What to wear backpacking in Italy

What to wear backpacking in Italy [UPDATED 2023]

If you’re packing your bags right now for your next Italian getaway, lucky you! You’re going go to one of the MOST beautiful and MOST romantic countries in the WORLD! Now, especially for us ladies, the real dilemma arises: How am I going to pack my entire wardrobe into my suitcase… or worse, just in a travel backpack?! I was faced with this very same predicament when we decided to travel without clunky roller suitcases, and opt for travel backpacks throughout Italy, instead.

Hence, there was my situation. I had a non-negotiable need to be as stylish as possible… obviously. But when limited to only a backpack’s worth of space, packing became a HUGE logistical nightmare!

Stuck in a seemingly impossible situation, I improvised. I wouldn’t let a lack of space weigh me down!

If you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s my best tips and recommendations on what to wear backpacking in Italy during the hot summer months:

1. Versatile basics

What to wear backpacking in Italy

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Having versatile pieces in your suitcase is so important. So, pack your basics: Blue jeans go with nearly everything, just like basic solid-color t-shirts and also white pants.

I LOVE these white pants by Uniqlo because they have a “fake” waistband, or in other words, it looks like a zipper and button, but actually it’s a super-comfortable, stretchy waistband. Perfect for travel, when you might be cramped on a train or airplane for hours.

Versatility is crucial when packing for a long trip with limited suitcase space. Mix and match tops and bottoms to keep effortless variety in your outfits. Planning your outfits in advance means you’ll save time on the road, too. You won’t have to waste precious vacation hours coordinating your outfit. You’ll have already done it at home!

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Basics don’t have to be boring, either. Bring a cute hat or buy bold earrings at your destination!

Pro tip: Don’t forget that if you are wearing a backpack, it’s going to be heavy on your shoulders and at your waist. If you have bare shoulders, the straps will rub your skin uncomfortably. I quickly learned that on our travel days, I shouldn’t wear off-the-shoulder tops or dresses. So, wearing a t-shirt and jeans were great for these days.

2. A few statement pieces

What to wear backpacking in ItalyYes, you CAN allow yourself 1-2 statement pieces, provided you have already figured out the other pieces of clothing your statement items will coordinate with.

Ideally, these statement pieces won’t take up too much space in your pack. Instead of bringing fabulous neon-pink platform heels, try a leather jacket, a colorful maxi dress or a this literally incredible skirt by Free People that also converts into a dress. Love, love the versatility in this piece!

Another breathtaking skirt that would be just perfect for matching the Italian aesthetic: the Nathali Skirt by Cara Cara. A bit of a splurge, but it’s oh-SO-pretty. I love this piece!

Or, for another statement piece idea, check out this gorgeous maxi dress by Free People (pictured below), which would be just stunning as you frolic through tall grasses and olive trees in the Italian countryside. Right, though??

Plus, if these statement pieces are also versatile (like the Free People skirt mentioned above!), then you can mix and match with the basic staples you have packed.

3. A shawl or cardigan

What to wear backpacking in ItalyA shall or cardigan is a MUST if you’re going to be visiting many churches and cathedrals on your trip. Although I noticed some people do not always follow this rule, it’s generally a good idea to wear something that covers your shoulders while inside a place of worship.

Also, at places of worship, it’s good practice to keep the length of dresses and skirts below the knee. I brought this practical yet also stunning kimono by Free People and I was surprised at how little space it took up in my pack; it was easy to pack and stuff it in between the nooks of everything else in my backpack.

Also, even though we were in Italy during the height of the summer, temperatures still dropped drastically at night. Shocking, I know! I would be sweating like crazy in the sun at midday, and by night I would be shivering.

Bring a shall, cardigan or sweatshirt for this. Try a blazer by TopShop that could be worn with several outfits.

4. Layering

What to wear backpacking in Italy

As I mentioned earlier in this post, temperatures can really drop at night, especially in places right on the water, like Positano or Venice. You might be out and about all day, from morning until night, so be prepared! Even though it could be a sweltering 80 F degrees at 11am, by 8pm it might be a chilly 60F.

Also, a note on wearing shorts. Before leaving, I’d heard a rumor that Italians don’t wear shorts. I really didn’t want to stick out by wearing shorts, but I brought one pair anyway.

what to wear backpacking in italy
Definitely out of breath after walking up several flights of stairs in positano. proudly wearing shorts.

Once we got to Italy, I looked around and found out that some Italians actually DO wear shorts. So go ahead, bring a pair of shorts and wear them proudly if you are traveling in the summer!

5. Sunglasses

What to wear backpacking in ItalyBringing a couple pairs of sunglasses is a good idea, so you can mix it up. I brought two pairs, and definitely could’ve brought three!

Either way, sunglasses don’t take up TOO much space, and are an absolute essential if you’re going to be outside all day. Okay, now who’s ready for a Peroni on the beach?

6. Great walking shoes

What to wear backpacking in Italy
If you ignore everything else in this post, don’t ignore this one. All of my European travels have unavoidably involved lots of walking, which I look forward to since my home life consists of mostly sitting at a desk.

I have total respect for people who wear tennis shoes or sneakers on their entire trip with every outfit. Because, it’s honestly the most comfortable way.

Supportive footwear makes an impact on your entire body and can seriously make or break your entire trip. But, I just can’t do the tennis shoe look 24/7 – I HAVE to find shoes somewhere in between stylish and comfortable.

Comfortable sandals have become my lifesaver. I always look for a decent amount of visible padding on the soles.

Before this trip, I spent a significant amount of time going to the store and trying on different pairs. In the end, I went with Gentle Souls by Kenneth Cole and Steve Madden’s Dina Sandal (now sold out) in tan. These were my two sandal go-to’s that matched every outfit.

Then, I brought a pair of classic black Toms and white Keds for sturdier walking shoes. This ended up being the perfect balance. My feet weren’t sore even after walking up 60 flights of stairs in Positano!

7. A raincoat and/or umbrella

What to wear backpacking in ItalyOn our way out the door to depart for our flight to Italy, I luckily grabbed my bright green Hard-Wear raincoat. It was a last-minute decision that I was really thankful I made!

It rained on our first night in Venice – it literally down-poured just as we stepped one foot out the door to grab dinner.  I also used my raincoat to brave the ocean spray on our ferry to Positano. 

Lesson learned: Bring a raincoat or an umbrella – you will likely need it when you least expect it! I’d recommend this one from Amazon because it packs down into a tiny little pouch that you can sneak into a purse.

If you size up, your raincoat will fit over whatever you’re wearing including your purse, camera, or backpack.

8. Linen pants

What to wear backpacking in ItalyOne trend I picked up on our trip to Italy was the striped-linen pants trend. Nearly every other woman I passed was wearing these cool, high-rise linen pants, usually patterned with vertical stripes. I ordered this pair (now sold out) before leaving home and quickly learned that it’s all the rage in Europe and in the U.S., too. Check out this similar style here.

Pair it with a cute bodysuit like this one at Anthropologie, and your outfit is complete!

I loved the trend so much that I even purchased another pair of striped pants (not linen, though) at a boutique store in Sicily. It also worked with the bodysuit so it was a major win-win!

9. Extra space for the clothes you’ll inevitably buy there

What to wear backpacking in ItalyBefore we left for Italy, I was convinced I wouldn’t be spending time much shopping for new clothes. As much as I love a cute outfit, I am pretty picky when I shop, and I just figured I wouldn’t have time to spend hours mulling around boutiques or even chain stores.

Trying on clothes can be pretty time consuming, let’s be honest! But as it turns out, I had more time to shop than I expected and I even got on board with a few European trends while I was there.

So, lesson learned, always save room in your bag for those unexpected items. They will come up, even when you don’t plan on it. I actually purchased a bulky sweatshirt in Positano, which I now love, and somehow was able to squeeze it into my pack along with everything else.

For example, I bought this really cute off-the-shoulder top (pictured above) that was on sale at a boutique store in Cefalu, Italy, and was so happy I did. It’s been one of my favorite go-to tops all summer long since I came home.

10. Something you can have fun in

What to wear backpacking in Italy
This is probably the most important tip of all! Bring clothes you will feel confident and comfortable in. No one wants to be on vacation and suffering from a tight pair of pants or a itty bitty bathing suit just because it’s “fashionable.”

Be yourself. It’s possible to be both fashionable and comfortable. You will thank yourself for it while you’re feeling fancy drinking an Aperol spritz on the Mediterranean coast.

Here’s my entire list of what I wore backpacking in Italy:

  • Tops:
    • A black bodysuit
    • Old Navy short sleeve crewneck navy t-shirt
    • H&M sleeveless light blue patterned shirt
    • Banana Republic sleeveless linen top, white
    • Banana Republic off-the-shoulder black-and-white striped shirt
    • Banana Republic Long black-and-white striped shirt (for airplane travel)
  • Bottoms:
    • Old Navy white shorts
    • UNIQLO white capris
    • KUT from the Kloth blue jeans, cropped
    • AFRM Karina High-Waist Crop Flare Pant
    • Black leggings (for airplane travel)
  • Dresses:
    • Leith olive green shift dress
    • Old Navy linen dress, black
    • The Gap, stripe eyelet cami fit and flare dress
  • Shall/Cartigan:
  • Shoes:
    • Classic Toms, black
    • Gentle Soles Sandals, black
    • Steve Madden Dina Sandals, tan
    • Keds, white
    • Flip flops
  • 1 Swimsuit
  • Raincoat
  • Two Old Navy cross-body purses, tan and black

I fit all of the above PLUS toiletries and souvenirs into my Osprey Fairview 55 Travel Pack, which I’m now obsessed with. The reason all of this fit in my pack is largely due to my lucky discovery of these MAGICAL compression sacks by Eagle Creek, which I am also hugely obsessed with and HIGHLY recommend.

If you’re also curious about general packing tips or looking for advice on what to pack for a trip to Colombia, check out my Youtube video below:

WHAT I WORE IN COLOMBIA | How to Pack for 8 Days in a Carry-On

Questions? Leave a comment for me below, and I’ll get back to you!

*This post may contain affiliate links. When you click on these links, I may receive compensation, at no expense to you, that helps this blog run.*

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11 Comments

  1. Great tips for packing light which is my thing for any trip! Was amazed at how beautiful you looked in beautiful Italy! Incredible to see how many items fit into that backpack.
    How’s your back?

    1. My back was ok – it was more so my shoulders that were sore! I think my pack ended up weighing under 20lbs though which was pretty good! It really is a great pack, I couldn’t believe how much I managed to stuff into it.

  2. Thank you so much for this tips, I wish I read this post earlier about leaving some extra space for the clothes you’ll inevitably buy!! Just got back from a trip to Hawaii and did some shopping. Forgot to leave space for new things, had to pay for an extra luggage at the airport which sucked lol

    1. That’s always what happens! I simply got lucky that I was able to stuff more into my backpack than I thought. Thanks for your comment Amina!

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