The Ultimate Backpacking Checklist of what to take traveling
Backpacking Checklist Guide
“the world is not in your books and maps, it’s out there”Gandalf
One of the most common questions I get asked by first-time backpackers and gap year students is “what to take backpacking?”. Here is a compilation of travel gear I often use, combined into one ULTIMATE Backpacking Checklist. This list will hopefully answer that question and can serve as a resource for other travelers who are planning a trip of their own. Be sure to pass it along to friends and family.
Over the years I have learned that no matter how prepared you think you are for traveling, you never really know what to expect until you get there. If you are traveling somewhere you have never been before like backpacking in Thailand, no amount of research and planning can prepare you for the amazing culture shock you get when arriving in Bankok.
Knowing what to take backpacking can be a daunting task for some people and a time-consuming task for others. Depending on how prepared you want to be and how much time and money you want to spend on your travel gear, these backpacking essentials can help serve as a basic guide. Don’t fall into the trap of ordering the first thing you see, read backpacking gear reviews, listen to experts, and make sure you aren’t wasting your money.
I used to write a complete backpacking gear list every time I went somewhere new. Every country has it’s own nuances so you need to think about a number of different things when packing for a trip abroad. Nowadays, I have a pretty good idea of what I need to buy in advance, what I need to pack, and what I can find once I get there. The climate and terrain you are visiting will play a vital role in your packing checklist decisions, as well as the activities you want to take part in.
Sometimes it can be easier to stick to the basic backpacking essentials and fill in the blanks once you get to your destination. This can often work out much cheaper, help you fit in with the locals, and support the tourism industry – which so many families around the world rely on. It can also go the other way and you might wish you had picked up a few things before you got on the plane.
Backpacking Gear Checklist Quick Links
Complete Backpacking Checklist
Planning a Backpacking Trip
A backpacking checklist is something you should start as early as possible. Whether you have your flights booked and know your leave date, or just started saving – start preparing the things you need for traveling asap. And not just your travel gear…
- Finances – Your budget is vital to the planning stage of any trip. Work out how much money you are going to need to achieve your backpacking goals. Then work out how much you would have to save every month to set off in 6 months (or your personal time frame). Get saving and resist the temptation to dip into your travel fund, you will have enough money to travel in no time. Just make sure you include your gear, flights and estimated living costs in your budget so you don’t run out of cash!
- Access to Funds – Once you have a good idea of your finances, you need to be able to access them. Check with your bank for more details or look for travel cards online that may offer better exchange rates. Either way, always notify your bank of your travel plans and have a plan B for times of need (i.e. cash).
- Backpacking Gear – You are going to be handpicking a selection of essentials items you need for backpacking – all of which are listed further down the page. Use the quick links above to skip sections of this guide or use the printer friendly version for more recommendations.
- Visa – No, not the credit card, the travel document. Most countries will require you to have some kind of advanced visa if you plan to stay in a country longer than a typical tourist. As part of this agreement, you may have to provide proof of bank balances or pre-booked flights out of the country. This is standard.
- Passport – Make sure this is up to date and will still be in date for your return flights home. Keep it safe in the most secure pocket, deep in your backpack.
- Vaccinations – Before you travel to any new country you should check the recommended vaccinations you need with a doctor or nurse. You can also get a rough idea of what you might need at Lonely Planet.
- Travel Insurance – One of those annoying things you need for traveling, but with so much small print and legal terms, it is easy to get confused and put it off until the last minute. Bad idea. Some of the best travel insurance I ever got was discovered through word of mouth. Ask people who have been traveling or subscribe to Gear Assistant for future posts on the subject.
- Flights and Tickets – Again, don’t leave this too late. While you may sometimes get lucky with a last minute booking, more often than not you will save the most money on flights by booking early.
- Mental Preparation – Seriously, if you have never been away from your friends and family for longer than a month – prepare yourself mentally for the challenges ahead. You can’t just call your mates/parents from a stranger’s phone at 3 am to come pick you up after you got drunk, missed the last bus, and lost your phone, wallet, and friends. For the most part, you are on your own. Embrace it.
- Physical Preparation – If you plan on doing a lot of hiking or physically challenging yourself then make sure you are fit and healthy enough to achieve those goals. Try carrying your backpack full of gear over a 5-mile walk and see how it feels – no doubt this may encourage you to think about how to pack less stuff.
- Itinerary or Loose Plan – If like me you do not believe in making detailed itineraries, you still need some kind of vague plan. For example, picture this, your plane lands in Austrailia and you step out of the airport into the blistering heat – now what?! … Plan your first night if nothing else. You will see more, do more, and get more out of your backpacking trip if you have a goal so look into it.
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Important Things You Need for Traveling
First off, let me offer a couple of travel hacks or backpacking tips (depending on your generation). These 3 steps can potentially save you a ton of hassle and money in the event of an unforeseen complication.
- Email a copy of your passport, blood type, next of kin, eye prescription, and any other relevant details to yourself. Print this out on a small piece of paper, laminate it and keep it in your wallet.
- Email a copy of all your travel documents and details to yourself before you go traveling – this way you always have a copy within reach.
- Keep all your important travel documents safe inside a plastic wallet or waterproof bag inside your backpack.
The obvious things you need for traveling will no doubt be abundantly clear to you but still needs to be included in your backpacking checklist so you don’t forget anything.
- Passport – As mentioned before, make sure it is in date for both outbound and return journies.
- Tickets – If you follow my previous advice then you booked your flights early on – make sure you flag and pin them to the top of your email inbox as well as storing a hard copy in a safe place.
- Travel Insurance – If you don’t have a plastic wallet then get one! They cost less than a dollar and will keep everything organized and in one place. As a typically unorganized person myself, this will save you soo much time and stress it’s ridiculous. Just don’t lose the wallet!
- Debit / Credit / Money Card – Make sure you can access your money from abroad and are aware of all the charges you may incur for different transfers and transactions. Shop around for travel cards which work best in your travel destination of choice.
- Cash – Cash is king as not all places accept card – you should by withdrawing just enough for a week or two so you can track your spending whenever you want – no atm required. I tend to follow the exchange rate for a couple of weeks or months before I set off backpacking so that I can buy a good wad of currency at the best price. When I arrive in a country I try and judge how easy it will be to withdraw cash and how safe it is to carry around.
- Medicine – If you are on any kind of medication, make sure you are prepared with doctors notes/prescriptions, or anything else you might reasonably need. Make an appointment with your doctor before you go if you are unsure about anything.
- Health and Travel Insurance Documents – Print them out and keep them somewhere safe but obvious. Remember, in the event of an emergency, it might not be you who is looking for them.
- International Drivers License – Can be obtained from any Post Office and is needed if you want to buy a car or van in another country. If you live in America you get them for $20 here.
- Student Card / YHA Card – You would be surprised to see how many hostels and tourist attractions offer discounts with these free or inexpensive cards. Check around to see what’s available.
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Backpacking Checklist Essentials
Image credit: Backpacking Gear List Print by Jodi Lynn available here
These are my top 10 backpacking essentials which I will cover in a more detailed post in the near future but for now, this should be sufficient. Big ticket items can take up the bulk of your backpacking gear budget and are also the items that can make the biggest difference to your travel experience. You generally get what you pay for with things like backpacks, tents, and boots but you don’t need to break the bank to get the best backpacking equipment. Check out some of the links in this travel checklist for more details.
- Backpacking Backpack – This is one of your key items and requires some research to get the best kind of backpack for travel. If you plan on doing a lot of hiking and camping then make sure you look for lightweight backpacks with plenty of compression straps for hanging your camping gear from. Breathability could also be key to finding the best backpacking backpack in humid lands.
- Backpacking Tent or Tarp – If you are on this website then you are probably more of an outdoor person than a cruise ship or hotel participant. Having a shelter is important for me to experience the wildest places that each country has to offer. It is also a great way to save money on accommodation. That being said, I might not take a tent to South East Asia, for example, because accommodation is so cheap out there (I might take a tarp, hammock, and bug net though). Check out our top 10 best solo backpacking tents here.
- Backpacking Sleeping Bag – Choosing a sleeping bag for backpacking relies solely on the environment you will be sleeping in. How cold does it get on a night in both summer and winter? What is the average temperature and humidity? What kind of weather do you expect? These some of the questions you must ask yourself when looking for a Backpacking Sleeping Bag. Two things you should pay close attention to is the weight and the temperature rating of the sleeping bag.
- Sleeping Pad – Inexperienced travelers might not fully understand how important a backpacking sleeping pad can be. You lose around 35% of your body heat through radiation and sleeping on bare ground will just suck all of the heat out of your body in no time at all. Sleeping pads not only provide insulation and padding but a better night’s sleep overall. If comfort is your thing then get an Inflatable Sleeping Pad, if you want to keep it cheap and lightweight – try a foam sleeping mat.
- Hiking Boots – Backpacking Boots are typically lightweight, rugged, and provide ankle support for when you are carrying a heavy load. Good tread, tough materials, and waterproofing is important for me, but it took me a while to find a pair of backpacking boots that fit me well. Check out these top 10 hiking boots for backpacking.
- Water Filter – An invaluable piece of backpacking gear, no matter where you are traveling to. As I have said many ties before, dirty water is huge deal in other countries and a trusty water filter is worth its weight in gold (not literally). Check out our top 10 best water filters for backpacking – the winner costs around $25 and will last for 100,000 gallons!
- Waterproofs and Insulation – Staying warm and dry is the number one concern when choosing your backpacking clothes. A solid waterproof jacket is a worthwhile investment, waterproof trousers are maybe less important but will come in very handy for some hikers. For insulation, down jackets offer the best warmth to weight ratio as well as packing down the smallest – but do not work if they get wet. There are arguments for synthetic insulation being the better alternative, it just depends on your requirements.
- Dry Bags – Dry bags serve three purposes – to keep your all your gear dry, organize the clean from the disgusting, and to compress everything down by squeezing all the air out. For these reasons, two or three dry bags are highly recommended and they weigh next to nothing.
- Head Torch – Head torches are in my opinion way better than hand help torches for just about any backpacking need. Anyone who tells you otherwise has never used one. Able to be used as a handheld torch, bike light, and head lamp – companies like Petzl have become experts at making super bright and efficient LED illumination.
- Ear Plugs – These are an absolute essential if you sleep in shared backpacking hostels or are a light sleeper, it only takes one snorer or busy street to ruin a full nights sleep. At first, it might take a bit of getting used to but once you do, they are superb and are supplied free of charge at many hostels.
I do also consider a knife or multi-tool, and other items to be essential also, which made choosing these top 10 backpacking essentials somewhat difficult.
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Camping Gear Checklist
Many backpackers do not consider the idea of camping all that appealing, and that is fair enough. Staying in hostels is a great way to travel and meet like-minded people in the 18 – 34 age bracket as well as a whole host of interesting people. Even if you don’t plan on sleeping outdoors much, it is still a good idea to have a few essentials to keep you alive should you have to spend a night in the woods.
If like me, you will take every opportunity you get to go camping then you might want to take your camping equipment checklist more seriously. I try to adopt a ratio of 3 – 4 nights camping with 1 – 2 nights in backpacker hostels. This gives me the freedom to roam around and meet interesting people along the way.
- Tent or Rain Fly Sheet – A decent tent or shelter is a wise investment considering they cost about the same as three nights in a 3-star hotel. If you don’t plan on doing much camping but want to have a tent as a backup – consider bivvy bags, tarps, hammocks, and solo backpacking tents. Ultimately you want something lightweight and compact that will either fit in the bottom of your bag or easily strap to the outside straps.
- Sleeping Bag – As mentioned earlier in our backpacking checklist, try and match your sleeping bag heat rating to the average temperature you will be backpacking through. Down sleeping bags are super warm for below-freezing temperatures but stop performing when wet – consider waterproof down sleeping bags. Synthetic sleeping bags are more reliable and easier to maintain but heavier and bulkier.
- Sleeping Pad – Again, this is one of those items you would really regret leaving at home or not believe you didn’t consider packing at all. They don’t weight much and means you always have a ‘mattress’ to sleep on.
- Water Filter – One of the essential backpacking items on this list. Drinking contaminated water can put you down for days, losing valuable exploration time. Solve this problem with a simple water filter.
- Knife or Multi-Tool – This is an invaluable backpacking tool that is so small you would be daft not to pack one. Unless you are only traveling with hand luggage that is. A multi-tool or pocket knife is one of the most useful everyday tools for backpacking. I can certainly recommend a Leatherman or Swiss army knife as an EDC after using them for the past 16+ years.
- Axe or Hatchet – Most people will not need this but if you enjoy a bit of wilderness adventure travel then having a small axe will help process firewood and help around camp. If you like a wooden handle then try the Gransfors Axe or consider a lightweight composite handled axe like the Fiskars Range Here.
- Hammock – I actually switched to using a hammock and tarp setup a couple of years back, saving my tent for special occasions these days. So long as you can find a place to hang it and tie correctly, you could have the best nights sleep of your life. You can get some amazing sleeping systems from Hennesy Hammocks which include a rain-fly, bug netting, and can be set up on the ground as tents!
- Bug Net – From experience, mosquitos and biting insects always seem bigger and badder in foreign countries – that or you are less immune to their bites. Either way, getting a bug net for backpacking is a good idea which won’t add much to your pack weight. I also pack a head net in certain countries which have a reputation for swarms of biting insects.
- Paracord – Paracord is a common item people pack for traveling because it has multiple uses and can be split into thinner strands should you need to. Check out my review of the TITAN SurvivorCord which combines fishing line, waxed jute, and copper wire with 550 paracord. Or get the 1,000 ft roll of standard paracord to keep at home.
- Knife Sharpener – Keeping your knife and axe sharp is important for sustained use. A simple sharpening stone will do the trick, or for something more portable – check out our top 10 best pocket knife sharpeners for EDC.
- Fishing Kit – A portable fishing kit is a good piece of survival gear to take backpacking. This is not something I take everywhere I go but then again I often have a couple of hooks in my wallet at any given time. If you live in a country that allows the trapping of fish using a mechanical fishing device then check out the yo-yo automatic fishing reel, if not then a survival fishing kit should do the trick.
- Folding Saw – If you are going to be processing lots of firewood or building shelters but don’t want to carry an axe around, a folding saw could be the ideal match. Lightweight and very effective on small to medium trees and branches, the Bahco Folding Saw is ideal for backpackers and I have been using one for years without issue.
- Cooking Pot – A cooking pot, billy tin, or any kind of metal container you can boil water in is a good idea if you are camping in the middle of nowhere. Hot meals beat cold meals most days and being able to brew some hot water on a morning can feel like a gift from the nature gods.
- Portable Stove – These can weigh as little as 25 grams and all you have to do is buy a small gas canister – hey presto, you have a portable stove for cooking bacon by the lake. Liquid fuel burners like the Trangia are banned from most international flights so the gas stove adaptor is your best option.
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Backpacking Clothes come and go as they please but when it comes to staying warm and dry, you want to think carefully about the choices you make. You probably have all the underwear, t-shirts, hoodies and shorts that you need already. But things like Hiking Boots, Waterproof Jackets, and insulation may need to be updated for countries with extreme conditions – hot or cold.
- Backpacking Boots/Footwear – A good pair of backpacking boots is at the heart of every great adventure and should be at or near the top of anyone’s backpacking list. You may be walking hundreds if not thousands of miles in them cumulatively and you need a comfy pair that you can trust. An investment that will last a long time and you will not regret making in the long run.
- 5 – 7 x Underwear – 7 is a good number, so you only have to do your washing every week or two. I personally wear merino boxer briefs which are great for hiking and backpacking because they wick moisture incredibly well and prevent any kind of chafing. 7 pairs might seem like a lot to a seasoned backpacker but you can always get rid of the ones with holes in if you don’t need them.
- 4 x Merino Socks – Merino doesn’t hold odor and wicks moisture away from the body. So no matter how bad your feet smell, the socks never get too bad. Sweaty feet is not a good smell so always take your boots off outside a shared dorm room. In my opinion, merino wool hiking socks are superior to other materials by quite a distance. Learn more about merino in this post I wrote about the benefits of merino wool for outdoor clothing. Or this post about choosing the best hiking socks.
- Sock Liner – Sock liners are great for hiking and are designed to prevent blisters. They also make a great pair of spare socks which are lightweight and silky smooth.
- 4 x T-shirt – 3 lightweight and 1 heavy cotton t-shirt is a good combination, or replace a t-shirt with a vest or tank top if in a hot climate. T-shirts are readily available worldwide so why not just take one or two and get something new when you arrive?
- 1 x Long Sleeve Shirt – Long sleeve shirts for expeditions are lightweight, breathable, and more durable than your average cotton t-shirt. Craghoppers do a great range of Solar-Dry and Nosi-Life materials which help protect you against sun, sweat, and mosquitos. In some temples, it is considered rude to show too much skin and so long sleeve shirts are more appropriate. If you need to smarten up for something in a hurry, just tuck your shirt in and you are good to go.
- Fleece – A backpacking fleece works as an effective mid-layer and doesn’t add a lot of weight to your pack. Material such as Polartec will hardly absorb any moisture and dry out in minutes in the sun. I personally own the Helly Hanson Daybreaker Hooded Fleece which is lightweight, simple, and has a high rising neck line to cover my chin.
- Hoodie – Not the most lightweight clothes for backpacking but I never used to go anywhere without a hoody. These days I just use my fleece hoodie for backpacking trips but I don’t blame anyone for packing their favorite hoodie.
- Waterproofs – Staying dry isn’t always easy in monsoon season, but if you are doing a lot of hiking in cooler climates then you certainly don’t want to get wet. Splashing out on a high-quality waterproof jacket is a smart thing to do before you go, as it gives you a chance to test it.
- Flip-flops or Sandals – Lightweight and easy to slip into after a long day of hiking with your backpack – sandals and flip-flops will tuck down the side of your bag and see their fair share of use. I always take my Sanuk Vagabonds because they are as lightweight as any flip-flop and way more versatile.
- 1 – 2 x Shorts – 2 x Shorts – If you are a guy then a pair of swim shorts is a backpacking list no brainer. A second pair of shorts will come in handy in places like Australia or South America where you won’t often be wearing trousers. If you are a girl then a pair of board shorts might be your style or check the women’s backpacking checklist lower down the page for more ideas.
- Lightweight Hiking Trousers – Breathable and fast drying hiking pants work well in hot weather to protect your legs from sun and scratches. Zip-off hiking pants/shorts should appeal for their double usage but I prefer a breathable pair of climbing/hiking pants. I wear the Montane Terra Pants more than any other outdoor trousers but there is loads of variety once you start looking.
- Smart/Casual Trousers – Being the kind of guy who doesn’t pay too much attention to the way I look, I never got into the whole dressing up to ‘look good for the ladies’. Now I find myself enjoying this as a way to socialize and own a number of versatile but stylish pairs of Prana climbing jeans.
- Merino Base Layers – As if you haven’t heard me talk about merino wool enough already, I still need to include it in this backpacking checklist just a few more times. Merino Wool Base layers are the best in their category and I won’t even try and convince you of this here. Just read this post about the best merino base layers.
- Sun Hat/Cap – Keep the sun out of your eyes and protect the back of your neck from direct UV rays. If you don’t wear caps as a fashion accessory then go for a full rimmed hat which will scrunch up into your bag when not in use.
- Warm Hat – Merino Possum hats are just about the warmest lightweight hat you can get, and there really is no reason to get anything else to keep your ears and noggin warm.
- Buff or Bandana – Even if you only wear it on hikes to keep the sweat out of your eyes, it doesn’t take up much space in your backpack and can be worn in about a dozen different ways.
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Women’s Backpacking Gear
For the most part, you can follow and adapt the main backpacking checklist to meet your own requirements but there are also a few items that are not included in the main list. Below you can find some of these items but for a wide range of packing lists for girls then check out this blog. If you think this women’s backpacking checklist is either too long or too short, let us know what is missing.
- Hairbrush and Hair Bobbles – Humidity, Saltwater, and not showering for days can do crazy things to your hair. Dry shampoo can sometimes help but to be honest, shaggy hair won’t get a second glance in most countries.
- Extra Underwear – Men are filthy beasts who can happily wear a pair of underwear for multiple days. As an active woman, you should be changing regularly to prevent infection. You can take as many pairs as you like, 10 to 15 pairs should be enough for anyone time.
- 2 – 3 x Bras – A regular bra and a sports bra make a good combination but you may want to add a second sports bra or even a push-up bra for nights on the town. Go for dark colours.
- 2 x Bikini – Depending on how obsessed you are with bikinis, you may want to sacrifice a bra for an extra bikini or two. When in Rome…
- 2 x Short shorts – Can be worn again and again with any number of tops and accessories. Denim is stylish and tough but you may want to opt for some flexible gym shorts as well. Again, think about what you are going to be doing and pack accordingly.
- 1 – 2 x Leggings – As well as base layers, leggings can help keep you warm when worn under other clothes. They can also keep you cool and cover your legs at the same time.
- 2 x Dresses – Lightweight and summery dresses can be worn over bikinis for a quick and easy outfit you can wear to the shops, the beach, or by the pool. If you are not the type of woman to wear dresses and skirts then just skip the next point as well.
- Skirt – Like short shorts, a skirt can be tough and durable while still making you look pretty, so choose your material with function over fashion in mind.
- Sarong – If you are creative, there are many ways to wear a sarong and turn it into all kinds of clothing accessories for backpacking. It is basically just a large bandana and think of all the things you can do with one of those.
- Tampons / Pads / Diva Cup – Along with all your other regular feminine products and it never hurts to have a small pack of tissues at hand.
- Makeup and Makeup Remover – Remember, you are going backpacking not entering a beauty pageant so pack light and don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember to fasten all the lids securely as it can quite easily get everywhere when left loose in your backpack.
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Backpacking toiletries can add a lot of weight to your backpack fast. Try and get the smallest possible containers and remember to consult airport regulations before checking your bag in. I try and pack as few toiletries as possible but you might want to add a few more items of your own.
- Toothbrush / Toothpaste – I like to keep my toothbrush in its own little case to stop backpack fluff from getting in the bristles. Flouride free toothpaste is what I look for and so should you if you know whats good for you.
- Suncream – As Baz Luhrmann repeatedly stressed in his one hit wonder, you should wear sunscreen. Reduce your odds of getting a sunburn by covering up and not overdoing it on the tanning. Suncream is also a great moisturizer but aftersun is the only thing you want if you do happen to suffer sunburn.
- Lip Balm / Vaseline – Care for your lips in both hot and cold conditions or suffer the consequences of chapped and sore lips. Vaseline is also a suitable lubricant to prevent blisters and chafing where equipment or clothing might be rubbing on your skin.
- Shampoo / Shower Gel / Soap – 50 ml bottles will last a week or more so I try and get by with using as little as possible. Always seal your shower gel securely as there have been too many times where they have opened in my bag to cover all my backpacking clothes and gear in slimy liquid. Even though it might smell good, you are still going to have to wash everything.
- Roll on Deodorant – Roll pressurized canisters of body spray are not allowed on most international flights. Also, roll on deodorant is far less offensive to the senses of other backpackers in shared accommodation. There is nothing worse than some inconsiderate kid emptying half a can of Lynx Africa in an enclosed space. *Rant.
- Razor – Disposable blades may be your best option or a semi-decent 3 blade razor might suit you more. For women, I think a good razor blade is more important. If you are a man you could always stop shaving and grow a beard.
- Contraception – Condoms will keep you safe and the morning after pill can help with any possible accidents. Always use a condom and keep one with you at all times, you never know when you might need one. Condoms also work as an emergency water container.
- Cotton Buds – I don’t know why cotton buds don’t come in smaller packs for backpackers but they rarely do. So instead of buying a massive pack of 200 every time, keep 5 – 20 in a small sealed bag.
- Nail Clippers – An underrated piece of travel gear and often poorly made if you buy the cheap ones. I never realized the difference a decent set of nail clippers could make to my toenail management. Sharp blades like that on the Wilkinson Sword Nail clippers are worth paying a little more for. They also make a great gift idea for backpackers, which is how I got mine.
- Tweezers – Splinters and thorns can be a pain in the ass but getting them out with a pair of tweezers is far easier and safer than using the pliers on your multi-tool or the pin from a badge on your backpack. I use Uncle Bill’s Sliver Gripper Tweezers because they are tiny and fit on a key ring. Simple.
- Toilet Roll – Always keep a roll of toilet roll in your backpack and avoid using it where ever possible. This is for emergencies only and can be restocked in public bathrooms aka McD’s if you start running low. Handy for starting fires in the woods but only if dry – that’s why I keep mine in a drybag with my down jacket.
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Backpacking First Aid Kit
A backpacking first aid kit is often overlooked by first-time travelers and seasoned travel veterans alike but this is more important than you realize. As the saying goes, “it is better to be safe than sorry”. That being said, knowledge or first aid training is far more valuable than any bandage can be so read a book or take a course (something to add to your CV if you are working abroad).
You can get pre-made medical packs like the Adventure Medical Kits pictured above and LifeSystems Mountain First Aid Kit which are ideal for keeping in your backpacking kit. Or you can create your own tailor-made kits for backpacking in specific countries. If you do, here is a brief list of items to pack:
- Emergency Bivi Bag or Shelter – Maybe a life saver for some trips and overkill for others, judge accordingly and make informed decisions.
- Survival Blanket – To create a heat barrier, provide shelter or attract attention at a distance. These shiny, crinkly, and space age blankets are used around the world to treat people who have been overexposed to the elements.
- Whistle – To attract attention. Many backpacks, and at least those by Lowe Alpine and Osprey, have whistles built into the chest straps which is a great little feature. If you fall down a ravine and can’t get out then a whistle is your best bet of drawing attention.
- Scissors – A pair of folding pocket scissors are perfect for cutting bandage dressings and come in handy for a whole range of tasks like cutting your hair.
- Pain Killers – Paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin (aspirin can be used with heart attack casualties).
- Water Purification Tablets – Even if you carry a filter, these are the smallest most lightweight water purification backup.
- Band Aids – Super useful for minor wounds to prevent infection.
- Compeed for Blisters – Special type of band-aids for hikers to prevent blisters – essential for long distances or if you have odd shaped feet like me.
- Little Gauzes – Slow bleeding and absorb blood.
- Wound Dressings – Combined with a bandage, wound dressings are useful for applying pressure to bleeding wounds.
- Non-Adherent Dressings like Melolin – Carry a large one that can be chopped to size or used on large areas of skin. These will work well with burns and severe grazes in the field.
- Micropore or Transpore Tape – Secure dressings in place, or strap up fingers and toes.
- Muti Trauma Dressing – Military trauma dressing for big open wounds is quite heavy duty but none the less relevant to backpacking scenarios.
- Support/Triangular Bandage – Hold a dressing in place, secure a splint support an injured muscle or joint.
- Steristrips – Strips of special tape that can close small open wounds can avoid a trip to the hospital for stitches so definitely worth including in your backpacking checklist.
- Tweezers – Ever stood on a thistle barefoot or put your hand on a thorn before?
- Safety Pins – Useful to secure bandages and handy if you need a needle. They are also great for improvising fishing hooks and a multitude of other uses.
- Saline Pods – Irrigate wounds and wash your eyes out in an emergency.
- Mediwipes – Pre-packed wipes for cleaning wounds and preparing the skin for injection/incision.
- Dioralyte – Rehydration sachets for dehydrated casualties.
- Hypostop – Energy gel for exhaustion or hypothermia casualties.
Once you have your First Aid Kit for Backpacking, make sure you take it with you on short hikes and day trips. In fact, just keep it in your day pack so that you always have it with you when you need it.
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Depending on your intentions for traveling, you might not want to take any backpacking gadgets on your trip. But for most people, at least some kind of smart device or camera will be classed as essential backpacking gear. A Digital Nomad‘s Backpacking checklist will look very different to a long-distance hiker’s gear list for backpacking. And so it should. Here are a few items you might be thinking about packing.
- Head Lamp – Such a simple little thing is so useful for backpacking that it only just made the essential travel gear list ahead of earplugs. Head torches free up both hands and give you light anywhere you look or turn your head. This allows you to look at maps, go look for something in your rucksack in the dark, as well as countless other activities which might involve both hands or steady light.
- Smartphone – I was a long time smartphone resistor – meaning I put off getting one until the start of 2016. I can say that I now see the huge benefits of having the world wide web at your fingertips. If for nothing else, a refurbished iPhone 4s will serve as an iPod with benefits. Spotify, google maps, google translate, and a whole load of other amazing apps can make backpacking so much easier.
- Camera – Along with batteries, memory card, films, cables, tripod, and other accessories, depending on your level of interest in photography. I personally prefer DSLR cameras for backpacking but I know CSC’s come highly recommended for Vloggers and YouTubers. Check out our review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM1 Camera.
- Laptop or Tablet – Laptops are better for most freelancing tasks but if you can make do with a tablet then all the better. You can also get hybrids which are touchscreen laptops which can sometimes separate the screen and the keyboard completely.
- Spare Batteries – Head torches and other small devices may require a couple of batteries but try not carry around too many spares as they are not light.
- Solar Charger – Solar panels are such an amazing piece of technology for backpacking, low you can get portable ones to power things like your camera, phone, go pro, and head torch. You can get small panels which have a built-in power bank but I prefer the larger panels with an additional power bank bought separately. Check out the post I wrote about the Levin Sol-Wing 13W solar panel charger for backpacking.
- External HD or USB – If you run any kind of online business you have 2 options for storing your work and neither are 100% ideal. You can use online storage like Dropbox and Google Drive or you can use a portable hard drive. Online storage is only accessible with an internet connection while a physical HD is vulnerable to being lost or damaged.
- Power Bank – Power banks can be a life saver in certain situations. Ranging from small power banks to massive power reserves, you can get power banks which achieve anywhere from 2-3 charges of the latest smartphones to a whopping 50,000mAh Power Bank which can power up to 6 devices at once (including a laptop).
- Plug Adapter – You can get expensive multi-country plug adapters which don’t always last that long, or you can get a cheap plug adaptor for the specific country or region you are exploring.
- Wristwatch – I recently spent a good week looking for a new wristwatch, including hundreds of different watches that had smart sensors for reading temperature and altimeter measurements. I looked at all the different Protrek and g-shock watches and you know what I settled on? A cheap Casio Illuminator for around $15 and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. I initially planned on spending a few hundred dollars!
- GPS Device – Not an essential item to take traveling but navigational devices can be really useful for adventurous hiking but can also be used in more urban areas. Check out the Garmin GPSMAP 64 review here.
If you work remotely then a laptop will be one of the most valued possessions in your rucksack or suitcase. DSLR cameras are the best for travel photography in my opinion but need to be looked after and given adequate padded protection inside your bag. Be mindful with your backpacking gadgets and think carefully about where you leave them, who sees them, and how you pack them.
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Miscellaneous Backpacking Gear
Sometimes it is the little things that make the biggest difference. Ear plugs for instance, will allow you to get a good nights sleep if the big guy on the top bunk is snoring. Duct tape can hold your boots together just long enough to make it to an outdoor shop or fix a large hole in your tent. The point being, you need to think about all the scenarios you will be putting yourself in and preparing yourself for success.
- Daypack – Daypacks are essential for exploring new places without lugging around all your gear and a big backpack. Most hostels are safe to leave your bag in but if you have high-value items or are worried about theft then you can normally find a locker or safe room at reception. Day packs for backpacking should be comfortable to wear on the front of your body as well as your back so that you can double up your backpacks in times of need. It should not be too big or rigid – so that it can roll or fold up quite small. This allows you to expand your storage capacity if you go on a shopping spree and pack it away if you just use it for day hikes.
- Duct Tape – Possibly one of the most multi usable items on this backpacking checklist. I have seen it on airplanes cars, boots, and tents and every time I smile a little and think, “is there anything it can’t fix?”. You can even get it in mini rolls for travel packing.
- Sunglasses – If you wear glasses and are making a travel checklist for somewhere hot then think about getting some prescription sunglasses made before you go. Ray Bans are cool but unless you can live with breaking or losing them – stick to a cheap imitation pair that an be easily replaced.
- Travel Towel – Micro towels will tuck into a pouch about the size of an orange, are super absorbent, and fast drying. If you need a beach towel then pick one up when you arrive to save on weight and bulk.
- Backpack Rain Cover – If you get stuck in the rain and don’t have all your gear in waterproof dry sacks then everything is going to get wet and need to be dried out. This can mean a soaking sleeping bag with cold night ahead, illegible travel documents, and a soggy baguette – we’ve all been there! Avoid it with a simple backpack cover which quickly stretches over your bag and packs away again when it stops raining.
- Hydration Pack or Water Bottle – Staying hydrated is no joke so always make sure you have the means to carry some wherever you go,
- Backpacking Chair – Not something I ever use but many people do. If you plan on hiring/buying a vehicle abroad then chairs make more sense because you don’t have to carry them around on your back. If you don’t mind carrying a backpacking chair around then check out the Therm-a-rest Trekker camping chair.
- Sleeping Bag Liner – I have been told that a silk sleeping bag liner can add anywhere from 1ºc – 4ºc to your sleeping bag, I would estimate that adding at least 1ºc would be a fair statement. Sleeping bag liners are perfect for backpackers as it helps keep your sleeping bag cleaner for longer. You can far more easily wash a liner than the bag itself and in super humid places, you may choose to sleep in just the liner.
- Eye Mask – Not something I even own but I know many people who rate eye masks as highly as ear plugs for use in hostels. Surely a bandana or neck buff would make just as good of an eye mask or am I wrong? You often get free eye masks on international flights or if not, check business class seats as you are leaving the plane ;).
- Headphones – Music has the ability to change your mood which is why I always have a large playlist of music to listen to when in bed or laying on the beach.
- Travel Pillow – If you listened to my earlier advice about keeping your down jacket in a dry bag then now is the time to point out that this is now technically a goose down pillow ;). You can also make a pillow from any bag of clothes or get creative and use the bag from an empty box of wine.
- Combination Padlock – Always use your own padlock when storing valuables in lockers, and make sure the padlock is strong enough to prevent a break in. The best padlocks for backpacking are combination locks because you don’t have to worry about losing your key, or lock picks getting easy access.
- Travel Book – Books can help give you a bit of personal space and allow you to relax on a night. If you are looking to be any kind of digital nomad that travels the world, you should be reading lots of books constantly. If you are just enjoying the ride of adventure travel then books can help pass the downtime between activities.
- Note Pad / Diary / Journal and Pen – Keeping a journal may not be for you but it can help you remember some of the most incredible things years and even decades down the line. Maybe you will write a book one day or maybe your great, or your great grandkids will inherit some of your things and learn about the kind of person you were. It also helps serve as a record and planner for dates, deadlines, and budgets to come.
- Playing Cards – While I do not condone alcohol abuse in any way shape or form. One of the fastest ways to break the ice in any new hostel is with a 6 pack of beer/bottle of rum, and a deck of cards. You can play poker, drinking games, or friendly card games to engage just about anybody interested in getting to know you.
- Safety Pins / Sewing Kit – Repair the holes in your clothes and travel gear before they get too big and your clothes will look like they have a few stories to tell – and they would I am sure!
- Bin Liner – If you ignore my recommendations for taking dry bags and a rain cover for your backpack then a bin liner is the next best thing. You can use it as a backpack liner, emergency rain cover/poncho, or just keep wet clothes in it
- Wallet – Empty your wallet of all irrelevant cards and receipts before you go. Markets are a great place to pick up a new wallet so consider not even taking a wallet with the intention of visiting a local market to buy one when you arrive.
- Salt, Pepper, and Spices – If you are surviving on rice or noodles then a bit of salt, pepper, and spice may be just enough to stop you going insane.
I know this might seem like a hell of a lot of stuff to include on a backpacking checklist but obviously, you aren’t going to take it all. There is a simplified version of this post available as a printable backpacking checklist here in case you want to add your own custom items in pen. Alternatively, comment in the box below if you feel we have missed any items off and we will do our best to add them.
As ever, thanks for reading this Ultimate Backpacking Checklist and please share and subscribe if you haven’t already.