Packing your rucksack ready for a backpacking adventure? Make sure you’ve remembered all the essentials with our handy packing guide.
First up, think about where you’ll be exploring on your travels - different countries and climates call for totally different packing lists. It may sound obvious, but it’s worth spending some time checking weather conditions for your destination, thinking about the activities you want to fit in and doing some research online to see what others recommend taking to the places you’ll visit.
On long trips when you’re spending weeks, months or even a year on the road, packing your bag well is key. The two main things to remember are that each item you choose should be as lightweight and portable as possible, and as good quality as possible. When you’re relying on only a few possessions that need to work hard and be versatile every day, it’s a false economy to pack cheap stuff. It can be a real challenge to replace broken or tired belongings when you’re on the road, especially in far-flung places, so make sure your hiking boots, waterproof jacket and backpack, in particular, are top quality and in good condition.
1. Baselayers and Lightweight Layers
It may sound like something your granny would advise but it really is worth investing in a great set of thermals for backpacking trips, to wear under warm layers or alone in better weather. Add a few sets of lightweight clothing in neutral colours that you can layer together and you’ve got a good basic travel wardrobe.
2. Aquatic Sandals
A brilliant footwear choice for backpacking adventures and hiking in warmer climates. Pick something sturdy, with rubber soles and straps around your heels.
3. Sleeping Bag
Even if you’re hostel-hopping, a great sleeping bag will help ensure a cosy night’s sleep, and they’re sometimes an essential in basic mountain huts. For hot weather, pack a sleeping bag liner to sleep in and a mosquito net to hang above your bed.
4. Waterproof Trousers
Pop fully waterproof bottoms over your leggings or travel trousers on rainy days.
5. Thermal or Sun Hat
Keep body heat in with a warm knitted hat, or take a wide-brimmed canvas hat to tropical climates to keep the sun off your face.
6. Hiking Socks
Comfortable hiking-specific socks will stop blisters and keep toes toasty.
7. Down Jacket
A down or insulated jacket is warm, lightweight and often packs down so small you can pack it into its own pocket, making them the backpacker’s clothing mecca. Pick one with a hood and pockets for versatility, and try to wash yours sparingly to keep its insulation fluffy.
Pack a smaller backpack as well as your big trekking rucksack for day hikes and city exploring. Comfortable straps and a good rain cover are essential features.
9. Head Torch
For midnight stargazing, camping and staying in rural locations.
It’s a no-brainer - backpacking requires a good backpack. They’re more versatile than suitcases and easier to carry over uneven ground and take with you when you’re moving accommodation every few days. The size of a backpack is measured by the capacity it can hold in litres, and big travel and backpacking bags usually hold 65 litres and over, allowing space for plenty of belongings (as opposed to daysacks, usually under 35l and designed for single-day use).
11. Waterproof Jacket
A waterproof shell jacket you can pop on in a storm is an absolute must for adventurous backpackers. Look for one treated with waterproofing technology such as Gore-Tex. If you’re headed somewhere cold, pick a warmer insulated jacket such as a ski jacket.
12. First Aid Kit
A small medical kit is a big help for dealing with cuts, sprains and bug bites, especially if you’re venturing far from civilization. Look for a small travel-specific one and don’t forget to add any medication that you take regularly, plus mosquito spray and sunblock.
On warmer travelling days light, quick-drying trekking shorts will keep you cool.
14. Tube Scarf
An extremely versatile bit of backpacker’s kit – wear round your neck, as a muffler or as a hairband on hikes.
A good-quality sunblock is a must to protect your skin – pack factor 50 and apply daily, especially in the tropics.
16. Swimming Costume
A sporty style is useful if you want to go surfing or swimming on your trip.
17. Hiking Boots
This is one of the most important things you can take backpacking if you’re heading off the beaten track or want to go hiking on your travels. Pick waterproof and breathable boots - fabric is best in hot climates, while leather is better for cooler countries and winter walking.
18. Micro Towel
An extremely useful bit of kit. Micro towels are absorbent but fold up tiny for travel and are good chucked in your rucksack for impromptu wild swims.
19. Toiletries and Medicines
Pack favourite toiletries in travel sizes and if you take medicines regularly, take as much of them as you’ll need for the duration of your trip in case they aren’t available abroad. Other basics such as tampons aren’t always readily available in other countries either.
Sian Lewis is an outdoor and travel journalist and the award-winning author of The Girl Outdoors