Much as it may be ideal to simply live in the present, without luggage, whatever may come – walking naked into the sunset as it were – some basic equipment can be useful.
This is a list of specific equipment (with some contextual criteria/technique/experience) to support my portable (if not minimal) lifestyle. Generally, I aim to find solutions which are simple/versatile/compact/lightweight.
Water is heavy, so I prefer to find it as I go (to avoid carrying it), but I like to have a reservoir anyway. Plastic bottles are easy to find, available in many shapes/sizes, and lightweight but more bulky/awkward than collapsible/flexible containers such as bladders from wine boxes or (less troublesome) specialised water bags (e.g. Platypus or Evernew).
Plastics are associated with chemical hazards (such as endocrine disruptors) but they make such lightweight/flexible/durable containers. Of the commonly available plastics, polyethylene seems the safest choice to me. Although PET is used extensively for beverage bottles (probably for its high transparency), its more complex chemistry seems more likely to involve toxicity. In any case, without specific testing or disclosure of ingredients, plastic remains generally suspect.
Metal bottles can be used to boil water (but it seems prudent to keep food out of the reservoir). Bottles made of (food-grade) stainless steel are relatively common and I use them occasionally. Titanium is probably a bad choice because it's prone to strain hardening (i.e. it may crack/puncture easily if dropped on something sharp) and it doesn't save much weight anyway.
I prefer to sterilise water with UV light because the water still contains dissolved minerals and infertile microbes (which may help one's immune system adapt to the local environment). It's also lighter and more compact than a filter but it requires electricity. SteriPEN makes the best compact UV sterilisers I've seen. One alternative, the mÜV, may work well enough but I've seen no independent test results for it.
A filter is still useful (if not necessary) in case the water is turbid or contains UV-resistant pathogens (such as worm eggs, typically ≥ 25 µm), so a paper filter with pore size of 10–15 µm seems reasonable (since UV sterilises the small stuff). UV treatment can also be repeated to increase effectiveness.
I no longer carry a tent, ever since a friend showed me his camping hammock (both water- and bug-proof like a tent). I had not known hammocks to be comfortable for extended use, until I learned to lie in them diagonally (which is much flatter). In contrast to a tent, I find a hammock much more comfortable/versatile and also more compact/lightweight. Finding places to set up is vastly easier and less destructive than with a tent. A hammock can also be setup on the ground like a tent if need be.
I lost interest in sleeping bags because the insulation is almost useless when compressed (by one's body, &c.). A quilt makes more sense to me (both on the ground and in a hammock). I have a down quilt made by Speer Hammocks (no longer in business) which works very well.
In warm/dry weather, I often use dry leaves/grass/&c. for insulation (which can be gathered as needed to avoid carrying it). An under quilt with pockets can be stuffed as need be. I've also found a space blanket folded several times (with ample air between layers) to be surprisingly warm.
I'm also experimenting with closed-cell foam sheet, the kind often used for packaging/shipping. It's ultralight (made of polyethylene or polypropylene) and available in a range of thicknesses.
I usually wear a silk or wool base layer when sleeping (even if the extra insulation is not necessary) to protect other bedding from my dirty body and for more comfort next to the skin. A silk sleeping bag liner also works but it's heavier and not as versatile.
Rainwear can be used as a vapour barrier (inside the outer insulation).
I usually carry a refillable, butane torch which works well (until it's out of fuel). I like a hot/clean/wind-resistant, jet flame with a trigger that is not too close to the flame, a cover which does not interfere, and maximal fuel capacity in a lightweight package.
Some complain of reliability with jet-flame lighters, preferring disposable candle-flame lighters instead. Ronson and others make refillable ones for about the same price as disposables (so don't feed the Bic...).
A fire piston can be used as a reliable and compact backup (it's faster and much less vulnerable to wind than a bow drill, &c.) but a ferrocerium (fire steel) sparker seems more practical especially in combination with magnesium which burns very hot (3100 °C) even in wet conditions. I like the compact magnesium/ferrocerium fire starters of Strike Master.
Using found wood or other dry biomass is a good way to avoid carrying fuel but open fires are usually messy and conspicuous; however, it is possible to burn such fuel with much greater efficiency (and very little smoke) by employing gasification. A simple TLUD (top-lit up draft) arrangement makes a big improvement. This TLOD (top-lit opposed draft) design is also interesting and uses a different mode of operation.
Even without a stove, top lighting works very well. A uniformly packed stack of sticks burns gradually and efficiently (with much less smoke) while the fire remains insulated from the ground. The heat output produced by top lighting is relatively linear/stable (assuming consistent fuel:air ratio), burning like a candle, in contrast to a bottom-lit fire which rages to a peak and quickly fades.
Pitch is usually available in the woods; otherwise, wax, oil, or liquid fuel can help get a fire going faster.
A liquid fuel stove can be used for backup if biomass cannot be burned. It's easy to become enchanted with pressurised alcohol stoves but a wick stove is nearly as efficient, simpler, and more versatile (as it can burn various fuels).
Stoves need not be heavy/complicated/expensive, and it's useful to learn how to make various designs from found materials.
To avoid trouble from animals, I eat and sleep in separate locations. I also carry food in airtight containers and avoid getting it on my clothing/luggage to reduce odours.
I often travel with food which needs only water and time to soak, not necessarily cooking. In any case, a container is necessary and it may as well be one that can also be used to boil water and cook with. Hot or cold, I eat out of my pot, and my preference is the Evernew ECA264.
I modified my pot by adding a wire bail and notching the lip of the lid. This enables the lid to be used with the bail in place, and also enables the lid to be held shut by rotating it so the lip catches under the bail (and further secured by clipping the bail down over the lip of the pot).
When I need a spoon, &c., I find some wood and carve it; chopsticks are even easier.
I clean my teeth with a toothbrush or a stick, depending on circumstance. A stick is more discrete and more thorough but slower. I just whittle a little twig down to a comfortable diameter (≈ 3 mm) and length, then dress the end so it's flat but frayed (more like a short-bristled scrub brush than a broom) and with a versatile/triangular cross section (e.g., pointy part for getting between teeth). The only advantages I find with a toothbrush are: speed, massaging the gums, and brushing the tongue.
I carry dental floss when travelling. Consumption can be greatly reduced by using a length of about 25 cm (10"), tied in a loop. I also find a loop to be much more comfortable as it need not be tightly wrapped around the fingers. I've come to appreciate the efficiency of using a piece of clean, undyed nylon rope already cut to length; the strands are easily unravelled to reveal discrete yarns of continuous filaments very similar to regular unwaxed dental floss (and no need to consume yet another plastic container...).
Cleaning teeth takes time and careful attention, which may not be available, but it's easy to suck on some xylitol to keep the bacteria at bay (and it also restores energy as it yields glycogen). In any case, for a given meal, foods which help clean the teeth (e.g. raw carrots) can be saved to be eaten last (especially after food which tends to damage teeth).
After learning about the health/performance benefits of nutritional ketosis, and the trouble with seeds, my diet has shifted away from grains/legumes/carbohydrates and toward fat as a primary energy source. In any case, regardless of dietary preference, fat simply provides the highest food energy density; i.e., it's the most compact/lightweight food.
Pemmican may be prohibitive to make using traditional ingredients but the basic idea of a durable fat/protein mixture can inform other preparations; e.g., coconut oil can be mixed with whey protein, nutritional yeast, dehydrated cheese, &c.
Popular advice favours large, heavy fixed blades for survival applications, but I find greater versatility in a small folding knife which includes additional tools.
After using a Victorinox Soldier, I developed great appreciation for the reamer and stronger construction of these «Alox» knives. Of all the available Alox models which include this reamer, I prefer the Electrician Plus or Pioneer Harvester because they include a small blade (which can be reserved for fine work), and a saw (the Electrician and Pioneer Rancher omit the saw). The can opener is omitted but the P-38 can opener is very compact/lightweight and it actually works better! I have little need for the large flat-head screwdriver and even less for the cap lifter, but the blade can be reground yielding a versatile S-shaped scraper/gouge/chisel.
I generally don't carry a fixed blade but I prefer the knives of Mora (Frosts), available in a range of sizes, and high-quality steels (laminated, high-carbon, or stainless). With high performance, incomparably low cost, and a blade geometry well-suited to working wood, they are simply excellent. It's tempting to indulge in more expensive knives but Mora knives offer comparable (if not superior) performance and much low prices.
I don't travel with an axe, but it surely qualifies as basic equipment in the woods.
Common advice suggests thicker head geometry (with a blunt edge) for splitting and more acute angles for chopping/woodcraft, but after learning to split with a twist (i.e. letting inertia work the axe head as a lever instead of a wedge), I now prefer to split with a sharp/slender axe instead of a maul. In fact, I had given up on several stubborn rounds using the maul, then I discovered the old technique, sharpened the axe and tested it on the same knotty rounds which popped apart to my pleasant surprise. This inertial leverage technique is embodied in the design of various specialised splitting axes which have been marketed over the years, but an ordinary sharp axe works just fine.
Half of a hacksaw blade is hard to refuse, and ready to cut metal and more.
Wire saws have a bad reputation, probably both for failure under misuse and for poor design/manufacturing, but the single-wire spiral-tooth saws of Bestway Products have an excellent reputation.
The Pocket Chainsaw is an excellent tool; lightweight/compact/durable, it cuts very quickly (in both directions) with a thin kerf (not to be confused with other chain saws which have a much wider kerf), but I usually travel without it as I have little need to cut so much wood. I've used mine for many years with no problems and no resharpening.
I'm not a fan of pliers-based multitools but pliers can be useful, and screw drivers too. An extra knife blade can be used to spare one's better blade(s) from potentially damaging work. Unfortunately, it appears that most pliers-based multitools are metallurgically deficient. In any case, these seem interesting:
If I didn't already carry a knife, I'd choose the SwissTool Spirit.
A simple/lightweight/compact Pocketwrench (or one of its many derivatives) can be useful to manipulate industrial fasteners.
I carry a few strong needles and some strong nylon thread (i.e. continuous filament, not spun). Upholstery thread is strong and easy to find.
Fishing equipment can be improvised but hooks and line are so compact/lightweight that I carry some (and often find more on my way).
Generally, I don't need a lot of light but the following criteria are essential to me (in addition to size and weight):
A variable beam field (spread) is useful but one can mask a wide field with the hand instead.
Low intensity is essential for dark adaptation. Although deep red light causes the least damage to rhodopsin, intensity is more important than colour (i.e. dim white is better than bright red), and white light is useful for viewing detail/colour (which may be otherwise invisible).
I prefer to control intensity by twisting the head (rather than by pressing a button); i.e. twist from off to minimum intensity, smoothly increasing to maximum intensity (like the discontinued Surefire T1A).
The Photon Freedom Micro is a tiny «key chain» light; it has variable intensity, but lacks intensity-level memory and run time. (I don't like the Proton Pro because the white emitter always switches on at full intensity and it's too big.)
A small device is easy to mount on a hat or othrewise improvise as a headlamp. In any case, the Thrunite TH20 AA/14500 headlamp meets my essential criteria.
Having looked through good Zeiss lenses, my threshold for optical quality has been calibrated to a very high standard, but satisfactory (and less expensive) lenses can be found from other makers. In any case, I avoid buying optical equipment without first looking through it. I've noticed variation in optical quality, even from reputable manufacturers, and I prefer to look through several samples of a given product to choose the best one.
Magnification can certainly be useful for survival, and at least interesting for a curious mind. Binoculars are easier to use but I prefer a more compact/lightweight monocular like the Carson 7 × 18 (not Brunton).
Zoom models may be tempting but disappointing in practice (as the ones I've looked through are not much better than the lighter fixed models). Alternatively, cheap binoculars can be separated into monoculars. Porro prism designs should give better performance for low cost as roof prisms require greater manufacturing precision.
Such magnifiers can also be used in reverse orientation (backwards) as a low-power microscope for objects at very close range (near the eye relief); similarly, they can also be used to concentrate sunlight to start a fire. If size and weight are critical, a single lens can be carried instead or improvised as need be (polished ice, a bag of water, &c.).
A mirror may go unused much of the time but it can be invaluable for signalling and for self-service: attending to parts of the body which are otherwise difficult to see (e.g. to remove debris from one's own eye).
Signalling mirrors with retroreflective aiming are most effective but a simple double-sided mirror with a hole can also be aimed with one hand using similar technique. Adventure Medical Kits makes an inexpensive, lightweight (20 g), and compact (2 × 3 in), polycarbonate (Lexan), retroreflective, signal mirror. I keep a reusable sheet of protective plastic film on mine when not in use.
A compass can be useful in certain situations (such as Old World cities with roads running at arbitrary angles). A compact button compass is inexpensive and weighs a few grams.
Increasingly, I enjoy working with and using natural found materials but I generally prefer synthetics when it's important to minimise weight/volume. Fabric is difficult to make in the field but simple twisted cordage is easy. Natural fibres can be impressively strong but preparation is important: loosening the fibres, removing extraneous material, &c.
has superior stregth:weight ratio (only slightly higher than HDPE) and heat resistance (decomposes at 650° C), and negligible creep, but it has poor resistance to abrasion, and is very vulnerable to UV.
It starts with skin. The body is capable of useful adaptation. I actively maintain some amount of exposure throughout the seasons to increase vitality and reduce vulnerability. A thick layer of skin can be especially useful on the hands and feet. I have walked great distances in bare feet carrying a load over a wide range of terrain, yet contrary to popular assumption my feet are not excessively calloused; the skin is thick and durable but it is also supple and sensitive. Indeed, the worst callouses I've seen were on feet which spent most of their time in shoes.
I avoid clothing which restricts movement (including much which is ostensibly made for athletic activities). Careful construction using gussets/pleats/darts helps. The shoulder/hip joints are especially important and benefit from gussets made of an elastic and ventilated fabric, providing variable ventilation relative to activity (i.e. the gussets tend to remain closed when inactive and open when active).
I prefer natural fibres (without dye or chemical processing), usually wool or silk, next to my skin. I think synthetic fibres may provide superior performance (contrary to the heroic hype of the wool industry) but I remain wary of industry which does not disclose ingredients.
Woolen Stanfield's (90% wool, 10% nylon) are durable and well-cut for a close fit and excellent mobility; indeed, I find the the cut and fit to be superior to the various brands of Merino madness I've tried (not to mention price). Stanfield's are too heavy for warmer temperatures but there are plenty of others to choose from.
In warmer temperatures, I usually carry a long-sleeve, knit shirt and loose pants, both made of silk. I wear them when sleeping, for additional warmth as conditions demand, and also to provide some resistance to mosquitoes when I'm not moving much.
I prefer down for its superior warmth:weight ratio and its longevity. The common complaint (or synthetic marketing mantra) is that down is a poor insulator when wet, but it can be kept dry without much fuss.
I like a short-sleeve jacket (such as MontBell's discontinued UL Down T) because it's warmer than a vest, lighter than a jacket, and it has no forearms to get snagged and torn while one works.
For extreme insulation: Nunatuk.
Using a vapour barrier (between base layer and outer insulation) greatly reduces evaporative heat loss and prevents body moisture from compromising outer insulation (especially when the temperature inside the insulation is below dew point). One can be warmer with less, but careful attention is required to avoid overheating/perspiration, and problems related to chronic moisture (e.g. fungus, &c.).
When backpacking, I prefer a cape or poncho for ventilation and versatility (it can also serve as a tarp). It's also useful when I need to open my pack, &c. with no other available shelter than what I'm already wearing.
Chaps enable greater range of motion than pants and provide excellent ventilation; they're also easy to make.
I don't use «waterproof breathable» clothing, preferring instead to let my body heat evaporate moisture in light rain, and to shed heavy rain with simple waterproof fabric (which is lighter/stronger/cheaper and more durable).
If one already has an ultralight waterproof jacket, then a wind jacket may be superfluous. As I prefer a cape or poncho for rain protection, a hooded wind jacket is an essential garment for me. MontBell's (discontinued) Tachyon Anorak is one of the lightest.
Lightweight nylon/polyester pants dry quickly and provide wind protection (if the fabric is woven tightly).
The keffiyeh is wonderfully versatile; it provides excellent sun protection and it can be tied in various ways to provide more or less insulation/coverage as need be. It can also serve as furoshiki, and whatever else a square piece of cloth is useful for. I made mine of silk and use it for a pillow, or sometimes as an extra cover for warmth when sleeping.
Sunglasses are useful for more than just protection from the sun; they can serve as safety glasses, and polarised lenses enable one to see some things which would be otherwise obscured. Photochromic technology is interesting but few lenses are both photochromic and polarised (though that appears to be improving). In any case, I look for the following:
The best sunglasses I've found came off a Hawaiian convenience store rack of many different styles of cheap polycarbonate lenses; they're ultralight, polarised and frameless with an excellent field of view and low distortion because the lenses are very thin (≈ 1 mm; maybe lens thickness is restricted in Canada...?). A pair of Serengeti's may have better optics but price can be prohibitive as eyewear tends to get lost and abused (so go get yourself some cheap sunglasses).
I appreciate the simple construction in the bent-wire frame of Lindberg's Air Titanium (in spite of ridiculous price).
An adjustable strap is useful to keep eyewear from falling off, and it can be made of elastic/knitted fabric (or neoprene which also floats), wide enough to simply uncurl and enclose the folded eyewear for protection/storage, and even used for cleaning. Hides are like that (but the one I bought failed due to poor materials, so I make my own...).
Ear plugs are especially useful in human environments but sometimes I use them in the wilderness to help sleep through storms, or when surrounded by Coquí frogs. I rarely leave home without them, but they are easily improvised (from a dandelion bud, a soft leaf rolled up, &c.).
Except in extreme conditions, I prefer to keep the face of my hands exposed (like Japanese tekkou rather than fingerless gloves). Excellent wrist/hand warmers which cover only the back of the hand and the knuckles, leaving the palm bare, are easily made from a pair of wool (or synthetic) socks (even if the soles are worn out).
I enjoy my feet bare and I prefer to augment them with no more than necessary, to let my feet breathe/move and grow strong. I avoid hiking boots/shoes, lugged soles, arch support, and elevated heels.
An increasing number of manufacturers are finally making minimal footwear (so called «barefoot shoes»), thanks to the lead of the growing counterculture and cottage industry. I tried FiveFingers but I was disappointed by poor fit and dubious construction; in any case, jika-tabi seem more useful. Most conventional (heel-strike) running shoes are easily modified by removing excess sole material.
As my feet are prone to overheating and increasingly adapted to cold, I prefer sandals and very well-ventilated shoes. The traditional running sandals of the Rarámuri natives in Mexico have been reinterpreted in modern materials and various styles of these huaraches are available on the market or easily made.
I started making my own sandals because I couldn't find what I wanted.
If it's wet and not too cold, I usually let my feet get wet, but a plastic bag or another waterproof sock can be used if they need to be kept dry. I like flexible split-toe neoprene booties (made for various water sports) which provide excellent mobility/comfort/insulation in cold conditions, and sandals can be worn over them for extra protection.
I like socks which have an open, breathable knit on top for ventilation and full-length elastic from the ankle up (snug but not too tight! especially at the cuff), extending no more than one third to the knee, made of wool strengthened with a little nylon or polyester.
Toe socks are difficult to find in large sizes, but it's easy to cut/sew regular socks to separate the big toe to accommodate thongs/sandals.
Many socks, especially those ostensibly made for technical applications, interweave separate (not continuous) coloured yarns which leave loose, lumping ends inside the sock, trading comfort for cosmetics; I avoid those socks.
Like many others, I use aloe vera to help relieve skin irritation, especially sunburn, and I've also found it useful for preventing sunburn. When I travel in the sunny places where it grows, I apply it to my skin regularly, being careful to keep clean and especially avoid covering open wounds (even minor scratches) as bacteria can thrive in the moist environment under its protective cover.
I stuff my sacks loosely, both to be gentle with their contents and also to enable more efficient packing (as they can fill irregular spaces), compressing them all together in the pack (instead of separately), and only as much as necessary.
The usual cord locks (i.e. plastic with metal spring) are not necessary. Assuming that a simple slip knot does not suffice, a sliding cord lock can be made of a separate piece of cord tied (Solomon bar, &c.) around the draw cord. Alternatively, a small piece of stiff but flexible/resilient material (e.g. leather, Hypalon, &c.) with two holes works well (i.e. squeeze into a U shape and the cord slides easily). Another method is to use two cord loops (instead of one), each exiting the channel on the opposite side of the other; also a way to carry extra cord.
Arc'teryx makes excellent equipment and I used one of their packs for many years; I appreciate the mindful design and construction, especially the mobility of the hip belt. Eventually, my interest in carrying less weight and having better ventilation, led me to the Atmos 35 of Osprey Packs.
Ventilation is very important to me and a capacity of 35 L is about right for my purposes. Although there is an increasing range of well-made backpacks to choose from, the basic design has fundamental problems.
Contemplation and research of load carriage eventually led me to Aarn bodypacks. I think their design is excellent, certainly a useful improvement over conventional backpack designs. Presently, I use their Marathon Magic 33 while developing a similar design adapted to my own purpose.
The tumpline has a long history of use by many cultures around the world, and it naturally remains in use because it works well. It's simple and easily made from found materials. It can also be used to augment modern backpacks.
Various studies (e.g. Heglund, & al.) show that carrying a given load on the head (directly or by tumpline) uses less energy than carrying the same load with a backpack (and increasingly so for heavier loads).
A compact/lightweight wallet can be purchased from All-Ett, or made of Tyvek (a useful material easily obtained from window cutouts on construction sites, mailing envelopes, &c.). I avoid carrying coins.
I generally don't carry first-aid medical supplies because I'm usually able to improvise what I need from available materials.
I use adhesives for closing cuts, avoiding further injury and complication of stitches and bandages. I prefer cyanoacrylate products (similar to Krazy Glue) made specifically for medical applications because they have a different chemical composition which is less toxic and remains flexible after it cures. In any case, I apply it to only the outer layers of skin, avoiding contact with any tissue that has a vascular network. I've also used white wood glue (PVA) to make a protective over layer; a second skin as it were. Alternatively, natural materials can be used: the sap of some trees and plants works well (but beware of potential toxicity).
Various cultures around the world have used ants to suture wounds (but I have yet to try it myself): the soldiers with big jaws are applied so their bite acts as a suture and then the body is twisted off leaving the head and jaws (which remain locked shut) in place.
The reflective, thin plastic sheets known as «space blankets» are inexpensive and versatile (e.g. water/wind barrier, vapour barrier layer, light/heat reflector, &c.).
I usually keep some plastic bags in my pack; useful for many things (even as emergency vapour barrier clothing). Large transparent garbage bags are especially versatile.
I don't use a towel for my body as much as for my tarp, to wipe it dry before packing. Clothing can be used instead but it's not as absorbent. Superabsorbent, microfibre towels are readily available. Some synthetic «disposable» towels also work well.
I don't use much soap at home, and much less (or none) when travelling, but I prefer a vegetable oil Castile soap (like Dr. Bronners) which wreaks less havoc on the world than most other alternatives. Wood ashes work well for cleaning dishes, &c.
I usually travel with seeds, collecting/sowing them as I go. I collect the seeds of (local, non-invasive) plants and trees which seem useful (wild and otherwise), mostly those which I like to eat. I don't fuss about it, just plant them where they might survive and grow useful.
I generally prefer the smallest camera with good optics and raw format (see recommended cameras).
I like to record sound in a documentary way, similar to taking pictures of the interesting sights one comes upon. I'm pleased with the Olympus LS-10.
I like the form and technological convergence of smart phones but I use one as a portable computer (not a phone) with data acquisition from various sensors. I prefer the Samsung Galaxy Note series phablets running open-source software (without a SIM card). Their cameras are generally good enough to substitute a dedicated camera, but audio recording still lags (i.e. stereo line/mic input is absent).
I use a very compact USB microSD reader and card (with an adapter for regular SD slots).
I generally don't carry a clock/watch unless I need an alarm for early morning flights, &c. (which makes for much better rest without worry of oversleeping).
Electrical energy can be generated by solar panel, thermoelectric generator, dynamo, &c. I have yet to find a sufficiently compact/lightweight solution; i.e. for my usage patterns, it's more efficient to carry extra batteries instead of equipment to charge them.
For indefinite/sustained operation, I'm still undecided. A dynamo can be driven by crank/pull-cord/turbine. TEGs give low efficiency, but if heat is plentiful... There are many small PV chargers on the market but I have yet to converge on any specifics.
For travel, I prefer batteries with lithium chemistry for its excellent energy density (both by weight and by volume) and wide availability in common sizes. NiMH has a high self-discharge rate and a low cycle life, though some products (e.g. Eneloop) overcome those problems. In any case, NiMH remains inevitably heavy with lower energy density than alkaline.
I am developing a system to travel and explore my local coast. For long-distance transportation, I prefer to use more than just paddle propulsion. Oscillating foils are naturally efficient and Hobie makes an interesting implementation called the Mirage Drive. Either foils or a propeller can be powered by legs or a motor.
In any case, using the wind seems primary. A sea kayak and a traction kite is a simple place to start which can be augmented as necessary.
My kayak of choice is the Coaster by Mariner Kayaks, a short but high-volume boat with less drag than longer hulls at cruising speeds (up to about 4 knots). The very similar F1 skin-on-frame design of Cape Falcon Kayaks is also interesting.
Most traction kites designed for use on water are leading-edge inflatable but I'm more interested in self-inflating foils like the Hydra of Powerkites.de, and single-surface NPW kites which are stable/rugged/inexpensive, and fly in very little wind. In any case, these augment a single-line sparless kite, which leaves the hands free for other things.
Even with their advantages, recumbent bicycles did not appeal to me until I saw one made by Georgi Geogiev and bought my own soon after. I've used it for many years and developed a great appreciation for the geometry.
Tools can certainly be useful but only as much as that which employs them. The mind is essential, and the body, its primary instrument. A healthy mind/body can improvise and compensate for the absence of equipment; in the words of Mors Kochanski: «The more you know, the less you carry.»
A concise list of the above, as a palette for packing.