27 Essential Items for Backpackers

Planning a long trip somewhere? Backpacking around the world? Taking an extended vacation in Southeast Asia? Sure, your clothes may change depending on your location and its climate, but some things make life easier no matter where you are. Even if you’re travelling with hand luggage only, here are a few essential items for backpackers you may have never considered using…until now. (Oh, and while you’re backpacking around the planet, be sure to enlist the help of tour guides at certain destinations to enrich your experience that much more.)

Packing Cubes

These are zippered pouches or containers that come in all shapes and sizes, and are meant to better organize your clothes/essentials while travelling. You can store your socks in one, underwear in another, tank tops in a separate cube, etc. Look for an ultra-light, ultra-thin casing. Breathable fabric works best.

Ziploc Bags

In addition to packing cubes, Ziploc bags can be a surprising godsend when you need to organize your smaller items, including underwear and make-up. Since Ziploc bags are waterproof, you can also use them for storing your electronics, especially when it comes to wires and chargers.


Whether it’s the Kindle or a Kobo, you’ll thank the gods you remembered to bring your e-reader with you during a particularly long day of transit. Lightweight and compact, no matter if you prefer real books, an e-reader just makes sense. Plus how many times have you picked up a trashy novel from the hostel bookshelf, simply because you had nothing else to read? Do yourself a favor.

A Reusable, Environmentally Friendly Water Bottle

This might seem like an obvious one, but you might be surprised how “forgettable” it can be. It doesn’t seem like a necessity, does it? Whenever you have the access to clean, potable water, fill up that bottle.

Sleep Mask

Travel ain’t easy, and that’s a fact. Whether you’re on a plane or a rickety ‘ol train, chances are at some point you’re gonna need to catch up on sleep. A sleep mask does wonders for blocking out the light. And it’s comfy.

Ear Plugs

See above. This one is also particularly useful if you’re sleeping in hostel dorms where you know someone is going to stumble in at 5 am after having too many drinks at the backpackers’ bar around the corner.

Microfiber Towel

These towels are easy to fold and store, and they dry super quickly. They can be a little on the pricey side, but they’re worth it if you’re travelling for long-term and are unsure whether or not your accommodations along the way will have towels available.

Organizer Bundle

If you’re travelling with a camera, laptop, e-reader, or any other electronic device (who isn’t these days?), an organizer bundle (like a fancy wallet) is a lifesaver when you’re trying to keep your sanity. You know how you always have to dig around in the bottom of your backpack for your earphones, or phone charger? A handy little organizer will keep things untangled and within reach.


Other than being practical footwear in warm climates, flip-flops are pretty much mandatory if you’re using shared showers (i.e. in a hostel). Who knows what’s on the bottom of your roommate’s feet, right? Nobody wants a fungus.

Sleep Sheet

Sometimes you might find yourself in a destination that doesn’t offer free bedding for your stay…like in Iceland, where many hostels will force rental fees on you. Or you might question the sanitary conditions of your accommodations. Whatever the case, a sleep sheet is like a teeny-tiny sleeping bag that you can use on mattresses, and it’s ultra compact. It hardly takes up any space in a bag!

Lightweight Waterproof Jacket

What’s great about a long, classy waterproof jacket is that it has just enough style to pull off as a more casual, trendy jacket on a night on the town as well. Paired with a nice pashmina, you’d hardly know the difference.

For the Ladies, a Diva Cup

Sorry, boys. Maybe you’ll want to close your ears for this one. A Diva Cup is a menstrual cup used as a replacement for other feminine hygiene products. It’s not synthetic, and it can be used for up to 12 hours straight. It fits into a tiny pouch, and is a lot easier to carry around with the peace of mind knowing that you may not have to make an emergency run to the pharmacy!

Comfortable Hiking Shoes or Sneakers

Sneakers are often a good choice for those who want to stay fit on the road; after all, you can take them out for a nice jog around your new city or surroundings. But if you plan to do a lot of hiking, hiking shoes are the way to go. The ankle stabilizers could mean the difference between a twisted ankle and a broken one.

Travel Pouch

If you’re worried about being mugged while you’re on the go, a simple travel pouch makes an ideal place to store your IDs, passport, credit cards, and any other valuable you’re worried about. A small one can simply clip to your pants, or a bra strap, and is much more comfortable than a full money belt.

A Tiny First-Aid Kit

This doesn’t need to take up much room. A small pouch containing some Band-Aids, an alcohol swab, and insect repellant is pretty useful. A stick of After-Bite is also a great idea, especially if you’re travelling in mosquito-dense places, like many countries in Africa.


Sunblock shouldn’t even need to be a reminder, but here it is! Carry a small tube of it in your purse or daypack, because you never know when you’re going to need it. Don’t let those cold temperatures in the northern hemisphere fool you – if the sun is out, your skin is getting damaged. Get a sporty kind if you plan on hiking and being adventurous.

At Least One Semi-Professional Piece of Clothing/Outfit

Honestly, you just never know when you’ll meet a connection on the road, and impressions do matter. For the ladies, a black dress can easily be dressed up with some bling and a pretty scarf. For the dudes, a simple button-up shirt and a pair of khakis doesn’t hurt. You can still keep it comfy, no matter the occasion.


Don’t rely on your hostel or accommodations to provide a locker service. If they do, you’ll likely have to fork over some cash to pay for a lock and key. A pad lock will take the worry of theft off your mind.

Travel Insurance 

The best one of all – it won’t take up space in your bag! The importance of having travel insurance cannot be understated. It is vital, especially if you’re planning on doing “high risk activities” such as rafting or, well, even hiking. It’ll cover any emergency fees, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing that you’re well protected.


If you’re going to break the e-reader rule for anything, make it a good guidebook. Not only will it get you excited during those moments of tension, it’s a valuable resource for everything destination-related. You’d be surprised by how much you don’t know. Heck, even hand gestures that seem casual to us can be offensive to others. Read up!

Druide Bar Soap

These handy little bars of soap are good for everything – doing laundry, washing your body, and even washing your hair. They’re environmentally friendly, and biodegradable as well.

Duct Tape

It’s true; duct tape can solve all your problems. You can purchase a small roll in case of emergency, such as fixing a hole in a shoe or boot, preventing blisters, etc.

Zip-Off Hiking Pants

These are useful for the obvious reason: when it gets too warm, zip ‘em off! You’ll be a lot more comfortable.


Depending on where you’re visiting, you never know when you’re going to be plunged into darkness with a power outage. A tiny, travel-sized flashlight can pack a lot of light for those dark days.

Baby Wipes

Baby wipes tend to be much easier on the skin than regular hand sanitizer, and can also be used as a refreshing  “shower” while you’re on a trail or in transit. For the ladies, they’re also superb at removing makeup.


The whistle is another gadget that very much comes in handy for women, especially solo travellers that worry about unwanted attention. It’s also fantastic for hiking or other adventure activities that may call on emergency attention. A whistle goes much further than yelling!


A doorstop is excellent for when you’re staying in a single room and you’re worried about the, um, safety standards of the place. This little gadget will prevent the door from opening should you have any unwanted nightly visitors.

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