When packing for a backpacking adventure, it’s tempting to bring as much as you can carry. Understandably, you want be prepared for anything. You end up packing extra shoes, massive amounts of toiletries and a big towel. But the truth is, you don’t need half the stuff that you think you do. You can pack light and still be prepared for anything the world throws at you. In the following guide, you will find a list of commonly packed things you really don’t need, and an essential packing list sufficient for any region in the world.
Things You Don’t Need
Backpacking requires a lifestyle change. You must be willing to forgo the comfort of home for the freedom of the open road. And to do this you need to pack only what you really need. The following items are ones that not only take up space and add weight but aren’t really essential for your trip.
1 A Big Jacket
Jackets are huge and heavy, and largely unnecessary for any trip. Instead, it is best to bring a lightweight windbreaker, which you can then put over multiple layers of clothes.
2 A Big Towel
A Towel is another luxury that is totally unnecessary and will take up a lot of space. If you really detest sun or drip drying, a car shammy is an incredibly light and effective alternative. A t-shirt works well too.
3 Hiking Boots
Unless the sole purpose of you trip is to trek Nepal, leave the hiking boots at home. Sneakers are much lighter and all purpose. One pair will do.
4 A Belt
Though you might not think it, a proper belt can weigh quite a bit. If you really need something to hold your pants up, a simple string or rope is just as efficient.
5 Electric Tooth Brush/Razor
I wish I didn’t have to mention this, but I have actually met people traveling with their heavy electric toothbrushes. An old fashioned tooth brush works just as well and is at least 10 times lighter.
The Packing List: Everything You Need
The items listed below are always on my packing list. I have found this combination to be the most efficient. They are light and small enough to keep you alive and well in any region without comprimising too much comfort.
Four pairs is just enough that you don’t have to constantly wash them. Plus when you do need to wash them, they’re pretty easy to do in a sink or shower and they dry quickly.
Four underwear is just what you need. Like socks, they are easy to clean, and so you don’t need anymore than 4.
3 Light Jeans / Cargo Pants
Light weight and dark colored jeans or cargo pants are all you need. You can go ages without washing them and no one will notice. (Hopefully :))
You only really need one. If your shorts can double as swim shorts, that’s even better.
5 Bathing suit
You never know when you’re going to end up at a beach. One pair is usually a good idea.
6 Long Johns
Lightweight and breathable long johns are a must no matter what climate you are in. Even in hot and humid countries, if you are going to sleep outdoors or on a beach, it will be a bit chilly.
Two T-Shirts are ideal. Since t-shirts can accumulate dirt and sweat stains quickly, it’s good to have an extra.
8 Long Sleeve Shirt
One Long sleeve shirt is a perfect layer to add when it gets cold.
A thin light cotton sweater makes a warm and comfortable outer layer.
10 Wind Breaker
When it’s really cold and rainy, putting a windbreaker over your longjohns, long sleeve shirt, t-shirt, and sweater will provide the outer layer of protection and warmth that you will need.
In terms of toiletrees, you are going to want to pack a basic tooth brush, a small tube of tooth paste, mini dental floss, and a small bottle of shampoo. Keeping your teeth clean is never a bad idea. And with a bottle of shampoo, you can wash everything. Just be sure it’s a screw on top that won’t leak. Nowadays, many hostels offer free soap or shampoo and if you run out, you can always find more supplies almost anywhere in the world.
A tent is good to have but can often weigh a lot. An effective alternative is a Tarp and small rope which easily be fashioned into a make shift shelter.
13 Sleeping Bag
Like the tent, the sleeping bag depends on you. Light sleeping bags such as mine can weigh as little as 2 pounds, but it will still take up weight. On the other hand, the sleeping bag will keep you warm when sleeping outdoors or in dodgy hotels/hostels with bed bug filled blankets.
14 Survival Gear
A small headlight and pocketknife always comes in handy. Just be sure not to take your bag as a carry on. Other gear I would recommend is a waterproof lighter, water purification tablets, and a space blanket. For more on essential travel gear, check out Runaway Survival Gear.
If you’re not a blogger like me, I wouldn’t take any technology. Being without music or a connection to the world is what makes traveling so freeing. Plus any tech you bring is going to add some weight.
On the other hand if you are a travel blogger, I would definitely recommend the Macbook Air for blogging. In terms of photography, a compact camera such as the Canon S100 or Sony Cyber Shot 20v, are great options. An external hard drive is also useful if you are planning on taking lots of video. There’s nothing worse than deleting good video to make room for new ones. For more info on my blogging tech list, see Runaway Travel Gear.
The passport is an obvious must. It’s not a bad idea to carry copies. Additionally, 10 to 20 passport photos cut to size will be necessary when applying for visas to many countries around the world.
Travel insurance and a copy of your policy is also a good idea. If you’re trying to decide whether to buy insurance, be sure to see this article, Runaway With Travel Insurance?
Regarding vaccinations, if you are from the US or Europe, most countries will not require any documentation. However, there are a few countries in Africa and elsewhere that require proof of vaccinations before being granted a visa. You should check the countries visa requirements to make sure. Most countries do have vaccination recommendations. Although I have never had a problem, it’s not a bad idea to play it safe.
International Driving License is only necessary if you are traveling by motorcycle or car, or living and driving in a country for an extended period. But if all you want to do is rent cars or scooters, you can almost always use your home country license. If you do need an international driving license and are American, you can easily apply by mail for 15$ as long as you have a valid US license.
An International Student Identity Card (ISIC) mainly provides discounts on accommodation, transport and attractions in Europe and the USA. So if you’re a student and backpacking Europe or the US, it’s a good idea to get one. However, often, a university issued ID will work just as well.
Packing for your journey is a transformational and liberating process. Like so many wandering nomads of the past, you can only bring what you can carry on your back. Packing light is key. This means you need to decide on only the necessities. You really don’t need all the junk you think you do. And if you leave and find out there is something you really need, you can always buy it on the road.
Good luck and light travels,