Until I experienced both kinds of backpacking for myself, I didn’t realize how completely different these two are, and yet we use the exact same word. When someone says their doing a backpacking trip around the world, it generally means this person is going to be living out of hostels, hotels, air b&b’s and/or out of huts of some kind. Very rarely out of a tent. This person will be traveling through a country or several countries going from one place to the next. Where wilderness backpacking means you will be living out of a tent, hammock, cowboy comp (no tent, just lay on ground,) or some kind of other shelter. When someone is wilderness backpacking, this is where one sets off into the wild for at least one night in the back country, carrying everything one need to survive in the wild. Both types of backpacking completely different, yet people use the exact same word.
I for one, have wilderness backpacked for the past ten years, getting more and more efficient in the back county each year. But, I have yet experienced hostel or travel backpacking until last year. I backpacked through seven different countries in a course of three months and learned that there are literally two types of backpacking.
What was worse, I packed for my international backpacking trip with what I would pack for my wilderness backpacking trips. I brought a stove, pots, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, etc. All of this stuff I would normally bring with me on a wilderness backpacking trip, but was completely useless to me as far as international backpacking.
When someone is international backpacking, you generally will come in contact with a city or town generally every day. You don’t need to carry much stuff with you because most of the time, you will have anything you will need accessible. Obviously, this isn’t always true and it depends on where you go, but for most of the time and for most people, yes. So you don’t need to carry extra anything, like extra soap or a big bottle of shampoo, or two tubes of toothpaste, etc. Before you run out, you will come in contact with a store to replenish.
As far as wilderness backpacking, you need to carry a few more things with you. You need to carry a tent, a sleeping bag, a water purifier, a stove, pots/pans, gas, lighter, bed mat, etc. All these things you don’t need to bring on an international backpacking trip.
When you are international, most people live out of hostels. If this is the case for you, you don’t need a stove. Hostels have stoves. You don’t need pots and pans. Hostels have that. You don’t need any of this stuff that I just listed. A water purifier, nope. You can buy water bottles.
When your wilderness backpacking, you have no choice. You are in the middle of no where and you need to purify your water, you need to sleep somewhere out of the elements, you need to cook your food. Now, I met people who opt out stoves and you can. It is possible, but your food will be limited! I always bring a stove. It’s not that much extra weight and your not limited on what you can eat as much. Plus, it’s nice to get a good hot meal in at the end of the day. Anyway, you need many more things with you when wilderness backpacking.
Here is what you NEED for wilderness backpacking and international backpacking. But also this varies on what climate you will be entering. You will bring different things if you were going on a trip to Alaska rather than Greece.
Try and get a smaller backpack, like a 45 or 50 Liter one. The smaller you buy your pack, the less you can bring. Unless if your going to a cold climate. Then maybe a 65 L but no bigger than that. That’s already more than you will NEED. If you want more things, like lots of clothes and whatever, and don’t mind carrying a big pack, then that’s on you. I’m the person who wants to carry the least things as possible. The smaller the better for me.
Small personal items bag. (Toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, comb, razor, deodorant, etc.)
Clothes (In all situations; going out, hiking, going around town, at the beach, etc.)
Foot attire (Depending on where I go, just a pair of comfortable running shoes I can also wear for hiking and flip flops).
Electronics (Phone, Olympus Stylus TG Waterproof Camera, Chargers, Tablet, etc.)
Research (What are you using for planning? Books, your own research papers, maps, the apps you need already downloaded on your phone, etc.)
Money, Credit Cards and Passport (You want to have a couple choices for money. It’s the most safe if you don’t carry much money with you and you have money stored in at least two different banks. That way if anything is hacked or stolen, you have two or more places where your money is stored. That and bring a wallet that is a decoy. So if you ever get held up and someone wants to quickly steal your wallet, you can hand over your decoy one. Hide your credit cards the best you can. You never want to flash anything.)
And that’s pretty much it! You don’t need much. I like to do a lot of activities and I’m very versatile. I love the outdoors so when I travel I want to do everything. Tour in caves, hike up volcanoes, jungle treks, whatever. So I think of all those things and If I need anything extra. Now, a good thing with traveling abroad, in most places when you do these adventurous activities, the tour companies have everything you need. There are surf boards to rent, when you go caving there are head lamps they let you use (though, I do like to bring a head lamp with me), if you go on a backpacking trip, they even have tents you can use and sleeping bags! So most of the time, you only need to bring these few things and you will be all set on almost all situations. Good companies understand most people visiting them are people that are traveling. And we can’t carry everything on our backs. So they have these items already with the price with whatever tour your going on, or you can rent them.
You can find wilderness backpacking lists everywhere. But here is a short consolidated version… Generally a 65 liter bag is what most people use.
Clothes (either polyester, wool or fleece. No cotton)
Backpacking shoes or running shoes
Map, compass or GPS unit. Somehow to track where you are.
Something for waterproofing (baggies, pack cover.) You want to protect your items
Electronics and chargers
Personal items (toiletries)
Utensils (I only bring a spoon for everything).
Hiking poles (optional)
Bear Canister (if hiking in bear country)
First Aid Kit (equip your first aid kit with vitamins, band-aids, triple antibiotic ointment, pain medications, any medication you think you might need, gauze, emergency blanket, waterproof matches, and anything else you think you might need, but these are the things that is necessary for me.)
Hope this article was helpful! Enjoy your Backpacking adventure. Wherever that may be!!!! And thank you for reading. :).