backpacking advice (what to take/what not to take)

Don’t lose the travel journal. It helps in the keeping of things like ticket stubs and postcards.

A small alarm clock- indispensible for those early trains.

I never used the pack cover. A small umbrella sufficed.

Definitely bring a sleep sheet.

A small cotton towel works just as well as those quick-dry towels. They can get nasty really quick.

Buy a water bottle when you’re there and just keep refilling it. It’s easier. Some silverware is always a plus- and a corkscrew. You never know when you’ll need it.

A book is always a good idea. Plus music and extra batteries. Extra film if you’re not going digital.

2 pairs of pants is ok, but if you want to bring 3 you might feel better. Just roll - don’t fold. The compression bags are great.

Ziploc bags. Best things ever. They keep your dirty stuff separate and you can put wet stuff in there without making other clothes dry. Also it’s good to put in shampoo and stuff so it doesn’t leak all over the place.

It doesn’t sound like you’re going hardcore. Just try out the packed backpack BEFORE you leave. If you can’t handle wearing it and walking around for more than half an hour, take some stuff out.

Be sure to try the packed backpack on ahead of time, like carimwc said: not only to see if the weight is light enough, but to make sure the pack fits you properly and that the straps aren’t going to slip on you. (Nothing like realizing half way through that the straps are not only slipping, but need more padding…)

I’d go for a head-lamp, like the kind runner’s use: with LEDs instead of regular bulbs. On a low setting, those things last for quite some time (freeing you from having to carry or buy a lot of batteries), and they free up your hands for other purposes.

Ditto on the Ziploc baggies: don’t go for the cheap-o type!

I also use plastic grocery bags (the kind with handles) to (triple) wrap my clothing and what-nots in: they are nowhere near as durable as stuff sacks but they do in a pinch. (Double or triple bagging lets you carry more bags without taking up as much room.)

Another vote for a Camelback, Platapus, or whatever you call 'em water bags: just be sure to get one with a decent bite tube that doesn’t fall apart every other time. Some backpacking packs are designed with these in mind, and have a compartment for them. I’ve even seen the packs for these water systems designed to easily piggyback on regular packs. However, it’s much easier to clean and put stuff into a regular water bottle. (Like powered drink mix.)

One of those itty-bitty travel toothbrushes, the kind with a case that also becomes the handle.

Since it sounds like you’re going to be near civilization fairly regularly, I’d say you could err on the side of not bringing enough, and buying more as you find out you need it. (Which is handy when you realize that one of your socks suddenly has a hole bigger than Mt. Ranier in it.) The problem with this method is that there’s no guarentee that the place you’re at will have what you’re looking for, at a reasonable price, when you need it.

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thanks again folks, all good stuff so far.

i’ve been looking for Sleep Sacks but it seems that may be an american term for them as i can’t google them in the UK.
Can anyone help with a online suppliers.
(my local stores Tiso and Blacks don’t seem to have them)
Have checked and my existing rucksack will be ok to use with a hydration pack and tube.
have also located quick drying towels
getting exciting now!

I believe that Sleep Sacks are also known as “Sheet sleeping bags” - much favoured by the YHA, and probably available from their shops or website.

You can easily make your own sleep sack by taking a sheet (big enough for 2 people) and folding it in half. Then sew up the open sides leaving a hole at the top for you to get in and some room at the sides. That’s the cheap way.

I found my sheet at a French sporting goods store quite by accident. There are some good silk ones called Dream Sack I believe. They get rave reviews.

I’ve got this great travel/camping towel: it’s super-absorbant, dries really fast, and it’s really thin so it rolls up reall small. Called a ‘packtowl’, made by Cascade Designs, Inc. I believe I got it at a camping store. Definitely get one. Because after all, you can always use a towel.

Do NOT take:
Your cinder block collection
Pre-WWII radio gear
Cast iron frying pans
A canoe (unless travelling by water)

Things that might be good
pack of cards (solitare or with fellow hostelers)
Extra memory cards if you are going digital
Credit card (pack light and buy what you need…)


Ix-nay on the travel towel. Save however many pounds you might spend on it and get the cheapest thinnest cotton towel you can find. Save money now, thank me later. Those towels are teeny, expensive, feel weird, mildew quickly, I could go on, but why?

carimwc and dreamsong give the advice that comes closest to what I take.

Like everyone else said, leave two of your warm things home. They’re bulky & you don’t need them. BTW. Bring GOOD quality unders and socks, they wear out fast on the road. Your journal is good for more than just memories, you can stick stuff in it, it’s good for taking notes of things like train schedules & places that people recommend, stuff like that.

Check the backpacker’s websites, they’re helpful.

In regards to the journal issue, I took a journal and a voice recorder. I often didn’t have enough time to write about my day, but so I didn’t forget everything I would record my day by speaking. Then, when it was a slow day, I’d listen to the recorder and write up the most interesting things.

I have done journals for all my trips, and I’d have to say, they are really great for remembering things. I paste in all the brochures, ticket stubs, everthing, and leave spaces for photos.

My first one was when we went to the US, England and Thailand when I was five, and it’s soooo funny! :slight_smile:

  • Another thing I’d take would be spare batteries.
  • I second taking string to hang up washing.

Use a sarong instead of a towel. Much more multi-purpose, and dries quicker.

One thing I saw backpackers use in Oz was a wire mesh thingy that covered thier ruck sack, with a padlock to stop people opening your backpack, either when you have it on, or whilst it was in the airport. I thought this was a fantastic idea. It stops people fingering your bag when you’re half asleep at the airport and may prevent lightfingered room mates too.

ok, now the money issue…

i’ve heard it’s best to just use your atm card, maybe backed up with some travellers cheques
any experiences you can share?

Travellers cheques = security.
ATM = convenience.

I’d say take half your money in cheques - for emergencies, and for if you lose your ATM, to tide you over until you get a new one, which could take a while. Keep a record of the cheque numbers, and keep this separate from the cheques (a good way to do this is to store them online - in a Hotmail account or something - and access from a cybercaff). If they get stolen, you can get them replaced pretty much over the counter.

I would back up those who recommend silk sleeping bag liners, they pack down tiny and are very warm. Mine would fit in a double espresso cup (not an item you should take!).

Agree too about forgeting about the travel towel thing. They just feel horrible and smell funny.

Forget too the wire mesh thingy. IMHO they end up making you look like a victim and a paranoid to boot. They attract more trouble than you avoid.

Personally I have never taken travellers cheques, the ATM card and a credit card (kept separately so you only lose one) cover you in Europe safely enough.

Leave only footprints. Take only memories. Well, that might be taking the minimalist packing concept a bit far…

I’ve only used travellers cheques once. They’re good for emergencies. I would use an ATM card/Credit card. If you need cash late at night the change places will most likely be closed but the ATMs will be open. Plus you get a way better value on the exchange rate. Spain has a decent amount of ATMs.

I usually keep a bit of cash separate for emergencies. An emergency credit card in a safe but separate place is a good idea also. Use the hotel/hostel/whatever’s safe deposit boxes if you want to.

Don’t freak out if the conductor takes your passport/id on an overnight train. It’s standard procedure and you’ll get it back in the morning with your ticket. Don’t know why they did it since it was from Granada to Barcelona but I wasn’t going to question it.

The most useful item I have found for backpacking, whether it is in the woods or across Europe, is a bandana. It’s the Thneed of backpacking.
It’s a towel! It’s a hat! It’s a potholder! It’s a facemask! It’s a sunshade! It’s a handkerchief! Heck, it can even be some toilet paper if you are really desperate.
Bandanas: The best travelling companion ever. And only about $2 US.

I second the bandana suggestion, only take at least 2. Once clean, one dirty. I always knot them to a loop on the outside of my pack, so they aren’t even taking up room in the pack.

This might be more “in the woods” style but I also always take a whistle, in case I fall down a ravine or something and can’t yell. The sound carries farther too.


You’ll need to wash up - remember the kitchen sink.

Seriously, perhaps a pack of cards? Small but fun.

Get one of those pouches that you can wear under your shirt to hold your money, credit card, passport, ect.

I really don’t know much about the urban backpacking thing, being familiar with wilderness camping. Usually for that your pack weighs 50-80 pounds, and I don’t know if urban backpacks carry anywhere near that weight so this advice might be pointless, but don’t just get a backpack that “will do”. A badly fitted and poorly positoned backpack will make you wish you were dead after two days.