5 Travel Essentials For Your First Backpacking Trip
A few months ago I backpacked in Peru and Bolivia for my first adventure trip. It involved a lot of hiking, battling different climates and shifting temperatures, and a trek to Machu Picchu, which is no easy feat.
One of the most important things I suggest to people who want to do an adventure trip, is to really focus on packing smart. If you're not familiar with backpacking, remember this: everything you pack, you'll have to carry around for several hours, days, or maybe weeks. You'd be surprised how many people forget that. Keeping it light is key, but you also don't want to underpack.
Here are some essential items to remember when you're planning any backpacking trip:
1. Don't skimp out on layers
One of the biggest things I learned from my journey was making sure I wore layers during my long hikes. You don't want to be stuck with layers that are either too thin or too thick. With varying temperatures, you want the luxury of being able to add on or remove a layer while you're on the move. Also, picking the right materials to wear, is really important.
Here are some recommendations for layers:
Make sure you have one waterproof layer
You can't always predict the weather, so having a waterproof layer is great to have on hand if it rains on you. Nothing is worse than having a wet layer because a) you're down a layer, which may force you to buy another; b) it creates more weight to carry around; and c) nobody likes wearing wet clothes.
Columbia's EvaPOURation jacket is really handy because not only is it waterproof, it has breathable material to prevent overheating and excessive sweating. As well, it's super lightweight and thin, so you can easily roll it up and throw it into your pack when you don't need it.
Wear sweat-resistant and breathable shirts
Say no to cotton or polyester. You want shirts that are breathable and keep your body cool when you get a little sweaty (hey, it happens!). Plus, if they get wet, they dry faster.
Columbia offers great shirts, such as the Zero Rules short sleeve shirt. It has a cooling technology that reacts with your sweat to keep your body cool during higher-intensity activities, such as hiking or climbing. When our group climbed Wayna Picchu with the sun glaring down on us, it was the perfect shirt to wear to combat the heat while climbing up and down the mountain for three hours.
2. Pack a comfortable, versatile pant
When it comes to backpacking, pants take up a lot of space. It's important to pick one or two pairs of pants that will carry you through the entire trip. Whether you're just walking around and exploring the local sights or going for a hike, pick a pair of pants that can suit both activities.
Mountain Hardwear's Dynama Pant (for women) and Chockstone Alpine Pant (for men) were perfect for every activity we encountered. Not only are they lightweight and comfortable, but very durable in extreme conditions. Plus, they were so easy to pack up when they weren't needed.
3. Make sure you have the right footwear
If you're planning to go backpacking, you can expect a lot of walking. With that being said, you want a shoe that's comfortable and lightweight. It also helps if it has good grip for dealing with different terrains.
Columbia's Conspiracy III OutDry shoe is perfect for both casual walks and intense hikes. The sole of the shoe has incredible grip and the inside provides tons of cushion, which feels amazing when you're on your feet for the entire day. The best part of the shoe is that it's absolutely waterproof. This was tried, tested and true in Uyuni, Bolivia when we were jumping around for photos in the puddle-filled Salt Flats.
4. Choose the right backpack
You will inevitably be lugging around a bag (or two) when you travel around as a backpacker. It's important to find a bag that fits your body size and is ergonomic. The last thing you want is to incur any injuries from carrying around the wrong bag.
You want a pack that's lightweight, waterproof and can easily pack in extra layers and important items for your daytrip. It also serves as a great carry-on.
Mountain Hardwear's Scrambler 30 OutDry Backpack keeps all of your contents dry in any condition, has lots of great compartments and has an ergonomic fit. We found it super useful during our trek to Machu Picchu, since it was able to carry our extra layers, snacks, and also keep our passports safe and dry despite the constant rain.
Larger size packs for travel
There are so many options for travel packs, and various sizes. The sizes can range from 25L to 75L, and while it may be appealing to pick the biggest size, you have to also think about your itinerary. Be realistic with what you're able to carry throughout your trip. If you know you'll be on the move a lot, having a bigger bag will prove to be a burden.
More space isn't always a good thing. Having an average-size pack, such as a 40L bag, forces you to pack smarter and lighter. We are often guilty of over packing and not using half the stuff in our travel packs or suitcases.
However, if you're going for a prolonged trip (2+ weeks), then it may be a good idea to have a bigger back to accommodate extra clothes and perhaps any goodies you'll pick up along the way.
One tip is to make a list of all the things you absolutely need. Once you've packed all the essentials, see how much space you have left – then adjust accordingly. Chances are that you may have even added a few items on your list that you don't absolutely need. You can also add stuff to your daypack that you’ll need more often.
We tested different sizes during our trip and found them beneficial for different reasons.
70-75L travel packs
If you plan on an extended backpacking trip (2+ weeks), then a 70-75L is probably ideal. It's also a good idea to bring one if you plan to buy a lot of stuff along the way. If that's the case, just be prepared for the extra weight you'll have to carry around.
Osprey offers great 70L packs with lots of space. Some of their packs even have detachable daypacks, which is super helpful when you're walking around. We used the Farpoint 70 travel pack on our trip and it provided ample space when it came to storing souvenirs purchased throughout our trip. Check out Osprey's other options here: http://www.ospreypacks.com/en/segmentation/travel_packs
40L travel packs
If you're planning on a shorter trek (1-2 weeks), the 40L packs are the perfect size. While it doesn't offer as much space as a 70L, it's definitely enough space for all your essentials. They're also a good size for shorter individuals, such as myself, who have a hard time carrying around a bag that feels comfortable for their size.
Mec offers great options for smaller packs and we used two of their 40L packs during our trip. It had more than enough space for an extra pair of pants, two hoodies, a few changes of shirts, a pair of extra shoes and all our toiletries. It even had some extra space to accommodate some of the souvenirs we picked up along the way!
Check out the options Mec offers here: http://www.mec.ca/shop/travel-and-lifestyle-travel-packs/50007+50613/
5. This one is for the ladies...
Sometimes nature calls at the most inconvenient time while you're backpacking. For the ladies, this especially can prove to be difficult. Using "bush toilets," aka peeing in the woods, is definitely not a glamorous thing and let's be honest - squatting can be uncomfortable and tricky.
Luckily, the Stand Up helps doing your business in the woods a lot easier. How do they work? It's simple - you literally just "Stand Up" while holding these disposable cups that help you do your business without the mess and without having to squat down awkwardly. They are so compact and easy to conceal - fitting perfectly into your pockets when you need to take one to use. The Stand Up even has easy-to-follow instructions before you try one for the first time.
The Stand Up can be purchased in different quantities. They will be available to ship to Canada in the near future, so keep an eye out for them. Check out more details for this product: https://www.the-stand-up.com/
One final tip...
Don't just toss your clothes into your travel packs and expect everything to fit perfectly. It's all in how you pack your items that will determine how much you can fit into it.
One method I learned for packing up my clothes was following the "Military Style" when it came to rolling up my shirts, socks, pants, underwear, etc. It saves tons of space and keep everything organized and easily accessible, so you don't have to pull everything out to find one item.
Here's a helpful tutorial that shows you how to roll up your shirts:
Melissa Tam is a Toronto writer and editor. She has a passion for music, loves animals and has a thirst for travel. She hopes to one day travel to New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Iceland and maybe even road trip around Canada. She is currently the managing editor for ShawConnect.ca.