I’ve been on the road for nearly ten years now, backpacking across the world with my whole life stuffed into my trusty backpack! Not having a home on the road means I need to carry a fair bit of stuff but I still try and keep my backpack as lightweight as possible. One of the most common questions I get from folks about to hit the road is – what gear should I take backpacking?
Here you will find a complete backpacking packing list of everything you will need for a trip abroad. I have changed and adapted my backpacking packing list over nine years of travel, please note some of this backpacking gear should only really be taken on more adventurous trips. There are lots of backpacking equipment dealers out there but I recommend saving yourself a lot of time and ordering most of your gear online.
Backpacking Packing List – Essentials checklist
Backpack: You can’t be a backpacker without a backpack! I myself am a big fan of Osprey packs, they are super comfortable, well designed, almost indestructible and come with a lifetime warranty… I suggest picking a backpacking in the fifty to seventy litres range. I myself have the Osprey Aether backpack but there are lots of great options out there; check out my detailed post on how to choose the best travel backpack.
If you want to go for something a little bit smaller, I recommend the Berghaus Freeflow; it’s super comfy and I’ve had mine for six years, it’s still in great condition. Picking the right travel backpack is very important; you are, after all, going to be pretty much living out of your pack.
Day Pack (10-20 litres): A very worthwhile investment is a decent day pack, you can get something cheap but if you want something reliable, Osprey and Berghaus make the best stuff and currently I am using the Osprey Talon as my hanging out in town bag. Check out my comparison article on how to choose the best day pack for travel.
Travel Security Belt: To keep your money hidden on the road, I strongly recommend picking up a belt with an inner hidden security pocket in which you can hide up to twenty notes. I never travel without mine and it’s helped me keep my money hidden and on my body whilst travelling through more dodgy countries. Check it out here.
Compression Packing Cubes: The ultimate backpacker secret weapon in keeping your shit organised. Be sure to get a mesh laundry bag to keep your dirty laundry in, it stinks if you put it in one of the plastic ones.
Dry bag: Well worth having to keep your electronics in… Mine has saved my gear on more than one occasion. A five litre dry-bag is normally big enough.
Hanging Toiletry bag: Hand’s down the easiest way to keep all your toiletries and meds in one place. I never really feel like I’ve moved into a place until I hang it up…
Backpacking Packing List – Clothing checklist
Underwear: It can be surprisingly hard to find underwear that fits in Asia… Pack enough before you go backpacking!
Thin hiking trousers: Craghoppers for both men and women, make the best stuff and their NosiLife range is impregnated with mosquito repellent. I’ve been wearing Craghoppers gear for years and swear by it.
Long sleeved mosquito repellent shirt: A life saver when trekking or hanging out in tropical climates.
T-shirts / Tank tops x 4: Easy to find on the road, don’t stress too much about these.
Base Layer: Crucial for keeping warm, I swear by my Helley Hansen.
Lightweight technical fleece: Essential when you’re on buses or trains that have the AC turned to ‘freezing’.
Evening wear for going out: Again, I tend to stick to Craghoppers; they have some smart shirts which are also fairly practical.
Sunhat: If you’re heading to the scorched plains of Backpackistan, you need to keep your head covered. My Barmah bush-hat has accompanied me on many adventures.
Buff: One of my favourite travel accessories, I wear one on my wrist at all times; it’s great for keeping the sun off or covering your mouth and nose to keep dust out. I also use it as an eye mask on long haul transport and in dorm rooms.
Indestructible sunglasses: I have probably destroyed over one hundred pairs of sunglasses… For a backpacking adventure, it’s worth investing in a decent pair of sunnies and I recommend Sungod; these are specifically built for travellers and are pretty much impossible to break. Best of all, you can design them yourself on the site.
Warm gear: If you’re heading into the mountains, pick up a pair of water-resistant gloves, a hat with ear-flaps and a down jacket; I’ve been using my RAB Neutrino for years and it was a great investment. I never travel without my RAB, I know that if I have to sleep rough I can survive a night as long as I have my trusty down jacket.
Trekking trainers: Don’t go travelling around the world without decent shoes! I personally swear by North Face Hedgehogs and have been wearing them for nearly a decade.
Technical sandals: If you’re going to be spending a lot of time trekking in the jungle, hanging out on the beach or sailing then it’s worth bringing a pair of good quality technical sandals; Teva and Merrel are the best.
Flip Flops: Definitely worth packing no matter where you are going.
Backpacking Packing List – Technology checklist
Camera: If you want to take a camera and you’re new to photography I suggest getting something by Lumix, they offer great bang for your buck and is ideal for taking quality travel photos. If you are interested in a career as a freelance photographer then you will need a better camera; I recommend the Nikon D5500. Check out this incredibly detailed post for a breakdown on the best travel cameras.
Laptop: Since I make a living online, I travel with some top notch tech. Buying a MacBook Pro was the single best investment I ever made. Check out this incredibly detailed post for a breakdown on the best travel laptops for digital nomads and backpackers. Be sure to pack an external hard-drive to get around the relatively small drive space. For the love of god buy a laptop case to protect your baby.
USB flash drive: Endlessly helpful.
USB card reader: Essential if you’re into your photography.
World Travel Adapter: It’s worth splashing out a bit here and getting one that can charge a laptop and two USB devices at once, I have been using my Skross Travel Adapter for years.
Smartphone: If you have a good smartphone, you might not need a camera – it totally depends on how much you care about your photos.
Portable battery: Extremely useful for keeping your phone and camera charged whilst adventuring. I travel with two as I’m often trekking and away from power.
GoPro Hero 5: If you want an action cam, this is the one to go for…
Backpacking Packing List – Adventure checklist
Head-torch: Super useful for caving, hiking and bathroom trips when the power’s gone out. Check out my post on the best headlamps for travel.
Hammock: Lighter and more portable than a tent plus chicks dig hammocks… I always travel with a parachute hammock.
Mosquito Net: I strongly recommend getting a box shaped net.
Cable ties: Always worth packing a couple, especially if you’re off on a motorbiking adventure.
Carabiners: I always pack a couple of these, simply clip them to your pack.
Sleeping bag liner: Useful when the sheets are not so clean or you want to sleep under a blanket but it’s damn hot.
Small sewing kit: Fix your own shit, you’ll save some money.
Combination padlock: I used to frequently lose my room keys when staying in hostels, these days I just lock my room myself using my padlock, problem solved.
Pens and notebook: Don’t go travelling without it!
Backpacking Packing List – Hiking Gear checklist
You may not need a lot of the gear below but if you’re planning an epic expedition and will be away from civilisation a lot it does make sense to invest in some of the below. I almost always travel with a tent as it has saved me a ton of money on accommodation over the years.
Multi-tool: I’ve been using my ultra lightweight Leatherman Skeletool for years, it’s the perfect companion for any backpacking adventure.
Tent: If you’re camping, you’ll need a tent… Check out my detailed post on the best tents to take backpacking.
Hammock: Even if you’re not trekking a camping hammock always comes in handy when backpacking and most hammocks take up next to no room in your pack. Check out my article on the best camping hammocks for travelling!
Water bottle: Hydration is pretty damn important whilst trekking, I recommend a Nalgene as it’s wide enough to clean easily.
UV steripen: The best option for purifying water.
Water purification tabs: A much cheaper option for purifying water.
Backpacking Packing List – Toiletries checklist
In my wash bag, I tend to carry all of the following…
- Microfibre travel towel –super lightweight and fast-drying
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Shower gel
- Cotton buds
- Pack of tissues
- Decent sunscreen (often expensive to buy abroad)
- Razor with replacement blades
- Shaving gel
Backpacking Packing List – Medical checklist
It’s always worth packing a small first-aid kit. On my travels, I’ve been hospitalised three times, been in a couple of motorbike accidents and had more hangovers than I can count. My first aid kit saved my ass on more than one occasion…
I recommend picking up a pre-assembled first-aid kit and then pimping it out with all of the below.
- Personal medicines such as inhalers
- Paracetamol, ibuprofen and aspirin
- Disinfectant spray
- Disinfectant wipes
- Mosquito repellent (at least 40% deet)
- Bandages and gauze
- Plasters in various sizes
- Throat lozenges
- Ciprofloxacin (the best thing to take for traveller’s diarrhoea)
- Malaria pills if applicable
Backpacking Packing List – Documents checklist
It helps to be organised before you hit the road; I travel with all of the below in a plastic wallet, it may sound nerdy but when you’re at a politically charged border crossing you will get across a lot faster if you are organised.
- Flight, train and bus tickets
- Travel Security Belt: The best way to keep your money hidden.
- Address of your first hostel (even if it’s fake).
- Valid Passport
- Laminated copy of your passport
- Debit Cards x 2
- Credit Card
- Dollars or Euros
- Some, one dollar bills for tips
- Driver’s licence
- Student ID
- half a dozen passport photos for visas on arrival (you normally need two per visa).
- Insurance information, home contact details, health information as part of a laminated card.
- The Backpacker Bible – Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. Shameless bit of self promo here but this book is basically my dissertation on backpacking, nine years of tips and tricks and your purchase helps keep the site going. If you’ve found the content on this site useful, the book is the next level up and you will learn a ton – if you don’t, I’ll give you your money back. Check it out here.
Whatever you do, don’t hit the road without travel insurance. I’ve ended up claiming on my travel insurance three times on my travels and every time, if I didn’t have insurance, I would have been fucked without it.
Check out this post for plenty of intel on staying safe whilst travelling.
I recommend getting your travel insurance through World Nomads.
Did I forget something? Is there any super special gear you always take backpacking?
Yay for transparency! The links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you buy anything, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse crap. Your support helps me keep the site going.
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