What every woman needs to consider when going backpacking…
Heading away for the first time backpacking was a bit daunting for me. How is it possible to pack everything you might need into a pack you can carry on your back? With this in the back of my mind, I put a fair amount of time into researching what other people thought were essential items to carry. After completing just over four months in southeast Asia, I think my first attempt at packing a backpack went well. These are the things that I think are important to consider when backpacking.
In hindsight, there are a few extra things worth considering when picking a bag. These are only things I have picked up along the way and sometimes personal experience is the only way to learn these things. I bought a Kathmandu 65L Entrada bag, which came with a 15L day pack. The sales assistants at Kathmandu were really helpful and suggested I pack the bag before returning to get them to fit it properly.
- The whole main section unzips, which means when I lie the bag down I can easily access everything.
- On the inside of the front section is a mesh zip-up part that’s perfect to put small bits and pieces in.
- The shoulder and hip straps are well padded.
- The whole bag locks easily with 2 padlocks. This is pretty important, while some bags have multiple sections that might be handy in other regards; those bags become a nightmare to lock. Not only does it mean people can easily steal things, but it also makes it easy to plant things in your bag too.
- There is a shoe section at the bottom. It’s been the perfect place to keep my hiking boots.
- The shoulder and hip straps have a cover so they pack away easily when travelling.
- The bag is only just long enough in the body for me. I’m quite tall and hadn’t even considered the bag wouldn’t be long enough. It means I take a lot more weight through my shoulders, as the hip belt isn’t low enough.
- The bag is probably too big. I could have easily gotten away with a smaller bag, which would have been lighter too.
What I have in my daypack varies depending on what we are doing. If we are just wandering around a city, Jimmy usually just carries a bag with his camera gear and I’ll chuck in a small first aid kit, toilet paper and the spot gen3 (which I’ll explain later). If we are heading a bit further afield I usually carry the first aide kit, anti-bacterial wet wipes, toilet paper, a dry bag, iPhone (with an international sim), our Passports, spot gen3, spare passport photos, credit/travel cards, and cash. If we are travelling I’ll also have facial wipes, an inflatable neck pillow, sometimes a change of clothes, my iPad and keyboard, iPod and camera.
After reading a bit about what everyone else packs, I went through and carefully selected what I thought would be good clothing options. This first selection was hilariously large and I culled clothes until I had a more reasonable amount. Things to remember when packing are select different things that can all mix and match. No point in carrying a t-shirt that only matches one pair of pants and vice versa. Another important consideration is how often you want to be doing washing. I can get away with washing every 7-10 days, which is definitely a bonus to carrying a bit extra. Lastly, make sure you have clothes to wear if you plan on visiting temples. Most places of religious importance will require women to cover their knees and shoulders. With this in mind, I have the following;
- 5 T-Shirts (one with ¾ sleeves)
- 6 Singlets
- 4 pairs of shorts
- 2 pairs ¾ tights, 1 pair full length tights
- 2 pairs long black pants
- 1 pair lightweight, patterned full length pants
- 2 zip-up hoodies
- 1 heavy duty rain coat
- 1 feather-down jacket
- Shoes: hiking boots, running shoes, and jandels (which is what we call thongs or flip flops in New Zealand).
I’ve managed well with what I have and after four months of the same small selection I’m not sure if the clothes should be burnt or framed. My only faux pas was packing 4 white-stripped shirts (a singlet, 2 t-shirts and a ¾ sleeved t-shirt). They are all slightly different but look pretty similar in photos.
Most importantly when packing your clothes, make sure you get packing cells. They are basically little zip up cubes to put your clothes etcetera in. We got ours from Kathmandu but there are several different places to get them from. It makes packing much easier and also means you can get to the bottom of the bag without messing everything up. Make sure you get the right size; I have two medium (one with socks, undies and bras, the other with clothes) and one large (for bulky jumpers, and my warmer clothes) that fit perfectly into my bag.
This was another place I struggled to limit what I packed. I have used Clinique skin care products for a long time and this was something I was not willing to compromise on. I use a facial cleanser, moisturiser, day/night cream and an eye cream. I also carry shampoo with toner (in an attempt to maintain some of the blonde), conditioner and a leave in conditioner. The leave in conditioner was great, the water is much harsher than at home and really dried out my hair. I also have moisturiser, sunblock (50+) for body and face, zinc, tooth brush/paste, deodorant and a few bits of makeup (which I’ve barely used). Another important note, in South East Asia it’s can be difficult to get certain sanitary products (tampons especially), so it can be easier to carry what you think you might need.
Medical Kit and Vaccinations
This was something I put a lot of time and effort into and was quite costly (about $250-$300 AUD on the medical kit and $600 on vaccinations). While I know most things can be bought along the way, I wanted to stick with the medications I knew. Even if the brand is the same, sometimes active ingredients can vary from country to country depending on what legal restrictions there are. Also, if you suddenly get sick it’s a lot easier to have things on hand rather than having to search for a pharmacy. This is what I opted to carry after a lengthy discussion with my doctor, I am not an expert so please understand what I chose to carry was my personal decision. I would recommend discussing travel health with your own doctor well before you travel.
Medical Kit: I have two, one in my big pack with an assortment of medications and another we take with us each day with things we might need while we are on the go.
- Day Bag: Gloves, scissors, leatherman multi-tool, hand sanitiser, mosquito repellent with DEET, Paracetamol, throat lozenges, Mobic (anti-inflammatory), band aids, blister patches, waterproof dressings, steri-strips, strapping tape (both rigid and kinesiotape), flixomul, micropore tape, antiseptic cream, anti-itch cream (for insect bites and skin irritations), and otrivin.
- Backpack: Gastrolyte tablets (for electrolyte replacement), immodium, buscopan, water purification tablets, maxalon (anti-nausea), cold and flu tablets, anti-histamine, sinus relief, mobic, voltaren (anti-inflammatory), paracetamol, aspirin, keflex (antibiotic), waterproof dressings, alcohol swabs, gauze, micropore tape, steri-strips and other basic wound dressings.
It seems like a lot but if you take everything out of the boxes it all fits nicely into a lunchbox sized container. If you follow the same pattern make sure you keep the parts that explain what each medication is for and the correct dosage. We have used nearly everything at least once and having it all accessible has been extremely beneficial. A couple of things I have a prescription for, so I would recommend discussing your medical kit with your doctor.
Vaccinations: This will vary from person to person. The main things we were concerned about were Hepatitis A and B, Tetanus, Typhoid, Polio, MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella), Yellow Fever, Diphtheria, Japanese Encephalitis and Rabies. It’s important to have a chat to your doctor about these well before you travel – some need 3-4 doses over a couple of months. Live vaccinations (where the virus is injected live into the body) cannot be given at the same time so this is something else to take into consideration. I had a blood test to check my resistance to Hepatitis and Rubella (and had immunity against both) and in discussions with my GP decided against having the rabies injections. This was mainly because there is minimal difference to the post-exposure treatment regardless of whether you have pre-exposure vaccinations or not. Jimmy needed a Hepatitis booster and also decided to have the pre-exposure Rabies vaccinations. We both also had Tetanus, Diphtheria, Typhoid, Japanese Encephalitis and Yellow Fever. Malaria prophylaxis was another interesting discussion. It comes down to personal choice and how your body reacts to taking antibiotics long term.
In my opinion this is all pretty important. I did a fair amount of research and then discussed the vaccinations at length with my doctor. I would recommend each person considering travelling does the same. I am not an expert on travel medicine so please use this as a guide only and seek advice from a qualified medical professional.
We have tried to keep our electronics to minimum. What we have is definitely more than most but we use everything nearly everyday. Between us we have:
- An iPhone 5 with an international sim. In hindsight it may have been easier to buy a local sim card in each country we’ve visited, they are quite cheap and the data plans are great. We hardly use the sim card, opting instead to use Wi-Fi (which is everywhere, including some buses), which has worked well for us.
- An iPod Nano. You will need something to listen to for the bus trips, especially the ones that blast local music.
- An iPad with a keyboard that connects via Bluetooth. This is what I use to write on. I really like the set up and it is the perfect alternative to a laptop (much lighter too). If you are taking an iPad I would definitely recommend looking into taking a keyboard with you as well.
- Jimmy has a MacBook that he uses to process his photos and to update the blog.
- We have two Nikon cameras (which are really both Jimmy’s) and a GoPro.
- Lastly, we have a Spot Gen3, which was a suggestion (and generous gift) from dad. It is basically a GPS locater that allows you to send programmed messages to up to 10 saved contacts. It also has an SOS function that guarantees emergency services will reach you within 20minutes of activating the signal. We carry this with us at all times.
Extra bits and pieces
There are a few other bits and pieces I carry that make life a bit easier, while they are all little things they make a big difference.
- Universal sink plug. This is the least glamorous part of travel, getting your washing done. I occasionally do a bit of hand washing in the sink when we are running low on essentials.
- Scissors are incredibly helpful and well worth carrying. Just remember not to have them in your carry-on luggage if your flying.
- A small multi-tool. While I haven’t used mine often, it has been extremely beneficial on the occasions we have needed it.
- Zip lock bags. I packed about 10 of each of the small snack size, sandwich size and a large size. Great for keeping things waterproof, carrying food and other things like washing powder.
- Dry bags and pack covers. We have been lucky enough to have very few rainy days while we’ve been travelling (so far), but we have seatosummit waterproof pack covers for our big packs and small water resistant seatosummit dry bags for the electronics in our day packs.
- Sleeping bag liners. We don’t carry sleeping bags, instead opting for a compact silk sleeping bag liner. We don’t use them all the time but they have been great for the more dodgy places we have stayed.
- I also have pillowslips in case I feel the pillow is so bad it needs an extra cover or in case there isn’t a pillow. This is the only thing I haven’t used yet, which is probably a good thing.
I know I have over packed and could probably manage without quite a few things in my bag. Saying that, I have used everything (except the pillow slips) and have found my bag manageable. As you can imagine, my 65L bag is quite full and weighs about 15kg. At first, I found this really heavy and the straps were really uncomfortable on my shoulders. After a few months, the straps have softened up and I have hardened up a bit. The combined result means I am happy enough to carry the bag for a few kilometres (unless it is really hot). Basically, I have everything I need and want in my bag and I can carry it without concern. In the end, you have to be happy with what you have (or don’t have) and comfortable with the size and weight of your bag.