Building a Backpack

Table of Contents

UPDATE (March 2016): My packing list has changed for the better! Read more here.

Every first-time RTW traveler thinks they’ve cracked the code to the perfect backpack. I’ll do my best not to get overly cocky. I’m sure there are lots of changes I’ll make as time marches on, but I do think I’m making a good start.

I’ve spent hours reading other women’s packing lists. HoneyTrek, HalfTheClothes, and perhaps half a dozen other travelers acted as examples for minimalists, pack rats, and everything in between. I calculated the average of how much each female traveler brings, and made a few judgment calls on stuff that’s not right for me.

This is what I wound up with as a wish list:

Basic Gear & Essentials

Backpack Essentials

  • Osprey Farpoint 40L Backpack
  • Day pack (not pictured)
    I’m still in the market for a good day bag, so suggestions are welcome.
  • Packing cubes
  • Nylon laundry sack
  • Waterproof pack cover
  • Document pouch for passport, visas, and other travel documents
  • RFID blocker wallet for ID, credit cards, and currency
  • Decoy wallet


Backpack Clothing

  • 2 long sleeve shirts
  • 3 t-shirts
  • 2 tank tops, one with a built-in bra
  • 2 pairs shorts
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 pair linen pants
  • 2 skirts
  • 2 dresses
  • 1 pair leggings
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1 set athletic/sleep wear
  • 1 set thermal wear
  • 1 fleece jacket
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 pair thin gloves
  • 1 pair sunglasses
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 sarong (not pictured)
    I’m going to buy this once I’ve arrived in Southeast Asia.
  • 1 pair hiking shoes
  • 1 pair Crocs ballet flats
  • 8 pairs underwear, including Thinx
  • 3 bras, including sports bra
  • 3 pairs socks, both hiking and regular


Backpack Toiletries

  • Contacts, contact case & saline solution
  • Glasses with case
  • Solid shampoo bar
  • Quick dry towel
  • Sunscreen wipes
  • Nail clippers
  • Toothbrush with cover
  • Toothpaste (not pictured) and dental floss
  • Electric razor
  • Deodorant
  • Chapstick
  • Tweezers
  • Makeup palette
  • Hair clip & ties
  • Hairbrush
  • Hand sanitizer
  • First aid kit with medications
    Much of this won’t be purchased until closer to the date of my trip
  • Laundry detergent


Backpack Tech

  • Laptop with charger
  • Camera with case, memory cards, and extra batteries
  • iPod with charger and earbuds
  • Smartphone with charger
  • Extra long charger cable
  • SD card adapter
  • Plug adapter kit
  • Thumb drive

Other Gear

Backpack Misc

  • SteriPEN
  • Flexible travel lock
  • Journal and pen
  • Carabiner and keychain flashlight (not pictured)
  • Paracord (not pictured)
    This will be a last minute addition.
  • Sewing kit
  • Eating utensil
  • Collapsible water bottle
  • Silk sleep sheet
  • Eye mask with ear plugs
  • Inflatable pillow

Of course, once I started actually packing, a lot of this got thrown out the window.

Stuff I’ve ditched in this exercise:

  • Packing cubes
    I’m an organization nut, but the second I started trying to fit these together, I realized two things. One, they are way too bulky to fit a lot of stuff in a small space. Two, when everything you own fits in a 40L backpack, that’s really all the organization you need.
  • White t-shirt
    I knew I had too many clothes. White’s hard to keep clean and I hardly wear this shirt at home, so out it goes.
  • 1 skirt
    This dressy black skirt was probably the least practical thing I planned to pack.
  • 2 dresses
    Even though these are both really versatile dresses, they don’t fold down very small.
  • Electric razor
    One of my bulkiest toiletries. I’ll stick to a regular disposable razor.
  • Makeup palette
    Bringing makeup was a debate for me to begin with, since I don’t wear it on a daily basis. This is a great palette and I’ll continue to use it at home, but I don’t need something this hefty on the road. If I do decide to bring any makeup, I can find a much smaller option.
  • Hairbrush
    Who am I kidding? I always wind up just combing through my hair in the shower, not brushing it.
  • Journal
    I love writing in a journal, but this is bulky and non-essential. I’ll keep notes on my laptop.
  • Sewing kit
    If I need to sew a button, I can just ask for help.

All in all, I’m actually really glad I bought a backpack that was too small for everything I initially wanted to bring. The second I saw it wasn’t all going to fit, paring things down was easy, and I know I’ll continue refining things both before and after I leave.

My packing list continued to change in the months leading up to my trip. See what made the final cut in my pac.

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  1. I love the last line of this… that you’re GLAD your backpack was too small for everything you wanted to bring! Awesome! Have you checked out Tortuga Backpacks? Great packing lists. My favourite bag.

    1. I have heard of Tortuga Backpacks – they were actually one of the first brands I learned about. But the major factor that pushed me to Osprey was sizing. I am a tiny person. Five feet flat, don’t weigh enough to donate blood. Finding a backpack that would fit me properly was a challenge, and the Tortuga pack is a little too tall for me to carry comfortably. But Osprey offers the same Farpoint pack in a smaller size for women, so it feels great.

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