Backpacking Travel Gear
Why backpacking travel gear and not just travel gear you maybe wondering? Well because when you’re backpacking you have to be so much more sparing in what you pack since, for you own comfort, it’s not advisable to have more than a 15kg backpack with you. That doesn’t allow for a lot of error or whimsicalness in what you pack. Everything you pack should be there for a reason and should be the smallest version possible of it. If it can serve multiple purposes too, even better.
So maybe this isn’t so much a backpacking travel gear roundup but a minimalist practical travel packing guide.
Large Travel Backpacks
I have tried various backpacks and this one on the right, the Osprey Farpoint 70, is by far the best backpack I’ve ever found. Comfotable, with straps that actually bend and sit snuggly on the hips, enough space to carry a lot of stuff but not cumbersome, shoulder straps can be sealed away for flights, the day pack is a good size (and not too ugly) and the material is really lightweight. If you’d like to read more detail on why I think these features are so important see how to choose a backpack.
As long as the bag is not packed till it’s bursting at the seams, or with lots of heavy books, it’s a good size for keeping your luggage weight under 15kg (33 pounds), which is very useful as a lot of airlines charge extra if your bag weighs more than this. It also comes with a LIFETIME guarantee. Osprey will repair any damage to the bag, whatever the cause, no matter how long you’ve had it and if they can’t fix the problem they will replace the bag instead. Osprey bags are expensive, but when you factor in that it may be the only backpack you ever need to buy, the price starts to look a lot more reasonable.
Hand Luggage Only Travel Backpacks
If I were to do it all again, I would buy a smaller bag so I only have handluggage. The Osprey Farpoint 40 is the bag I’d chose for this since again it’s good quality and it has a remarkably large amount of space given it’s a carry-on bag. You’ll still want a daypack so you don’t have to empty all your possessions from your main bag to go out during the day. To allow you to easily carry both bags, get a stuff bag, like the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack on the right, which folds down into it’s own little pouch whilst not in use. To check out some alternatives here’s a great list of other great smaller travel backpacks
Rain Covers for Backpacks
I forgot to take a rain cover for either my big backpack or my day bag when I left for this trip. An oversight I strongly regretted when having to walk through a thunderstorm for 20 minutes with all my possessions on me to find my hostel. Needless to say eveyrthing I owned was soaked, and it’s very hard to find enough space to dry everything you own in a hostel dorm room. Don’t make the same mistake I did.
It’s worth getting a rain cover for your big backpack such as the Osprey Ultralight Raincover on the right, and also for you day pack. I ended up buying the 25L version of the Karrimor Dry Bag shown on the far right, for a friend to bring out, since it is big enough to put my day bag in but can also be used as a drybag for day trips on boats etc. whereas a rain cover wouldn’t have had this versatility. This drybag is made out of thin material, which is needed to be flexible enough to fit my day pack in, but that does mean it is not 100% waterproof. It is not a robust enough dryback to go for a swim with however it does suffice for keeping your possessions dry in the rain or when being splashed with water on boats.
For the Best Photos
A lot of people travel with DSLR cameras as they want to ensure they get the best photos whilst away. But they are very bulky and not easy to tuck away in a bag. This means most people end up wearing them round their neck which to me is basically the equivalent of walking around with a big swinging sign on your neck saying “Mug me, mug me, mug me”.
If you like to take great photos but not walk around with a “Mug me” sign on your neck check out the Sony Alpha 6400 and the best lenses for the Sony a6400. It takes stunning photos but is much more compact. Whichever camera you get make sure it has Wi-Fi as it will make it much easier to back up your photos to your phone, tablet or laptop.
Best for Durability
The Olympus Tough camera will not take as pretty pictures as the Sony Alpha 6000 HOWEVER it is waterproof, shockproof and can handle temperatures of -10C. In order to be able to connect this to your other devices via wi-fi you need to get a memory card (which you’d want anyway) that enables this, like the one on the far right. The camera has a whole host of other cool features too, such as still being able to take photos while recording a video and sports modes. It’s by far the best waterproof durable camera I’ve found.
Best for action shots and sports
Go Pro cameras are the ultimate in action cameras. The quality of photos isn’t as good as on either of the cameras above and you can’t zoom in but if you want to scuba dive or film/photograph any more active pursuits like surfing, cliff-jumping, motorbike rides or paragliding this is the best camera you can get for it. Although the GoPro 8 that’s now out has advanced a lot since my old slightly grainy one and even that got me some really cool shots.
Tech and Entertainment
I’d strongly suggest you take a cheap old rather than fancy new phone with you on your travels. There are numerous benefits to this such as; it mattering less if the phone is stolen, the screen being less likely to smash if dropped since cheap phones tend to have plastic screens and an old phone being more likely to fit regular rather than nano sized SIM cards which are easier to find, but there are also downsides. If you take an old phone it means you won’t necessarily have all your music on your phone or be able to download as many apps. This is easily solved by getting an iPod touch.
I sold my iPhone before I left England and bought a very basic phone, iPod and camera with the money I made from it. That way at least if one item runs out of battery or is lost/stolen I haven’t lost my phone, music and camera all in one which is what would have been the case if I’d just taken my iPhone instead. The iPod is particularly useful on long journeys when it’s too bumpy to read. With the iPod you can then listen to some music, a podcast or even an audiobook. If you get travel sick this will no doubt become your favourite piece of travel kit.
Apart from my passport and bankcard, my Kindle is my most precious possession on my travels. There will be long journeys if you plan to travel from place to place and having access to hundreds of books at your finger tips makes a huge different. Carrying around lots of paperbacks will get annoying and you also may find it difficult to get a new book when you finish one as there may not be a shop with books in your own language where you happen to be. Taking a Kindle with you removes both of these problems and there are plenty of Kindle types to choose from now depending on your preferences.
If you’re not going to be doing any work whilst you’re away but want to be able to easily connect with friends back home, check your social media and upload photos etc. then just take a tablet with you. A tablet will be able to do everything you need in this regard and it’s easier to carry around than a laptop.
Tablets can get annoying to type on though so I’d suggest getting a bluetooth keyboard if you are going to take one. I only took my iPad with me when I first left for my travels but had the bluetooth keyboard shown on the right, which also doubles as a case for the iPad. The keyboard is so good, I wrote both my first and second books on it without missing having a laptop for a second.
If you are going to need a more complex computer with you whilst you’re away, just make sure the laptop you take with you is as light as possible. When I realised I’d need a laptop with me for some of the work I now do, I got a friend to bring mine out from home when they came to visit which luckily happened to be a MacBook Air. The MacBook Air is one of the lightest laptops around. Mine has a 13″ screen though.
If I was buying one specifically for travel now I’d still go for the MacBook Air, the long battery life is particularly useful, but with the 11″ screen to keep it as compact as possible.
External Hard Drive
If the only thing you’re likely to be doing with your laptop is using it to store photos, keep in touch with friends and watch films on long journeys, don’t use up valuable space in your bag by taking an external harddrive with you. Back everything up onto an external hard drive before your start your travels and leave it at home. Your photos can be backed up online as you travel.
If you’re likely to be doing any work, or creating content you can’t back up online though, make sure you get yourself an external hard drive to back your work up to. You can even get really good portable external hard drives nowadays.
Always keep this hard drive in a separate bag to your laptop and hide it somewhere else in your room to your laptop if not taking either with you during the day or a night out. Remember the aim is to make it so that if anything is lost or stolen on your travels you don’t care. Money shouldn’t worry you if you’ve been sensible and took out travel insurance before you left, so the only other potential snag is loss of information. Back everything up as soon as you can to ensure you don’t fall foul to this.
Sudocrem AKA MIRACLE CREAM
This stuff is amazing. I am not joking when I call it MIRACLE CREAM. Yes, I know technically it is nappy rash cream, but this little beauty actually also works on rashes, sunburn, cuts, and as an antiseptic. It’s the most useful and versatile medicinal item I have with me. I’d suggest carrying some antiseptic solution with you too but that’s much more likely to spill all over your bag once opened than Sudocrem. I have also found it to be much more effective than any antiseptic solution I’ve tried. I had gapping open wounds on the back of my feet for months that wouldn’t heal. And then I discovered Sudocrem. It was the only thing that made a difference. Plus you may actually want it for nappy rash at some point. With long sweaty bus rides and hours spent sitting around in wet swim clothes at times, nappy rash happens to a lot of people when travelling.
Just in case you don’t believe how amazing this cream is, check out the photo below. I had a little accident with some shallow reef whilst surfing. After a few days the cut started getting yellow, pussy and looking a lot like it was infected. I started lathering Sudocrem on it and it completely dried it up, got rid of any infection and the cut healed with no scar within a few weeks. MIRACLE CREAM!!!
DEET Mosquito Spray
Whilst you can get mosquito spray in most places, it can be hard to find strong mosquito spray with a high percentage of DEET. Whilst I don’t really mind getting bitten by mosquitoes that much, if it’s an area with dengue fever or malaria I’d really like to have DEET mosquito spray on me. I save it for those areas, though, and just use the weaker sprays, if at all, in the other areas.
If you will be going to areas with malaria, you should of course take anti-malaria tablets with you too. See the Vaccinations section in Travel Resources for more information regarding anti-malaria tablets and how to find out the locations in which you’re most likely to need to take them.
I know, not the sexiest of topics but believe me if you find yourself unfortunately struck by a bout of diarrhoea just ahead of a 12-hour bus ride or similar you’re going to want some anti-diarrhoea tablets with you. Prevention is always better than cure though so check out my Top Tips to Avoid Food Poisoning while Traveling and just take the tablets with you as a back up.
Anti-Nausea/Travel Sickness Tablets and Prevention
Some bus, boat and train rides can be extremely bumpy in certain countries so even if you don’t usually get motion sickness you may want to take some tablets with you just in case (also it could just be that you’re unfortunate and have food poisoning that’s causing you to vomit just before a long journey so want to temporarily stop that activity!). Kwells are the best motion sickness/anti-nausea tablets I’ve found but also travel bands can be really useful for this. I used to get really bad travel sickness as a kid and using these bands, shown on the right, which push into a pressure point on each of your wrists worked wonders for me.
One for the ladies, clearly. If you like using tampons I’d strongly recommend packing at least a box or two to take with you at the start of your travels. In some countries it can be extremely hard to find tampons (if not impossible) and in others they are just ridiculous expensive. In Indonesia they’re £18 ($27 USD) a pack. £18! I’m not going to include a link for this one. You know where to buy whichever tampons you like to use.
The first time I travelled in Asia I did not pack well. I assumed it would be warm everywhere and so didn’t bother to take a proper jacket, just a hoodie. I got a nasty surprise in the north of Vietnam. Having learnt from my mistakes before embarking on this trip I wanted to make sure I had a waterproof, warm jacket to take with me. I shopped around a lot and decided on this SuperDry jacket as, it’s waterproof but also warm since it has a fleece lining and it doesn’t look too ugly. As this is my only jacket, it was important to me that it looked nice enough for me to want to wear it. The only thing I would warn is that the collar and hood are bulky therefore it takes up A LOT of space if you’re in an area where you won’t need the jacket for a while and therefore want to pack it away in your backpack.
No matter how big your backpack is you will not have enough space for a normal towel. And even if you did it would be a pain in the arse as they take hours to dry. Take a microfiber towel instead. They take up hardly any space and dry in a little as 30 minutes to an hour. Really useful when showering in the morning before a long journey. If you would like to be able to walk back to your room in a semi-decent state from shared shower areas be sure to get an XL or XXL size as the medium micro fiber towels are about as big as a napkin.
I’m so sad I didn’t know about these before I left and that Amazon won’t deliver to where I am currently (I have no postcode, which for some reason they’re not so keen on!). ExOfficio underwear is designed to dry quickly and to keep their freshness so you could travel with as little as two pairs, just hand washing one each night. So many people have recommended them to be since I’ve been travelling. If you haven’t left yet they’re definitely worth checking out.
If you’re taking long bus, train, plane or boat rides your phone battery is unlikely to survive the journey. Little portable batteries like the one on the right are perfect to ensure your phone doesn’t run out of battery before you get to your location. Particuarly important if, like me, you use your phone to store screenshots of the address, and key part of the map for where you need to go at your destination. I particuarly love this battery pack as it has a little flash light in it too. Be sure to buy a few though as these little portable batteries will only last about 6 months to a year depending on how often you use them since they have a maximum amount of recharges.
Large Portable Battery Packs
The above battery packs are great becuase they can even fit in your pocket or a small handbag but if you’re likely to be in places with unreliable power connections (it’s not that uncommon to find yourelf in places with no plug sockets or frequent power outtages when travelling) taking one larger battery pack with you incase you need to charge devices over night is also really useful. I really like this one as it as two USB ports meaning I can charge more than one item at a time.
I was extremely unprepared on this front and only thought to buy a torch the day before I left for my travels so ended up having to buy a very small one from a sovenier shop in London. Needless to say it didn’t last long but torches are essential. They will be your best friend in a powercut, if walking down uneven roads in the dark (such as at the start of treks) or when wanting to read in a dorm when all the lights are out. Be better prepared than I was and get yourself a decent one. I like the look of this set as it includes a head torch too which is even more useful for treks.
Most hostels will provide at least a small space to lock your valuables in, with many even providing a larger locker for your whole backpack as well. They frequently don’t provide padlocks, though, so be sure to take a couple with you on your travels. A lot of people recommend locking your backpack in transit. If you are going to do this ensure the packlocks you buy are TSA approved as this means customs can still open you back when flying.
Oh the inclusion of this one will make my parents so happy. The day I was leaving for my travels my mum rushed aroud saying “Are you sure you don’t want to take xxx?”. If I had packed everything she suggested I probably wouldn’t be able to lift my bag let along walk anywhere with it on my back. One item she did suggest though, and that I rejected at first until my dad suggested it too, was a travel sewing kit. And they were right. Having a travel sewing kit is INCREDIBLY helpful. It doesn’t take up a lot of space but means you can repair small holes in clothes rather than having to throw them away and the neddles also prove extremely handy when needing to remove coral/glass/sea urchins (yes all three have happened to me, multiple times) from your feet.
Sometimes it can be hard to find good coffee on the road too though so if you want to go fancy you could even take your own travel coffee maker too.
Got any other backpacking travel gear you can’t live without?
Drop me an email and I’ll add it to the list