Things to carry
Most hitchhikers carry a backpack with them wherever they go. The backpack should be sturdy, yet comfortable. First of all, you need as little as possible! The longer you travel, the less you want in your bag!
Large rucksacks are great, but maybe taking a smaller bag will encourage you not to take useless items...
If, after a trip, you decide an item really is useless, then don't be afraid to get rid of it.
In order of importance:
- A map of the area you plan to travel in, preferably showing petrol stations and tollway stations.
- Like anything though, this is debatable. Some hitchers may like to just go by the sun and general knowledge of the region.
- A small umbrella is also very useful.
If you like to hitchhike with signs:
- A big black marker.
- Sharpies work best, particularly the Magnum size. Eddings are also good, just make sure you have one with a broad end. That's easier to write with. If you find them, take Edding Flipchart Marker instead of Permanent Marker as they were made to write on paper: the color doesn't push through and they last longer than the permanent markers. Possibly some other colors; a catchy sign is an effective sign. Marks-A-Lot, in one hitcher's experience, have barely enough ink to last more than a few signs and aren't worth the space they take up.
- An A4 transparent plastic map and some spare A4 papers, or a piece of cardboard
- You'll often be able to find cardboard and paper on your way - just ask (or dumpster-dive) at shops or petrol stations.
- An A4 writing pad turned out to be very handy. You can make a lot of signs with it and it's quite stable. It's also good to have some paper clips with you, in case it's windy and the sheets are flapping.
For people who like it safe:
- A mobile phone for sending SMS to a friend, to inform them about the numberplate of the car you jumped in. Remember the battery recharge adaptor! Sometimes a service station will have a spare wall socket you can use to charge your phone. Remember to bring the right adaptor for the country you are in.
Quickly accessible during rides
It's also good to make things you might need on the road easily accessible:
- all possible maps you might need
- clothes in case of rain or sudden chill (like when going a tunnel when you're in the back of a van).
- a plastic bottle of water
Try and pack similar items close to each other (eg. toothbrush next to the toothpaste).
Then, if you expect to be on the road for more longer time:
- A large towel (doubles as a blanket, shawl or pillow). Specially-made camping towels are light, small, and dry very fast.
- Hygienic products such as:
- toothbrush - even better in your pocket!
- A small bottle of liquid peppermint soap--the kind which can be used as toothpaste or mouthwash as well. Try to stay reasonably clean. Dr. Bronner's Pure Castille Soap is recommended, though the containers it comes in are not very sturdy (wrap it in a bag at the least). Make sure it can't spill inside the rest of your bag!
- Baby-wipes work well too for cleaning skin, they're light and easy to store. Maybe a service station restaurant (such as a KFC) will have little packets of them, to give you for free...
- Toilet paper or tissues. Don't forget to bury it at least a foot down!
- A stick of deodorant and/or spray bottle of cologne. Alternatively essential oils, as of lavender, patchouli, grapefruit, etc.
- A sleeping bag. It can be useful to have a good, waterproof Compression Sack as well.
- An extra set of clothing, at the minimum, 2 extra pairs of socks and underwear, and an extra T-shirt.
- A nice warm jacket or hooded sweatshirt. It's possible to do wonderful things with the right layers; good camping long johns and thermals are worth their small weight in cold weather, and are comfortable to wear to bed.
- Something to drink, food, fruit, nuts. You don't want your food and drinks to be all over your stuff, so make sure that this is carefully packed. Canned food can be too heavy - often dried bulk food etc. is better. Try not to take things that have a strong smell. Remember to drink lots of water, and that most other drinks (like coffee, soda, orange juice, etc.) will actually dehydrate you.
- Reading material, for waits and quiet rides. (such as On the Road by Jack Kerouac, or Evasion by Anonymous).
- A pack of cards. Or a lightweight Game Pack.
- A small medikit - cheap, and may suddenly be very useful.
- A small sewing kit is crucial for longer trips (especially if you have only one pair of pants - hitchhiking with a hole in your crotch is quite difficult) Recommended: at least one pair pants and one shorts. Conventional thread is really dreadfully weak, many travelers prefer to use dental floss because of its vastly superior durability. Some flosses are better than others, with the standard being Johnson & Johnson Reach brand. Good floss can also conveniently be burned/melted down onto a knot.
- A torch (US: flashlight). Wind-up ones are good because they're lighter, and you don't have to waste batteries on them. The RAC one (available in the UK) is excellent.
- A journal and/or camera is always a good choice to keep track of where you've been and who you've met, and to later add useful information to this wiki!
- Some basic tools to make jewelry with, or other such, will keep you in pocket change and give you something to do on lazy afternoons in the park, and will provide you with an answer if the police ask what you're doing in town. Also good for starting conversations.
- A harmonica, penny whistle, kalimba or the like is also nice.
- A small amount of change (in the local currency), for buying public transport tickets, and any other items you suddenly need.
- CDs or cassettes, to offer drivers for entertainment during quieter rides, and even to give as "Thank You" gifts.
- If it makes you feel safer: a film-canister full of pepper--kept in your most accessible pocket. You probably won't need to use it, but you should have it handy to be able to pop the lid and toss it in the face of an attacker.
- An aluminized mylar "space blanket" is an exceptional survival tool, and weighs only an ounce or two.
- A multi-tool. My preference is the Leatherman Wave. A companion used the Leatherman Blast and would not recommend it - the pins that hold the tool-lock releases are made to cross too long a gap, and can snap. The Swiss Army Knife is of course a classic as well.
- A tarp. There are a few varieties, my preference is actually a coated nylon rain poncho that doubles as a tarp. Good to separate you from the ground, or to rig up a shelter with, or to cover your pack when stashing it somewhere if it might rain. The new "siltarps" made with siliconized Cordura are extremely waterproof, ridiculously lightweight, and very surprisingly durable.
- Rain gear. As mentioned above, a poncho works well and doubles as a tarp, but even just a contractor trash bag tucked away is a good idea. If considering a rain jacket, remember that you'll want to keep your pack dry as well as not end up with your pants/skirt soaked.
- Sun screen. Standing in the sun without protection for hours waiting for rides can result in a nasty burn.
If you decide on camping you may want some more stuff:
- A tent, a tarp or a bivouac sack (or at least a couple of large, sturdy leaf bags, one opened at the bottom and duct-taped to the other to make a 6' long waterproof bag to sleep in - be sure not to suffocate yourself!). Consider a fan for tent camping, which can keep you cool on hot nights.
- A pad to sleep on (1" foam rubber x 2' wide by 5' long, for example), or a Thermarest or other self-inflating sleeping pad. Frankly, with either cardboard or dry leaves being very readily available at almost any place you might camp, carrying a pad with you is not really needed except in a few contexts.
- A metal cup big enough to hold a can of Sterno (packing space is at a premium) and a can of Sterno. Alternatively, instead of Sterno, you can use a Squat Candle or DIY Alcohol Stove.
- Matches or lighter - preferably both, maybe even two lighters to be sure. BICs are the most reliable.
- A boy-scout type fork, spoon, knife set (heavy) or your pocket knife and a spoon.
- A length of coat-hanger type wire and a length of sturdy cord or string
- A canteen or plastic water bottle (glass WILL break!).
- Your clothes, stuffed into your tactical backpack or camping backpack, make a good pillow and make it much less likely someone will steal your backpack while you are sleeping on it, particularly if you keep an arm through the straps while asleep.
- Most bridges have a flat, dry space underneath which is excellent.
- After being harassed a few nights back by a mountain lion, I keep a 3" pocket knife on me when I sleep.
- If you expect a lot of rain it's wise to pack stuff in a few zip lock bags. Especially recommended for electronic gear and some clothes that you want to keep dry. You can also save bread bags as waterproof bags, which also work great as between-sock-and-shoe covers if you're walking though snow or puddles without a good pair of waterproof boots.