Ultimate Backpack Packing List
Hey friends! We’re taking a break from talking about New England for a second so we can talk about a highly requested topic. PACKING. We have been asked a lot recently about how we pack our backpacks and what we put in them. A few years ago when we went to Europe for the first time, we did a packing post before we left. You can find that here. We’re gonna keep that post up, but this will be an updated version. We’ve learned a lot of good tips now that we have a lot more big trips under our belts. We’ve used a lot of these essentials for Europe, Mexico, Canada, and our US trips. With that said, you can add or take away certain items given your destination. We’ll add in some of our favorite travel clothing items, but we’re focusing on the main backpack essentials. Maybe on another installment we’ll have to go through the rest of our travel wardrobe. Since we exclusively travel with backpacks wherever we travel, we’ve found a good groove on what to bring and what to leave behind. We promise it will feel good to ditch the suitcase, it leaves more time for adventuring. With that, here goes – the Traveling Tav’s ultimate packing list.
You can click the darker text to open up a new page with the highlighted product AND you can listen to our podcast about packing advice (and all our other destinations) here.
1//Kelty Redwing 50L – Kenny’s backpack. This size fits within the maximum space requirements on all of the budget airlines we used within Europe. On some airlines, like RyanAir, we had to put it on the a la carte tray but this was rare. We have never paid for any baggage fees anywhere we’ve been in Europe or anywhere we travel for that matter.
* The link above is for the newer model of this backpack, this link is for the version that Kenny has. They’re relatively the same, just a couple minor adjustments – either one would be a great choice.
2//Kelty Redwing 40L – Sadie’s backpack. I chose this size and this brand of backpack for two reasons. One, it is specifically built for a women’s body and frame. Two, it can be a top loading or a front loading backpack, as is Kenny’s. This means you don’t have to pull everything out of it when you need something at the bottom and it really makes packing your bag easier in general.
3//Ebags Packing cubes – Can’t say enough how LIFESAVING these babies are. They are hands down our favorite organization tool and you simply cannot backpack without them. Our favorite brand is Ebags that we’ve bought directly from their site, but you can find some good ones on Amazon as well. We use the size Medium since they fit the best in our backpacks, two in the 40L and three in the 50L. I also use a small packing cube on top of my two other packing cubes with my socks, underwear, bras, and swimsuits. It logistically just fits better into my bag and that way I don’t have to compromise other clothing items due to space.
4//Microfiber travel towels – These towels have come in handy so much more than we ever thought. They are seriously one of the most practical and important travel items. They are quick drying, compact, and efficient. We both have the largest size available, an XL and I also bring a wash cloth size in our bathroom bag to wash my face.
5//Daypack – We’re big advocates on having a daypack when you’re backpacking. It gives you the option on taking your daily necessities out exploring so you can leave your backpack at home. We love the compact one from REI because it’s the perfect size, folds into itself, and easy to wipe down if it gets dirty. The model that we have has since been upgraded to this travel pack, which now has a main zippered pocket instead of a cinch.
6//Umbrella – We always travel with an umbrella because you never know when a rain cloud will spontaneously find you. Especially if you’re a Tavener! It’s always good to prepared just in case and they make some really useful compact ones that size space.
7//Sporks – These suckers have come in handy more than we ever thought, especially on our first Europe trip. We were making pbj’s for lunch almost everyday so no matter where we were, we could make them. We’ve also added them to our nature backpacking kit because they’re just so useful.
8//Plug adapter – These are especially important when visiting a different country. Most other countries do not have the same electrical outlet shape as in the US so you’ll need the plug converter to get a charge. Most plugs are equipped with a power converter so you won’t short out your cord since some other countries run on different power than in the states. However, this doesn’t mean you need to buy a power converter, we have never had a problem with anything blowing up or shorting out in another country.
9//Travel water bottle – Don’t ever let yourself get dehydrated or pay for bottled water! Most* countries that we’ve been to (especially Europe) really love when you reuse bottles. A lot of Europe has public water filling stations around the city to make it easy and accessible to get clean and free water. Some good options for bottles can be found at TJ Maxx or Amazon and try to look for one with a clip for easy transportation when not in use. Some other options are the collapsable bottles from Que or my new favorite collapsible travel mug from Stojo!
10//Lock – This will come in handy for when you’re traveling by train or staying in hostels. We mainly use our lock for the hostel lockers or the train station lockers if we have to leave our bag somewhere for any number of time. We don’t necessarily use the lock on our actual backpack, although we have done this if we have to put our bag somewhere away from our person on a train or plane.
11//Rechargeable battery bank – This would be something I’d be more likely to put in my purse but I’ll list it here because I think it’s a good travel tool. These little babies can be a lifesaver if you’re in a pinch and there’s no plug in site to charge your phone. They usually don’t take up much space and can be thrown in your daypack, just in case.
12//Travelon travel purse – I LOVE the Travelon brand. I think they make some of the best travel bags and have recently come out with way cuter products. The first Europe trip I took the Travelon Signature Shoulder bag and I used it until I literally wore it out. The second trip I took the Travelon Heritage Crossbody bag and it is now the only purse I choose to travel with. All of the Travelon bags are RFID blocking and the two bags I have are made with anti-cut straps. Another great feature of the Heritage is that the zippers lock for even more added security. It’s stylish, secure, and the perfect size in my opinion!
13//Camera – We have shopped around a lot for a good travel camera. Our first Europe trip, we borrowed my mom’s Nikon 1 J1 and loved the flexibility we had with it. It was compact enough to fit in my purse but didn’t compromise on the image quality. Before our second Europe trip we bought our own Sony Alpha 6000. It has been the most ideal travel camera! We took the standard lens with us and have loved all the images from that trip. We bought another lens after we came home and a smaller camera bag, but we don’t mind just taking it by itself too.
14//Flashlight – We think it’s a good idea to keep a small Maglite flashlight (cause they’re the best) or even a small headlight in your pack. These can be really useful when staying in a hostel and all your bunk mates have gone to bed. Another good item along with that would be a book light if you’re a reader and need a light on the go!
Bathroom Bag Essentials
We’ve experimented with a couple different styles of bathroom bags during our travels. We’ll link the one we have below but here are some things we think need to be included in any bathroom bag. These are things outside of just your standard shampoo and conditioner but obviously those are important too! You can find all the other things we put into our quart sized bags on our first packing post.
1//Bathroom bag – We have tried out two different styles of bathroom bags. The fold up shower roll kind and more of the hanging fold-over kind. We’ve decided that although the shower roll is a bit more compact, we like the fold-over bag more. Our toiletries fit better in the fold-over bag in a more convenient way. It’s just more of a preference since you can make both kinds fit in your backpack.
2//Downy wrinkle spray – This one might sound silly, but it’s extremely useful when you don’t always have the time to find a laundromat. You can look for these in the travel section of just about any store or DIY your own, but make sure you have one!
3//Clothesline + drain stopper – We didn’t think the clothesline was going to be a necessity, but we actually have used it a lot. The velcro straps are convenient for hanging just about anywhere and the suction cups allow for use in a bathroom. The drain stopper is another helpful bathroom tool, especially when you need to quickly wash some clothes in the sink and need to hold that hot water in. Majority of the hostels we’ve stayed in abroad do not have a drain stopper so this was a really important item.
4//Dr. Bronner’s unscented castile soap – This might seem like it would just be another soap to put in with your shampoo and conditioner, but it is not. For us, it doubles as a body wash and laundry soap! That means we don’t have to bring laundry soap packets since it’s already in our bag and it gets our clothes just as clean.
5//Wet wipes – We keep a pack of wet wipes in our bathroom bag, purse, and backpacks. They take up very little space but are so useful!
6//Medicine kit – We always keep a travel sized first aid kit in our bag but on top of that we made a little medicine bag as well. This includes things like ibuprofen, allergy pills, echinacea, Emergen-C, cough drops, etc. Although these are all these you can buy while traveling, we always think they’re good to have on hand in case you happen to be in a pinch.
1//Batteries – Depending on what kind of gadgets you are bringing, extra batteries might be really important. We bring two of AA and AAA, just in case!
2//Ziploc bags + grocery bags – We usually bring a few sandwich, quart, and gallon sized Ziploc baggies when traveling. This becomes especially helpful if your carry-on quart sized bag leaks or breaks or if you need to contain anything else along the way. The garbage bags are great to hold wet/dirty clothes or muddy/wet shoes at the bottom of your bag.
Favorite Travel Clothes + Shoes
1//Mountain Hardwear men’s rain jacket – This is the rain jacket that Kenny has traveled with for years. It has a high waterproof rating and is compact enough to roll up and fit in a small space. Another one of his travel jacket favorites is from Howler. They make very nice, durable men’s travel and outdoor wear.
2//Kenny’s shoe picks – The first month in Europe, Kenny took a pair of Teva’s, similar to the Arrowood model. They don’t technically make the model that Kenny himself had, but this is just about the same shoe. Teva’s are the perfect walking shoes for all types of terrain and weather. They are waterproof and stylish enough to fit in a little bit while traveling. The second month in Europe he took these New Balance 574. Technically, they aren’t waterproof but still worked out great for rain, hiking, and walking 10+ miles a day.
3//Sadie’s shoe picks – I took a pair of Ahnu Taraval‘s on our second Europe trip and loved them! I was choosing between these and my second pick, the Merrell Eventyr Bluff. Both are waterproof, breathable, and extremely comfortable for walking long distances. I didn’t have any problems with weather in my Ahnu’s and would definitely recommend for spring/summer/fall weather.
Some other good brands for travel clothes and accessories that we love are Smartwool, Avalanche, Terramar, Lole, ExOfficio, REI, and Prana!
Hope you guys find this guide useful, let us your favorite travel essentials in the comments below!
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Dominic SmithDecember 10, 2018 at 9:38 am
Yayyy! I’m so happy that traveling is cheap.. kidding. ALL THE THINGS!!!!! I like buying new things, but it’s still slightly overwhelming. Thanks for taking the time to write this out, lady!
travelingtavenersDecember 10, 2018 at 12:50 pm
This one was written with the Smith’s in mind! Thanks for motivating me to get it up! 🙂
Keely SmithFebruary 10, 2019 at 4:35 pm
I am finally now reading this! Thanks, Sades for putting so much work into this! Definitely taking notes for our italy trip 🙂
Donovan MattoleDecember 11, 2018 at 5:46 am
Awesome and practical list! Just noted down four things for my daughter for Christmas (#’s 3, 4, 5, 10, 12 & rain jacket)…it’s going to be a REI Christmas in prep for our Dad/Daughter Adventure in Greece in March!
travelingtavenersDecember 20, 2018 at 1:18 pm
Yay! I hope that they all come in handy!! So so excited for yall’s trip, sounds like such a blast! Greece is on our list!