What do I carry in my backpack?

I have had various backpacks in my life, but the general lesson is to buy smaller backpack than you think.

Overview of my backpacks in the picture: (a) 80+10 litres backpack and another 30 litres daypack which had combined weight of around 45 kilogrammes. I could barely walk with them. For my one-month motorcycle trip, I have packed everything including several books, whole cookware equipment, heavy sleeping bag and mattress (b) 60 litres rucksack which was still enormous and too heavy. The picture was taken in Belarus after a friendly driver gave me light reflecting vest and bottle of vodka (c) I got tired and threw away most of my stuff and travelled light with only 30 L daypack, which even included tent and sleeping bag. The picture was taken in Tanzania near the asteroid. (c) is my current backpack in Iceland. It fits everything I need but isn’t gigantic. Also, it could be used as a hand luggage and could be accommodated on my lap if hitchhiking which saves time and adds extra security when switching cars. Most importantly, there is no place for unnecessary things in this backpack.

One might wonder that an 80L backpack is massive, but much bigger ones are available in the market, for example, my brother purchased 100L rucksack for our several week’s hiking trip. Needless to say that he was struggling and learnt his lesson.

Here is what I have in mine

Laptop. Most important thing. It could be used instead of (1) Maps (2) Books and guidebooks (3) Telephone free communication whenever you have the internet (4) Work office as in my case then I work as a freelance web developer. Currently, laptops are available in ultra-small size, minimal weight and long battery lifetime.

I have used it to download whole package guidebooks and check them out later than required. Also to add notes, modify pictures, make travel films, working for a company in Europe while travelling in Africa and much more. You tell me.

For last few years I used Lenovo Yoga which has a touchscreen and could be converted into a tablet, which has sufficient 13.3-inch screen.

Point-and-shoot camera. I used to bring DSLR camera but it doesn’t pay off because (1) It’s too big and unsafe to carry on your neck. You will have to hide it in a backpack and it takes the time to take it out. A point-and-shoot camera is always on my belt and ready to shoot. (2) Point-and-shoot cameras have good enough quality. (3) Use as a notepad. It’s even better than notepad because you can take a photo of any kind information: maps, train timetable, hostel address.

The most significant feature when buying a camera is sensor size. I usually buy one with bigger than markets average which is 1/2.3”. For a long time, I owned Sony RX100 which was amazing because of a big sensor, great zoom, low light optics and light weightiness. The camera comes in updated version as well. Although recently, I have purchased Ricoh GR2 which has implemented the same sensor as in DSLR cameras and processes similar quality shots, but the company sacrificed zoom for this quality.

Smartphone. Good for quick internet check in public WIFI and emergency situations. I usually keep the smartphone in a backpack, because in developing countries WIFI is not that popular. Although the situation is improving, mobile data networks are developing worldwide and could keep you online everywhere. But, do you want to always stay online?

GPS navigator. For a long time, I have been navigating with Google Maps screenshots and the power of tongue by asking locals around. However, I broke my rule and purchased my first hiking GPS navigator, which probably saved my and my brother’s life on our hiking trip to Turkey in February. Long story short we chose path across mountains and ignored local’s advice about great amounts of snow there. After a day’s hike we found ourselves in a remote location surrounded my four peaks and everything was covered in snow – no trace of a path, so we mind blindly followed directions on GPS hiking navigator and found our way back.

Tent + sleeping bag. Because you could sleep in most wonderful places on earth! I have frequently placed my tent on the coast, cliff or peak, where no bed-and-breakfast exists. Even made my album to inspire other called “million start hotel”. Or save time which you would spend on a searching hotel because you can pitch your tent anywhere.

One might argue the necessity of camping while backpacking because of various cheap or free accommodation available. As a general rule of thumb for my trips, I consider the amount of hitchhiking, trekking, prices in the region and even density of population. If I don’t plan to catch lifts, do long walks in nature and my destination is cheap and populated, I’d leave my tent, sleeping bag, mattress and stove at home.

Sleeping mattress. Not just for sleeping, but also for exercising, keeping you off the dirt and quick naps.

I have always used Therm-a-Rest Z Lite which folds easily but takes half of a backpack. Recently I purchased inflatable mattress which packs into a small bag. Note that self-inflatable mats are not recommended because usually, they do not fully inflate, take more space and are heavier. Generally, I suggest using inflatable mattress (not self-inflatable) if camping seldom on your trip

Stove.  Great item for camping fire. Just imagine – after a day’s hike, you pitch your tent and still have time to make your favourite soup and coffee. I never bring a stove if travelling by myself, but always if I have company.

I use MSR Whisperlite™ International as it is lightweight and durable, but it leaves your backpack smelling petrol like a motorcycle. Another suggestion would be Jetboil Flash Stove because of lightweight and fast setting up. However, you would often have to restack with gas canisters and you can’t take them on board, while the MSR stove runs on petrol found everywhere.

Fleece jacket. Keeps you warm in cooler weathers and is great wind protection. Moreover, it is a wonderful pillow but you pack it into appropriate bag.

Waterproof jacket. Keeps you even warmer and dry. I would suggest something lightweight and packable for example Marmot PreCip or Trespass QIKPAC.

Trekking shoes. It is only useful if you will go for treks and hike. You should always consider the amount of hiking done in your trip in comparison to shoes’ weight, therefore as conclusion would be that boots are not required. Do NOT bring only because it looks cool and adventurous as it seems like often is the case.

Dry bags. Both for packing and keeping your stuff dry. Have few bags and put similar items in same bags for the tidiness of your backpack. Sometimes you need to retrieve an item, for example, your phone charger. So if you know in which bag is it and you have only a few bags in your backpack, the task is easy.

Minimalist barefoot shoes. These are my favourites because they are extremely light, packable, great for your wellbeing. I don’t like these finger shoe thing because of the looks, but favour proper sneaker looking shoes but without a heel.

Packable day backpack. Even if I had previously travelled with the main backpack and a smaller one in front of me, it is uncomfortable. Although a good point to have a daily backpack for day trips when you leave your primary rucksack somewhere safe.

Other packing tips

  • Use lightweight dry bags and clothes bags for packing instead of putting everything into your backpack
  • Pack your sleeping bag and clothes at bottom of the backpack. It’s good for sitting while waiting
  • Use hidden secret wallets for your passport and emergency cash. I always keep 50 dollars note in a belt and my passport with another 50-100 emergency dollars