Packing for a Backpacking Trip, part II: Ridiculous vs Ridiculously Necessary

Have you ever, in the quest to pack light, left behind some of your favorite things? Telling yourself you don’t need it, it’s ridiculous, you removed your iPod and slippers from consideration and took off into the Great Unknown freed from those unnecessary luxuries. Well, I know I’ve done that. And I know I’ve regretted it. While you don’t want your luggage to become a hindrance on your trip, you also don’t want to spend three months wishing you had sweatpants.

Recently I wrote a post with some tips for beginners planning a wilderness backpacking trip. For this post, I’d like to share some tips for trips that involve spending time both experiencing culture in cities, and hugging trees in the forest. Here are lessons I’ve learned from combining the great outdoors with civilization all in one trip:

Ridiculously Necessary: Slippers. Really good slippers. Why? In a tent, they will save your feet from uncomfortably cold nights. In a city, they give you something cozy to wear around a hostel so you’re not always stuck in your damp shower flip flops or gross hiking boots.

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a hippie, so I think it's OK to wear Birkenstocks all the time.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a hippie, so I think it’s OK to wear Birkenstocks all the time.

Ridiculous: Too many pairs of shoes. Why? Because you won’t wear them. In an ideal world I pack hiking shoes/boots; slippers (duh); flip flops or sandals that can be worn around a campsite, in a shower, or around town; and possibly a nice-but-comfortable pair of flats that can be worn out to a bar or walking around town. If I need to cut something, I cut the flats and wear my sandals instead when I want to look nice. One thing I see often is people including, on top of all those shoes, running shoes– unless you’re a serious athlete, that is so not going to happen– and heels, which, just… no.

Ridiculously Necessary: A nice outfitSome of you may not care about this, but most of us want to look nice every now and then, or at least will end up in a situation where we cannot look/smell like total bums. So, one nice ensemble– which, yes, can include a pair of earrings or a stick of lipstick– is a good idea. Bonus points for fashion and function. I have a very cute black skirt I love to travel with. It doesn’t wrinkle, it dries quickly, and the best part? It is secretly a skort! I can wear it sailing, hiking, AND dancing. Now tell me, what could be better??

Taking a break from our tent in the woods to explore a small town in Michigan.
Taking a break from our tent in the woods to explore a small town in Michigan.

Ridiculous: Clothes that are too niceIf you really care about something getting torn, stained, or stolen, you probably shouldn’t bring it. If it wrinkles easily, needs to be dry-cleaned, or will take hours to dry… don’t bring it. If you can ONLY wear it with your super cute heels if a super cute guy at a super cool bar asks you to go to a super cool club where you can super dance……………… Don’t.

On a cross country ski trip, cotton is a bad idea... except for the times when you get cozy by the fire. Then you'll want it.
On a cross country ski trip, cotton is a bad idea… except for the times when you get cozy by the fire. Then you’ll want it.

Ridiculously Necessary: At least some cottonDon’t bring too many things that take too long to dry, but make sure you have at least some cotton. Why? Spending extended periods of time only wearing synthetics or wool can irritate your skin. It will also annoy you when you lay down in bed for the 40th night wearing a stupid dumb smelly running shirt. You will lay there and dream wistfully of your hoodie and sweatpants. You may cry yourself to sleep. I like to keep a cotton shirt around for those nights. And ladies, bring at least a pair or two of cotton or cotton-lined underwear.

Ridiculous: Denim. A lot of you will hate me for saying this, and if jeans are a staple for you and you cannot imagine life without them, then go forth and conquer Rome in your skinny jeans. But I will judge you. Why? Because they. take. for. eve. r. to. dry. They restrict movement, making them impractical for most outdoor activities, and if they get wet with salt water they REEK.

Ridiculously Necessary: A sports bra that doesn’t pancake youThis is not all about vanity– what woman wants to feel like she is always punishing herself with compression? When you’re really active compression is a godsend, but in town… not so much. And it’s silly to have to pack too many different types of bras, so, ta-da, check out Moving Comfort’s contoured sports bras! You are saved. You can thank me later.

Ridiculously Necessary: Baby wipes. When you don’t have access to a shower or just need to quickly freshen up, these things are a godsend. Plus they’re inexpensive and pack well. If you have sensitive skin, I recommend also carrying facial cleansing wipes. I like these badboys.

Ridiculously Necessary: Nail clippersWhy? Because you have nails and hopefully they grow pretty regularly. Unless you are a zombie. Also hangnails suck.

Ridiculous: Nail polish. Sorry, not sorry.

Ridiculously Necessary: An e-reader or tabletA kindle or a nook are the obvious choices, however I also recommend that serious travelers consider investing in an iPad or a similar tablet. Why? Tablets can be used as e-readers; they can be used to import, edit, and upload photos to social media; you can check email, update blogs, manage bank accounts, and stay connected; you can use them as music players; and, with iPads, you can text other iPhones and install apps to use the iPad as a phone… all in something the size of a small notebook. Get a good case and insurance to protect it.

Ridiculous: Bringing too many electronics/adaptersNo, you do not need an iPhone, iPod, kindle, laptop, and camera. You will be greatly inconvenienced and everyone at hostels will hate you when you attempt to singlehandedly occupy every single outlet in the damn place.

Ridiculously Necessary: a decent cameraIf you’re into photography, you will never regret bringing a real camera. Torn between the size and quality tradeoff between a convenient handheld digital and a bulky, high-quality  DSLR? Consider something like this: a compact camera with interchangeable lenses.

I could keep going with this list for a long time. But I’ll stop here. Hope you find it helpful! Leave your own advice below.

Happy packing,

Sarah

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