What to take and how to pack light for a trip

Packing light is a skill which you must learn if you want to backpack of hitch-hike for a long time without straining your back and ruining your trip.

Let’s be honest, it’s useful even if you’re not planning a round-the-world trip with a rucksack firmly attached to your back. Have you ever thought that Ryanair’s luggage limit of 15 kg is not enough? What would you say if I told you that your bag can weigh 6 kg and contain all you will need for a two month trip?

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Follow these simple rules and we can guarantee you less stress and back pain throughout your journey:

Rucksack

Your rucksack is your best friend, so choose wisely. Your ideal rucksack should be small and light.

Rule 1: A small rucksack

For a trip during which you’re planning to camp, the maximum size of your rucksack shouldn’t exceed 65 l. If your bag is too big but empty, it will be uncomfortable to carry.

If you are not planning on camping and you’re not taking a tent, a sleeping bag and a mat, then anything between 20 and 50 l should do you.

Rule 2: Personalize your rucksack

If you are planning to move around carrying your rucksack a lot, make sure you buy one with an adjustable back system. This will allow you to adjust it to your unique posture and size, which will make a big difference. The idea is not to feel your rucksack at all.

Rule 3: Straps & zips

If your rucksack is small, make sure it has a lot of straps, which you can use to attach things onto it or compress your rucksack to make it smaller.

It’s also a good idea to buy a rucksack with a bottom compartment which can be accessed separately.

Rule 4: In all weathers

If your rucksack isn’t waterproof, make sure you buy a waterproof rain cover. For example something like this.

Rule 5: Look unassuming

Not in every country it’s a good idea to look like a tourist. In many places tourists are considered easy targets for pickpocket or scammers so the more you look like a local, the better. Therefore avoid attaching anything to your rucksack, which would give an idea that you are a world traveller, like badges, flags etc. They might look cool, but safety first!

Backpacker’s checklist: What to take and how to pack light for a trip?,

Clothes

Rule 1: Take the bare minimum

  • 4 t-shirts / tops
  • 1 long-sleeve shirt
  • 2 pairs of zip-off trousers
  • fleece
  • waterproof jacket (maybe waterproof trousers)
  • hiking boots
  • sport sandals
  • 4 changes of underwear
  • 3 pairs of socks
  • headscarf
  • swimsuit
  • 1 t-shirt + shorts to sleep

Rule 2: Take light & quick-drying clothes

If you’re backpacking, you have to wash your clothes on a regular basis; probably every second day. Sometimes you won’t have enough time to let it dry for a long time; you might get rained on etc… Therefore it’s essential to have quick-drying clothes made of light materials!

So forget about jeans, they are heavy and take ages to dry!

Backpacker’s checklist: What to take and how to pack light for a trip?

Rule 3: Double function

Think of ways in which one piece of clothing could serve more than one function.

Equip yourself with zip-off trousers, which can be used as shorts or long trousers, if the weather or culture require full-leg coverage. There are many of these kind of trousers on the market, but make sure you buy the quick-drying ones.

Backpacker’s checklist: What to take and how to pack light for a trip?

A headscarf is also a very useful piece of equipment, which you can use to cover your head & shoulders (weather or cultural reasons), use as a belt, rope, mat or cover…

You can also take one pair of underwear less and use your bikini bottom or swimming trunks.

Rule 4: Comfortable shoes

You will need two types of shoes: for good and for bad weather.

The shoes you choose for bad weather should also be good for hiking or all-terrain walking, so make sure they have gripping soles and protect your ankles well. It’s important to have this kind of shoes if you are planning on hitch-hiking as well, since very often you will be dropped off on the side of the road (mud, dry grass, thorns…) or you’ll have to walk a lot to find a good spot. Your shoes really don’t need to be expensive, choose comfort & light weight over the prize.

The shoes for good weather would normally be sandals. We avoid flip flops as you can’t really run or walk up steep hills in them.

What to take and how to pack light for a trip?

Rule 5: Compact & light jackets

I always take two types of jackets with me: a fleece and a rain jacket.

A fleece is light, warm and can be packed in a compression sack really easily.

What to take and how to pack light for a trip?

A rain jacket should be so small and light that it could fit in the pocket of your fleece or in your hand luggage without any problem. It doesn’t have to be expensive either, I use a 14€ one from Decathlon.

What to take and how to pack light for a trip

Toiletries

Rule 1: Take the absolute minimum.

(1) shampoo (2) bar of soap (3) deodorant (4) toothbrush + toothpaste (5) shaving foam (6) razors – quick-drying towel (rule 2) (7) sunscreen (8) wet wipes (9) washy flower thingy (10) tampons, pads and other girl accessories… (11) cotton buds (12) small bottle for a second shampoo (explained in rule 3)

What to take and how to pack light for a trip

And this is what it looks like all packed in a wash-bag.

What to take and how to pack light for a trip

Rule 2: Small & quick-drying towel is essential

Forget about the old-fashioned terry-cloth towels; buy a modern light, small and quick-drying one!

What to take and how to pack light for a trip

Rule 3: Soap & shampoo

You won’t need anything more than these two hygiene items; be a minimalist.

You don’t need a shower gel. Even if you use it back home, during the trip it is absolutely redundant. Use soap or the shampoo. What’s good for your hair can’t be bad for your skin, right?

You really don’t need a conditioner, you hair won’t fall out if you stop using it for the time of your trip.

The soap itself is very useful in case there is no washing machine and you have to hand-wash your clothes.

If you are travelling as a couple, take one normal-sized bottle of shampoo + a small bottle where you can decant some shampoo and have showers at the same time. Don’t carry two large bottles!

Rule 4: Sunscreen

If you are hitch-hiking or backpacking, you will be exposed to the sun a lot, so make sure you have a good suncreen. Protect your skin!

This is all I take and you really won’t need more. Forget about make-up stuff, creams, toners, perfumes etc… You are a backpacker, not a model!

Rule 4: Wet wipes

We always carry with us a pack of wet wipes (the kind babies use :) in case we get stuck somewhere while hitch-hiking and won’t be able to have a shower for a day.

Packing

Rule 1: Compression sacks

If you have an old sleeping bag which you don’t use any more, take its sack and put your clothes inside. Pull the straps and compress it. You will be amazed how much extra room you will gain.

Let me show you how it works ;)

I roll up all my clothes up to minimize the creases.

Before: all my clothes apart from the jackets, shoes and the headscarf.

1) t-shirts, 2) trousers, 3) socks, 4) long-sleeve shirt, 5) underwear.

What to take and how to pack light for a trip

After: all nicely packed in a compression sack!

What to take and how to pack light for a trip

We use two compression sacks, one for clean and the other one for dirty clothes. You can also use one for your fleece.

Rule 2: Pack light, wear heavy

Pack all the lightest stuff you’ve got and wear the heaviest, e.g. the day you are moving with your rucksack, wear the boots, which are heavier than your sandals.

Rule 3: Take the bare minimum.

Think twice or even three times before you pack and get rid off all the stuff you MIGHT use. Take only those things which you will really need!

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We hope you will find it useful. It took us a number of years to master the art of packing light and we are happy to share our experience with you :)

If you have any other ideas or suggestions which could help us all to pack light, share your knowledge in the comment box below! Thanks!

written by: Ania

14 comments

  • You know how to pack! Less is ALWAYS better! I will definitely be consulting this page for my next backpacking trip. My last trip I took wayyyy too many clothes (and toiletries are also my downfall, too many moisturizers) and jackets and it def. weighs you down.

    • Hey Kelsey. Thanks a lot for dropping by. Having too much luggage can completely ruin a trip (not to mention your back) and normally ends in disregarded personal possessions in far away lands :) You live and you learn as they say.

  • I think there is too much hygienic stuff… I am using just small shampoo bottle (20ml) and I am filling it everytime when it is possible to get some free shampoo. Always I found a way. And I have also toothbrush and toothpaste. Thats all! Really nothing more you dont need! I am hitch-hiking and camping everyday – now I am more than 7 months on the road, so believe me! When you need something more, some truck driver will give it to you (cotton buds), or you can buy it, use it and throw away (razor)… :)

    Another stuff I think it is ok. I have even more T-shirts now, but I am still ready just throw it away when it is too dirty. I usually buy them for 2€ somewhere…

    • Hey there Hogy. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Perhaps you’re right about having too many toiletries. Although in fairness it is split between two of us and one of the things we love to do when travelling is interacting and communicating with as many people as possible and smelling like the back-end of a horse is not normally the best way to achieve this :)

  • This is a handy guide that I’ll be sure to come back and check when we are off on our travels. Rule 5 about not looking like an obvious tourist is a key rule to keeping safe! Never let your guard down and this will certainly help keeping everyone travel safe :)

    • Hey Adam. Thanks for checking our hitch-hikers handbook and we hope we can be of some service!. You’re so right about trying to look inconspicuous – although it is easier said then done sometimes, don’t you think?

  • Thanks for all the advice! One question: if you’re planning to camp, what kind of sleeping mat are you taking with you? (As most comfortable ones are either quite bulky or take a lot of space in the rucksack…)

    • Hello Benny! Glad you found the post helpful. As for sleeping mats, we used to take the cheapest sleeping pads like this one but we have recently switched to inflatable mattresses and I must say they serve us well. They are light and don’t take up that much space. And of course they are much more comfortable. Their only disadvantage is that they can get punctured so you have to be careful.

  • Waterproof compression sacs can also be used to wash clothes in, turn the sac inside out first though. Thanks for tips

  • Good advices ! I still have some progress to do but I’m in the right direction…
    A question tough… As you’re maybe not hitch-hiking everyday (well, at least I won’t, I like to travel slowly), do you bring another little “daybag”? Or do you essentially rely on your pockets ???

    • Hey Millipatti! Yes, we always travel with two big rucksacks and two little day-backpacks. They little bags are handy to keep our electronics in and to walk around town when we are not hitchhiking. When we get into a car we never put them in the boot as it’s safer and more handy to have our documents and money on us. We also have postcards for the drivers there.

  • Ania this was easily the best thing i found over the internet recently! Absolutely amazing tips! I have one question though: In the past i have tried hitch hiking but never usually get a ride in a foreign country! haha. Any tips on that?

    • Hi Ronak! I’m glad you found the post helpful.As for hitchhiking, it usually depends on the country. In some countries (like China, Macedonia and other) you can do it on motorways and it would work perfectly. In most of other countries, people would never stop where it is dangerous or illegal, so bear that in mind. Friendly and clean appearance usually helps in every country. You should look directly at the drivers and smile. And of course you have to start at the edge of a city as in the centre it’s usually very difficult. Check out this post for more tips and this one for the hitchhiking etiquette. Good luck!

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