Part 2 – What The Well Dressed Person Wears… on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

This is the second part of what to wear on the Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride. The first part was about riding gear. I wrote about the gear first, because that gear will fill up a lot of your suitcase. Now you need to figure out what will still fit in there and stay under the weight limit. Keep in mind that the smaller airlines you are going to fly on have a 20kg (44lb) weight limit for checked baggage.

Although Part 2 does have stuff about what to wear, it’s more about what to take with you… being prepared, a little about clothes, but also about gadgets like cameras and things like that. And although I’m usually the most guilty, this is about not over-packing.

Before I get started, I need to tell you that I didn’t just run out and buy all this stuff for this trip. Like my riding gear, I have accumulated most of it over time. In my last post, I said you could ride the Ho Chi Minh Trail in jeans, combat boots, gloves, and a helmet. The same goes here. You need little more than that backpack you already have, some socks & undies, and a couple pairs of shorts. Take your cell-phone so you have a camera and you’re good to go.

This adventure is about the experience of a lifetime for most of us. It’s the experience that counts. Most of the rest of the stuff I’m going on about is just fluff. Perhaps the one thing that isn’t fluff is hydration and I’ll get to that in a minute. So read through this keeping in mind that very little of this stuff is required to have an amazing experience. Pick up on the bits and pieces you want and disregard the rest.

So… let’s get started.

The weight limit is more than worrying about your suitcase(s). You need to consider what you want to carry with you on the dirt-bike as you ride down the trail.

Jussssst a bit loaded down. (Pic courtesy of Don Duval)

If you in the special forces and accustomed to making 18-mile forced marches with a 50-pound rucksack, then you can ignore most of what follows. But for the rest of us, the key here is to go as light as possible.

We may or may not have a support vehicle depending on how many people end up going. With a support vehicle, you can take a little (but not a lot) more than I’m going to talk about. The support vehicle will meet up with you at days end. By the way, support vehicle or not, suitcases will be brought from Vientiane to our end destination at Pakse.

I will go through all this as if we don’t have a support vehicle. If you plan that way, and we do get the support vehicle, you can take a few more “undies.”

First and foremost, most of what you are going to carry will be on your back or in saddlebags on the bike. Don’t figure you can bungee-cord a bag on the back and head down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It makes the bike top-heavy. It will move around some and make the bike a bit unstable… or it may even fly off into the jungle.

When I rode like this across Thailand, I had to stash the bag anytime I went off road. We won’t be able to stash stuff on the Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride.

At the other end of things, you could head down the HCMT with virtually nothing on your back or on the bike. I suppose the absolute minimum would be a pair of flip-flops, a t-shirt, shorts, and a toothbrush. You could wash out your socks and undies at night and be on your way the next morning. I don’t think that’s very practical, so I’m telling you what I think is essential. Then you be the judge.

Backpack

I can’t imagine life without a backpack. But I don’t want one of those 50-pound rucksacks. I suspect most folks already have a backpack of some kind, and that’s probably just fine. But, if you need to look for one, here’s a little info.

A backpack’s volume is specified by how many liters it can contain. I don’t know about you, but I only know a liter is about a quart and I know how big a quart is… a quart of oil, right? But I have no idea how many pairs of undies can be stuffed into a 20 Liter bag.

So, I checked. I have a shoebox from my sized 10.5 Nikes. It measured about 400 cubic inches, which is about 6.5 liters. Let’s call this 6 liters for simplicity. Stay with me here because I want you to keep the image of a 6-liter volume in your mind as I go on.

I stuffed the shoebox with three pairs of moisture-wicking undies, three moisture-wicking- tee-shirts, and two pairs of cotton athletic socks. It was full. I tried to get three of everything with the third pair of socks, but they are bulky and wouldn’t fit.

So… with the idea of how much you can stuff into 6 liters, let’s return to the backpack. Even if you already have your backpack, don’t skip this next part because it’s about carry-on restrictions.

 First, it must be able to fit as an aircraft carry-on. Some of the big backpacks don’t. Sure, you see some people with monster-sized carry-on stuff, but you don’t want to get to Hong Kong and find out they won’t let you carry on your backpack. I would never risk checking a bag when changing planes in some airport. (There are no nonstops to Thailand or Laos from the US.) If you go all the way to Laos there will be at least three stops and multiple carriers. The smaller carriers to/from Laos have the most restrictive dimensions. The dimensions are not as restrictive as the weight because you can scrunch your backpack a bit if you haven’t overstuffed it.  The table below shows the airlines and their restrictions. American Airlines is shown for comparison.

AIRLINECARRY-ONWEIGHTPERSONAL ITEMWEIGHT
Lao Airlines24″x12″x7″15.4 lb“handbag, pocketbook”?
Thai Airways22″x18″x10″15.4 lb15″x10″x5″3.3 lb
Air Asia15.7″x11.8″x3.9″15.4 lbnot allowed
Bangkok Airways19″x14″x9″         11 lbnot allowed
Nok Air19″x14″x9″15.4 lbnot allowed
American Airlines22″x14″x9″No restrictions18″x14″x8″No restrictions
Table of airline carry-on allowances.

As you can see… weight can become a problem. So my advice of “travel light” carries even more meaning. The other advice is to wear cargo pants when you’re traveling. All those extra pockets may come in handy for stuff you have to take out of your backpack.

Second – The bag itself needs to be light. An extra two or three pounds may not seem like much, but some days you may have it on your back all day. Also, as you can see from the carry-on weight restrictions, an empty backpack that weighs ten pounds isn’t going to serve you well.

Third – No metal frames. These might be nice for hiking through the woods or camping, but they might beat you to a pulp bouncing along on unimproved roads.

Last – You should be able to put a hydration bladder in your backpack. This isn’t an absolute must, but it sure is nice to get a drink of water without having to stop and unpack stuff just to get a sip. For me, easy hydration is a must. (I’ll say a little more about the bladders in a minute.)

If you do all the math on the various airline restrictions, you’ll come up with a maximum size of about 40 liters. That will hold a lot of undies and socks, but you’ll probably need it for more than that. I like lots of pockets and zipper compartments so I don’t have to dig through everything just to figure out where I put my GoPro batteries. If you just dump such things in the bag, then you know they will end up in the bottom below everything else. Here’s my backpack:

(From here on, clicking on the pictures will open up another window to the items on Amazon where you can get more details)

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Camelbak

There is another option other than a “full tilt” backpack. I sometimes ride with a “CamelBak” and a fanny pack. We’ll have saddlebags available to put stuff in, and I’ll talk about that in a minute. This option would be a lot easier on the body than a backpack full of stuff.

A camelback is sort of a baby backpack mainly intended to carry water. Most of them have little pouches or zippered compartments to carry little stuff you want easy access to. Some people get carried away with this and end up with an expensive, elaborate backpack.  Keep in mind, the object of a CamelBak is to go lightweight yet carry water. If the empty CamelBak itself weighs more than a pound, then you’ve defeated the purpose.

If you go with a CamelBak or equivalent, don’t get anything with water capacity above 3.0L or smaller than 2.0L. (One liter of water weighs 2.2 pounds.) One more thing if you consider a CamelBak… go with the CamelBak brand. There are lots of cheaper knock-offs out there, but none are as lightweight or well-constructed as a CamelBak. They are worth the extra bucks.

I chose the one I have because it also has 3L of cargo capacity and 3L water capacity. I never fill the water all the way up. The empty pack weighs only 10oz. Here’s the link to my CamelBak:

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Fanny Pack

No one wants to call them a “fanny pack” anymore. I think that’s because it conjures up images of Barney Fife in a pastel blue leisure suit wearing a fanny pack. That’s not what I’m talking about. Today they call them “waist belts,” “hip belts,” or “tool pack”… anything but “fanny pack.”

Of course that’s Don Knotts in the role of Mr Furley on the TV sitcom, “Three’s Company.” But I knew you would know who it was if I said Barney Fife.

For the Ho Chi Minh Trail Ride, I’m not talking about the foo-foo kind of fanny pack Barney Fife would wear. What I use is designed for motorcycle riding. It has the advantage of keeping all the weight down low… on your hips. I wear mine quite low so that when I’m sitting down all the weight is on the seat. When I did my Thailand ride, I carried about 15 pounds on tools plus other stuff in it.  The one I had then is no longer available, but here’s a link to one that’s almost the same:

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I should talk about the saddlebags we’ll have available before I go on. Don Duval has “Giant Loop Coyote” saddlebags. I think they aren’t exactly like the ones in the pic, but this will give you an idea of how much stuff you can take. The pic really is better than a thousand words.

These saddlebags have a 39L capacity. That’s a bit more than my backpack, so I could just use the saddlebags. But stuffing the saddlebags full of stuff isn’t a good idea. You don’t want the bike to get top-heavy. I think it would be better to limit it to 20L or 25L at the most. Remember that shoebox full of undies I talked about in the beginning… well, this would be good for the contents of three or four… of those shoe boxes. That’s a lot of undies.

Bladder

One last thing to mention is a bladder for your backpack. There’s not much to say here. This only applies if you aren’t going with a CamelBak. The bladder needs to be sturdy enough so it won’t spring a leak. It doesn’t need to be fancy. I didn’t have one when I planned for the trip last March (always used my Camelbak instead), so here’s the one I bought. It’s only about eleven bucks.

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Now… what the well dressed person (me) is to wear. For this trip I plan three of each of the following:

  • synthetic moisture-wicking t-shirts
  • cargo shorts
  • pairs of socks
  • moisture-wicking underwear

I should note that I also will take three pairs of riding boot socks. These are very bulky, but I want to be able to change if they get wet. There’s nothing worse than riding all day with wet socks.

Other stuff will be one pair of jeans, flip-flops, and sneakers. I going to take a swimsuit too… I’m not sure why except… who knows when we might go for a swim. I figure a swimsuit might double as another pair of shorts. There are a couple of places I can think of that would be interesting for a swim: the Nam Ngo River where Boxer22B spent two nights, or at the Ban Laboy Ford.

Now I know what you may be thinking… with 14 days on the HCMT and only three of everything, I’m probably going to stink by the fourth day. Well… I was worried about the same thing, but I would rather have that than be over-loaded. Keep in mind that we aren’t going to be staying in five-star hotels. It will be mostly a combination of guesthouses and homestays. That should give us some chance to wash stuff out at night. If worst-comes-to worst, I figure I can wash stuff out in the klong.

A big reason for not bringing a large wardrobe is I need room for all my cameras, gadgets, and toys. I would rather go naked than without my toys. And you certainly don’t want to go with me if I’m naked, so toys it is.

I wanted to keep this post from getting too long… but didn’t succeed. At this point, I’ve given you what I think is the necessary info for the trip. If you want, you can quit here and you won’t miss any essential stuff.

But if you want to see all the toys I’m taking and what I think are a couple of good ideas, go on to the next page.

1 thought on “Part 2 – What The Well Dressed Person Wears… on the Ho Chi Minh Trail

  1. Bob, this is what we needed – this, and the previous article. I look forward to meeting you and riding with you! Thank you so much for taking the time to write these.

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