Smart Packing for Backpacking

We try to travel as budget conscious as possible. A big part of that involves packing efficiently. Whether you are going to be gone for a few weeks or a few years, carrying the right gear with you can make you life so much easier. Carrying the wrong gear accomplishes the exact opposite. We’ve detailed what we consider to be essentials for our travels. Keep in mind, we’ve been avoiding winter for quite some time so if you’re more of a ski-bum, this guide might not be for you. But if you’re gearing up to travel in tropical or desert climates, this is a quick list of what we bring along!

The Essentials

Water Filters

We are trying to limit the amount of waste we generate, in life as a whole but specifically in this trip. One of the biggest hindrances to doing this when you travel is the misconception that you have to buy water wherever you go. Drinking tap water in places where your body is not used to the local bacteria ranges from a soft pass to being a hard-line fuck no so we’re not recommending forgoing clean water in an attempt to reduce your ecological footprint. Fortunately, we live in a glorious time of technological advancements and water filtration systems are no exception to the trend. We purchased two different filtering methods before this trip, the LifeStraw and the GRAYL GeoPress.


The LifeStraw and the company that makes it are amazing. The LifeStraw itself is under $30 (although Amazon is always running deals on this product) and filters up to 1000 liters of water. It fits great in our 22oz Slm water bottle so we just close it up and leave it in the water bottle. It filters out most bacteria and protozoa; however, it doesn’t filter out viruses and heavy metals so we use the LifeStraw when we’re in places where locals still drink the water. The company itself is great too. According to the website, “For every LifeStraw sold, one child in a developing community receives safe drinking water for an entire school year.” We haven’t done our research to fact check this statement but we do know they make a great product!

GRAYL GeoPress

The GRAYL Geopress is next level in terms of personal water filtration systems. It holds 24oz of water (maybe a little less because the size of the filter subtracts a little water storage space) and it filters out all pathogens in the water. That’s right, bacteria, protozoa, viruses, heavy metals…GONE! To filter, you simply fill the bottle up to a pre-drawn line on the side, set it on the ground, and use your body weight to push the filter chamber through the water and VOILA, fresh water. Each filter can handle 250 liters of water before it needs to be replaced. This water bottle is not cheap but replacement filters are reasonable at around $25. We bought two replacements besides the one it came with so for $140 we can have 750 liters of safe, clean drinking water. That’s a lot of saved water bottles.

Insect Repellent Gear

Click the pictures for Amazon links to the products!

Investing in some insect repellent gear is a good idea when traveling to parts of the world where dengue and malaria is an issue. There is medication you can take for malaria, but it can be quite expensive and you have to take it for a week before and a week after contracting the disease. As for dengue…there really isn’t anything to be done about that one except preventative measures. Insect repellent is a must but we also have a few articles of clothing lined with Permethrin. It is an insect repellent woven into the material, making it much less likely to leach into your skin. Permethrin also works against ticks, lice, and other creepy crawlies. The clothing is said to be insect repellent for between 40-70 washes. We have an assortment of bandanas, neck scarves, shirts, and pants for each of us. We haven’t needed to use our insect repellent gear yet, as we’re still in the desert, so stay tuned for our updates on the effectiveness of these products!


One of the biggest expenditures when traveling is accommodations. If you can eliminate, or at least cut down on those, you can save a fortune and extend your travel budget for more adventures! We do this by using Couchsurfing most of the time but when we are in a place we can’t find a host, staying with someone with limited space, or get caught in a place hitchhiking where we need to shack up for the night, the hammock is a game changer!

We have the Hennessy Jungle Explorer, which totally worth the money. This bad boy has been to eleven countries and supports two people comfortably. We have slept in it in freezing temperatures in Alaska and in sweltering nights in Malaysia. It comes equipped with a mosquito net, which is essential for keeping out critters no matter where you are traveling!

First Aid Kit

I would be irresponsible if I didn’t include the first aid kit we travel with in the list of essential items. It is a piece-meal thing that is in constant flux and reorganization but it includes the basics such as a hodgepodge of band-aids, gauze, clippers, iodine, Valium, Imodium, antibiotic ointment, and of course…tiger balm!


Knowing that everything you own can fit into a backpack is a super liberating feeling. You really don’t need much and the more you bring, the more you have to wash. On the road, we are usually doing that by hand and lugging around a bunch of clothes is one thing. Washing a bunch of clothes, wringing out the water, and waiting for them to dry is a whole other story. Let’s be real, it’s hard enough to do laundry and put clothes away when you have a washer, dryer, and shelves. So throw together a bunch of t-shirts, pants, some shorts, undies, and socks. We always wish we had more socks.

My most essential article of clothing has become my Mountain Hardwear Women’s Hardwear AP Pants. I am currently living in these pants (literally, I’ve slept in them multiple times!) They are lightweight but durable. They dry in no time at all and the pocket space is surprisingly huge, especially for women’s pants!

Another important part of every journey (unless you’re Gabe, who detests having to wear them). Everyone has their own shoe preference,but I will take the time to give a shout out to the Ahnu Sugarpine II Hiking Boot. These bad boys are fully waterproof (I’ve waded into the ocean in them and my feet were dry until water came in through the top), they are super lightweight, and morph to my foot. I’ve got really narrow feet and it’s hard to find boots that don’t rub or feel too loose and these are the Goldilocks boots for me!

The Non-Essentials That Have Become Essentials

Travel Pillow

This might sound ridiculous but one item I refuse to leave home without is the MyPillow Travel Pillow. Honestly, this is potentially the most essential item I travel with. Being a light sleeper and a rugged traveler, when it’s time to sleep, I need to be able to. This pillow rolls up super small yet retains it’s fluff and structure. I’ve used it for over a year now, regularly cramming it in and out of my backpack and it has held the test of time like a champion. I’m only semi-joking when I say that leaving this behind would be on par with losing my phone or wallet.

Fold-Up Yoga Mat

Full disclosure, this is something I am still in the process of making an essential non-essential. I bought the Manduka EKO Superlite Yoga Mat before coming to Africa because every time I travel I always comment about how much better I would feel after a long adventure day if I had stretched before, after, or (God forbid!) both. I will then usually attempt to do some half-assed leg stretches for less than 15 minutes and call it a day. Even though this yoga mat judges me every time I go in my backpack and do not pull it out to use it, I still have done more stretching since I got it than I ever did before. It’s super lightweight and I can fold it flat so it fits in my backpack behind my clothes and sleeping bag, taking up hardly any room. It’s said that in order to make something a habit you have to do it 18 times in a row, right? So there is still hope for me and having this mat with me on my travels is definitely helping.

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