Backpacker’s checklist: What to take and how to pack light for a trip?

We’ve been asked many times to make a post about packing and trip preparation. Since we have just set off for our Balkan Peninsula by Thumb trip, I thought it’s a perfect time to share with you some of our tips & tricks.

Packing light is a skill which you must learn if you want to backpack of hitch-hike for a long time without straining your back and ruining your trip.

Let’s be honest, it’s useful even if you’re not planning a round-the-world trip with a rucksack firmly attached to your back. Have you ever thought that Ryanair’s luggage limit of 15 kg is not enough? What would you say if I told you that your bag can weigh 6 kg and contain all you will need for a two month trip?

Follow these simple rules and I can guarantee you less stress and back pain throughout your journey:

Rucksack

Your rucksack is your best friend, so choose wisely. Your ideal rucksack should be small and light.

Rule 1: A small rucksack

For a trip during which you’re planning to camp, the maximum size of your rucksack shouldn’t exceed 65 l. If your bag is too big but empty, it will be uncomfortable to carry.

If you are not planning on camping and you’re not taking a tent, a sleeping bag and a mat, then anything between 20 and 50 l should do you.

Rule 2: Personalize your rucksack

If you are planning to move around carrying your rucksack a lot, make sure you buy one with an adjustable back system. This will allow you to adjust it to your unique posture and size, which will make a big difference. The idea is not to feel your rucksack at all.

Rule 3: Straps & zips

If your rucksack is small, make sure it has a lot of straps, which you can use to attach things onto it or compress your rucksack to make it smaller.

It’s also a good idea to buy a rucksack with a bottom compartment which can be accessed separately.

Rule 4: In all weathers

If your rucksack isn’t waterproof, make sure you buy a waterproof rain cover. For example something like this.

Rule 5: Look unassuming

Not in every country it’s a good idea to look like a tourist. In many places tourists are considered easy targets for pickpocket or scammers so the more you look like a local, the better. Therefore avoid attaching anything to your rucksack, which would give an idea that you are a world traveller, like badges, flags etc. They might look cool, but safety first!

Rucksack

Clothes

Rule 1: Take the bare minimum

  • 4 t-shirts / tops
  • 1 long-sleeve shirt
  • 2 pairs of zip-off trousers
  • fleece
  • waterproof jacket (maybe waterproof trousers)
  • hiking boots
  • sport sandals
  • 4 changes of underwear
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • headscarf
  • swimsuit
  • 1 t-shirt + shorts to sleep

Rule 2: Take light & quick-drying clothes

If you’re backpacking, you have to wash your clothes on a regular basis; probably every second day. Sometimes you won’t have enough time to let it dry for a long time; you might get rained on etc… Therefore it’s essential to have quick-drying clothes made of light materials!

So forget about jeans, they are heavy and take ages to dry!

T-shirts and tops

Rule 3: Double function

Think of ways in which one piece of clothing could serve more than one function.

Equip yourself with zip-off trousers, which can be used as shorts or long trousers, if the weather or culture require full-leg coverage. There are many of these kind of trousers on the market, but make sure you buy the quick-drying ones.

Zip-off trousers

A headscarf is also a very useful piece of equipment, which you can use to cover your head & shoulders (weather or cultural reasons), use as a belt, rope, mat or cover…

You can also take one pair of underwear less and use your bikini bottom or swimming trunks.

Rule 4: Comfortable shoes

You will need two types of shoes: for good and for bad weather.

The shoes you choose for bad weather should also be good for hiking or all-terrain walking, so make sure they have gripping soles and protect your ankles well. They really don’t need to be expensive, choose comfort & light weight over the prize.

The shoes for good weather would normally be trainers. We avoid flip flops as you can’t really run or walk up steep hills in them.

Boots and sandals

Rule 5: Compact & light jackets

I always take two types of jackets with me: a fleece and a rain jacket.

A fleece is light, warm and can be packed in a compression sack really easily.

Fleece - packed and unpacked

A rain jacket should be so small and light that it could fit in the pocket of your fleece or in your hand luggage without any problem. It doesn’t have to be expensive either, I use a 14€ one from Decathlon.

Rain jacket spread out and rolled up

Toiletries

Rule 1: Take the absolute minimum.

(1) shampoo
(2) bar of soap
(3) deodorant
(4) toothbrush + toothpaste
(5) shaving foam
(6) razors
– quick-drying towel (rule 2)
(7) sunscreen
(8) wet wipes
(9) washy flower thingy
(10) tampons, pads and other girl accessories…
(11) cotton buds
(12) small bottle for a second shampoo (explained in rule 3)

Toiletries

 And this is what it looks like all packed in a wash-bag.

Toiletries packed in a washbag

Rule 2: Small & quick-drying towel is essential

Forget about the old-fashioned terry-cloth towels; buy a modern light, small and quick-drying one!

Quick drying towel - spread out and folded up

Rule 3: Soap & shampoo

You won’t need anything more than these two hygiene items; be a minimalist.

You don’t need a shower gel. Even if you use it back home, during the trip it is absolutely redundant. Use soap or the shampoo. What’s good for your hair can’t be bad for your skin, right?

You really don’t need a conditioner, you hair won’t fall out if you stop using it for the time of your trip.

The soap itself is very useful in case there is no washing machine and you have to hand-wash your clothes.

If you are travelling as a couple, take one normal-sized bottle of shampoo + a small bottle where you can decant some shampoo and have showers at the same time. Don’t carry two large bottles!

Rule 4: Sunscreen

If you are hitch-hiking or backpacking, you will be exposed to the sun a lot, so make sure you have a good suncreen. Protect your skin!

This is all I take and you really won’t need more. Forget about make-up stuff, creams, toners, perfumes etc… You are a backpacker, not a model!

Rule 4: Wet wipes

We always carry with us a pack of wet wipes (the kind babies use :) in case we get stuck somewhere while hitch-hiking and won’t be able to have a shower for a day.

Packing

Rule 1: Compression sacks

If you have an old sleeping bag which you don’t use any more, take its sack and put your clothes inside. Pull the straps and compress it. You will be amazed how much extra room you will gain.

Let me show you how it works ;)

I roll up all my clothes up to minimize the creases.

Before: all my clothes apart from the jackets, shoes and the headscarf.

1) t-shirts, 2) trousers, 3) socks, 4) long-sleeve shirt, 5) underwear.

All my clothes apart from the fleece

After: all nicely packed in a compression sack!

All my clothes packed in a compression sack

We use two compression sacks, one for clean and the other one for dirty clothes. You can also use one for your fleece.

Rule 2: Pack light, wear heavy

Pack all the lightest stuff you’ve got and wear the heaviest, e.g. the day you are moving with your rucksack, wear the boots, which are heavier than your sandals.

Rule 3: Take the bare minimum.

Think twice or even three times before you pack and get rid off all the stuff you MIGHT use. Take only those things which you will really need!

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We hope you will find it useful. It took us a number of years to master the art of packing light and we are happy to share our experience with you :)

If you have any other ideas or suggestions which could help us all to pack light, share your knowledge in the comment box below! Thanks!

written by: Ania

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About Hitch-Hikers Handbook

hitch-hiking, backpacking, budget travelling, travel writing, travel photography
Gallery | This entry was posted in *Guides*, Hitch-hiking guides, The Balkan Peninsula by Thumb 2013 and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Backpacker’s checklist: What to take and how to pack light for a trip?

  1. Abhay Kanjiakr says:

    very detailed and very very useful tips. Thanks a lot. :)

  2. I agree wholeheartedly with all of this advice. We always try to travel as lightly as possible and your clothes list pretty much matches ours. I love my zip off pants, they are the best piece of clothing I own for travelling. One thing we always take is a small bottle of hand sanitizer gel, as it’s not always possible to wash hands before eating.

  3. Paul Moore says:

    I may be wrong, but I think you forgot to include a basic first aid kit. And don’t forget your trusted Swiss Army knife – one of the best friends you’ll ever have, believe me :)

    A stainless steel fold-up knife, fork and spoon tool is also very useful. I bought a great one from Aldi last year.

    A small pack of antibacterial wipes always come in handy.

    It’s also wise to carry Micropur water purification tablets with you in case of emergencies. They weigh nothing and are tasteless. You can buy them in most pharmacies, good camping stores and online:

    UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Katadyn-Micropur-Forte-Purification-Tablet/dp/B000G5OVL8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1373226881&sr=8-1&keywords=Micropur
    Germany: http://www.amazon.de/Katadyn-Wasserentkeimung-Micropur-Forte-MF/dp/B000G5OVL8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1373226710&sr=8-1&keywords=Micropur

    • Thanks a lot for this great list, Paul! Indeed, we did forget about the first aid kit and all the other handy bits and pieces we carry with us, like a head torch or a small sewing kit. We will have to add them at some point :)

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