Backpacker’s secret: How to prepare for your first backpacking trip

This is a welcome post – for first time backpackers. There is no doubt in the fact that you are going to be a part of an exhilarating experience (some bitter some better ;)). First things first, lets “Cheers” – to making bad decisions and to adventurous times ahead! 

Courtsey: web
Courtsey: web

Moment of truth: So, you are going backpacking! I am sure there’s hundreds of things that are threatening to tear your head apart: How do I buy a backpack, what volume – 35L, 50L, 65L, 80L? How to pack one? What should I pack? What should I leave behind? Planning the trip, how will I ensure my safety, did I book my hostel, is there anything I should check before booking one? Documentation? Vaccinations? – the list is endless.


It will all be fine! Let us take it one at a time, start with one thing and then take up through others. The agenda today is “What to pack”.

I learned it the hard way on what should be packed and what can be just bought on the way and disposed off. The first time I packed my 55l backpack, it weighed 16 kgs. There was so much stuff that I could not even fit all of it in the bag. This led to filling up the day pack, then another small bag and a sling bag! “This defeats the whole purpose of backpacking – If I am to travel with all this, I might as well hire a mule on my way to carry all this” I thought to myself. I knew that I was going to have to shrink down the packing list. And thus began the rigorous process of unpacking and re-packing multiple times to shed the extra backpack kilos! That is how this list was born!

You would agree that a lot depends upon the kind of traveler you are, the kind of activities you plan to do and the length of travel.

For example, if you are a luxury traveler, you can leave behind some things like towels, toiletries but fancy clothes and accessories will take up most of the space. If you are a backpacker, you will need light clothes that can be packed easily and do not take a lot of space, a good pair of shoes, a good raincoat. And if you are a wilderness traveler, you need a good (and light) sleeping bag and a sleeping tent. So, yeah, it depends on the kind of travel you are into. But, you can use this list as a starting point build upon it according to your personal liking and needs.

Basis for the list: I divided my packing list in the categories listed in the table below. I am a small person, so I wanted to pack only the most essential things in my backpack and keep it light and carry-able all the time.

So I started striking off things that I could do without or substitute with lighter things.

For example, I carried only 1 pair of shoes- that is, my trekking shoes, and packed floaters to substitute for walking shoes and flipflops, minimized clothing: a pair of denims works for multiple days, ditched denim shorts for cotton shorts and shirts for tank tops (much lighter and smaller). I did not carry my laptop, but carried a notebook and a portable keyboard for my tablet to make notes for the blog. I also invested in a camera with wifi, so that I could transfer my pictures into my tablet, and would not have to transfer my photos through the memory card. Thus, instead of keeping a hard-drive, I uploaded my photos straight on picasa.

Still, ended up disposing off some clothes on my way!! So much for all the work!

Packing list
Clothes Shoes Toiletries Activities Others

Trousers – Consider a light pair. In addition, consider a pair of tights (for girls).

FloatersAbsolute must. And if it is cold, consider wearing socks along with the floaters. Brush, small toothpaste, small shampoo bottle, small conditioner bottle, hand sanitizer, hair brush (consider a comb), hair serum, small face wash bottle, moisturizer, sunscreen, roll on deodorant, bug spray, medicines (especially fever, nausea, diarrhea, iodine water purification tablets and common cold). Pack them in a proper vanity kit to avoid spilling. They can be bought at the local supermarket while travelling. Hiking Pantsconsider convertibles, consider buying gators for extreme hiking

Phone (with Charger) – Coz we cannot live without them

JeansCoz they never get dirty

Towel (small and light) – consider travel towels which is thin and light. Toilet paper roll is an absolute must. Hiking Shoes Tablet (with charger)– Cheaper and lighter alternative to a laptop (especially for blogging, a portable keyboard goes a long way)
Tee-shirts – tanks preferrable Swimming Costume & Sarong for the ladies (chuck the wetsuit unless it is a surfing trip), Sarong can also double up for a scarf and head turban for hot days! Raincoat2 options: either invest in a good one that lasts for a long time or buy the disposable ponchos. For hikes, a proper raincoat is much better.
Sundress for girlsCoz they are so light to carry and they are perfect for sightseeing Fleece Jacket CameraEx. some cameras have wifi, so you can transfer pictures everyday into your tablet.
Pair of shorts Thick Jacket Special needs – items of special importance – pens, medicines, crepe bandage, knee pads, water bottle (save money on buying mineral water bottles), portable safety bag, multisocket chargers, other gadgets
Undergarments, socks and a light pair of shorts for night. Sleeping bag, and tent (other gear if absolutely required, consider renting, hiking poles can be replaced with wood poles that can be found on the trails)

Thin sweater for light wind

Other tips:

How to choose a backpack?:

Invest in a good backpack, with multiple pockets and multiple points of access. I cannot emphasize enough on the importance of multiple access points in a backpack (see photo). For one, it avoids the “last in first out” unpacking style. 2) saves time because of the same. 3) improves space utilization, space that you wouldn’t have been able to use if you had a top fill or just a bottom fill.

Cotopaxi backpack - note how you can open it through the length. This allows for better packing efficiency.
Cotopaxi backpack – note how you can open it through the length. This allows for better packing efficiency.

In case of doubt, what should you pack vs. not pack:

Keep it to the bare minimum, especially the clothes. If you want to pack more, keep the option of donating some clothes when the bag gets heavier with souvenirs. Remember, clothes and toiletries can be bought for cheap in any supermarket in the city.

What documents should you pack:

Keep atleast 3 copies of the following documents in different places in the backpack and day pack: passport (full copy), air tickets, location+ phone numbers of your embassy in the country of travels, travel insurance document/ card.

Where should you store your secret emergency cash:

Keep extra money in hidden pockets of the backpack. I stash them in my packed clothes pockets sometimes (no one usually steals clothes), socks, bodypacks, etc. Make sure to buy an RFID secure pocket from MEC or Atmosphere or Walmart to secure credit cards. I am also a big fan of bodypacks, that can be hidden underneath your tee-shit!

Do you need a day pack?:

While going out for day trips and walking tours, it is important to have a good day pack. It should be able to hold a camera, phone, essential money, change of clothes, towel, a bottle of water and some food.

Do you need vaccinations:

Make sure you know about the necessary vaccinations. For example, if you are going to the Amazon forests in Peru, Bolivia or Ecuador, yellow fever vaccination is a must. Entry may be denied to other countries on failure to show the yellow fever vaccination card. Make sure you pack the necessary documentation for these vaccinations in your luggage.

Keeping a backpack light is important to travel comfortably. At the same time, most important things cannot be missed out otherwise forcing you into shelling out money at the last minute and wasting time in finding stuff at the supermarket. Its a fine trade off between money, time and comfort/convenience. You will find a fine balance with time.

Planwell and packwell!!

2 thoughts on “Backpacker’s secret: How to prepare for your first backpacking trip

  1. Nice compilation… When I started travelling, i used to carry the whole kitchen sink… 😛 With time, I realize the futility of carrying so many things, specially clothes when u know u can be very comfortable in a single trouser for a week. U can use the jeans on and on. and I guess in a colder place, its better to dress in layers than carrying a big down jacket…

    Liked by 1 person

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