Backpacker’s Guide to Packing Your Backpack

[5 minute read]

View of Volcan Fuego from Volcan Acatenango (27th July, 2016)

If you’re stuck wondering what to pack for your upcoming trip around the world then this short guide will give you a good starting point (you can thank me later when it helps you out).  Remember, this is only a basic guide and does not cover specialised trips (such as mountaineering, bouldering, surfing, bicycling, or extended camping expeditions).  Either way it should give you some new ideas.

Let’s begin by viewing our main backpacks as being made up of eight compartments.  Each one serves a critical purpose which should not be overlooked.

No. Compartment Main Purpose Sum 100%
1 Empty space Things you pick up on the way, gifts, etc. 15%
2 Tupperware, cutlery Store food for day trips, left-overs, etc. 5%
3 Socks, underwear, bras, towel About 7-10 days’ worth of clothing is recommended 15%
4 Shirts, skirts, shorts, pants About 7-10 days’ worth of clothing is recommended 20%
5 Activity clothes Rain-jacket, sun-proof clothes, swim-wear, etc. 20%
6 Fancy clothes Dress, collared shirt, pants, etc. 10%
7 Toiletries, cosmetics Toothbrush, floss, hairbrush, nail-clippers, etc. 5%
8 2nd pair of shoes, flip flops Hiking shoes, joggers, going-out shoes, etc. 10%

The main body of the backpack which comprises over half of the available space should be for your clothing (i.e. Compartments 3, 4, 5, and 6).  The rest is for important ancillary items including the recommendation to leave about 15% as empty space (trust me).  After your first packing attempt if your backpack is bulging, full or does not contain the recommended empty space then I highly recommend you pull and lay everything out and make some sacrifices.

Sacrifice questions:

  • Am I only travelling during summer? If yes, then why am I bringing that nice jacket, sweater, pants, and all those socks (i.e. will I realistically ever use them)?
  • Will I be travelling during winter? If yes, then can I substitute some of those thick sweaters, jackets, and pants for thinner and lighter undergarments such as thermals?
  • Will I be doing serious hiking or going out to many nice venues? If no and no then you can leave behind those heavy hiking boots and fancy dress shoes, for starters.
  • Will I be cooking or eating out most of the time? If you’re not big on eating healthy – which is ultimately what this comes down to, in my opinion – then you won’t need Compartment 2 (besides, it’s very easy to pick this stuff up on the road when you will eventually start cooking your own delicious, tasty and healthy food – trust me on this J).

Now, you may have noticed that I’ve left out one very critical item from the backpack – the medicine bag!  Your medicine bag should contain aspirin, pain-relief, and cold-&-flu tablets, band aids, disinfectant, wraps, bandages, and any other special medications you may require.

Why did I leave it out?  Simply because I believe it belongs in your day-pack, not your backpack.

This time we’ll view the day-pack as being made up of 4 compartments.

No. Compartment Main Purpose Sum 100%
1 Empty space For your jacket, hat, gloves, packed lunch, etc. 50%
2 Miscellaneous Passport, spare cash, sunglasses, drink bottle etc. 10%
3 Electronics Laptops, tablets, cables, chargers, etc. 25%
4 Medicine Bag Must be in the day-pack for cases of emergencies 15%

Your electronics, valuables, and medicine bag should be in your day-pack because it should always be by your side.  Remember that your main backpack is going to get thrown around and beaten up during transit and will not be with you all the time.  When going on day trips, you can simply leave your electronics and valuables in a locker in your hostel room (or bring them with you if you don’t feel comfortable with the level of security in the hostel).

Final recommendations:

  • Choose a backpack which will reflect the type of trip you’ll be doing. If you’re going trekking and will be doing a lot of camping then you’ll need a technical backpack with enough straps and trappings from which to secure your tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, and walking poles on the outside of the pack;
  • Remember to buy a waterproof backpack cover if you expect rain on your trip. This cover also helps keep your backpack clean and in one piece from all the wear and tear it will experience during transit (but check the durability of the material before doing this);
  • All of the recommendations in the article can be applied to any size backpack (50L right up to the 100L+ technical packs). Personally I would not recommend going below a 50L backpack unless you have trouble carrying heavy weights or just like going lean and mean;

I really hope this has been helpful and I’m excited for your upcoming trip!

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