Excuse the somewhat ridiculous photo above, I struggled to find a picture which showed off my pack in it’s full glory. The two backpacking essentials you are going to need is a reliable backpack and a sturdy pair of shoes. Whilst you may scrimp on other items of kit, it really is worth making sure you have a comfortable, durable backpack that can carry all of your gear as well as a practical pair of shoes.
If you can borrow a backpack from somebody this is a great way to save money. For the love of god, do not take a suitcase.
Pack type – Assuming you are travelling for two months or more and plan on trekking I would suggest getting a backpack with around sixty or seventy liters of space. I prefer top loading backpacks as they allow you to sort and separate your kit more efficiently. Whatever bag you do go for make sure it has a hip-belt and shoulder adjustment straps, this will allow you to adjust the pack so that it sits comfortably on your hips and does not strain your back.
Invest in your gear – If you do not own a backpack already I suggest doing some research to see what deals are available online and in stores. How much you should spend depends on the type of trip you are doing; it is a good idea to treat your backpack as a long term investment. If you are planning on doing lots of travelling throughout your life then you should consider getting a rucksack from a trusted brand that offers a lifetime warranty, some of the best packs in the world are made by Osprey and Gregory (I tend to prefer Osprey).
Osprey packs – An Osprey bag big enough for an extended trip (for example the Aether 70) is probably going to cost at least £150 in a shop however you can sometimes find awesome deals on Ebay. Osprey backpacks are extremely comfortable, well designed and are also pretty much guaranteed to last forever. If you want to buy a large backpack for an extended trip but cannot afford an Osprey or Gregory then I would recommend Berghaus; their bags are reasonably priced and fairly durable.
Smaller packs – If you are only travelling for a few weeks it may be worth taking a smaller bag such as the Berghaus Freeflow. Having a bag that qualifies as carry on luggage on cheap airlines such as Ryan Air and Air Asia is not only useful but will also save you baggage fees.
I really do recommend that you shop around when looking to buy a backpack. One of the best stores you can visit in the UK is Cotsworld Outdoor which stocks a huge range of bags, shoes and other equipment you may need for your travels. For the US, I recommend heading down to your local REI.
Sandals – I suggest that you take a cheap pair of flip flops or sandals to wear on the beach and in the shower. A cheap pair of flip flops will easily do the job for most scenarios. If you are going to be doing a lot of ‘wet’ trekking or intend on trying activities where you will get wet but still need good footwear such as canyoning (left) then I would recommend going for a Teva or Keen sandal. In my opinion the best technical sandal out there is the Keen Newport. Another, cheaper, option is to simply buy a cheap pair of crap trainers when you are actually abroad, you can then use these for a few days of canyoning or river trekking and simply dispose of them afterwards. In many countries you can get a pair of shoes for just a couple of dollars.
Trainers – Your main pair of shoes should be a trekking trainer, there are a lot of these on the market and your best bet is to head down to an outdoor shop and just try a load on. Brands worth looking for include North Face, Merrell, Scarpa, Keen and Solomon. Your shoes should be comfortable, offer ankle support and be breathable. They do not need to be waterproof. I have worn North Face Hedgehogs on every trip I have done for the last five years, they are expensive but extremely durable. As well as being comfortable they offer a huge amount of support and I have found I can trek in them for weeks.
Maintenance – You can make your shoes last longer by fixing them when they start to show signs of wear and tear. If the ends of your laces become frayed you can seal them using a lighter. Always make sure to try and dry insoles if your shoes have been submerged, this will make them last longer.
After a year or two of hard use it is likely that the rubber toe will start to detach from the shoe, this can be fixed with superglue. Eventually the fabric containing the padding around the ankle on the inside of the shoe will be worn away and the padding may fall out, this can be easily fixed by either sewing a new piece of fabric into the shoe or by using gaffa tape. I made one pair of shoes (which I wore every day) last nearly four years!
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