In our 3rd edition of the Packing for Costa Rica blog series, we are taking a look at waterproof gear and baggage for the tropics. You can find a summarized list on our Questions and Answers page, but for these blogs we wanted to explain in more detail about the things that we use on a daily or weekly basis and why.
Where we live in Drake Bay, and in many other remote locations of Costa Rica, the roads are unsealed and we have no sidewalks. Because of this, we definitely do not recommend that you use a “wheely” case for your luggage. Most guests only need to watch the boat arrivals in Drake Bay for about 5 minutes to understand why. Have you ever seen someone try to wheel a giant suitcase on gravel, sand, or clay? It’s one of those things that’s funny as long as it’s not happening to you.
We have owned a huge variety of backpacks over the years, but there is one brand that really stands up to the tropical torture test. Charlotte first came across the brand while she was volunteering at a sea turtle conservation project in Drake Bay. The Australian company is highly invested in marine turtle conservation, and donated some backpacks for the project.
Almost 4 years later, these things have been through the ringer. Salt, sand, monsoonal rain, humidity. They have also been used by the rotating staff of 18-25 year old volunteers, which may have actually been harder on them than the humidity! The project still uses them, and they look brand new.
They are made with “slash proof” fabric, and come with lockable zippers, so they are really secure for public transport and dorms. The project uses a large 30L pack and smaller day packs for sea turtle patrols. Note that they are not waterproof, so you will need a good waterproof bag for day trips.
When you live in the tropics, especially in the remote areas of Costa Rica like Drake Bay, you quickly become obsessed with waterproof containers. Even outside of rainy season, the ambient humidity will fry your electronics, make your clothes moldy, and fog up your camera lens.
Almost everyone we know in Drake Bay hoards Tupperware, waterproof cases and dry bags. For locals, it doesn’t even matter what they look like. I’ve seen 50 year old men walking around with barbie pink phone cases and showing them off. “This is a really good case, very waterproof!” It’s function over fashion.
Like most people, these types of items take up half of our house. Having said that, there are 3 items that we use the most frequently. A 20L dry bag with good straps, a small Pelican case, and a floating phone pouch. (and yes, the phone pouch happens to be barbie pink!)
There are plenty of dry bags on the market that can be placed inside other backpacks, but we like the ones with proper backpack straps, as they are great for day trips. You can easily hike with them, and you won’t get your good luggage items wet when you go on tours.
The small Pelican case is just the right size for a smartphone, passport, money and credit card. We pretty much use it everyday. Actually, we have about 4, one of which Curt has had for about 10 years. The floating phone pouch we probably use the least often, but the good thing about it is that you can still use the phone and touchscreen, while keeping it protected. Charlotte likes to take it with her so she can listen to music on the boat to Sierpe.
As far as keeping yourself dry, a good Gortex waterproof jacket is a must for your packing list. There are all kinds of good brands out there, but we suggest googling “fishermen’s waterproof jackets” to find the best ones. Just make sure you don’t put them in the washing machine, as it will often strip the waterproof coating and you’ll end up wet and sweaty at the same time.
Last but not least, we also recommend throwing a plastic bag or two into your pack for emergencies or other odds and ends. There is a cool origami tutorial that shows you how to fold ordinary shopping bags into neat little squares, so they are easy to throw in your day pack. It also stops you from accumulating single-use plastic when you go to the store.
A Note About Product Links: We will never promote products that we have not used personally throughout the 10 years we have been living in the Osa. They pass the tropical torture test and are useful to put in your pack.