European Backpacking: How to Pack
Planning for a big, multi-country backpacking tour of Europe? This is a logistical mess with huge rewards and I highly encourage it. You should be very careful to pack well and intentionally so that you can be a prepared and self-sufficient traveler. It is important to bring a limited amount of necessary items and avoid over-packing. Most things you will need, you can get abroad. Keep it lightweight, as in under 25lbs ideally. This way you can always carry on your bag at airports, and you won’t easily tire when exploring new places.
I compiled this list based on my own experiences in both European and wilderness backpacking, and from my observations and mistakes. This list may not work for everyone, and consider the details of your particular trip.
Your Pack. This is going to be the carrier of everything you own for your trip. It is going to be on your back carried through train stations, city streets, and airports. It is important to have a pack that is big enough to carry everything, but not too big to be a major burden. I recommend getting a backpacking style pack that is between 30-45L. I specify this size range so that your pack is small enough to be carried on a plane, or stowed away as train luggage, but still larger than your average backpack. For comfort purposes, it is essential to have a hipbelt and sternum strap, as well as nice padding. The Osprey Kestral/Kyte are highly recommended for their comfort and quality design.
Clothes. Clothes are the easiest thing to over pack, and therefore can be the bulk of the weight and volume of your pack. Keep it minimal. Consider that you’re not going to have the opportunity for laundry often, and that it will cost money each time you do. You’ll likely do laundry once or twice per week. Bring clothes that you can wear often without washing, and do not easily wrinkle. Bring several pairs of synthetic underwear that you can easily wash in a sink and will dry quickly, such as the brand Exofficio. Bring 4-5 pairs of moisture wicking, anti-microbial socks. Either Darn Tough, Point 6 or Smartwool brands work well. I do recommend bringing one outfit that makes you feel nice, because you’re going to want to go out and don’t always want to wear your dirty jeans or pseudo hiking clothes. My favorite brand for flattering adventure clothes is prAna. They make durable, flattering clothes in wool, acrylic, and other materials that are good for not washing every day.
Clothes Breakdown (subject to modification):
- 2 pairs of pants.
- 3-4 shirts.
- 4-5 pairs of synthetic underwear.
- 4-5 wool/synthetic socks.
- Warm layers. Season/place dependent.
- Comfortable pants/shorts for hostel chilling.
- Bathing Suit.
- One nice outfit. Make it versatile and adaptable to items you already have.
Rain Gear. It’s going to rain sometimes, make sure you have a pack cover, and a quality rain jacket.
Re-usable Charger. I recommend Goal Zero products for recharging your phone, camera or other electronics. These chargers work by first being charged via USB, and also have a solar charger option. Then you can plug your device directly into the charger and charge without having to plug in to an outlet.
International Charger Adapter. Mainland Europe uses different electronic plugs than the U.S. Great Britain uses different plugs than mainland Europe. You can buy international charge converters so that you can plug into a variety of outlets. Buy specifically for your trip. I recommend bringing this item so that you can use it immediately upon arrival. I also recommend buying more than one.
Travel Pillow. You’re going to be riding a lot of trains, buses, metros and planes often on little sleep and at weird hours. You’re going to want to sleep. I recommend the Sea-to-Summit Aeros Travel pillow because it packs down really small and is easy to inflate/deflate.
Lightweight Sleeping Bag/Liner. If you are planning on staying in hotels or hostels, you will usually have linens provided. However, if you are couchsurfing you may not, or if you want to spontaneously camp on the beach, you should bring your own sleeping bag. I recommend the Sea-to-Summit Traveler because it is super lightweight goose-down and packs down smaller than a Nalgene water bottle. Another option is a sleeping bag liner, such as the Sea-to-Summit liner.
Comfortable shoes. You’re going to be walking a lot. Bring sensible shoes. Bring a second pair of shoes for hanging out in your hotel/hostel/airbnb/etc or perhaps a pair to shower with. Flip flops are ideal because they are lightweight and don’t take up too much volume.
Journal. This is a unique, potentially life altering experience. You’re going to want to record your new thoughts, perspectives and experiences and my personal favorite medium is via journal writing. Bring a pen, too.
Padlock. You’ll want to ensure the safety of your belongings while away for the day. Hostels usually provide lockers but not always locks.
A small daypack. I always pack a smaller backpack (a purse also works) inside of my large backpack, so that I can carry essentials with me through the day without lugging everything I have. This includes: water bottle, snacks, journal, map, camera, rain gear, phone, wallet, passport, and reusable charger.
Quick Dry Towel. You usually have to pay for towels, so bring your own quick drying packable towel!
Headlamp/Small Flashlight. Unless your phone has this capability. This is most useful if you come to your resting place for the night late, and don’t want to wake up roommates.
Toothbrush cover. Keep it clean, y’all.
Ziplock Bags. These little things are extremely useful. They can be used to store wet items, extra food and things that are prone to spilling. I also recommend sealing your important documents in ziplock bags to avoid destruction via water.
Backpacking Utensils. These are useful if you’re trying to eat on a budget. You can buy groceries at a store and eat in a nearby park.
Photocopies of your important documents. Photocopy your passport just in case.
Duct tape. It’s useful to wrap some duct tape around your water bottle, because it can be used for a large variety of purposes.
Paracord. This can be used as a clothes line for drying wet clothes, or many other random, useful purposes.
Toiletries. Keep it simple: use Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap as your shampoo, body wash and laundry detergent. Do use deodorant and toothpaste, please. Baby wipes are extremely useful in making you feel clean despite not showering for a week. Pack your toiletries in a small bag that can hang, because space is very limited and you don’t want to put your toiletries on the floor of your hostel bathroom. Ladies, I recommend a cute headband for when you haven’t showered in days. Bring small, travel versions of your items. However, you can buy almost everything abroad, so unless you’re very brand loyal, consider not bringing toiletries over the pond.
Headphones/Music. This is most useful on that long train ride. I like to put on my headphones and stare out the window and pretend I’m in a music video.
Space. Leave plenty of space in your bag because you will be leaving with more than you came with. Be mindful not to buy too many souvenirs, it’s a trap!
Here are some items I commonly see people packing that you should NOT bring:
- A Knife/Multi-tool. This will be taken away from you at airport security.
- Hair dryer. Even with a charge convertor, it will blow up.
- Lots of books. A small paperback is fine, but save the weight and be more present.
- A heavy guide book. Write down the important information. You can usually get free maps at your location, and can recycle them afterwards to save weight and space.
- Selfie Stick. Please just don’t.