Ask a seasoned backpacker: “Where’s the toughest place you’ve ever traveled?”
They’ll likely answer: “India.”
Ask that same backpacker: “Where the most amazing place you’ve ever traveled?”
They’ll likely answer: “India.”
Maybe it’s the struggles of navigating through a developing country and deciphering its unique social norms – combined with its ancient history, inimitable sights and immense spiritual richness that make India so alluring. And you hear it calling your name.
The first challenge of backpacking India, is packing for India. The climate does vary and you absolutely need to make sure you are prepared foe whatever India throws at you.
After reading this India survival guide, you’ll feel all of those things and be ready to take on the most eye-opening, mind-expanding, sensory-stimulating, life-changing experience ever.
So, without further ado, let’s begin!
The Ultimate India Packing List
For the most part India is hot except for in the mountains when it can be cool on summer nights and frozen all the winter. It is therefore worth working out where you will be going, and at what time of year before packing your bag for India.
The Backpack and Luggage: Nomatic Travel Bag
Before you even take on the task of figuring out what to pack for India, you’ll need an amazing backpack to pack it all into. For all types of travelers and destinations, our number one recommendation is the Nomatic Travel Bag.
The Nomatic travel bag covers every detail to make backpacking travel the best experience. Because of its smart design, it manages to provide loads of packing space in a convenient, carry-on size package! Its handy built-in pockets make plenty of room for all the necessities on your what to pack for India checklist – you’ll find separate compartments for important items like shoes, water bottle, electronics, underwear and socks. As an added bonus, there’s also an RFID-safe and cord management pocket.
You have a choice between backpack or duffel bag carry, and extra carrying comfort for your back thanks to its innovative strap system and detachable sternum strap. And its black, waterproof material is every bit sleek and modern as it is durable and tough. There is a reason why most Broke Backpacker staff swear by this backpack.
A Suitcase: Nomatic Carry-On Pro
Backpacks not your thing? That’s ok. Our friends at Nomatic are back again with a great alternative to their badass Travel Bag; the Nomatic Carry-On Pro.
This suitcase is ultra-durable, sleek, and comes with a handy tech compartment for transporting your laptop and other electronic bits. Nomatic has been an industry leader when it comes to travel gear and that reputation is reflected in the quality build design and functionality of the Carry-On Pro suitcase. Note that traveling “Carry-On only” is going to limit the amount of souvenirs you can bring back!
Check out our Nomatic Carry-On Pro review to learn more about this epic suitcase.
The Camera: GoPro Hero9 Black
For most of us, our smartphones now feature cameras with stunning photo capabilities.
But… if you are an aspiring photographer who wants to take next-level photos and video beyond iPhone selfies, I recommend going with an action camera like the GoPro Hero9 Black.
It does deliver pro-quality video and gives you a bunch of a different angle options and shooting speeds to work with for photos (including a selfie-mode).
Think of a camera purchase like this as a long term investment that will have you capturing epic shots well beyond your time exploring here.
If you are looking for something cheaper for video specifically, check out these epic GoPro Alternatives.
What To Pack For India: Personal Gear
Deciding what to wear in India does take some thought. It is generally way too hot and humid for western clothes and jeans and even cotton t-shirts are not ideal. On the other hand, you need to bear in mind “decency” standard as exposing flesh will attract unwanted attention – this is especially true for women.
The good news is that clothes are available to buy VERY cheaply in India so you can definitely pick up some local wares once you arrive.
Let’s take a look at to bring to India then.
Sandals: OluKai ‘Ohana Flip-Flops
Open shoe’s are very common in India and even business people will wear them. This makes perfect sense as the endless heat can make for seriously sweaty feet. These are ideal as they are easy to remove once your enter a cafe or temple (removing shoes is common in many places).
Your feet will be tired and sweaty from those long days wearing shoes so do yourself a favor: pack sandals and give your feet some well-deserved cushion and fresh air. These Olukai flip flops are ultra-comfortable, well-made, and come in a variety of colors.
Check out the women’s OluKai ‘Ohana Flip-Flops.
Good Rain Jacket – Arcteryx Beta AR
Did you know that the surface of the earth is over 70% covered in water? And you know how that water got there? Yep because it tends to here rain here on planet earth quite a lot! In India, the monsoons are very wet and a jacket may be advisable. Also, if you intend on visiting the mountains you will find it gets pretty nippy at night. Whilst you can easily and cheaply pick up clothes in India, good quality outdoor is hard to come by as a lot of the stuff on sale is cheap.
There is no such thing as bad weather, only the wing gear for it. Don’t let a bit (of a lot) of rain ruin your trip and make sure you are ready with some top notch rain gear.
This is our pick of the many rain jackets we have tried. It’s reliable & stylish and looks good worn out in the mountains or in city bars.
One of the best investments you can make is a worldwide travel adapter that will work anywhere! The one featured here is tough, reliable and a solid buy – Don’t leave home without one.
Buy your travel adapter on Amazon now.
A Good Daypack for Hiking – Osprey Daylite Plus
If you intend on doing any hiking, temple tours or even hitting the beaches of Goa then you will need a daypack. They are great for carrying water, hat’s and gloves and for packing sandwiches for lunch. We love Osprey products and this daypack is our personal pick.
The Osprey Daylite Plus has a mesh-covered panel to keep your back cool and fresh by minimizing contact with the back of the pack itself and allowing air to get between you and the pack.
Check out our full review of the Osprey Daylite plus for more details.
Additionally, you can attach it to other Osprey packs in case you want to add more capacity and carry just one piece of luggage… but the reviews on this feature are mixed.
Travel First Aid Kit
You don’t need to tote around half a pharmacy, but a well-stocked first aid kit should be in all our backpacks. Stuff happens on the road and it’s inconvenient and embarrassing when you can’t manage small situations like a cut finger or hangover migraine.
You can tuck this lifesaver away in a forgotten pocket – and it’ll be there when you need it.
Tip: Add a few bits and pieces to the first aid kit after you purchase it, like extra headache medicine, any personal meds you need (like allergy pills), whatever you take to calm your stomach and a few more plasters.
Travel Insurance From World Nomads
Whilst India is not an especially dangerous destination, it is definitely a challenging one and things can and do go wrong from time to time.
I have spent over 6 months in India and never had to claim on my insurance. However other people I know have had to claim medical expenses for amputated toes (ouch), theft claims for stolen luggage, as well as expenses for cancelled flights.
We use either World Nomads or SafetyWing. You’ll be happy you did if the time comes to use it.
Sun God Sunglasses
I’ll be honest, if you can barter hard then you can pick up sunglasses in India for about $1. However, don’t expect them to be very good at protecting your eyes form sun rays and be ready for the lenses to fall out at some point. You can either “buy cheap, buy twice” or you can get a decent pair before you go. A reliable pair of sunglasses is undoubtedly one of your India packing essentials. Our favorites are SunGod Sunglasses because they deliver on quality and style.
They’re built tough with triple-layer scratch-resistant lenses and trademarked Adventure-proof Frame Material. You can also customize them with your choice of lense and frame colors to reflect your own style. Plus they’re covered by SunGod’s lifetime guarantee of free repair. Check our in-depth review here.
Your Passport or Other Government ID
You will need valid passport to enter India and will have to show it pretty much every single time you enter a hotel, change money, book a train ticket or rent a scooter for the day.
It is also worth keeping a few copies with you as well.
Let’s face it; for the foreseeable future, COVID 19 panic is just going to be a part of travel. How do we do our best to mitigate the risk while still traveling and experience life’s pleasures? Pack the right PPE gear.
India has a population of over 1 billion people many of whom live in very cramped conditions. It is no surprise that India was therefore hit hard by COVID.
Expect severe regulation in regard to PPE. You will need mask to board busses, trains and enter public spaces.
Money Belt – By Active Roots
Whilst India is not particularly dangerous, crime can still happen and tourists are sometimes targeted.
Therefore it is always a good idea to use a money belt to hide your cash just in case something does go wrong.
Waterbottle – Hydroflask Vacuum Bottle 32 oz.
Packing a reusable water bottle is probably the best thing you can personally do to combat single-use plastic bottle use whilst traveling. There is simply zero need to buy small plastic water bottles. Whilst the tap water in India is deadly, you can buy big (re-fillable) 5 litre water bottles and then fill up your hydro flask each day before you go out.
We love the Hydroflask Vacum Bottle for its quality and because it keeps cold water cold for many hours and vice versa for hot beverages. This bottle is the ideal water bottle to get not just for your India trip but for daily use. Please don’t be that person buying plastic water bottles. We are all judging you…especially mother earth.
If you go with the Hydroflask, you’ll probably never need to buy another waterbottle again.
Headlamp – Petzl Actik Core Headlamp
Headlamps are great for traveling for many reasons. Firstly, they are useful as hell if you go camping or on an early sunrise mountain hike. Then, they come in useful for finding your way to your hostel bed at 3am without having to turn the lights on. They are also a Godsend if there is a power cut (pretty common in India) and great for navigating darkened alleyways in Turkey & Spain.
Not all headlamps were created equal and this is one of the best. The Petzl Actik Core comes with a USB rechargeable battery (full recharge in 3 hours or less); however, it is compatible with AAA batteries. Water-resistance is another critical feature. This product can withstand splashing; but keep in mind, water-resistant does NOT mean waterproof.
The Basic Stuff To Pack For India
On top of the essential items listed above, here is an additional suggested checklist of what to pack for a trip to India:
- A few pairs of comfortable pants/jeans
- 1-2 pairs of shorts (summer/late spring)
- A few pairs of socks
- (Sexy) underwear x 2/3
- Smartphone with a good camera for photos if you are not bringing an actual camera
- Portable power bank for charging your phone on the go
- Phone charger
- Amazon Kindle for long train journeys
- Copy of your passport just in case
- Cash (not too much, there are ATM can be found in most cities and tourist hubs)
- Packable Towel
Final Thoughts on What to Pack for India
Well, friends – there you have it! Your India survival guide for with our top 22-needs packing list, appropriate clothing to wear in India, special tips for gals and guys and what NOT to pack for India.
We hope you feel prepared – and most importantly – excited! Pack the essentials for a comfortable journey, and leave your worries behind. Anything additional that you discover you need, you can buy along the way. Focus on this exciting feeling – a great adventure awaits you in the ever-changing, complex, beautiful world that is India.
We know that we’re excited for you and wish you bountiful, safe travels!
Want to learn how to travel the world on $10 a day? Check out the Broke Backpacker’s Bible for FREE!
Also – don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of travel insurance for backpackers, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.
“Find out how YOU can support the site. We work hard to put out the best backpacker resources on the web, for free! It’s all about helping out our tribe of awesome backpacker readers [that’s you!]. Please visit the link to find out how you can help keep the site going 🙂
For the sake of transparency, some of the links in our content are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation, buy a book or sort your insurance, we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I only link to stuff I’ve actually used and never endorse products or services that are not up to scratch. Thanks for your support.