mm suit is a great all round option.
- Ding Repair: My go to ding brand is Phix Doctor who do a complete range of products. My travel repair essential is Durarezn which is a fibre filled suncure resin which works on PU and Epoxy boards and is airline safe. It’s a perfect solution for small dings and quick repair work.
- Day bag or dry bag: These are really useful on surf trips. Especially a dry bag which can either keep all of your kit dry if you’re out on a boat trip or the weather is bad, or you can stuff in wet gear to keep it separate from everthing else.
- Tent or bivvy bag: If you’re planning on staying in the same spot for a while and/or driving in by car then go with a decent sized tent set up. A tent you can stand up in is always a bonus. If you’re on the move a lot or backpacking it, go for a super lightweight one person tent or even a camp roll mat and a bivvy bag for that sleeping under the stars experience.
- Towel: the best all round option is the beach basha changing robe. It can be used after showering or surfing as a standard towel but also be used to change under in public. It’s an essential item for the beach, camping and travelling.
- Hammock: A good hammock can make life easy for either chilling after a days surfing or for an alternative to tents for sleeping. Go for rip stop material and a webbing system for quick hanging like the Northcore hammock set.
- Electronics: take a socket adapter for overseas trips, check that your phone and provider offer roaming if going overseas so you can make calls, a smart phone is invaluable especially GPS/Google maps for finding your way around, a tablet/laptop is handy for longer trips especially if you’re looking to edit photo’s or write a blog and headphones are great for listening to music or watching movies during long waits at airports/on flights/on bus journeys etc.
- Cameras: A camera is a must even if it’s just a good one on a smart phone. If you take photography more seriously a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a range of lenses is great to take along however, a good size telephoto lens is heavy and takes up a load of room so probably only take one if it’s on a longer trip and/or you have plenty of luggage capacity. I personally prefer to take a DSLR with a single 24mm pancake lens which is tiny, light and can take great close ups, portraits and wide landscape shots. Lastly of course we’d recommend a GoPro which can capture amazing images and are perfect for point of view shots of yourself in the water or taking shots of your mates surfing (plus they are small and light).
- Clear plastic bag: A must these days for any air travel for keeping liquids which you’re carrying separated from your luggage, as they will need to be scanned at security. Top tip – leave the bag of liquids (toothpaste, shampoo etc) at the top of your luggage near any electronics so you can pull them out quickly at airport security.
- Head Torch/flashlight: Very handy for camping, power cuts etc. Hands free lighting!
- Duct Tape: take a small roll as it can be used to fix almost anything :)
Protection – Tropics: If you’re heading off to Iceland these won’t apply! but for a tropical Indo trip or similar these are a must.
- Sunblock – in the water use waterproof factor 40+ all over, sunburn can ruin a holiday and cause long term damage. I swear by a brand called Aloe Gator from the USA.
- Hat: wear one especially in the water as sun stroke is a real possibility when temps soar.
- Mosquito net: Lightweight and invaluable, use these at night to stop the little mozzy bastards as bites itch like hell but in worst cases can of course give you malaria.
- Mosquito repellent: Go for a natural/organic product and slap it on in the evenings to put mozzies off from nibbling at you while out and about. Long sleeve tops are also a good idea.
- First aid kit: A no brainer really especially for overseas trips and even more so for developing countries. Suggested basics should include; malaria tablets (if appropriate for your travel destination – this travel website is a useful resource), charcoal capsules for upset stomachs, band aids, antihistamines, ibuprofen, antiseptic wipes, electrolytes, butterfly wound strips and for surf spots that have coral reef hydrogen peroxide for cleaning out reef cuts (here’s a great resource for learning how to treat reef rash and cuts – which can be very nasty) This kit list is by no means an exhaustive list but is a good start point. *
- Inoculations: For jabs like Yellow fever, Typhoid etc check on the the requirements for the countries which you are traveling to – the NHS website in the UK is a good start point and have them done before you go.
- Passport: for overseas trips. Always scan and save a copy of the main page in case your actual passport is lost or stolen
- Visas: check if you need a travel visa and if needed in advance make sure it is sorted before you go.
- Drivers licence: Again take a copy and save it on or offline somewhere. Also think about getting an International licence as well which could prevent a lot of possible hassle in some countries.
- Travel insurance: Simple advice here, DO NOT travel without comprehensive insurance to cover health and possessions. You might save a few £/$/€ by not buying it but if you find yourself without it in a hospital where you need to pay fees and/or you need repatriating the bills can be huge! You have been warned.
- Money: A credit card is always a good idea for use in emergencies, a debit card for cash machines and some local currency/cash for when you first arrive.
- Don’t over pack – you think you might need all those extra clothes but chances are they’ll never get used. Traveling lighter is better
- Environment: don’t be part of the problem, take a sustainable approach. Surf tourism especially in places like Indo have often been detrimental with unchecked development, overcrowding and the problems it brings like pollution. So try to tread lightly, don’t litter, try not to damage reef and local eco-systems, spend your money at resorts and with businesses who are trying to make a positive difference. As the saying goes, leave only footprints.
- Litter: picking up other peoples rubbish/trash either at home beaches or when travelling is always a good idea. Even one piece of plastic or soda can after each surf is one less piece of crap in the ocean and does make a difference.
- Carbon offsetting: The very act of modern travel creates tons of CO2 gases from flights, cars, buses etc so maybe look at contributing to a carbon offsetting tree planting scheme to offset the CO2 produced by your journey.
- Respect: Be considerate to the locals and show some respect when paddling out into a line up. A big smile goes a long way :)
Stay safe and HAVE FUN!
Some really useful resources for surf travel planning:
*Always check with your doctor before using or taking any of these medications. Our content is for advice purposes ONLY.