Backpacking is perfect for any gap year. Often cost-effective and flexible, you can go for days or weeks depending on what suits you. It’s also a life-changing experience where you can see the world and what it has to offer. But when it comes to actually backpacking, sometimes it’s a little difficult. However, don’t worry, as we have all the best tips and advice for how to pack your backpack, so that you can go and have a wonderful adventure.

What is backpacking?

How to pack a backpack for your gap year
Source: Unsplash

The dictionary definition of backpacking is a form of travel where you stay in cheap lodgings and have all your possessions in a backpack. Whilst those elements are key to backpacking, they are not the only elements which are important.

A backpacker isn’t just someone who lays around and walks from lodging to lodging. It’s also someone who loves adventure and is always looking for the next place to see. Backpacking is also cost-friendly so you can see the outdoors in a way not many people do, and it doesn’t cost so much. Often getting involved with local culture, a backpacker will appreciate the cultures around them more than visiting a large resort.

But what’s the difference between hiking and backpacking? Well, with hiking you can get outdoors but often you’ll be snug and warm in bed at night. Whereas with backpacking, you’ll need to sleep outdoors. Also with more gear, you’ll always be breaking a sweat.

What to pack in your backpack?

How to pack a backpack for your gap year?
Source: Unsplash

Choose your backpack

There are two factors you’ll want to consider when buying a backpack, in order to get the correct one. At this point, you’ll need to consider how long you are going, and the amount of physical exercise you’ll be doing.

Firstly, VOLUME is the first factor to consider. You’ll want your backpack to be big enough without weighing you down. Roughly, 45-65 litres is ideal for most trips, as this weighs – depending on the type of bag – which can weigh from 0.5kg to 2.5kg. This should fit most of your things for an overnight visit. If you are travelling for longer, then make sure to grab a bag with more volume.

Secondly, FIT is key to ensuring your backpack is comfortable on your back. Store employees can always help you make sure that your backpack fits properly, so ask them if you’re unsure when buying one. Here is a guide to making sure that your backpack fits by Outside Online. Furthermore, make sure you understand the different types of bags, for example, if it’s cushioned or not as this will affect how you pack your backpack.

Assembling your gear

Depending on what kind of trip you are taking then you may want to consider the types of gear you are taking. Weather and season can also affect this, so make sure you plan ahead and check for the weather. Camping and hiking trips will require more gear than travelling from city to city, however, both require at least some gear.

Here is a list of gear every backpacking trip needs:

  • Clothes
  • Water
  • Medicine
  • First-aid kit (big or small)
  • Toiletries and hygiene products
  • Maps and information pamphlets
  • Camping gear (such as a tent and stove)
  • Sleeping bag


For a more in-depth look at what to pack for a camping/hiking trip, check out this camping essentials checklist.

Prepare before you pack

Make sure you lay out all your gear in front of you. Sometimes you may have packed things you might not need or forgotten something. Visually seeing it all laid out in front of you can sometimes help jog your memory so you don’t forget anything.

How to pack a backpack

how to pack a backpack

Whilst not all these items are essential, here is the best way to pack your bag for your trip.


  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping clothes
  • spear pair of shoes or camp shoes

The core of the pack

  • Food stash (if needed)
  • Stove and cook kit
  • Water reservoir (or a bottle if you prefer)
  • Wrap items such as spare clothes around the heavier items in order to prevent shifting


  • Insulated jacket
  • Fleece jacket and trousers
  • Rain jacket
  • First-aid kit
  • Water filter or purifier
  • Toilet supplies

Accessory Pockets

  • Map, compass or GPS
  • Sunglasses and suncream
  • lip balm
  • Headlamp
  • Bug spray
  • Snacks
  • Water bottles
  • Rain cover
  • ID and cash/card

Tool Loops and Lash on Points

  • Trekking poles
  • Large sleeping pad
  • Camp stool or chair
  • Climbing rope

Additional Tips and Tricks

How to pack a backpack for your gap year?

  • Lift the bag by the haul loop usually located between the shoulder straps in order to stop the shoulder straps from wearing out.
  • If you’re carrying liquid fuel, then make sure the bottles are packed upright. The best place to put them is in the water bottle pockets on the sides of your backpack.
  • If travelling in wintery or cold conditions, be aware that your bag will be heavier. You’ll have more layers and also more food as your body burns more calories to keep you warm.
  • If travelling in an area with bears, make sure to have a bear canister (in some places it’s illegal not to), which is a canister which prevents bears from stealing your food.
  • Think about gap year travel insurance and whether you actually need it to cover your belongings.

Now that you know how to pack a backpack and ready to go! But where will you go? Here is our article on the best gap year ideas.

Last Updated on March 16, 2024