This is another question I hear quite often when people begin packing for their own adventures. What do you pack? What do you leave at home. What are the essentials that should be in every backpackers haul?
My best advice I can give anyone is pack light! You never know when you could be carrying that pack for hours or km at a time. Keeping it as light as possible will be a savior not only to your back in such situations but will make your entire trip more enjoyable. It’s human nature after all, a heavy pack can make even the most lighthearted of us grumpy and irritated given enough time.
Recommendation: 50-55L with a 10L expansion
Let’s begin with the backpack itself. The most iconic and quintessential piece that makes the backpacker. Starting off with the right pack can make or break the backpacker. The backpack I use is 55L with a 10L expansion available if I need extra room. I have found this size to be perfect for all lengths of trips ranging from a couple days to 5+ weeks on the road at a time. The 50-55L (without the +10L expansion) is perfect for airplanes often fitting perfectly inside the overhead compartments and complying with all ranges of aircraft carry on policy from even the most stingy budget airlines to the more expensive. With this size, you shouldn’t ever have any issues. Besides, if you have a larger bag and more room, we generally want to fill it. It’s only human nature.
The problem comes when you get in to larger sizes and even when you fill the extra 10L of this bag. When expanded to 65L, bags of this size most likely won’t fit straight in the overhead compartments on planes. Instead you will have to put the bag in sideways. For some airlines, especially budget airlines, they will see the size of the bag and know this too, hence asking you to check it in and pay additional fees. A little workaround for this that I have often found works is to adjust the straps on the bag before heading in to the airport. The shoulder straps on these bags adjust up and down to provide more comfort based on how full the bag is. If you have your bag full, I suggest putting the straps as high as possible on the bag so it hangs as low as possible on your back. Thus, when you go check in or are about to board the plane, the attendants won’t notice a huge bag towering over your pack and ask you to check it in. This has worked for me every time I have done it! And low and behold, a couple times when I have forgotten to do it, I have had to check it in and pay the fees.
One more important note for the backpack, make sure it comes with a waterproof cover! If it starts raining on you, you don’t want everything inside to get wet too.
Once you’ve got your backpack all picked out and are ready to start packing these are the essentials I always make sure are in my bag before I even start loading clothes or anything else.
- Two universal power adapters (All-in-One Universal World Wide Travel Charger Adapter Plug)
- Portable power pack (anything over 20000 mAh) (Aukey 20000mAh Portable External Battery Charger Power Bank with AIPower Tech for Apple iPad iPhone Samsung Google Nexus LG HTC Motorola and other USB Powered Devices (Black))
- String backpack/small day pack (niceeshop(TM) Men Team Alliance Oxford Drawstring Backpack Tote Sports Bag,Black)
- Mini Umbrella
- Water Bottle
- Travel sized first aid kit
- Toiletries: soap, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste
- (optional) Extra battery for your phone
- (optional) Travel sized power bar
Being a techie in the networking/IT Security field, I recommend the two universal power adapters, portable battery pack, extra battery and power bar as purely redundant measures. While you could get by just fine with one adapter, no power pack, no extra battery and no power bar I highly recommend them. I rely on my phone a HUGE amount when travelling. I use Google Maps extensively to save hostels, airports and other sites I want to visit during my trip as well as the camera for catching all those once in a lifetime memories. One of my biggest fears when travelling is losing power and not having access to my phone for any of these things. That’s why I preach these redundant measures.
My essential list also includes a string backpack or small day pack. I recommend the string bag because it folds up VERY small and adds virtually no weight to your bag. It is perfect when you get to your destination. Leave your large pack at the hostel and take the small string backpack out with you for the day.
The umbrella, first aid kit and toiletries are pretty apparent as to why they made it on the essentials list. Just keep in mind with toiletries, the airlines almost always have a limit of 100ml per liquid item. Anything over this will need to be thrown out (or put in your checked bag if you are checking in any luggage). The water bottle is another huge recommendation. Depending on where you go, the tap water is drinkable and perfectly fine. Why pay good money for bottled water with plastic that just ends up in the trash afterwards when many places, such as in Europe, have public water fountains everywhere that you can use to fill up for free! There’s no point spending your heard earned cash when a good, free alternative is available.
Now it’s time for the main part of packing for that next adventure! To be honest, I still struggle with this and doing it right is very dependent on each particular trip. There is no one size fits all approach. This is what works best for me. It may not be for you so use it purely as a guideline and pack yours according to your needs. Just remember the cardinal rule, pack light! A good rule of thumb is to make a list of everything you THINK you need and get rid of half of it.
Here is my base list of clothes I tend to pack for most trips:
- 2 pairs of zip-off pants
- 3 polyester T-Shirts
- 1 or 2 long-sleeve polyester zip-up jackets
- 1 Light rain jacket
- 1 Towel
- 5 Underwear
- 5 Socks
- (optional) Dress Shirt
- (optional) Nicer pair of jeans or khakis
- (optional) Flip flops
Being from Canada, I generally like to take trips to warmer climates so packing is a little easier in this case. Let’s go through the list above one by one.
You’ll notice the first item is zip-off pants. I’ve done enough backpacking trips where i’m lugging around a pair or two of jeans and let me tell you that is no fun at all! They are ridiculously heavy and do not dry easy in the event they get wet. It’s a lose lose situation and contributes to breaking the cardinal rule. For those not familiar with them, zip off pants are the ones that zip off at the knees to turn them in to shorts. These are perfect for backpacking! Two-in-one! Hence why I don’t have shorts listed separately on the list. Furthermore these pants are great because often times they have an abundance of zippered or sealed-off pockets like on cargo shorts. Perfect for keeping the passport, wallet and phone out of the reach of pickpockets.
Next on the list we have the polyester t-shirts and zip-up jackets. I personally prefer a polyester material over something like cotton because it is much more breathable so you sweat less and it is lighter than the cotton based material. I also listed a light rain jacket too. Don’t get anything too large or heavy here, just something to keep the water off. You never know when you’ll be caught in a rain storm especially if you are going to a climate during rainy season.
The towel, underwear and socks are pretty self-explanatory. Hotels most often provide towels but if you are truly backpacking it then you’ll be staying in hostels where a majority of the time a towel is not provided. Again, get a travel towel or something lighter that won’t add too much weight. Leave the large beach towel at home! Socks and underwear, pack for your own needs.
Finally, the optional items. If I am going somewhere where I am meeting up with friends or there is the possibility of going to a little more fancy venue then I’ll pack one dress shirt and a pair of nicer jeans or khakis to go along with it. Sandals are optional because they are purely dependent on the trip and whether or not you’ll be visiting a hot climate or any beaches.
There you have it! The items you’d find in my backpack if we ever meet up on the road. Like I said, use it as a guideline and pack for your own needs. Just remember the most important rule: pack light!