Trip Purchases

Outfitting store for gear

What to Buy for Backpacking


Now comes the really fun part: gearing up. Fun for you, but not for your travel funds if you aren’t careful. There are a multitude of products out there (a majority that you really do not need) that are marketed to travelers.

It’s natural to have a tendency to over-prepare for your first big trip out of the country. Trust me: you’ll end up not using half of the crap you buy/pack.

Make a Shopping List

Don’t even think about going to the store without a list! If you wander around looking for things that “might be useful for your trip,” you will end up with lots of useless items that don’t get packed. You’ll tell yourself that you may take them on the next trip, not this one, but you won’t.

Remember: How much you bring will dictate your trip experience more than what you bring.

  • A heavy backpack is a burden that will severely limit your speed and mobility.
  • A bulging backpack will make you a bigger target for thieves. You’ll take up a lot of room on public transportation.
  • Airlines, especially budget airlines, will charge you a lot more for bags over a certain weight (often 15 kg / 30 pounds).
  • Your bag will get heavier as you travel.

Before making purchases at home, know that you will probably be able to buy many things at your destination for less. Doing so helps an economy that needs the money more than Wal-Mart’s CEO.

Choosing a Backpack

This is the primary trip purchase that you may want to splurge on (US $150 – $300). What else is more important for backpacking? Throughout your adventure, your backpack will be your “house,” your companion, and your life will be inside. Choose one carefully and use your own judgment. Don’t just buy a top pack from an outfitting store.

  • Buy a medium or small (45 – 60 liters) pack. This is a guaranteed way to take less!
  • The sales person may try to sell you the largest pack with the most bells and whistles. Make your own decision.
  • Buy internal framed backpacks only. You do not need things hanging off your pack swing around.
  • The most vulnerable — and important — parts on a backpack are the straps, buckles, and the zippers. Make sure that all are as tough and rugged as possible.
  • Try to stay away from obnoxious colors. They might get the attention of touts and thieves.
  • Have the sales person load the pack with 30 pounds (about 15 kilos) of weights. They will fit the straps for proper placement on your back. Walk around the shop to see how it feels.
  • You should be able to look up at the sky without hitting the back of your head on the backpack.
  • Most of the detachable daybag features are pointless; don’t worry about them. You will want a proper daybag, not the ability to take apart your bigger bag.

There is nothing wrong with picking up a used backpack to save money for other trip purchases. They can be found quite easily as people return from big trips.

Lots of students come home from gap years or need cash after travel and sell their backpacks. Try looking on University boards, eBay, and on second-hand websites such as Craigslist for deals on used backpacks.

What Shoes to Purchase

Feet are vagabond’s most valuable asset while wandering around the world. With the added weight of a backpack and the environmental dangers the Road presents to your feet, footwear is your second-most important trip purchase.

  • “Real” shoes are heavy and bulky. Plan on packing only one pair of proper shoes and some flip-flops or sandals.
  • If you choose a neutral, dark color, some sandals can double as both adventure and going-out shoes.
  • Avoid expensive, big-brand flip-flops (anything over $15) because they may get swapped or “borrowed” when you leave them outside, as you will do often in Asia. You can always buy a pair of cheap flip-flops locally.
  • The factory inserts in some shoes (even expensive shoes) are too thin and inadequate. You may want to replace them with gel inserts. You’re going to be doing a lot of walking!

Best Digital Cameras for Travel

Of course, using a decent smartphone for photos and videos is a popular choice. Get a solid case to protect it.

Unless you are a professional or want the burden of keeping an SLR camera safe, get a camera small and rugged enough to go in a pocket. This will keep it handy for unexpected opportunities and also conceal it better.

Another benefit of carrying a smaller device for photos is that you’ll capture more natural shots. People tend to act nervous and strange when you point a big SLR at them.

  • Get several large memory cards (opt for the high-speed cards) because it may be difficult to upload pictures on slow internet connections. In a pinch, you can also copy photos to cheap USB thumb-drives as backups. Upload to cloud storage when you get fast internet. Backup photos often — you will meet lots of travelers who lost their phones or cameras, along with many trip memories.
  • If possible, find a camera that uses non-proprietary batteries. You can purchase “AA” batteries anywhere, but finding a place to charge or replace your strange lithium battery might be another story.
  • The Lithium-style AA batteries are definitely worth the extended life you will get from them. They are also more lightweight than alkaline batteries.
  • Invest in a case to protect your camera. But keep in mind that brand logos on the outside such as LowePro, Nikon, and Cannon are going to attract a lot of attention while on the road.

Misc Trip Purchases

Outdoor and adventure shops are much more expensive than regular department stores. Visit one of the big chains to get misc items such as travel bottles, a small knife, and other items, then proceed to the outfitting shop.

Resealable plastic bags with zippers, one-quart and one-gallon sized, come in very handy for packing. These are good for protecting and consolidating items that don’t belong in their own waterproof stuff sack.

Buying regular-sized items and filling small bottles is more cost effective than purchasing the travel-sized versions of things like shampoo and soap. You’ll be happy to come home to the extra supply you left behind.

Choosing a Money Belt

Like your backpack, your money belt is always going to be near. Get a good one. Most travelers opt for a money belt that goes around the waist rather than the neck. Money solutions that go around the neck are ugly, obvious, and way too easy to grab or cut.

  • The idea is to conceal your money, so opt for a fleshtone or neutral color instead of something bright.
  • Choose a money belt that is comfortable. This might be the first thing you put on in the morning and the last thing you take off at night. Silk money belts costs more but are lighter and more comfortable. They’ll cause you to sweat less.
  • A good money belt should rest flat under your shirt or in your waistline, so that there is no outline.
  • Some nicer belts offer anti-microbial materials to counter sweat.
  • Don’t be one of the goofy travelers who lift their shirts to rummage through a money belt in public! Nothing is more repulsive than seeing someone reach into their underwear to make a payment.
  • For a little extra money, you can get a money belt that blocks RFID so people can’t steal your passport data.

The Most Important Rule

Whatever you do, don’t go to a giant retail store with hungry eyes and an account full of fresh travel funds. Instead, gather ideas, then make a list. Don’t blow your money on trip purchases — save those hard-earned funds for the road!

Go to Step 9: Packing a Backpack

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