Backpacking Packing List – continued

Backpacking Packing List – Continued

Go back to What to Pack for Backpacking – Part 1

Tip: Again, I’ve got Amazon links to many of the reliable items I’ve used on the road for 10+ years in red. Buying through my links helps this site stay alive!

Miscellaneous Items

  • Book: for inevitable delays. Just bring one, it can be traded with other travelers or in bookshops for something new. If it’s new, leave the price tag on it for a bargaining advantage later. Put a rubber band around the book to keep the cover from being bent inside your bag. Although I’m still carrying at least one book at all times, my Kindle Paperwhite is my best friend.
  • Journal: for recording your adventures, of course. Have a real journal as an offline way to record thoughts. You’ll really thank yourself later. Get a good one. I prefer the Paperblanks journals (they are indestructible and have all the features) or Peter Pauper Press journals.
  • Small notepad: Separate from your journal to keep in a pocket for recording other travelers’ emails and also writing bus schedules, directions, and things you don’t need in forever in your journal.
  • Alarm clock: If your watch alarm isn’t loud enough, get a small travel alarm to help you avoid running to catch early buses and trains. Obviously, a smartphone, if you choose to carry one, will do this for you.
  • Toilet paper: Take it off the cardboard roll so it takes up less space. You will definitely need this in all parts of Asia unless you plan to “go native” and wipe with your left hand. Put it inside something waterproof.
  • Anti-bacterial hand gel: Public transportation and airports are full of sick people. Also, a majority of places in Asia will not have ways to wash your hands after using the toilets.
  • Sewing kit: Good for field repairs. Stick some fishing line in it for making serious backpack or shoe repairs. The safety pins are good for keeping things together and your clothes on the dry-line when it’s windy.
  • Clothes line: Parachute cord or military 550 cord is available everywhere now. It’s light and works great. Use for hanging up laundry, fixing stuff, and lots of other things. If you need smaller threads, you can dissect it for the nylon inside.
  • Torch: Flashlight, LED, headlamp, whatever you decide to call it, bring one that is reliable, water-resistant, and uses regular batteries (nothing proprietary; AA is the easiest to find). I carry this awesome Fenix flashlight for when my headtorch isn’t handy. It’s tiny enough to keep in pocket, indestructible, and produces 130 lumens with just a single AA. (tip: invest in a single lithium AA battery and it will last the whole trip!)
  • Sleep sheet: Silk is lighter and protects you better than cotton — bedbugs can still bite you through cotton. This is invaluable for dirty beds and to keep warm at night. It should be wide enough for two. They are expensive, but I use Jag Bags from New Zealand, now part of TerreVistaTrails. My first Endura silk sleep sheet lasted eight years of heavy use; invest in a good one.
  • Hat: It doesn’t have to be stylish or Kentucky-Derby-quality, just something to keep the sun off while on the beach or in the field. Comes in handy to sleep under, too. A bandanna can substitute.
  • Duct tape: No explanation needed for this one. Break a piece off of a pencil and wrap some duct tape around it to save room. You can also wrap tape around a cigarette lighter.
  • Compass: You do not need a lensatic or serious military one, just something small and simple for knowing which direction to turn at an intersection when you are looking at a map. The small round ones with the pin are really cheap but work good enough. I have to replace mine every year.
  • Knife: You don’t need a 37-option Swiss Army knife, just something small, light, and sharp for cutting tape, cord, fruit, etc. I like a non-folding knife because it’s better for opening coconuts and spearing things. Knives are adored by thieves; don’t spend too much. This is my favorite travel knife so far. It’s perfect for my needs. I replace the heavy plastic sheath with a cheap, nylon one to save a few ounces.
  • Some Sort of Waterproof bag: Put your electronics and journal inside of it in your daybag in case you are caught in the rain. It can be used temporarily for many other things as well.
  • Guidebook: Or, even better, go without! Only buy and carry the one for your first destination. Guidebooks can also be obtained from travelers or shops for cheap once you arrive. Feel free to rip out huge sections for places you will never visit to save weight and room. Alternatively, you can also save PDFs to your smartphone. Just make sure you have an offline option for times when you don’t have internet access.
  • Sunscreen: Locals probably don’t use it, and it will be expensive or expired. I use Badger, a natural brand, because of the better ingredients that don’t break out skin.
  • Lip balm: It’s hard to find locally sometimes and a must for dry places; will help on flights, too. Don’t get the round kind that requires a dirty finger to be stuck in it!
  • Insect repellent: You can buy small bottles of 100-percent DEET to save weight, just be careful with it — this stuff is bad for you. Only spray on clothing, screens, mosquito nets, etc
  • Condoms: Brands are extremely limited and the local ones have a failure rate that is often frightening due to the hot weather and poor storage techniques. Sizes also vary by region in the world [insert joke here], it’s true.
  • Ear plugs: Get the small kind that you stuff in your ears. They come with a case to keep them clean. Good for noisy rooms above pubs and bus rides. Or you can just keep your mp3 player charged.
  • Sunglasses: Don’t take anything that costs over $10! They will most likely get broken or lost along the way. You can almost always find cheap sunglasses at the destination.
  • Batteries: They are heavy so just bring a couple. Try to choose gear and gadgets that use the same battery type. The easiest battery type to find on the road is “AA.” Lithium batteries weigh less and last longer. Remember to put them in the carry-on bag; they aren’t allowed in your checked luggage.

Optional Luxuries to Put on Your Packing List

Things that you can live without while backpacking but are nice to have along sometimes!

  • Sharpie marker: Use it for marking gear, leaving messages on walls in hostels, or to make a sign if you run out of money!
  • Headphones splitter: You will be surprised how many times you will be sitting with a new friend on a bus, train, or on the beach and wish that you could share the same music together.
  • Chem lights: Glow sticks, light sticks, whatever you want to call them. Can be used as a lifesaving light source if you are caving and your light fails. Also can work as an emergency signal in the dark, and might even come in handy at a rave or party.
  • Storage Devices: Good for grabbing pics quickly from other travelers, as well as mp3s, and maybe backing up your own pictures on the fly. Think smaller than portable hard drivers; go for USB memory sticks, SD cards, etc.
  • Portable Charger: Although power packs are relatively heavy, you may want the ability to charge your phone safely, especially if you depend on it for photos, navigation, and communication. I prefer the durable-and-waterproof chargers from RavPower.
  • Whistle: Carry in your pocket for peace of mind when walking dark beaches and streets. It gets attention, which is exactly what an attacker does not want.
  • Bandana: If you’re not worried about being stylish, the army ones are large enough to use as a sweat rag, emergency bandage, cleanup rag, filter over your mouth for dusty roads — you name it.
  • Travel towel: The small ones roll up very small. It may take a while, but they will dry your entire body. Travel towels are not good for running down the hostel hallway from the shower because it won’t cover your bum! Be cautious: travel towels are expensive and tend to get stolen off of lines easily.
  • Item for hiding emergency cash: Don’t buy a false rock. Get creative and make your own from some common item like a toiletry or makeup container. Fold up currency and hide it inside, then put it in your regular backpack in an unexpected place (toilet kit, maybe?) in case your daybag is lost or stolen.
  • Additional passport photos: Will save money, time, and headache when you cross borders and apply for visas on arrival. You can get an entire sheet made at printing shops for cheap.

What NOT to Pack for Backpacking

  • Travel pillow: An empty pillow case can be stuffed with laundry or whatever to form an instant pillow rather than carrying a bulky travel pillow. You can also put it around dodgey pillows that are provided in guest houses to keep the bugs out of your hair.
  • Camping gear: You don’t need camping gear unless a big part of your stays will be camping. Gear can be bought or hired at almost all national parks or from other travelers that are finished with their camping.
  • Water bottle: Although SIGG an CamelBak bottles are nice, just refill plastic bottles once you are finished with them. You will not cry as much if it gets lost or left behind.
  • Camping stove: Expensive, takes up room, and it can be difficult to fly with the fuel, or to buy it at your destination. Even on an extended trek, your guide will provide a way to cook food.
  • Snorkel gear: You can hire it at your destination for cheap on days that you want to use it.
  • Hammock: These will be available in the islands to use or to buy for cheaper than they are available in the West.
  • Mosquito coils: In any area that has a mozzie problem,  you will be able to buy coils cheaper than at home.
  • Weapon: Even pepper spray will only get you busted at some checkpoint or screening when you least expect. Don’t risk it. Many destinations aren’t even as dangerous statistically as your hometown!
  • Electronic language translator: Forget about it. Use your phone.
  • GPS: Maybe tempting, but leave this expensive gadget at home. They eat batteries and sometimes part of the fun is getting lost anyways!
  • Mosquito net: In any troublesome mozzie area these will be available to use for free, or you can buy for a fraction of the cost in the Western world.
  • Travel underwear: Usually expensive and makes very little difference anyways. Do you really want to squeeze a couple extra days from those undies you are wearing?


As usual, this backpacking packing list is just a suggestion based on my experiences as a long term backpacker. You will have other comfort needs I am sure, but remember the basics and before you pack anything, ask yourself these three questions:

1) Can I live without it?
2) Will I cry if it gets stolen tomorrow?
3) Can I buy it local?

Read 20 useful things for your vagabonding packing list.

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