How to Pack a Travel Backpack

A handy guide to help backpackers with packing their backpack and travel light.

I am about to head off to Sri Lanka and a few other countries in Southeast Asia. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at what I put in both my backpack and my daypack. Sri Lanka is a tropical climate so I can afford to pack fairly light. I won’t be needing warm, heavy jackets or multiple pairs of trousers on this trip. The stuff I do wear should be quick drying given the propensity for rain in Sri Lanka.

My Backpack

Previously I have travelled with a 65L Blackwolf Cedar Breaks. I used the 65L pack through Europe and Central America. While it is a fantastic backpack, it has been used for nearly two years of non-stop travel and is showing signs of wear. Also, after spending close to two years on the road, I have come to appreciate the benefits of travelling as light as possible. Therefore I have opted for a 40L Mountain Designs Escape. It contains all the features I have come to expect from a quality travel backpack despite its smaller size. Once I have used it for a bit I will do a detailed review.

My Backpack

Banana for scale.

The Mountain Designs Escape 40L has a decently sized external compartment attached to the front of the pack. Inside this compartment are a few additional pockets that can be used to store and arrange documents, cards or even your toiletries. It’s perfect for all the smaller stuff that you want quick access to.

Internally the 40L is split between a main compartment and second smaller compartment in the bottom of the backpack. This bottom compartment is the area that you could place a compact sleeping bag if you had one. It is possible to remove the barrier between the two compartments leaving the bag with one single internal compartment. That is how I intend to use the bag.

Inside of my Mountain Designs Escape 40L

Inside of my Mountain Designs Escape 40L

My Daypack

Along with my 40L backpack, I will be bringing a smaller daypack as well. My daypack is a Blackwolf and it came with my old 65L Cedar Breaks backpack. This daypack contains a seperate laptop compartment and also a hole to allow you to drink from a hydration pack kept inside the bag. The daypack will be my carry-on whenever I am on planes or public transport.

Banana for scale

Banana for scale

Packing My Backpack

To determine the quantity of each type of clothing I take on a trip, firstly I determine how often I will be doing laundry. Laundry days while backpacking on a shoestring budget can be a real pain. They can be expensive and take up valuable time. So the less laundry you do while travelling, the more money and time you have for other things. But the more often you wash your clothes, the less clothes you need to take. Where does the happy medium sit? Around 7 days for me. So this means that for each type of clothing, I should aim to have at least a 7 days supply:

  • 7 pairs of underwear. Including few pairs of Ex-officio that I can wash and dry quickly.
  • 4 pairs of socks. Two of these are high quality wool, one is permethrin treated.
  • 3 shirts. I try and get 2-3 days usage out of each one.
  • 2 pairs of shorts. Quick drying.
  • 1 pair of light trousers. Good for hiking.
  • 1 hoodie or sweater or jumper.
  • 1 light, puffy down jacket that compresses well.
  • 1 pair of good walking shoes.
  • 1 pair of flip flops.
  • 1 pair of tights/thermals to wear under my trousers if I have a cold night in the mountains.
  • 1 towel.
  • 1 toiletries bag.

The contents of my main backpack

As you can see I package most of my things inside small zippered mesh travel bags. Compartmentalising your clothes keeps things organised and compact. When I am complete the only loose items in my bag will be a pair of flip flops and maybe an item of clothing or two.

Packing My Daypack

My daypack is used mostly as a carrier for all of my electronics and gadgets. I may also load it up with a towel and a change if I am heading to a beach. The core contents are.

  • Passport
  • Wallet
  • Phone
  • Power sockets
  • Laptop charger
  • Phone charger
  • Laptop

All of the items that go into my daypack.

(Header image Backpacks by Joe Ross under CC BY-SA 2.0)

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