Top Backpacking Essentials Everyone Needs

Holly West

Holly West

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When packing for a big trip, the top of your list will always be things such as your toothbrush and pants. But once you have all the every day clothing and toiletry essentials, what are the key pieces  which will help you whist living out of a bag for weeks or months at a time?

In the last 12 months I have backpacked across Thailand, Vietnam, New Zealand, Australia and Indonesia. Having spent months on the road with just a backpack and a thirst for travel, I have done some of the trial and error for you. In this piece, I have put together some backpacking essentials which I believe every traveller should invest in to make packing easier, lighter, safer and hopefully help in cases of minor emergencies. 

Packing Cubes 

If you speak to any seasoned backpacker one of their ultimate travel hacks are the mighty packing cubes. Small fabric squares with zips to close, these cubes are designed to store your clothes and toiletries. Using packing cubes ensures your clothes are kept neat, organised, easy to pack and find in your bag. Too many times I have needed that green bikini and had to pull out item by item everything I have packed. With these smart little organisers, finding one item of clothing is as simple as pulling out a few packing cubes, making a lot less mess and saving a lot of packing time. 

Picture Credits: @miamicaofficial


If you are planning on staying in hostels during your trip it is important to note that whilst a large majority will provide lockers in the room to keep your bags out the way, most do not have locks. Although many people traveling are in the same boat, it pays to be careful when you are sharing a room with strangers or traveling around when you won’t have your bag on you 24/7. Pay a couple of pounds for a small padlock to lock your zips together in transit, and keep them safe in a locker. I would advise you get a combination lock rather than one that requires a key (as these have the tendency to go missing). 

Microfibre towel 

Sunbathing, swimming and showers – you will always need a towel and not all places you travel to will provide one. The trouble with a regular towel is that they are heavy, bulky and take a long time to dry out in particular climates. Microfibre towels are a great investment, they pack down to nothing, weigh much less than a regular towel and dry 10x quicker, meaning you aren’t weighed down or stuck with a soggy towel. Even if your accommodation does provide a towel, it is great knowing you have two towels meaning one can be used for the shower and the other for the beach or swimming. 

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Portable chargers 

If you are travelling further afield, taking long flights, overnight buses or in slightly remote accommodation, you want to know that your phone is fully charged in case of emergencies or just for some light entertainment. There is nothing worse than realising your phone is on its last 10% and the plug sockets aren’t working or you have a 12 hour coach journey ahead of you. Take a couple of portable chargers on the trip with you and relax knowing online maps, Instagram and your music aren’t going anywhere. 

Lightweight Waterproof Jacket/ Poncho 

Wherever you a planning to explore the world, regardless of the weather forecast, what season or its historical climate; I would always advise you to take a lightweight waterproof jacket. They pack away so easily, take up no weight or space. It is always when you least expect it that you get caught in a rainstorm, so it pays to be prepared. Bonus points if you find a waterproof cover for your backpack too – no one wants to carry around a heavy bag which is made even heavier by rain!

Picture Credits: @hollyamberwest

Medical kit 

It goes without saying, but it often gets forgotten. Pack a small bag full of things like plasters, some painkillers, eye wash, antiseptic, antihistamines and of course any medication for existing conditions. It pays to have things that help you deal with some minor injuries so you don’t have to stress about a hospital until it gets serious. 

Top tip: If you have any allergies and are heading to a country where you aren’t confident with the language, make friends with a local who can write down on a bit of paper what you are allergic to, what you can and can’t have, what will happen if you do come into contact with said allergen. It takes a lot of the stress and anxiety out of going out for dinner. 

Duct Tape and Plastic Bags 

Duct tape is a most excellent investment for any kind of traveller. Be it repairing a hole in your bag, covering up the brand name on electrical items, fixing a surfboard ding or making your hostel shower head stay in one place – duct tape has your back. In a similar vein, take a couple of old plastic bags. These are perfect for a makeshift laundry bag, transporting wet clothes to your new location, shopping, or lining your backpack to keep your things dry. Small, easily packable things with multiple uses are your friends during life on the road. 

If you catch the backpacking bug, eventually you will work out some of your own ride-or-die essentials to take away with you. But for now I hope this list will serve as a small starting point for any first time packers with some helpful hints, tips and hacks. Happy travelling! 

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