Surf Trip Packing List 2020
We all love a great surf trip!
Surf travelling to a new break has a way of smacking you in the face with beauty. It’s a time to surf, disconnect, and reconnect with a deeper vibe.
Surf vacations are one of the best activities on the planet and it's such a great experience.
While a good attitude and a credit card will save you from pretty much any oversight, a dialed kit is the key to travelling with maximum confidence and minimal stress.
Be prepared and have an excellent ‘surf trip, bro’!
In this article we cover surftrip preparation, with variations depending on your destination and gender.
Here's A Quick Guide Of What You Can Find On This Article:
Surf Trip & Surfboards - The Holy Grail
Taking the right surfboards is the key to having a great surf trip. I always wait until about 10 days before my surf travel to decide on my quiver and even then I frequently switch out some shapes last minute.
Having the right selection of boards is a pivotal decision. Your surf trip location and swell size should dictate your surfboard selection—if you are going to buy a new surfboard for the trip, I would also recommend waiting to see the forecast window.
Keep in mind that some airlines charge for each board in your bag—though this isn’t common, it could happen. You are looking at a surfboard bag fee between $40 - $250 on average.
Don’t worry, Wave Tribe has the most complete list on the internet of airline surfboard baggage fees. Check it before you book your ticket.
You might find that after paying the boardbag fees, the cheaper flight was the wrong option. High surfboard baggage fees could bump your current selection substantially.
Pack your boards using wetsuits, towels, clothes, bubble wrap, egg cartons and other protective gear where applicable to minimize damage. Know that the airline may lose your board, it happens.
Surf Trip Esssentials
If there are surf shops where you are going, you can ask them about the gear they carry, but inventory is often really limited. It’s best to pack backups of the essentials like surfboard leash, fins, fin keys, sunscreen, ear plugs, and leash rope. Shit breaks. Be prepared.
The shops might not be open early enough to replace the fin you snapped halfway through a perfect sunrise session. They also might not have cool eco-friendly options that you can find when you plan ahead.
Consider these options:
- Futures has a reclaimed wood fin and makes its Alpha | Netplus line with Bureo’s recycled fishnets.
- 5 Oceans makes an eco fin from recycled ocean plastic from Indo and Bali.
- Pushfins makes them out of skateboard waste.
- Shaka Surf makes recycled plastic fins out of 70 plastic bottle caps.
- Wave Tribe makes recycled surfboard leashes, grab one here.
- Revolwe’s leashes are made of recycled bottles and the cuff is yulex instead of petroleum.
- Wave Tribe’s eco wax is made in America out of beeswax and coconut oil.
- Crimson’s surf wax adds sandalwood to bee/coconut mix.
Ding Repair Kit
- Duck tape and suncure are always good to have on your trip.
If you’re taking a surfboard, you need a surfboard travel bag for it. The extra padding and heat-protective materials make it so much easier to safely stow your board when your shelping it around on the trip.
I travel a lot. Sometimes I see surfboards wrapped in Mexican blankets or thin sheets coming out of the baggage carousel.
Don’t expect this type of setup to protect your surfboard. A board bag made for surfboard travel is the safest way to transport your gear via air.
For more detailed info on which surfboard bag to get check out our article on How To Pick A Boardbag.
Backpacks & Bags
You can pack a lot of your soft goods in your board bag if you’re bringing one. Then you may get by with a backpack that doubles as a day pack for the rest. Consider a dry bag.
I’m partial to Patagonia’s surf packs, because their gear tends to hold up and they try to do right by the planet.
Search “best surf backpacks” for other options. If you take a normal duffle, consider bringing a roll-top dry bag to isolate wet gear inside it.
A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Consider Choose or Gold Standard if you feel like this is how you want to mitigate your footprint.
According to Consumer Reports (CR),none of the mineral/physical-barrier (aka natural) sunscreens they tested provide enough UVA protection and SPF performance to meet their recommendations.
The sunscreens they do recommend are all chemically-based, meaning they contain oxybenzone and other chemicals known to harm reefs. AND about 40% of the 82 sunscreens they tested provide less than halfof the SPF they claim.
Note: “Reef safe” is a noble goal, but it’s not a regulated term. Seeing it on a bottle of sunscreen doesn’t mean much on its own. You’re trying to minimize how much oxybenzone and octinoxate ends up in the ocean, so look for those ingredients.
Of the chemical (i.e. reef harming) sunscreens CR tested, BullFrog Land Sport Quik Gel SPF 50 did well in tests.
Of the mineral, physical barrier brands (think zinc), Badger’s active natural mineral cream SPF 30 unscented did the best, but only earned half the sun protecting score that BullFrog earned.
I have been using Badger for about ten years and as long as you put enough on, it does the job. Anyone that has been with me in the lineup knows that I put on a healthy portion.
The takeaway is that sunscreen is very, very imperfect, but dermatologists agree that you have to wear it to protect yourself. Minimizing sun exposure during peak UV exposure between 10 am and 4 pm and wearing sun-protective clothing is my main strategy.
Recommended Sunscreen & Sun Protection
I usually only need sunscreen on my face, neck, hands, lower legs and feet. On my face, neck, and hands I use Badger as I mentioned before. Derms warn not to miss your eyelids and ears. I listen to them.
My bro at Sett Surf also has a great natural sunscreen for surfers and is worth getting your hands on for your next trip.
Lip Balm - Don’t forget your lips! I use Sun Bum’s lip balm a lot but it rubs off easily. Their signature version sticks better but is a little chalky. Salt and Stone’s SPF 30 lip balm is a nice balance. They’re all pricey.
Sunglasses - Polarized lens are a good idea to cut down on glare from the water. Aim for Visible Light Transmission (VLT) rates between 8% to 17% if you’re going to get really sun-blasted. A VLT of 18% to 45% is for everyday conditions. Wirecutter has a good run down that includes Sunski, my favorite eco-friendly option. Also check out Sea Specs for floating sunglasses to wear in the lineup on those scorching Indo days.
Hats - I’ll toss on a trucker hat when the waves are small and also use the Patagonia hooded rash guard for when I really need some protection from those rays. It’s good to have 2 hats with you on the trip as you don’t want to wear a wet hat post surf while kicking it on the surfcamp patio.
Sun Protective Clothing - Check out the next section but, to summarize, I try to cover as much skin as possible with clothing so I can avoid the sunscreen conundrum.
What to Wear in the Water | Surf and Adventure
Wetsuits - Evo has a great wetsuit thickness guide. Check expected water temps for your destination and plan accordingly. Patagonia’s Yulex wetsuit is made from sustainable plant matter and is a badass suit. Read more about Patagonia's wetsuit production process here.
O’Neill makes super comfortable suits and Rip Curl and VISSLA (men only) also make some nice options. Wetsuits are a very personal thing, some will fit you better than others and also go for the top of the line model—being cold in the line-up sucks.
Boot, Gloves, Hood - See Evo’s chart to figure out whether or not to pack them. Also, consider reef booties for warm locations with brutally rugged reefs.
I always travel with reef booties and they have saved my ass several times.
Boardshorts, For Everyone* - There an obvious addition for guys, but women often skip boardshorts. That can be a mistake if you’re skin isn’t ready for the sun.
Your thighs can fry if you’re sitting on your board for hours, especially if it sits high in the water. I always bring boardshorts that reach my knees, which are crazy hard to find for women.
You can wear men’s, but the cut is often terrible. Another option is swim tights.
Ladies, you’ll have a hard time finding longer shorts. Patagonia used to make versions that you can still find on Worn Wear at times, or you can try the men’s options.
Rash Guard or Super Cute Suit - This is where ladies have more options. Everyone can start by looking at normal rash guards. Every brand seems to make one, so you have lots of options.
There are also a number of long sleeve swimsuits and shortie wetsuits made for women to keep the sun off your arms. The LA Times has a super fashionable round-up.
Bikinis - I wear a bikini under my wetsuit to make changing easier, and because it seems more hygienic. Same for swim tights/boardshorts. It’s also lovely to surf in just a bikini.
Microplastics/Synthetic Fibers - All of these are made from synthetic materials that release microplastic fibers directly into the ocean and every time you wash them.
The most “eco-friendly” of them are made out of recycled plastics. They’re still plastic and still release plastic microfibers.
If you want to take a stand, wear tight-fitting and tight weave (for higher UPF) cotton, hemp or bamboo long sleeve shirts and shorts in the water. Or, carefully hand wash these items to reduce fiber release.
What to Wear on Land | Surf and Adventure
The key here is to minimize. Two short sleeve shirts or tank tops, two pairs of shorts or pants, one or two long sleeve layering shirts (wool for cool climates and tight weave cotton or bamboo with a hood for sun protection in warm climates).
A sweater/fleece layer, and rain gear should cover it. Switch out a pair of shorts/pants for a dress or skirt if you’d like.
Turkish Towel - You don’t exactly wear it, but you’ll want one of these super-soft, packable, and absorbent towels when you walk out of the water.
There are tons of options. Look for organic cotton.
Toiletries and First Aid
The Usual, but Consider Going Dry - You’ll want a toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, floss, deodorant, etc. But consider dry versions, like a bar shampoo and toothpaste powder (or make your own). It is often more efficient to ship, requires less packaging, and makes it easier to get through security.
Tampons - If you have periods, pack tampons, or a keeper/diva cup. They can be really hard to find in some locations.
Some First Aid - If you’re not going remote, you can probably buy most of what you need. But look over this list from Johns Hopkins and bring anything you’d like to have on-hand. Consider bug spray and/or a bug net if you’re heading somewhere buggy.
Headlamp - That’s a toiletry right?
Water Filter - I’m sick of getting sick, so I travel with a bottle purifier. It makes grabbing a quick drink easier and reduces the need for plastic bottles. REI breaks down your options.
Research Waves and Swell
And be ready to get skunked. Hopefully, you like at least one or two things other than surfing, or at least like yourself enough to enjoy the vacation you worked hard to pay for.
Read, snorkel, run, make friends, sleep — all of it is good for you.
Other things to consider
- Friends, take them or make them. Either works.
- Surf helmet and life vest. Bodies are expensive to fix and death is forever.
- Soft roof racks could save your bacon even if you’re renting boards or if you’ll need a rental car or taxi to move between breaks.
- A spare battery and travel solar panel to keep your electronics rolling.
- If you’re going way out, you could consider a personal locator beacon or satellite messenger, but you’ll have to check with local authorities to see if anyone would actually mobilize to respond to your distress signal.
For international travel, you’ll also need
- Your passport, bring at least one copy with you and leave one with someone at home.
- Check the Center for Disease Control and State Department website for any vaccinations you may need or regional health concerns.
- Look into travel and emergency medical insurance options to avoid bankruptcy.
- Possibly a socket adapter for your electronics, check.
Preparation is the key to a great trip but if you forget something don’t worry about it. You’ll still have a great time as long as you have the essentials: surfboard and boardshorts.
Have a great trip and check out Wave Tribe and load up on some eco surf gear for an epic surf trip!
P.S. I’ll end with a video on packing your boardbag for surf trip travel.