Monday, 18 July 2011

Getting into backpacking on a budget

Time for another guest post; this time from Simon Walsh for outdoor look

Congratulations, you’ve finally decided to take the plunge and go backpacking to see the world but now what? How do you get started, what sort of stuff will you need, is this stuff expensive?

Fear not, we are here to give you a beginner’s guide to backpacking, on a budget. We can’t vouch for sending you off to particular places; however we can give you tips and ideas on what sort of outdoor clothing and equipment you need to take with you and what you don’t need to take on your voyage.

It can be scary thinking about it for the first time. You’re used to being at home, with amenities and a huge array of clothing options… how are you going to carry all this stuff around? Quite simply you are not going to be able too, and tough choices need to be made.

Our beginners backpacking list goes something like this.

- 1 x Backpack

- 2 x T-Shirts (both quick drying, technical t-shirts)

- 1 x Long Sleeved Shirt

- 1 x Shorts

- 1 x Lightweight jacket

- 2 x Trousers

- 1 x Hat

- 3 x Underwear

- 3 x Pairs of socks

- 1 x Pair of shoes

- 1 x Sleeping bag

- 1 x Sleeping Mat

- 1 x Tent

- 1 x Stove

Now, everyone will be different as to how much they value each item, and you may think that that seems an astonishingly low amount of stuff to take, but it really is all your essentials. Remember that if you need another t-shirt or pair of shorts, they sell and make them abroad too, often much cheaper than here in the UK.

Now we will go through everything on the list, and tell you exactly what you need to look for, how much you should be spending if you’re on a budget.

Around 55 litres would be a generous size considering you’re a first-timer and you may not be quite so ready to be ruthless on the issue. Many people however go with even less space than that and get by absolutely fine. We really wouldn’t recommend taking any more than that however.

Also be aware that your backpack will get battered, bruised and broken. So choosing something durable will put you in good stead. Backpacks get rained on, get stood on, get dropped mainly.

To ensure your backpack is durable, look for one which is made predominantly from ripstop fabric. Ripstop is basically the interweaving of nylon through other materials such as cotton or polyester. It’s often used on motorcycle equipment and at the highest grade, it’s the material used for hot air balloons. This will keep your backpack and possessions in good condition through the toughest of conditions and challenges.

You can pick up a 55 litre ripstop backpack for around £50, although the smaller you go, the cheaper it will be, and also free up more cash for whilst you are away.

Now for t-shirts, and you’ll need to consider the material. It would be nice to have something hip and ultra fashionable all the time, but it’s simply not practical for most of the time spent backpacking. Remember, you’re seeing the world not on a catwalk. Function over fashion.

Look for garments labelled as ‘technical t-shirts’ as these will get you through all conditions. Quick to wash, quickly to dry and ready for all situations, a tech tee will be right up your street when it comes to backpacking.

One of these versatile t-shirts can be picked up for less than £10 in some places, and you can be sure they will last the course.

A long sleeved shirt is an absolute necessity to take the chill off on a night time, or simply smarten up a little if you’re out and about. You’ll also want to make sure the shirt is just the one colour in order to avoid unwanted attention from potential muggers or thieves.

More earthly colours are best too if you can find them. Tan, sand or stone work well to avoid unwanted mosquito bites and other insect attention!

You can pick up some great quality shirts like this for around £20-30 if you’re looking for quality, which you should be. Quality over quantity is a golden rule when it comes to gathering your things for backpacking.

Shorts & Trousers are also needed. One thing we must point out from the off however is do not pack denim jeans! These are wrong for backpacking on so many levels in that they weigh a ton in comparison to walking trousers, and have nowhere near as much versatility.

We’d highly recommend picking up a pair of lightweight walking trousers from a brand such as Craghoppers or Regatta Clothing, which will provide sun protection, be water repellent and be easy to wash and quick drying.

We’d also recommend for your shorts a pair of swimming shorts which can double as regular shorts during the day time, if you can find a suitable pair. If not, you’d be wise to opt for any other lightweight shorts.

As for a second pair of trousers, we’d strongly recommend some zip-off trousers, which can double as shorts. Adding the Craghoppers Basecamp Convertible trousers to your backpacking wardrobe would give you lots of versatility and not take up too much precious room in the bag.

These convertible trousers may cost around £40, but remember you are getting a top quality pair of trousers and shorts for that money.

A lightweight jacket will also be required for any undue rainstorms or simply for going out in at night time.

Polyamide is your best friend here, fabrics wise anyway, as it is water and windproof, yet also lightweight and breathable.

A good quality, smart jacket of this nature shouldn’t set you back more than about £30-35 for backpacking on a budget.

A sleeping bag can be necessary on some trips, but your best off reading a few reviews of where you’re going first. Often hostels and the like are not quite as nice as they make out on their own website, and a sleeping bag maybe required if you want to avoid the bedbugs, or simply stay warm!

Gelert are one of the leaders in producing lightweight, tough, comfortable sleeping bags, and you can’t go wrong with anything from the “X Treme Lite” range they produce. These bags keep you warm in the cold, and cold in the warm. Not to mention they pack away to virtually nothing, freeing plenty of space in your bag.

This great sleeping bag is even better when teamed with a sleeping mat, which can provide essential comfort in tough terrain.

There are several types of sleeping mat, from your standard foam ones to self inflating and fully inflatable airbeds. I find that the most effective for any sort of backpacking which will include a great deal of camping will be a self-inflating mat. These are thinner in most cases than an air bed, they can be purchased cheaply and are more easily packed than a rolled up foam mat.

Of course you’ll need a roof over your head too for this excursion, and a quick to assemble, lightweight tent will be very beneficial to those who are taking a more wild route around the globe.

One of the top products around at the moment is the Vango TBS Spirit 2001 Tent, which is very reasonably priced, quick to pitch and offers great shelter from the elements. It’s also very lightweight for carrying around at only 2.2kg.

The stove will also be essential for cooking foods and boiling water whilst out and about. There are a great amount of lightweight camping stoves about, and one of the better one’s we’ve found is the Coleman F1 Lite, which as the name would suggest is light and compact, and great for taking away on a long journey.

As for socks and underwear, the final things on our list, we’ll leave that for you to decide which ones you take with you!

You might already own some of the things on this list, which makes the shopping list that much shorter.

Always remember though throughout the packing and planning process – You don’t need as much stuff as you think you do. A smaller amount of good quality items, such as those we’ve discussed above, will see you through no problem whatsoever.

You can always buy extra things once abroad and always leave your backpack at least 30% empty in order to carry any bits and pieces you collect along the way.

Enjoy your first backpacking trip, and we hope this guide has helped you choose the right clothing for your adventure.


  1. Anonymous4:58 pm

    I started with bits of old school uniform, a worn out tweed jacket, bits left over from my father's time in the army (when no man had much choice) and a few purchases from the army surplus store, such as woolen battledress trousers for winter.

    In good weather, you can get away with pretty much anything, which is important as it means you can build up gear a bit at a time. In its turn, that means you don't necessarily need to go the budget route. Also, if you start with what you have - running gear is good for summer - you can gain skills and work out what you need before shelling out.

    In Britain, the one item where you should not skimp is waterproofs. They are more likely to save your life than anything else you can buy so get the best you can afford. On a day in day out basis, they give more comfort per £ than anything else I can think of. And they last years if you Techwash them after ever trip. You'd wash your other sweaty clothes, so why not waterproofs.

  2. Great advice for what to wear walking and the essential items you need. Thanks, David