Backpacking Packing List

If you know me, you know that I am a BIG fan of lists. I make a list for every important event, excursion or project. Over the years (and trips) I have been building the growing packing list below. It may seem excessive and insanely detailed, but hey, there's no better feeling than being prepared. 

One of my top tips is to make sure that when you leave for your trip you have some extra space in your bag. Most things you have at home can be found abroad and you will want to buy things along the way (souvenirs or clothes once you get sick of everything you own). There's nothing worse than having to pack an overflowing bag every morning. 

Obviously your packing list will vary depending on the countries you're going to and the activities you are planning on doing, but I hope that this post helps as a starting point. 

My favourite places to shop for travel gear in Canada are MEC and Atmosphere. If you are planning ahead you can find loads on great stuff online at sites like Live Out ThereBackcountry, and (of course) Amazon

What are your must-haves when travelling? Send me a message, I would love to know! 

Let’s start with the basics

  • Backpack - For an extended trip, I carry a 65 litre pack. I have this one from Osprey and I love it, however, it does not fit as carry-on. Fitting into a carry-on for me has always been nice in theory, but with heavy camera gear it just has never been possible. Many airlines now have weight restrictions on carry-ons (typically 7kg in Asia) but by all means, size down if possible. 

  • Packable Day Pack - I switch between my MEC Travel Light Pack (Top Loading) and a dry-bag backpack that I bought in the Philippines. The downside of an ultra-lite pack is that they are kind of fragile, so having the durable dry bag has been a great option for days on the boat or the beach. The Matador Freerain24 Backpack is great if you have some extra change to drop. 

  • Waterproof Pack Cover

  • 'Airporter' Pack Cover - Very useful to keep your pack clean, in-tact, dry and less of a target on the luggage line. I have this one from Osprey. 

  • Headlamp - Pack a set of extra batteries. 

  • Book or Kindle/Kobo

  • Journal + Pen

  • Cards/Travel Games - A surprisingly easy way to make friends in a hostel.

  • Travel Neck Pillow - I am new to the neck pillow train but am loving this Eagle Creek packable pillow. 

Shoes

This is always where I struggle. I do understand the importance of wearing shoes with support, but I will always loathe the feeling. I'm happiest in a pair of Nike Free Runs or Flip flops. I still have yet to find the perfect recipe for shoe-packing. 

  • Sandals - I highly recommend foam Birkenstocks. Lightweight, water-friendly and very comfortable once broken in.

  • Surf Booties - These have saved my butt on the South East Asia reef breaks more than once. You can find them abroad like I did. 

  • Hiking Boots - Depending on where you are going. I took the Solomon Quest Prime GTX boots to Nepal and LOVED them. I personally don't think hiking shoes/boots are necessary for many destinations like South East Asia. 

  • Runners - Gotta have my Nike Free Runners. You need to have comfortable shoes, and for me, these are them. 

Wallet & Important Documents

  • Passport

  • Travel Wallet - Make sure it's small enough to fit in your front pocket. Bonus points if it has built-in RFID blockers. Bring along your ID, International Drivers License, Diving Licence, Student Cards (lots of discounts, esp. in Europe), Debit and Credits Cards. 

  • Visa Photos - Make sure to check the required sizes for the countries you are planning on visiting. In a pinch, many airports offer photo services, but it will slow you down getting through customs. 

  • Travel Insurance + Health Insurance - Carry these numbers with you in your wallet. In the unfortunate event that you get hospitalized, you will want these on-hand instead of back at your hostel. 

  • Money Belt - I'm not a huge fan of these, but if you are travelling somewhere where pickpocketing is common, it might be nice to have. 

  • USD or Euros in Cash - You will take out money via ATMs as you go, but having emergency cash in US dollars or Euros at the bottom of your pack is very handy. $50USD should do. 

  • Photocopies of Important Documents - I bring a copy of all my documents with me in the case that I loose something. Also make sure to leave another set of copies with a friend or family back home. 

Gadgets

  • Camera - Make sure to bring chargers, cables, memory card(s), a card reader and a case.

  • Hard Drive - Nice to have if you are travelling for a long time or if you're taking thousands of raw photos and videos like me. 

  • Laptop/iPad - Not necessary for most people. 

  • Headphones

  • Lens Cleaner + Microfibre

  • Power Bank - My Anker PowerCore is an absolute necessity for me. This one is pretty light and holds 13000mAh or about 5 iPhone charges. 

  • GoPro - For underwater adventures or hikes where you might not want to carry the weight of a DSLR. 

  • Tech Insurance - If you are bringing a laptop or nice camera gear, best to insure it. 

  • Smart Phone, Unlocked - Pause your contract back home and make sure your phone is unlocked before leaving the country. Having an unlocked phone means you can purchase a SIM card abroad and have data/calling for super cheap (screw u Canadian telecom prices). 

  • Adapter - Plug adaptor for the countries you are going to. Not to be confused with a voltage converter which you may or may not need (but I never have). Check the rating on the back of your device to see what voltage it's rated for before plugging things in.  If your plug in is rated "Input:100-240V ; 1.5A 50-60Hz" or similar ranges like this, it is rated globally and should be okay to use in any country (i.e. most apply product chargers).  Chargers and adapters can also be found for very cheap abroad, however voltage converters are more difficult to find. 

  • USB Flash Drive

Hostel-Musts

The below items are all musts for me, but especially so if you are staying in hostels. 

  • Pillow Case

  • Flexible Lock - The flexibility means that they fit into all the various locker formats that you will encounter. MEC has a few to choose from like this one

  • Sleep Sheet or Sleeping Bag Liner - For some strange reason these are so expensive at MEC or Atmosphere. Maybe try ordering one online ahead of time. 

  • Ear Plugs

Kitchen on the Go

The amount of plastic water-bottles that the tourism industry consumes is insane. Bring a few things to avoid purchasing cheap single-use bottles along the way. Visit my gal Kaitlyn Dickie's blog for some awesome tips on zero-waste travel. 

  • Water bottle - wide neck and clear are musts for me (especially if you're filtering your own).

  • Spork - This one from MEC is durable. 

  • Tea and Candy - For when you need a taste of home. I highly recommend Sour Dinos (thanks, Ma). 

  • Steripen - Steripens sanitize water. We used ours everyday in Nepal and it was great to reduce waste on our way up to Everest Base Camp. Whether this is useful or not really depends on the countries you are visiting. For example, in South East Asia most hostels/hotels have purified water dispensers available for free or very little cost. 

Clothing

  • Packing Cubes + Bag for Dirty Laundry - I love these ones from MEC. 

  • Mesh Bags - Very useful for keeping an organized pack.  

  • Socks - Smartwool socks are my favourite, they keep the stink low and are great for hiking. 

  • Hat

  • Gloves  - *Destination-dependant

  • Toque - *Destination-dependant

  • Swim Suits

  • Scarf

  • Jacket - My favourite to travel with is the Arc'teryx Atom Hoodie

  • Raincoat

  • Underwear x 6 + Bras x 3

  • Dresses x 3

  • Shirts x 4

  • Pants x 1 - More if you're heading somewhere cold/urban.

  • Long Sleeve - For mosquito protection, sun protection and warmth when necessary. 

  • PJs - Sometimes it's really nice to have long PJ pants if you are staying in a place where bugs are common. I like the joggers from GAP because they are soft, pack small and have tight ankles. 

  • Buff

  • Watch

  • Sunglasses

  • Sarong - The Turkish Towels from Tofino Towel Co. are my favourite. 

Toiletries

  • Hanging Toiletry Bag - MEC Travel Light Wash Bag is perfect for me. 

  • Solid Shampoo Bar - Both Lush and Bulk Barn sell them. 

  • Tooth Brush & Cover

  • Travel Toilet Paper - These are very worth the $1.75 they cost at MEC

  • Laundry Soap + Sink Stopper - IMHO the paper laundry soap that looks like a Listerine package doesn't really work. I've heard Woolite works well. 

  • Stain Remover Pen

  • Mosquito Repellant - I recommend the Ben's wipes. Yes it's extra packaging which sucks, but they pack flat and are less likely to explode in your bag than a bottle of deet. 

  • Sunscreen - It can be expensive abroad. 

  • Hair Brush and Elastics

  • Lip Balm with SPF

  • Jewelry

  • Nail Clippers/Scissors

  • Makeup

  • Razor

  • Tampons - Can be hard to find abroad. 

  • Deodorant

  • Travel Towel - Of the few I have tried, Eagle Creek has been the best. 

  • Prescription Medication

  • Glasses/Contacts

Random Useful Things

  • Extra Batteries - For headlamps and such. 

  • Ziplock Bags in Multiple Sizes

  • Carabiners

  • Rope/Cord

  • Duct Tape

  • Retractable Laundry Line

  • Swiss Army Knife

Medical Kit

I have my father to thank for how in-depth this one will get. Most of these things you can find abroad very easily but they are good to have on hand in case you or someone around you gets injured. I can fit everything below into a small makeup bag that I put in the bottom of my day pack. Talk to your doctor before you go as they may have other recommended things to pack. 

  • Broad Stream Antibiotic - Like Azithromycin. A travel clinic can prescribe these for you. 

  • Malaria Medication

  • Hand Sanitizer

  • Antihistamine

  • Gravol

  • Ibuprofin

  • Paracetamol

  • Polysporin

  • Oral Rehydration Satchels

  • Baby Wipes aka the "Backcountry Shower"

  • Bandaids in Various Sizes

  • Blister Pads

  • Anti-Septic or Alcohol Wipes

  • Non-Adhesive Pads or Gauze

  • Medical Tape

  • Needle

  • Tweezers

  • Second Skin

  • Rubber Gloves

  • Imodium

  • Paper and Pencil - Useful if you need to take down someones contact information. 

What to Cut/Leave Behind

These are a few things I would leave behind. 

  • Toiletries - These are heavy, only take what is necessary.

  • Clothes - The majority of your bag will be clothes. You will need the same amount for 6 weeks as 6 months.  

  • Travel Guide Book - I used to swear by bringing a Lonely Planet Guide with me, but now I just get a SIM card and use the good old google machine which takes up far less space. 

  • Sleeping Bag

  • Mosquito Net - When in mosquito-prone areas, I have always been able to find accommodation that supplies nets. 

  • Hair Straightener/Drier

Lastly, I have to give credit to my globe-trotting parents for the majority of the above recommendations. Those two are seriously stellar at packing a bag and have taught me everything I know. 

And that's it! Did I miss something? Let me know. 

I hope this article has proven useful. Safe travels. 

-Meg

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