11 Travel Necessities for Backpackers

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Take a look at our top travel necessities and why they’re important.

Seasoned travelers know that over time every backpacker will build their own list of travel necessities. But the question is, where do you start? In this article I cover our top 11 choices for travel necessities to think about bringing with you, before hitting the road. The following is a list of personal favorites, as well as a mix of the most commonly spoken of items by backpackers I have met while on the road. These are items that are widely used by many International travelers, backpackers, and hostel travelers. Obviously it could not be a complete list as every trip, and individual will always have their own personal needs for travel, however this is a good place to start. Let this information serve you as a reminder for not only what is important to take on your next trip, but also why it is important. I hope that this article will save you from unnecessary stress, and headache by giving you the extra edge that you need to travel safely and responsibly. Happy trails.

#1 Comfortable Footwear:

travel-shoesI don’t mean to state the obvious with this one, I am more trying to remind you of the not so obvious. When traveling as a backpacker you never know where the road might take you. Sure you may have an idea or a plan for where you’re going, but it doesn’t neccessarily mean that is where you’ll end up. Overland travel can throw all kinds of unexpected twists in your plans, so it is best to be prepared. Having comfortable shoes can be a life saver when standing on a chicken bus for 5 hours when it is your only form of transportation. Let’s not forget about the fact that the same bus could break down leaving you walking for hours. On the flip side maybe you meet some locals and take off for a special hike to a local secret, or maybe you get lost in a city like Guanajuato where the streets are literally a maze. Point is, when starting your journey as a backpacker it can almost be guaranteed that you will do more walking than expected, and you will want to be comfortable. For that reason, I would strongly recommend doing your research and getting a nice pair of shoes for your travels. Your feet will thank you.

#2 Combination Lock:

necessary-travel-lockDon’t forget a combination lock on your list of travel necessities. You will find a need for this item at just about every hostel that you come across during your travels to lock up your gear and keep it safe while you are away. I would not suggest a keyed lock because keys can be lost, and that is an inconvenience that you won’t encounter with a combination lock. In addition to hostels you will often find opportunities at bus stations, airports, and the like to give yourself a break from carrying everything on your back while waiting for transit, etc. I rarely have met a backpacker that didn’t have this item in their travel gear, so there is no reason for you to be the first. Tip: I am not an advocate for violence but I do want you to be safe in your travels. This is why I am giving you this next travel tip, that I learned from a fellow backpacker on the road. What he does is keeps his lock in a sock, or his “lock in a sock” approach as he called it. The idea is that having the lock in your sock doubles as an extremely effective weapon when it is swung in a serious jam. I hope you never have to use this, but I figure it is better to have and not need than need and not have.

#3 I-Pad or comparable tablet device

ipad-for-travelersYou could argue that this is not a “travel necessity” however most of the backpackers I have met on the road (including myself) would disagree with you. I don’t think I need to get into the details of why this is good from a personal standpoint of comfort. Obviously you can use it for all of your creature comforts such as playing your favorite music, or passing the time networking with friends. However one of my personal recommendations is to also set yourself up with a VOIP phone number to your home country. What a VOIP (Voice Over the Internet Protocol) number does is allows you to make phone calls from any high speed internet connection to your home country from anywhere in the world for sometimes less than the cost of a local call. Unless you are planning on becoming a permanent Nomad this communication is usually pretty important. Also, In addition to all of the comforts that this device can bring to you, it is also a small lightweight bartering chip if you are in a pinch. This piece of equipment can be sold or traded if you ever find yourself in a really tight spot such as your wallet being stolen, or misplaced.

#4 Leatherman Super Tool

leatherman-super-toolNeed I say more about this product and why it’s important? For those of you who have been living on the moon for the last 20 years, the leatherman supertool is about the most diverse travel tool that can be owned. You can check out leathermans here. There are so many features it seems pointless to name them all. However from personal experience I have found myself often using both the phillips, and flathead screwdrivers, can opener, knife, pliers, and wire cutter most frequently. But heh, where else can you get all of those things in one single device. Point is, leathermans rock and you need one.

#5 Waterproof LED Headlamp

adventure-travel-headlampNo doubt there are going to be many times during your adventure traveling that you will be in need of a good light. Many people forget about this item on their list of travel necessities until it is too late. Believe me, not having a light when you need one is a real buzz kill. There will be many times when you misjudge a hike for instance, and end up losing your daylight fast. The last thing you want is to be stumbling around blind, through a foreign jungle, or countryside. However, regardless of the reason you need light it is the 3 main features of this light that make it the best choice. It is LED so the batteries last forever, it is waterproof so you don’t need to worry about rain damage, and it attaches to your head. You will find the headlamp feature necessary when putting together a tent, collecting wood, or doing any activity that requires your hands.

#6 Insulated beverage container

travel-beverage-containerHaving an insulated beverage container not only keeps your drinks fresh, but it can also save you money while traveling. To find out more about saving money while traveling read our article 5 Ways to Save Money Traveling Through Mexico here. I personally use the Bubba brand insulated beverage container and found it to keep coffee scalding hot for hours on end in cold climate. Seriously, painfully hot coffee for hours. This also works with cold water in very hot climates such as traveling through Mexico surprisingly well. So well to the point of leaving your drink in the sand on a beach for 2 hours and still having very cold water. It is like magic on a hot summer day, so my recommendation is to take this seriously. You may not think of the insulated container as important until you have tried it yourself. I promise you will never get a non insulated version again.

#7 First Aid Kit

travel-first-aid-kitIt’s a jungle out there, sometimes literally and you never quite know what to expect. When choosing the lifestyle of a backpacker, you can easily be subjected to new and interesting experiences. However sometimes those new and interesting experiences can come with a price such as injury. Because, there are many times that you will be on your own, having a first aid kit should be considered one of your travel necessities. It doesn’t have to be large, but it should be enough to handle small to mid size wounds. I would also recommend a small needle and thread for an emergency stitch if you fall under seriously unfortunate circumstances. It’s not that you should expect to need this but for the small size and little weight of a decent first aid kit it always worth it to me.

#8 Travel Hammock

hammock-for-backpackersSome would argue that the travel hammock is to bulky, and a little luxurious to be considered a necessity. To this I would not completely disagree, however it really boils down to the nature of your trip. If you are backpacking around cities, staying at hostels, and enjoying more of the free sides of travel then a hammock is your best friend. You can turn any situation into overly comfortable, relaxing getaway by finding 2 trees to hang on in minutes. Moreover, when your travel hammock is in it’s bag it can double as a pillow. If you ask me, I say make the room.

#9 Toiletry bag

toiletry-travel-bagThis to me is another little piece of the obvious, but from my experiences with other travelers this is often overlooked so I felt the need to put it. Obviously you are going to bring things such as your toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, etc. However I have seen many people just shove these items in their bags along with dirty clothes, shoes, you name it. Once you are on the road your backpack can get a little unorganized so having all of your toiletry’s in a separate bag seems necessary to me. It not only keeps things sanitary, but protects against spills on your clothes from a loosened lid.

#10 Towel

travel-tip-towelWhen you are traveling there is never a guarantee that towels will be provided for you when staying at discount hostels. Also some hostels charge a fee for “towel service” which isn’t much of a service if you ask me. Having your own towel will also come in handy when you find a nice lake or stretch of ocean to swim in. It is useful, light weight, can save you money, and it is necessary. Tip: Pick up the most compact material that you can find when selecting your towel. This item should take up as little room as possible.

#11 Complete Deck of Cards

backpacker-playing-cardsWhen traveling around it is important to be entertained and for you to entertain company. Traveling while backpacking is supposed to be about meeting new people, and having new and exciting experiences. Because of this you should consider having a deck of cards a travel necessity for 2 reasons. First it gives you a reason to meet and converse with new people cause you can’t play alone, and secondly if they don’t get used it’s serves as a reminder that they should have. Either way there is a lesson to be learned, or a story to be told so you can’t really lose.

I hope you enjoyed this article, and found it useful. But now I would like to here from you! What are some things that were missed on YOUR TOP TRAVELING CHECKLIST? Leave your top choices in the comment section below.

David Treacy

We have been advocates for adventure travel since 2012 using our message to educate, and assist travelers from all walks of life. We are also providers of low cost tour, and travel options throughout the country of Mexico. - "Get Lost On Your Next Adventure"

  1. Michela of Rocky Travel Blog Says: December 8, 2014 at 6:57 pm

    Great list of travel necessities. I no longer pack a microbfiber towel. I prefer packing a microfiber robe instead, way too practical, especially when sharing dorms in hostels. 😉

    • David Treacy Says: December 8, 2014 at 11:24 pm

      Hi Michela, that is a some great advice. I agree with replacing anything that has a dual function. Thanks for the feedback! I also really enjoyed your website Rockytravel.net, it looks like you have some great advice and services for anyone heading towards Australia. Happy travels!

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