Backpacker backpacking in New Zealand mountains

Essential Packing Guide for Backpackers

Going backbacking is a rather different experience to going on a cruise or a package holiday.  When you’re backpacking, you will probably be visiting a few different places, and because you’re on the move so much, travelling light is essential.

Travelling light means prioritizing what you’re taking.  Most people find that they greatly over-estimate the amount of stuff they need to take with them on holiday, but even so, it’s not fun to find that you really did leave something essential behind. 

Here are a few tips to help you pack effectively and efficiently for your backpacking holiday:


A Backpacker's Backpack

A Backpacker’s Backpack

When you’re deciding what to take with you, think about where you’re going, how long you’re staying, and how you will be travelling.  If you’re expecting to do a lot of walking, try to pack everything into one bag per person. Visit a few hiking stores and try several different bags until you find one that fits you well.  Ask if the shop will let you “pack” a bag with stuff from around the store so that you can test the bag once it’s heavy.

A properly fitted backpack allows you to carry a lot of stuff.  When you’re hefting the bag onto your back it feels like you’ll never be able to move it, but once you’re strapped in it should feel a lot better. 

However, that doesn’t mean you should try to become a walking removal van.  Even with a good backpack, you will get tired quickly.  Try to fit everything for your trip into a 60-70L backpack.

Prioritize items that you need for survival (e.g. medication, a camel pack for water), sleep (a tent, sleeping mat), and basic hygiene (take travel-sized stuff for emergencies and buy what you need at the destination if you’re travelling through cities).  Take a few day’s clothes, again, unless you’re travelling through the wilderness you can always wash clothes at launderettes during your trip.

Your Packing List

Break your packing list down into a few different categories, for example:

Absolute Essentials

These are things that you simply cannot live without:

  • Medications (keep some in your carry-on if you’re flying, so you have a few day’s supply in case your luggage goes missing).
  • Travel documents (make photocopies, and store them in a waterproof plastic sleeve in a separate bag from the main documents).
  • Personal hygiene products (sometimes it’s cheaper to buy these at the destination)
  • Cash and credit cards


  • A mobile phone that will work at your destination (remember you can pick up simple Pay as You Go phones cheaply in most countries, if necessary).  Don’t forget the charger!
  • A camera, spare memory card and batteries.
  • Weather appropriate clothing.


Spare clothes – pack plain, simple clothes that you can clean while you’re on the road:

  • 3 plain t-shirts
  • 1 smart shirt (in case you get invited to somewhere with a dress code)
  • 1 pair of walking trousers/shorts (depending on your destination)
  • 1 pair of jeanss
  • 1 pair of walking shoe (wear these when travelling)
  • 3 pairs of socks and underwear

Buy magazines or books while you're on the road, read them and then dispose of them at hotels, hostels or airport lounges.  Don't carry anything with you unless you know you need it and won't be able to replace it easily or cheaply.

This article was put together by the team at Sport Lived – who can help you make the most of your gap year in Sri Lanka or South Africa.

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  • ConfusionnaJob Says

    I want to grab a backpack and go. What do I need to do? What should I buy? How much money should I take, etc.

  • Cupcakerum Says

    i want to do a hiking trip but i dount know whut i need plz give me a list of stuff thank u

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