Figuring out what to bring backpacking can be quite the challenge! You have one small bag and so much stuff you could bring. How do you decide exactly what are the backpacker essentials, and what to leave behind?
One of the most common questions I get from folks about to hit the road is - what gear should I take backpacking?
Don't worry - I'm here to show you exactly what to pack while backpacking by giving you my top-secret backpacking checklist.
I've been on the road for nearly ten years now, backpacking across the world living out of my 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.
And today, I'm going to unleash everything.
This is the definitive backpacking checklist. I've put together this epic guide filled with the things you do need, and some bold claims about the things you don't need to take backpacking.
Here you will find a complete backpacking packing list of everything you will need for a trip abroad so you can purchase your gear before you set off adventuring around the world.
Table of Contents
- Backpacking Checklist • The Definitive Guide to Packing Like a Pro in 2018
- What to Bring Backpacking – 10 Essential Backpacking Items
- Best Backpacking Clothes Checklist
- Other Essential Backpacker Gear to Pack
- Backpacking Necessities – Technology Checklist
- Backpacking Packing List – Adventure Checklist
- Backpacking Supply List – Hiking Gear Checklist
- Backpacking Packing List – Toiletries Packing List
- Backpacking Packing List – Medical checklist
- Backpacking Packing List – Documents checklist
Backpacking Checklist • The Definitive Guide to Packing Like a Pro in 2018
First thing is first…
If you are wondering how to pack for backpacking, the most important piece of information I can give you is this – pack light.
Whether you are camping or hiking, going to Europe or Asia, traveling as a baller or on a budget, it doesn’t matter. You need to travel as light as possible.
This is the most important backpacking packing tip I can give you. Travel light!
- By traveling lighter you are saving yourself strain and the stress of a weighted pack. Heavy bags suck, and more shit = more weight.
- Traveling lighter will enable you to have spare space, meaning you can fit more stuff in your bag if need be. See a nice souvenir for mom? Want to pick up some camping gear? If you pack light, you’ll have the space to add more gear to your pack…
You might be thinking, ‘But Will, there are over 100 items recommended on your backpacking essentials checklist! I’ll need 4 backpacks to fit them all!’
This is true! I make a ton of recommendations in this guide, and it would be silly to try and bring all of them along with you on your adventures.
I’ve done my best to break this backpacking checklist down into several sections so you can pick what to take backpacking based on the kind of trip you’re doing.
So keep this in mind as you peruse this list – only bring the stuff that best fits your travel style and itinerary. Doing so will turn this epic checklist into your perfectly tailored minimalist backpacking list.
For instance, keep an eye on climate. If you are backpacking Mexico in July, you won’t need to worry too much about packing warm clothes.
And if you aren’t a Digital Nomad or aspiring entrepreneur, then you probably won’t need a laptop while traveling.
By keeping note of your travel style and itinerary, you’ll be able to quickly and easily identify which gear on this backpacking checklist is right for you to bring along on your travels…
What to Bring Backpacking – 10 Essential Backpacking Items
Out of all the things you could bring on your backpacking adventure, these are my 10 highest recommendations. This is the backpacking gear that I myself have been using for over a decade as I travel around the world. There’s a lot of gear out there which you don’t need but in my opinion, every traveler should have these ten travel essentials on their checklist…
#1 A Backpack! (I recommend the Osprey Aether 70 Litre)
The most important item on this backpacking gear list. 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 forty to sixty litre range.
If you want to go for something a little bit smaller, I recommend the Osprey Exos; it’s super comfy and great quality. I’ve had mine for several 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.
#2 Foldable Daybag (Keep it light!)
The second most important thing on this backpacking gear list – a foldable day bag is crucial. While you can get a cheap drawstring bag, I recommend coughing up the extra $10 to get a quality bag so that you can wander around town with your daytrip essentials in tow.
Amazon has tons of options for packable daybags, but I think ZOMAKE bags are pretty cool and efficient.
ZOMAKE bags are 20 bucks and are sturdy, light, foldable, and water resistant! Having a foldable daypack gives you a ton of options and it’s always worth packing one.
A daypack is a small investment that is often overlooked. A solid day bag can make the difference between a happy traveler and a pissed traveler. I recommend being a happy traveler.
#3 A Proper Travel Towel (Gotta stay dry!)
Don’t bring a normal towel on your backpacking journeys!
Regular towels are heavy, inefficient, and take up a ton of space. Travel pros use micro-fiber dry towels. And I like micro-fiber towels so much, that I made my own brand!
Active Roots micro-fiber towels are made by travelers for travelers. They are super light, and most importantly dry very quickly.
#4 Travel Security Belt (hide your cash!)
I take travel-security very seriously, so I developed my own travel security belt.
To keep your money hidden on the road, I strongly recommend picking up one of these beauties – it has a hidden inner pocket in which you can hide up to twenty notes, or some marijuana…
Another Active Roots product, this belt is simple and gets the job done. It’s comfortable, functions as a normal belt and is discreet, unlike traditional fanny pack money belts.
I never travel without a security belt and it’s helped me keep my money hidden and on my body whilst traveling through more dodgy countries. Traveling with a money belt is a small investment that helps keep your money safe. Check it out here.
#5 Padlock (For your backpack and hostel lockers!)
I used to frequently lose my room keys when staying in hostels, these days I just lock my room using a padlock, problem solved.
Padlocks are important for a few reasons.
First, you can lock your bag up when you need to. Connect the lock between the two zippers and BOOM! Your bag is safe from any intruders. This will help keep you at ease when you have to be apart from your bag.
Padlocks are very handy when staying in hostels. Most hostels provide some sort of lockers, but not all of them provide locks for those lockers (or even worse – they charge for them!).
But, if you’ve got your own padlock – problem solved! A small investment that’s well worth it.
#6 World Travel Adapter (a MUST have)
Travelers all hope for the same thing, that one day the world will unite, and all decide upon a universal size for power adapters…
Until that happens, you’re going to need a travel adapter.
There are currently 15 different types of power adapter sizes! 15! The best way to ensure your beloved electronics get charged regardless of the country you are in is by using a universal 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 and it’s epic.
#7 Kindle (Unless you hate reading)
I always read a lot, but when I travel, I crush books.
When you travel the world you are going to have a ton of spare time. Waiting for planes, waiting for buses, waiting for trains – lots of waiting! And that time waiting can be spent wisely reading life-changing literature.
But as much as I love the feeling and texture of real paperback books… they weight a lot, are awkwardly shaped and aren’t ideal to haul across the world in a backpack.
I introduce you to the solution – the almighty Kindle!
I always travel with an Amazon Kindle. They are durable, light, have WiFi, and most importantly – you can read and download an infinite amount of books!
I only recommend bringing a laptop for a few reasons. 1) You make money or need to work online, or 2) you really really love your laptop.
For Digital Nomads and laptop enthusiasts, you’ll want a high-quality piece of technology – and I’ve got just the thing for you.
One of the best investments I ever made was my MacBook Pro. It’s got a great UI, it’s very durable, and it helped me take my business to the next level.
If you looking to start a blog, or make money online, it’s my highest recommendation. Check out this post for a full breakdown of travel friendly laptops.
#9 Backpacking Toiletry Bag (Convenience in ways you never thought possible)
Hands 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 toiletry bags rock!
#10 Mesh Laundry Bag
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.
Having a mesh laundry bag will enable you to keep your smelly laundry stuff separated from the rest of your clothes.
Spend the $5, it’s well worth it.
Best Backpacking Clothes Checklist
Picking the right clothes when backpacking is super important. Here are a few tips…
- Pack light clothes – Hot or cold weather, pack clothes that fold up small and don’t weigh too much – avoid denim jeans! Even if you are heading to freezing weather, it’s better to bring clothes that you can layer rather than a big heavy jacket. Cotton is light and breathes. Splurge on the more sweat resistant stuff if you can.
- Dress dark – Unleash your inner goth and dress dark! Darker clothes hide annoying stains and can be worn for longer.
- Bring fewer clothes – Clothes are pretty cheap in most parts of the world, so rather than overpack, bring slightly less than what you need and pick up anything else you might need on the road.
These are my top recommendations for best clothes to wear while traveling/backpacking.
Underwear (x5): It can be surprisingly hard to find underwear that fits in Asia… Pack enough before you go backpacking!
Thin hiking trousers (x1): 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 – it’s tough, light, good value and keeps mosquitos at bay.
Long sleeved mosquito repellent shirt: A backpacking necessity when traveling to certain areas, mosquito repellent shirts are a lifesaver when trekking or hanging out in tropical climates.
T-shirts / Tank tops (x4): Easy to find on the road, don’t stress too much about these.
Base Layer (x1): 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 (x1) While not quite backpacking necessities, it’s nice to have for a night on the town! Again, I tend to stick to Craghoppers; they have some smart shirts which are also tough and practical.
Sunhat (x1): 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 (x1): One of my favorite travel accessories on this backpacking checklist, 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. Check out my full review on Sungod Sunglasses here.
Warm Gear: If you’re heading into the mountains this is the most important section of the backpacking gear list. Do yourself a favor and 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. It weighs just 650grams, folds down super small and will keep you very warm indeed.
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 make the best hiking sandals in my opinion.
Flip Flops: Definitely worth packing no matter where you are going.
Other Essential Backpacker Gear to Pack
Travel Day Pack – A very worthwhile investment on this backpacking checklist is a decent daypack, you can get something cheap (like the previously mentioned ZOMAKE), but if you want something reliable, Osprey and Berghaus (a little known British outdoor gear company) make the best stuff. I currently 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 traveling through more dodgy countries. For more cool ideas on how to hide money when traveling, check out this post.
Compression Packing Cubes: The ultimate backpacker secret weapon in keeping your shit organized. 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-liter dry-bag is normally big enough.
Backpacking Necessities – 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. Check out this incredibly detailed post for a breakdown of the best travel cameras if you’re really interested in travel photography.
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.
USB flash drive: Endlessly helpful.
USB card reader: Essential if you’re into your photography.
World Travel Adapter: This could easily top the list of backpacking essentials. 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
If you’re a keen hiker or adventurer, you know that you’ll need to carry more gear… It’s great to pack light but if you’re spending a lot of time camping out or hiking through the mountains, it’s important to be prepared. This camping gear checklist has got you covered on everything you’ll need for your epic hikes and camping delights.
Head-torch: One of the most useful items on this backpacking checklist! Head-torches are useful for caving, hiking and bathroom trips when the power’s gone out. Check out my post on the best headlamps for travel.
Pocket Blanket: Lightweight, waterproof, super compact pocket blanket is a great addition to your backpacking checklist. Doubling up as an emergency poncho, a picnic blanket is worth its weight in gold when chilling, or camping, on the beach. This is a great item to have, even for someone looking for a minimalist backpacking list and if you want to roll around with your significant other, a picnic blanket is well worth packing.
Hammock: Lighter and more portable than a tent plus chicks dig hammocks… I always travel with a parachute hammock. Not an absolutely essential item, but one of my favourite items on this backpacking packing list.
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 and use them when you need to attach stuff to the outside of your pack, fix things, hang up mosquito nets…
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.
Pens and notebook: Don’t go traveling without it!
Backpacking Supply 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 this must have hiking gear. I almost always travel with a tent as it has saved me a ton of money on accommodation over the years. This is my hiking/camping gear checklist…
Multi-tool: I’ve been using my ultra-lightweight Leatherman Skeletool for years, it’s the perfect companion for any backpacking adventure.
Portable Stove: If you are hiking/camping, then this obviously needs to be on your backpacking equipment list. I have a pocket-rocket which serves me well – check out my post on the top backpacking stoves to find out if you really need a stove for your travels.
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 sleeping on the beach, 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 traveling!
Sleeping pad and sleeping bag: Klymit make the best value sleeping pads. Check out my post on the best sleeping pads to take backpacking. If you are hiking and camping a lot, this is obviously a must when it comes to your backpacking equipment list – without a sleeping pad you will get seriously cold.
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 Packing List
In my wash bag, my backpacking essentials are…
- 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
This travel toiletries list has all the essentials. Ladies – pack more as you may need.
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.
Backpacking Essentials – Travel Insurance!
Whatever you do, don’t hit the road without travel insurance. I’ve claimed my travel insurance three times. If I hadn’t had insurance, I would have been fucked.
Check out this post for plenty of intel on staying safe whilst travelling.
I recommend getting your travel insurance through World Nomads.
Final Thoughts on my Definitive Backpacking Checklist
I’ve been around the world a handful of times. My recommendations come with ten years of travel blood, sweat, and tears so have a proper read over this backpacking checklist and heed my advice, pack light but be sure to pack the things you need for your own travel style…
With the help of these packing lists, you’ll be able to figure out exactly what to pack for your trip so you can gallivant around the world knowing you’ve got everything you need for your adventure…
Need More Inspiration?
- How to Choose a Backpack for your Travels
- Should you Travel with a Tent?
- Best Travel Camera to Take Backpacking
My friend Gemma has put together this detailed post on how to choose high-quality hiking pants for men.
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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