Backpacking tips- for the physical act of packing your travel pack- are published in almost every backpacking website and travel blog, so by no means do we think this is the definitive or authoritative guide. BUT, if you happen to be traveling through South America, we think these tips are pretty valuable due to our personal experience. Read on to learn more about backpacker Sam’s trip and what his experience taught him about packing when you’re constantly on the go.
SAM’S EXPERIENCE: (from Sam) My wife and I recently backpacked through South America for eight weeks. With only a rough outline of our trip planned in advance, it was difficult to know what to bring. Below, a few tips we learned from the experience.
Eagle Creek Packing Cubes
We packed our clothes by rolling up each garment into these compact cubes. They’re made of a lightweight polyester blend and feature a zippered, sheer top so you can see inside the cube. When your shirts, pants, and undergarments are sorted into these cubes, it makes it easier to find things in your pack. A pack of three cubes with zippers cost around $26, and they’ll last for many years.
Medical Aid Kit
The last thing you want while traveling is to get sick, but it happens. Eating different foods, drinking different water, and being exposed to different allergens and chemicals in the air can be tough on your body. While it may take up precious space in your pack, bringing a stocked medical aid kit is wise. (I promise, you’ll be glad you brought the sleeping pills when you get stuck on a long bus ride next to a load snorer!) In addition to the usual over-the-counter meds (Ibuprofen, Tylenol, Benadryl, Tums, Pepto, and allergy pills), we also brought a few prescription drugs. The travel clinic recommended that we bring Azithromycin for bacterial infections such as skin or ear infection, Ciproflaxin for bladder infections and UTIs, Doxycycline for malaria prevention, and a sleeping pill like Ambien or Trazodone. We also packed band-aids, gauze pads, medical tape, and Neosporin for cuts and blisters as well as lots of sunscreen, bug spray and vitamins.
We were so thankful to have these while traveling in the hot and humid climates of Argentina, Chile and Peru. We used Wet Ones antibacterial wipes for our legs and arms after hiking or biking, and L.A. Fresh wipes for our faces when we had overnight bus rides or flights. These wipes are cheap, compact, and provide relief between showers!
There are lots of effective options for water purification, and these systems can help you save on bottled water. We opted for water purification drops, which you can add to any filtered water to make it potable. The MSR SweetWater Purifier drops we bought at REI were cheap (around $15 for a 2 oz. bottle) and very easy to use. Only downside? The resulting water makes your teeth sensitive.
Because you never know when you might need a fork or spoon while you’re on-the-go.
A MUST no matter the destination. Being wet is no fun, and most rain jackets pack down to almost nothing. The North Face Venture Jacket is an excellent option, and they offer both men’s and women’s sizes.
My wife insisted on buying these before we traveled, fearing bed bugs at hostels. Most of the places we stayed were clean enough, but sleeping on top of these gave us peace of mind. The Hammock Bliss silk sleep sack was comfortable, breathable, and compact.
Jewelry, Watches, Purses & Designer Clothing
Leave this stuff at home! Having expensive items with you or on you while traveling makes you stick out (and potentially, makes you a target for pickpocketing) so it’s best to leave these behind while backpacking. I brought a cheap pair of sunglasses that I wouldn’t be upset to lose. My wife left her wedding ring at home with a good friend, and instead wore a simple silver band on her ring finger. She also brought a plain, small purse instead of the designer bag she carries in the States. Traveling with these items would have caused unnecessary anxiety.
You Don’t Need Much
Here’s a list of what my wife and I packed on our two month trip. We only did laundry a few times, and while I did get tired of wearing the same stuff, it was much better to have room for gifts and souvenirs in my pack than to be weighed down by too many clothes.
Contents of Sam’s Pack
– 1 cotton tank top
– 2 cotton t-shirts
– 3 lightweight collared shirts
– 2 athletic shirts
– 2 pairs athletic shorts
– 3 long sleeve shirts (technical shirt, henley, half-zip sweater)
– 1 North Face raincoat
– 1 pair of jeans
– 2 pairs of shorts
– Baseball cap
– Swim Trunks
– Warm hat and gloves
– 4 pairs of shoes, packed in plastic bags (flip flops, Nike Frees, Toms & Cole Haan leather boots)
– Lots of underwear and socks
– Cheap sunglasses
– Sleep sacks & waterproof covers for our packs
-Quick dry towels and wash cloths
Contents of My Wife’s Pack
– 5 tank tops (3 cotton & 2 athletic)
– 1 cotton t-shirt
– 2 pairs athletic pants (Athleta jogging pants & Lululemon leggings)
– 1 pair of jeans
– 4 long sleeves (technical shirt, lightweight sweater, cardigan & button down)
– 2 coats (quilted half zip, North Face raincoat)
– 2 dresses (maxi, black Athleta technical shift)
– 2 pairs of shorts (Patagonia cotton chinos, running shorts)
– 1 cotton skirt
– Colorful scarf & a few pieces of costume jewelry
– Sun hat, swim suit & sarong
– Warm hat & gloves
– 4 pairs of shoes, packed in plastic bags (flip flops, Nike Frees, Merrell walking shoes & cute sandals)
– a bajillion pairs of underwear and socks; 4 bras (2 sports bras, strapless & everyday)
– Cheap sunglasses