This packing list for backpacking is everything you will need to make the most of your backpacking experience. Don’t leave it to chance, and don’t spend more money than you should!
Let me tell you straight away, this packing list is not for climbing mountains and living in the woods. Backpacking, these days, has two meanings; one, trekking long distances with a tent and stove on your back and two, backpacking around countries in different parts of the world on buses, trains and anything else you can afford.
This is where the biggest problem comes in, the packing list for the two activities is completely different. Whilst travelling around the world, the vast majority of backpackers, I have come across, have amazing $250 hiking bags filled with socks and t-shirts.
They nearly always have a sleeping bag capable of going -10 degrees and wearing boots that wouldn’t look out of place in the Antarctic.
So, ask yourself, are you going to be staying in the wild for multiple days at a time? If not then let me save you some money, with this budget packing list for backpacking, so you can maximise your backpacking experience.
An Honest Cost Saving Packing List For Backpacking
Straight away, you might be thinking, ‘there isn’t a large backpack in this guide’. I will go on to recommend a backpack in a minute but the vast majority of people don’t need one so I haven’t included it in my essentials.
The reason for this is very simple, I have been travelling for 4 years now and I literally hate my backpack.
- Before you go, you have to make sure that all of the loose ends are taped up so they don’t get caught in the conveyor belt at the airport. A lot of people don’t do this but there’s no way I’m risking losing my bag before I get to my destination.
- I get off at my destination airport and go to put my bag in the overhead locker on the bus or train, these places were not designed for this shape so you’ll have the bag on your lap or in the middle of the floor for large portions of your trip.
- Maybe it’s colder than you thought so you go to get a sweater out of your bag. It literally takes me ages to find anything because I’m basically sliding my hand into a dark hole and guessing where something is, much like the first time I ever touched a….. I digress.
- After all this, I realise that I could’ve bought everything else in my whole packing list, except technology, for the same amount as the bag cost.
You, also, definitely don’t need a large backpack for day trips. Just use the foldable daysack in the list above.
If you simply cannot stand the fact that you will be a backpacker without a backpack then I recommend the Osprey Volt 60. This really is a fantastic bag and will handle anything you throw at it and more.
I think this 50l holdall is the answer. I think it’s a perfect size and it fits into some amazing places. One thing that I love about getting a canvas holdall is the fact that you can sew things onto it, like flags and things you’ve collected on your trips.
The expensive holdalls all tend to be made out of synthetic material that you can’t sew into without losing the waterproofing and tearing the material.
It comes in different colours so have a look to see which one you prefer. If this bag isn’t big enough then I highly recommend taking fewer things. This is my number one recommendation in this packing list for backpacking.
The most important thing about a day bag is that it is completely rollable/foldable. This is because, when you are not using it, it should fit easily within your holdall without taking up nearly any space.
You’ll also want the day bag to be, at least, water resistant. This is the bag you’ll be using for the vast majority of the time, so if you’re going to invest in anything, this is the one to do it.
Don’t put anything in the day bag when you leave your home country, roll it up and place it in your main bag. This means that you’ll have a whole bag to fill with souvenirs and gifts for the way home.
Every packing list for backpacking has to include some shoes, but this is a more difficult one because boots can sometimes be the answer. I love my Solomons, and they have kept my feet warm in -17 degrees. However, you have to decide whether you need them or not, they can really cost you a lot of money and you don’t want to get that wrong.
If you’re looking to go to some of the more popular destinations like; Cambodia, Thailand, Bali or Vietnam then you won’t need boots for the vast majority of activities. All you need is a cheap pair of plimsolls. If they break, you’ll easily be able to replace them, in any country you go to, and you won’t be forking out for an expensive pair of boots.
Obviously, if you’re looking at going on some big hikes and you love the trekking life, then I highly recommend the Solomon Quest for guys and Peter Storm Camborne for women. Both pairs of boots have been worn and tested extensively by Jade and myself in a large variety of environments. Both have been beyond perfect for our needs.
So many countries around the world, especially in South East Asia, have rules about entering temples and religious areas. You will NOT be able to enter many of these places if you are wearing certain clothes.
I DON’T recommend wearing clothes that are suitable for temples all the time, this would get uncomfortable and probably quite hot in many countries. The best thing to do is to purchase a cover-up that you can keep in your day bag.
This has the added benefit of making your temple pictures look even more Instagrammable than before.
Nowadays, you can buy one adapter that will work in basically every country in the world. Buy two of these and never worry about having power ever again.
It’s a no-brainer, with the amount of technology we take around with us now. This one comes with some USB outlets as well as the main plug which is incredibly handy for multi-charging, especially if you’re doing a quick top up in a cafe.
Buy suncream online before you go, as soon as you get somewhere that’s hot, the price skyrockets. I have recommended 70spf because I refuse to have my day ruined by sunburn. Have a browse through the Coppertone range for other SP factors if you’re not as susceptible as me but I highly recommend getting as high as possible.
In some countries throughout the world, you may find it difficult to find the sanitary product/brand you use. China, for example, doesn’t have tampons for sale anywhere.
There is a global craze at the moment for menstrual cups, and for good reason. You buy one and you never have to buy any other sanitary product ever again.
This is insanely useful when you’re on the road, especially when different countries use different methods. You won’t have to change product/brand throughout your trips multiple times, which can be annoying.
The menstrual cup also has the very good property of being environmentally sustainable, which all of the other products are not. Buying eco-friendly travel products is super easy now so there is no excuse!
I’m a guy so it may be silly to recommend a product that I’ve never used, so I asked Jade to write a quick review of the concept.
Jade – It took me a few tries but once you understand how your body works with the cup then you can’t go wrong. I was shocked about the size at first, it looks quite large, but it fits perfectly inside if you get the right size for you. If you are having any doubts then there are many youtube videos about how to use them, which helped me a lot. My best piece of advice, if your struggling to insert, is to wet it a little. I no longer use anything else and I highly recommend one, if you’re travelling or not.
Secure Money Belt
Travellers tend to be carrying around larger amounts of money than normal people as well as some important documents; like, passports and tickets. One of the worst things that can happen to you is having your bag stolen, not because of the money or clothes, because without a passport you’re stuck for a while.
With a money belt, you’ll be able to keep what’s important on your body at all times in a place that is impossible to pickpocket. I highly recommend getting one for peace of mind.
Flip Flops / Sandals
Depending on your style, I highly recommend getting some open-air shoes to wear out and about. Recently I was backpacking through Australia and the only time I ever wore closed shoes was whilst driving.
I recommend flip flops if you can use them, they are so easy to slip on and off. If you don’t like flip-flops then get a pair of sandals that are lightweight and don’t take up too much room. I’m not a massive fan of heavy duty walking sandals whilst backpacking because of the room they take up and the fact they don’t really do any one particular job.
They feel horrible on your skin, they dry you much slower than a regular towel and I hate to have to say this but you NEED to buy a micro-fiber towel for your backpacking trip.
The worst mistake you can make is to take a regular towel. It will take up tonnes of room, smell because it doesn’t dry, make everything else smell and then you’ll end up carrying it around under your arm until you burn it in a fit of rage.
The best thing about micro-fibre towels is that they are; tiny, light, dry in minutes and are cheap. You’re not going to get the comfort of a 100% Egyptian cotton bath towel, but then again, you probably won’t care.
I could sell out and tell you to buy some breathable, microfibre super clothes that will keep you refreshed and alert throughout your backpacking experience but I won’t.
A backpacker simply does not need expensive clothes designed for experienced and serious trekkers.
The majority of this list will be things you’ll have in your wardrobe right now. This packing list for backpacking is all about saving money!
They don’t have to be t-shirts, it totally depends on where and when you are going. But I strongly recommend that you don’t have more than 7 tops in your bag. I backpacked through 5 different countries and never thought I needed more, this goes for Jade as well.
We ran an experiment where we made a small bag, for our Australian road trip, and we could only use these clothes. Both of us went 3 months without using more than 7 tops.
To save confusion, these are things that go on your legs over the top of your underwear.
This is the only time I will recommend an item of clothing that is designed for trekkers. I love having a pair of convertible trouser – shorts in my packing list. They don’t look that fashionable but it saves an entire extra item of clothing in your bag.
Not only that but sometimes you may be on an excursion that starts very early in the morning and carries on throughout the day. The temperature may be very different at these times, and having a pair of trousers that changes into shorts can be very handy.
This is where you can have a little browse yourself. I personally like a fabric rimmed hat that can protect you from the sun all the way around. Being fabric also means that when you sweat it won’t feel so uncomfortable on your head.
You don’t need a hat for everyday activities, whilst backpacking, but it really does come in handy when you’re on a tour or an excursion. When you want to start looking at things or concentrating on something, other than the back of your eyelids, then a hat takes away the strain from your eyes considerably.
You will be able to purchase sunglasses wherever the sun is shining and usually for a lot cheaper than back at home. I recommend getting some cheap ones, definitely not designer, because they are going to see some serious wear. More often than not, my sunglasses have broken because I have sat on them or they have crushed in my bag.
Sunglasses are fragile things, even if you invest serious money into some really strong ones, so do yourself a favour and buy some cheap ones that you can easily replace.
I recommend taking the following quantities;
- 7x Socks
- 7x Underwear
- 7x T-Shirts
- 1x Shorts
- 1x Trousers/Shorts
This is enough for one week of travelling and you would have to be very remote to not find a laundrette in this time. Even then, just wear the same thing twice, you’re a backpacker, not a glamper.
Getting unnecessary technology is a really good way to waste money before you go on your backpacking trip. I see many packing lists for backpacking that include; laptops, DSLR cameras, portable WIFI boxes, etc.
The main thing to remember is why you are going on the backpacking trip and what you can make the most out of. If you are dead set on staying in touch with family and friends wherever you are, then a strong portable WIFI box is probably not too bad an option. In my experience, however, many of these things become gimmicks and you hardly ever get them out of the bag.
For me, cameras are a big deal. I hate it when I see something beautiful and the camera that I have doesn’t capture it how I want. For most people, a simple point and shoot, or even camera phone will suffice on capturing those precious memories.
One of the best cameras I can possibly recommend is the Sony DSCHX90V/B. This little camera is affordable, light, small and packs a powerful punch in the photographic aspect.
You’ll be able to use it for basically everything a backpacker could possibly want, except water shots. I think it was literally designed for people constantly on the move as it really doesn’t take up any space.
You don’t have to worry about not having a laptop either, because you can very easily send any of the pictures from the camera to your phone in seconds. No need to take the memory card out to be able to show your family back home everything you’ve been doing.
If you’re new to photography and you want something that can do everything then this should be the thing that you spend the money on, not a $200 backpack.
Only buy an action camera if you think you’ll be doing lots of cool things like; diving, snorkelling, water parks, skydives, canyoning, etc.
If you don’t think you’ll be doing these things then don’t buy one, you will never get it out because your camera phone will take better pictures, probably.
If you will be doing these things then buy one of these before you buy the Sony above. Those excursions will be the main memories from the trip and they should be the ones you prioritise capturing.
If you are thinking about it, then don’t get anything other than a Go Pro 5. I know it sounds like I’m just saying that but they are number one for a reason. We have had our Hero 5 for 2 years now and it literally has never put a single foot wrong.
If stability is a massive thing for you in a video then get the new Hero 7 Black, it’s image stability is insane. If you just want something to record your adventures and show people when you’re home, then get the Hero 5. Yes, 2 generations old, the only difference is 4k @60fps instead od 30fps, and if you don’t know what that means do yourself a favour and save a lot of money by getting the Hero 5.
Make sure you have a smartphone before you leave the country. Messaging apps only work with smartphones so you won’t be able to keep in touch via WIFI if you don’t have a smartphone. You may get a sim card when you get to the airport but don’t count on that country having good signal throughout, you can also rely on a local restaurant to have free WIFI.
Something I wish I always had from the beginning. If you are travelling a big distance between accommodation then a power bank is a must. Batteries last no time at all, these days, because of the power of the technology. Having a cheap power bank can give you up to 4 complete charges for your phone or camera. This will come in handy and is small enough to not bother your packing.
These a few odds and ends that I think are essential, in your packing list for backpacking, but I didn’t know what section to put them in.
First Aid Kit
Get yourself a pre-made first aid kit with everything you will need already in it. I HIGHLY recommend going with a company called Survival Emergency Solutions. Yes, the name is quite daunting but their products are so bloody good.
If you are ever in a situation that you need to find something quick, these first aid kits are insanely well organised. You will also never need to replace these packs, not only are they incredibly strong wearing, but they also come with a scannable QR code to restock any used items.
If that wasn’t enough then you can also download a first aid app on your phone that helps in any of these situations.
You may not think you need one but, for the price, these are one of the best investments you can buy.
Get a few padlocks for your bags and hostel locker. I recommend getting combination locks so you don’t have to faff about when you can’t find your keys of you’ve lost them!
You might be thinking, ‘how much is that tiny thing going to do?’ and you would be right to think so, they are not that strong and can be broken with some force and the correct tools.
However, It’s all about a deterrent. If a thief sees a padlock then they move onto the next bag or locker, what’s the point of breaking a lock when you can open one without a lock.
This is a MUST buy.
Foldable Toiletry Bag
Jade starting telling me about these about a year ago, before we started travelling around Australia. Being a typical guy, I thought it was a gimmick that wouldn’t catch on. Jade, being typical, bought me one anyway. I use it every single day, even when staying in one place for many months!
It folds up into a handy sized bag when you’re not using it and, when you’re in the shower or the bathroom, it rolls out and hangs on a hook or railing. The pouches are all waterproof as well, so you don’t have to worry about the soap juice leaking into your undergarments… This is a much bigger problem than you think! Especially when I was using a plastic grocery bag before I got one of these.
Mesh Laundry Bag
If you buy a holdall that has many compartments, like the holdall I have recommended, then this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. You should be able to simply put your dirty laundry into a separate compartment. If you only have one main compartment in your bag then a laundry bag is a MUST.
Putting your grotty socks in with your clean clothes is a morale killer, especially if you’re already running out of clothes! Having a mesh laundry bag keeps your clean clothes fresh and your dirty clothes to themselves.
If I come up with anything else that you definitely need then I will add it to the list. Just REMEMBER, there are so many things that you will read about that you are told that you need for your backpacking trip. Don’t be fooled into spending hundreds of dollars that you could be spending on an amazing diving experience or excursion.
If there is anything in this list that you don’t agree with or anything that you think is completely necessary, then let me know in the comments above. I’m all about saving money so if we can take something off or replace a product with something better and cheaper, then let’s do it.
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