How to Pack for a Backpacking Trip Abroad

Whether you’re exploring Europe or island hopping in Southeast Asia, there’s one thing that remains constant for any backpacking trip abroad: packing is a precise art and a tricky balancing act. Finding gear and apparel that is stylish, lightweight, and functional isn’t always easy. When you’re heading to a far-flung destination, overpacking is tempting—but a bulging bag can quickly become a burden and ruin a backpacking trip. Here are a few way to maximize comfort, efficiency, and preparedness while packing for an international backpacking trip.

Get a Decent Pack

First and foremost, pack efficiently. Stick to one pack that fits comfortably and is easy to carry, but bring a second lightweight bag to use a daypack, an emergency carry-on for airlines with stingy luggage allowances, or as a laundry bag for excessively smelly gear. Load your bag with accessibility in mind, and stash your most frequently used gear in easy-to-reach pockets so you don’t have to dump the entire contents to your pack just to grab a snack.

The most basic strategy for traveling light is to pack in threes: one to wear, one to wash, and one to spare. This means high-performing clothing is essential, so swap those cotton shirts and your favorite blue jeans for temperature regulating, quick-drying fabrics, like those infused with 37.5 Technology. The natural particles in the fabric contain active carbon derived from coconut shells and volcanic sands that efficiently regulate the moisture and keep the ‘microclimate’ next to your skin at the ideal temperature (37.5 degrees Celsius). This allows for comfort in a wider range of conditions, meaning you will need fewer layers. What’s more, gear with 37.5 technology dries faster so when you’re washing and hanging to dry overnight you won’t have to put on damp and soggy clothing when you wake up in the morning.
Savvy layering reduces pack weight and enhances both comfort and athletic performance, so choose base layers that are quick-drying and trap odor. Salomon’s Primo Warm Long Sleeve Half Zip Seamless Tee or Rab’s Merino + 120 Short Sleeve Tee both offer premier microclimate-maintaining properties and rapid moisture evaporation. Additionally, high-performing, core-regulating shells worn with moisture-wicking base layers can also often replace bulkier outwear, unless you’re heading on an Arctic or alpine expedition.
In less extreme conditions, sleek and lightweight options like the 37.5 technology-infused Adidas Terrex Stockhorn Jacket or the waterproof Rossignol Supersonic Jacket offer top-notch temperature regulation and protection from the elements, but without the bulk of a beefy fleece or down pullover.
Even when you’re roughing it, there are times when being somewhat presentable is a must. Opt for clothing with fashion and function that can transition easily from trail to town. A good option is Tommy Bahama’s IslandZone Camp Shirt, infused with 37.5 technology to offer expedient moisture-wicking and temperature regulation whether you’re in the sun or the shade.
Don’t forget about your feet! Maintaining those tootsies is critical—especially in soggy weather, harsh conditions, or on long-haul trips. Reduce pack weight by swapping hefty hiking boots for a lighter, hybrid-style footwear, like trail runners or approach shoes. Also bring a pair of sturdy sandals, which work as shower slippers or trail shoes. Just make sure you have socks that will keep your feet comfortable and dry, like the Point6 Light Mini Crew. Point6 blends Merino wool with 37.5 technology, keeping your feet super dry and reducing the risk of hotspots and blisters.

Gotta Have the Tech

Our number one tip if you have to bring some sort of technology on your trip is to trade that laptop for a tablet. Even the sleekest laptop can’t compete with a tablet when it comes to hogging pack space, and it’s much easier to stash a handheld tablet in dry bag during boat trips or unexpected backcountry downpours. Plus, a tablet loaded with apps can more or less function as a laptop in a pinch, and offers other perks, like doubling as a handheld e-reader.
Always be prepared for time off the grid or lengthy airport layovers with a portable, palm-sized power bank. They make them waterproof, shockproof, and still serviceable when temperatures plummet below freezing, so you’ll never completely lose power. For true edge-of-the-earth adventures where recharging a power bank is out of question, go with a space-saving solar charger.

Health and Hygiene

Save on space with a versatile soap able to serve several functions, from shampoo to laundry detergent. Get a multi-purpose, biodegradable soap like Sea to Summit Wilderness Wash or Dr. Bronner’s Pure Castile Soap, which also comes in a variety of scents for travelers who also may need to mask the aromas of the open road.
Shed bulk and prepare precisely with a first aid kit tailored for both your planned destination and chosen activities. Eliminate the guesswork with specifically-designed first aid kits like those available from Adventure Medical Kits, with an array of choices for mountain expeditions, international travel, and ultralight packing.
When water quality is questionable, don’t take any chances. A handheld water purifier is indispensable for preventing gastronomic distress, especially in places where even tap water is not drinkable. Options range from UV lights to water filters to iodine tablets. Bringing a water bottle and purification system also eliminates reliance on bottled water, which cuts cost while reducing waste.

Creature Comforts
A sleeping bag is not something to skimp on, especially for wilderness excursions, high elevations, or chilly nights in Himalayan teahouses. (Don’t forget to pack a waterproof compression sack, which will also keep your sleeping bag dry!) If a full mummy bag isn’t necessary, consider cutting weight and bulk with the versatile Therm-a-Rest Argo Blanket, which offers superior heat and moisture regulation, courtesy of 37.5 insulation, and weighs in at just 21 ounces. For trips where plummeting temperatures aren’t an issue, bring a lightweight sleep sack—the perfect protection from funky hostel bedding. Add a bug buffer with something like the Coolmax Adaptor Traveller Insect Shield.

Other Essentials

  • Paracord: A few feet of lightweight paracord can go a long way, and can be used for everything from lashing wet gear to the outside of your pack, serving as a makeshift laundry line, or an emergency shoelace.
  • Headlamp: A headlamp is essential for providing comfort when nature calls at 2 am and the fog of jet-leg renders your hotel room temporarily unrecognizable, indispensable when navigating in places where streetlights are scarce, and vital for moonlit nights far from civilization.
  • Envelopes and Ziploc bags: Ideal for discreetly concealing tips, arranging travel documents, or stashing currencies, a few envelopes always serve a purpose, and add nearly nothing to pack weight. The same goes for Ziploc bags. They’re the most economical choice for waterproof storage and organizing.
  • Industrial strength garbage bags: The cheapest pack liner on the market, a couple industrial strength garbage bags offer reliable weather protection and occupy minimal space when not necessary (especially when rolled up).
  • Duct tape: Duct tape can repair everything from torn tents to blistered feet. Pack it efficiently by wrapping a generous length of tape around a pen to save on space.
  • Playing cards: Cards offer instant entertainment, are painless to pack, and can serve as the perfect ice breaker—offering a way to engage with locals or fellow travelers, even when there is a significant language barrier.

Originally written by RootsRated for 37.5.
Featured image provided by Trailspotter