When I told my non-backpacker friends that I was only taking a backpack with me for this trip, they were horrified and some couldn’t fathom a life without a hair straightener or their favourite outfit or shoes. It wasn’t the easiest process and proved to be a struggle at first to pick and choose what I’d take along with me while deciding on what would be the most practical vs cooler. Hopefully this post will help you give you a bit of an insight on the process I went through in case you decide to go on your own adventure with everything you own in a backpack.
The first port of call was to ask my friends who were currently travelling in a similar fashion as well as those who had done it before. You will be surprised at the number of people who are genuinely interested in helping out as the one unexpected item can make the difference.
The second step was just to use good old Google Search. I had been following a few bloggers who have written stories on similar topics so I used the learnings from them as well as other websites and blogs. I had three attempts at packing, unpacking and being as ruthless as possible to get the weight down to the least amount as possible. A good blog to read is Wandering Earl. He’s been on the road since 1999 and has managed to take packing to a new level and packs everything into carry on sized pack pack.
Below is the list of items that currently live in my backpack. In total it weighs 25KG (Updated to include new camera gear). I did at one point get it all down to 13KG but I decided to not go too skimp as I could always give the items away. I have also indicated where I have purchased additional items.
I have an Osprey Farpoint 70L backpack and it’s by far the lightest bag I’ve used which also contains a detachable day pack. The only downside to this bag is that there are no external pockets on the main bag so you can stow away items you may need to pull out quickly.
I’ve since bought a The North Face Waterproof day pack. I was finding that with the on coming rainy season in Central America, it would rain without any notice and I’d freak out the daypack wasn’t 100% waterproof and had to wrap my camera gear into plastic bags. The dry pack takes my mind off worrying about things getting wet. Also I’ll be doing some overnight trips so I’ll be able to pack a few more essential items into it. When I’m travelling, the bag flattens down and can be easily stored in the main pack.
- 5 x pairs of undies. I’ve since increased this to 8.
- 1 x pair of shorts. I’ve since bought a pair of Columbia grey hiking pants that zip away at the knees. The new ones coming out don’t look too bad and they are comfortable and perform better in the heat and humidity than normal shorts.
- 1 x pair of board shorts. I had a pair stolen in Utila as they were drying on the balcony then the replacement pair I bought had literally disintegrated from dodgy workmanship and I ended up buying another pair in Nicaragua
- 8 x t-shirts. Mainly neutral in colour and not many too bright attention seeking patterns.
- 3 x singlets. I bought these in Utila and Nicaragua as it’s so damn hot.
- 1 x lightweight sweater. Has been great to wear on Central America busses as they like to crank the AC.
- 3 x pairs of ankle length socks. You will only need one pair as you rarely wear shoes here.
- 2 x pairs of longer socks.
- 1 x lightweight water resistant jacket that folds into it’s own pocket. Great for using as a windbreaker if you don’t have room in your bag. It’s not 100% waterproof but is good enough for those sudden downpours.
- 1 x pair of lightweight casual pants.
- 1 x pair of jeans.
- 1 x collared shirt for nicer occasions (I’ve only worn this once).
- 2 x pair of hiking socks (I would recommend researching the prices of them and weigh up the options of purchasing them there vs at home).
I use a compression sack to store the jeans and other clothing items that I don’t using as regularly. It saves me a hell of a lot of space and is handy to have. In it I can store 2 x pairs of pants, the sweater, collared shirt and all of my socks. I did buy a few of them before I left but found that there was a lot of dead space in my bag so I just stuck with the one compression bag.
- 1 x pair of Thongs. They’ve taken quite the beating going through mud, water, dirt and rocks. Will most likely replace them in a couple of months when they disintegrate
- 1 x pair of Nike sneakers. I’ve only used these a few times when hiking and caving of all places
- 1 x pair of Skarpa boots. These boots are like tanks. I probably could have bought them over here and it would have saved me months of carrying around a bulky pair of boots.
- 1 x toothbrush and paste
- 1 x spool of dental floss
- 1 x bottle of sunscreen
- 1 x bottle of 2 in 1 shampoo and body scrub. I bought it in Mexico and it’s perfect for what I need
- 1 x bottle of Deet insect repellent. This is a must for places like Utila and their pesky little sandflies
- 1 x small tub of hair wax
- 1 x bottle of tiger balm
- 1 x small bottle of moisturiser
- 1 x packet of moist wipes
Technology and gadgets
Now I love my gadgets so this was the hardest part to prioritise.
- 13 inch Macbook air and a neoprene case. Light and does everything required of it. I’ve sinced traded it in for a 13.3″ Macbook Pro, Retina Display, 16GB RAM and 1TB Solid State HDD as I am doing more complex photo retouching.
- iPhone 6 128GB – The camera in it is a huge step up from the iPhone 4S that I had.
- Voltage Converter with surge protection and 2 x USB ports.
- 1 x portable speakers along with extension cord. Have used these babies so many times during moments of downtime.
- iPad Mini 16GB and charger cable.
- 2 x camera setups that is listed here.
- 500GB backup HDD. I backup once a fortnight the latest.
- GoPro Hero 2 with 32GB memory card and two cases. One standard and a purpose built dive housing. I’ll probably ditch the dive housing one as it’s on its last legs and I have no need for it anymore in South America.
- Camera tripod. It’s small and lightweight and cheap. Was umming and ahhing about bringing it along but I’ve taken some good photos with it and will come in handy when I’m taking landscape shots in South America.
- Extension chord for the Macbook Air. It’s a pain in the arse to stow away and unpack so I rarely use it.
- 3 x USB sticks.
- 2 x spare AAA batteries for the headlamp.
- Notebook and pen.
- Padlock with three number combination. For when lockers have no locks and to lock up your bags when in transit. Had two but lost one.
- Headlamp – Quite useful in dark hostels and early morning/late night departures. I’ve since lost/had it stolen so will need to find a replacement.
- Small pocket knife – useful for opening bottles mainly.
- Back pack cover. For bus rides as the underbelly of the bus is dirty and who doesn’t like a clean bag?
- 100 Rubber bands wrapped into a ball.
- Foldable water bottle. Because sometimes water bottles are a pain in the arse and bad for the environment.
- Laundry bag
- About 3 feet of duct tape that I’ve rolled into a small ball for those McGuyver moments.
- Band aids, antiseptic, gauze cloth etc for minor cuts and abrasions
- Electrolyte tablets, imodium, antibiotics for when you eat something dodgy and get the runs
- 1 x bottle of liver tonic – No explanation needed
- Yellow fever booklet so I can get back into Australia. Without it you will spend time in quarantine.
Roll or fold? How to pack it all
I’ll pack my bag in order of things I won’t need to use. First, the boots go into the bottom of the pack, followed by the compression bag, toiletries bag filled with the plugs and other gadgets and at the top of the bag I have the toiletries. I then slot in the camera tripod down the side and whatever gaps I have left I will fill in with my cloths.
I’m a fan of the roll method when it comes to shirts. Depending on the space left in the bag I’ll fold the shirt in half lengthwise and roll it downwards from top to bottom. This is best used for small pockets of space. If I have space down the side of the bag then I fold the shit in half sideways from the belly then roll it from one side to the other. There’s no specific place to put clothes. Just find where the gaps are and fill them with what I can. Just make sure you have whatever you may need to access easily or whatever at the top of the bag or wherever the Zippers meet so you don’t have to fully unzip and zip up the backpack.
My remaining items: Laptop, iPad, Camera Gear and passports etc go into my The North Face bag which I carry on my front side and doesn’t leave my side when on the road.
Laundry and packing clean vs dirty clothes
I have a bag for dirty clothes that I take to the laundry. I prefer to have them washed before I leave for another place. However, sometimes you just don’t have time to do so. In this case what I will do is have all shirts and undies inside out and stuff whatever I can inside my hiking boots. If there are more items that can’t fit into the boots then I will isolate them to one side of the backpack and have my clean clothes on the other side.
I’ve read a lot of blogs about bringing a clothes line and wash your own clothes. To be honest, this is a pain in the arse and nobody wants to be subjected to your dirty laundry hanging everywhere. With the exception of Costa Rica, you’d be looking at between $2-$4 for a load of washing so don’t be a cheapskate. If you’re really desperate and running out of fresh underwear then wash a pair in the evening when you’re showering and hang them up somewhere with a breeze and out of the way where people may see or even worse, steal them.
That’s just about it. If you are planning your big trip and collate a huge list of things to take, I would prioritise the items and see if they meet the following criteria:
Place: Time of the year will affect how many warm or beach clothes you will need to bring.
People: We, citizens of the developed world tend to wear clothes to grab attention, but you should take this into consideration when backpacking in developing countries. Sometimes, in places you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. Perhaps you should reconsider wearing that death metal shirts in places like latin America where has the highest Catholic population in the world. Some places are sensitive to people wearing bikinis in public so perhaps pack a few more sarongs. And gentlemen, don’t be “That guy” who walks barefoot with no shirt everywhere. Put a shirt on and don’t look like an idiot.
Travel goals: What do you want to get out of it? Mine is to improve my writing and photography so obviously I am a bit technology and camera heavy.
My final piece of advice is to accept the fact that things will break, be lost or stolen. I’ve been lucky enough that nothing too important has gone missing *touch wood*. Also, if you are unsure whether or not you will need it, then leave it home. My downfall in the packing process was that I packed things that I ‘might’ need and because I had room in the bag, I brought it along i.e wireless mouse. If you can’t see yourself using it each week (with the exception of medical kit) then don’t pack it.
So my friends, is there any other considerations you can add to when packing for a short or big trip?