Pack for Any Trip

This backpack and the clothes on my back handled three summer months in Europe

This backpack and the clothes on my back handled three summer months in Europe

Written by Karl

In my previous article I talked about the reasons you should pack light.

Let's dive right into some specific outlines and tips to help reduce your load.

Clothes & Footwear

For clothes, what follows is a baseline for a dude in his early 20s. You can and should shift stuff around to suit your style. I expect that, among other differences, ladies might substitute a summer dress for the dress shirt, and might include a few more undies. Update: Ladies' Packing List

1 jacket

This jacket should be ultra-lightweight, but also waterproof. I like this one from Marmot, but like most things from Marmot it isn't cheap. You don’t really pack the jacket for warmth unless you'll be staying in northern sweden. For the cold you can layer shirts and pick up a cheap sweatshirt somewhere if it really gets that cold.

2 pairs of pants

Some people refuse to include jeans due to weight and water-absorption concerns, but a dark pair of jeans is comfortable, dresses up nicely, and stays clean forever. They also help play down your appearance as a traveler, which is exemplified by the second pair of pants I usually pack. My second pair is usually one of rock-climber style ultra-lightweight synthetic pants. Sometimes I'll even rock the generally-unfashionable zip-offs - they’re just that useful! If you go for convertible pants, make sure they don’t zip off too high leaving you with short shorts. 

1 pair of shorts

Something simple that you can swim in and that will dry quickly. Easy.

4 t-shirts

You can go exclusively with the synthetic ultra-light t-shirts, but I usually opt for a mix, cotton is comfy, and is nice & cheap. Mix dark and light colors, but with the light colors avoid white since it’s going to get dirty!

1 dress shirt

I usually throw in something with a collar in case I want to get involved in the night-life, this one stays in the bag most of the time and is the first thing to go if I’m trying to get even lighter.

3 pairs of boxer briefs

Lots of people swear by the Ex-Officio travel underwear, but I haven’t yet had the chance to try them. Additionally, $30 for a pair of boxers is enough to give pause. I stick with the cheap-and-simple and I’ve never had any problems.

6 pairs of socks

This is the one thing you don’t want to skimp on. Socks are one of the biggest issues you’ll face when trying to travel light. You will probably be walking a lot more than usual, and your socks will get nasty. I go for black synthetic socks all the way. They don’t get sopping wet like cotton, and they still look nice after they’ve seen tons of abuse.

1 pair of shoes

Cross-trainers look stupid and get dirty too easily, and full-on hiking boots are bulky and just plain heavy! If you know your trip will be mostly hiking, then of course the calculus changes, but in general, I’m a big proponent of indoor soccer shoes for travel (hear me out). They are always very comfortable and are usually incredibly lightweight!

1 pair of cheap flip-flops

This is for showering, and to keep from going through socks too quickly, and for beach locations, and lots of other situations, too!

How is it possible to get by with so little?

You’ll just have to do laundry every 2 to 4 weeks. Most places have coin-op machines, and if you’re in a third world country, you can pay a laundry service to clean and fold your clothes for only a couple bucks. You simply don’t need a clean pair of pants every day. Get dirty!

Trek Harder!

If you really want to go extreme, ditch the shoes altogether. A sturdy pair of epic trekking sandals can get you a long way. Just ask my buddy Will, who tackled 7-months in South America  (including Patagonia!) on one pair of sandals. I was so jealous of his solution to the sock problem that I ended up ditching shoes and finding my own pair of epic trekking sandals. He went with the ever-popular Chacos, while I prefer something with more support like these.

Electronics

I could write a whole article about electronics and travel, and maybe I will, but for now, here’s a quick summary of what makes my list.

1 Netbook

Some people say taking a laptop/netbook is missing the point, but computers are just too goddamn useful not to have one. These things are tiny, usually 2.5 pounds, and generally are pretty cheap, too. There are many benefits, and a few drawbacks, to backpacking with a computer. I think carrying a computer, especially one this small, is definitely worth it.

1 Camera

Sometimes half the fun in traveling is reminiscing and sharing stories about your trip later. Make sure to capture some memories! I plan to write a whole post on the best cameras for traveling, so check in for that later.

1 Cell Phone (depending)

Grabbing something in-country with pre-paid minutes is a solid bet if you know you’ll spend a long time in a given country. If you’re frequently hopping across borders, the question of whether to have a phone gets much more complicated (subject for another post).

Phones are particularly useful if you’re trying to meet up with couchsurfing hosts or rideshares, and quickly pay for themselves if you manage to make a connection you otherwise may have missed. It’s also useful for keeping in touch with friendly locals you meet in various places who you might want to catch again before you head out to your next destination.

Adapters and Chargers

Little tiny plug-in adapters work best because they are light, cheap and tiny. If you’ll be covering a wide range of outlets, it might be worth investing in a slightly bulkier multi-adapter. Check online to see what kinds of adapters you'll need, the multi-adapters might not cover everything.

Don’t forget to bring chargers! Also, make sure your power supply is international. Most laptops and camera-battery chargers these days are, but you don’t really want to bother bringing a transformer so make sure they will work anywhere. You’ve gotta check the voltage on the charger block (or in the manual) to make sure you’re covered in the 110-120V range, as well as the 220-240V range.

Trek Harder!

You could always try to consolidate all of the above items into one with a sufficiently beastly smartphone. This path has some serious caveats, though. The pictures won’t be as good. Typing and using the internet will be less seamless and easy. Battery life becomes a pretty big issue with one tiny battery covering a wide variety of tasks. And while the same is true to a lesser extent for the other items, a smartphone will be an easy and obvious target for theft! However, it’s still an option to consider that would considerably lighten your load.

Miscellany

There are just a few more things to consider when packing your bag!

Chamois (Shammy)

Bring a synthetic chamois instead of a towel. It’s much smaller, dries you faster, and dries itself in nearly an instant, too. Don’t bother with the expensive swimmer-targeted brands. You can get a larger, cheaper version of the same thing that’s made for cars. Since the car ones are sometimes huge, you can cut it in half and now you have a “towel” for a friend, too.

Combo Lock

Between locking the lockers in hostels, locking your bag zippers together, and locking your bag to various objects, a small combo lock, especially the kind with some sort of cable, is incredibly useful. Don’t use a keyed lock because you can lose the keys where you can’t lose a combo.

Toiletries

A mini toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and a small bar of soap are pretty critical. Some other ideas include floss, a little wad of T.P. for emergencies, condoms, and lady products.

Wrap-up

This covers everything I expect to pack before heading out on any trip longer than a just a few days. Just remember that if something else comes up that you need, you can buy it as you go, and pass it on to someone else when it’s not useful to you anymore.

You still have some important questions to answer, like what backpack to stuff all this crap into, but that’s subject for another post.

Is there anything that you think is critical that I left out? How about things you think I can leave home on my next trip?

About the Author

Karl's picture

Karl Keefer built the Trek Hard website. He has been quasi-nomadic since graduating college in 2009.

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3 Comments

Epic Trekking Sandals FOR THE WIN!!!

550 paracord man....100 feet is cheap, weighs practically nothing, easy to tie to the outside of your pack and has infinite uses...here's just a few I've employed: belt after thrashing my pants and only being able to find a 36 waist where I was, shoelaces, tie around a tree or rock and have more than enough strength to get down/up steep faces to cool places, use the inner chord for dental floss, hogtie the terrorists you take down with your bare hands until the authorities arrive, tie knots when bored on a bus, tie stuff to the outside of your pack, etc etc etc. And I only made one of those things up. Stuff is legit.

This site is great. Karl is the man.