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How to Travel Light When Backpacking

March 21st, 2010

lightweight-backpacking.jpgHaving a light and manageable bag when backpacking is crucial to the enjoyment of your trip. After all, no one wants to have to walk that extra half a mile with 25 kilograms of stuff on their back in the tropical Thailand sunshine. But how do you strike the balance between necessities and luxuries?

The famous traveller’s adage reads, “Before you leave, lay out the contents of your bag. Then take half the stuff and double the money.” These are wise words indeed, though not particularly practical. So, which items make the cut and which should you omit?

The most vital items are your clothes. Listen to your mum and take plenty of underwear — at least a week’s worth. The number of socks you take will be dependent on where you go but these are easily washed in any hostel sink so four pairs should be sufficient for most trips. Most backpacking trips will at some point involve a beach and/or hot springs so a bikini can double as underwear for girls and boardies can be used as an extra pair of shorts for guys.

A couple of pairs of trousers (or one pair of trousers and a skirt for girls) is ideal, assuming one of these items is slightly smarter and can be used to go out dancing. A pair of shorts, plus the boardies/skirt should be sufficient. It’s a good idea to have at least five tops, be they t-shirts, vest tops, whatever. In addition one thin long-sleeved top/shirt is necessary for those chillier evenings and to add an important layer in higher-altitude areas.

The number of warm items of clothing you take will depend strongly on the location of your trip. For a typical round-the-world trip a thin fleece and a thicker, preferably waterproof jacket would be ideal. A thermal top is an option considered by some who are planning to go to colder areas and is a convenient and lightweight item.

Footwear is always a tricky decision. No self-respecting backpacker leaves home without a pair of flip-flops, but what else to take? There are long online debates about the benefit of taking hiking boots versus sturdy trainers. Ultimately it depends how seriously you take your hiking. Obviously, for trekking in the Himalayas your battered pair of Adidas won’t cut it. On the other hand, if you do take hiking boots, please take another pair of shoes! There’s nothing worse than seeing backpackers trying to go clubbing wearing their muddy boots.

The next most bulky item in your bag will likely be a combination of your toiletries and a first aid kit. Cobble together your own first aid kit ensuring you take plenty of rehydration salts, painkillers, plasters, a bandage or two, and some Immodium as well as any personal medicine. These are the bare essentials and you may wish to add a few items for security. Some space can be saved by taking a combined shampoo and conditioner and travel sized bottles of any cosmetics and insect repellent. And girls, don’t take all of your makeup! Of course, some mascara and eyeliner won’t make much difference but seriously consider going minimal. You probably look better that way, anyway!

Other useful items are a guidebook, a penknife, padlock, sleeping bag liner, pack of cards, diary, and a novel. The total weight of these combined is minimal and their value priceless.

Using these guidelines you can quite easily manage with less than 15 kilograms. This is a suitable weight for a long backpacking trip, though you will always be amazed at those who have less!


This article on backpacking and travel was supplied to us by L. Gillespie from Constant Content.


One Response to “How to Travel Light When Backpacking”

  1. comment number 1 by: Sofia - As We Travel

    Great advice!
    I figured that bringing 7 pairs of underwear just took up space in the backpack. For us, three (preferably of a material that dries quickly) was enough. You wear one pair, wash the other and let it dry over night or during the day and then you can wear it the next day, having a third pair just in case.;)

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