Backpacking is increasingly a popular way to travel. It allows you an almost unlimited level of flexibility with your itinerary and keeps you costs down much more than booking into expensive hotels. Within this section you will find tips for backpacking wherever you are going from what to take with you to useful tips and tricks.
One of the key issues when embarking on a backpacking trip is what to take with you. You will need to carry your backpack around for long periods of time and it must contain everything that you will need while you are away that can't be purchased locally.
It is essential to pack as lightly as possible, your backpack will need to be carried with you everywhere and having a large bulky pack can hamper you boarding buses and trains and will also tire you out to carry around all day.
You will need to cut down to the bare minimum when packing clothes, you will need to get used to wearing the same clothes for long periods of time although you will normally be able to wash and dry clothes overnight in most places.
It is advisable to take:
- 2/3 T-shirts ideally these should be fast drying so that they can easily be dried overnight.
- At least one long-sleeved shirt or polo shirt It is vital to have at least one long sleeved item of clothing for protection from mosquitoes and the sun/cold. These can also look smarter than t-shirts.
- 2 pairs of trousers the most useful type are lightweight cargo style trousers with plenty of pockets. Women might want to substitute a skirt but it is essential to have at least one pair of trousers whilst travelling.
- A pair of jeans, don't bring your favourite most expensive ones but a pair of jeans is an extremely hard-wearing and versatile item of clothing.
- Swim wear are fairly light and worth taking in case you get the opportunity to go swimming. Men can also double theirs as a pair of shorts.
- Shorts are not advisable in some countries as they mark people as a tourist. If this isn't an issue where you are travelling then a pair of shorts or 2 is useful.
- No matter where you are going a light-weight fleece is essential, this can be layered with other clothes to keep you warm in most climates. It is also worth remembering that even in hot countries it can get pretty cold at night. A rolled up fleece can also double as a pillow if required.
- It is worth taking 4 or 5 sets of socks and underwear. You will have an opportunity to wash them while you are there so it is not worth taking up room bringing loads. Also bear in mind that anything you take that is white is not going to stay that colour for very long!
- Depending on how much walking you intend doing you might want to take a sturdy pair of hiking boots...only take these if they are really necessary though as they take up a lot of space and are quite heavy.
- A pair of good quality sandals are essential in most destinations, they have the advantage of being small and easy to pack and can be quite comfortable for most occasions.
- Taking a pair of comfy trainers is also to be recommended if you can fit them in.
- A good sleeping bag is essential, one of the modern ones that can be rolled up very small is best. At many hostels you will be charged for sheets/blankets and they may be in a dubious state of cleanliness.
- A waterproof for if you get caught in the rainy season. These can also be packed up very small indeed.
- Head-covering, women will almost certainly need one in mosques or countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia.
- Baseball hat or bandana, these are good for keeping your hair out of your face and the sun off your head.
- Water bottles, it is worth taking a few water bottles.. obviously this is more relevant in hotter climates than colder.
- Swiss army knife, the travellers best friend! Just make sure you don't fly with it in your hand luggage.
- Cosmetics and toiletries, you wont need much just take what you need to maintain hygiene.
- A good first aid kit, for less developed countries it is worth taking syringes with you to avoid contracting diseases from contaminated needles that local first aiders may use.
- 2 towels. There are some really good travel towels on the market which are lightweight and take up a lot less space than traditional towels would. Check out Lightload Towels for really useful super light and versatile towels.
- Travel washing line.
- Plastic bowl with knife, fork and spoon.
- Mosquito repellent.
These items are not essential to your survival but your trip just wouldn't be the same without them. You may want to consider taking the following;
- A camera.
- Spare batteries.
- A small calculator.
- An alarm clock.
- A money belt.
- A torch.
- A personal music player.
- A deck of cards.
- A good book.
- A small bag for use during the day.
- A pen and notepad (very useful thing to have for writing out directions, reminders of place names, planning itinerary etc).
- Take lots of bin bags, these can keep dirty clothes separate from dry ones and be used to waterproof your backpack.
The size of backpack you buy really depends on how much you are going to lug around with you, if you plan on taking only the bare essentials you could get away with a 35 litre backpack but on average a 50 litre one might be a better choice, especially as it will leave some room for any souvenirs collected on the way. Certainly unless you are camping then you will not need anything bigger than a 70 litre pack.
What not to take
- If you are really short of space or want to travel very light then it might be an idea to not take guidebooks with you. You can do your research before you go and photocopy any information that you absolutely need. Books are quite heavy especially if you are carrying a lot of them and you can probably buy them locally if you really need one. Also people are usually prepared to swap you their guidebook if they are leaving a country and you are heading there. Many hostels have guidebooks too for reference or that people may have left so you can pick them up.
- Don't take a hair dryer, these are big, bulky and in many hostels you wont be able to use them (no socket), if you absolutely must have one and are travelling in a fairly developed country take one of the small travel hairdryers that can fold up.
- Don't take anything too valuable or sentimental, lost luggage and theft is all too common these days and you wouldn't want to lose anything that you can't easily replace.
- Don't take anything that you wouldn't use at home, why would you suddenly start using it when you went away?
This list should cover all of the essentials and still leave you a little room to pack any favourite things that you want to take with you. Bear in mind that for some countries you may need to modify this list slightly. For example if travelling in Europe or the USA you probably wouldn't require a sleeping bag.
Also if you are camping you will need to take all of your camping gear such as tents, travel stoves etc. in addition to all of the things listed above.
Top Backpacking Destinations - a travel guide blog aiming to help backpackers choose the best place to go on their trip.
Girls' Travel Club offers natural, organic, useful and beautiful travel accessories for women travellers and backpackers.
Rohan sells good travelling clothes with useful concealed or secure pockets.
Millets specialises mostly in camping goods but does offer some clothing and is good for picking up things like money belts and torches.
1st Harrison Ltd. offers useful information about car, hiking and camping products.