Packing for your first backpacking trip can seem overwhelming. I remember bringing WAY more things than I ever needed. It was such a waste! The biggest thing to keep in mind when packing for your backpacking trip is that LESS IS MORE. The less you bring, the happier you'll be- I promise! You'll really realize during this trip how little you need to survive on a daily basis.
What backpack to get
I personally have the Mountaintop 40L Backpack in mustard yellow (color listed online as kahqi2) and can't recommend it enough! It's the perfect size to use as a carry on, but has a lot of pockets and places for storage. You'll be surprised at how much you can fit in this thing. It also has a built in rain guard to protect your things when you're traveling in the rain. Plus, it's only $40 USD when a lot of backpacker backpacks are over $100 USD. But really as long as it's 40L, I think you can't go wrong! You just don't want it any bigger because you won't be able to use it as a carry on.
What to bring
Passport & ID
First & foremost, this is your life when you go backpacking. Make sure you have both your passport and ID, and make copies of each. I always like to be safe and have a scanned copy on my phone AND a printed copy to keep on me at all times.
I highly recommend getting a hanging toiletry bag that is very compact with lots of pockets that zip. The main reason is that when you're using a communal bathroom in your hostel, it will make it much easier to shower and do your daily routines. You can easily hang your toiletry bag on a rack or hook (either inside the shower or next to the sink) and grab everything you need from the zipper pockets, without things falling out or getting wet. And obviously make sure all your toiletries are TRAVEL-SIZED, so they can fit inside the bag and go in your carry on. Remember the carry-on limit for liquids is 3.4 oz (100 mL).
Electronics & Chargers
This could be a lot or a little depending on how much you like to take pictures/videos. Obviously the standard will be your phone, phone charger, and portable charging bank. Depending on how long you're going for you might need to bring your laptop and charger as well. And if you're a blogger or photographer you'll probably have camera equipment to bring. But again remember, you don't have much space in your carry on backpack. Typically for a shorter trip I will just bring my phone and my tripod to take photos. But for a longer trip I'll bring my camera and occasionally my laptop since I'll need to be blogging along the way. But then I know that means I can bring less clothes & things, so it's definitely a trade-off.
Foldable Backpack and/or Fanny Pack
This is for your daily use. Your backpacking backpack is going to have ALL of your things in it, so it would be such a hassle to dump everything out on your hostel bed and re-pack it for daily use. Not to mention, you wouldn't really have a place to put those things in the hostel. It really helps to have a separate bag for daily adventures. I personally always bring a fanny pack on all my trips because I think it's important to always have my passport, wallet, and phone on me at all times. But if I know I'll be doing a lot of hiking on a trip, I'll always make sure to bring a foldable backpack as well. That way I can fill it with snacks, water, extra clothing, or whatever I may need.
Reusable Water Bottle
Not only are you helping the environment, but you're saving money too! Most airports and hotels have filtered water you can use to fill up your bottle, so you won't have to buy disposable ones during your trip. It'll also help save space in your backpack if you have a collapsible or foldable one, so when it's empty you can tuck it away without taking up a lot of space.
This is a BIG one. A lot of times we think about the way they look rather than the comfort, and when you're backpacking that's definitely not the way to go. You will be walking EVERYWHERE, so comfy shoes are essential. And you only have a backpack, so one pair of shoes is really all you need I promise! The type of shoe will also depend on the type of backpacking trip you're taking:
City trip: (not much hiking or nature) Running shoes. Find a pair of running shoes that are neutral (white, tan, grey black), so they will coordinate with all your outfit choices. When you're backpacking cities a lot of times people want to look cute, and there are plenty of running shoes these days that are both cute/fashionable AND super comfortable. Make sure you test them out and walk around them for awhile before your trip to make sure they'll be really comfortable.
Personal experience: On one of my backpacking trips to NYC, I brought my white Stan Smith Adidas as my only pair of shoes because I thought they were super cute and kind of comfortable. After the first day I had 2 blisters on each foot, and my feet were KILLING me. I ended up buying a pair of white running shoes for the rest of my trip- they were still cute and my feet thanked me for it.
Nature trip: (lots of hiking and outdoor activities) Hiking sandals. I know a lot of you might be apprehensive reading that- but hear me out. They are the PERFECT pair of shoes for an outdoor backpacking adventure like Southeast Asia or South America. They are really comfortable, you can hike in them, and when it's cold you can still wear them with socks. Honestly best decision I ever made. If you don't feel comfortable wearing these you can opt for a pair of good hiking/running shoes, and then bring a small pair of sandals in your bag if you have room.
Personal experience: When I backpacked Southeast Asia for a couple months I originally started off with a pair of sandals and a pair of running shoes that I used for my hikes. Long story short, my running shoes got caught in the tire of my moped and were completely destroyed. The next day, my sandals broke. I was stuck on an island in Indonesia that didn't have any places to buy shoes, so I was barefoot for a couple days. I saw a lot of people wearing those hiking sandals at my hostel, so I decided I would get a pair when I got to Lombok- simply to save money because I didn't want to pay for a new pair of running shoes AND sandals. Best decision I ever made. They are the most comfortable shoes and have great traction and grip for hiking. I still continue to wear them all the time when I hike- I can't recommend them enough.
Duh! But remember LESS IS MORE! Bring lots of neutral pieces so you can constantly mix and match to create new outfits with the same pieces. The maximum amount of clothes you want to bring is 7 days worth, regardless of how long your trip is. You can easily do laundry and constantly have clean clothes, and if you have items that you can mix and match, you'll feel like you have a lot more than you actually do. The type of clothes will also depend on the type of backpacking trip you're taking:
City trip: (not much hiking or nature)
- 1 coat (wear on the plane, make it a neutral color)
- 5-7 tops (mix up long sleeves, short sleeves, and sweaters depending on the weather)
- 1 pair of jeans (thicker denim to keep you warm)
- 2-3 pants (leggings, sweatpants, any other pants that will keep you warm and look nice to wear out)
- 5-6 pairs of thick socks
- 1 light jacket
- 5-7 tops (majority short sleeve, but bring a couple of long sleeves)
- 2-3 pants (jeans, leggings)
- 2-3 shorts
Nature trip: (lots of hiking and outdoor activities)
Hot/humid (like SE Asia year round or summers in South America)
- 5-7 thin, short-sleeve shirts/tanks (preferably not tight, it'll make you sweat even more)
- 3-4 pairs of shorts (again, flowy and thin is better so you can minimize sweating)
- 2-3 pairs of thin pants/capris (for temples you will have to cover your knees as a woman, so kee the fabric light and thin so you won't be hot)
- 1-2 sleeping outfits (t-shirts & comfy shorts/thin pants)
- 1-2 swimsuits
- 1 lightweight rain jacket (very thin!)
- 1 thick coat (wear on the plane- warmth is the most important thing if you'll be outside a lot)
- 5-7 tops (mix up long sleeves and sweaters)
- 1 pair of jeans (thicker denim to keep you warm)
- 2-3 pants (leggings, hiking pants, or anything waterproof if you'll be hiking in the snow and rain)
- 6-7 pairs of thick socks
- 1-2 sleeping outfits (t-shirts & comfy shorts/thin pants)
How to pack it
Always pack your heaviest and bulkiest items first at the bottom of your backpack. Then, fill your shoes and other small spaces with all your smaller items that can easily be squished into all the cracks and crevices. Make sure you ROLL all of your items, not fold. You'll be surprised at how much more you can fit when you use this method!
What NOT to bring
Like I said earlier, a lot of times people end up bringing way more than they need on a backpacking trip. Especially if it's their first time! Remember less is more. You don't need to bring all your things. That's the beauty of backpacking. It's all about living a minimalistic lifestyle and showing you how much you don't need to survive and live a happy life while seeing this beautiful planet. Here are some things that you should absolutely NOT bring on your backpacking adventure:
Jewelry & Valuables
These are unnecessary and you'll probably rarely use on your trip. They also provide an opportunity for someone to try and steal from you if they see that you have expensive items in your backpack. It's better to not have the items for a couple weeks, then have them gone forever.
Just bring the essentials, nothing extra. And if you run out, you can easily buy more travel-sized toiletries during your trip. Extra toiletries will take up a lot of room in your backpack and make it heavier.
Obviously if your trip is hiking through Patagonia during the winter, then yeah you'll need plenty of warm, bulky items. But things like cotton clothing, sweaters, jackets, jeans, towels, or even hiking boots will take up WAY too much room. There's no need for it. The most common backpacking destinations in the world are Southeast Asia and South America, and for the most part you'll pretty much just need thin clothing that doesn't take up a lot of room in your pack. And make sure to get a microfiber towel instead- it'll save a ton of space.
More than one book
If you love to read like I do, you always want to bring multiple books for your trip. But don't! It'll take up way too much space. Bring a book that you find interesting, but don't mind if it doesn't come back home with you. Most hostels have book exchanges, so once you finish reading your book you can exchange it for another one and continue on like that for the rest of your trip. Then, you'll have read multiple books, but only have been carrying one! Win-win!
Items that don't go with your destination
Make sure to do some research. If you're going to a tropical place, you don't need jeans, heels, or even makeup. You'll be relaxing on the beach and soaking in the sun. If you're going on a trek through the mountains, do you really need flip flops? When will you wear them? Take a look at your destination and what you're planning on doing there- then get rid of any items that don't go with your plans!
Basically the rule of thumb for packing for a backpacking adventure is, if you're thinking "what if..." or "I might need this for this one occasion..." DON'T BRING IT. If you're thinking about it then it's obviously not a necessity, and you'll end up just carrying it around for weeks without actually needing it. Be destination specific and remind yourself that the whole point of backpacking is to go minimalistic. The point of the trip is to focus on the amazing and beautiful destinations around the world, not the material items you brought in your backpack.
Watch how I pack my backpack for a hot/humid destination:
and for a cold, city destination:
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