So! You have decided to go overseas and pack your bags as a first-time backpacker. When I first went backpacking as an 18-year-old, I had no idea what to take, let alone how to pack a suitable backpack. Backpacking for me was a fantastic experience that can be made even more memorable by packing correctly. Before you go overseas there are some important things to keep in mind. So, settle in and enjoy my ultimate backpacking list for beginners!

  • The climate

As a first-time backpacker this is perhaps the most important thing to consider. Will your trip be wet, warm, cold or a mixture? My first trip as a backpacker was to the sandy island of Sri Lanka. Depending on what time of year you decide to travel there can be some severe variations in the climate of the region you decide to visit. Typically, tropical climates will have a rainy season and a dry season.

  • The length of your trip

As time varies the amount of packing you take might change. A 2 week journey may require less packing than a 2 month journey. This needs to be factored into how you want to pack your bag. If you decide to take perishables such as chocolates or sweets these need to be considered as it can add weight to your backpack.

  • The type of backpacking you are interested in

As you travel you will meet many different backpackers from all walks of life. However, you can notice some distinct categories of backpackers. If you wish to hike you need to focus more on clothes suited for inclement weather and if you enjoy the nightlife, then your pack may include more dress clothes. All styles of backpacking require different packing regimes, so you need to be aware what you are more suited towards.

Use this ultimate backpacking list for beginners as a guide or to check it off against your own packing list!

Warm weather clothing list:

  • A light jumper
  • Raincoat
  • T-shirts
  • Shorts/Skirts
  • Underwear (both underpants and bras depending on needs)
  • Socks (both hiking socks and casual socks)
  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Singlet
  • Shirts/Dresses
  • Towel (A lightweight microfibre towels compact well into packs)
  • Lightweight pants/leggings (in tropical weather go for darker colours to avoid sweat patches, but if you don’t sweat head for the lighter colours as these are often cooler!!)
  • Swimwear

Cold weather packing list:

  • Jumpers/Polar Fleeces
  • Raincoat
  • Puffer Jacket
  • Long sleeve T-shirts
  • T-shirt
  • Thermals (Top and bottom)
  • Underwear (both underpants and bras depending on your need)
  • Jeans/leggings
  • Socks (hiking and heavy casual socks)
  • Neck Scarf
  • Beanie
  • Hat
  • Towel (despite it being cold I still recommend a microfibre towel to save space)
  • Gloves
  • Tracksuit pants
  • Sunglasses

Temperate weather packing list:

For your journeys to temperate weather where you aren’t sure if it will be hot or cold, or rainy or dry I suggest taking a mixture of the two lists to suit whether your destination is on the warmer or colder end of the temperate spectrum.

Shoes:

I always pack 3 pairs of shoes. This is what you need:

  1. A sturdy pair of hiking shoes or boots. I recommend Scarpa as they are relatively affordable and stand up to the test of time. They are often water resistant so help when travelling in rainy environments, hiking or stepping through dirty gutters and streams.
  2. Casual shoes/sneakers. I will also take a pair of casual shoes whether these are sneakers or casual shoes such as Vans. This choice depends on what you plan to get up to, but I opt for runners as it can serve as both everyday shoes and sports shoes if you choose to exercise.
  3. A pair of sandals/thongs. Both these choices have versatility for your journey. Sandals allow for a better look and more comfort especially if you are travelling to a tropical environment. Yet, a pair of flip flops can get wet and can be used in showers if you wish to avoid any risk of tinea or other fungi.

Toiletries:

This is one that varies significantly between genders. However, there are some toiletries that we should always include! For me these include:

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Travel hair comb
  • Small bottle of shampoo and soap. If you can get a quality 2-in-1 then opt for that.
  • Small bottle of face moisturiser
  • Hand sanitiser

General accessories and technology:

  • Passport and visa (if applicable)
  • A universal wall charger
  • A small speaker/quality headphones
  • A laptop (You should only take this if you need it but make sure to invest in a quality laptop case)
  • Phone (with a sturdy case of course)
  • Hidden travel pouch (these are essential and can be used to carry passports, credit cards and any other valuables)
  • RFID credit card slips
  • Books (if you can get them electronically that would be ideal, but I still prefer old fashioned hardcopy books)
  • A dry bag (take as many as you think you need but I take 2 of these. One for my underwear and socks because who likes wet underwear. I always have one for wet and dirty clothes because who likes a smelly and wet bag.
  • Swiss army knife (They come in handy more often than you think)
  • TSA travel locks

The Backpack

This is arguably the most important item after your passport. As you develop your packing list based off of my ultimate backpacking list for beginners, it is so important that you choose a fantastic backpack! If you choose the right backpack your trip can be made a lot easier. However, if you choose an uncomfortable pack the trip can be made more difficult, uncomfortable, and overall, less enjoyable. When my friend and I travelled through South America for 2 months we had to carry our bags between borders, throw them on and off busses and sit on them at 3 am in the morning as we waited for transport. I recommend a bag that has the following features:

  • A harness suited to your gender (men’s and women’s harnesses have very different fits, and this can make a massive difference to the comfort of your pack)
  • The material (my pack is made of a heavier canvas fabric and is very water resistant. I find that the better the fabric the sturdier and longer lasting the pack is and when we spend money on a quality pack we want it to pay dividends into the future)
  • The weight. Bags suited for travel are often heavier than hiking packs and this is usually because of the thicker material and stronger supporting frame.
  • The ability to lock. Some travel packs do not have this feature and it can be really helpful to be able to lock your pack. If your pack does have this feature then most TSA travel locks will fit this locking mechanism.

Find your perfect pack at Macpac!

Price of backpacks

Packs can get expensive, however as a general rule of thumb the more expensive a pack is the longest it will last. I use the brand Macpac for all my overseas backpacks and find their packs to be of the highest quality. My last pack lasted 8 years and was fantastic for hiking.

The Medical Pack

Perhaps the most underrated part of a good backpack inventory, the medical kit can be a lifesaver (literally). When I was in Sri Lanka for my first overseas trip my friends and I were on a train and a European man hit his bare feet on a concrete bollard as he hung them out of the open train doors. Safe to say that because of a well-stocked medical kit, the man had a better chance of reaching hospital having been relatively well attended to. In any group of travellers there should be at least one person with a substantial medical kit. This should contain at the very least an antiseptic – I recommend Betadine – and some bandages, band aids and gauze pads.

Until next time movers!

Click here for my 7 tips for packing the perfect pack!

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