Sep 29, 7 years ago

Pack Smarter on Your Next Trip: The Backpacker

Pack Smarter on Your Next Trip: The Backpacker

First things first: where are you going and how do you want to spend the majority of your time? A traveler covering all of South America will obviously pack differently than someone heading to the Amazon jungle for 6 months. Instead of creating an extensive list of every item, I’ll instead provide a few helpful suggestions and tips to make your travel experience more enjoyable.

The backpacker needs a little bit of everything. He or she may be working on a farm one week, camping on the beach the next week, and hitting a club in the city by the weekend. The backpacker’s needs are broad and lots of ground to cover, which means they need to do the most planning. You’ll literally be carrying everything on your back and that backpack fills up quickly.

The goal of packing for a trip – no matter how long or short it may be – is to minimize the stuff you bring and maximize each items use. I’ve received the following advice and it holds true: Lay everything out you want to take with you. Pack half of that.


  • Pack light on clothes and do laundry frequently – full service laundry facilities are common and your hostel sink will do the trick in an pinch
  • Keep your footwear simple – 1 good pair of good shoes could be all that you need
  • Don’t bring clunky hiking boots unless you really need them…most backpackers end up ditching them because they’re so cumbersome
  • Don’t bring formal clothes unless you know you’ll use them
  • Don’t wear anything flashy…it will make you more of a target
  • Find dual purposes for everything you can – swim in techy shorts instead of packing a suit


  • Consolidate your technology – less is more. A smartphone or tablet may be the perfect technological companion
  • Only bring a computer if you have to – access to computers at Internet cafes and hostels is pretty easy and cheap
  • Figure out if you’ll need electrical adaptors or converters in the countries you’re visiting
  • Bring the smallest camera possible – lugging around an expensive SLR camera can get old fast


  • Buy a decent backpack that is a proper size (volume measured in Liters) and fit (to match your height and torso)
  • If you want to protect your pack, consider a pack cover like one of this one. They deter thieves, keep your bag clean and dry, and some even lock for added security
  • Rolling bags are heavier and won’t do you much good in rural areas
  • Definitely bring a day-pack or a small backpack – use this to carry essentials on day excursions and to keep your valuables with you while traveling
  • Compression sacks will help you stay organized and save space

Other Stuff

  • If your justification is “I’ll bring this just in case _____[insert obscure situation here]_____”, don’t bring it
  • Bring your own small first aid kit with small doses of any medications you may need
  • Don’t bring anything that you can’t financially or emotionally afford to lose or have stolen
  • Many hostels charge for a towel, so bring your own quick-drying microfiber towel like one of these
  • Earplugs can be a lifesaver on planes, trains, buses, and party hostels
  • A headlamp is pretty darn useful in many situations

The goal here is to have most everything you need without having a burdensome backpack.

Lead Image: CC Image used courtesy of ontourwithben on Flickr


Ryan is a writer, photographer, and teacher living and volunteering throughout Latin America.

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  1. October 22, 2012
    It's all what you prefer. If a beginner feels that a brighter colored backpack may help in an emergency situation that there is no harm in buying a bright color. Does color play a role in choosing a pack? I would say it sure does. Looks shouldn't play a major role, but you do want to buy a pack that you find aesthetically appealing as well as being capable of carrying the gear that you need for your level of mountaineering.
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