What Gear Does the Modern Backpacker Need?

Howdy all, another week begins. I hope the weekend was relaxing and the week before it was kind. Today… well I wanted to riff a little about travel gear. Are you interested in what I take or would take if I was to travel tomorrow? Probably not! But I think it’s an interesting exercise to hypothesise about what is essential for backpacking these days. And compare it to what I might take as I would say I am not strictly a backpacker these days.

Preparing my current backpack for my 2019 trip!

Although, my backpack or ‘rucksack’ if you will is still my go-to bag when I travel. However, I have been finding there are times where I wish I had a trolley bag as the ol’ back gets tired and I’m not as fit as I was and definitely not as fit as I used to be. But at the same time the convenience of a backpack still has its appeal. And so it was that I discovered that these days you can get a hybrid thing – a trolley backpack, or is it a backpack trolley?

Checking the interweb I see names like ‘Wheelie Backpack’ as popular. Kathmandu, the New Zealand manufacturers of all things camping and travel, call it a Hybrid Trolley. Kathmandu are to Aussies and New Zealanders what the North Face is to Americans and Canadians. There are more options these days here but back in the day they were the main brand backpackers used and anywhere you went you would people in Kathmandu gear and know straight away – that person is either from Australia or New Zealand.

They make good quality products, and they have a good reputation. But on the other hand, they are pretty much the most expensive option when it comes to this kind of gear. There are loads of options these days, a website called ‘Mountain Warehouse’ for example sells one of these hybrid trolleys for under $100 AUD. Compare to the 70L pack from Kathmandu (Hybrid) and we’re talking over $500. They usually though have some sort of sale. Which is their whole business strategy, oooh it’s a SALE, better buy now. Except there’s almost ALWAYS some sort of sale. And being a member too gets you discounts and then access to sales early and the like. But never the less, the price difference begs the questions – ‘is it worth it’!

 I’ve not always bought Kathmandu and the other brands I have used have been fine. Before my last trip I discovered Packing Cells, which come in all sorts of sizes. I bought some from Kathmandu which started at around $20AUD and up – the discounted price for being member of Kathmandu. Considering it’s just some meshing with a little material and a zip, it seemed a tad expensive. So I bought some from Kathmandu, but I found some similar ones on ebay for less than 20 bucks and it was a set of four or five. In the end, those ones did not hold up to the rigors of travel as well as the Kathmandu ones which are all still in one piece. But there was some fraying and issues with the zip from the cheaper ones. HOWEVER – I did think they were a great way to separate things in your bag or backpack and I will definitely be using packing cells in the future. That is, if I can ever travel again.

Now what are essentials? Clothes, obviously but I’m not going to bore you with what clothes I would take. BUT I will say I have found it’s an essential if you are on a long trip with different climates to pack thermals, top and bottom. The best thing about thermals is they keep you warm but more importantly they are usually small and light in your pack.

Maglite has been making good pen torches for many years.

Trinkets that I have found useful. Let’s see. Firstly you HAVE to have some sort of torch. Whether it’s a pen torch type of deal or something else. I have a Kathmandu torch that I usually take with me and have since… well I think I’ve had this one since 2004. It has a couple of different types of lights in it including a small fluorescent style one which gives a more general light to light a small (quite small) area rather than a direct beam of light.

You want these days to charge things. And this can leave you in a quandry when you try to work out what you need to take. I carried a four USB charger last time. I’ve regularly had issues charging devices overseas where they don’t charge properly. I guess it’s because of different voltages, I’m not sure. If you have an action camera – I at the moment have two, they are both really small obviously so they don’t take up much space and I think I would travel with both of them next time – they usually, at least in my case, can be charged with the same sort of cable and USB connection as an android phone. I usually travel with my iPod, but that may change next time as it seems logical to put my tracks onto my phone. Streaming services for music and indeed video these days I don’t use, because I’m old and you know, there’s only so much new fangled stuff I can deal with, anyways these services may be problematic if you can’t download as you can’t be assured of data connectivity always being available when you’re going from country to country.

So I also travel with plenty of SD cards. I always thought it was great to dump your photos onto a disc or hard drive and then wipe the card, but nowadays I don’t like to delete anything no matter how many copies I may have made from it. My laptop and my old laptop have a slot for mini SD so I’m more likely to use them rather than the full card because I don’t need to carry a connector which I’ve found slow and often had issues with. Then I take LOADS of USB sticks. Luckily as technology improves they can take more and more data. I can take videos to watch – often TVs have a USB slot and they can play video files. They are small and I also can back everything up on them – I also back everything up on Dropbox which depending on the country and the speed of its internet that can sometimes take a long time. So I will back up the files on a USB drive first and copy them from that onto Drop Box.

Headphones – last time I travelled with over-ear headphones which are pretty comfy, however for the sake of conserving space and of course keeping weight down I am hoping to find a comfortable set of ear buds – not blue tooth as I find blue tooth cuts out too easily.

What else? Well, I used to carry a sleeping bag depending on where I was staying, as in I prefer to use my own sleeping bag in a hostel dorm, although that’s not always allowed. These days I usually don’t because it has always been my most heavy item in my backpack. What I do carry is a ‘sleep sheet’, a bag like sheet which you can sleep in under blankets which perhaps aren’t as clean as you’d like. It rolls into a bag that’s maybe the size of a fist and weighs next to nothing. Again, if you have thermals to put on under pyjamas that could keep you extra warm when the weather demands it!

Shoes? One pair of boots, flexible and semi-sneaker perhaps although I usually have a full on boot. And a pair of sandals. That’s it for footwear (except for socks of course!) which leaves us with devices!

To think in 1999 I left Australia with a Walkman and ten cassettes, a point and shoot but chunky film camera, books, a diary, and not much else. To think now I carry USB sticks, a laptop, a smart phone, an action camera and a DSLR, chargers, in the last trip bulky headphones even. Do we really need all the stuff we travel with these days? I don’t know. If you’re a digital nomad you do – and especially the laptop. And then a lot of people are taking drones with them when they travel these days. I haven’t gotten to that stage. YET!

All in all you want to take as little as possible, right? Well, depends on what kinds of bags you have and how much you’re prepared to carry. But it’s always a goal for me, since I left in 1999 and within 24 hours of landing in Bangkok having to shed jumpers and other items, to keep what I take limited. How about you? Have I rambled incoherently enough for you today? Let me know! That’s for reading today, take care – and May the Journey Never End!


7 thoughts on “What Gear Does the Modern Backpacker Need?

  1. Agree, minimal is the best. The bag looks nice and I suppose worth the investment if it is good enough. It is not like we need to buy one backpack every year so a good and reliable one is enough.

  2. Sounds a bit like my emergency kit!! Thank goodness things have gotten lighter and more compact. The walkman was also an essential in my travel bags of yore. They themselves were not too bad, but as you said yourself – the cassettes, they took up so much room. And there was no way one cassette would do for a full trip!

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