My life in a backpack – what to pack for a short backpacking trip

After my first backpacking trip in Thailand, I was convinced that I had packed too much. With a minimalist approach, I worked on swapping out my existing backpacking gear with more compact and portable options, testing new things and removing non-essential ones along the way in each backpacking trip.

A short trip for me is any trip ranging from 1 week to 4 weeks and I would pack the same. Tomorrow I will be on a 5-day (really short!) backpacking trip in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and here is what I brought.

Backpacks

I can’t stress enough how important it is to have a comfortable backpack. Not only does it need to be able to accommodate everything that you are bringing, it needs to fit you and your body such that you can comfortably carry your backpack and walk for a long period of time.

My backpack choice for a short trip is the Deuter ACT Trail 24 which I bought during my backpacking trip in Germany. I made the purchase after trying on several backpacks of various brands to determine which is the most comfortable backpack for my body and I encourage you to do the same as well. Deuter is a very underrated brand in Singapore because they do very little marketing but because of that, their backpacks are more affordable when compared to other brands. They also have backpacks specially designed for female travellers as well.

Most travellers carry a smaller daypack in front of them to store all their valuables but I opted for a cotton batik sling bag (which I bought in Bali for less than 5 dollars) for a few reasons:

  1. The sling bag is compact so I can keep it in my backpack when I am not using it.
  2. I can easily slide the sling bag to the front of my body when I am in crowded places to prevent theft.
  3. I sling carry my camera the same way with a Sun Sniper Compact Steel and Bear Black Strap so I usually hide my camera from sight by just pocketing it in the sling bag.

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Clothes

When I did my first backpacking trip, it was all cotton t-shirts and jeans which was really comfortable, but also takes a really long time to dry. Since then, I swapped the cotton clothes out with polyester clothes. On the contrary from other travellers, I bring undershirts with me so that I don’t have to wash my shirts everyday. I also keep a pair of jeans for times when I need to look a bit more dressy. Bear in mind that I tend to wash my clothes on a daily basis. If you prefer to accumulate a bulk of clothes and send them to the laundry, double the number of clothes in my packing list.

  • 3 x Uniqlo Airism undershirts (super light, super comfortable and easy to wash)
  • 1 x long sleeve shirt
  • 2 x short sleeve shirts
  • 1 x merino wool t-shirt
  • 1 x denim jeans
  • 1 x trousers with zips to convert into shorts (The North Face Mens Paramount Peak Convertible)
  • 1 x shorts
  • 3 x Uniqlo Airism underwears (dries really quick!)
  • 1 x toe socks (I only bring one pair when I foresee wearing my flip flops more often)

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Toiletries

For short trips, I usually bring a bath towel, face towel (optional), and small bottles of toiletries. For developing countries, I may even leave out all the toiletries because basic soap and shampoo are cheaply available, and even sold in sachet packets. I choose to use microfiber towels as they dry very quickly.

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Footwear

Travelling with a comfortable pair of shoes is the key to a wonderful travel experience. As much as possible, I prefer to travel by foot whenever I can so a good pair of walking shoes can make or break my trip. I bought my pair of Merrell Refuge Pro hiking shoes during a cheap sale in a local sports store. They are very comfortable and served me well for all my trips.

If you have read my article about travel fitness, you would know that I also bring along a pair of sports shoes to exercise during my travels. As I am into barefoot running, I pack a pair of light and compact Vibram Komodo Sport in my backpack. I would have preferred a pair of black Vibram KSOs as they can serve as an alternate pair of shoes if my hiking shoes breaks in the middle of a trip. Still waiting for that sale.

My choice of sandal is a pair of Crocs flip flops. They are great in the water and mold to the shape of your feet after regular usage. I have used my Crocs flip flops for all my trips to date and they still work great!

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Technology

I’m still experimenting with the right list of electronic gadgets for my backpack. My current list of gadgets include:

  • Samsung Chromebook (still evaluating if this is the right laptop for travels)
  • Asus Nexus 7
  • Sony NEX-5 (I will be bringing the Sony NEX-6 on my Vietnam trip for a review)
  • New Trent iCarrier IMP120D (12000mAh power bank)
  • BlackBerry Z10 smartphone
  • Garmin eTrex 20

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Optional items

Here’s where things get a little interesting. Depending on where I am going, I may bring additional items.

  • Platypus soft bottle (so that I have water with me all the time)
  • Lock & Lock food container (to carry some food with me so that I don’t have to buy food in touristy places)
  • The North Face RDT Rain Jacket windproof rain jacket
  • Sunglasses
  • Notebook and pen
  • Combination pad lock for hostel lockers
  • Leatherman Wave multi-tool (when I am flying with check-in luggage)
  • Garmin Forerunner 210 (for running exercises during the trip)
  • Fitbit Flex (to track my fitness and sleep habits)
  • Universal travel adapter

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Is this the definitive packing list for you? Definitely not. What works for me may not necessary work for you. But I do hope that this article gives you a perspective on creating your ideal packing list. If you want to bring more shirts, just do it. Not a fan of a tablet? Don’t pack that for your trip.

What is your packing list like? Share them with me in the comments below.

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