“Should I bring a laptop when backpacking?” This is a tricky question to answer but one that many backpackers are asking more and more frequently.
A lot of people go out on a hike because they want to get away from technology and go off-grid. However, these days, you will see an increasing number of backpackers bringing their laptops with them on the trails.
If you want to have your laptop while backpacking, you need to consider factors like its size and weight, its insurance, and the very real probability that it can be stolen. Ultimately, the answer depends on your needs, your preference, and your ability to hike easily with the extra burden.
In this guide, I can help explain the factors you need to consider when taking your laptop with you on a backpacking trip as well as its pros and cons.
As a veteran backpacker, I have taken my laptop with me on occasion. With some smart packing, it is definitely possible and it can give you a lot of benefits on the trail as well.
Do I Really Need My Laptop on the Trail?
To answer this question, the first thing that you need to figure out is whether there is an absolute need to carry your laptop with you.
If you are a digital nomad and need your laptop to blog or work, then, of course, you definitely need to carry it with you on a backpacking trip. It is no good thinking that you might be able to work on someone else’s laptop. Also, keep in mind that not all backpackers bring laptops with them, so you might be out of options.
A lot of people feel more comfortable bringing another mode of communication with them aside from their smartphone on the trip. Even if you do not work online, you might still need the laptop to check your emails or social media, Skype home, or use entertainment.
Most hotels and inns these days have Wi-Fi and a lot of time, it is free. You even find Wi-Fi on buses now and this has made it all the more attractive to bring a laptop when backpacking.
However, if you don’t think that you will be using your laptop a lot, then you don’t need to bring it with you. Many hiking stations are also equipped with internet cafes where you can use the computers for a small fee. In addition, you probably already have your smartphone with you which allows you to communicate with your loved ones and entertain yourself, so you can just use that as well.
Considerations for Taking Your Laptop When Backpacking
If you are thinking of backpacking for an extended time, it is a good idea to keep your laptop with you. However, do keep in mind the following considerations.
Type of Laptop to Take
Again, you need to think about what you need the laptop for. If a smaller notebook will be enough for your needs, then I strongly recommend taking that with you rather than a heavier, full-size laptop. A 10-inch laptop is a good choice and if you want something truly portable, then an Apple iPad is a good option too. There are many backpackers who just take that as well.
Taking netbooks on shorter trips is also a great idea since they are small and very light. Plus, they have a long battery life so they are great for browsing the net or watching YouTube videos when you are on long bus journeys. You will be surprised to find out how much they can do and I don’t find the keyboard size to be a big problem. However, if you plan to work on big or more advanced projects, then you will need to take a bigger-sized laptop with you.
Laptops do cost a pretty penny and it can be devastating to find out your laptop has become damaged or stolen. If you can find some good insurance for your gadgets, it can give you peace of mind when taking your backpack with you. So far, though, most good insurance companies will only cover up to $500 for gadgets. So, if you are taking a $2000 laptop with you, you need to consider whether you can handle the risk.
You also have the option of buying laptop insurance separately from certain companies; however, these often come with a lot of limitations and restrictions. Read all the terms and conditions very carefully before signing on to the insurance policy to ensure you are covered adequately.
I strongly advise you to take good pictures of your laptop from all angles, copy down the serial numbers, and have proof of purchase of the laptop like a receipt when buying laptop insurance.
When backpacking, it is important that you keep your laptop in a laptop bag. In addition, you should also invest in a neoprene sleeve for padding. It is a good idea to invest in a bag that is made of stretchy and durable fabric and has a carry handle as well as a strap for easy carry. Also, make sure the weight of the bag itself is not much and that it isn’t bulky, and that it has pockets where you can store your charger, mouse, and external hard drives.
Protection from Theft
When you have an expensive laptop with you, you can’t leave it out in the open if you are on a trail; what if it gets stolen by a wild animal? When you are hiking on the mountainside, it is a good idea to keep your laptop within eye range if you decide to take a plunge in a stream to cool off. In other cases, you will need to keep your laptop with you at all times. At these times, having a trustworthy friend can be a boon who will agree to keep an eye on your gadgets as you cool off.
If you are in a populated spot or in a hotel, the obvious way to keep your laptop secure is to make sure you lock your doors when you go out. If your hotel provides a safe for keeping valuable items, you can also pay a fee for them to store your laptop.
If for some reason, you cannot keep your laptop locked away, then you need to make sure that you do not leave it lying around in a place where people can easily see it. Set a password for accessing your laptop so that if someone does steal it or tries to use it without your permission, they won’t be able to access it.
Keep the laptop in the bottom of your bag and hide the bag in a safe place in your hotel. If you are camping out, then shut off your laptop and place it in your sleeping bag with you, if you don’t find it too uncomfortable. That way, you would know if someone tries to steal it.
Although I have never had the misfortune of having my laptop stolen, I have to be realistic and let you know that it is not an uncommon occurrence. Travelers get their laptops stolen all the time.
If your laptop does get stolen, you need to file a police report as soon as possible. That way, you will have the highest chance of recovering it and you can also drop a claim at the insurance company at the right time. Also, describe your laptop (particularly any personalized marks on it like stickers or your name) to the people you are backpacking with or staying at a hotel with so that they may recognize your laptop if they see it in someone’s hand.
Also, spread the news on social media as well.
There are also several apps designed for tracking stolen laptops like Prey, LoJack, EXO5, and Find My Mac, which you can download and install on your laptop. You can activate these apps from remote locations and they will be able to find your laptop using GPS. You can then lock down your laptop remotely, capture a screenshot of a session opened by the thief and even activate the webcam to get their picture.
If you use your laptop for work or if it has a lot of personal stuff, then you should also create backup files for them on the cloud or on your external hard drives. That way, if your laptop gets stolen, you will still be able to access all your important files.
Why You Shouldn’t Bring a Laptop When Backpacking
There are several reasons why it might not be the best idea to bring your laptop with you when backpacking.
The Extra Weight
As a backpacker, you will be counting every milligram of weight you add to your backpack. Even the lightest notepads weigh over 2 pounds, which is a significant weight to add to your back. However, if you can handle it, then go for it.
The Increased Hassle
Your laptop is fragile (no matter what the ads say) and can very easily spill out its guts or smash its glass if an overworked local transporter hurls your backpack into place. To prevent this, you will need to carry your laptop in your hand luggage at all times and stow it away carefully yourself, which can be quite inconvenient at times.
Lack of Peace of Mind
Do you really want to spend your trip worrying about your laptop being stolen or getting damaged? If you suffer from this type of excessive anxiety, then it will ruin your entire trip, so best keep your laptop at home where it will be safe and you will get the peace of mind to move around as you please.
Not Staying Screen-Free
Many people go backpacking to meet new people in the flesh and to explore the wonders of the world. Having your eyes glued to the screen can take you away from enjoying these precious moments to the maximum. Many of us are stuck in a daily grind and a backpacking adventure is a chance to break free from all of that. If a laptop is preventing you from doing that, then it may not be a good decision to bring it with you.
Why You Should Bring a Laptop When Backpacking
Having said all of the above, there are circumstances when bringing a laptop with you can be very beneficial.
Let’s You Communicate
A laptop can help you stay connected with your loved ones and lets you know how things are at home. You can also access necessary work or other important tasks remotely so you don’t need to worry about missing something important while you are on a trip.
Backpacking isn’t all about eating foreign cuisine and cliff diving. There will be long stretches of time when you won’t be able to do anything like when you are riding on the bus or spending the night in your hotel. A laptop can allow you to watch movies, play games, and read books.
Let’s You Work
Don’t we all wish for a career that involves traveling to stunning and exotic places? If you are blessed to have such a career, then you will need to bring your laptop with you on backpacking trips. It can also allow you to edit your images and upload them to your blog on the same day!
So Should I Bring My Laptop When Backpacking?
Ultimately, the main question is whether the benefit of taking a laptop outweighs the added weight and risks of carrying it. If you think that is so, then you can take it with you by all means.
If you are only going on a weekend or a week-long trip, then you can do without your laptop as your smartphone will be sufficient. However, if you are going on an extended trip, then a laptop can help you tackle work as well as other tasks at home.
That said, a vacation is a vacation and if you want to go completely off-grid, you can leave your laptop at home regardless.
About THE AUTHOR
I’m a hiker, backpacker, and general outdoor enthusiast. I started hiking out of college while working for the National Forest Service, and have been hiking ever since. I’ve been solo hiking and leading hiking groups for two decades and have completed hundreds of small hikes and some majorones such as the Appalachian Train and the Pacific Crest Trail, and hiked on four continents. I’d love to share some of my insight with you.Read More About Peter Brooks