The purpose of this article is to help travelers to prepare their backpack for a hitchhiking trip. After writing our article on Hitchiking in Europe, some of our readers wishing to experience this style of travel asked us what they could bring with them. I hope you’ll find this list useful!
Hitchhiking involves a lot of walking, up to multiple kilometers a day. You should feel good walking with your backpack. If carrying your backpack feels too heavy, your trip will probably be miserable.
Therefore, you should be as minimalist as possible. You are gonna have to make some tough choices about what to bring with you (feel free to download our packing list!), but you’ll definitely enjoy carrying less weight, as it will give you more flexibility.
Hitchhiking requires to be flexible, and I believe your backpack should reflect your flexibility. You don’t need to take winter clothes if you’re going in Spain for summer. Just adapt to the situation and don’t think too far ahead.
Feel free to download our Packing List, I’m sure it can help you to prepare for your next trip! If you’re hitchhiking, try to reduce the quantities of clothes and forget the not-so-essential items.
The Ultimate Packing List
Edit it, Print it, Use it!
Pack the easy way thanks to this list, and make sure you will not forget any important item for your next trip!
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The backpack might be the most important item to hitchhike! I developed such a deep bond and somehow a love/hate relationship with it. During my numerous years wandering around the world, I’ve even considered it as my home.
What's the perfect size for a backpack?
I believe 30 to 40 liters is a perfect backpack size for the average hitchhiker. Most unexperienced backpacker would opt for more than forty liters, but that’s probably a decision you will regret!
Of course, the size could be impacted if you need special additional equipments, to be prepared for extreme temperatures or for gear-heavy activities (climbing, thru-hiking…)
40 liters should be fine to carry your stuff, a tent and a sleeping bag. If you don’t plan on carrying sleeping gear, 30 liters (or less!) should be fine.
Which features do you really need from a backpack?
Hitchhiking will involve a lot of walking, therefore you should aim for a backpack with solid support to protect your back and your shoulders. It’s a plus to have a central support provided by a hip belt to spread the weight of your backpack.
Keep the size and contenance rather low
There are two major reasons for this: First if you plan to take a plane at some point in your trip, you’ll save up with a backpack meeting carry-on size restrictions. Secondly, a small backpack will help you to bring less stuff with you, and your back will thank you thoroughly to carry less weight.
Backpacks I recommend
Important features from your clothes
You might not be able to wash your clothes as frequently as you would like, therefore you should focus on clothes made of fabric absorbing odors, such as Merino wool.
I have this pair of socks at home and I’m quite satisfied with it. You could also use a base layer made of merino wool, such as this well-rated shirt and this pants for men, or this shirt and pants for women.
Breathable & Fast-Drying
For the same reason, you should bring fast-drying clothes with you. I remember my time hitchhiking in Iran, where I had only one shirt left. I would handwash it before sleeping, and thanks to the high temperature and the textile, it was always dry in the morning.
I’m gonna repeat it once again: flexibility is a major factor when undertaking a hitchhiking trip.
Therefore, you should try to favor clothes with multi-usage, such as the Sarong or this well-known and rated convertible pants.
What to pack for a hitchhiking trip ?
- 1 passport or ID card
- 4 underwear
- 1 or 2 pairs of Merino wool socks. I bought these a while ago, and so far so good!
- 3 shirts (preferably a light or bright color)
- 1 fleece
- 1 light pair of hiking shoes (or any shoes you’d feel comfortable walking hours with). Salomon makes pretty good shoes.
- A pair of flip-flops. I know Havaianas is a popular choice, but I’ve found the quality dropping lately. I’d recommend the brand named Ipanema.
- 2 convertible pants, such as this one.
- 1 light short that you could use to sleep, to swim or to wear occasionally
- 1 bandana or a hat to protect your head
- A light raincoat
- 1 lightweight travel towel. I bought one from the brand sea to summit several years ago, and it’s still working well!
- 1 emergency blanket
- Hygiene products : Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap
- 1 bottle of sun screen
- 1 watch
- A knife, for instance an opinel knife
- A piece of cloth such as a sarong
- First aid kit
If you don’t mind wearing the same thing all the time you could reduce the amount of shirts. I remember a time when I was wearing the same shirt everyday, hand-washing it every night. Unfortunately that shirt didn’t last long.
Ideally things you carry should be multi-purpose. That’s why I love the sarong. You can sleep on it if a place doesn’t feel clean, or protect your head if the sun is shining a little too strong.
How many kilos should be my backpack in total ?
15% of your total weight is a good rule. I hate hitchhiking with more than 10 kilos in my backpack. You should strive to make it as light as possible and there’s a good technique to do that :
Take all the things that you will need and put it on your bed. Then take 70% of it and put it in your backpack and leave the 30% at home.
I believe an optimal weight is between 5 and 8 kilos.
What about the camping equipment ?
I know some hitchhikers that don’t carry any camping equipment, instead they will use any place available to sleep, such as benches, trains stations or cardboard to sleep on. This is pretty much what I used to do, but I’d really recommend to have at the very least a lightweight sleeping bag.
I bought the Naturehike Cloud-Up 1 last year and I’m quite happy with it. It’s an ultralight one-person tent weighing only 1.5kg (3.5lbs)! I spent quite a bunch of time comparing the specs with other tents, and it’s the best one I’ve found for that price range. There are also models for 2 and 3 persons that are slightly heavier.
It is lighter than a tent, but it can still shelter you from the elements. Usually used in complement of a sleeping bag.
When it comes to sleeping bags, there’s a saying I really love :
Pick two out of three. I analyzed it and it seems pretty true.
If you are traveling in really warm places (SE Asia) you could use a tent without a sleeping bag.
At around 800 grams, the hammock is a very light option. In most countries you’ll need to use a sleeping bag to sleep in it. The major problem is that you have to find two different points to tie it, usually two trees. I have traveled with a hammock, and I sometimes had problems finding a suitable spot.
Should I bring cooking gear ?
I thought for a while on the question, and in the end decided not to. I LOVE to keep my backpack as light as possible, even more so since we have a kid. Nowadays I suggest most travelers I meet not to take any.
Having a cooking gear brings you more autonomy in exchange of weight and space. A light cooking equipment should weigh around 1 kilos.
I’d suggest to bring a lightweight cooking equipment if you plan to be disconnected for the outside world for more than 2 or 3 days. In the case of doing frequently some long-distance hiking for instance.
What you shouldn’t pack ?
Don’t take something just because you’re gonna need in 6 months. Plan for short-term and adapt to the conditions.