The purpose of this article is to help travelers to prepare their backpack for a hitchhiking trip. It’s not as complete as I’d like it to be, and I’ll probably update it in the future. Feel free to add your recommendations by adding a comment down the page.
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.
You should be as minimalist as possible. You are gonna have to make some tough choices, but you’ll be rewarded later.
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.
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What backpack size to buy ?
I believe 30 or 40 liters is a good backpack size for a hitchhiker, unless you need special equipment (hiking, etc…) or you’re going to a freezing country. 40 liters if you want to carry a (light) tent and a sleeping bag, and 25-30 liters if you don’t.
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.