Central America packing list and gear picks

Heading to Central America? You’re going to need to pack smart, for both sun protection and insect protection. And of course, you’ll want to be comfortable in humid and tropical weather. We just returned from Panama and Costa Rica, where we stayed relatively cool and safe from the elements by following this Central America packing list.

central america packing list

Central America packing list:

  • 2-3 lightweight, long-sleeved travel shirts
  • 2-3 lightweight t-shirts or tank tops
  • 2 pairs quick-dry, wicking travel pants (convertible a plus)
  • 2 pairs of shorts, skirts, or dresses
  • 4-5 pair quick-dry travel underwear/bras (trust us)
  • 1 swim suit (preferably a ‘sporty’ type for activities)
  • 1 light pullover, sweater, or cardigan
  • 1 breathable rain jacket
  • 1 pair walking or hiking shoes
  • 1 pair water-ready sandals
  • 3-5 pair hiking socks (preferably lightweight wool)
  • 1 wide-brimmed, lightweight hat (think safari style)

Gear picks: the brands and products we recommend:

Look for clothing that’s specifically designed for hot, humid environments with lots of bright sunshine and more than its share of insects. Your clothing needs to be breathable, loose enough to be comfortable while you’re active, and quick-drying for water sports (and humidity and sweat). Here’s what we took to Panama and Costa Rica and loved:

Toad & Co Debug line: Toad & Co’s ‘Debug’ line comes treated with insect shield technology that lasts through years of washes. It’s much safer to wear bug-treated clothing than to spray insect repellent directly onto your skin, and because Toad & Co’s Debug line is designed for tropical environments, most items are also very breathable and lightweight. I wore the Debug Hike Thru shirt both onboard our UnCruise on travel days and in the jungle. Their bandana scarf is also a great item to accessorize with, giving your debug benefits without buying a whole outfit.

Craghoppers Insect shield line: Craghoppers’ Insect Shield line is made for men and women, and offers both long and short-sleeved ‘Panama’ shirts, lightweight jackets with multiple pockets, and hiking pants. Our Pit Stops Dad loved the NatGeo Insect Shield cargo shorts and I liked the NatGeo adventure shirt. Best of all, there’s a nice line of kids’ insect shield clothing, which can be hard to find elsewhere! Our son wore the Insect Shield half-zip.

ExOfficio BugsAway line: I’ve always loved ExOfficio for travel wear, and their BugsAway line is fashionable and comfortable. I’ve worn their Damselfly pant in the Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Costa Rica. And ExOfficio is absolutely where to go for quick dry underwear for your trip!

Columbia Sportswear: Columbia doesn’t make insect-treated clothing (that we are aware of), but they do make some of our favorite hiking/travel shirts and pants, and are less expensive than most. They come in kid sizes too, and our son’s favorite is the Bahama long-sleeve. Definitely shop Columbia for zip-off convertible hiking pants, too.

Mountain Khakis’ Equatorial shirt and pants: This line isn’t insect-repellant, but it IS SPF-blocking and when we wore Equatorial shirts in the jungles of Panama and Costa Rica, these were the ONLY shirts that stood up to more than one wear. Somehow, the sweat wicked off; we called them our ‘magic’ shirts. MK also makes an Equatorial pant that zips off. Both are recommended.

Aventura Clothing: Again, no bug-proaction line (but maybe if I keep hinting?), but Aventura Clothing makes THE best after-adventure clothing out there. When you get back from your paddle boarding session or jungle trek, put on soft, organic cotton for your evening indoors. This spring, I am loving Aventura’s Hannah cardigan and Pearson tank for layering. The men’s line, Ecoths, makes really stylish and comfortable short-sleeved, button-down shirts perfect for cocktail hour and dinner. Pit Stop Dad’s favorite: Garrick Polo.

See also: our most comfortable travel pants for moms!

Sun hats: The most important thing about sun hats in Central America is…wear one. So pick a wide-brimmed style you like, and bring it along! It helps to pick a style that flattens easily for travel, and has a strap to secure it both when wore and when you want to strap it to your bag or backpack. We love the sun hats for kids at Sunday Afternoons and Columbia, and the adult offerings at Tilley.