Freelance Writer and Photographer Sean Jansen Shares His Best Organized Packing Tips

Adventurer Sean Jansen

My name is Sean Jansen, I am from San Clemente, California and I am a writer, photographer, athlete, and seasonal worker. I move constantly with the seasons and am currently in Bozeman. Montana.

I grew up surfing, an activity I still enjoy today. However, I have indeed shifted a bit to the mountains where I enjoy back packing, fly fishing, trail running, and am now getting into cross country skiing. I’m not sure if the activities I enjoy reflect who I am as a person, but I really think I am a weirdo goofball that thrives on the simple joys nature provides while playing outside. Especially, when sharing it with friends or family.

Adventurer Sean Jansen

How and why did you get into adventuring and traveling?

Adventuring and traveling to me first came from surfing. At a young age, I was fascinated by the differences in waves and coastlines around the world. The shape, size, color, water temperature, etc. And that was what first drew me out the door in pursuit of passport stamps. However, when I turned 18, I had to get surgery and that sidelined me for a week of no surfing, which at the time was like chopping my legs off. And as I sat on the beach watching my friends catch waves, the sunset began going off with all the colors of the rainbow. I was in such awe at its beauty that I looked around and saw no one with cameras out to capture it (long before iPhones). And at that moment, I decided that photography was one of the coolest things in the world and yet another vessel to help propel me out of the country.

So I worked my summers with my dad power saving every penny I earned, saving for my first camera set up. After that, a decades worth of globe trotting ensued, camera and surfboard in tow. Traveling was such an integral part of my life at the time that I was willing to do whatever it took to get out the door and out of the country. The boldest thing I had done was selling my truck and use the money to spend six months in South America. However, upon returning to college after that trip, I was deprived of a vehicle to return home to, and that was where my first real adventure began.

My school was about a 12-hour drive from my hometown, on the complete opposite side of the state of California. I of course, could have just bought a plain ticket or bus pass and made it home that way, but instead I conjured up the idea to bike down the entire coast of California, camping, surfing, and pedaling 909 miles until I got home. And from that moment on, my time spent in nature in pursuit of adventure began surpassing time in different countries experiencing cultures. That trip led me to multiple bike tours; stand up paddle trips, and my life changing thru-hike on the Pacific Crest Trail.

Adventurer Sean Jansen

How do you finance your adventures?

Financing my trips comes from a variety of sources. I freelance as a writer and photographer for various publications as well as companies. I have been lucky enough over the years to develop good relationships with publications throughout the U.S., as well as around the globe and that has helped significantly for staying at a location or fueling the next idea for adventure. Sadly however, I have not yet broken ground and have made it to where it is the sole income for my life and trips. I also have to do seasonal work to make ends meet. I have taught English in Asia and Latin America. Learned construction and landscaping, farming, and am now in Montana snow plowing. My dream is to one day make it solely off of my art of writing and photography, but in the meantime I have enjoyed these trades as they will one day be integral for my pursuits and dreams.

Adventure and travel are not cheap, therefore funding for these trips can be an exhausting exercise. However, I have been lucky to work with a company like Lowe Alpine who supply me with packs for various uses. They provided me a pack for some of my first travels out of the country to helping me on the Pacific Crest Trail, I have had packs covered for all my trips and that has had a tremendous impact on gear prices for me. Travel is where most of the financial impact comes from. But learning the system is a great way to save on trips. Learning how credit cards work for cash back and airline miles has helped a ton to get me back onto a plane or fuel the next hike. I have this weird system where I put one percent of every paycheck into a special account where that money is only to be used for the next trip. Simple organization for me has helped a ton in financing the next pursuit.

Adventurer Sean Jansen

How do you eat and sleep on the road?

Eating and sleeping on the road takes on a variety of forms. It all really depends on what the trip is all about. When I am traveling, I love experiencing the cuisine of whichever locale I am at. I don’t sacrifice street food for anything. It is almost the top reason why I am there to begin with. So I like to take it all in and enjoy whatever it is that the culture is infamous for. But when it comes to road trips or a backpacking trip, the mindset is really different.

When it comes to road trips, I rarely stop to indulge in the fast food industry. Though of course I have, I always try to make healthy food and stay away from the unhealthy and surprisingly expensive Taco Bell-McDonalds type foods. I always have my Jetboil with me to make coffee, boil water for oatmeal, rice, potatoes, etc. When lucky, I like to roast things over a campfire at campgrounds and rest areas. But when it comes to backcountry trips, I spoil myself.

I usually don’t care what it is when on an overnight trip in the wilderness. I have packed out fried chicken, pizza, icing, cake, cheese, wine, beer you name it! I don’t sacrifice delicious unhealthy foods for MRE’s. Though some are amazing, there is something about greasy, day old epicness from a restaurant or hot deli in the supermarket that just makes the grueling day of hiking or adventuring that much more rewarding. Something to look forward to when the effort put forth to get to your location is exhausting.

Adventurer Sean Jansen

How do you bring your things with you?

My methods for carrying gear also comes in a variety of forms. It all really depends on the trip, but Lowe Alpine has been an integral part of all my pursuits. From traveling to backpacking, they have provided me with gear that has withstood countless plane, train, bus, and car trips. They also provided me with a pack that handled all 2,650 miles of the PCT and still is used to this day for weekend trips. My kit with them has been unreal and there lightweight, durable packs have shaped how many of my adventures have started. I have been lucky enough to test out over 6 packs with them and have little inclination to return any for they are simply amazing.

I also have a couple of dry bags from SealLine that are epic when it comes to my aquatic trips. On my SUP overnighters, they have kept my sleeping bag, clothes, and camera gear dry when water splashes or I take an accidental tumble into the water. I have been able to rely on their bags for years now with no worry whatsoever.

Adventurer Sean Jansen

How do you organize things in your bags?

Organization of equipment in my packs is very important. When you go on a backcountry trip, the weight distribution of your pack can make or break the trip. You must pay attention to where your gear is in association to its weight. When backpacking, the heaviest items must be in the center of your pack, closest to your back. That way your pack isn’t swaying away from you or downward instead of being at the center of gravity and the strength of your core.

When it comes to waterproof and waterproofing, I honestly feel it is a wasted exercise. Waterproof bags are sadly heavy and inconvenient for backcountry trips. Therefore, I simply wrap my important, life saving kit in a trash bag when I know rain or snow could inhibit the trip. I have yet to encounter any uncomfortable nights with a wet sleeping bag even in torrential downpour and accidentally falling into a river completely submerged.

Adventurer Sean Jansen

How do your bags and gear hold up?

My kit takes a beating with the activities and travel I love to do. But in saying that, it all holds up very well. I do indeed do research before purchasing or acquiring gear. I look at what it is made of, read reviews from previous users, look at weight and capacity limits. All the homework in the world does benefit your time using it, but nothing speaks to a test run. I must say that the gear I have simply withstands to all that I have thrown at them and they still keep kicking and wagging theirs tails for more. I wouldn’t trade any kit that I have for there is no need to if it works for what it is you are pursuing.

I have had to patch a couple jackets from a fire ember burning a hole. I have had buckles that wear down and need replacing, and I have had tent poles snap because a tree fell on my tent. But all the scenarios that I have had to fix or replace are those with which all gear would have needed fixing. I am proud and stoked with the gear I have and wouldn’t replace it for anything.

Adventurer Sean Jansen

Any gear you wish you had brought with you from the beginning?

My very first adventure started off with so much gear that I look back at it now and chuckle at what I brought. But in saying that, I have learned a lot from that experience as well as all other trips preceding that one. Every trip I have seemed to bring less and less and that has only been with experience and trial and error. When I hiked the PCT, I found myself constantly shipping things home for the old saying of doing more with less kept creeping in.

But in saying that, there are certainly pieces of kit that I will never leave home without. A headlamp, water filter, and camera are all things that never get sacrificed regardless of the trip. They are essential to whatever trip it is and wouldn’t even want to go if I didn’t have these items. There are of course a few sanitary items as well that can make or break the comfort of the trip.

Adventurer Sean Jansen

What has been your best adventuring purchase below $100?

Adventuring is expensive, plain and simple. It takes a lot of time and money to enjoy a lot of activities in the outdoors. But in saying that, there are a few items that are so necessary and relatively inexpensive that they have earned their mark at the top of my purchasing list. And the most important for me that has been under 100$ are my Kelty trekking poles.

I used to never use trekking poles when backpacking or hiking. Now, I will turn the car around from a trailhead and drive back home to get them if I had forgot them. They are hugely important for anything from maintaining balance to a weapon if needed. I have seen them used for tent poles as well as read an article about them being used as a crutch for when an injury takes place in the backcountry. They collapse small enough to strap to the outside of your pack and are lightweight enough to where you barely feel them walking down trail.

As a photographer, I have a lightweight tripod that never stays home when on a trip. I have a small Goal Zero solar panel to charge my phone or camera batteries. And funny enough, I never leave home without a small tube of Vagasil. As funny as this may sound, chaffing simply sucks. I had horrible times on trail suffering from rashes and rubbing in places that no one wants and all I have to say is that women figured out this pain a long time ago and never looked back. Though I will admit that I have had to ask my mom, sister, or girlfriend to purchase for me.

What is your best advice for other adventurers?

The best advice I could give an aspiring outdoorsman or adventurer is to do what makes you happy. Do the activities you’ve grown up doing or have always wanted to do, not because they are popular or they get the most likes on Instagram. I found myself trapped in the Social Media world of waking up at sunrise, climbing to the nearest peak, throwing my hands to the sky and taking a selfie for followers. And I look back now and just chuckle at my blindness. I almost deleted all Social Media channels, sold all my camera gear and got a desk job. I forgot about my passion for photography, the outdoors, and sunrises all to get trapped in the digital world of likes and comments. Don’t fall into the trap I had. Ignore Social Media where you don’t find inspiration and go out and pursue what it is that makes you happy. Do it because you have always wanted to, not because you wanted to share your experience.

I have ended relationships, sold vehicles, worked jobs I have never wanted to work, and have stayed with family and friends on their sofas for far too long all to pursue the things that make me happy. And at 29 years of age, writing this on my parents couch with camera next to me and Google Maps opened on a different tab to gear up for another trip, I have zero regrets for what I am doing and where I am at.

Adventurer Sean Jansen

What will the future bring?

I am uncertain what the future will bring, but I think that may be the beauty of it. Right now my life is based upon the next storm that’ll bring the next couple inches of powder and am excited about learning and trying winter activities. I am from Coastal California and never really experienced the snow growing up. Therefore, I am thrilled to see what winter will bring to me and being in Bozeman is Mecca for skiing.

I have surf trips planned for the right swell and am looking to make a trip to Lake Superior in Minnesota. I have a couple backpacking trips lined up to document un-fished, high alpine lakes, and I just returned from the PNW chasing steelhead in Washington. My life is constantly dependent on weather and that spontaneity has me constantly on my toes and excited for the next trip, what fuels all my photography and travel.

Visit Sean Jansen on his website and follow him on Instagram


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