Travel > Packing for Backpacking - What is Really Essential?

Packing for Backpacking -
What is Really Essential?

Published: April 28, 2009

When embarking on a lengthy backpacking adventure there are many things that, before the pack is brought out and filled, may seem essential in a traveler's mind. But when it comes to the crunch and the packing begins, a lot of items that at first seem vital are going to have to be left behind for your non-traveling days.

One common mistake backpackers make is underestimating the volume and weight that non-clothing items add to their luggage. Think about all the small things - Phone, iPod and other electronic equipment plus their chargers, flash light, toiletries, books and first aid items all take up their fair share of space.

A second mistake is not taking into account the volume that small-clothing items require. For example, your 15 pairs of underpants, 5 pairs of socks, 3 bras and pyjamas all seem small as standalone items, but when combined are a packing force to be reckoned with.

Thirdly, let's think about shoes. Realistically, no self-respecting backpacker should be taking more than 3 pairs of shoes. Likely this will be one pair of hiking/walking shoes, one pair of flip-flops, and one miscellaneous pair (serious backpackers may only take the first two). While the flip-flops are fairly space effective to pack, if you are wearing them the hiking shoes will have to fit somewhere in your backpack, and believe me they will take up a substantial amount of space.

Now, I know you're thinking that you could just tie the shoes to the outside of your pack. Sure, go ahead, but then what are you going to fit in the space that the shoes would have taken, and how much does it weigh?

This is the other thing to consider. While you may be able to shove a little more in with creative packing, in the end you're just going to end up with a mightily heavy pack, and who wants to be hauling 30kg from bus station to hostel on a regular basis? A good weight to work with for realistic backpacking is around 20kg (44lbs), and depending on your stature even that could be pushing it.

If you are traveling in winter there is an even greater strain on space as warm clothes take up much more volume than summer tank tops. Try to remember that it's often the case that you will end up wearing the same clothes over and over, because they just seem more appropriate at the time. So, pack carefully and you should need far less.

A final note: There are shops all over the world. No, they may not stock the latest fashions, but they will have something to fit your needs, so if in doubt, leave it behind. If you end up needing it on the road you will find it somewhere, or you will do without.

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