Packing

You can't take a steamer trunk with you!

All your stuff has to fit into something much smaller than this.

What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when one is packing for a backpacking trip? Take as little as possible. You’re going to be carrying everything with for long periods of time, so even a few pounds can make a big difference.

I’ve heard over and over, “Pack everything you think you’ll need, and then get rid of half of it.” Depending your packing style, this may be overkill. The underlying philosophy, however, is sound. You really don’t need all the things that you think you will.

Backpack

Before you even start thinking about what to pack, figure out what you’re going to pack it in. How much space you have in your backpack is going to dictate how much you can bring. If you don’t have a backpack yet, head over to our post on how to choose a backpack.

Once you have a backpack, pack it and put it on. Go for a walk (1 mile +) to see how it will feel to carry it around. Is it too heavy? Is it comfortable? Remove items until you can carry it around for a while without keeling over.

Here are some general tips to help you plan out what to pack.

General Packing Tips:

  • Take only what you really need. Do you need two light jackets– nope, chuck one. Things that maybe might come in handy, you don’t need.
  • Try to pack clothes that are thin. Sure a puffy-jacket might keep you warm on a cooler day, but it’ll take up half your pack for someone you might use once. Wear multiple layers of clothing to handle cooler weather— that puffy jacket could be replace by layering a long-sleeve t-shirt, a sweater and a light jacket.

Electronics:

Whether or not to bring electronics with you on a trip is a question that we’ve been asked over and over.

I personally feel that it depends on the item. Think about each item carefully. Do you really need it? If you can’t see yourself using it very often, I wouldn’t bring it. That being said, I routinely travel with a digital camera, a netbook/tablet, phone, etc.

If the item you want to bring is expensive, like your flashy $2000 DSLR, look into getting that item insured, or adding it to a blanket travel insurance policy. It’s easy for that prized item to be lost, broken, or stolen.

On that note, also be wary of where you place them. Don’t leave them in your pack or under your bed overnight, put them in a locker. If your hostel doesn’t have a lockers, find some way to sleep on it (without breaking it, of course).

Here are some things to think about when deciding whether not to bring something:

  • Do you really need it?
  • Can it be insured under your travel insurance?
  • Is it small and light?
  • How distraught would you be if it got lost/stolen

Packing Lists:

Here are some packing lists to help you start packing.

Jeans — 1

One good pair of jeans can handle many different situations, and thus make the ideal backpacking attire. They’re durable, comfortable and can be worn for weeks and weeks without washing. I advise taking a dark pair of jeans (black, dark blue, etc.) These better hide dirt and the inevitable stains, and will be a bit classier if you need to dress them up.

Shorts/Skirt — 1

A pair of shorts, or a skirt can be a nice additional for warmer weather. However you should be careful in what style of shorts you bring, nothing screams tourist like a pair of khaki pants.

T-shirts (and long-sleeve) — 5

T-shirts are pretty great for backpacking. They’re light, layerable and pretty easy to wash and dry. I usually spend most of my time backpacking in T-shirts. I would also suggest bringing one to two that have long sleeves for when the weather isn’t quite as warm.

Nicer Shirt/Top — 1-2

Bringing along a nicer shirt or two can be useful for going out at night, visiting friends/family or eating at nicer restaurants.

Pajamas, or other sleeping clothes — 0-1

Guys can probably get away with sleeping in their underwear and a t-shirt if they want, but women will probably want to pack some sleep attire for the hostel. Just bring something lightweight and basic.

Light Jacket — 1

I like bringing a light fleece, or windbreaker for when it’s cooler out. You might be able to get away with not bringing along one if you’re going in the middle of summer— but if you’re visiting cooler and wetter areas (Scotland, Scandinavia and the Alps all come to mind) you’re going to want something warmer.

Swim Suit — 1

If the weather’s warm enough. If you’re unsure about whether you’ll need one or not, you can prety easily buy a cheap pair in any coastal town.

Underwear — 5 pairs

Not much to say here, you’re going to want these. Have enough on hand that you don’t have to do laundry every other day.

Socks — 5 pairs

Socks. Crucial. Plain cotton socks will work just fine, but you can also considered “SmartWool” style socks that will deal with moisture better and will dry quicker when you need to wash them.

Sturdy shoes — aim for 1, 2 if needed

You’re going to be doing a lot of walking— so bring a pair of shoes that you can walk in all day without discomfort. I usually spend most of my time in a pair of good athletic shoes. They’re not the most stylish things, but after walking, standing, and climbing for a couple hours you won’t care. If you’re a bit more fashion conscious, you can either shoot for a nicer pair of casual shoes, or you can bring a separate pair of dress shoes.

Sandals/Flip-flops — 1

A super-cheap ($5) pair of sandals is crucial for hostel showers. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time in them walking around, but they’re great for keeping yourself athlete’s foot free and for if you hit the beach.

If traveling during a cooler time of year:

Consider adding these items in addition to those above. Again, think about layering instead of packing bulkier jackets.

Additional long sleeve t-shirt — 1
Sweatshirt or light jacket — 1-2
Water resistant/windproof jacket — 1
Pair of gloves and a hat — 1

Travel Accessories:

A quick-drying towel — 1

Absolutely bring one of these along for hostels that don’t provide them. A quick-dry towel will both take of less space than a bulky cotton towel, and will help you avoid a moldy and smelly backpack.

Sleep sheet — 1

Pretty much every hostel these days provides linens for free or a small charge. However, bringing a quick and simple sleep sheet could save you some money, and double as a light blanket for sleeping on trains/buses. Essentially, a sleep sheet is like a thin cloth sleeping bag. You can either buy one, or make one by folding a queen sized sheet in half, then sewing up the bottom and half way up the open side so it resembles a sleeping bag.

Packing Cubes/Toiletries Organizer — 1

Helps you pack a little bit more efficiently, but you can also get by with Ziploc bags.

First Aid Kit — 1

Basic first-aid supplies: Band-aids, antiseptic wipes, pain killer, Antidiarrhoeal, etc. You can carry them in a small Ziploc bag.

Money Belt — 1

Sure they make you feel tacky, but a money belt will help ensure that you don’t lose your valuables to pickpockets or sheer carelessness. Keep your passport, rail pass and most of your money in it. Each day, take your daily budget out and keep it in your wallet, so you aren’t going in and out of the belt all day.

Mini-flashlight — 1

Most likely won’t need this in the city, but it can come in handy at night, especially if you’re visiting more rural areas.

Bungee cord & Drain Stopper — 1

Crucial items for doing dirt-cheap laundry. Use the drain stopper to fill up a sink with water to wash your clothes, and then use the bungee cord to create a simple clothesline to dry them on.