Things to Bring When Hitchhiking & Backpacking
Minimalist hitchhiking packing list of things to bring when hitchhiking and essential hitchhiking gear.
In this article, I am explaining what are the essential things to bring when hitchhiking and backpacking on a budget and what is the essential hitchhiking gear that proves useful on the road, based on my personal experience accumulated during the years hitchhiking and traveling as a backpacker around the continent. Briefly, the hitchhiking packing list is made of:
- Small clasp knife with a can opener, spork, stainless steel mug
- Lighter, candle, rope
- Sleeping bag, tent, mat
- Plastic water bottle of 1 liter
- Headlamp and red beacon
- Map of the country or of the area You are going to explore
- Waterproof rain jacket
- Hygiene set
- Health set
- Marker, pen, notebook
- 1 paper roll and a plastic bag
Below, I will explain in detail how each of these essential items for hitchhiking proves useful.
Worth to mention is that when hitchhiking long distances, “hitchhiking” is synonym with “camping” – even if “camping” is never synonym with “hitchhiking” – and sometimes, because of the difficult weather conditions as extreme cold or extreme heat and severe precipitations in the area where the hitchhiker travels, hitchhiking fits into the category of the extreme sports which require also survival skills. Also, many people who choose to travel as a backpacker prefer to camp instead of paying for accommodation. Because of all these aspects, the hitchhiking packing list made of the essential hitchhiking gear and the things to pack for hitchhiking is very similar to the packing list required for trekking in the mountains.
There are lots of backpackers around with backpacks that look terrible, and I mean that they are not balanced (which can hurt in the long run) or they have no sense of aesthetics (like shoes, pans and other things outside) or they are extremely heavy (because inexperienced backpackers don’t really know what are the useful things to bring when hitchhiking or backpacking and so they pack lots of unnecessary items). Here are three golden rules to follow when deciding what to pack for hitchhiking or for any trip when traveling as a backpacker:
- Among the things to pack for hitchhiking or backpacking, money and documents should never be two of them: never put money or documents inside your hitchhiking backpack and always be ready to lose your backpack. Keep your money always scattered in different places on your body; before starting the trip, creating some hidden mini-pockets on your clothes where to put part of the money is wise; pack your hitchhiking backpack in such a manner to result balanced.
- Except for the mat and tent, everything else which does not fit into your hitchhiking backpack it means is unnecessary for your backpacking trip and should be excluded from your hitchhiking packing list.
- Once You pack your hitchhiking backpack with all the backpacking and hitchhiking essentials, clothes and everything else You think is useful, try running with it for 30 meters – if You cannot run, it means that You must prepare your hitchhiking backpack in a different way until it will result possible to run with it (maybe giving up to some unnecessary items and gear and consider only the most useful ones and that are multipurpose).
When packing your hitchhiking backpack, besides the essential hitchhiking gear and the things to bring when hitchhiking, consider also the weight of the other things You want to take with You and leave at home what will not seem useful almost on a daily basis, because grams create kilograms and kilograms create pain. When buying backpacking and hitchhiking essentials, always opt for the items that have multipurpose use and that weight as little as possible. The first time You put your packed hitchhiking backpack on your back, maybe You will feel that is not that heavy, but after two months on the road carrying the same weight every day You will feel more and more tired, so every single gram that You can avoid carrying from the very beginning is a benefit for your health and has a major impact on your journey in the long-run.
When You finish packing your hitchhiking backpack with clothes, food, water and everything that You put on your list of things to bring when hitchhiking, make sure that the final weight of your backpack does not exceed 20-25% of the weight of your body (20% if You are a woman, 25% if You are a man), otherwise You seriously risk to hurt yourself. This is the ideal backpack weight for backpacking and hitchhiking.
Here is what happened to a friend of mine.
Before her trip, she comes to me saying she would like some tips meant to help her build her hitchhiking packing list for her almost 3 weeks journey around Europe as a backpacker. I told her that she should consider a minimalist hitchhiking packing list carrying with her only those things that based on my personal experience accumulated during the years I consider essential items for hitchhiking and traveling as a backpacker (the ones that You can also see on this list of backpacking and hitchhiking essentials).
She goes on the trip for a few weeks and after she gets back we meet again, so I ask her: “What was it like traveling as a backpacker and hitchhiking around Europe?” She replies: “I packed more things than what you recommended me and after few days I started to really hate my backpack because it was really heavy and couldn’t enjoy my trip carrying it all day long every day wherever I went. So after few days on the road, I felt I couldn’t continue backpacking and hitchhiking anymore so I had to spend all my money on public transport and accommodation in hostels to rest better and leave my backpack there while exploring the towns.”
This story is nothing special but underlines well the importance of packing light. The verb “backpacking” means carrying a backpack for long distances or long periods of time. To enjoy your trip as You picture it in your mind, pack as light as possible from the start.
Things to bring when hitchhiking and essential backpacking and hitchhiking gear:
* Small clasp knife with a can opener, spork, a stainless steel mug
(If You don’t have a spork, then a spoon will prove to be a lot more useful than a fork.
It is important to have a stainless steel mug, or made of some sort of metal, so that is possible to put it on fire to boil water when camping to sleep. Hitchhiking long distances involves a lot of camping. Backpacking on a budget can also imply camping.
In countries where the petrol stations are more modern, like when hitchhiking around Europe, if You have your mug is possible to get hot water for free almost always to prepare your tea, coffee or other hot drink.)
* Lighter, candle, rope
(The candle is very useful to light a fire in wet conditions.
If You camp in an area where small wild animals live there as well, making a perimeter around your tent with the rope will scare them away when they approach your tent and smell the rope. Keep in mind that this survival technique is effective only against small animals, like foxes for example.
Against big predators, like bears for example, is ineffective. To do the perimeter of your tent usually 20 meters of thin rope is enough.)
* Sleeping bag, tent, mat
(Concerning your hitchhiking gear, it is good to always include the sleeping bag among the things to bring when hitchhiking. Because this alternative travel style is not mathematics and there is always the possibility to get stuck somewhere. A mat and a tent are good to have when hitchhiking longer distances. A sleeping bag is one of the most useful things to pack among those on your list of hitchhiking essentials.)
* Plastic water bottle of 1 liter
(0,5 could be too little, while 1,5 could be too much. In relation to the ideal backpack weight for hitchhiking and backpacking, your goal is to carry with You as little as possible.)
* Headlamp and red beacon
(As a hitchhiker, You will do lots of kilometers on the right seat, but also lots of kilometers walking. Sometimes the driver will drop You outside of town after it gets dark and You will have to walk a few kilometers until reaching your destination. Lights are of fundamental importance – a headlamp is among the essential items for hitchhiking. I recommend to include it in your list of things to bring when hitchhiking. And as camping gear, the headlamp often proves very useful.
Read “How Does Having a Positive Mindset Help Overcome Challenges” to see an example of a situation when lights made a difference for me.)
* Map of the country or of the area You are going to explore
(Though among the things to bring when hitchhiking, the map is not mandatory for every hitchhiker, using one will help You hitchhike successfully. In some situations a GPS can make a difference – if You own an Android device with a GPS antenna, OsmAnd+ is a useful app that offers detailed and updated offline maps and GPS navigation.)
* Waterproof rain jacket
(Sometimes You will have to walk through showering rain or blowing snow, whether You like it or not. Hitchhiking is an extreme sport and if You want to enjoy everything that has to offer You have to be ready for it. A good quality waterproof rain jacket will prove very useful, a lot more than an umbrella. Usually, a 10000 mm waterproof rain jacket is enough. On the list of things to pack for hitchhiking I would put the waterproof rain jacket among the “must-have” hitchhiking gear.)
* Hygiene set – small scissors, 100 ml bottle of shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste
* Health set – medicines and condoms
* Marker, pen, notebook
(The marker is a “must-have” for every hitchhiker. It is quite easy to find a carton or paper, but not a marker. So when You plan to hitchhike, take a marker with You. A marker is on the top things to bring when hitchhiking – don’t start a journey without it.)
* 1 paper roll and a plastic bag
(Besides toilet use, is possible to use toilet paper in many other ways. For example, when trying to find a ride is possible to write your destination on it and make a hitchhiking sign with it, to clean your tools, to light a fire, and even as extra insulation under your hitchhiking clothes.
The plastic bag is useful to keep separately your dirty hitchhiking clothes until able to wash them. If You camp in nature, it is useful also to take your trash with You.)
Written by Claudio Adrian Dobre; first in 2012, last updated in 2020. © 2012-2020
> Prepare for Hitchhiking (how to)
> How Appearance Affects Perceptions of One Another
> The Importance of Smiling in Communication
> Where to Sleep When Hitchhiking & Backpacking
> Hitchhiking Etiquette (once Unwritten Rules of Hitchhiking)
> How to Successfully Hitchhike