There’s lots to consider when decided what backpacking gear you need on your trip. The ‘essential’ backpacking gear list is endless, but really, some of the gear is not really essential for every trip. What you need to take with you depends on how long the trip is, where you are going, what accommodation you’ll be using, what activities you’ll be doing and your budget. If you’re only going to cities for a week, do you really need walking gear? Likewise, if you’re mainly trekking do you really need that smart outfit? The backpacking gear needed is different for everyone and different for every trip. Here is my list that I use as a starting point to figure out what I need for each trip.
Everyday Backpacking Gear
Everyday backpacking gear comprises of some obvious essentials and some less obvious ones. The majority you will need for every trip.
- The Backpack – Depending on the duration of your trip (and what you can carry) you will probably need anything from a 30l – 80l. My main backpack for long trips is 60l + 15l. What this means is that the main pocket is 60l and side/top pockets add another 15l.
- The Daypack – The daypack can double up as a main backpack for short trips as well being the one you’ll take on hikes. I’d suggest something in the range of 20l – 35l (ensuring it will be allowed on as hand luggage on a plane). Mine is a 26l and fits perfectly in the overhead storage in a plane!
- Books – There are two types of books I would recommend, one for leisure reading and a good guidebook. But then again, I am a bookworm! You could always use a Kindle instead, but I like physical books. A guidebook for where you’re going is vital to figure out what you want to do there! Just make sure you store the books in plastic bags inside your bag, this helps reduce damage (important on a long trip where you may want to use a book exchange).
- Clear Zip Bags- Only really needed on flights. But airport security requires that hand luggage liquids go in these. Some airports sell them, some give them out for free, you can chance that they’ll be free at the airport, or just have them ready beforehand (or take absolutely no liquids on the flight).
- Head Torch – Essential if you’ll be camping. Leaves your hands free when you need to ‘pay a visit’ in the night. Also much brighter than most hand held torches. Ok, not a fashion item, but very useful!
- Toiletries – I guess this is obvious, but for me, this is what I normally forget til last minute! Make sure you have a decent toiletry bag to keep all your bits in. And I’d highly recommend a cap or box for your toothbrush (especially if you have long hair – there’s nothing worse than finding your toothbrush and hairbrush have a thing for each other so the toothbrush keeps getting hair attached).
- Money belt – I’d always prefer to keep my passport and money on me. This is important in areas where you’re likely to be pickpocketed.
- Water Bottle – Whether you’ll be hiking or just having a city break, I’d still recommend a water bottle. You’ll always need water! Just remember not to take on hand luggage!
- Pen Knife – We call this the ‘anti-shit hostel device’. one of the worst feelings is starting to make some food in a hostel and finding there’s no sharp knives/bottle opener/tin opener. Utter fail. So be prepared (or always check out the kitchen facilities before planning a meal). Also means you can make sandwiches fresh if you’re on a hike! Just remember not to take it on a flight in your hand luggage!
- Padlock – Even if you can’t lock up your bag properly, the sight of a padlock can deter thieves (it’s more effort than a bag without one). Also handy for safes in some hostels.
- Washing Powder – Only for long trips, as you’ll need to wash your clothes if you’re travelling for over two weeks – but not if you’re flying! Most hostels have laundry facilities for you to use, but a lot do not supply powder. A great way to carry washing powder on your travels is in an empty plastic bottle (but not on a flight! A bottle full of white powder will probably cause you to be at the airport much longer than you’d planned!)
- Small Breathable Bags – I’ve got some small mesh bags for this. These bags are great for storing dirty washing. It didn’t take me long to realise storing dirty washing in plastic bags is one of the worst things you can do, it stinks. Even just in a pocket on the backpack ends up a bit smelly! In its own breathable bag you can unpack your dirty washing at the hostel and leave it to one side, so your bag never ends up stinking and the washing itself never gets too smelly!
- Sleeping bag – If you’re doing a lot of camping, you’ll need a sleeping bag. Some tours will supply sleeping bags at a small cost.
- Hand Gel – Especially if you’ll be hiking or camping, you’ll need a way of cleaning your hands. Hand gel is great as you can use it anywhere and is normally small enough to go in hand luggage.
- Small First Aid Kit – Plasters, antiseptic cream, painkillers and rehydration sachets are what I’d recommend to take. A good starting point for bumps, scrapes, travel sickness and hangovers.
This backpacking gear is a basic clothing list that you may want. You may need all (for a long trip going to various places where the climate differs) or just some (if you’re having a short trip where the climate will be the same). If you’re travelling a lot, think comfort, not fashion!
- Hoodie – There’s nothing like getting in a comfy hoodie after a long day! Also an easy way to cover up your PJs in a hostel if you feel a little self conscious in them! And a good warm layer if you’ll be walking around a lot.
- PJs – Don’t sleep naked in a dorm room! Please, for the sake of everyone else, wear PJs!
Combats/Walking Trousers – Comfy for walking, comfy on buses, comfy on flights. I wish I’d taken more on my year trip!
- T-shirts – Have a good variety of tops, depending what you’re plans are. I’d say for a seven day or under trip you can take one per day, but you will be sacrificing some room in your bag. Really you want no more than four or five, that you can reuse a couple of times before washing.
- Shorts – If you have nice weather, you’ll want shorts. Also good for hiking in warmer weather.
- Dresses/Skirts – (Obviously, this is mainly for girls) Dresses and skirts condense really well in a backpack, can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion, so are a great choice. You may want to go out one night, so may want to get a bit dressed up.
- Nice Shirt – (Mainly for guys) You may end up on a night out, and want to be a bit smarter. It’s best to prepare for all situations (especially on a long trip).
- Jeans – I’d only take one nice pair, for nights out. Jeans take up a lot of room in your backpack!
- Walking boots – Even if you’re just on a city break and not hiking, walking boots can be very comfy if you’ll be on your feet all day. They can normally be tied to your backpack, so don’t even take up any room!
- Socks – If you’re going for longer than a week I’d try to fit in at least ten pairs. You don’t really want to be reusing socks before they go through the wash!
- Underwear – Once again, if you’re going for more than a week, I’d try for ten to fifteen sets of underwear.
- Buff – Buffs are amazing! it can be a hat, bandana, and scarf to name just a few uses! Never travel without one!
- Sunglasses – Even if you’re going to a cold climate, you may still need sunglasses. It’s best to have and not need, rather than need and not have, especially with something so small.
The following electronical backpacking gear are just examples of what you may want to take with you. Depends if you want to contact people, take pictures etc.
- Unlocked Phone – This is essential if you are planning on working for a bit. Means you don’t have to buy a phone in each country! Just get a cheap pay-as-you-go sim card to use in the country you’re in. If you’re applying for jobs, they’ll always want a contact number.
- Plug Adaptor – A multi-plug adaptor is best if you’re planning on a lot of travelling. One for each different plug socket!
- Speaker – Great if you’re lucky and end up in an empty dorm (or pay for a private), just means you can have your own music and not via headphones.
- Tablet – A Tablet is a great ‘in between’ of a laptop and smartphone. Some websites aren’t mobile optimised, so a cheap tablet makes searching online, for accommodation for example, easier and less frustrating. And a tablet isn’t as chunky as a laptop. You only need a cheap one, I wouldn’t go ‘all out’ incase it gets damaged/lost. Something like the Amazon Fire Tablet would do the job.
- Chargers – I know it’s another obvious one, but it’s so annoying to forget your chargers! Make sure they’re one of the first items to be packed!
- Camera – Take only pictures and leave only footprints. You’ll want your memories of where you’ve been (and chances are people will want to see).
Weather Dependent Gear
If you’re only going to a few places where the climate will stay roughly the same, you’ll want to plan for that climate. If you’re travelling through a few climates, you’ll need to be prepared for all! Some of the below backpacking gear you will also only need for certain activities.
- Waterproofs – Coat and trousers, especially if you’re planning on doing some trekking. You can get waterproofs that fold away to nothing, but if you’re doing long treks or climbing I’d advise the bulkier ones as they’re generally tougher and better quality with wind resistance too.
- Insect Repellent – A hot climate means insects. You don’t want to be covered in bites! Not only do they look horrible, they’re itchy and annoying. A good insect repellent will reduce your risk.
- Winter Trek Trousers – If you’re going somewhere cold, or climbing a mountain, winter trek trousers are what you need. They feel like they hug your legs! Keeping your legs nice and warm. They’re also good for hangover days… I felt better travelling back home in mine after the St-Hen.
- Sun Cream – Sunburn can ruin any trip, so protect yourself and wear sun cream (or sunscreen, whatever you prefer to call it).
- Sunhat – Once again, protect yourself from the sun.
- Warm Hat – It’s important to keep your head and ears warm in a cold climate, so make sure you have a good warm hat.
- Gloves – Vital in a cold climate. It’s terrible when you can’t get pay for something as you can’t get money out because you can’t feel your hands!
- Merino Wool Socks – I wish I’d known about these for my year out. Warmest socks ever and so comfy. Great for walking in, or for lazing around the hostel in. keep your feet warm in cold areas and help to stay cooler in warm areas.
- Base Layers – Another one I should’ve taken one my year out. Base layers are great at keeping you warm. I would advise getting top base layers that can be used as a t-shirt too.
- Swimwear – Obviously, only if you’re likely to go for a dip.
- Sandals – You don’t want to be stuck in trainers or walking boots in a hot climate, your feet will just end up stinking! Let your feet breathe!
- Rehydration Sachets – Important in hot climates, these just help to keep you hydrated. And also help with travellers sickness and hangovers…
Place Dependent Gear
Some backpacking gear you will only need for certain countries. The below are generally not needed for first world countries.
- Water Treatment – If the tap water is not safe to drink, you’ll need some water treatment tablets. Some people find these give water a metallic taste, so advise adding juice too.
- Mosquito Net – If Malaria (or a lot of insect bites) are a risk, you’ll need to sleep under a mosquito net. Some hotels will provide mosquito nets, but not all and not always great quality, so I’d always take my own. Also, take duct tape to patch up any holes.
- Medication – You may have your own medication to take, but don’t forget medication like Malaria tablets if you require them. I’d always err on the side of caution with medication and if there is even a slight risk, I’d always use the medication.
- Sterile First Aid Kit – If going to a third world country I would take one of these. If you get injured and need hospital attention, you know that they are using sterile equipment. One of those best to have and not need items.
The above list are just guides to work from, not a definite list. Where you’re going, what you’re doing, how long the trip is and your budget will all affect what backpacking gear you take. Use this blog as a starting point for what backpacking gear you need.