(last updated on February 13th, 2018)
When i began traveling long-term, i was cycle touring — weight/volume was, therefore, not much of an issue. So, one of the biggest challenges when i started assimilating the practice of hitchhiking a little over a year ago was that i couldn’t possibly fit all that shit into my 32-liter backpack!
Having now hitchhiked over 19000 Km in 17 countries and given a fair amount of consideration to what to carry along each of those kilometers, i have developed a pretty sweet minimalist setup — it does eventually fit into my 32-liter backpack without compromising on luxury and self-sufficiency, with camping gear, a kitchen, and enough food for half a week. It also contains my (also minimalist) tree-climbing gear, which you may, of course, replace with the apparatus for your idiosyncratic hobby of choice 😉
the kit – basics
- papers — passport, residence permit, vaccination card; wallet, house keys
- on me — pair of pants, long sleeves, underwear, pair of socks, sandals
- “bedroom” — 0°C-rated sleeping bag, sleeping mat, hammock, tarp-poncho (plus 4 lengths of accessory cord and 4 pegs); earplugs
- thermal comfort — wool pants and long sleeves, wool gloves and socks, baclava
- “washroom” — toothbrush, toothpaste, travel towel, soap, nail clippers, moisturizer; toilet paper, shovel, trash bags; first aid kit (tick removal tool, Vietnamese star, sports tape and plasters, assortment of over-the-counter medicine, wet wipes, bandages, water tablets, eye drops)
- gadgets — phone, action camera and selfie stick, DSLR camera and bag, earphones; power bank, respective cables and chargers
- hitchhiking gear — water bottle, reflective vest, reflective straps; hat, sunglasses, hoodie, marker; souvenirs (foreign coins, Not Mad Yet postcards, business cards)
- extra — long sleeves, pair of socks, 2 pieces of underwear
- “kitchen” — stove, fuel, lighter; spork, knife, mug, pot; headlamp, sponge, tissues; food (detailed below)
- optional — paper maps, book, fast carbs tube, emergency warm bag
This is what i left home with on my latest solo, “freestyle” hitchhiking trip — meaning, what i might have taken on an open-ended hitchhiking journey. I sometimes hitchhike to visit my brother-in-law one town over, and i occasionally go on a “there-and-back mission” to apply for a visa in Poland, or whatever — what i’d take on such a trip would depend on the context and duration of the stay — for instance, if i know i’ll reach my destination within a single day on the road and have a place to stay upon arrival, i might replace some of my “autonomy” items such as the kitchen or the hammock by “comfort and etiquette” ones such as extra clothes, a netbook to do some work, gifts, “orders,” etc.
The kitchen. If you’re traveling on a larger budget that allows for you to eat your meals out, or if you just don’t mind eating canned food or bread with peanut butter every day, you might as well drop the kitchen — besides the fact that i just enjoy a hot meal at the end of the day and the underlying ritual in the morning, it’s just a lot cheaper to cook my own food and make my own coffee.
Thermal comfort. If you know where you’re going will definitely be warm enough, you might also do fine with a lighter sleeping bag or without the thermal layers — for me, they were a necessity in my latest trip to Estonia.
Optional items. My point here is, you’ll have some space for things people will make fun of you for carrying 😉 I got the fast carbs tube and emergency warm bag from a party of Polish paramedics returning from a course they were ministering at the border, and figured i might as well just keep them. Although i do carry offline maps on my phone as well, i personally like paper maps because it seems easier to get the big picture from them and discuss the route with drivers. I personally like passing my books on and picking new ones up along my way, so the moment i might invest on an e-reader hasn’t yet come either.
my pocket map of Poland, with an overlay of the offline map on my phone adjusted to its scale
- 300g of cornmeal
- 200g of dehydrated soy
- 300g of oatmeal
- 150g of powdered milk
- 500g of trail mix
- 350g of peanut butter
- loaf of bread
- instant coffee
- salt, pepper, broth (tablets), and oil
Again, this is just what i took on my latest solo trip — your circumstances, dietary needs and preferences will dictate what and how much of it to bring. I like to carry food that is high on calories and easy to prepare — meaning, pour some boiling water over it and let it sit for a few minutes — it saves fuel! I also like to have enough food on me for at least three days without restocking — grocery shops are often a long walk from the road, and/or i might want to go hiking for a couple of days without an opportunity to visit one of them.
In practice, you’ll likely be offered food from some of your drivers and other folks along the way, and your supplies will last longer than you planned them to. Some drivers will also be gladly willing to swing by the groceries or anywhere else you might need — just ask!
sleeping on a haMmock
i was confident it wasn’t going to rain that night, so i didn’t bother setting the tarp
I’m working on a short video describing my experience traveling with and sleeping on a hammock, where i’ll show how i’ve been using it and share my impressions, as well as some of the beginner mistakes i made, and which you will hopefully avoid! I’ll update this post with the video as soon as it’s out.
Meanwhile, if you search “hammock camping” on YouTube, you’ll find a plethora of good videos on the topic such as this one or this other one (skip the first 6 minutes, and don’t pay too much attention to what he says about the costs — my hammock cost USD 15 and weights less than “16oz”, with the straps).
It goes without saying that you should double check that you can actually find trees where you’re going — a hammock would have been useless in Iceland or the Faroe Islands, or even in many places in the Carpathian mountains, near where i live 😉
Speaking of trees …
… given how often people find it so strange that an adult is recreationally climbing trees, i want to clarify that i’m not sharing this assuming that you will be specifically interested in that yourself! My point is, if the equipment needed for your quirky hobby of choice weights less than 5 Kg, you can probably fit it in as well — indeed, my tree-climbing gear alone takes about half of the space in my 32-liter backpack.
- 25m of 11mm, semi-static rope
- (2x) pear-shape locking carabiners, tubular belay/rappel device, length of 6mm accessory cord
- (2x) daisy chains, (2x) D-shape locking carabiners, (2x) bent-gate non-locking carabiners, (2x) lengths of 6mm accessory cord; 120cm sling, small, wire-gate non-locking carabiner
- (2x) 60cm slings, (2x) 120cm slings, (1x) 180cm sling, (4x) small wire-gate non-locking carabiners, (1x) pear-shape locking carabiner
- SAR insurance tracker, water bottle, (2x) small wire-gate non-locking carabiner
- tight “ballerina” shorts, tight t-shirt
Once again, this is what i took in my latest hitchhiking trip in which i also climbed trees. I’ve been working on a new climbing technique that should not only allow for me to drop a fair chunk of that but also be much safer — i will update this section when it’s been tested in the field 😉
TREEfool, perhaps my favorite tree-climber on the Internet, has extensively experimented with minimalist tree-climbing gear for traveling/tree-camping, and i’ve gotten many good ideas from his videos. Many online shops for tree-climbing gear have minimalist kits for recreational climbers as well, and the Tree Buzz forums are a great place to ask questions about the topic.
If you rock-climb instead, you may probably replace the semi-static rope and some of the other items by a longer length of thinner dynamic rope plus a handful of quick-draws for the sport routes along your way, while remaining at about the same weight and volume.
If you don’t even metaphorically climb trees and don’t have any distinctive items you need to bring along, you probably don’t need a 32–40-liter backpack either — your day pack would likely do, as long as it’s comfortable and has good back support — mine doesn’t, so i wouldn’t travel with it, but this is what it looks like with all the gear listed above packed into it, except for the food and the tree-climbing equipment:
Thank you for reading this far, and i hope this detailed breakdown of what i carry on my hitchhiking trips will be helpful to you. This is, of course, work in progress — i will continue experimenting with what to bring on future hitchhiking trips, and update this article whenever any significant changes or insights have developed. (Sign up for the mailing list if you’d like to be notified when that happens!)
If you’d like to send me any gear to play with and review, i’d be gratefully delighted — just send me a message, and we’ll work out the details 😀 You may also help me fund future overland travel experiments with hitchhiking or otherwise by donating an item from my wish list or “buying” a Not Mad Yet postcard.
How about you? What do you take when you’re hitchhiking? What’s your metaphorical tree-climbing gear? — i’m always curious to hear what other traveler’s “non-essential essentials” are, so please share yours in the comments below 😉
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Mad Already is a series of articles with concrete, tested travel advice written in counterpoint to my more “literary” chronicles and short reads. As such, it has been roughly divided into cycle touring, hitchhiking and general advice — follow the links to read more, and sign up for the Not Mad Yet mailing list to be notified when new articles go live and get other updates!