So, you’re heading off on that first adventure? You’re ready to hit the hostels and see the sights, tour the Colosseum, hike the Carpathians, and drive Route 66. Whatever bucket-list things you have on the menu, don’t even think about leaving without checking out our essential backpacking packing list.
We’ve got tips on the top backpacks for long-term budget travelers and oodles more suggestions on what to have in tow when you hit the road, from thermal fleeces to swimwear.
You’ll need a backpack to be a backpacker – the clue’s in the name. This will probably be the most important piece of kit you have since you’ll use it day in, day out. There’s no right or wrong backpack to go for. Different travelers like different things, though the most popular choice is one with 55-70 liters of space.
The Osprey Ariel 65 is a great choice for female travelers. It’s large enough to cover all but the longest trips, has easy front access, and has a handy rain outer for wetter destinations. The Osprey Aether 65 is the men’s version. It is roughly the same as the Ariel but has a slightly larger frame, plus a sleeping bag pouch below.
Osprey Ariel 65
Osprey Aether 65
Most backpackers use the dual approach: One bag for clothes, another for electronics and important stuff. Doing that means you can keep your valuables close on trains and planes, and buses and not worry all that much about what happens to your main pack. It’s also a versatile option because you have a daypack for exploring towns and cities at hand whenever needed.
Again, it’s backpacker maestro Osprey that we recommend here. Their Daylite Everyday Backpack is great if you’re not bringing the laptop in tow; the Osprey Talon 22 Men’s Hiking Backpack is better if you are.
Daylite Everyday Backpack
Osprey Talon 22 Men’s Hiking Backpack
A backpacker’s water bottle should be two things: Hearty (for taking all those knocks on the cobbled piazzas of Italian hill towns and whatnot) and relatively large (for keeping you hydrated on long train journeys from A to B). The YETI Rambler ticks both those boxes, and we love the glug-friendly top. It’ll keep water cool for up to 12 hours, too.
Whether it’s from the train station to the underground beer halls in Prague or between the food courts of Bangkok’s Chinatown, you’ll be doing a lot of walking as a backpacker. Comfy day shoes are a must.
The New Balance Women’s Fresh Foam Roav V1 Sneakers are a solid choice for women, with their heavily buffered souls tailored to long walks. The classic Nike Men’s Air Max Shoes are uber-light and come with good arch support, and are a good choice for men.
New Balance Women’s Fresh Foam Roav V1 Sneakers
Nike Men’s Air Max Shoes
For backpacking, trail runners are a better choice over hiking boots. These hybrid shoes strike a fantastic balance between size, weight, and versatility. Some of them weigh in at just 300g per pair, which is a whole load less than the 700-900g found on bigger boot models. On top of that, they’ll double up as hiking shoes, runners, and sports shoes.
The Salomon Women’s Hypulse Trail Running Shoes are a cracking choice for keeping it easy on the luggage allowance. They weigh just a quarter of a kilo and can be wedged into small gaps in the backpack. The Salomon Men’s X Ultra Pioneer is a more heavy-duty version that brings waterproof outers into the mix, making them better for travels in rain-prone destinations.
Salomon Women’s Hypulse Trail Running Shoes
Salomon Men’s X Ultra Pioneer
Heading to the beach? Booked yourself accommodations with a pool? Flip-flops are a must for backpacking in hotter destinations. What’s more, they’re cheap. You can drop $30 on a pair of these that will be with you for years. I’ve had the Reef Men’s Fanning Flip-Flops for about three years, and they’re still going strong. The Reef Women’s Bliss Nights Flip-Flop is a better choice for the ladies, complete with narrow straps and vegan leather.
Reef Women’s Bliss Nights Flip-Flop
Reef Men’s Fanning Flip-Flops
Unfortunately, big, fluffy cotton towels are a home comfort. On the road, you want something small and packable. The newest microfiber tech on the REI Co-Op Deluxe edition is pretty incredible, which can absorb more than 6.5 times its weight in H2O. The medium one is enough for most people.
Packing cubes? In the essential column? You bet! These handy clothes organizers and compressors will be your best friend. Keeping your items organized and compressed will give you more room for everything you need on your backpacking journey.
Whether you’re staying in hostel dorms with shared bathrooms or private villas as a flashpacker, having a dedicated toiletries bag will make trips to the showers a whole load easier. The North Face Travel Canister is highly durable, has sturdy zips, and is the perfect size for your backpack.
When you’re hopping from bargain hostels as a backpacker, you can’t rely too much on in-house cosmetics. The best solution is to get a travel soap holder and buy bars to carry with you. Not only does a bar of soap go further than a bottle of shower gel, but it’s an eco-friendly option to boot.
Depending on the length of your trip, most folks pack 5-8 tops for an adventure. When traveling to South Asia or South America, you can go with fewer and rely on washing more often. In Europe and North America, launderettes can be a chore to find, you should go with an extra tee or two. For colder climates, couple a top with a good merino thermal underlayer. The Icebreaker BodyfitZone is our favorite for women and men.
Icebreaker BodyfitZone – Woman’s
Icebreaker BodyfitZone – Men’s
The length of your bottoms will be determined by the season you’re backpacking in. Winter calls for longer, thicker wear on the legs, plus good underlayer thermals if it’s going to be snowy or sub-zero. For summer travels, wear 2-4 pairs of comfortable shorts, preferably in light, heat-dissipating cotton or linen.
Swim Shorts/Beach Wear
Never forget your swimwear. No matter if you plan on touring the snow-capped Alps during the height of the ski season, there’s no telling when you’ll get the chance to take a dip. Serious swimmers who see themselves diving into the Scandinavian lakes for long-distance romps should go for something more performance-based, such as these Speedos for men and these swimsuits for women.
A fleece ticks all sorts of boxes. It’s great for chilly evenings in the autumn and crisp mornings in the mountains. We’ve never owned a finer one than the classic Patagonia Retro X.
Don’t think about hitting the road on that backpacking adventure without a waterproof layer. Yes, there’s a decent chance that you’ll carry it and never use it in certain parts of the world. But there’s no telling when the rains can hit. A 30-day storm over Europe caught me in the wet, and I pined for nothing more than a solid outer layer. The Torrentshell from Patagonia is a top choice for men, women, and the little ones.
Perhaps there will come a day when we can all agree on the best plug shape. But we haven’t yet, so the reality of traveling with convertors and adapters is still very much the status quo. A multi-country plug adapter can solve that, and this means you can carry less on trips that include more than one destination (as all the best backpacking jaunts do!).
Imagine it: You’re looking for directions to the Taj Mahal, but your phone just died. You need to find the train schedules for departures to Amsterdam from Paris, but there’s zero battery in the bank. Not good. A portable charger has become as essential as smartphones in the modern travel era. You can’t do anything without juice!
SSD hard drive
There was a time when digital nomad backpackers would have to handle their portable hard drives like uncracked eggs. No longer. The advent of SSD tech means you don’t have to worry too much about dropping these critical pieces. The SanDisk 2TB Extreme PRO Portable SSD remains the leader of the pack thanks to its durability and dust/water resistance.
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