Backpack for long enough, and you slough every last gram of dead weight to become your most efficient, durable self. I did a lot of pre-trip Googling for what I’d need to last 17 months on the road, but in retrospect what I needed most was a stranger on the internet reaching through their computer and slapping like 5 pounds of junk out of my hands. In Bali I once had to walk 12 miles in the midday heat, in flip-flops, because I missed a bus. If I’d been carrying anything more, I’m not entirely sure what I would have done. Died, maybe.
So, yes, pack less. But then — what the hell, when you’re blasting into the unknown? I started my trip in North America, but knew I’d also be packing for New Zealand (cold), sub-Saharan Africa (hot), Australia (humid), Europe (all of the above), and Southeast Asia (spiders). And you will encounter weirdness beyond what you can predict. I saw a gas station serve a full pancake breakfast and a busker play “The Final Countdown” on a full-sized harp. But across 30-plus countries, I never met a backpacker who regretted packing too light.
The essentials for backpacking are actually essentials for life
What remains to lug are the absolute essentials. Much of it is travel-specific equipment that you probably don’t already have, but this isn’t a bridesmaids-dress situation where you need an expensive thing once only to never pick it up again. Good travel gear tends to just be better-designed, better-constructed versions of things you do use in your everyday life.
It’s been more than two years now since I got back from my trip, and I still use nearly everything I bought for it. And I don’t mean stuff I’ve gone on to re-purchase; I mean physically the same items I had with me while traveling, because top-quality shit lasts forever. Start planning early, and it’ll simply accumulate. I spent six months planning my trip before I actually left, and in that time I just phased in a lot of the Travel Stuff whenever I needed to buy new Regular Stuff, like socks.
Do this right and you can achieve a style of travel called flashpacking. The the internet has interpreted this to mean “affluence,” but you can do it on a budget. Bring only expensive and/or hard-to-find-on-the-road essentials; on the road, pick up — and subsequently discard — cheap/disposable things: extra socks, flip-flops, T-shirts, a beach towel, gloves, hats, bottles bigger than travel-size of anything, including sunscreen. This saves you a lot of weight and space, especially if you’re traveling between varied climates.
Take a sort of Marie Kondo approach to your packing: Each time you’re about to put something in your bag, think of the destination where you plan to use it and ask yourself if the item is something you’ll be able to buy, cheaply, once you’re there. Yes? Then buy it there. Most of the stuff you reflexively pack for traveling you don’t actually need while you’re traveling. You only need it when you’ve arrived.