Clothes for Backpacking Europe
Travel Tips & Tricks

Clothes for Backpacking Europe

Creating a checklist of lightweight clothes for backpacking Europe is important for keeping the weight of your pack low. A heavy pack is painful. When we do long distance travel, we try to go in the summer months. We just don’t want to be cold, and when we backpack, we don’t have room for winter clothes. So, for the sake of this article, we are talking about traveling during warm weather. If we go somewhere during the winter months, everything changes. Of course, if we go on short trips that allow for more luggage, we carry a completely different wardrobe because we have more room. But for this post, we are talking about carrying a backpack.

Planning a trip to Europe…

In the summer of 2020, we are going to Europe for two months. We are starting our trip in Switzerland. We are making a big loop down to Italy and over through the Balkan States, Greece, and back up Italy to Switzerland. Since it will still be too cold for us in Switzerland at the beginning of our trip, we have decided to simply land there and take off for our journey, leaving Switzerland for the end of the journey when it will be warmer. The plane ticket to Europe is cheaper if we fly in and out of the same location, and it is truly a loop we were making, so when we land, we will take a train the same day and start our journey in Milan, Italy.

Knowing that it will still be chilly in the mountains of Switzerland at the end of June, we will buy any needed clothing, coats, hats, gloves, etc. when we arrive back there. We don’t want to carry all of it for two months when we don’t need it. So, buying warm clothes at the end of the journey will work great, and we will be over our self imposed weight limit for only a couple of stops.

A practice run…

When we first decided to be minimalist travelers, we decided to do a trial run of loading our packs with what we thought was the least we could get by on. We had already decided that we were determined not to repeat the same mistakes we had made in the past, but when I weighed my pack with my limited items, my pack was too heavy by seven pounds! I pulled everything out and did it again. I ended up losing a sweater, a heavier dress, heavy shorts, heavy shirts, heavy swimsuit, etc.

It was a shocker! I had to buy some new things and take out what I really didn’t need. I was able to get my entire pack down to no more than ten percent of my body weight. It was heavenly compared to previous trips where I was always looking for a place to sit or place to prop my pack against.

If you’ve never downsized your packing, my list will look crazy. You might think that you just can’t do it, but you can. I never thought I would be okay wearing the same things for two or three months, but it’s okay. It’s better than dragging yourself around in misery with a heavy pack. If you get sick of something, buy something new and give the old item away.

Keep laundry in mind…

The important part of this minimalist travel list is that we try to stay at places that have a washer and dryer or is near a laundromat. If our hotel or Airbnb doesn’t have a washer, I map a laundromat immediately and put it in our notes. There’s no way we can travel light if we don’t wash as we go. We carry a clothes line because dryers are not as common as washers. Some places have cheap laundry at the hotel, so you can ask and see if that fits your budget. When we were in Costa Rica, we found a drop off service and when we were in Paris, we did it the old fashioned way, just hung around the laundromat and waited for our things. It took a while to translate the directions on the machines, but we figured it out using a translation app.

Packing Cubes…

The other system I would strongly advise you implement is the use of packing cubes. This is genius and keeps your stuff organized and simple. I have one that goes to the bathroom with my toiletries and others for each type of clothing items. We also keep one that is for our dirty clothes that has odor blocking technology so our pack doesn’t smell if we carry dirty clothes. Organization is important even when you don’t have a lot in your pack. Opening your pack at every location and seeing everything organized is a great feeling when you’re tired.

Here is a great video about packing cubes.

My Clothes for Backpacking Europe…

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  1. fast drying shirts
  2. fast drying shorts, three total
  3. lightweight sundress
  4. lightweight rain jacket with hood
  5. fast drying pair of pants
  6. long sleeve tee or lightweight hoodie that is fast drying
  7. pairs of socks
  8. pair of compression socks for long flights or train rides
  9. undies
  10. swimsuit with super light coverup
  11. sun hat
  12. pair of flats 
  13. hip/waist pack

Shirts and Shorts

The most important feature of your clothing has to be that it is comfortable and fits you well. I sometimes lose a few pounds because we walk so much, so I try to buy things that have an elastic waste band. John likes shorts that have pockets. Besides weight and fast drying ability, we want clothes that are comfortable and won’t stick to us when we are sweaty. Breathability is important and the ability to wick away moisture is helpful. 


I have lots of sundresses, but when I went to pack them, they were heavy or they were cotton (not quick drying). Try to go with a color that will work for a nice restaurant or theater. If you prefer to travel in a dress, you can skip the shorts and shirts and just go with travel dresses. I personally love dresses, so I do this often. Including a pair of shorts for hiking trails is good, but walking about is nice in a dress when it’s hot. I prefer dresses that are as thin and light as possible that drip dry fast.

Rain jacket

I found the perfect rain jacket. It has a nice fit and works great. There are many great options, but I just love mine. It is light weight and fits so well. I got it in traditional yellow, and John is fond of being able to spot me in a crowd!


There are great pants out there with great options like pockets and zip off legs. I wear yoga pants on a regular basis when I’m just hanging out at home, so I like to have them to travel with also. They keep me warm, especially on long haul flights. I also like to put them on under a dress, if we go out on a cool morning, and then I can move them to the day pack when I get too warm. The problem with them is that they don’t dry as fast as the hiking pants but comfort wins out for me. Your choice might be different, but that’s okay.

Long sleeve tee/hoodie

Everyone has a favorite they like, and I’m no different. I personally like having a hoodie that is soft and not too bulky. It’s all about your preference, but having a long sleeve option in your bag that can go under your raincoat adds a layer of warmth. Layering is a great way to trap in your body heat, so making sure your rain jacket fits over your hoodie is a good thing. My hoodie is a bit heavier than I’d like, but it is warm and I’m willing to make the effort and go light on something else. It still is quick drying, so I can hang it to dry if needed.


I have a favorite brand that are woven with high density yarn with targeted compression in all the right places. The toe is seamless and they come in a variety of sizes and colors. They are designed for runners, but when I’m on my feet a lot, I appreciate the performance they offer even to non-runners like myself. They are fast drying and are not cotton.

We also advise to take a pair of compression socks for long haul flights and train rides when you aren’t up and about much. John suffered from a DVT (Deep Vain Thrombosis) due to flying without moving about. I’ll tell more about it later, but wearing compression socks is a good plan for all retirement travelers. Take care of your feet, you’ll need them to be healthy for the many miles you will travel and walk.


This is such a personal preference and I’m not going to get into it, except to say that you should take items that dry quickly and are breathable. There are travel brands that have figured out how to make odor resistant material that performs great for backpackers. They even say you don’t have to wash them everyday; however, that’s not an option for us. I just can’t handle the thought of that one! 


Whatever style you like is great, just check the weight of the item. I have some swimsuits that I love, but I would never take because they don’t dry fast or they are too heavy to start with. I will say that having a board short is nice when you decide to paddle board, sail, or take a surfing lesson. John attended a surfing school in Costa Rica last year, and he advises wearing a shirt to guard against rashes from climbing up on his board all day.

Sun hat

My normal go to hat is a golf hat. I have tons of them, but I really like having a hat with a lot of sun protection. The key is to find one that is lightweight and cool. A lot of hats have heavy brims but if you shop around you can find one that wicks away moisture and is lightweight. It’s nice to have a hat that is water resistant because getting caught in the rain happens often.

Flats or sandals

I take a pair of flats that I can wear to dinner or the beach. Of course sandals work too, but I find that flats are perfect for me. 

Hip pack

John loves carrying a “fanny pack” and the good news is that they have come back in style. This time they are called Hip Packs. I think this is hilarious but the good news is that there are lots of styles available and some of them are good looking. Like I said before, we aren’t all about style, but at least today we don’t geek out too much when we wear them.

I have always carried a cross body purse that is lightweight, but lately I’ve been wearing a hip pack, like John. We both have a Patagonia mini pack, and we find it’s just big enough for our phone/camera, money, passport, sunglasses, etc. We like having our items in front of us and able to be reached quickly. It helps to know where your things are when you’re on subways and walking around. It also alleviates the worry that someone on a motorbike will grab it off your shoulder and take off. My hip pack can be worn under my shirt if I’m in a place that’s not ideal.

Plus, we use our family’s made up word, “sortuation” in this case. Having it around your waste helps keep you “sortuated” when you are on the go so that you don’t have backpack straps and purse straps that get tangled up. 

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