This is one of the most important traveling topics I can talk about as knowing what to take backpacking is essential. Whatever travel choices you make, it’s your travel gear that’s with you all the way so make it count.
If you’re like me, you will find it hard to cut down to the very essential items. Even after doing a lot of research on the subject, I still had too much stuff before I left on my first trip. I found it really hard to get the right balance from the very beginning, but experience will get you there. Like me, you can read a lot about it, but in my opinion, in the end, it will always be a personal choice.
What to Take Backpacking: Clothes
There is a lot to think about when considering what to take backpacking on a long trip. Questions like how many pairs of shoes, should I take jeans, how many t-shirts are enough, what about a coat, etc. come to mind and never really leave you even after you’re on the road. I tried different combinations and what I learned was that although I needed to be practical keeping it to the essential, I also felt I needed to be me, meaning, I needed to take my own style with me.
It happened several times while I was on the road. People would come up to me and ask if I was Australian. When I asked why, they would say, “it’s because of the way you’re dressed”. So I learned that if you go hiking style, they will think you´re an Aussie.
Dressing in Layers packs light
Dressing in layers is the main advice I can give to travelers. If it’s cold, you add a layer until you feel comfortable. If it’s warm, you take a layer off. Thinking in layers really helps you pack light. Instead of taking big heavy coats and sweaters, you can pack light sweaters and a lightweight wind and rain blocker jacket.
My essential travel clothing
Remember, if you forget or need anything, you can always buy it on the road. Don’t buy too much stuff before leaving, especially if you’re going to developing countries where stuff is much cheaper. Here is my list of essential travel clothing:
- One shirt for a more formal occasion;
- Two pairs of zip-off trousers. They are really handy: if it’s hot, they work as shorts; if you visit sacred places or the weather gets chilly, zip them into long trousers; They also dry very quickly;
- 5 simple t-shirts and 1 or 2 good ones. By simple I mean one color normally darker and discrete (no brand symbols). Light colors tend to get dirty easier;
- 1 fleece top: works great as a layer for colder situations, useful for hikes, high altitude, etc.;
- 1 lightweight waterproof and windbreaker jacket. Stylish with underarm breathing, light and easily foldable so you can keep it hidden in your daypack;
- Swimming shorts: you never know when you will have access to a swimming pool or a lake and they are great for scuba-diving;
- 7 pairs of socks (1 for each day of the week);
- 7 pairs of boxer shorts (1 for each day of the week);
- A pair of gloves (unless your only going to warm places);
- A cap;
- My favorite: a buff, the best accessory you can have as it works as a headband, a pirate hat, a mask, a neckerchief, etc.;
Keeping My Style
I add 3 items to the list above with the purpose of taking my style with me.
- My favorite sweater;
- One pair of jeans. A lot of people will disagree on this one and I did some trips without them because they are heavy, take longer to dry and aren’t useful most of the time. But I wear jeans almost every day back home so going out to dinner, a bar or a disco feels completely different in my jeans. When I didn’t have them, I missed them;
The third item is my footwear.
What to Take Backpacking: Essential Footwear
Shoes are a complicated choice to make. You will be doing different activities so you may need different types of shoes. I get tired of wearing the same pair of shoes for several days in a row, so I need a change every other day and that means taking more shoes.
The most important thing to consider is the comfort. Given the choice, comfort should come before style, but if you manage to do both, even better. Keep in mind you will be doing a lot of walking so keeping your feet comfortable is crucial.
My 3 Essential Footwear Items
My main footwear choices are:
- Hybrid trekking shoes. Advantages: Gore-Tex weather protection, extremely comfortable, discrete and stylish to the point that no one bothers you at border controls for wearing hiking shoes;
- Casual urban shoes;
- Flip flops;
I chose a pair of hybrid trekking shoes that were great for walking for hours while doing sightseeing in big cities and were also great for hiking and trekking. They also looked good. I would avoid hiking boots unless you really intend to do a lot of hiking. They are heavy and take up a lot of space in your backpack.
Going out for dinner and dancing or any other formal social event is another thing to consider. Bulky trekking shoes are not practical. Neither are sandals or flip-flops when you’re in colder places. Flip-flops also don’t work for me for longer walks or dancing. I had a pair of casual urban shoes that were also useful for shorter walks. It’s my usual style back home so this is another way of taking my style with me.
Flip-flops are obligatory. They are light and great for beach time, hot weather, water sports, and showering in dodgy places with shared bathrooms.
In hot countries like India, sandals are the best choice. I really can’t walk long distances on flip-flops, but that’s me.
How to Pack your Backpack
Packing your backpack properly comes from experience but you can pick up some tips if you do a little research. My strategy is simple and has worked fine.
I put my extra pair of shoes at the bottom, plus the heavier items and stuff I use less, like the pharmacy, the first aid kit, and the linen. My warmer clothes also go in the bottom. This keeps the weight at the bottom and avoids your backpack from tipping over. Remember my choice of backpack goes for a front loader with U-zip, so everything is easily accessible.
Rolling your t-shirts really works. It saves space, makes them easier to pack and gives you easier access. I also use this technique for trousers, sweaters, and shirts.
I’ve never used travel luggage packing organiser bags but I was tempted as they do look like a great solution for keeping things organised in your backpack.
The most important thing is to keep your backpack balanced, with the weight evenly distributed and still have easy access to your most needed stuff. By doing this you keep your back healthy on longer walks as your hips help support the weight and you also avoid the annoying situation of your backpack tipping over all the time.
Doing Travel Laundry
Knowing what to take backpacking is great, but packing light means you’re going to have to wash your clothes frequently. Doing travel laundry will be a constant concern because. Here are some tricks you can use on the way.
When doing laundry, try to find a place that charges by the kilo, it’s cheaper than per piece. You will probably have less than 2 kg to wash at a time. At hotels, they normally charge per piece so have a look around the neighborhood first. If you find a self-laundry service, that’s probably your cheapest and safest option.
You will get used to wearing your t-shirts more than once, so you won’t be doing laundry every week. Dark colors help you look cleaner.