22 Tips on how to pack a backpack for travel

Hardly anyone enjoys packing. It is tedious. It is stressful.

Do you know what’s more stressful?

Realizing you forgot your medicine or passport (or anything) after you left.

Your brain works terribly under stress. It starts thinking in broad strokes. So you remember underwear, great. But you forgot compression shorts. Chaffing is now going to happen.

See how your stress just multiplies?

1.     Stop Putting Off Packing

Packing in advance gives you second chances. It gives you time to remember. It gives you time to rethink.

If you pack in advance vs the night will drastically lower your stress. You much better mood to start your adventure.

2.     Create a List

list photo

Your brain will thank you. When you start to pack you can’t recall everything. If you rely on just your memory you will be disappointed. A list keeps your progress moving as well.

Start your list weeks in advance. Spend a little time to write down everything. If you can think of a need, write it down. You can parse down the list later.

As you write you will naturally think of items you’d never have remembered.

During the coming weeks, you will daydream. You will picture yourself on your trip. You will also realize thing you have forgotten. Add them to the list. You can already feel the stress melting away.

3.     Make Sure Your Pack Fits

If you are buying a new backpack try it on!

I’ll say it again, try on the backpack. Too many of you just pick something and leave the store. You need to know this pack will fit your body.

Grab some items and throw them in the pack. Walk around the store. Look for pinch points. Where does your backpack rub? If something bothers you now you can be sure traveling to Europe it will get worse.

pack backpack photo
Photo by feserc

Another kind of fit is your need. What kind of trip are you taking?

You can probably use a heavy duty oversized pack for a weekend trip. Try using a college backpack for three weeks in the wilderness and you are going to feel the pain.

4.     Stage It All

Resist the urge to just stuff everything in your backpack. Stage everything you have decided to take around your pack.

Look at it, really look.

This allows you to commit to memory everything you are taking.

Seeing everything can be daunting. It may be obvious you over packed. You may also see you have room for that scented candle after all. The added benefit of seeing everything laid out is you can see how things fit together. If you can shove one item inside another all the better.

5.     Cut It Back

Your backpack is full. You have everything you need. Odds are you packed too much. That is ok.

Throw on your backpack now to see how it feels. It is much easier to cut down now rather than throw thing s out on a trip.

Walk around the neighborhood in your backpack. Go use some walking paths. Whatever type of trip you are planning try using the backpack from backpackjudge in that type of place. After even a short trial you will know if your pack is overloaded.

One thing to cut back on is things you can get while traveling. If you are going from hotel to hotel think of eliminating shampoo and soap. Eliminating a full-size bottle of shampoo is a considerable weight saving.

Think “can I do this trip without ___”. If the answer is yes drop the dead weight.

6.     Your Backpack Will be Abused

You will abuse your backpack. Some days you will be so tired you can’t think.

You won’t remember you have something fragile on one side or the other. It will be dropped, thrown, kicked and slept on. Strangers will certainly not care that it’s not a stool.

Your fragile items need to be packed in the center. With whatever padding you can afford. The bus driver doesn’t care what’s in there. He will throw your backpack to make his schedule.

If you have any liquids throw them in a baggie. Then throw that in a second baggie.

An extra waterproof bag is always nice. Knowing you won’t open your backpack to everything covered in shampoo is a nice feeling as well.

pack backpack photo
Photo by srslyguys

7.     Think About Capacity

A completely full backpack is a mistake.

If you have filled your pack to the brim you’re doing it wrong. Where will the little souvenirs go?

The things you picked up because you forgot them?

You need some extra room for “just in case”.

Also, think about your containers capacity. If your mini shampoo comes full use a little bit before you leave. Your backpack will go thru pressure changes (drops, temperature, sat on). If your liquids are topped off expect something to give.

8.     Conserve Space

You have a finite amount of space. Use it to its full potential!

Play around with your setup to see what works best. Socks go in shoes. If you have bags inside your bag those should be full.

Store packaging is designed to make you buy. It is not optimal for conserving space. Rip off or remove anything you can. Cardboard and plastics are light but are space hogs.

9.     Securing Your Pack

People will try to steal from you. The odds of this are even greater when traveling. You are in places tourists are likely. You may stand out from the local population. This makes it easy to why you may look like an easy target.

pack backpack photo
Photo by Mike Burns

Nothing irreplaceable should be in your backpack. Not your dead grandpa’s watch nor your last dime. With that covered, avoid anything valuable being in outside pockets. It is much easier to notice someone trying to open the main compartment.

Who cares if they steal your Q-tips out of your side pocket?

The money belongs to your person. Front pocket, money belt, or just something that keeps it with you at all times. Think about how often your backpack might be set down. You do not want to stress about your money every time.

10. Ask Questions

If you have resources use them!

Anyone you know that has been where you are going. They know the little extras that will make your trip a breeze. They also know the things you will never use. If you don’t know anyone that has gone on your trip it is ok. Join a travel forum or try a Facebook group.

You can read reviews online until your eyes bleed. You definitely should narrow down to a few types or models and then head to a real store. There you can pepper the sales staff with questions. See what has worked for their situations.

pack backpack photo
Photo by Jo Simon

11. Weekend Trip

Less is more.

Especially when you pack a backpack for a weekend trip. Think about it. A weekend trip is a short fun trip. Do not bog yourself down with what ifs. Enjoy the freedom of traveling light.

What do you NEED?

A couple sets of clothes, phone/charger, and your ID. Unless you have daily medications grab your bag and run!

Accept you won’t have every creature comfort. This is how small adventures start.

One weekend does not require a 40L rucksack. Try throwing your essentials in a sling backpack. These are light and fairly comfortable to carry. An added bonus is that they are usually small enough to be your about town bag too!

12. Keep Yourself Safe

Be aware of what is going on around you.

Yes, your phone is pretty. Yes, you want to Snap, Tweet and click while on trips.

Just don’t let it be at the sacrifice of situational awareness.

This can be as simple as hiking. If you are checking Instagram as you walk you may not see a small hole. Twisted ankles hurt, a lot. You may also miss amazing sights and sounds.

In more populated areas being caught unaware is just as bad. Drivers don’t always see pedestrians. Less than honest people may be sizing you up. Is there a local protest you may want to avoid? A little planning and presence of mind go a long way.

13. Value Shopping Vs Being Cheap

Baloney is cheap. A steak at a local mom and pops shop is more expensive than baloney. It will also beat a tourist trap on price and taste great! This is the difference between value and being a cheapskate.

Spend your money wisely, splurge where it matters. Say no to overpriced drinks at a loud dance club, pregame with your own alcohol. Say yes to a better wine at a local dive with some history.

If you can walk, then walk.

A taxi may be faster but it also empties your wallet quickly. Not to mention all the little shops and street vendors you miss. Walking lets you experience more of the nuance of a trip.

14. Know the Law

Remember this when traveling abroad. No one cares. Locals do not care what is legal in your hometown. The local authorities do not care about what you think the law should be.

pack backpack photo
Photo by Bekathwia

If you choose to indulge, be prepared.

Know the possible consequences of enjoying illegal substances. Don’t just assume people have your interests at heart. If someone will sell you drugs they might also accept a cash tip from police for an easy bust.

15. Respect the Destination

If you are hiking the woods don’t litter. Pack things in, and then back out. Leave no trace you were there if possible. If you felt the serene peacefulness of untainted wilderness, leave it that way for others.

Visit historical or religious sites. Do not mock or desecrate. At best you are a jerk, at worst you may not head home. You have a culture and so does your destination.

Local shops are amazing.

They have flair and foods you’ve never tried. Support that with your business when available. Trust me McDonald’s will be there when you get home.

16. Haggle…at least a little

Street vendors, small shops, and tour guides among others. They all tend to expect you to argue over price. In some areas of the world, it is seen as rude not to haggle. In others, you are sampling being overcharged if you accept face value.

The more casual or temporary the location the more likely haggling is to be normal. More often than not the first price is seen as reserved for naive travelers.

If they will pay it, why not?

The second price may still profit heavy but a deal comparatively. Usually, the third price is seen as the “bottom line”.

If you aren’t sure if haggling is normal, wait. See of other patrons dicker back and forth. If you decide to haggle, keep it polite. You never know when the vendor is friends with the crooked police officer.

17. Farm It Up

If you decide to backpack abroad immerse yourself. What better way to do that than act like a local. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. So, what doe that mean?

It means you can stretch your travel dollars by working on a farm. You receive a place to stay. Sometimes food is also available for helping hands. You work side by side with locals and other travelers.

It is not always easy. But it can be a very fun and rewarding experience. IF nothing else it may help you keep a few pounds off. Food on the road can be hell on a figure.

18. Water, Water Everywhere

No matter where you travel your pack will get wet.

Are you island hopping? Speedboats equal wet bags.

Heading to the desert? Guess what, there is dew in the morning.

Rainforest? Accept it now. Say it out loud “My pack will get wet”. Great, now we can work on how to minimize the problem.

Your backpack should be made of a material that sheds water. Even if not technically waterproof, at least it will absorb a minimal amount of water. If you are dead set on cotton there are options. Look into waterproofing sprays or try waxing the material.

A great idea is stashing a trash bag in some little pocket. Make it somewhere easy to get to. You don’t want to have to unpack to get to the garbage bag.

This trash bag can be used any number of times. Sitting in the rain waiting for a bus, boat travel, or being left outside overnight. The options are limitless.

A heavy duty garbage bag takes up almost no room. But once you try it you will never backpack without one. There are just so any found uses for it

pack backpack photo
Photo by Incase.

19. Yes You Can

One thing I learned early in life: there is always a way. A loophole, simple rephrasing a question or just plain not asking. These are all ways to skirt a no answer. Avoid breaking the law, but find a way to let people say yes.

You only live once.

Sometimes forgiveness is easier than permission, know where the line is though. If you end up the wrong side of the law the burden is on you.

20.  Be Open

Don’t put yourself in bad situations but be open to new things. Try a new sport. Eat some rare type of food. Dance like no one is watching.

It is much more common to hear people look back on trips and say “maybe next time”. Most of you will only travel to your destination once in your life. Remember you will probably never come back. Check off every box you can.

No one ever died at the end of a long happy life and wished they’d taken it easier.

21.  Do Not Over Plan

Allow time for the random adventure. The more people you talk with the more exciting things you will find to do. Do not miss an amazing local feature because it wasn’t in your three-ring binder.

If you are traveling in a group, it will wear on people. Your fellow travels probably signed up for fun, spontaneity. Do not kill the spirit of the trip.

If you are going to an exotic location that is good. If you have several binders worth of reviews, schedules, and timetables laminated and bound. You’re doing it wrong.

22. Enjoy Yourself

Whatever that looks like, do it.

Enjoy your backpacking. Enjoy your trip to where you will start backpacking. Heck even enjoy the planning of the trip.

Do not let others dictate what makes your backpacking a success. Just be open to some helpful ideas and nudges along the way.

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