The Ultimate Backpacking Travel Gear

Ultimate Backpacking Gear

Recently, I decided to go on a trip to Europe and wanted to change up my travel style. Typically, I pack a carry-on and backpack for all of my travel, but this wasn’t going to be ideal since I would be traveling by air, train, and even boat while visiting nine countries over the course of 22 days. What do you do when you want to travel as easily as possible? You go the solo backpack route.

There are a lot of websites and Reddit threads with packing lists, tips, and concerns. After pouring through many of them we put together a list of some of the best gear for solo backpacking: it’s our list of the Ultimate Backpacking Travel Gear.

All of the items we are featuring were used on the trip and we received no compensation for using them - we just love the gear. You can see most of them in the header image for this article – that picture on the top left was taken in Cinque Terre, Italy and I’m going to start the list with the backpack from that picture…

Cotopaxi Backpack 

The most important part of any solo backpacking gear is, obviously, the backpack. We went with a Cotopaxi Allpa 35L Travel Pack for this trip, and it’s amazing how much gear we fit in the bag. As you can see in the picture we managed to fit enough gear to last comfortably for the entire three week trip. The pack weighed slightly over 34 pounds when we were done, and despite the weight the Cotopaxi allowed me to remain comfortable for the trip. That includes a day in Rome where the storage lockers at the train station were full and I had to carry it around while walking fifteen miles through Roman ruins. I loved this bag, and it’s our top choice for travel backpacks.

What To Look For In A Travel Backpack

  • Enough room for all your gear – this is the number one need for the perfect pack, make sure it fits your gear

  • Water resistant material – it’s always going to rain at some point on your trip, make sure your gear doesn’t get soaked

  • Lockable zippers – while traveling is fun, it can also be nerve-wracking if you have anything important stolen

  • A padded hip belt – at first, I though I would never use this, but it really helps on the long hauls you’ll invariably have to make

Why We Recommend The Cotopaxi

This bag not only met, but exceeded our expectations. I walked a total of 156 miles over the course of the trip, and over half of those miles were carrying the Cotopaxi. Despite the mileage and the sheer amount of gear inside I had no issue. Plus, the pack is weather resistant and even comes with a rain cover. If you're looking for a great bag that's versatile - the Cotopaxi is a great option.

Jackets - Black Diamond 

A jacket is tough to justify sometimes because of the room it can eat up, but it’s a necessity in all but the most tropical of weather. You don’t want to get caught in a rainstorm or sudden wind chill without the proper gear. If you do, you can lose serious time on trying to find a way to warm up – and that’s not ideal when you have a limited time on vacation. We had two options for jackets and we loved one of them and disliked the other. Here’s why…

What To Look For In A Travel Jacket

  • Warmth – if it doesn’t keep you warm, get another jacket

  • Packability – a jacket isn’t great for travel if it takes up so much room that you must remove important gear to fit it in your pack

  • Style – even if a jacket feels great, you need to make sure you feel comfortable wearing it in public

Why We Recommend The Black Diamond First Light

We loved the First Light jacket by Black Diamond for several reasons – but the top one was the fact that it was extremely warm in colder weather, breathable in warmer weather, and still managed to fit into a small bag that was the size of my fists stacked on top of each other. The material on this jacket was top notch, and the insulation was perfect. Plus, as soon as I put it on I felt like I wanted to show it off. It’s a beautiful jacket. There isn’t a lot of storage space, but if you’re backpacking you should be fine with keeping your gear in the bag. And the pockets on this jacket were enough to hold my large screen iPhone and had zippers to keep things secure. We highly recommend the First Light.

Why We Don't Recommend The SCOTTeVEST Jacket

We thought the SCOTTeVEST would be a great option for a travel jacket but there was one huge disadvantage for our purposes; our opinion was that both the look of the jacket and the materials were below par – especially for a jacket with a relatively high price point ($175 at last check). One of the selling points of the jacket is that it comes with over 20 pockets – but we found that for our purposes that was overkill. Initially, we thought carrying enough gear in a jacket to fill that many pockets would be helpful, but we didn’t like it in practice. We won’t bore you with more info, but you can find some reviews from people who had a very similar experience here, and can read some thoughts from Reddit here, another one here, and a final one here. The jacket is great in theory, but we personally thought it was ugly.

Best Travel Clothes 

We learned something when we were preparing for this article; wool is amazing. Seriously. Every one of the clothing items (aside from the jeans) we are recommending are made primarily of wool. There are four main reasons we now love wool…

Why Wool Clothing Is Great

  1. It’s Naturally Antimicrobial – this means that you can wear wool clothes a few times before you need to wash them (we ran some smell tests to back this up). This is possible because wool has a very thin and waxy coating made of fatty acids that stop mold, mildew, and bacteria from growing – pretty cool. Plus, that means you can pack less gear.

  2. It Dries Quickly and Wicks Sweat – that same thin coating of wax helps repel water, and means that even if it absorbs water it will dry out quickly. Fun fact: merino wool can hold up to 30% of the fabric weight in moisture and still feel dry when you touch it.

  3. It’s Warm in Cold Weather and Keeps You Cool in Hot Weather – apparently sheep know what they’re doing when it comes to temperature regulation. This is because there is both an inner and outer layer to the wool – it’s natural insulation.

  4. It’s Soft – wool sometimes gets a bad rap from being itchy, but that’s from people who haven’t used Merino wool. Merino is the top wool fiber and is much thinner than the old school wool sweatshirts you may have worn in elementary school. This wool is soft and comfortable.

Our Recommended Travel Clothes

  • Jeans: We loved the Bluffworks Departure Jeans for a few reasons; they look great, they have a secret pocket that is un-noticeable but keeps your passport and money safe, and they're extremely well priced for high quality denim. I wore the same pair of jeans for the entire trip and still wanted to wear them when I got home.

  • Boxers: Yes, we even went with wool boxers, and the best pair we found was Minus33. They had a great fit and were extremely soft and comfortable. Don't pass on the idea of wool boxers until you've tried them - I was initially hesitant, but I have never worn a more comfortable pair.

  • Socks: There are a lot of wool sock brands, but we found Cloudline to be the best for our needs. They had a great amount of cushion, passed our durability test (some wool socks are low quality and develop holes quickly - these did not), and looked great with our gear. Plus, they're made in the USA and have a lifetime warranty. Go get some.

  • Shirt: Wool shirts can be expensive, but they're worth it if you can pack less and save on checked bag fees. The Unbound Merino tees were excellent. If you're not sure about them, they have a 90 day return policy for their shirts. We loved this design, and it seems like it will last us a long while.

  • Shoes: We used two brands of shoes; the Baabuk Urban Wooler and a pair by Merino Shoes. We couldn’t decide which brand was the best here, but we liked both of them better than the current market leader, Allbirds. The key to a comfortable travel shoe is that it's lightweight, packable, and above all else - comfortable. After walking over 150 miles, these still fit into my regular rotation when I came back to the States. And they looked amazing - both pairs were able to be dressed up or down based on the setting.

Travel Accessories 

We packed a few other things in our bag – make sure you don’t leave home without these items…

What Else Do You Need

  • Travel Pillow: We wanted a small travel pillow that was comfortable and could strap to our backpack. The best we found was the TRTL travel pillow - there were more expensive options, but this one was comfortable, portable, and can even wrap around your eyes to keep the light out.

  • Filtering Water Bottle: The KOR Nava is attractive, BPA free, and filters the water you'll be drinking on your trip. I had it for the whole trip, dropped it several times, and it never broke or even spilled. We loved it.

  • Travel Locks: Not all travel locks are going to make it through TSA and pickpockets and not get broken. We had faith in the Forge locks we chose because of their great reviews and solid build. Keep your gear safe.

  • Dopp Kit: Did you know that the official name for those kits that hold your shampoo and other gear is a dopp kit? Neither did we, but we ended up choosing a Work By Gravel dopp kit which had a ton of room for our toiletries but kept the size in check.

  • Carabiners: How did we clip all of that gear to our bag? We used a set of Nite Ize S-Biner carabiners. They were strong and light - plus they have a lock on them to make sure your gear doesn't slide off. That's how we were able to hang all of those water bottles and hats from our bag.

  • Travel Charger: We chose a Zendure travel adapter since it came with a USB-C charger and a backup fuse to make sure we could keep charging if we overloaded our circuits. Don't forget this or you won't be able to take any of your selfies.

  • Misc: Don't forget to download a good packing spreadsheet so you don't forget anything, and always throw some individual Tide Packs into your dopp kitt so you can handle any quick washes in your hotel or hostel sink.


Above all else, make sure you have fun traveling and explore! The gear in this article will help you stay organized, warm, and comfortable on your trip but you're the most important component. Safe travels!


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About The Author
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Ray is the founder of Stray Monkey, and as a shameless plug he wants to remind you to check out the Research the News podcast.

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