Johnny Collinson. Kaitlyn Farrington. Liz Letchford. The North Face On-Mountain Sportswear. San Rafael Swell, Utah. Photographer: Ian Momsen.

20 Jun 7 Travel Tips for First-Time Backpackers

We’ve teamed up with the Great Outdoors to give some expert advice for first-time backpackers.

1. Bring a towel

Just like in Douglas Adams Hitch-hiker’s guide books, the best piece of advice we can give to first time back packers is to always carry a towel, if you plan to trek a lot, then best to carry two. You wouldn’t want to need the same towel to do your face and feet now would you, just saying.

2. Kit up


It’s important to bring the essentials; shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, a razor, hand sanitiser/wet wipes. To keep it all safe, make sure to keep all your items in a water-proof wash kit bag or a zip lock bag.  You don’t want any of these leaking into your bag.



Remember to bring plasters, lip balm with UV protection, appropriate sun cream, antiseptic cream/wipes & any other medicine that you currently take. If your travels are bringing you into a malaria zone, for us, deet is the only way to go. It prevents a mosquito bite developing into something worse than an itchy rash. There’s plenty of different strengths to suit most skin types but do your research first to ensure the memories aren’t the only thing you take home from your tropical escape.  If you’re trekking, iodine tablets (with taste remover) or Chlorine tablets to purify water are sometimes handy too.

If you’re a couple it would be best practice to share a wash kit and medical kit.  There’s no point in doubling up on items.

3. Bring the essentials

If you’re sharing a hostel on your travels then ear plugs are a must! A travel sink plug is also a consideration, because not all hostel sinks come with one and how else would you give your face a good wash and a cotton sleeper wouldn’t do any harm either, after all, when was the last time that hostel mattress got a good cleaning. It’s also useful to also pack a small LED torch/headlamp, a universal travel plug adaptor and a money belt.

4. Keep your documents safe

Take colour photocopies of everything important. Certificate of all vaccinations, passports, traveller cheque numbers, travel insurance, drivers licence etc.  Save them on your mobile device and keep photocopied versions safe in your money wallet.

5. Clothing and Footwear

When it comes to footwear, there is a lot to consider. If you are trekking through rainforest, then you might think that waterproof footwear might be the safest and while that might be the right choice for damp Irish days on the hills, rainforests are very humid and the rainshowers are very heavy. This can mean that your feet overheat while walking and rainwater can potentially run down your super wet legs and directly into your shoes. We would recommend a well vented trek shoe from Merrell or Salomon or a closed toe sandal from Keen or Teva.

As for clothing, there are so many options. Keeping in mind, the whole “travel light” theme. Choose your wardrobe for exactly where you’re going. Do some research on the weather for the time of year and when picking your outfits, be mindful of fabrics that wash well, washing clothes is not only a western world thing.

Warm weather

Choose loose fitting clothing, and check SPF factors too, yes, sun rays can penetrate clothing so if you’re going light, take a look and see how the fabrics hold up in strong sunlight. Lots of brands rate their clothes with SPF factors and we can recommend both Columbia and Craghoppers At this point, it’s worth nothing that some brands impregnate their clothing with mosquito repellents, take a look at the Craghoppers Nosquito range. Also, be aware of long sleeve and short sleeve clothing and not just for protecting against sunburn, but leeches and ticks too, especially on jungle or swamp treks. And never discount the usefulness of a bandana of a neck tube, we would recommend Buff ourselves. Wear it to keep the sun off your head/neck or just to mop the sweat off your brow, a fine multi-functional piece of kit indeed! For wet weather, you might be tempted to opt for the most breathable of fabrics but bear in mind that they work best when the air inside your jacket is heated up warmer than the air outside, hence their lack of success in warm/humid climates. In fact a poncho and quick drying clothing would be a better combination.

Cold weather

The most important aspect of being outdoors in cold weather is layering. Bring one outer layer that is suitably warm for where you’re going, ie jacket and lined trousers and then one mid layer for your upper body, ie fleece/light insulation, use synthetic or wool tops/tees/shirts as layers underneath and then bring a couple of comfortable base layers as these are the ones that will need changing/cleaning the most. There’s lots of choice to suit all types of budgets but the most important factor to consider when choosing clothes for colder climates is, “does it contain cotton?”. Cotton is a no no when it comes to keeping warm. Cotton likes to hold onto moisture, just think about how your bath towel gets more wet while you get more dry, and then think what a cotton polo neck would do to your warm, insulating and wicking layers whilst being active out in the cold. That’s it, everything grinds to a halt. We would recommend wool layers like those from Icebreaker or synthetic “Lifa” layers from Helly Hansen. There’s so many technologies out there and who doesn’t love a bit of science?

6. Pack light

You’re going away to try new things so there’s no point bringing all your things along. A week sightseeing shouldn’t need an 80litre rucksack. Try a smaller bag, discipline yourself to pack for carry on. No more checking loads of bags in or hanging around at carousels when you’ve landed.

A daypack/small backpack or tote/shoulder bag is also a great idea.  Just ensure it’s not big and rigid.  It’s easier to pack if it’s flat and flexible.

Packing TIP:  Pack the things you will use often and need to access regularly at the top and the things you will hardly use at the bottom.  If your pack is full it can be difficult to get to things without pulling other stuff out too if not packed correctly.

7. Use the correct locks

If you’re going to put locks on your bags, you know, for peace of mind and stuff, then use a TSA lock. They’re the ones that the airport security have special keys to open during bag checks. You wouldn’t want to buy a lock and then have the airport security bust it open or worse still, bust open your bag or case.

Ask the experts

If you have any questions and need to ask an expert wherever you’re travelling or whatever your adventure, ask the Great Outdoors team here.

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Barry Aldworth