You have planned some sort of backpacking adventure. Interrailing Europe, backpacking around South-East Asia, South America, the USA, Africa or Oceania. Or even a trip around the world. All these trips have one thing in common: you are going to have a backpack and that is all you’re are going to have. Everything you own will be on your back. You will go place to place, country to country with the same one backpack. Clearly, what’s in this backpack is going to be important. Everything you choose to bring must be deliberate. One thing that I’ve learnt is that less is more.
Why take less? Firstly, travelling with less is just easier. Its practical. You aren’t staggering around with a massive backpack that weighs more than you. You have less stuff to deal with. Packing and unpacking is quick and efficient. Especially if you are doing this most days while on the move, it adds up. Having less can also be exceptionally freeing. You aren’t tied to loads of stuff. You don’t have to wake up and decide what to wear. You just wear what you have. It doesn’t matter. You’re forced into this simplicity. It’s also cheaper. Airline baggage costs can be one of the most expensive costs when travelling, sometimes even more than you’re flight ticket. If all you take is a hand carry backpack and nothing else, you avoid these costs. Backpacking around the world isn’t always going to be glamorous. At some point you are bound to be dirty or smelly. Embrace it.
What most people think is that if they are going on a month-long trip or longer they need to bring way more stuff. This isn’t true. I bring the same amount of stuff if I’m travelling for a week or if I were to travel for months on end. How? Simple answer is washing. You carry less clothing, but you have to do more washing. No one enjoys doing washing but it’s the trade-off. So surely then you have to pay loads for washing? No. The cheapest and easiest way is to wash your clothes with shampoo in a sink. It works, trust me. Again, it isn’t glamorous but it does get the job done.
To take only what you need is the way to go. When thinking of what to bring before you leave, truly think of what you need and what you don’t. Overpacking is such an easy mistake to make. And after a while you will start to see things that you thought you needed but that you haven’t touched once. Hopefully this guide will save you some time when packing and will be a practical help. Do note that this is a guide based off what I myself bring travelling, all people will differ and have different needs. This is only intended as a guide.
Obviously, the first bit of kit you are going to consider is your backpack. A backpack between 30-45 litres is the sweet spot. Anything more, you risk not being able to hand carry it and you don’t really need anything bigger. Obviously, quality is next thing to consider. I’d say it is worth investing in a decent quality pack as it becomes one of the most important things in your life while travelling. There are so many different brands and styles but at the end of the day most of them will get the job done. eBay is a great place to look for a second-hand pack at a cheaper price.
- a wide range of pretty good quality packs
- various sizes/colours
- value – budget option but largely well designed
- The ‘Big Dog’ – you basically can’t go wrong with one
- Great quality
- Lots of different styles
- Granite gear
- Personal favourite
- Good quality
- High-end budget
My single biggest tip when travelling is to get a large trash bag. You want to place this inside your empty backpack and line the inside with it. This is the single best way to waterproof your stuff. Don’t trust the manufacturer’s waterproof cover. Trash bags are also super cheap.
Always take a small fanny pack with you. it may not look great but when you don’t have your backpack, you want something more than just your pockets.
- Fanny pack
- Money belt
Clothing tends to be the category where people overpack and take way more than needed. What clothes you take is obviously a highly personal decision. The clothing you bring is also dependent on where you’re going and when. So, this will be a list not taking into account extreme temperatures. The material of the clothing you bring is super important. With minimal clothing you want to make sure you bring smell-resistant clothing. Merino wool is the best material. Whether for t-shirts or underwear, merino wool is what you want. It’s more expensive than other material but worth it.
Warm jacket x1
I tend to go for a lightweight puffy jacket. They are warm and packable.
- Patagonia micro puff
Fleece / jumper x1
Any fleece or jumper will do. It’s an added layer of warmth and just comfy for long journeys.
This may seem extreme and for some it may be. I personally only take 2 but I’d say the maximum number of tops you need is 6.
- Outdoor / sports top – hiking shirts have super useful pockets
- Normal t-shirt
Any kind of sports shorts
- Patagonia baggies
- Nike running shorts
- Hiking trousers
If you are travelling, chances are you will go swimming at some point. Bring whatever you are comfortable in.
I found having 3 was enough and I would do a rotation of washing. Once two were dirty I would wash them while wearing my last clean pair. Material is really important for underwear due to genital hygiene.
Again, material for socks is crucial. Any hiking socks.
- Darn Tough – life time warranty
Again, your choice of shoe is highly individual. I’ve always loved boots. Hiking boots tend to be my choice but if I was going to a city I would choose to wear more casual boots. If you prefer trainers, I’d recommend anything basically. Just wear what you like.
- Hiking boots
- Doc martens
- Air forces
Sandals are great. Whether you are on the beach or if the shower in your hostel is gross. They are also small and light.
- Flip flops
Waterproof jacket x1
It rains basically in any country. Prepare for it. I always choose a lightweight poncho rather than a chunky Gore-Tex waterproof. They are lighter, cheaper and tend to actually be more waterproof.
- FroggToggs – hands down the best option. It’s not durable but is completely waterproof
- Plastic poncho – pick it up in any country for super cheap
Sun hat x1
- Baseball cap
- Sun hat
They can be used for so many different things: sweat band, neck warmer or a balaclava.
- Buff classic
Having a small towel is unbelievably useful. Some hostels charge you for a towel or if you are going to the beach, you are going to want one.
- Sea to summit towel
- Sarong – doubles as a piece of clothing
A lot of people use dry bags to store their clothes. It’s an easy way to keep your clothes organised and it’s simple. If you don’t want to spend the money you can also use any grocery shopping bag. It does the exact same thing. I personally just stuff all my clothes into my bag without sacks. I find it just maximises the space better.
Toiletries will vary greatly between people. I like to go very basic as I don’t have many dermatological needs.
Travel size toothpaste
Travel size shampoo
Bar of soap
Toilet paper – I always carry a bit of toilet paper with me, you never known when you will need it
Travel size nail clippers
I normally also use my smartphone as my camera
Multiple socket travel block
International travel adapter
Unless you are passionate about photography, modern phones tend to be good enough.
Whether it’s a tiny pocket torch or a headtorch, I’ve always found it useful.
Always bring some sort of first aid. It doesn’t have to be super comprehensive, but bring something. I typically just bring a bag of various painkiller pills but that’s just my personal choice.
- Premade first aid kit – super easy and know you have everything
Having a multi-tool or a penknife is always useful
- Victorinox Classic
Travelling can be a great time to get into a book. Sitting on a train or on the beach, travelling does lend itself to reading. It just feels right. If you’re not stubborn like me, a Kindle is incredible. They are basically like a tiny library in your pocket. Also finding books abroad can be tough. However, one of the reasons I love not using a kindle is going to local bookshops and often being forced to read books that I would never have ever read.
Journal / notebook
I tend to separate and organise my stuff into Ziplocs. They are cheaper than dry bags, incredibly waterproof and are super light and cheap. You can also get them basically anywhere in the world.
I always travel with my tent. I love travelling with a tent because it means I can basically sleep anywhere I want. I’m not chained to hostels or guesthouses. It also can save you a lot of money while travelling which is obviously a major plus. Obviously if you don’t like camping, don’t bring a tent.
- Any backpacking lightweight tent (loads of companies)– Decathlon, Big Agnes, Nemo
- I personally use a Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2 and I love it
Sleeping bag / Quilt
Even if you don’t like camping, I would always recommend bringing one. You never know if you might need one. The hostel you’re staying at may not have duvets or the blankets they provide may be filthy. You can either bring a really small casual sleeping bag/liner or a more serious one for camping etc
- Sea to Summit
- An amazon 1 season sleeping bag
Again, this is mainly targeted at people who like camping. Any small backpacking inflatable pad will do or a closed cell foam pad
- Nemo Switchback
Cooking and Water
Bringing stuff to cook with depends on what kind of travelling you are doing. I really enjoy the flexibility it gives me, and it doesn’t require much. It can also save you a lot of money. Basically, no matter where I go I always carry porridge with me and just have that for breakfast. It just means you pay for one less meal a day. You obviously can’t fly with fuel and getting the correct fuel can be difficult depending on where you are going.
- Toaks titanium 750ml pot
- MSR Pocket Rocket 2
- Toaks titanium long handle spoon
To clean your pot
Packing for your trip can be stressful, especially if you have never backpacked before. I hope this comprehensive guide can help you out. This is largely based off what I myself bring on trips, but please remember this is just a guide. No one travelling will bring the same things as someone else. What you pack is highly personal. No matter what you pack, I would say do it in an intentional way. Bringing the minimal amount will be cheaper and overall, just an easier, more freeing experience.
All photos by Thomas Russell