Best backpacker space savers
There’s nothing cool about carting half your wardrobe across the globe’s tourist hotspots, and it’s easy to end-up a sweaty mess after lugging 20 kilos of gadgets, chargers and highly unsuitable just-in-case jeans through yet another balmy bus station. Those considering a gap year, and the rest of us, know one thing; we need to lose weight when wandering.
Step one: lose the gadgets. This is tricky, especially for Pocket-linters, but we were convinced recently when an ebook reader (carefully stuffed with over 700 novels) decided to freeze on the way to Heathrow airport before a week in the sun. We didn’t miss it. The amount of stress you’ll save about things being nicked is nothing when compared to the space freed-up by those forgotten chargers and blasted USB cables of slightly different spec. It also means you can embrace a whole new world of technology, much of it inspired by the needs of hikers and athletes – the space-saving travel gadget/garment.
With our round up of the lightest, smallest and most squashable, we'll soon have you taking a round the world trip dressed like a Millets mannequin.
Tilley CoolMax Extreme quick-drying underwear (from £14)
Is half your luggage taken up by a week’s worth of boxer shorts? Replace them with two pairs (wear one, pack one) of sweat-defying quick drying briefs or knickers from Tilley and you’re a kilo closer to travel nirvana. They dry in two hours, as do the supremely comfortable Unholey ‘Travel’ socks. Tilley’s are smaller than most and proved the comfiest with few, err, butts.
Alternatives: Ex Officio’s Men’s Give-N-Go Sport Brief, around £15, are smaller and comfy but with more Simon Cowell-style waistbands, while Rohan’s more generous but super-light Ultra Silver Trunks, £16.34, claim anti-chafing properties and will better suit boxer boys.
Karrimor X-Lite 35 backpack (£70)
We need a target. Since most backpackers take the kitchen sink around the world in 85-litre adverts for their own indecision, its the 35-litre rucksacks that are made largely for hikers and for the go-light traveller. That’s great news since they’re mostly lightweight with loads of pockets and tabs to store/hang/tie your stuff to. Weighing just 972g when empty, the Karrimor X-Lite 35 sits off your back and lets air circulate – essential in the sweaty climes of South East Asia – and sports a nice big pouch on the front for storing your water bottle (or rapidly-drying pants).
Alternatives: Go Lite’s 800g Peak lightweight pack (£90) has a detachable belt but fewer pockets, while the more serious and heavyweight (at 1.6kg) Deuter Futura 32 (£85) combines a traditional split-compartment with four litres of side pockets, a wet clothes compartment a concave back that proved comfy and cool in our tests.
Icebreaker 150 Travel Ultralite technical t-shirts (from £35)
Invented for runners, technical t-shirt baselayers wick sweat away from the body, dry quickly and keep you cool in hot conditions; perfect for travellers. Completely impossible to crease, Icebreaker’s 150 Travel Ultralite range of technical t-shirts (for men) and retreat tanks (for women) are made from New Zealand Merino wool (you can even find out which farm they originate from) can be washed and dried within a couple of hours. A brilliant substitute for taking loads of t-shirts, Icebreaker gear works just as well as the bottom layer if you decide to climb a mountain/volcano. Comfy as hell, Icebreakers are a, err, baa-rgain. Sorry.
ODLO Wildlife shirt with 30+ UV protection (£55)
Travel shirts are many, but few have the ingredients you actually need in a hot climate. A nice change from the khaki safari guide look is ODLO’s Wildlife men’s shirt which weighs just 100g and contains silver ions to prevent nasty whiffs. If that’s welcome in the tropics, so is UV 30+ protection, easy roll-up sleeves, a hidden zipped breast pocket and, best and most rarest of all in these shirts, ventilation holes in the armpits.
Alternatives: Craghoppers Nosilife Long-Sleeved Shirt (£52) and convertible trousers (from £15) scare away the mozzies, while Ex Offico’s £40-apiece Women's Dryflylite and men’s AirStrip Lite shirts are the comfiest around in high humidity. The men’s version boasts a tab for hanging your sunglasses; priceless.
Lifeventure EX3 Cotton Sleeper & Lifesystems Micronet Mosquito Net (from £15)
Forget a sleeping bag if you're going anywhere remotely warm. Claiming to repel mozzies, bedbugs and bacteria, Lifeventure’s ThermaFibre cotton mummy or rectangular-shaped 2100x800mm sleeper (£15) weighs just 750g and has a security zipped pocket inside. It’s comfy and packs to almost nothing, but it’s best paired with a mosquito net like Lifesystem’s Micronet Single Mosquito Net (£20) or, for couples, a still compact double version (£30).
Alternatives: If you're heading somewhere cooler but don't want to take more bulk, Vaude’s Featherlight 200 sleeping bag (£130) weighs just 600g.
Marmot Mica jacket (£110)
Some backpackers carry huge coats designed for British winters – and never use them – while others take nothing and either get a daily soaking by tropical rains or catch a chill in deserts or in uplands. Squashable to the size of an apple, this waterproof, breathable and windproof performance shell from Marmot weighs just 198g, and it also works as an outer layer in colder climes. It’s Pocket-lint personified, as is the identically priced is the Marmot Crystalline for women which weighs in at 176g.
Alternatives: Wind and water resistant, The North Face’s Verto jackets raises the bar by promising to squash to the size of an energy bar (that’s about the size of a Snickers in case you were wondering). Costing £110 each and weighing 91g and 68g respectively, the men’s and women’s versions might seem a better option – but crucially don't promise waterproofing.
Vaude Ultralite towel (£15)
With a regular towel high on our banned list for backpacking, and the guidebooks’ insistence on using a sarong a touch too informal for our tastes, we turn again to those hardy hikers for the answer: a filamon towel. Just long enough (and at 90x15cm boy, do I mean just) for drying-off and that all-important act of back-flossing after a shower, the Vaude is super-thin in its tiny netting pouch for shoving into, or clipping on to, a backpack. OK, so it’s not fluffy, but ignore advice to the contrary; take a deep breath and buy the smallest one you can find – you won’t regret it (although your travel companions might).
Alternatives: The choices are myriad, but Lifeventure’s Soft Fibre trek towels dry eight times faster than a regular towel and come impregnated with an anti-bacterial agent. They’re comfier, but thicker, than the Vaude – as are Snugpak’s Microfibre Antibacterial Travel Towel range at £8.95-£23.95 for 62x60cm up to 120x124cm sizes.
Rohan Men’s Linen Plus Jacket & Trousers (£195)
Not everyone wants to look like a backpacker, so for those after something smart that can stay the pace while in transit, upscale brand Rohan is where to turn. Costing £130 for the jacket and £65 for the trousers – and available in Walnut or Dark Indigo, both are crease resistant (though not creaseproof) and can be machine-washed. They dry in seven hours max, but you can probably guess our favourite features; the jacket’s internal zipped pocket, boarding pass-sized pocket and Velcro-fastened front pocket, and the trousers' two zipped compartments. Casual and smart without getting anywhere near formal, this duo will suit arty and media types nicely.
White Rock Outback Traveller hat with HydroCool (£27.99)
Some of us don't have all that much hair these days, so a decent sunhat is strictly a question of survival, not style. Water resistant, impossible to bend out of shape and hiding a clever passport pocket in its roof, White Rock’s Outback Traveller sports a unique HydroCool strip that clips inside the brim using Velcro. Soak the strip in a stream, river or under a tap and the crystals inside absorb the liquid; re-attach it and help keep your sweaty brim cool. It really works – but just as appealing is its 110g weight and the fact that it can be stuffed into a pocket without ever getting misshapen.
Alternatives: The Canadian classic Tilley T5MO Organic-Airflo hat, £62, has a mesh strip around the top to circulate air around your bonce, though that can also help it go airbourne in a strong breeze.