Traveling light takes on a whole new meaning when you’re going backpacking. You can only fit so much in a backpack. And anything you do cram in there, you have to will cart around on your body. Up and down stairs. Through the wilderness. On crowded public transportation. After walking a while, that backpack starts to feel like an anchor. Needless to say, the less stuff, the better.
If you pack right, you won’t have to worry about lugging around deadweight because you’ll only have exactly what you need. During a recent backpacking trip across Sweden, Denmark and Norway, I lived out of my backpack for 15 days. And learned some heavy lessons about exactly what a backpacker needs. (And doesn’t need.) No matter the setting—backpacking across Europe, hiking in Colorado, taking a weekend camping trip—you smart backpackers won’t regret taking these nine essentials items with you.
1. CamelBak Water Bottle
A water bottle hit the list first for a reason—you need one. No question about it. Carrying a lightweight water bottle will save your poor parched throat countless times while traveling. Plus, you can avoid buying bottles of water and sending the plastic bottles to the landfill. This Podium Big Chill 25 oz water bottle from CamelBak features BPA-free plastic (yes!) and a self-sealing lid that will keep it from leaking water all over your backpack or purse.
2. Clif Bars
Finding healthy food on the go won’t always be convenient, especially when traveling abroad. Stuff a few granola bars into your bag for when you get the munchies. They're small, and you’ll take away weight from your backpack as you eat them! Packing just six Clif Bars saved my growling stomach several times on hours-long train rides across Sweden and Norway. A Clif Bar also gave me a much-needed boost after hiking for two hours to the top of Pulpit Rock, a massive cliff in Norway. (That picture above is on top of the cliff!) Made with 70 percent organic ingredients, the original Clif Bars are packed with whole grains, protein and fiber for sustained energy.
3. Elemental Herbs Zinc Sunstick
You have to keep your skin protected no matter where you go. Elemental Herbs Zinc Sunstick offers 30 SPF protection, without using harsh chemicals. The active ingredient in the sunstick is non-nanoparticle zinc oxide. The sunstick also features skin-moisturizing certified organic oils, including jojoba, coconut and avocado. Because I wasn’t traveling to a hot climate, the small size of the sunstick was ideal for just rubbing some sunscreen on my face, neck and shoulders every once in a while. Another bonus? It took up almost no room in my backpack.
4. Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lavender Hand Sanitizing Spray
When you can’t find soap, hand sanitizer is the next best thing for making hands feel fresh. Well, a little more fresh at least. Unfortunately, most hand sanitizers come packed with unhealthy ingredients. Think formaldehyde, a known human carcinogen; phthlates, a group of chemicals used to make plastics; triclosan, an endocrine disruptor; and fragrances, often a variety of unknown chemicals. Instead of that nasty business, I used Dr. Bronner’s Organic Lavender Hand Sanitizing Spray while traveling. Made with just organic ethanol, water, organic glycerin and organic lavender oil, this spray gets rid of germs using simple, healthy ingredients. (It also smells nice. I might have used it as a perfume a time or two. Hey, there wasn’t any room in my backpack to stash perfume.)
5. Eco Jot Journal
No travel bag—backpack, suitcase, whatever—is complete without a journal. Documenting your travels will help you remember your experiences unlike any photo or souvenir. Really, it’s the ultimate souvenir. I recorded my day-to-day experiences in Sweden, Denmark and Norway in simple 5x7” Eco Jot journal. The pages and cover are made from 100 percent post-consumer waste. I also thought the saying on the front, "Passion For Life", went well with traveling. (The picture is by the water in Stavanger, Norway.)
6. Smart Wool Socks
If you wear cotton socks, your socks are going to get stinky—fast. And, because you’re carrying a backpack, they’re probably going to stink up the rest of your clothes. I can’t talk enough about how fabulous Smart Wool socks are for traveling. When you’re moving around a lot, you need socks that wick away moisture, that dry quickly and that eliminate odors. Smart Wool socks do all of this naturally. The keep your feet warm and dry longer (even when sweating) and you can wear them several times before they get smelly. Plus, they come in a variety of weights and styles. (Those are my Smart Wool-clad feet on top of a cliff in Norway.)
7. Dr. Bronner’s Liquid Castile Soap
Did you know that same liquid castile soap that you use to clean your house, do laundry and wash dishes is also available in a travel size? Dr. Bronner’s organic castile soap comes in a handy 2oz bottle, so you can use it to wash all of your stinky clothes while traveling.
8. Elemental Herbs All Good Lips Organic Lip Balm
Stashing a simple lip balm in your backpack will add much-needed comfort to dried out lips while traveling. This USDA certified organic lip balm from Elemental Herbs features yummy ingredients, including organic extra virgin olive oil, organic lavender, organic plantain, organic beeswax and more. The SPF 12 protection comes from octinoxate and non-nanoparticle zinc oxide. I love the sweet tangerine flavor.
9. skinnyskinny Organic Dry Shampoo
When you’re backpacking, chances are your hair is going to get grungy. Whether you don’t have access to a shower or your hair just needs a quick perk up, a dry shampoo can be a hair-saver. With just a few shakes, this travel size organic dry shampoo from skinnyskinny can make your hair look fresh without any toxic chemicals. It’s made of just certified-organic cornstarch, brown rice powder, white clay, horsetail powder, baking soda, orris root powder and rose and black pepper essential oils.
Graphic and photos by Kirsten Hudson