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Women backpackers are on the rise around the world. And with good reason. There is just something about exploring a new land and being away from the usual ‘at home’ routine to really make a person feel empowered. Whether travelling solo or with another person or a group, I believe travel is something everybody should experience.
What’s great about backpacking, is it can be very cheap if you’re happy to “rough” it a little. At the same time, you can make it more glamorous (you’ve heard of glamping right?!) if you are more of a “luxury” traveller.
As you should know by now, I am definitely more of the budget kind of traveller so I’ll do my best to share with you quality at a more affordable level.
What is backpacking?
It’s often referred to as the main way that budget travellers will enjoy a trip. A type of adventure that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s when hippies would travel from place to place. Many of them frequented the old silk road. The trails “connecting China to the west” or connecting different parts of Asia to the Middle East and Europe.
In the decades since then, this form of travel has caught the attention of people of all genders, ages and classes who want to experience the nomadic lifestyle. It’s no longer only loved by hippies!
When you embark on a backpacking trip you’ll find: women, men, gap year students, career people on sabbatical, couples, solo travellers and groups of friends. It really is for everyone.
It’s so freeing being able to move from place to place. . .
with only a bag on your back.
Different types of backpacking
When someone says the word ‘backpacking’, what do you think of?
- #1. A trip in which a person goes camping and or hiking. Usually travelling in a rural space or the wilderness with all of the things they will need on their back
- #2. Or maybe you think of the gap year travellers heading to multiple cities and countries and staying in various accommodations along the way with – you guessed it – just a backpack on their back.
Although they are different ways of travelling, they have a lot of similarities. The main one is that you travel with a backpack rather than a suitcase. You will have limited space in your bag which means you can’t bring everything. But that’s not to say you can’t easily pack everything you need.
In this post, I am going to try to cover the hiking & camping style of backpacking. I will be doing a separate post about the second (hostel) style soon!
Interesting fact: Most North Americans think of backpacking as the first option. The second option is more associated with backpacking by Europeans – but neither is wrong since they overlap!
Statistics of women backpackers
If you go back far enough in history, women were typically the carers of the home and family. Men were often hunters and explorers. Fast forward to the last few decades and women are on par with men when it comes to adventure.
Most features of a backpacking trip are gender-neutral. This means that backpacking is not specifically for either sex. Therefore, anybody can enjoy it. & that’s exactly what we do!
Below are some stats gathered in 2020 and 2021 by Condor Ferries about women travellers that might interest you:
It was recently learned that women in their 50s are more likely to travel solo than any other age gap in the UK! I did not expect that as I always assume it’s the gap-year students who would have had the top spot.
Safe countries for women backpackers
I’m a white, British backpacker who started my travels in South East Asia and Australia. A place that might be deemed safe for myself, may unfortunately not be the exact same for someone of a different age, race, sexuality or nationality.
My aim is to try and offer women of all backgrounds some tips on backpacking. I understand, however, people who live in places that are less safe, could have a harder time backpacking as a woman.
Generally speaking, there are so many countries safe for women. But that’s not to say every place or city is crime-free within those countries. The key to finding safe places is doing a little research and finding a place that has a low crime rate and a low number of attacks on women.
Rather than start by naming countries that have a reputation for being unsafe, I’ll start on a positive note and list some countries very safe for women backpackers.
10 super safe countries
- Canada – Many people visit the glacier lakes, mountains and backcountry.
- Australia – Known for its beautiful beaches, hot weather, and unique wildlife.
- Thailand – Much more affordable than other countries, hot weather, spicy food and beautiful beaches.
- Portugal – Known for having some of the best seafood, and popular wines in the world.
- New Zealand – Slow-paced & diverse with volcanoes, beaches and the gateway to the pacific islands.
- Vietnam – A hot country with many historical sites, and photogenic islands.
- Japan – A classic yet futuristic country known for its traditional arts and gaming empire.
- Spain – The home of tapas, daytime naps (siesta) and a laid-back nation.
- Iceland – Home to fire and ice, this country has volcanoes, huge waterfalls, and frozen glaciers.
- South Korea – One of the most advanced countries in technology and has a strong pop culture following.
Of course, there are countless other places that are more than safe for women travellers, but these are some of the most popular places that backpackers head to! These are also regular admissions onto the ‘safest countries to travel in’ lists which is what we like to see.
Unless you’re backpacking in your home country, you’ll probably need to transfer some of your money to use abroad. The company that I personally prefer over others I have used is Wise (once known as transferwise). If you’d like to check them out you can do so here: Transfer money using Wise
How can women backpackers prepare to travel for the first time?
Use familiar places – If you are new to backpacking, the best thing to do to start would be to go on a hike locally for one day. Then try overnight. Work your way up gradually on longer and longer trips until you are comfortable.
This way, you start to learn your limits and are not too far from a place you know. If you can successfully survive the night within an arm’s reach of home without having to go and get the spoon you forgot, it’ll be much easier to succeed in an unknown place.
Use friends’ knowledge – Everyone knows at least someone that has been camping, hiking or backpacking. Whether they were a part of a group like scouts or brownies (girl guides) as kids or whether they got into it as adults. Using your friends’ experience to your advantage means you’re getting real-life tips to prepare you for the experience.
Plan your route/trails in advance – By planning your trail in advance, not only does this give you an outline of a route to give to a trusted person. But you might also be aware of any road or trail closures before you need to access them. In many national parks and counties, there are dedicated websites that regularly update any roadblocks or issues that might be encountered on the trail.
Hiking? Use AllTrails!
**If you are hiking, I recommend checking out the AllTrails website to see if your trail is listed there. They have thousands of trails around the world and are regularly updated by hikers who walk the same route. It’s a great way to make sure you stick to the exact trail without getting lost!**
Practice Pseudo (or fake) backpacking – This is where you and a friend backpack to the same place, but keep a distance so you’re not ‘together’. You don’t share items and don’t communicate while you ‘solo’ travel, but you’ll be more comfortable knowing they’re not far off if there really is a problem.
Research your destinations – We are going to do a whole section just on what to research so, we will come back to how to do this successfully!
Research, Research, Research
Ok, so as mentioned, research is your best friend. Regardless of whether you are just hiking and camping with your backpack for a few days only a few hours from home, or whether you’re on the other side of the world for 6 months – RESEARCH.
By learning as much as you can about the destination(s), you can understand the safety precautions to take and join the many other women backpackers out there exploring – but safely.
Examples of things to research:
- Is this an official trail?
- Is there a mobile phone service?
- Where is the nearest hospital?
- What season are you going in & is there a forest fire or flooding risk?
- Is this trail popular with other hikers?
- Are there any dangerous sections of the trail? ie steep drops, avalanche risks etc?
- Are there any closures along the track?
Of course, there are literally hundreds of questions you can research and answer depending on your trip style. I’m just using the ones above to give you an idea of the types of questions you should consider answering.
If you are travelling close to home then you probably already know the rules with wildlife and the local landscape, but you could be travelling far away to a completely different place to what you’re used to.
Example: Let’s say you’re going on a trip to Canada and are not familiar with the ‘Canadian backcountry’. What you might not be familiar with are the types of wildlife that are prevalent there – bears & mountain lions. By doing some research beforehand, you can learn the do’s and don’ts about bear safety.
Tips on how women backpackers should fill their bags
My bag is 55L currently, but over time I have learned to pack less so I plan to get a 45L – 50L next!
First things first, you’re going to need a bag. One of my favourite brands is Osprey. Check them out here. With so many sizes and bags suitable for different-length trips you’re going to be spoilt for choice.
It’s helpful to keep your most used items at the top of the bag to find them easily. Things like suncream, TP, first aid and a torch that you could need at any moment.
By putting the heaviest items directly behind the back panel, you’re putting the weight directly above the hips so your legs carry the weight rather than your back or shoulders.
Other light items such as waterproofs, warm layers & food are good things to put on the outer midsection. They won’t get squashed by the heavy items and you have easy access.
Medium-weight items can be anything from main clothing, cooking/camping gear, and toiletries. Things that are slightly bigger and won’t squash as easily. This helps balance the weight out onto your hips.
This lowest section is good for sleeping bags, towels and dirty laundry for example.
New to packing a backpack? Use packing lists!
If you’ve only gone on short trips with a suitcase to a hotel, you might not realise how many extra items you need to backpack with. Using packing lists might seem more long-winded, but it’s a great way to make sure you don’t forget what to bring.
One thing that always helped me when I was a newbie, was starting to write my list for 2 weeks before leaving. That way, if I forget something when I write the majority of the list, I still have time to add things without being in a crazy last-minute panic!
Pro tip: Don’t do what I did before my first backpacking trip, and realise I need my microfibre towel and a favourite red shirt that were in the dirty laundry basket – I only had a few hours left to wash, dry and pack them before leaving!
Because of how useful I always find it to have a list, I have created two generic packing lists available for FREE download. These are aimed more at a feminine audience of women backpackers but any gender is welcome to download them if it helps you!
Not only will you get one of the checklists below, but I always include an empty checklist that you can manually write any added extras. You could use the blank sheet for anything I haven’t included such as any personal medications you might be on, child or pet-related items if they are travelling with you, or practically anything else that could be personally relevant to you.
Campsite / Sleeping
- Tent – I always prefer to take a smaller (no more than a 2-man tent) otherwise I find them quite heavy.
- Sleeping Bag – Depending on your camping destination depends on the type of sleeping bag you need, but make sure you get one that’s warm!
- Tarp – A good cover over your campsite if you get rain. Easy to tie each corner to trees and/or your tent.
- Roll / Sleep Mat – These make sleeping on the ground a little comfier.
- Table – If I am travelling solo I won’t take a table, but I will if travelling with at least one other person. Easier to cook and eat if you have a surface.
- Chairs – Lightweight is key here.
- Pillow – I have a “U” shaped travel pillow which I clip to the outside of my bag but I also like inflatable pillows as they take up almost no space when not in use!
- Hammock – A cosy place to sit/lay if you don’t want to be in your tent. You can have a great nap in one!
- String & Pegs – Can be used to tie down a tarp, As a clothesline and to hang things from trees. Can often get these at Poundland/dollar stores.
- Water Filtration System – The life straw allows you to drink from almost ANY water while it kills almost all germs and bacteria. Perfect if you need water without a running tap.
- Pots for cooking – So you can heat up or cook your food while out in the wild.
- Camp stove & Fuel – The easiest way to cook or heat up your food for each meal.
- Plate / Bowl – so you don’t have to eat out of the pan you cooked in.
- Cutlery – I like the metal options rather than plastic and love how this comes with a reusable straw.
- Reusable water bottle – I used to love collapsible bottles for convenience but I actually lost mine in Thailand. Now I prefer this big chunky one that reminds me to drink water!
- Hot/cold water flask & camp cup – Often come together so you can keep your coffee (or hot chocolate) hot.
- Lighter / Matches – so you can light your stove or a campfire where permitted.
- Dish Soap & small rag – You need to keep your dishes clean along the way.
- Bags for rubbish – There could be times when there is nowhere to dispose of your rubbish so you’ll need bags to keep it until you can get rid of it.
- Food & snacks – Lightweight healthy snacks like granola bars are good for energy and not taking up too much space, as well as easy food to cook over a single camp stove.
Pro tip: Depending on your budget, it can sometimes be better value to buy a full set of camp cooking equipment, cutlery, bowls and cups all in one. If you are pickier, then you can select them individually as I have listed them above.
Clothing for women backpackers
- Sleepwear – You can use regular pyjamas you’d use at home. If it gets cold, put it on your base layer.
- Eye mask – Having an eye mask will guarantee good sleep even if the sun rises early.
- Ear plugs – Ear plugs will help you sleep even if it’s noisy.
- Quick-dry underwear – The quicker they dry, the less likely other hikers will be to see your undies hanging up!
- Hiking socks – If you plan on walking a lot you have more chance of getting blisters. Appropriate hiking socks are durable and help protect your feet. You’ll be thankful you have them.
- Sports bra – SO much comfier than a regular bra, and normally made from materials that allow people to sweat without getting smelly. Perfect for days when you’re physically active.
- Warm base layer – You can wear it alone as a long sleeve top, or you can wear it underneath other clothes to trap in the heat during cold temperatures.
- Sunglasses – Always remembered in summer. But in winter the sun is lower and more likely to get in your eyes. I personally never bother with expensive sunglasses as I have a tendency to sit on and break them.
- Hiking Boots – I personally prefer boots with ankle support to prevent me from hurting myself when trekking on difficult or rocky terrain. These are a great pair although you will need a waterproofing spray with them if you plan on hiking in wet weather.
- Camp Sandals / Flip Flops – These will give your feet a chance to breathe after being in hot hiking boots all day.
- Workout leggings – I normally hike in leggings for comfort more than anything & for easy access to photos of landscapes I prefer leggings with leg pockets for my phone.
- Hiking trousers – Some people prefer these but I only wear them if my leggings are not warm enough.
- Quick-dry t-shirts – Nobody wants to spend hours waiting for clothing to dry when you could be exploring.
- Swimwear – Can be easier to have a wash at a campsite if you have swimwear. That way you’re not walking around naked.
- Gym shorts – For when your leggings are too hot. Many women backpackers prefer hiking in shorts!
- Jumper / Hoody – Layering up is so important if you’re changing altitudes or trekking through inconsistent weather.
- Waterproof jacket – This 3-in-1 can be used as just a windbreaker, rain jacket and keep you warm until -8C. It has the warm inner fleece-like material for those colder treks and will keep you dry during a 3hr rain shower. Versatility is key when backpacking.
- Hat (summer & winter) – in summer hats will prevent you getting heatstroke. In winter they’ll keep your head warm.
- Scarf & gloves – I tend to take gloves regardless of the season as they can help when you need to scramble or use your hands to climb on a strenuous hike.
Toiletries & Medical Items
- Toothbrush & toothpaste – Since I started trying to be more eco-friendly I’ve been using bamboo toothbrushes. They’re biodegradable too which is a huge plus!
- Soap bars – Take up a fraction of the space of shower gel bottles & last for months.
- Shampoo bars – So much more convenient than shampoo bottles and last me an average of 6 months!
- She-wee – There are a few variations of this device but it allows women to urinate without having to squat.
- Wet wipes & toilet Paper – Wet wipes to help make you feel a bit cleaner and TP for its expected use.
- Zip-lock bags – Great for disposing of feminine products until you find a bin. They do not transfer any scents to the rest of your luggage in the meantime.
- Lip balm – I always recommend using lip balms with built in SPF. Your lips will appreciate it.
- Suncream – I am pale as can be so I try to be sensible otherwise I will burn. The higher SPF the better for high altitude hikes! I don’t go below 30 SPF.
- Hand sanitizer – I always carried some with me pre-covid because when camping you can easily get dirty.
- First aid kit – Plasters, antiseptic wipes, bandages. Plus any medications for pain relief and allergies.
- Bug Spray – If I’m buying from home I always opt for deet based products. But I find the more natural versions from tropical countries more effective.
- Feminine products – Contraceptives & period products. Something most women backpackers need.
- Tiger balm – I never leave home without it! Tiger balm can take the itch away from big bites quickly.
- Microfibre towel – These dry much quicker than other towels and take up significantly less space.
- Laundry scrub bag – One of the easiest ways to wash your clothes while camping that I’ve come across!
- Mobile Phone & charge wire – You never know when you might need to call for an emergency.
- Portable battery pack – To charge all of your electronics while away from electricity.
- GPS satellite device – Great for contacting the outside world if you have no phone service.
- Camera & SD card – I use my Go Pro & Kaiser Baas for photos and videos near water.
- Tripod – To easily take great photos without having to ask strangers to help.
- Torch or headlamp – To see around your campsite or trail in the dark.
- Batteries – To charge your torch / headlamp.
“Leave no trace”
One key point to backpacking that everyone should follow is to leave no trace. I personally believe in trying to live this lifestyle at home as well as abroad. By tidying up your litter, holding onto it until you can dispose of things properly, you are just one more person helping keep the world a cleaner place.
This is especially important when you are camping. You are in untouched lands, please don’t leave any trace that you were there.
Leave every place, the same way you found it.
How women backpackers can keep safe
When I first started making plans to solo travel long-term overseas, I was laughed at. I was told by many friends and family it was “too dangerous”, “too scary”, “not for women on their own”. Did that put me off? No.
I was raised to be curious and to live my life to its fullest potential. So why were people wanting to put me off my travel plans? This is very common, even today. Unfortunately around the world, women are expected to travel with a ‘big tough male’ in order to be safe – or are told not to travel at all.
Stay safe while hiking by avoiding the dangers around you. Always be alert and aware of your surroundings.
Yes there are some awful people in this world and women can be at risk of being harmed, but realistically that can happen in your hometown just as much as it could happen abroad. I’m a firm believer that if you follow a few steps and remain sensible, you can be just as safe in a foreign country. Let’s take a look at some of these steps below:
Acting with caution – Just because you’re on holiday that doesn’t mean you are invincible. Use some common sense and act with caution like you would at home.
Don’t walk around at night – By trying to avoid being alone at night in an unknown neighbourhood you can hopefully avoid the wrong attention. Although in an ideal world you should be free to walk where and when you want, you should avoid walking alone at night if you can. Being out in public during the day is much safer.
Don’t get overly intoxicated – Alcohol and drugs can lower your ability to be aware of your surroundings. This can lead to injury and getting lost if you are in new and unknown locations.
Stay in a group – There is always safety in numbers so if you’re backpacking with another person then you automatically increase your safety. You can have each other’s back if there is a problem.
Be careful who you tell
Don’t let everyone know your plans – If you are travelling alone or backpacking just with another woman, it may not be advisable to let everyone and their neighbour know your plans. You wouldn’t want to risk letting someone untrustworthy know you’ll be in the wilderness alone.
Let trusted people know your plans in case there’s an emergency – Although you shouldn’t tell everyone, you should definitely at least tell someone. If you are not home or at the next destination within a planned time frame, if someone knows where you are, it is so much easier to find you. This is useful if you get injured and have no phone service – they have somewhere to start looking for you.
Don’t be too trusting – Making friends on a backpacking trip is fine, and even advisable. But you should always make sure to be aware of the situation and your surroundings. Just because you are nice, doesn’t mean everyone else is. Be friendly, but don’t put all of your trust into strangers and new friends.
Check in regularly – You’re backpacking so you can gain some independence. That’s fine, but there will always be someone at home worried about you. Check in once in a while just to let them know you’re ok or have reached your next spot. It’ll give them peace of mind and let them know they don’t need to send a search party out.
Don’t carry expensive items
Don’t flaunt your riches – Don’t wave a wad of cash around after withdrawal from an ATM. Don’t flash your expensive jewellery and electronics. Many cities and destinations have groups of pickpockets that target rich-looking tourists. If you show the world your pricey belongings, you risk becoming a target.
Bring decoys – I always recommend bringing a spare wallet with just a few pounds in and an expired bank card. Also try to bring an old spare mobile phone along with your regular one. This means you have something to give to a criminal if someone attempts to mug or rob you, without losing everything.
Always be alert – This goes for everyone, not only women backpackers. Make sure to always be aware of your surroundings regardless of where you are.
Practical period essentials for women backpackers
So you know how to keep safe on your travels but what about maintaining high levels of hygiene? When backpacking you will have access to less items than at home so you should choose wisely what to bring.
Now, let’s imagine you have everything ready for your trip and you check the calendar and notice that your great aunt flow is coming to visit. Right in the middle of said trip. Not ideal. But also not impossible to manage! Let’s take a look at the typical feminine sanitary products and look at why it could be beneficial during your backpacking adventure.
Period-related travel items
|Menstrual cup||One plastic item that can be washed and reused to maximise backpack space.||Need to wash in order to continue using it. Can be intimidating for new users as it is a larger item to be placed inside the body.|
|Pads||They are flat when packaged so don’t take up too much room if you only have a few (ok if you have a light flow)||Hard to dispose of without bins & if you need a whole box/packet they take up a lot of room in a backpack (not great if you have a heavy flow). Will need to keep them in a ziplock until you can dispose of them.|
|Tampons||Can be packed in your bag independently as they are small and compact||If you need to take a lot/have a heavy flow a box takes up a lot of space. Quite large and take up space if you can’t find a bin, will need to keep them in a ziplock which takes up significant space until disposal.|
|Period Underwear||Underwear that is lined with a thicker padding to use in lieu of pads. Sustainable and reusable once washed. Comfortable like regular underwear.||Have to wash them in order to continue using them. Can be difficult if you don’t have access to laundry facilities.|
Another thing many women are on is contraceptives. Depending on your personal situation you have a few different options available to you.
Be natural – You could opt to have no contraception for the duration of your trip. Many women do this anyway due to not wanting to experience the negative side effects or hormone changes that can sometimes come with taking contraceptives. Backpacking shouldn’t be any different. Just make sure to practice safe sex should you partake.
If you use contraceptives for other reasons like thousands of women (and backpackers) do, let’s look at the pros and cons of some different types when backpacking.
Your main aim when travelling is to keep your luggage to a minimum since you need to carry it everywhere, but also want to make sure you have enough space for everything you actually need.
Disclaimer: **I am by no means a nurse or medical professional. I am offering information from personal experience with contraceptive types and backpacking in the table below. Please make sure to speak to a medical professional before starting something new.**
Contraceptive comparisons while backpacking
|The Pill||A tablet to be taken every day (or for 3 weeks with a week off). Many Dr’s will give you a 3 – 6 month prescription for your trip if already on a pill so you don’t have to change pill brand.||Taking months worth of pills takes up space in luggage. It can also get complicated and tricky to take pills at the same time everyday if crossing multiple time zones.|
|The Depo Injection||An injection in your butt or arm is taken every 12-13 weeks so you don’t need to remember to take any pills or carry anything in your luggage.||It can be difficult to find a clinic overseas that offers the depo injection for foreign tourists and visitors – if the country has it available at all. This means you may have to plan your trip around where you can get it.|
|Arm Implant||A small rod implanted under the skin in your arm that can last a number of years which means you don’t have to carry pills or be injected regularly.||If there is an issue with the implant it can be tricky to get it removed overseas if you are not a resident of that country. Not every country has it available.|
|IUD / IUS (Coil)||Physically inserted inside the body so you don’t need to take up luggage space or remember to take tablets each day.||Like the implant, if there is an issue with the IUD overseas or your body rejects the foreign object, it can be hard to get it removed if backpacking through rural areas. Can be extremely painful.|
|Patch||A patch you stick to your body and need to change each week.||You need to remember to change the patch every week and need to carry enough for the duration of your trip.|
To be Continued:
As I continue to go on backpacking trips I will update this page as I remember and learn new convenient tips to help fellow (women) backpackers. Watch this space.