How To Pack Your Backpack

It’s time to embark on your big adventure, but there’s just the small matter of fitting all your new ‘travel essentials’ in your carefully chosen backpack. Bin the ‘jeans-for-best’, the ‘shoes-for-just-in-case’ and the ‘backup-hoody’. It’s time to strip the contents of your backpack down to the bare bones…

The biggest mistake you can make as a backpacker is taking too much. The day before you leave spread everything you want to take out on the floor and ask yourself, do you really need everything? If you decide you do, now is the time to try and fit it all in, but there is a special knack to packing a backpack, and it must be learned…

Less is more

Most backpackers will try to take more than they really need. So if you have your stuff spread out on the floor, go through again and again, and ask yourself if you really need this and that. If it’s your first backpacking trip the decisions can be difficult, after all, nobody wants to be unprepared.

Remember the saying, ‘take half as much in your backpack and twice as much in your wallet’.

Weight problems

It’s a common schoolboy error for newbie travellers to disregard the importance of the weight distribution in your backpack. Heavy objects should in fact NOT be at the bottom of the backpack. For the most comfort and stability, put the weight at the top, preferably between the shoulder blades and as close as possible to your back so the backpack doesn’t cause extra strain in pulling away from you. This will also secure the backpack and stop it wobbling back and forth.

If you’re hiking extreme, rough terrain then it can sometimes be useful to place the heavier stuff a bit further down. This will mean you can concentrate your focus deeper on where you’re walking and you’ll have a firmer foothold.

Moderately heavy things should sit in the middle, away from your back. Place lightweight items such as sleeping bags and clothes at the bottom of the backpack. Make sure your map, compass and sunglasses are easily accessible.

Always ensure that your backpack is not too heavy. More than 30% of your body weight is suicide. Make sure you can carry it fairly easily and adjust the straps so it’s comfy. If it’s not snug when you try it on, imagine what it will be like when you’ve hiked a few miles up a mountain.

Keep it in order

Experienced backpackers say that while you’re packing and repacking you should learn where the best place to keep everything is. Different coloured plastic bags help to keep everything in place, and dry.

What’s most important is to keep the things you use most often readily accessible. When the rain comes you don’t want to be scrabbling in your backpack for half an hour searching for your backpack rain cover.

Often-forgotten items

Earplugs
These little things are a real miracle if the guy in the next bed won’t stop snoring, and they can sometimes help when your ears are popping on a flight. Try and get the ones fitted with a small band, so you won’t lose them.

Sleeping bag silk lining
Super light and offering a touch of luxury in the wilderness, sleeping bag liners are very useful. Many hostels don’t allow sleeping bags in their dormitories so a lining is a simple way to use your own bedding on top of what you’re provided with. It’s also a way around the hostels that charge you for bed linen.

Flip flops
Not only great for coping with the heat outside, they’re also useful when you’re indulging in the communal showers.

Student  or under-25 ID
If you have one that is. Many countries give students and under-25s really good discounts. This could save you money in normal shops, restaurants and on trips.

Padlock
Do not leave home without a padlock. Many hostels will have the facility on the locker to use your own padlock, rather than they supplying locks where the keys get lost. They’re fairly cheap and if you don’t take your own, you’ll end up renting one which will definitely cost you more in the long run.

Sarong/thin scarf
Girls especially will find this useful. You can use it on the beach, around your pillow, and to cover your shoulders or head if you’re visiting any religious buildings or areas.

What NOT to bring

White clothing
In the end it will definitely just turn a dirty grey, and just annoy you. Pack dark-coloured or khaki-coloured clothes instead.

Mosquito net
If you’re headed somewhere where mosquitos are a problem, they will sell nets there. Probably much cheaper and of a better quality. Make sure you buy one though, it could save your life.

Jewellery and valuables
You don’t need anything flash or fancy except for a clock. And that should always be a cheap one as you’ll have it out at night for the alarm.  Valuables just make you a target for thieves and they’re just another thing to worry about when you’re travelling.

Things for ‘what if…’ situations
Anything falling in this category should be left at home. Unless you’re going trekking through the Antarctic there will more than likely be some sort of shop you can buy anything essential from. If you don’t think you’ll use an item regularly, leave it at home.

Thanks to Xelcise, Lara604, springfield and Mat Honan for the excellent images from Flickr!

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