Backpacking Gear Guide

"What?! You want me to get a year's worth of backpacking gear into that teeny little bag?"

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No, not really . . . but almost!winking smiley

You'd be surprised how little you actually have to pack.

Pretty much everything you need is available out there, everywhere you travel.

You can get soap in Malawi, socks in Guatemala and rechargeable batteries in Vietnam. In many cases it's a lot cheaper than at home, too.

Okay, you might not find the exact brand or colour you really wanted, but trying new things, being flexible and improvising are all part of the backpacking around the world experience.

So don't sweat the small stuff.


On the first trip I ever took alone, I managed to squeeze everything but the kitchen sink into my rucksack — which was the size of my bedroom closet and weighed a tonne.

Plus . . . I was also wearing three jackets that hadn't fit in!

As I stumbled out the door with my backpacking gear, my parents asked me to check that I'd packed my passport, my plane ticket and my money.

That was it!?

Of course, it's always tempting to bring along various random bits of backpacking gear, just in case.

More often than not, though, one of four things happens to that just-in-case gear:

  • You end up sending it home.
  • You end up giving it away.
  • You end up ditching it.
  • You haul it around the world all year first, and then you ditch it
    (still unused) at the airport before you fly home because your luggage is overweight!

Moral of the story? If you find you really need those ski poles while you're on the road, you're better off buying them there.

But first things first:

Choosing Your Backpack

You'll probably want to choose your backpack before anything else. And as it'll be your home and best friend for a while, it's important to get the right one.

But with hundreds of great packs out there, deciding which to buy can be a bit mind-boggling.

That's why I've put together a separate section on backpacks. It's got lots of helpful tips, reviews and advice, and you'll also find out where to get some sweet deals!

Because I can't bear to replace it, I travel with my trusty, dusty old 65-litre backpack.

But that's a lot bigger than I actually need.

My bag only weighs about 10 kg (22 lb) on short trips and never more than 15 kg (33 lb) on long ones.

This works for me because I'm quite small. Also, I tend to avoid winter travel so I can usually get away with just a few T-shirts and a sarong.

You may very well find that you really do need or can comfortably carry a bigger pack. That's totally up to you. But be aware that there are trade-offs. And some of them will put a huge dent in your carefully-calculated shoestring travel budget!

Why Size (and Weight) Does Matter

For starters, many airlines now charge fees for checked baggage. This is especially true on budget airlines and domestic flights, where the free checked baggage allowance can be ridiculously low (10 kg) to non-existent.

So, if you pack an already oversized bag to the maximum weight allowed on your first international flight, you could find yourself forking over wads of extra cash in unexpected excess baggage charges later. Ouch.

And if those fees are mostly for your just-in-case stuff, that really hurts!

Plus, the larger and heavier your backpack . . .

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  • the hotter and more tiring it is to carry (let alone run with if you're late) to the train station
  • the harder it is to lift up into an overhead luggage rack or throw onto the top of a bus
  • the more money you spend on taxis to save yourself having to trudge the streets with an overpacked bag
  • the more likely you are to dump your kit at the first accommodation you come to, no matter what the price
  • the more difficult it is to stuff everything under your bed in the hostel or fit it into a storage locker
  • the more backpacking gear you need to constantly look after and worry about losing, damaging or having stolen!

The bottom line? Travel light!

Concern yourself only with the absolute essentials. The idea is not to pack as much gear as you think you can carry, but to pack as little as you think you can get by with.

How to Get Around
the Backpacking Gear Guide

For the lowdown on the absolute essentials, see the backpacking basics section.

You'll also find lots of ideas, inspiration and information on the packing tips and packing list pages.

And if you're looking for more specific backpacking gear info, check out the pages on:

backpacking gear amazon

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    Travel Clothes and Shoes

    How do you pack for 365 days of so many different climates, cultures and activities? Which fabrics wash and wear best? Why does everyone go on about sarongs? Should you bother with hiking boots?

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    Toiletries, Medical Supplies and First Aid

    What are the latest airline restrictions on toiletries in carry-on bags? Can your prescriptions from home be filled abroad? What goes into a travel first aid kit? Do you need to bring water purifier tablets?

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    Outdoor Adventure and Camping Gear

    Who on Earth makes waterproof jackets that fold out into personal backpacking tents? What exactly is sleeping bag accommodation? Is any sports equipment worth lugging around the world for a year?

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    Gadgets and Things

    What kind of adapters should you get for your electrical stuff? Which laptops are rugged enough for adventure travel? How do you store thousands of photos and videos for months on end? Where can you buy a backpacker travel guitar?

Most importantly, be sure to get some travel insurance and read up on how to keep your backpacking gear safe.

It could make or break your around the world trip of a lifetime!


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Any thoughts? Leave a comment!