What to pack for a backpacking trip

You KNOW where you want to go. In fact, its the ONLY thing in the world you know. There isn’t another thing that even comes close to mattering as much as the adventure you are about to embark on. The time that awaits you has been beckoning the very essence of your soul. Curving its finger in a “come hither” motion, repeatedly, with the most seductive of looks. It’s calling upon you, and has been for as long as you can remember being awake as this new and revamped explorer, to bask in the glory of the undiscovered.

Not exactly something you want to miss out on ;)
Not exactly something you want to miss out on 😉

You’re leaving for an adventure.

And you have no idea what to take with you. None. You have so much that you need, but no idea of how you’re going to fit it in and what you’re going to fit it into. The beauty of the backpacking process is that at least 85% of everyone’s content in a similar size backpack will be the same. Your 15% difference will be due to gender differences and lack of, or over, preparation.
What you are about to experience from your decision to travel – what it should mean to you – is like holding a prized Russian possession (think, delicately cupping to shield from all harm). Shining before your eyes, convincing you of other worldly (ironically) beauty that rivals the glow of the moon. Take it and make it a part of you. For the rest of your life. Have it engraved into your soul.

The good news is that you already know how to (do it). It’s just a matter of putting together the two steps: organizing your thoughts and organizing  your items. So lets take the first steps together.

Organizing your thoughts

You have to start with the basics:

  1. How long am I going for?   Naturally, you’d think that the longer you’re travelling for (in the case of a vacation), the more you’d have to pack. But the same rules don’t apply when you’ve decided you will be backpacking. It becomes less of an issue unless you venture off into that 8 months+ trip. But even then, you can adjust with a fair amount of ease to pack the same amount as if you were going away for just a month. This point is to illustrate more that the duration of your trip is not as heavy of a factor as you may think. The first item that people usually think about needing the most of is clothing. Understanding the sort of trip you will be on will get you in the right mind frame.
  2. What will the temperature be?  What will fill up your backpack is the thickness of your clothes. Jeans will naturally take up more space than hippie pants. A tank top will of course take less space than a light jacket. The colder the weather of your destination(s), the more strategy you will need to pack your clothing and other – not to die from the cold – items. The trick is to always know what you NEED to bring with you and what you are able to purchase wherever you are going.
  3. What activities do I know I’m going to do?  If its an adventure you set out for, then commit to it. Do not settle and forego anything you want to do just because you think there is a restriction. Knowing what you are getting into can help you prepare your backpack situation. If you’re going to be mountain or ice climbing, trekking, diving, etc. it will help you plan for what sort of storage you need. In fact, it is probably the most prominent factor that will decide what size of a backpack you will require.

Anything between a 30L-40L (the latter is what I use) can be more than enough, if organized right. It will save you the hassle to check anything in and it will be easy to store in train/bus/plane compartments.

Organizing your items


If you are traveling in areas such as South East Asia, South America, East Africa, then all you really need to take with you is a composition of clothing that generally is: 2 t-shirts, a pair of shorts and longer pants (or maybe just two hippie pants sort of thing) and a full sleeve shirt/light sweater. The end – as long as I don’t need to teach you about packing underwear.
This amount of clothing (considering you were dressed getting there) will get you from your departing airport to the next week week, at least. Once you start moving around, you will be able to do laundry and/or get new clothes while you get rid of your old ones.
You will soon realize that packing creativity will enhance your trip in ways you won’t yet believe.
Taking anything more than what is critically necessary and it will start the law of diminishing returns. You will start losing valuable and limited space in your backpack that you will need for your essentials (which we will get to).

Rolling your clothes into a packing cube was a huge space saver for me. I didn’t pack the fanciest clothes, and I might have had a t-shirt tied to a handle on my backpack, but aesthetics just didn’t factor for much in the mind frame I was in for backpacking.

Use these to make everything compact and organized!
Use these to make everything compact and organized!


In many countries, you want to avoid buying things such as toothpaste or even floss because it will be laced with an overdose of fluoride. When it comes to restocking for items that fall under this category, and have a possibility of containing questionable amount of ingredients in them, your best bet is to purchase them from well known brands. Aim for bigger and mainstream stores rather than convenience stores/shops and the like.
Maybe it should go in essentials but have a couple deodorant bars with you and a travel size one on you as well. Avoid the gels as you will be limited when passing through airport security. Gels will be classified as liquid and anything over 100ml will not be permitted.


Why are essentials third on the list? Because you are literally packing everything around these items to make sure you are able to fit them and have enough space to hold them for the duration of your trip. You will want to have your mosquito repellent. Because the ones you’ll get in places like South East Asia or South America, will have such a high amount of Deet that it can be extremely harmful to your skin. The ones you will find in Canada, that are labelled at a safe amount for human skin, will be around 30%. If you start pushing past 50%, you are asking for it. Abroad, you may see 100%. Although it may not even contain that much, you are best to avoid it. However, a product that you may want to hold off buying until you get abroad is Tiger Balm. Where it costs around $15 at home, might cost you $1 elsewhere.

After a trek, this will be your best friend.
After a trek, this will be your best friend.

Your sunscreen will be critical because of how much chemicals in the lotions, creams and sprays you get abroad is possibly unregulated. It can end up, again, doing you far more harm than good.

If you want a comfortable shave, you can bring your own razors. When it comes to trimmers, you just need to decide how much you really give a damn. I remember trimming my beard once while I was away. I stopped by at a local barbershop in Cambodia where the dude used a machine, that was probably used god knows where else, to gave me a less than decent trim but I managed. Then I half scrubbed my face off for the next hour or so. Point being, I just didn’t care all that much. Women will want their hair straighteners and generally more products than men so I’m going to provide a link to one of my favourite bloggers who can give a more female perspective.


Staying connected can mean as much to some as having a first aid kit. In my experience, if you do not have a super light and thin laptop, e.g. Macbook Air, then there is virtually no reason for you to be carrying around a laptop. I made the mistake of taking my Lenovo and every time I looked at it when trying to find space to pack, it made my blood boil. That and the added nuisance of pulling it out at airports at the request of security made me rethink my decision (this can be as annoying as getting stuck with a waitress that over enunciates every word). Of course, if you need it for work, then you aren’t able to quite escape not bringing it.
You’ll want to roll up your cables/wires and tuck them in your shoes or within clothing that you’ve rolled.
Having an unlocked phone can get you access to virtually every sim card that you can put in your phone. Access data, make calls, send messages. It was probably provided me more convenience than anything else.

Making use of every compartment and organizing your items will be key to saving space and time when packing/re-packing during your journey.

Just remember: just because you’re traveling, doesn’t mean you’re cut off from the world. If you need clothing, you can get it. If you need electronics, you can find them. If you run low on supplies, you can restock.

The only thing left to do now is to strap in – the world awaits. Your adventure is now.


3 thoughts on “What to pack for a backpacking trip

  1. Pingback: 6 sorts of investments to make for your backpacking trip | NaughtWithoutFreedom

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