Different types of backpacking: Comparing the adventure styles

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There are so many different types of backpacking and some of them overlap. Realistically, the only feature that stays consistent throughout all backpacking travel styles, is that the traveller will take with them a backpack instead of other forms of luggage.

If you’re a beginner to the backpacking world, you may only be aware of one or two variations of this travel style. But actually, there are multiple to choose from depending on your interests and they all offer something a little different.

In reality, you could find your travel style covers multiple backpacking types in just one trip since many of them have similarities. Once you decide the length of the trip, the destination, and how much gear you will take, you’ll start to work out what backpacking style you’re going to travel in.

Of course, there are dangers to be considered when hiking. Plus, depending on where you choose to go backpacking in the world there are different factors to be aware of such as wildlife and the weather. But there are risks with most outdoor activities, so don’t let that put you off.

Don’t forget your travel insurance if something bad happens. Safety Wing offers plans to suit different travel styles and destinations. Not everyone needs the same coverage, so make sure you get a personalised quote that suits you.

Let’s take a look and see what your ideal types of backpacking are.

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Check out: Most Useful Apps For Backpackers

In order to stay connected and be able to use useful apps on the road, consider getting an eSIM. These eSIMS can be ordered dependent on country or region and can be downloaded directly onto your device.


Photo by Laura Pluth

Hiking Backpacking (and/or Camping)

This is one of the first backpacking types people think of. It’s where you will take your luggage in a backpack while you enjoy hiking trails and camping areas. These trails are typically well-signposted, commonly travel routes and as for the camping areas, they’re normally designated areas specifically for hikers wishing to spend the night.

You’ll need to carry your clothing and any camping equipment needed throughout the trip and will be able to enjoy nature and explore the trails and wildlife.

The main appeal of hiking backpacking is how it’s normally completed in popular areas on well-known trails. they’re not as far off the beaten path as some other styles so you’re likely to be near other people at most times. The campsites and trail are often close to useful amenities so it’s one of the best starting styles to try if you’re a backpacking beginner.

Pseudo-backpacking

Pseudo-backpacking is essentially practice backpacking. It’s where you can ease yourself into the backpacking world by doing so close to home, near civilization, maybe camping in the garden or near home JUST IN CASE there is an emergency.

You still need to take all of the required equipment you believe you will need, and try not to use your home or local accommodation during your practice run. It’s a great way to get familiar with packing your bag, using the gear you’ll have and gaining confidence in familiar surroundings, before diving in and heading out into the great outdoors.

The main appeal to pseudo-backpacking is due to practice making perfect. If you know how to use your equipment before a real-life backpacking experience then you’ll be in a much better situation than if you were to start a trip without ever using them. By practising in a safe environment, you’ll be able to learn some basic skills before heading out on your first real adventure.

International backpacking

International backpacking is one of the travel types that takes you overseas. Although you can go backpacking to some degree in any destination including at home, it seems to interest people a little bit more when they get an international trip out of it too.

When you participate in international backpacking you get to immerse yourself into the foreign countries culture while exploring. You could enjoy slow travel, meeting locals within the region of your adventure who introduce you to the local way of living.

The main appeal of this travel style is to experience different cultures, appreciate new landscapes, and meet people from around the world. If you’re visiting places completely different to what you’re familiar with, you can learn a lot which makes this backpacking style all the more fascinating.

The Banana Pancake Trail is a common international backpacking route in Southeast Asia.

Photo by Darrien Staton

Flashpacking

Flashpacking is the more luxurious version of backpacking. It can be considered an upgraded version of the standard backpacking style but each participant has more money to spend on comfort. This can create a significant difference in the experiences between the two styles.

Flashpacking typically includes higher-end accommodations (either glamping or actual hotels) so that the traveller can enjoy much more relaxation than a standard backpacking trip.

The main appeal of flashpacking is adding comfort to a trip that usually wouldn’t be so comfortable. It is one of the only luxurious variations of the roaming style that can ease people into backpacking as a complete beginner – especially if regular backpacking seems overwhelming.

Backcountry Backpacking

Backcountry camping is a backpacking style that sits right in between regular hiking and wilderness camping. It’s where you can enjoy camping away from designated sites, but still close enough that you’re comfortable knowing you can get help if need be.

You’re far enough into the natural environment, but not so far away that you need to be extremely skilled. By setting up your campsite away from established areas you’ll be slightly more secluded and be responsible for your own experience.

The main appeal of this travel style is to get you off of the beaten track just enough to practice your skills without going in too deep. Many people don’t like crowds and instead prefer the opportunity to enjoy nature away from others but without needing to be extremely skilful.

Minimalistic backpacking

Minimalistic or Ultralight backpacking is one of the most difficult types because you aim to take as little gear as possible with you, but still have everything you need. By minimizing the amount of weight you’re carrying you can improve the speed and comfort of your backpacking journey.

This could include using specialised equipment which is much lighter and smaller than the traditional, or taking less than you usually would. This backpacking style can be enjoyed in any environment as the only specification is having a light backpack.

The main appeal of this compared to other backpacking types is that it would be a more comfortable journey if your bag is lighter. This often means you can walk a further distance before getting tired and can test your ability with as few items as possible. This takes skill.

You could backpack to a location to see certain regional animals – toucans and sloths I saw in Costa Rica

Interest-themed backpacking

This is a popular type of backpacking that is planned around an interest or theme in particular. If the traveller is an avid bird watcher then they would likely choose to go backpacking in regions where they’re likely to spot specific bird species.

If they’re fans of photography they may choose to hike through regions with stunning landscapes they can take pictures of. The great thing about this travel style is it can change depending on what your interests are. All you need to do is find what you’re interested in and figure out how to enjoy that topic of interest with your backpack.

The appeal of themed backpacking is to mix something you enjoy with physical activity – that you likely also enjoy. If you’re interested in simply testing your skills then you can incorporate a skill-based backpacking experience with one of your interests. Because this is completely based on things you are already interested in it is more appealing due to how much fun you’re likely to have.

Thru-hiking

Thru-hiking is a type of backpacking where you travel on a journey for a number of weeks or months along a continuous path. A path that could include trekking for hundreds or thousands of miles. Unlike more common hiking styles, this method takes much longer than just a few days.

It’s essentially long-distance hiking from a starting point to your final destination covering an extensive distance. Because this backpacking style takes a long time, sometimes you will be passing through multiple regions and possibly crossing multiple county borders; However, some large trails cover just one country that can fit into this category too.

The Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian Trail are two prime examples of thru-hiking trails in the USA.

The main appeal to this type of backpacking is to push yourself to extremes over the entire journey. It’s a travel style that forces you t be disciplined as only people who have the motivation to backpack for long periods, are successful. It takes perseverance and will likely require you to do some training beforehand.

Adventure backpacking

Adventure backpacking is one of the travel types that takes some courage. It typically combines backpacking and sports. Some of these sports include adrenaline-inducing thrills such as rock climbing, abseiling, mountaineering, kayaking and more. By adding such adventurous activities to your hike you create a more exciting expedition that covers a range of activities instead of just one.

The main appeal to adventure backpacking is to get a full-body workout while enjoying multiple sports along the way. The adrenaline rush felt when pushing your body to the limit and dealing with exciting activities makes for an overall impressive trip – providing nobody gets hurt.

Photo by Chaewul Kim

Winter backpacking

Winter backpacking is essentially regular backpacking but doing so during the Winter months. This could include hiking through snow and icy conditions and embracing the cold weather throughout your trip. There are some more risks associated with this compared to other types of backpacking because the icy conditions are likely slippery which can increase the chance of injury.

As well as making sure you have appropriate footwear to minimise the effects of the ice, you will also need to make sure you have enough suitable clothing layers to stay warm.

The main appeal for winter backpacking is to test your skills through Winter terrain. The majority of people go backpacking between Spring and Autumn when the conditions are much nicer and easier to navigate. This type of backpacking certainly requires specialized gear to give yourself the best chance at a successful trip.

Urban backpacking

Surprisingly, this is one of the most common types of backpacking so it’s certainly worth writing about. Urban backpacking is when you explore urban environments with a backpack, typically staying in hostels and built-up accommodations instead of tents.

Plus, instead of being located out in quiet, rural regions, you could be in a town or large city. Urban backpacking allows travellers to navigate cityscapes both on foot and using public transportation. It’s the same as a city break, except you have a backpack instead of a suitcase and you carry most things with you.

The main appeal of this backpacking style is to stay close to civilization which can put beginner travellers at ease. Plus, there are plenty of cultural and urban attractions located around large cities that can create an exciting adventure without sending you too far into the wilderness.

If this is the travel style you’re most interested in, I cover a few posts on hostels: Finding safe properties for your gap year, plus what to expect with the disadvantages of staying in a hostel. I also cover the advantages of staying in a hostel so you can see what they’re like from both sides.

Wilderness camping

Wilderness camping is similar to backcountry, but it’s a step further into the level of remote environments you’re faced with. With wilderness camping you essentially pitch your tent up in any location (while making sure you’re aware of camping laws) without needing to be near any common trails or designated areas.

You’ll be far away from civilization and completely self-reliant on your equipment and skills to keep yourself safe throughout this trip. It is a true way to fully immerse yourself in nature and put all your backpacking knowledge into practice.

The main appeal to wilderness camping compared to other backpacking types is how much more isolated you will be meaning you’re unlikely to encounter any other travellers along the way. Although appealing to some, this comes with its own number of risks too.


Final thoughts on the different types of backpacking

As you can see, each of these types of backpacking has a key similarity, while offering something a little bit different. Depending on your interests and what you aim to get out of a trip, depend on which style of backpacking is the most suitable for you.

Do you have a favourite style?

Need help planning your trip?

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WayAway – Great for booking flights. They even have a cashback feature for those who fly frequently.
Skyscanner – A comprehensive comparison website showing where to purchase flights.
HostelWorld – The biggest selection of hostels & sociable accommodations.
Booking.com – The largest collection of accommodations worldwide.

Safety Wing – A travel insurance brand for long-term travellers and nomads.

Airalo – An eSIM card company that lets you stay connected during your trip.
Wise – Perfect for transferring foreign currencies.
iVisa – For applying for tourist and visitor visas.

Viator – Great for finding tours and activities worldwide.
Get Your Guide – Another company for finding activities.
Klook – Have some of the best activity deals in Asia.

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