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Packing for backpacking holidays

Backpacking turns a holiday into an adventure – there’s no freedom like carrying everything you need in just one bag and seeing where the journey takes you. But the freedom and excitement will soon lose their edge if your belongings weigh you down.

Here’s some advice to help your life on the move feel free and easy.

Packing list

It’s the most obvious tip but easy to forget: pack light. It gives you the freedom to do so much more. Don’t be that tourist who spends more time caring about their unwieldy bag more than enjoying their adventure.

Bring clothes made of fabrics that can be dried quickly, to save you carrying too many. Keep toiletries to a minimum and pick up what you need as you go. Take one book rather than a selection – other travellers are often keen to swap their finished paperbacks. This might even be time to invest in an e-reader. Lighter than a paperback, and often with a battery life of up to 60 days, they are a practical option even if your destination is off the beaten track.

How to pack a travel backpack

Knowing how to pack your backpack is just as important as knowing what to put in it. Having quick and easy access to your things is really helpful when you’re backpacking, and so you should consider using a ‘panel-loading’ backpack, which can be unzipped both on the top and down the sides.  

It’s generally best to pack heavier items at the bottom of your backpack. The low centre of gravity will help prevent back-ache, and keep you balanced. It also makes sense to pack your sleeping bag and any nightwear right at the bottom, given that you’ll only really need them at the end of the day. Likewise, pack the things you need the most during the day towards the top of the pack.

Backpacks give you real travelling freedom, but can get a little heavy. It’s therefore essential that you take the time to find a pack that fits your frame properly. Bring a bag of books along so you see how the pack feels with some weight in it before you buy.  The backpack should sit comfortably on your hips, and provide plenty of support across your shoulders and chest.

Packing the right clothing

Take at least one thin, lightweight fleece, even if you’re going to a hot country – it can still get cold in taxis, planes and air-conditioned areas. Combine it with a thin water-and-wind-resistant jacket for cooler or wetter climates. Jeans are comfortable but not the best choice for warmer climates because they’re heavy and difficult to wash and dry.

Pack at least one shirt with long sleeves you can roll up or fasten. They make you look less like a tourist and are practical should you need to cover up from the sun or for cultural reasons.

For more on preparing for foreign climes, see our climate and weather guide.

Keeping your belongings safe

The smaller your bag, the less it sticks out. Don’t make yourself an easy mark by announcing your tourist status with a large colourful bag or sewn-on flags.

Buy a small padlock to secure your bag and deter thieves. Always keep your valuables, including your passport, in your daypack when travelling between destinations.

Handy extras

A small roll of duct tape can be a life-saver in case of split bags, emergency shoe problems and other situations that need a quick fix. Spool only what you need on a short pencil to save space.

An LED flashlight may come in handy for finding your way around after lights-out at your hostel, on dark paths or for a spot of late-night reading. A head torch isn’t the most stylish option, but will allow you to complete tasks with both hands free. Trying to pitch a tent whilst holding a torch is more trouble than you’d think!

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The content of these pages are for general information only, They do not constitute advice and must not be acted or relied on as being so.