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Packing for a backpacking trip? 10 Things to remember!

Are you planning your next big backpacking trip but you’re worried that you may forget to pack something important? Whether you are a backpacking new-bee or a seasoned traveler, you should strongly consider adding some of these inexpensive and versatile items to your backpack.

1) Travel Converter-Adapter – Have you ever traveled to another country with an electrical shaver or hairdryer, only to find out that the plugs didn’t fit into any of the wall sockets? Perhaps the plugs fit the sockets but the country used 220 volts and your appliances ran on 120 volts. Well, this is when a travel converter-adapter would have saved you a lot of frustration and disappointment. Electrical plugs, sockets and voltage vary by country but these little gadgets will ensure that you can still make use of your electronics. Here is a map of the world that shows the voltage and plug type used in each region. Joe Diaz of Afar Magazine and Canadian travel duo, TravelCanucks, both agree that a travel converter/adaptor is one thing they wouldn’t want to forget to pack.

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2) A replacement spine – Globally loved guide book company Lonely Planet suggests packing a replacement spine.  If only spines could be found next to backpacks and hiking boots at my local travel gear store, I would have picked up about five of them by now (or maybe one with a lifetime guarantee). A classic packing mistake is overpacking – a few too many shoes, books you’ll never read, jeans in every shade, and a jumbo bottle of your favourite shampoo – all too heavy and very taxing on the spine. Since replacing your spine really isn’t an option, try to pack only what’s necessary.

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3) Sink-stopper – Photographer Eric Mohl and journalist Karen Catchpole are on a 5-year cross-continent road trip across the Americas. They suggest packing a sink stopper to make the task of washing clothes a little easier. It isn’t always convenient or economical to take your clothes to a laundromat and you may want to hand-wash lighter pieces like underwear and t-shirts. Plugging the sink allows you to soak soiled garments for a few minutes before doing the real work with your hands. Never hand-washed clothes? Here’s how it is done. 

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4) A stocking hat or toque – Gary Arndt, seasoned travel blogger and photographer, has been on the road since 2007 and swears by a stocking hat/toque. He takes a stocking hat whenever he travels since it is small, light weight and a lifesaver when temperatures drop. The toque is arguably Canada’s unofficial national headdress, so most of us already own at least one in the wool, fleece or synthetic fibre variety. Last year I was in Puebla, Mexico and I was shocked when the mercury hit 34° fahrenheit (1° celsius). I was totally unprepared for the wintry temperatures especially since my hairstyle is same one sported by Michael Jordan and Bruce Willis.

5) A compass – Flash Parker, an author-photographer from Toronto, is always on a new  photographic adventure somewhere around the world and owes a lot of gratitude to a compass for saving his butt. Compasses aren’t reserved for boy scouts and sailors, and although they are being largely displaced by the modern day GPS device, they are relatively inexpensive, durable and do not require any electricity.  The next time you get a city map from a hostel or hotel, use a compass for added confidence that you are heading in the right direction. Here’s how to use a compass with a map.

6) Headlamp or Flashlight – “The most forgotten item that is a must have is a torch (headlamp/flashlight). When you travel and stay in hostels and unfamiliar places it’s great to have a flashlight to get around or find something you need out of your backpack. It’s rude to turn on the lights when people are sleeping especially in the middle of the night so you always have to have your flashlight ready.”  – Jenny from whereisjenny.com

My compact waterproof flashlight & faithful headlamp

8) Duct Tape – Add a roll to your backpack and you’ll be unstoppable (or damn close). While traveling, I have used duct tape to create a makeshift carry-on bag, to patch a ripped rain jacket, and to remove lint from a black wool sweater. This durable water resistant tape was invented by Johnson & Johnson to seal ammunition cases during WWII and can now be found in most hardware stores around the world. Here’s an interesting post about why taking duct tape is a good idea 10 reasons to pack duct tape when you travel.

9) Toilet Paper / Wet Wipes – “Cause shit happens”. In many countries throughout Latin America, you are asked to pay for toilet paper at public washrooms. It can be quite embarrassing if you are at a train station in Mexico City and nature comes calling loudly – it happened to ‘a friend’ of mine and that friend didn’t have any pesos to spareEven if you  have enough for a few squares, the paper probably won’t be the triple-ply variety that you are accustomed to. Pack a roll of your favourite TP (save space by removing the cardboard roll from the center) and carry a few squares whenever you leave your hotel/hostel – preferably in one of those ziplock bags you packed. A slightly more sophisticated alternative is a pack of wet wipes which can be used in a several wiping scenarios including but not limited to toilet seats, dirty hands, and backsides.

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5 Comments

  1. Hey! Thanks for including our sink-stopper suggestion and we'd like to add one more very important use for this lightweight and cheap item: covering shower drains to keep bugs and funky swamp gas smells out.

    One more handy must-pack? A couple of large metal binder clips like you used to use to clip large stacks of papers together back in cubicle land (grab a couple on your way out the door).

    They're perfect for clipping curtains closed so you can leave the breeze into your room without letting the whole work peak into your room.

  2. Great list! I bring many of those things while traveling as well.

    One of my unlikely must-haves is twist ties/cable ties (ie ty-wrap), they take up no space at all and often come in handy. I was using them in place of luggage locks for a while before I got luggage with tsa locks. Customs would often cut my lock to inspect my luggage so after a while I just used ty-wrap, cheaper than buying new locks every time and still pretty secure.

    Twist ties keep my cords bundled, my bread fresh, double as key rings, tie up garbage bags, and they're a good reinforcement to keep zippers on bulging bags closed.

  3. @Trans-Americas: I am heading to the hardware store for my sink stopper. Funky swamp gas and bugs rising from the bathroom drain sounds like a horror movie of the worst kind. Just for practice, I think that I am going to hand-wash some clothes this week in my bathroom sink. Thanks for adding the binder clip suggestion, I will see what I can find.

    @Ada: Great suggestion. I always carry zip ties in a Ziploc bag (a genuine MacGyver wanna be). Although I recently discovered and bought TSA approved luggage locks, I will still carry a few zip ties just in case the need arises. As in the case of my last trip when I bought one lock, not taking into account that my backpack had two points of entry, so one lock wasn't enough. What saved the day – Zip ties

  4. Really, I would have thought your camera, fishing rod and passport would have made the list.

  5. Well my fishing rod is a must for me but I don't think that too many people people would take up valuable space with fishing gear. The camera and the passport – I hope no one forgets those two.

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