What to Pack for a trip to Baja
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What to Pack for a trip to Baja

Aug 16, 2023

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Something about saltwater, tacos and sunshine makes people happy. So when I needed a quick escape, the idea of achieving that happy triad with only two short flights from my hometown airport of Missoula, Montana, sounded like a pretty good concept. A total of less than five hours of flying time could land me in the land where the desert meets the Sea of Cortés. Done deal.

The mission? Take a trip to Baja, and explore the fishing towns of Los Barriles and La Paz, and fish in the “MAJA El Grande” tournament. The beginning of the Fishing in the Five tournament series, an annual circuit where sport fishing fleets and clubs travel to Baja California Sur to compete. The fish we’re after? Marlin, dorado, tuna or roosterfish — the Mar de Cortés bears the nickname, “The Aquarium of the World” for good reason. The turquoise and rich navy waters are teeming with sportfish, humpback whales, California gray whales, killer whales, manta ray, leatherback sea turtles and even the Humboldt squid.

It was an ambitious agenda for four days on the ground — three of which were long fishing days that started before dawn — but still a worthy escape. The plan was to carve out a bit of poolside tanning at the Ventana Blue Hotel in the little village of La Ventana. It was a favorite — they had some of the most attentive staff I’ve ever experienced, and an ultimately chill, relaxed vibe. After each day of fishing, I would clean up and head to a nice dinner to explore local cuisine. Be sure to try Ventana Blue’s house margarita and the fresh ceviche of the day — it’s a meal to remember.

Four days packed with various activities can present a packing challenge, however. Between fishing, hanging at the pool, travel and dinners I wanted to bring along an array of items that would serve multiple purposes, and still be comfortable in Baja’s summer heat (think heat indexes well over 100F every day). Here’s a look at what made the cut, including the men’s versions of some of my favorite travel gear for a trip to Baja.

Various iterations of Patagonia’s Black Hole duffel have traveled with me to six continents, and there are many reasons I keep reaching for them. Durable, water-resistant fabric, comfy backpack straps even with big loads and good internal organization for a duffel (including load straps and lid pockets) make this bag one of my go-tos. And because it’s a soft-sided duffel, it’s easy to fit into whatever Baja transportation you find yourself using.

The stuff of organized, type-A travelers’ dreams. Solgaard’s Carry-on Closet has a built-in shelving system, which easily unfolds and hangs off the suitcase handle. It makes transitions and quick overnights easier than ever since you don’t have to unpack each night. The polycarbonate shell is burly enough to withstand airport luggage handlers, and there’s even an integrated USB charging port for last-minute charges. The large carry-on size is accepted by all U.S. airlines.

Ideal for long weekend escapes (think two to four days) it’s a durable, versatile pack that can carry your overnight gear, then turn around and act like a roomy day bag once you’ve arrived. Comfortable shoulder and hip straps help during long walks, and a padded airport sleeve fits up to a 15” laptop. It’s carry-on compliant and includes a rain cover even though the exterior has a water-resistant TPU coating.

Bag enthusiasts know Peak Design for their highly technical yet minimalist shoulder bags and backpacks. True to that spirit, the Everyday Sling is small and lightweight. The 6-liter size can fit a DSLR camera (without drawing attention like many camera bags), and the padded cross-body strap keeps you comfortable even when the bag is fully loaded. Origami-like FlexFold dividers can be moved in the interior to create customizable protection, and a weatherproof UltraZip closure keeps dust and rain away.

Vacation time on Baja means you’re going to be on the water. Whether you’re fishing, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling or just hanging at the hotel pool, a drybag is a good idea. Seal Line’s Discovery View series is clear so you can easily see what’s inside. The PurgeAir seal lets you vent air while still keeping the bag waterproof, and the durable construction holds up to whatever you want to throw at it. I’ve traveled with one of these bags for years, and it’s a go-to in my saltwater kit.

No one wants to pack heavy on a beach vacation, and these linen pants from prAna come in play for multiple occasions. They’re comfortable and relaxed for flights and travel days, work as a poolside layer, and can be dressed up with a button-down for dinner. Lightweight, bacteria-resistant hemp fabric keeps you dry in Baja’s hot weather. Thanks to details such as a self-covered elastic waistband with interior drawcord, an invisible zip on-seam secure pocket, front/back pockets and a faux fly, they’re practical as well as comfortable.

This shirt goes from flips-and-boardies to cocktails at that upscale little bar in town. Howler Brothers offers a fresh take on the classic guayabera shirt — a men’s summer shirt typically worn outside the trousers, distinguished by two vertical rows of closely sewn pleats running the length of the front and back of the shirt. Additions such as a mesh-lined vented back yoke, quick-drying cotton-poly stretch fabric, and unique embroidery mean this shirt looks sharp but remains comfortable in Baja heat.

If you’re fishing, exploring the trails, or sailing on a whale-watching ship, covering skin from Baja’s hot rays is a good idea. This hot-weather hoodie is designed to offer sun protection while keeping your skin cool with Cool-Touch fabric, which wicks moisture from skin. The cut is athletic — this isn’t your dad’s bulky sun shirt — and brings thoughtful features such as a built-in neck gaiter, underarm venting and a chest pocket.

The soft feel and weighty drape of this polo make it an ideal travel piece: it can dress up for dinner but is comfortable enough for long travel or tour days. The bamboo blend fabric helps regulate temperature while providing UPF 50 protection and four-way stretch. The three-button placket offers adjustable ventilation but still keeps that look classic.

Baja draws fishermen from around the world who want to chase the elusive roosterfish, a one-of-a-kind gamefish which looks like a comic book escapee. Bajío hired tattoo artist and fishing guide Casey Anderson to capture the unique fish for this performance ballcap, crafted in breathable five-panel Supplex fabric with flat bill and black DryZone underbill to reduce glare and wick moisture. The snapback and white rope detail also add a bit of attitude.

It might require carrying it onto the plane, but a good sun hat is worth the hassle. This simple straw hat from fishing brand Huk is a solid value at $25, offering plenty of shade for hot days. An adjustable chin strap keeps the hot on during windy conditions, and a fun under-brim pattern adds a bit of vacation attitude.

While dinner most nights might be barefoot from the local taco cart, it’s always a good idea to be ready to dress up. Olukai’s Lae’ahi Lauhala looks the part thanks to hand-woven antiqued and burnished leather, but retains the relaxed yet supportive footbed we’ve come to love from Olukai.

Another Olukai model, but to be fair that’s all I brought with me to Baja. The brand’s ‘Ohana sandal is one of its most popular models, and for good reason. The flip-flop goes from beach to bar effortlessly with water-resistant, cushioned material that holds up to saltwater and sand. Best for those with high arches, the drop-in footbed makes your feet feel like they’re on vacation, too.

Looking for flips with a bit of novelty? Reef’s Fanning sandals are ready to pop the top off that Pacifico, thanks to a built-in bottle opener located on the footbed. The synthetic nubuck upper, padded liner, heel airbag and compression molded footbed keep things comfortable while a herringbone rubber outsole helps provide grip on slick boat decks.

A great choice for airport days, the hotel gym, or a dawn run before the day’s relaxing, Allbirds’s Tree Dasher 2 is lightweight and packs small. Responsive foam, extra grip and a snug, no-slip heel collar keeps you cushioned and secure regardless of the activity. They can also dress up enough for dinner at the hotel bar.

This slip-on goes from customs queue to fishing boat with ease. A stain-repellent canvas and leather upper helps keep a classic boat shoe look, while outsole traction provides strong gripping power on slick surfaces. The interior is well-cushioned, and built-in ventilation helps keep your feet dry.

Sun Bum’s Mineral Sunscreen collection is zinc-based, offering a barrier against Baja’s mighty UVA/UVB rays. The formulas rub in nicely (zinc-based sunscreen will always leave a bit of a white cast, but it’s as minimal as any brand we’ve tried) and blocks the UV rays well. From a Mineral SPF 30 Sunscreen Lip Balm to a variety of roll-ons, sprays, as well as face and body sunscreens in both SPF 30 and SPF 50 (including fragrance-free varieties for those sensitive to scents), these products are always in my beach bag.

You’re at the beach — time to embrace the salty texture in your locks. Enhance it with Oars and Alps Texturizing Spray, which adds texture and helps hair look thicker and healthier. The light, flexible hold doesn’t feel too formal, and there’s no annoying shine (only a pleasant, subtle sandalwood scent). The spray also helps add nutrients back into dry strands, including B vitamins biotin and panthenol, as well as rice and fruit extracts to moisturize.

Sun and saltwater feel good in the moment, but it can be tough on your skin. Kiehl’s travel-sized set is a solid four-piece collection of energizing formulas to help tired, sun-kissed skin recover and look its best. The kit includes the Facial Fuel Energizing Scrub, Face Wash, Energizing Moisture Treatment and a No-Shine Moisturizing Lip Balm. They smell good, soothe, and make your skin happy — that’s what we call a win-win.

After a long day in the sun, a good body oil is just the ideal hydration pick-me-up before dinner. HIM-ISTRY’S Alpha Dry Body Oil sprays and smooths onto the skin for a luxe, hydrating finish. The formula is infused with antioxidant-rich baobab, coconut, argan and grapeseed oil, which dry quickly and cleanly so you don’t stain clothing. It can be used on both skin and hair, which makes it a great two-for-one travel product.

If you’re a die-hard bar soap guy, you should know better than to rely on hotel toiletries to soothe your skin after a day in the sun. Dr. Squatch’s bar is made with cold-pressed coconut oil for extra moisture, and leaves you with the classical tropical scent of Bay Rum: a cocktail of clove, cinnamon, pine and citrus.

With 70% certified organic ingredients, Coola’s travel set includes four TSA-size travel products — just enough for a long weekend away. This perfectly portable set features four minis, all packed in a limited-edition, ocean-inspired reusable pouch. Also included is a full-size LipLux SPF 30 Original. If you want a grab-and-go solution for sun protection, this is an easy fix.

Baja is well-known for its world-class snorkeling and watersports. Instead of relying on a tour operator’s sub-par gear, pack along your own snorkel set so you don’t have to worry about sharing someone else’s snorkel and mask. Compact and easy to pack, the mask, snorkel and fins come in a travel bag. Cressi is a household name in diving so you can expect good visibility and a comfortable fit.

Quality sunglasses are a must-pack, and this frame from Costa fits the bill whether you’re chilling on the beach or competing in a fishing tournament. Blue mirrored glass lenses cut through the tropical waters while blocking 100% of harmful UV rays, and the medium-fit, wrap-style frame offers good protection from flying tackle.

Keeping all your travel info organized is key to a relaxing vacation — nothing kills the vibe like a lost passport or credit card. Bellroy’s folio has slots for all the basics, including your two passport pockets, six card slots, hidden flat bill storage, and a rear zip pocket that’s accessible without opening the main pouch. Features I really love? The included micro pen (always useful for immigration forms) and the SIM and ejector pin storage. The entire thing is also RFID protected.

Sand Cloud’s towel is made of 100% organic Turkish cotton, loomed and made in Turkey. The sand-resistant towel dries remarkably quickly and folds up small to fit in your backpack or beach bag, and it only gets softer with each wash.

Baja is hot, so it’s a good idea to replenish your electrolytes to keep yourself feeling good. These little electrolyte packets are easy to grab and go; each contains a salty but well-flavored blend including 1000mg sodium, 200mg potassium, and 60mg magnesium — an ideal blend for rehydration. These sticks have become a daily habit for me, and make a huge difference, especially on travel days or hot days in the sun. (Hint: they help with hangovers, too.) The variety pack (good for finding out your favorite flavor) runs $20, while a 30-count box of any one flavor is $45.

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We've put in the work researching, reviewing and rounding up all the shirts, jackets, shoes and accessories you'll need this season, whether it's for yourself or for gifting purposes. Sign up here for weekly style inspo direct to your inbox.