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How to Choose the Best Laptop for Backpacking

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What to Look for When Choosing a Laptop for Backpacking?

Planning your itinerary, sending emails back come, applying for jobs… There are many reasons to have a laptop while backpacking. Although you can do a lot on phones and tablets, laptops are usually more convenient to use when you are doing a little more than just posting a few photos on Instagram. Here’s what to look for when choosing a laptop for backpacking in New Zealand.

Because new laptops come out every few months, it wouldn’t be worth it to name specific models to get. However, we can tell you the criteria you will need to take into consideration when choosing a laptop for travel. Most of us backpackers just need to browse the Internet easily, store photos and a few videos, as well as other processes like creating a CV for finding jobs. We’ll go through the main criteria you will need to look for in a laptop in the article below.

For a complete list of things to pack for a trip around New Zealand, check out our complete New Zealand Packing List.

Insuring your Laptop for Travelling

When you are out and about travelling the world this is when your laptop is at most risk. Your laptop could get stolen, smashed in your backpack, lost with your luggage… Or it could be totally fine. Either way, some travellers prefer to insure their laptop should the worst happen.

Although insurance is available to solely cover your laptop, we recommend including the laptop with your travel insurance. Because you are likely to have to get travel insurance for a working holiday in New Zealand anyway – it’s a mandatory condition of a working holiday visa – you might as well add your laptop as a personal item to cover. It’s likely that you will have to pay a little extra on top of your travel insurance for this option, but it’s often cheaper than getting standalone insurance for your laptop. New Zealand insurance companies like Orbit Protect, who specialise in backpacker and working holiday insurance, include this option to add a personal possession to your insurance. For more information on travel insurance, check out Medical and Travel Insurance for New Zealand.

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Battery Life

Perhaps one of the most important criteria when choosing a laptop for backpacking is its battery life. When staying in hostels, holiday parks or campgrounds in New Zealand, there is often competition for plug sockets. Plus, you may sometimes go long periods without having access to electricity. For these reasons, a laptop with long battery life is a must!

What Laptop Specifications Look for?

Working out the battery capacity of laptop isn’t usually as simple as “7 hours”, as a number of factors can determine the battery capacity. Nevertheless, here are some specifications to look out for.

When looking for a laptop with long battery life, first look for the number of cells the laptop battery has. The more cells the battery has, the higher the battery capacity is. Look for something above six cells.

Looking at the ampere-hours helps to understand the time the laptop can be used before it runs out of power. Ampere hours are either expressed in milliamperes or 100th of the rating of a full ampere, so 1,000 mAh is 1 Ah. Compare this MAh with other laptop batteries.

Power Tip

Install power usage software on your laptop that allows you to keep an eye on what functions are using up the most power so that you are able to stop them when they are not in use. For example, laptops save more battery when the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are switched off.

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Laptop Size

Of course, when you are travelling you will want a laptop that fits in your backpack. Luckily, understanding the size of a laptop is incredibly simple, as laptops are often characterised by their screen size. For example, 11-12 inches, 13-14 inches, 15 inches, etc.

What Laptop Specifications to Look for?

An 11-12-inch laptop provides the ultimate portability, however, this may be at the expense of storage capacity and processing power. This size will fit into most day packs.13-inch laptops are also a comfortable portable size, so if you prefer a slightly bigger screen and value more storage space and processing power, then consider a 13-inch laptop.

Finally, look at the external dimensions of a laptop to see if the whole laptop will fit into your backpack. The external dimensions should measure length, width and depth.

Power Tip

Remember that there may be other accessories included with your laptop that will add more to pack in your backpack. The obvious one is the battery charger. It’s worth checking the size of the charger too, as some come with bulky transformers (and not the cool robot kind).

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Laptop Weight

Whether you end up breaking your back or not really depends on the weight of your laptop. Always look at the weight of a laptop.

What Laptop Specifications to Look for?

The weight of the laptop should be clearly labelled in the specifications. This largely depends on the size of the laptop. Portable laptops of about 11 to 13 inches can range from 800g to 2.5kg. The lighter the laptop the better when choosing a laptop for backpacking.

Power Tip

If possible, the “travel weight” which will include the battery charging cable, for instance.

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Storage Capacity

The final important criteria to look for when choosing a laptop for backpacking is its storage capacity. This is particularly important if you plan on storing photos and videos of your travels. The storage capacity is in the laptop internal hard drive.

What Laptop Specifications to Look for?

Knowing that most backpackers prefer to store high-quality photos, music and a few videos, look at laptops with hard drive space starting at 250GB+. If you are downloading quite a lot of movies without deleting them or doing a lot of filming for your travels, then look more toward the 500GB+.

Power Tip

To back-up your files or to get extra storage space, consider packing an external hard drive too. This is much faster and convenient than uploading files to a cloud (which, when the Internet is quite slow in New Zealand, can be a pain in the ass). However, this will add slightly more weight to your backpack. If you are struggling with the Internet in New Zealand though, be sure to check out these 10 Free Wi-Fi Spots in New Zealand Where You’ll Actually Have a Good Connection.

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Criteria You Don’t Need to Consider When Choosing a Laptop for Backpacking

So we’ve gone over the most important criteria you need to consider when choosing a laptop for backpacking, but what criteria is not necessarily important?

Processing Power

Processing power is less important when looking for a laptop for travel because with the tasks an average backpacker performs on a laptop it’s just not a huge issue. Browsing the Internet, sending emails, uploading and downloading your travel photos don’t require a huge amount of processing power. For this sort of use, look for laptops starting from 2-4 GB of RAM and an Intel Core i3 processor.

Once you start looking into video or high-quality image editing software or gaming, that is when you need to look at something with more RAM and high processing power. However, high processing power usually means the laptop will drain the power more quickly and it makes the laptop more expensive to buy.

Operating Systems

Everyone has an opinion on which operating system they use: Windows, Chrome OS, or Mac OS X. It’s a personal choice, so go with whichever one you feel like.

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5 Gadgets for Your Laptop

Finally, as promised, here are some gadgets for your laptop that are just too cool to not share!

  • Water-resistant laptop sleeve – Because it rains quite a lot in New Zealand so keep your laptop dry and safe!
  • 1TB external hard drive – As mentioned above, back up your precious travel photos or store more movies, images, etc. with an external hard drive. This one is compact, lightweight and perfect for travel.
  • Travel adapter – For when you need to plug your laptop into the mains. This one is universal with surge protection!
  • Solar charger – If you spend a lot of time outdoors or go camping, this solar charger is perfect.
  • Laptop cable lock – A great security feature.

For more gadgets to stuff in your backpack, check out 21 Travel Gadgets for Your Gap Year in New Zealand.


Robin C.

This article was reviewed and published by Robin, the co-founder of NZ Pocket Guide. He has lived, worked and travelled across 16 different countries before calling New Zealand home. He has now spent over a decade in the New Zealand tourism industry, clocking in more than 600 activities across the country. He is passionate about sharing those experiences and advice on NZ Pocket Guide and its YouTube channel. Robin is also the co-founder of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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