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Luggage & Packing

How to Pack it All in Just One Backpack

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Figuring out how to fit it all in one bag is the toughest part of any trip. But what if your bag is just a backpack and your trip is months long? That’s the challenge every backpacker faces. Every inch of packing space is precious and a mistake can weigh down a trip. Frequent backpacker Laura Lee Jurgens has put together a packing list of the backpacking essentials.

Packing a backpack to take on a month or two trip is one of the hardest parts of the journey. Not only do you have to fit your life into the pack but also you want it to be light enough to carry without ruining your back or making anytime you have to walk somewhere miserable. I’ve lived out of my backpack for months at a time and learned the hard way about what to bring and what to leave at home. Here is just a bit of my backpacking packing must-have supplies:


Choosing a backpack is the most important decision of your trip. Not only will it house everything you own while traveling, but also you will inevitably carry it for long stretches of time. It is extremely important to try on the pack and practice moving around with it before making one of the pricier purchases for your trip. The top-rated packs to have are from Osprey or REI. Both are brands that are consistently rated great. REI is a great store to start any backpacking adventure. Their staff is knowledgeable and friendly and can point you in the right direction of what you’re looking for.

Some of the top -rated packs are Arcteryx Altra 65, Osprey Aether 60, REI Crestrail 70, Osprey Exos 58.


A poncho is important no matter where you’re traveling, unless you’re in the desert. Throw $3 or less at this purchase but cram it in your backpack. You never know when a summer storm might be approaching prepared to soak you and your belongings as you trek place to place. It’s inexpensive and easy to pick up at your local drugstore or big-box stores.

Tennis/Hiking Shoes

Some kinds of sneakers are mandatory. Almost every place worth visiting in the world will have a great hike, trail, or mountain near by worth exploring. Or you could be like the author and end up being convinced to go trek the Colombian jungle and have to buy hiking shoes abroad (not recommended). I definitely recommend going with hiking shoes as opposed to your traditional running shoes. Traction and durability are what these things are made for and you need it when you’re encountering unknown terrain.

The Vasque Mantra GTX Waterproof Trail Shoe is a great pick for versatility. They’re waterproof and durable but still lightweight it offers support without weighing you down.
The Raichle Mountain Trail XT GTX hiking boot is another great option for men.

Serious Socks

These go hand in hand with hiking shoes. Once you’ve walked more than a mile with your pack you will see how important these socks are. Normal socks just don’t offer the protection a nice wool hiking sock can offer. And when your feet are your main form of transportation you want to keep them as untainted as possible. Of course use the climate you’ll be traveling in as your shopping guide. If you’re hiking through a jungle mid summer you’ll need something lighter than someone braving the Himalayas.

Smartwool is a great brand with a variety of options for every packer.


A headlamp is something that I bought at the last minute before my backpacking trip and it was the best decision I could have made. You never know when the power will go out at whatever spot you’re staying or when the dorm lights are off for the night and you need to dig to the bottom of your backpack because for some reason that’s where you packed your toothbrush. Available at most sport supply or outdoor stores.


Besides your backpack one of the most important things to bring with you. While staying at hostels there will most likely be a small cubed locker space available to lock up your valuables. Most hostels will rent you one for a dollar or two but save your money and bring your own. It will come in handy more times than you can imagine. Again pick these guys up on Amazon or any chain store (Target or Kmart)


Flip-flops are necessary for those communal bathrooms as well as for trolling around cities when you need to give your feet a rest from the structure of shoes. Go cheap with these as no matter how nice a pair of flops is they tend to break pretty easily with the wear and tear of a couple months on the road. Or do like I do and bring a “fancy pair” of flops and a throwaway. You can never have too many sandals in my opinion.


Always bring a towel. Barely any hostels offer them with your stay unless you are renting a private room. You may think this is something you could do without but trust me after a long day on the road you want a towel to wrap around you after a shower instead of your sweatshirt. Or if you’re traveling to warm beach climates use my trick and bring a sarong. It doubles as a towel, skirt, or scarf.

Packtowl Ultralite towel is another great option, it absorbs up to 4x its weight in water and wrings out completely dry and weighs only 3.1 oz so no bulk when packing.


Swiss Army Knife

A Swiss Army Knife is something you will probably end up using to open a cheap bottle of wine. But you never know, maybe you’ll use it to remove a splinter as well!

First Aid Kit

This is on the better to be safe than sorry list. No matter what you will use Band-Aids at some point. Throw some ibuprofen in there for those hostel party hangovers.

The most important rule when packing to go backpacking…. don’t over pack! You need the bare minimum on these trips. You will repeat outfits, you will wear dirty clothes, and I promise you no one will care! You don’t need to bring a laptop, cell phone and tablet. Pick one (if you must) and make sure it’s the lightest. Once you get out of America and are experiencing all the wonders of you and a backpack and the world, you will be so glad you don’t have that extra 10 pounds of clothes, toiletries, and gadgets. All you need is yourself. But hey don’t forget that camera!

Cheat sheet list for packing (Make adjustments according to your destination)

  • Sunglasses
  • Scarf/Sarong
  • T-shirts/Shirts (7)
  • Head Torch Maglite
  • Pants (2 Pairs)
  • Refillable Water Bottle
  • Outlet adaptor (if necessary)
  • Digital camera and charger
  • Essential toiletries
  • First Aid Kit
  • Travel Towel
  • Bathing Suit
  • Socks and Underwear (5 pairs)
  • Shorts
  • Shoes (2-3 pairs)
  • Jackets and Rainwear
  • Smart phone, Tablet, or Computer (if you have a Smart phone bring this all in one friend, most hostels have a communal computer if you’re missing keyboard)

Get inspired with our report on Why You Should Try Backpacking this Summer!

By Laura Lee Jurgens for