The Ultimate Packing List for Backpacking Your Way Around the World
Well done, you! The hardest part is over. You've made the decision to take a gap year, career break or just completely change your life’s direction. You've booked your one-way ticket headed across the globe. You're ready to adventure. Right?
Well, nearly. Now you've got to work out which bits of your life are worthy of a spot on your backpacking kit list. And I’ll warn you now, sorting out your backpacking gear - especially if you’re going for a more ‘minimalist backpack’ approach - requires more planning than you think. Especially if you're a fellow flashpacker that wants practical backpacking travel essentials but also the random piece of travel kit that feels fashionable too. Because after three solid days of trekking without a single shower, getting glam sure feels bloody good. But even this shouldn’t stop you from backpacking light. It’s just about building the right backpacking travel list.
Oh yes, and also planning accordingly. I made the mistake of waiting until the last minute to prepare my essential backpacking gear, and I definitely had a FLM moment as I scrambled about London hunting down the last of my backpacking kit shortly before my departure.
But you, dear reader, needn't suffer! Here's an itemised backpacking packing list with everything you need for your trip round the world, from hiking shoes to raincoats to some dressier bits. I've also written a separate post specific to backpacking travel beauty essentials and tolietries here.
Grab yourself a cuppa because this is gonna be a long one. We've got over 50 items to get through. They'll be fewer pretty pictures but tonnes of useful information. That, I promise.
BACKPACK AND BACKPACK ACCESSORIES
1. The backpack: This one's pretty obvious. But picking the right one isn't. First, you've got to pick your preferences. Carry a 40-litre or 75-litre? Top-loading or front-loading? Do you want a detachable daypack? I prioritised back support and lighter weight models and chose Lowe Alpine's AirZone Trek+ 45:55 Backpack. It's been fantastic for my back as the weight’s perfectly distributed. However, packing from bottom to top can be really tedious. I wish I'd trialled more front-loading alternatives. Make sure you test out all the variations and find the right backpacking backpack for you.
2. Locks: Master locks are a must. They're great for securing every inch of your backpack. You can't fully lock top-loading backpacks (since they use ties and clips rather than zips) but - at the very least - a lock makes it look like it's harder to break into your backpack, which can deter thieves. Locks also come in handy for hostel lockers, especially if you're sharing a dorm room and want to keep your valuables somewhere safe. I use two locks on my backpack, and swap one out when necessary for dorm lockers.
3. Carabiner clips: These are so useful! I clip them onto my backpack’s hooks and attach everything from my travel pillow to my water bottle to my wet hiking shoes.
4. PacSafe mesh protection: Some backpackers swear by mesh protection for their backpacks. I personally think they're overpriced and not worth the effort. I'm careful with my bag and just accept the risk of things getting stolen on the road. But if you want optimal protection and extra peace of mind, this is a good one to add to your packing list.
OTHER BACKPACKING BAGS
1. Collapsable day backpack: It was a mistake to miss this one off on the first leg of my RTW travels. There are days you need to be hands-free and you don't want to lug your big backpack around unnecessarily. I've now got this brilliant Gonex daypack which is getting plenty of use. If you want something a little more high-end, consider the Cotopaxi Batac 16L, which gets rave reviews from Backpacker magazine.
2. Carry-on bag: The need for this depends on the size of your backpack and whether or not you plan to check it in or carry it on when you fly. I always check my backpack so I need a cheap and cheerful bag to carry all my valuables on every flight. I picked mine up at Gatwick airport but this cute and waterproof Totes model would work well too.
3. Day-to-day small shoulder bag: I bought my first shoulder bag for $4 at a Bolivian market. I needed something small to carry my daily essentials and to help me blend in (at least somewhat) with the locals. I use this almost everyday. It fits my camera, my money, my lip balm and my sunglasses. But if you want to invest a bit more, seriously consider this Travelon bag. It's anti-theft and quite chic. I bit the bullet a few months into backpacking and it’s been my go-to travel bag since.
4. Laundry bag: This one's a bit random but trust me, you'll need it. When you've worn the same top for five days, sweating through the jungle, you definitely won't want to throw it back into the same bag as your few remaining clean articles of clothing. I bought this small (and cute) bag that I fill until I have no choice but to do another wash.
1. Compression sacks (3x): Once you go compression sack, you never go back. Honestly, these have earned holy grail status in my backpacking travel kit. They fit everything listed here with the exception of my puffy coat and jumpers. I use three sacks with double zips that compress and push all the air out. These help create space and keep things mega-organised.
2. Puffy down coat (1x): I own this Patagonia beauty in the Forestland print. I adore it. It's sleek, fashionable, warm and compresses into a tiny, packable ball. I've used it on every hike and though it's a faff to carry in warmer climes, it's a lifesaver in times of need.
3. Compact raincoat (1x): I made the mistake of going cheap on for the first leg of my trip and it was my biggest packing regret. I got soaked in the mountains, in the jungle and on city streets. I've now invested in this Marmot baby. It's compact, actually resists water and has zips at the armpits to make it breathable in hotter, humid weather.
4. Fleece (1x): This is helpful for all occasions. It works as a layer in the mountains. It's a dressier top for dinner on a windy evening. It's a cozy jumper for those lazy but chilly evenings back at the hostel.
5. Cozy jumper (1x): I bought this on the road because one fleece simply wasn't enough. Especially on those chilly nights in the Uyuni Salt Flats. I picked up an alpaca jumper in a Bolivian market. Alpaca is seriously lush.
7. T-shirts (3x): I bring a few t-shirts simply because I can't bear to wear the same top in every single photo. Fussy perhaps, but my insta-feed needs some kind of variety. Amirite? I opt for a few sporty but colourful options that work just as well for a hike in the jungle as they do with beach shorts for an evening stroll. If you want to get really functional, invest in one thermal, one sun-protectant and one heat-resistant t-shirt to prepare for all weather conditions.
8. Vests / tank-tops (3x): Get two that are sporty and heat-resistant and keep you cool in tropical climes. Get one that's nice and light and perfect for sleeping.
9. Dressy tops (2x): I bring these along to make me feel human now and again. One short-sleeved white Bardot top, which paired with jean shorts even makes me feel sexy! And a three-quarter-sleeved top that paired with leggings creates an 'evening' look.
10. Jean shorts (2x): I love a good pair of shorts. Admittedly these take up unnecessary space in my backpack but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. I wear my longer pair when walking about in more conservative countries. The short shorts are for beach bum days.
11. Leggings (2x): To say I'm obsessed with my leggings would be an understatement. I pretty much live in these. They are Sweaty Betty, bum-sculpting and keep out the cold, the heat and my sweat. They are uber-comfortable and easy to dress up. One pair has cool mesh cut-outs. I use these in the daytime, but they also work as PJs or an extra layer on chillier nights.
12. Running shorts (1x): Replace my leggings when it's very, very hot.
13. Dresses (2x): I bought the best off-the-shoulder pink-and-white striped dress just before I left. (See the majority of pics on my Instagram.) And despite wearing it all the time, I still haven't tired of it. It's sweet and sexy and looks great with flip-flops or heels. I also have a bright maxi beach-bum beauty. Find yourself a few dresses you absolutely adore and they will make you smile every single time you put them on. I promise they'll be worth their weight.
14. Playsuit (1x): I bring along a H&M leopard print version I've had for years. I slip this on over my bikini and it's the cutest beach cover-up that transitions perfectly into the evening when your day takes an unexpected turn towards dancing. If jumpsuits are your thing, I highly recommend including this versatile piece in your travel kit.
15. Swimsuit (2x): Ok, let me preface this one with: Swimsuits are my thing. I’m a Florida girl at heart. So I really invested in these babies. I splurged on a Lazul bikini from Selfridges. Because who doesn't love a bright swimsuit?! But seriously - you will wear this all the time. Especially if you're chasing the sun round the world like me. I also bring along a one-piece number for the days that get a little dirty (mud volcano, anyone?) or when I want to get a proper swim session in. Here, again, I swear by Sweaty Betty, who do beautiful but practical swimsuits. Though Cupshe has also become a new, highly affordable favourite.
16. PJs bottoms (2x): I carry a pair of cotton shorts and fleece leggings that I picked up in Target. They're both soft and cozy and perfect for drifting off to sleep.
1. Hiking boots / shoes: These are another absolute must. It's worth investing some time in selecting the right pair for you. I have good pair of Salomons. I've had them for years and they're still in great condition. If you're planning some serious treks, average trainers just won't do. You can slip or strain yourself. Read up on the different brands and styles and go and try on a few pairs. You'll be wearing these all the time so they need to be the right fit.
2. Daily walking shoes: These are you great for more relaxed days. I slip these on when I'm on a city walking tour. Jambus are the best. If you haven't heard of the brand before, go check it out. They've nailed the fashionable traveller aesthetic.
3. Flip-flops: I live in my Havaianas. These are not just perfect for those beach days but also surprisingly comfortable for long walks. I'd happily only wear these if I could get away with it. Get yourself a pair.
4. Outdoorsy sandals: So this is NOT my favourite type of shoe. But they're just so practical. Sometimes it's just too hot to walk around in a pair of trainers but you still need shoes with proper support. I have a Jambu pair, which even manage to look chic when paired with jean shorts and a trendy top.
BACKPACKING UNDERGARMENTS AND SUCH
1. Sports bras (2x): Another can't-leave-home-without-it item. I brought only one at the start but have picked up another since. I use these pretty much every single day. They're great for outdoor adventures but also look fab layered under sheer and low-cut vest tops. And yes, Sweaty Betty strikes again.
2. T-shirt bra (1x): You need at least one classic bra for proper support. I opt for a t-shirt style in nude. I’m currently obsessed with Sloggi, which is basically the most comfortable bra brand on the planet. Their Zero Feel bras look great under t-shirts (obvs) and are perfect for days spent strolling through a city or chillaxing (or, in my case, blogging) in coffee shops.
3. Strapless bra (1x): This is a must in warmer climes. Every now and again you'll want to put on that sexy Bardot or spaghetti-strapped top and you'll need a strapless bra to keep it classy.
4. Underwear (7x): It's worth having a week's worth of underwear so you don't have to scramble to wash two days into an overnight trek. Seven pairs is enough to survive until your next quiet travel day. I like to stock up at Victoria's Secret (the Pink line) when I'm due a few new pairs.
5. Socks (7x): This is another thing you don't want to get desperate for so I carry a week's worth along too. I have three no-show socks, two longer Pringle pairs, and two SmartWool pairs (one short, one long) for every possible activity. The SmartWools are brilliant but don't come cheap so if you're trying to save, only buy one long pair to keep you warm on colder adventures.
1. Baseball cap: I also bought this on the road. I thought I'd be fine with a floppy (sun protection) hat but on days when you're trekking through mud or on horseback you need something that won't fall off your head at any cost. This is the hat I've used most on my travels.
2. Sun-protection hat: I love this hat. It protects your head from sunburn and makes you feel all wilderness babe at the same time. I don't wear it often but it's collapsable so you can crush it into your backpack when not in use.
5. Sunglasses (3x): Three might seem excessive but I honestly use every pair. All the time. I've got a good pair of RayBans for nicer, less rugged occasions. I have a pair of bright blue Quays that are perfect for beach days and that I don't mind getting covered in sand. And I have a prescription pair that I use when I'm giving my eyes a rest from my contact lenses.
OTHER BACKPACKING GEAR
1. Headlamp: You'd be surprised how often you'll need this. The lights go out at the airport. You're trekking through mud in a dark jungle. The island's generator turns off at 6pm. Just make sure the batteries are fully charged before you head off.
2. Doorstop: I didn't use this much but as a female solo traveller, this is good to have. I tend to book single rooms (rather than dorm beds) and I've stayed in the occasional dodgy place where I've used this as a precaution. Better to be safe than sorry.
3. Whistle: Luckily I've never had to use this, but it's another great piece of gear for a solo female traveller. If you're ever in danger, you've got a (very loud) way to call for help.
4. Moneybelt: Some backpackers think these are cheesy and non-essential. I think they're great. I use mine almost daily. I picked it up in Boots but you can get one anywhere. Mine hides well under everything from my jean shorts to my dresses. I always keep a credit card, my passport, my UK residency card and some cash hidden here. (FYI: I always keep another stash hidden away in my backpack back at the hostel too.)
5. Duct tape: This comes in useful in all sorts of ways! I've used it to stop a leaking bottle, as a stopper in the drain, as a clothes line and more. You simply never know when duct tape is going to solve your next travel drama.
6. Portable scissors: Trust me, you'll use these. Just find a really small compact pair to throw into your first-aid kit.
7. First-aid kit: You can buy a ready-made kit but I think it's better (and cheaper) to create your own. It contains all the essentials in case of a medical emergency and trust me, I dig into this on a regular basis. If of interest, I can put a post together on this one too.
8. Water bottle: Many travellers swear by a LifeStraw but I opted for a regular (and ok, fashionable) Swell water bottle. Kleen Kanteen bottles are great too. So long as it fits into the side pocket of your backpack(s) and / or can be hung from a clip, you're good to go. Of course, if you're planning on surviving in the wilderness, a LifeStraw will be more useful but I mostly do guided treks and popular trails. Many hostels also offer clean water for you to refill. Some backpackers also opt for collapsable water bottles like the Hydrapak Stash 1L to save space in their backpacks.
9. Travel towel: This is good not just for beach days but for those $hitty hostels where you don't want to touch the walls let alone the towels. And for the ones that don't provide towels at all. Dock and Bay ones are fantastic; they dry so quickly and work a treat. They're also quite instagrammable.
10. Sleep sheet: I've used this a lot more than I expected. I picked this baby up from Amazon and it works great not just as a protectant from dirty sheets in the aforementioned $hitty hostels but also as an extra sleep layer in colder places. Plus, it's silky soft and gives you that little taste of home.
11. Ear plugs: An obvious must. There are noisy hostel dwellers, construction sites and barking dogs. There are overnight flights and overnight buses. These will become your new best friends. I like the silicone versions because you can shape them perfectly to your ears and drown out everything.
I'm currently working on a post detailing every item in my travel carry-on bag, from my preferred travel pillow to how I beat the travel munchies. Watch this space!
And breathe. You've made it to the very end of this massive list. Now all that's left to do is grab the bits you need and get one BIG STEP closer to your grand adventure.
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