In summer 2022, I spent five and a half weeks backpacking around Europe. Besides planning where we were going to go, what we were going to eat, and how we were going to get there, my favorite part of this pre-planning was creating my Europe backpacking packing list.
I am notorious for my packing prowess, so doing a proper backpacking trip was my greatest challenge yet! The key to a successful backpacking pack is condensing, outfit planning, and knowing you’ll be doing laundry. I knew that we’d only be packing our essentials, so I paid close attention to what we were using on a regular basis and what we could do without for a few weeks.
Not only is it a good idea to plan your pack, but it’s also the best way to enjoy your backpacking adventure. Read on to find out what I needed most and what I could’ve left behind!
Need: The Backpack
Obviously, the star of the Europe backpacking packing list is the backpack. When it comes to the best travel backpacks, you can’t go wrong with an Osprey. Both my husband and I had our Osprey Fairpoint and Fairview packs with us in Europe which we couldn’t have done without. (Be sure to get the 55L which is a 40L sized full backpack with a 15L day pack and is carry-on friendly!)
Not to mention the dozens of other backpackers we encountered with Ospreys too!
These packs come with a day pack which actually zips to the back of your big backpack for easy carrying. Or you can go the goober route as we did and wear your daypack on your chest through airports or train stations. When you’re short like we are, it’s much easier to stay balanced this way.
Getting weeks of stuff into a backpack seems intimidating, but you’d be impressed with how much space these Osprey bags give you! Plus they have boning in the back to help alleviate the pressure/weight of carrying all your stuff.
*My critical note about these backpacks is that if you have a chest with a D cup or larger (like I do) you probably won’t get the chest strap to fit comfortably around you if you can get it to fit at all. This is a frustrating feature given that my backpack is specifically designed “for women.”*
Need: Packing Cubes
I could never imagine a Europe backpacking packing list without TRIPPED packing cubes. Not only do these marvelous little innovations compact your clothes, but they also keep them organized so you don’t have to worry about digging through everything just to find that pair of socks.
Personally, I used one, smaller cube for my underwear, bras, and socks and the largest one from the set for my clothes. My rule of thumb for packing clothes for the trip was: if it doesn’t fit in these two cubes, it’s not coming with me. The one exception to this was my handy travel cardigan which I would tie around myself or my backpack on travel days. It’s important to always have something you can layer (like a sweater or rain jacket) with when the weather gets chilly–even in summer.
Plus you can hang the cubes in the closet of your hotel or Airbnb to stay organized. I often used the larger cube as a laundry bag as I wore clothes out of it to keep my clean clothes separate from them.
Need: Keep Your Bags Together
Although your Osprey bags can zip together, you might find yourself in need of an extra way to tote something along the way–even something like your extra sweater or neck pillow. Never lose your pillow again!
Even off of a European backpacking adventure, I love my Cincha bag belt.
My Cincha means I don’t have to worry about lugging any extra pieces or towels in my arms on travel days. It is strong enough to hold your bags together even if you’re running full tilt to a plane gate at the airport.
Need: Comfortable Shoes
This isn’t necessarily something you need to pack (I always wear my favorite walking shoes or boots on the plane/travel days), however, you do need to have comfortable shoes in your Europe backpacking packing list. If you’re spending weeks hoofing it through cobblestone streets you’ll be putting more stress on your feet if you don’t pack sensibly.
Bonus: Most packing cube sets come with a shoe bag which is great to double as a wet clothes bag for the beach! Plus the shoe bag means you probably don’t need to pack away plastic bags in your limited suitcase/backpack space.
Need: Medicine Box
For my fellow medicated friends (anxiety meds save lives), this medicine box is an absolute godsend. Keep your prescriptions separate from pain meds, antacids, sleep aids, or whatever else you need on a regular basis.
With magnetic doors to keep it secure, you can keep a bunch of medications all in one compact place. This box saves so much space in your backpack!
*My note is to take photos of your RX bottles and save them somewhere safe on your phone in case you need them.*
Need: First Aid
In addition to your medicine box, stash away a miniature first aid kit. I only needed a couple of bandages on my five+ week backpacking adventure, but I’m still very grateful I packed this. You never know when you might need something so it’s good to be prepared.
Need: Sink Suds
Unless you’re lucky enough to have access to a washing machine during your backpacking trip, you’re going to want a pack of Sink Suds. These easily packable detergent packs are made for washing things in sinks or bathtubs and they’re not liquid!
*My note is that if you’re in a pinch, hair conditioner also works really well for washing clothes. Not only will you get the stink out, but you’ll also condition the material too! Just be sure you scrub in warm water to help kill germs and de-stink your garments.*
Need: Universal Converter
Charging converters have come a long way since my very first independent international trip 15 years ago. Gone are the days of having to juggle individual outlet converters!
Universal plug adaptors are compact devices that make space for all your charging needs. I personally prefer ones like this that have multiple USB outlets to keep all my electronics charged or split with my partner or friends.
Need: Cozy Pajamas
Especially if you plan on backpacking Europe with a friend (like we did with our pal/fellow travel writer Cait Kontalis), you might want to pack some cozy PJs to avoid any awkward travel roomie moments.
Dagsmejan jammies are beyond comfortable, take up minimal space and feel like luxury. Not to mention you’ll stay cool even if you’re a hot sleeper like I am. Plus, if you’re roughing it at a hostel or micro-hotel, you can feel like a million bucks with your Dagsmejan pajamas.
Need: Reusable Travel Mug
If you drink as much coffee and tea as I do, having your own reusable travel mug along on your backpacking trip is always a good idea. I love MyBevi because it keeps my drinks (both hot and cold) at their correct temperatures throughout the day. Also, it’s nice to not have to use disposable cups all the time.
Plus they’re durable, adorable, and very easy to hand wash even in a tiny sink. I love these!
*My advice: Bring your own tea and coffee to save some $$$ along the way. Ditch the boxes and store them in a reusable shopping bag you can use throughout your trip. Or pack them in the inside zipping pocket in your Osprey bag.*
Need: Reusable Water Bottle
Whether you want to go the Stojo collapsible bottle route or grab a Brita water bottle with a built-in filter, your bottle will be your best friend. Believe me, you will need that water with all the walking you’ll be doing in Europe! This is an absolute must for a Europe backpacking packing list.
*My advice: Hook a carabiner to your water bottle to attach to your backpack. I lost my Brita bottle five days into our five-and-a-half-week trip because it popped out of my backpack bottle holder.*
Need: Portable Jacket
Honestly, if I backpacked around to different countries again, I would do it in the autumn or spring–to enjoy the cooler months. And I’d immediately pack my Voller puffer coat. Their vibrant-colored coats are gorgeous, packable and a really great option to have on hand. Plus you’ll never lose these brightly colored babies on the back of a chair because they’re that hard to miss!
I didn’t bring my Voller with me on this Europe backpacking adventure simply because it wouldn’t make sense with the warm weather. But I highly recommend bringing one along, especially if you run cold.
Need: Travel Umbrella
Particularly if you plan on visiting places where rain is a frequent occurrence (looking at you Ireland), you’ll want a portable umbrella. Even if you end up not ever needing it, it’s better to have it with you so you don’t spend a whole day walking around soaked to the bone.
After all: few things are as nasty as walking in humid weather and wet socks.
Leave: The “Just in Case” Makeup
Look, I don’t blame you, I find myself doing this a lot. I always pack a little “just in case” makeup even if I have very limited space. But, let’s be honest, you probably don’t need it. When I travel I usually only do my eyebrows and mascara. Between the sweat, the sun, and the sunscreen, putting any other makeup on is a waste for me.
If you absolutely need to pack portable makeup just in case, I highly recommend an all-in-one travel palette like the stackable pieces by Woosh.
Leave: The Sun Hat
I love a portable sun hat. I have every aspiration of wearing that hat and looking cute while doing it. That said, I wore my sun hat maybe twice in five weeks. Did I look adorable in it? Absolutely! Could I have traveled without it? Absolutely!
Should you want a rollable sun hat like mine, grab one of these! They fit wonderfully in a backpack.
Leave: Extra Sunnies
As someone who wears glasses, I usually pack two pairs of sunglasses when I travel. One prescription pair and a regular pair in case I wear my contacts. If, like me, you’re usually wearing your glasses, just assume that will be the case for the weeks you’re backpacking. I didn’t wear my regular sunglasses a single time in five weeks.
Sure, they don’t take up much backpack space, but every little bit counts!
Leave: The Books
This goes without saying, but do not pack books when you’re backpacking Europe! A lightweight journal? Sure. But you don’t need to bring all your beach reads in print form. Even if your backpack feels manageable around the house or even on the first few legs of your trip, the weight will get to you eventually.
Unless you cannot live without your print edition of whatever you’re reading, just download it electronically. Your back and Europe backpacking packing list will thank you.
Leave: Outfit Swaps
Even for me, this is the hardest part of a European backpacking packing list. I laid each piece of clothing I wanted to take on my bed and saw which ones I could put together for the most ensembles. Altogether for clothing, I packed:
- 6 pairs of socks
- 6 pairs of underwear
- 3 bras
- 1 pair of paper bag pants
- 1 pair of leggings
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 swim coverup/bonus extra layer
- 3 tank tops
- 2 rompers
- 1 cardigan
- 1 pair of sandals (flip flops)
- 1 pair of tennis shoes
Packing for a European backpacking trip does not have to be scary or intimidating. If you give yourself the space to plan your pack, it can be an enjoyable experience. Even if you do that you might still overpack, but that’s still a lesson for next time!
Backpacking was way more fun than I thought it would be, even if we had rough airport days that made us wish we’d had our rolling suitcases. All in all, our adventure was beyond my wildest expectations and I would encourage anyone to backpack at least once in their lifetime, even if it’s just a week.
Knowing how minimalist you can pack is a freeing experience in itself.