Packing for a long backpacking trip can be incredibly frustrating. With such limited space, yet so many situations to account for, how do you manage to bring only what you need and not a single thing more? It’s a lesson in trial and error and nobody gets it exactly right the first time, but a little research will help you avoid some of the more glaring mistakes.
Here’s the ultimate backpacking packing list to get you prepared for any backpacking trip.
Your backpack is your most valuable possession and your literal home away from home. Choose your backpack carefully—you want one that’s big enough to hold your things but light enough to carry for up to 30 minutes at a time. Make sure you choose one that’s comfortable and well fitted for your body. The everything-and-the-kitchen-sink, 80-liter pack might be tempting, but remember how onerous it’ll be to carry and opt for something smaller, between 45L-65L.
You may want to consider either compression sacks or packing cubes to help keep your pack organized.
Clothing can be the hardest part to plan—particularly, if you’re packing for different climates and conditions. Generally speaking, you’ll want to pack clothing that’s loose, comfortable and modest (if you’re visiting more conservative countries). It’s not necessary to spend a bunch of money on special “travel clothing,” simply pick clothing that’s easy to wear, easy to clean and makes you feel good.
Your clothing may vary based on your destination and the length of your trip, but here’s a pretty good starting list that can take you from two weeks to two months:
- Underwear—nobody likes to wear dirty underwear so pack at least a week’s worth
- Shirts—5 to 7, including 1 dressier shirt
- Pants—2 to 4, more or less depending on if you also pack shorts or skirts
- Sweater or fleece zip up—for chilly bus rides
- Rain jacket
- Sleeping clothes—comfortable and conservative enough to wear in dorm rooms
Other clothing items to consider: a sun hat, workout clothing, thermal underwear for cold climates, and a belt. Women might also want to bring a sarong or beach cover up, which can double as a scarf or head covering. Comfortable dresses and leggings are also great for travel, particularly paired with a couple pieces of cheap statement jewelry (leave fine jewelry at home).
Shoes can take up a lot of bulk in your backpack so limit yourself to 2 or 3 pairs: sandals for hot weather, sneakers for walking and hiking, and maybe a pair of dress shoes or flats for nighttime excursions.
It’s okay to bring less toiletries than you think you’ll need—you can buy things like soap, shampoo and toothpaste anywhere in the world. That said, it’s wise to stock up on options that are expensive on the road—like razors and sunscreen, as well as items that can be harder to find like stick deodorant and tampons. Be aware that in some Asian countries it’s difficult to find skin lotion that doesn’t contain bleaching ingredients.
Most travelers these days bring along their own laptop or tablet, as well as a smartphone and a digital camera. If you’re an avid reader a kindle is a great alternative to carrying heavy books in your bag. While none of these are required they do make life and travel a great deal easier by allowing you to plan and document your trip, as well as keep in touch with folks at home.
Make sure you bring all the required chargers and a plug adapter. Throw in an external hard drive so you can backup your computer in case of theft or damage. Of course, you’ll want to keep all valuables safely in your day bag and in your line of site at all times. It would be wise to insure all valuable items in case of theft.
There are a ton of different products out there marketed to backpackers, from sleep sacks to water bottles to money belts. Here is a quick list of items to consider:
- Quick dry towel—a must for hostel-goers
- Silk sleep sack
- Combination lock—for hostel lockers
- SteriPEN water purifier
- Reusable water bottle
- Eye mask and earplugs
- Dry bags
- Bug spray
- Duct tape, superglue, ziploc bags, sharpies (for all manner of road emergencies)
- First aid kit—you can make you own
Remember: You can adjust the contents of your pack as you go. No matter where you’re traveling to, they probably have stores there. If you forget or break something, it’s easy to pick up something new.