Backpacking is the pinnacle of adventure travel. Whether exploring your own country or foreign lands, there's nothing quite as exhilarating as hitting the road with only the bag on your back.
But what exactly do you put in that bag?
Your packing list will depend on where you are going and what you plan to do there. However, there are some essentials that every adventure traveler should have.
In this article, I have provided a comprehensive backpacker checklist. This is based on 10-years of experience on the road and includes everything the adventure traveler needs.
Ready to head off on your next great adventure? It’s time to get packing.
Essential Packing List For Backpackers
- Large 50-75l Backpack
- Day pack 15-20l
- Compression bags (optional)
- Waterproof cover
- Trail runners/ trekking shoes
- Waterproof Jacket
- Fleece/ softshell jacket
- 2 x long sleeve tops
- 2 x leggings (base layers)
- 3 x vests
- 3 x t-shirts
- 1 pair of jeans
- 2 pairs of shorts
- 1 dress (optional)
- Trekking pants
- 7 pairs of underwear
- 7 pairs of socks
- Cap/ hat with a rim
- Buff (optional)
- Camera/ go pro (Optional)
- Powerbank (optional)
- Universal adaptor
- Headlight/ flashlight
- Chargers for devices
- Extra memory sticks/ cards
Toiletries, Creams, and Sprays
- High SPF Sunscreen
- Lip balm
- Shampoo and conditioner
- Body Wash
- Face wash
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Body lotion
- Lip balm
- Wet wipes
- Insect repellent (optional)
First Aid Kit
- Prescription Medicine
- Motion sickness tablets
- Anti-histamine cream
- Headache tablets
Hiking/ Camping Gear (optional)
- Trekking tent
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping bag liner
- Sleeping mats
- Camping stove
- Cooking pot
- Camping cups, plates, and bowls
- Trekking poles
Safety and Security
- Money belt
- Combination locks
- Filter Bottle
- Travel towel
- Basic sewing kit
- Nail clippers
- Multi-tool (optional)
- Sleep mask and earplugs (optional)
Packing List for Backpackers
Your backpack is the most critical piece of equipment. Generally, you are looking for a capacity between 50-75l. You can find larger backpacks but anything over 75l becomes a literal pain to haul around. See our latest reviews of backpacks.
In addition to your main backpack, you will also want to have a smaller day pack. A smaller backpack will come in useful for day hikes or overnight trips. Although small, this should still be big enough to fit your camera, water bottle, snacks, jacket, and other essentials. Here are our recommended daypacks.
Plastic compression bags will make it easier to pack. These bags will also protect your stuff if the backpack gets wet. Ideally, you should have waterproof covers for both your large and small backpacks.
It's good to do some research before your trip on the expected weather conditions. Even so, expect mother nature to throw some curveballs!
Make sure you have clothes for warm and cooler weather. A puffer jacket that folds into a small bag is the ideal travel companion. It is also a good idea to carry a lightweight rain jacket. If you don't have one, a fold-up plastic poncho will also do the job (and take up very little space in your backpack).
Trekking shoes are a must for adventure travel. Personally, I like a good pair of trail runners. Compared to traditional hiking boots, trail running shoes are lightweight and much more versatile. They are tough enough for multi-day hikes and still passable as streetwear.
When it comes to clothing, stick to the essentials. A few long and short tops and bottoms will be enough. It's better to keep your bag light, even if it means doing laundry more often.
For women, it’s worth packing at least one dress. If you wear jewelry, a pill box works well to store sets of earrings, rings, and necklaces.
A good item to invest in is some zip-off trekking pants. A good brand of 2-in-one pants will see you through multiple adventures. Look for a pair with lots of pockets for storing snacks on a hike.
Underwear and socks take up little space. It's worthwhile packing enough pairs to last a week. Don’t forget a brimmed hat or cap, this is one item you will use often.
No one goes anywhere without their cell phone. If you have a decent camera or action camera, you are going to want to bring it with you on your adventure. A power bank will extend your device's lifespan when you spend several days in the wilderness.
A headlight or small flashlight will see you through camping trips, night walks, and unexpected power outages. Those that are solar-powered save the hassle of buying new batteries.
Make sure you also pack charging cables, spare memory cards, and extra batteries. It is important that cameras and other electronics have a safe, padded spot in your bag where they won't get damaged.
Toiletries, Creams, and Sprays
Sunscreen is one of the most important things to pack. Go for a product with SPF50+. The quality of sunscreen you can buy in a foreign place is not always up to scratch. This is one of the things that are better brought from home.
If you are traveling to a tropical climate, you will likely need a bottle of insect repellent. Jungle destinations, although beautiful, come with an abundance of biting flies and mosquitos.
Don’t forget basic toiletries like a toothbrush and toothpaste, shampoo and conditioner, and soap. Travel tends to dry out your skin, body lotion and lip balm are must-haves.
A pack of wet wipes will be your best friend in situations where there are no showers. Also, always keep a small bottle of hand sanitizer on you.
First Aid Kit
You will be able to buy medicine while you travel. However, there are a few essential items that you should carry.
Most importantly, if you take prescription meds, bring them with you. If you are going to run out during your trip, take a copy of the doctor’s script.
No adventure traveler should leave home without Imodium. Some of the best backpacker countries have the worst reputations for food poisoning. It’s best to be prepared.
Motion sickness tablets are also essential in your medicine bag. Long windy bus rides and ferries between islands are commonplace during adventure travel. These modes of transport can turn even the most seasoned traveler green.
Other first-aid kit staples include band-aids and headache tablets. If you can find it, ant-histamine cream works miracles on itchy insect bites.
Hiking And Camping Gear
Usually, you can rent the equipment you need for multi-day treks. However, if you are a serious hiker and are planning on doing several overnight trails, you may want to bring your own equipment.
These days, you can find specialized lightweight tents that weigh under 3kg. If you are trekking in a cold region, make sure your sleeping bag can withstand the icy temperatures. I’d also recommend investing in a sleeping bag liner.
If you are camping in remote areas, you will need to prepare your own food. Standard camp equipment includes a gas cooker (with gas bottle), aluminum pot, utensils, and lightweight crockery. See our picks for the best backpacking stoves.
If you usually hike with trekking poles and have a lightweight, fold-up set, bring them with you. If you haven't walked with sticks before, there's no need to run off and buy them.
A moneybelt is a key travel item. Keep your passport, cards, and cash close and accessible. This is important from a safety perspective, particularly when traveling by public transport or in an unfamiliar city.
Also, pack at least one quality combination lock. You can use it to lock up your backpack compartments. You will also need a lock if you leave things in storage lockers at hostels.
Other Essential Backpacker Items
There are a few other odds and ends that every adventure traveler should have.
- A bottle with a filter system can save you hundreds of dollars in the long run. Filter bottles are ideal for trekking as you can refill them from streams. They also give you peace of mind in places where you are unsure of tap water quality. Filter bottles are generally much more effective than water purification tablets.
- Don't forget your sunglasses! Preferably with polarised and UV protected lenses. You will also want a solid case to prevent your sunnies from getting crushed in your backpack. See our review of hiking sunglasses.
- Not all accommodations will provide you with towels. Quick-dry, travel towels are lightweight and compact.
- Lighters are not just for smokers. These come in handy if you are camping or staying at hostels with gas stoves. You can also use a lighter to reseal bags.
- A needle and spool of thread are always useful. You can mend small tears on your clothes or sew buttons back on.
- You won't regret bringing a multitool or swiss army knife. You will definitely need it from time to time. If only to open a bottle of wine or cut fruit. Just remember to keep it in checked luggage when you fly.
- Finally, a set of earplugs and a sleep mask can be lifesavers. This is especially true if you will be staying in shared dorm rooms.
Even though it’s not the nicest thing to imagine, you should be prepared for worst-case scenarios. No responsible adventure backpacker should leave home without good travel insurance.
At a minimum, travel insurance should cover medical emergencies. Ideally, you also want to be covered for loss of possessions and unforeseen changes in plans.
We like Globelink Travel Insurance as they offer a variety of plans to suit your plans and budget. You can also get insured with them if you have already started traveling.
Copies Of Important Documents
What happens if you lose your passport? Having copies of important documents will make it easier to apply for new ones.
When needed, it is safer to walk around with a physical copy than the original. If you are traveling to multiple countries, you may have to do a visa application. For this, you need copies of passports and vaccination certificates.
It works well to keep electronic copies of the above documents (as well as your insurance plan) in a file in your email account.