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It’s not your typical trip. I am fully aware that maybe a handful of women will be searching for a packing list for opal mining – specifically for that in Outback Australia.
Even fewer will be searching for that packing list when opal mining in Grawin, New South Wales.
This, friends, is where I recently spent 10 days descending 30 meters underground in search of the area’s famous black opals.
It was not your typical trip, but it was an adventure. If you are so lucky to be embarking on a similar journey, here is a list of what to pack!
The Trip Details
We were mining in the Grawin opal fields located about an 8-hour drive northwest of Sydney. It’s about 40 minutes away from the larger and more touristy mining town of Lightning Ridge. (More on Lightning Ridge in another post coming soon!)
While there are motels and cafes and restaurants and shops in Lightning Ridge, Grawin is what the locals refer to as the Wild West. There is one pub there, and one gas station/corner store combo. Two other pubs lie in the nearby Glengarry and Sheepyards.
That’s about it. If you’re there, you’re there to mine. And swat mosquitos.
The weather in Grawin is pretty much unbearable during the summer, which is why we will be avoiding visits then at all costs.
We went in April, which is fall in Australia. Daytime temperatures ranged from 22C to 33C during our stay (72F to 91F), while nighttime temperatures fell to the 14-19C range (57-66F).
Fun fact: Underground in the mines, the weather stays at around a comfortable 19C year-round (66F).
My boyfriend and his family have a claim in Grawin along with a stocked house (think towels, sheets, kitchen gear, etc.) that is completely off-grid/self-sufficient. I’m talking generators, batteries, and solar panels.
It’s actually quite impressive. Somehow in the midst of endless dust and desert, we actually had warm showers, a flushing toilet, fresh-brewed coffee every morning, and some pretty gourmet dinners.
Oh, and access to a washing machine! Which I used once during the trip, but let’s be honest, I could have probably just waited except for some underwear washing.
We also managed to enjoy the most magnificent sunsets nearly every single night from here – sometimes with a glass of bubbles in hand.
I managed to pack for this trip in my 26L smart Alec backpack along with a half-packed 12L daypack (holding my boots and water bottle) and two large tote bags of food, snacks, and cleaning supplies (I was the only girl on this trip; I figured I should come prepared!).
The daypack was used as my day bag when going down into the mines.
I feel pretty good about what I packed having never done this type of trip before, but even with packing pretty minimally, I still brought more clothes than I needed. Since we were driving, it wasn’t super important to worry about the finer details.
It’s also important to note that my boyfriend had a lot of the more technical gear already supplied for me (like a hard hat, headlamp, and gloves).
However, I will mention below a more comprehensive packing list including some of these items as well as what I would pack for the NEXT trip we take to Grawin… because there will be a next time.
I officially have opal fever!
Video of me finding opal for the first time!
What to Wear Opal Mining
Opal Mining Work Clothes & Gear
You’ll want a simple selection of work clothes that are meant to be work clothes: aka stuff you don’t really care about getting dirty… because that will happen!
How much you bring probably depends on the type of work you will be doing in this mining operation, of course. I was dealing mainly with dust and dirt, and since your clothes get instantly dusty after washing them, it kind of doesn’t matter so much about having something fresh to wear each day!
I literally could have packed just 2 work outfits and been OK. No one cares! And, the place is so dry that you don’t sweat that much in the fall temperatures. Really the only thing that makes you feel dirty is that nice layer of unavoidable dust in the air.
The guys in the group, on the other hand, dealt with diesel, oil, blow-torches and old-school machinery. If you’ll also be doing this type of work, then pack an extra set or two of work clothes.
You’ll want a sturdy pair of boots for this type of work. I brought my Blundstones and wore them for the entire trip (except in the evenings relaxing around the house). Thick, comfy socks were also nice!
I highly recommend wearing long pants while opal mining, simply because they can help keep you from getting rock and debris in your boots! You could wear gaiters (like these on Amazon) if you choose to go the shorts route.
Now, I’m going to use a phrase that not many women like to hear, but I’m telling you that these will make your life better while opal mining:
Yes, you’ll want a pair of cargo pants (gasp!). I found the extra pockets to be SO HANDY while opal mining. Not only did I like to have my phone securely snapped into one of them, I also needed the extra pockets to hold tissues, gloves, a granola bar, or random rocks from time to time.
My cargo pants are the Kuhl Splash Roll-up Pants, which are quick-drying, sun protecting, lightweight and stretchy!
I did bring a back-up pair of work pants: the Kathmandu Flight Pants. I only wore them once for this purpose. They, however, did not have cargo pockets and were a bit nicer. I decided to keep those more for travel day pants and “going out” pants.
The same goes for a long-sleeved, outer layer top. Get one with pockets! I started off with an Icebreaker Cool-lite top but switched it up to a light flannel shirt which I liked more because of the extra pockets. Again, I had so many cool rocks I needed to store.
For base layer tops, I went with either a tank top or t-shirt. However, I recommend that neither of these options be low-cut. You will have rocks and debris down your top otherwise!
I liked wearing a standard t-shirt, a flannel, and also putting my Buff around the neck. It helped keep some debris out of my top, could be pulled over my face if I was getting a bit of jackhammer/pickaxe debris shot at me, and protected my neck from the sun when doing above-ground work.
Comfort is key! I definitely went the sports bra route when mining.
I wore a hard hat, protective eyewear, and a headlamp. Next time, I will be bringing some simple gardening knee pads (ouchie rocks!) and some well-fitted gloves. The gloves I had were way too big and made them difficult to use.
My fingertips came home dried out and covered in cuts and scratches after 10 days of combing through piles of rocks!
(Also, kiss your fingernails goodbye after days of scratching dirt off rocks to see what kind of opal lies inside!)
On My Packing List
2 x t-shirts
1 x tank top
1-2 x long-sleeved tops, preferably with pockets
1-2 x cargo pants or shorts (pack gaiters with shorts!)
1 x Buff
1 x boots
5 x long socks (especially if your boots rub the back of your legs)
1-2 x sports bras
5 x comfy undies
1 x hard hat
1 x protective eyewear
1 x headlamp
1 x gloves
1 x gardening knee pads
One of My First Days Working in the Mine
What to Bring in Your Opal Mining Day Bag
Inside the Day Bag
I brought along my 12L Pacsafe backpack for going to and from the mine each day. It has very large side pockets to house water bottles of all sizes and is just big enough to hold all the randomness you’ll need or come across while opal mining.
Each day, I had a number of items in the bag for health, safety, and nourishment purposes. You know, things like hand sanitizer, tissues, a roll of toilet paper, a couple bandaids, pain pills, sunscreen, etc.
Lunch and snacks were brought each day. I also packed a pair of sunglasses and baseball hat to wear when doing work above-ground.
On My Packing List
1 x day bag (like this one)
1 x metal or durable water bottle
1 x baseball hat
1 x sunglasses
1 x sunscreen
1 x lip balm (with SPF)
1 x roll of toilet paper
1 x hand sanitizer
1 x travel pack of tissues (could use toilet paper)
1 x small pack of medical items (bandaids, hydralyte, and pain pills)
My snacks included things like nuts, dried fruit, nut/protein bars, small snack tins of chickpeas, peanut butter sandwiches, chips, and pieces of chocolate – all of which were brought from home.
What to Wear When You’re Not Opal Mining
You’ll want something comfortable and warm to wear around the house in the evening. We tended to spend most nights in the undercover veranda area, outdoors, so something that covers your arms and legs is a must – hello, mosquitos!
It also got chilly when the sun went down.
I went with a pair of Icebreaker merino leggings, a comfy t-shirt, and an oversized hoody that my boyfriend gave me. I also kicked off my boots and slid my sock-covered feet into some cheapo slides I picked up from K-mart.
Other Daily Wear
Sometimes we went out to the pub for a beer after a day of work. We also went into Lightning Ridge for a morning, did a local 3-pub crawl, had dinner one night at a pub, etc.
It was nice to have something else to wear for these outings, but really, you don’t need much. You could go into the pub in your mining clothes and no one would think anything of it – and we did this, too.
I ended up packing 2 pairs of shorts: one jean shorts and one board shorts. I thought that the board shorts might come in handy if we were doing outside work at the house during the hot day. I brought the jean shorts to wear out and about on warm days.
However, the board shorts went unused completely, and I only wore the jean shorts once. It turned out that I liked the protection of long pants in these environments, especially when dusk hit and all the mosquitos started draining me of every ounce of my blood.
I also packed an extra pair of shoes: my Allbirds Tree Toppers. I literally only wore them on the drive to/from Grawin and instead wore my boots all day every day until I slipped into my slides at night. I honestly don’t think I will pack an extra pair of shoes next time.
On My Packing List
1 x lounge outfit (merino leggings, t-shirt, hoody)
1 x cheap sandals/slides
1-3 x non-work tops
1 x long-sleeve t-shirt for layering if chilly
1 x lightweight long-sleeve top (extra sun and mosquito protection – like this reversible one from Splice I packed)
1-2 x shorts
1 x normal bra
1 x spare shoes (optional!)
1 x bug spray
Toiletries & Health
The Toiletries I Didn’t Have to Pack
The shower was stocked with shampoo, conditioner, and body wash, so I didn’t need to bring those items.
While not a toiletry, per se, I also didn’t need to pack laundry washing powder since they had that there in the house. I did still bring enough of my own for 2 washes in a small container since I have sensitive skin.
The Toiletries I Wish I Had More Of
Moisturizer and body lotion! Anything that hydrates the skin, really. While I had enough for my trip, I would have liked more so I didn’t have to ration when my skin felt so, so dry.
The Toiletries I’m VERY HAPPY to Have Packed
Leave-in hair oil and hydrating sheet masks. Oh my, these were like gold.
Each morning, I brushed my hair, applied some hair oil, and put my hair in a low braid. I think this helped to protect it from a bit more trauma than it was enduring.
And the sheet masks = A+ addition. I only used 1 of the 4 that I packed, but I loved how refreshed my face felt the next morning after. I then used the leftover serum in the pack to slather on my face before bed for the following few nights.
Also, let’s talk about hairbrushes. I brought a plastic detangling brush on this trip and am quite happy that I did. All the dust I was brushing out of my hair stuck to the brush, but it was super easy to wash it all off.
On My Packing List
1 x face wash
1 x moisturizer
1 x deodorant
1 x face-friendly sunscreen
1 x eye cream
1 x razor
1 x hair oil
1 x body lotion
1 x toothbrush and paste
1 x floss
1 x tweezers (also good for splinters which you’re bound to get somehow)
1 x washing powder (optional)
2 x sheet masks (optional)
1 x pack of wet wipes (optional)
1 x detangling hairbrush
1 x eye drops
1 x saline nasal spray (I didn’t pack this but wish I did – so dusty and dry!)
Personal hygiene items*
*Since I wasn’t sure of what to expect, and the dirt/outhouse factors, I packed tampons for this trip instead of a menstrual cup. Having done the trip, I would probably go this route again.
**I packed my toiletries into teeny-tiny travel containers that all fit into my Tom Bihn 3D Organizer Cube. Learn how to do that here.
Other Things to Pack
A phone with wall charger and some Airpods should suffice. Keep in mind, you may not have a phone signal though unless you’re with Telstra! It was both good and bad to be without my own connection.
Fun & Relaxation
Besides the pampering sheet masks, I packed a deck of playing cards along with a bottle of wine and a bottle of Champagne.
Ziploc bags, rubber bands, and a couple of small food containers were super handy for storing and transporting snacks! They could also be used to store opal finds!
On My Packing List
1 x phone
1 x wall charger
1 x Airpods
1 x deck of cards
Small food containers
Food and cleaning supplies
Is this everything I need when going opal mining?
That’s incredibly hard to say! This is pretty much everything I need, though.
This packing list is assuming that you are visiting someone who has a working mine pretty much established, along with a form of stocked accommodation. If that’s the case, this list is the perfect starting point.
Happy opal mining!