The Backpacking Gear Essentials – My Top Ten

Knowing what gear to take with you when you travel can be hard. We all know the basics and there are plenty of travel checklists out there. But what travel accessories are really essential every time you travel? Whether you are going long-term or short term travelling, there are essentials to take with you. These are different for each person really after you travel a few times you soon learn what is important for you to take with you on an adventure. I’m not going to go through stuff such as getting a backpack and remembering your travel documents, instead, I’m going to look at items that are just really useful to take with you. Here are ten items that I class as mt backpacking gear essentials:

1. Refillable Water Bottle

A water bottle is always top of my packing list, no matter where I go it is always a backpacking gear essential for me. Keeping yourself hydrated is vital to staying healthy on the road. I know being dehydrated affects me pretty quickly when I’m out exploring, so taking a water bottle, even on day trips is vital. This means I always have water on the go and can refill it when needed.

Another plus point to this is it means you don’t need to buy water (which is bad for your budget and the environment).  7.7 billion plastic water bottles are used each year in the UK alone, which is a lot of waste! Having a refillable means you are doing that little bit to help the environment.

Travel Gear Essential Water Bottle

Having A Refillable Water Bottle Is A Must For Travelling

Want to know other ways to save money when you’re on your travels? Check out this post.

You may also want to check out my Hydro Flask Review.

Going to a country where the tap water isn’t safe to drink? No need to worry, you can still do your bit (and save money). There are plenty of water bottles that also act as a filter to make water safe. Check out some of the water bottle filters I have reviewed:

LifeStraw Go Review

Life Saver Liberty Bottle Review

Liberty Is Easy To Use

Using The LifeSaver Liberty Bottle To Filter Water

2. Power Bank

Let’s face it, electronics are a bit essential nowadays. It’s hard to ‘switch off’. Whether you’re using your phone for maps or want to read on your kindle, a power bank will ensure you have power wherever you go. I’m very active on social media when I travel (the joys of travel blogging…), and I use maps, so my phone tends to lose power quickly. Having a power bank means I can have enough juice for my phone to last all day and into the night.

Check out my Zippo Heat Bank Review.

Charging With Zippo - Backpacking Gear Essentials

Taking A Break In Verona And Charging My Phone With A Zippo Power Bank

3. Torch

Alright, you don’t necessarily need a torch nowadays, your phone will suffice for this backpacking essential. The main reason for this essential travel item is for the sanity of others. There is always THAT PERSON who has to leave for a bus or early flight, gets up at 3 am and turns the light on. You do not want to be that person, believe me, you won’t make any friends that way.

A torch will be your best friend in these situations. A head torch is even better, as it leaves your hands free to grab what you need to grab. A headtorch also has the benefit of making it easy to read late at night when everyone else in the dorm is asleep.

Even with a torch, try to make any early faffing around as quick and quiet as you can, otherwise, you’ll be known as ‘Russell’ or ‘The Rustler’.

Check out Backpacker Hostel Etiquette to make sure you’re not THAT person.

4. Guidebook With Map

I never travel anywhere without a Rough Guide. There are plenty of other travel guidebooks out there, but the Rough Guides are what I personally prefer. And nowadays the guidebooks come with a pdf version that you can download, so you don’t even need to pack a book, saving space in your luggage, which is why they stay on mu backpacking gear essentials list.

Whatever guidebook you choose, try to get one with a map of where you are going. It’s good to get ‘the lay of the land’ before you get to a place, so you know how to get to the hostel, the nearest station etc. I know google maps is a big help for this, but it’s no good if you lose signal, can’t get data or even worse lose your phone.

Rough Guide Maps - Backpacking Gear Essentials

Guidebooks With Maps Are So Useful

It’s also good to have a rough idea of what you want to do there – although don’t set out a definite plan and definitely don’t use the guidebook as gospel. I like to remain flexible and ask other backpackers what is good to do and what is ‘not to miss’. Use the guidebook as just that, a guide.

Just be sure to pack it in a way that it won’t be damaged (or have an online version).

Find out why I still use guidebooks in this post.

Backpacking Gear Essentials - Guidebooks

For Me, Guidebooks Are Definitely A Travel Essential

5. Money Belt

This travel accessory is really useful on a journey. Just think about it, what’s one of the worst things that could happen on a bus or train? How about losing your documents and passport? This is where a moneybelt is handy and becomes one of my backpacking gear essentials.

If you have your important bits tucked away safely in your day bag when on a bus or train, it doesn’t mean they’re safe. You’re likely to stop paying attention to your bag at some point during the journey. You may even be on an overnight bus and plan to sleep. So what if you wake up to find your bag gone? A money belt for your important items is a good safety aid – at least if your backpack disappears you still have those vital bits.

I’d only really use a money belt on public transport, but also use it to store my passport in the safe when at my destination. I even use the money belt to store my passport in back home – that way I know where it is and we never have the mad panic of “Oh No! Where’s my passport?” before going anywhere.

6. Packing Cubes

Another easy way to lose friends and become ‘Russell’ or ‘The Rustler’ is to use plastic organisers to organise your backpack. Although ziplock plastic organisers may be convenient, being woken by the crunching of plastic in the night is not a good bonding activity between roommates. Compression sacks or packing cubes are what you want to organise your gear.

Packing cubes are great, even on small weekend trips I take this backpacking gear essential. On longer trips having everything organised makes finding what you’re looking for so much easier. They also help to fit more into your backpack. Packing cubes also mean you can easily separate clean clothes from dirty, which really useful on trips. You don’t want to mix these up so that everything you have smells.

7. Adaptors

I would always recommend an international adaptor that works worldwide, as you never know where you’ll be heading next or you might get ‘the bug’ and want to go somewhere else once you finish your trip. You don’t want to be paying out for a new adaptor each trip. It’s also a good idea to get an adaptor that has a surge protector and acts as a converter to avoid blowing a fuse.

Personally, I like the Twist Adaptors. You literally just twist them to get different country’s plugs. They have USB charging ports and a Macbook port, so it’s perfect for me. There are a few different sorts that have different numbers of ports, but I like this one.

Backpackin Gear Essentials - Adaptor

My Twist Adaptor In Use

8. Microfibre Towel

Hostels rarely supply towels in the dorm rooms, so you will need your own, meaning that a towel is one of the backpacking gear essentials that you should take on a trip. Obviously a normal towel would take up far too much room in your backpack, so a microfibre towel makes my essential backpacking gear list. These are highly absorbent and dry really quickly, just hang them over your bed after use and they’re generally dry within a few hours. I’ve used mine in the morning and been able to pack it for an early afternoon bus completely dry.

These towels also pack away very small, so don’t waste that all-important backpack space. Just don’t use them as a groundsheet – they pick up every bit of dirt.

9. Pen Knife

I always try to take a penknife (or Swiss Army Knife) with me on a trip (although this is not possible when flying with only hand luggage). Me and Dave have renamed it the “Anti Shit-Hostel Device”.

There’s nothing worse than getting to a hostel and thinking ‘I’m actually going to cook something proper tonight’ only to be disappointed by the equipment. You get all the gear for what you’re planning to cook, go down to the kitchen and find the sharpest knife in the kitchen wouldn’t even go through warm butter. Hostel kitchen fail. It happens now and again. This is also why it’s important to check out the kitchen before planning your meals.

Check out What Makes A Great Hostel

Green Tortoise Kitchen

Sometimes Kitchens In Hostels Are No Way Near As Good As This One

My penknife includes extras like a corkscrew (you may splash out on wine with some new friends,then get back to the hostel to discover you accidentally bought corked wine…) It also has a tin opener (old style, not the easiest thing to use, but saves waiting for the one tin opener in the kitchen) and scissors (very handy).

We also find the pen knife great when out and about; it means you don’t have to make your sandwiches in the morning. Just take the gear with you and make them fresh, this also means that you can put moist items on and your butty won’t be soggy by the time you eat it. This is great for walks or when you’ve had to get up for an early bus ride.

Even though this makes my backpacking gear essentials list, I do not always take it. When I’m flying carry-on only, it is not possible. If you are able to take a penknife, ensure it’s never in your hand luggage on a flight.

10. Camera

Last but not least, the camera is an essential travel item. Whether you like taking pictures or not, when you get home people will want to see pictures of your travels. Indulge them. I don’t really like being in the pictures, I spoil the view. But sometimes it’s fun. Group pictures of tours make great memories. With all the social media networks you can let people back home know you’re ok and having a great time with pictures (and show of). You may even realise you have a skill at photography and want to develop it further, who knows? Or you may get an amazing picture to blow up and put on the wall.


A Group Shot On A Macbackpackers Tour

So there are my top ten backpacking gear essentials. These are the items I miss if I forget them. The only one I ever deliberately leave behind is the penknife when I am flying carry-on only. But if I am not flying, or if I am putting luggage in the hold, I always take a penknife as well as all the other travel essentials above.

This is my personal list, that I have tried and tested on my trips. If you have any other gear that you think is a backpacking essential too, feel free to leave it in the comments below 🙂

Categories: Backpacking | Comments

Author Bio: Nat

I’m Nat, the backpacker behind natpacker. From the UK, I was bitten by the travel bug during a round the world trip in my early twenties. Since then I have been determined to see as much of this world as possible. My passion for travel led me to start up this blog, partly to record my adventures and partly to inspire others to travel.


  • Kelly says:

    Some great tips in here Nat – nobody likes a rustler, especially not a torch shinig rustler! Have to agree with you on the camera, a click of the lens freezes that moment in time & gives memories to look back on 🙂 I’d also add a refillable water bottle, to avoid plastic waste & also my new favs shampoo & deodrant bars from lush – no waste & easier to carry!

  • Elisa says:

    I love the money belt idea, that is something I’ve never thought of! The pen knife is also a must when traveling, it’s so practical and we use ours way more than I ever thought we would.

    • Nat says:

      Glad you found it useful. One issue I’ve recently had with a penknife is I try to go carry-on only, which obviously doesn’t work!

  • Awesome list, the packing cubes are my latest discovery – perfect!

  • Great guide! I have been using some of the items you mentioned here and they are the first things I pack when I backpack. My favorite is the microfiber towel…it is such a lifesaver.

    • Nat says:

      Yeah, a microfibre towel is so useful. I hate to think how difficult it would be to carry around an actual towel. Far too heavy and cumbersome.

  • Lyne says:

    I never travel without my power bank, it’s a lifesaver! I never thought about the torch or pen knife though, those are great ideas!

  • Krista says:

    You’ve listed some great things to bring along! They’re all really helpful – especially the camera!

  • Tys says:

    Good list! frustrating how the knife can get stopped at airport security. I’d also suggest a headlamp over a hand-held light.

    and have you ever checked out hand-roll vacuum bags? an amazing tool for packing.

    • Nat says:

      Glad you found the list useful! Yeah, a head torch is always a good shout. I’ve never seen the hand-roll vacuum bags, I shall be looking them up now though 🙂

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