Your clothes are going to take the bulk of space in your pack so take some time in choosing what you need and how much you need. You won’t get it right in the beginning (trust me) but having quality clothing to start off with will avoid you further frustration down the road. If you’re traveling through various climates you can always purchase additional clothing that you can abandon later. There’s no point in bringing something you’ll only wear a few days.
Take this guide as a starting point since a wide variety of factors including appearance, function, and weight will influence what you take in the end.
**There are links to a lot of items mentioned on this page. I've used these items before and found them useful during my travels. If you found any of this information useful and are interested in purchasing any of these items please consider purchasing through these links as they help support the site and it doesn't cost you anything extra!
***Sorry, this is geared more towards men but covers a lot of information for both genders.
T-Shirts: 3 or 4
The moisture wicking polyester/cotton t-shirts are my go to top because I tend to sweat a lot. They’re easy to hand wash and dry quickly as well.
Tank Top: 1
You can sleep in it and also take it to the beach. Plus it’s really light.
Button Up Shirt: 1
They aren’t completely necessary but it’s another long sleeve option and something that’s a bit dressier for going out at night.
You’re always going to need a slightly thicker piece of clothing with you at all times. Even in hot climates the air conditioning in buses and the other forms of transportation you’ll take might be pumped to arctic temperatures. Opt for something with a collar for extra warmth. It’s worth also having in dry heat to keep the burning sun off your skin.
Any more than two is unnecessary. I would recommend at least having one pair of light quick dry trekking pants. There are slim versions out there if you’re worried about the bagginess of these pants. You can opt for jeans as well but they do tend to be pretty bulky and heavy.
Opt for longer skirts if going to culturally sensitive or religious countries. Leggings are also a good option and can double as a layer in colder climates.
Shorts/Swim wear: 1
Swim trunks can also double as shorts and sleepwear.
Underwear/Briefs: 3 or 4
I only wear quick dry polyester underwear when I’m traveling. They’re more comfortable and dry quickly overnight. You can always wash briefs quickly so there’s no need to take so many.
Socks: 3 to 5
I would have at least one thick pair for cooler climates and for trekking. If you’re planning any trekking make sure to buy a pair of liner socks to help prevent blisters. For warmer climates you can get away with wearing sandals most of the time.
Recommended Socks: Darn Tough Socks
Traveling is synonymous with plenty of walking so comfortable footwear is a must. Make sure you break in and test whatever footwear you plan to bring along.
For the vast majority of my travels I’ve always worn sandals. As long as you’re not too squeamish about exposed feet there’s nothing that will beat the practicality of backpacking in sandals. My Choco sandals have been on my feet nearly every day I’ve been away for that reason. I always switch to them indoors and you can even do some mild hiking in them as well. They are nearly indestructible and can be repaired by any cobbler around the world. Once you break them in they simply can’t be beat. The high praise by their loyal customer base is well deserved.
Summer hiking shoes/sneakers: 1
If you’re not a trekking fan than a pair of casual sneakers that you expect to get trashed work just as well. If you decide you want to trek somewhere there’s usually stores that will rent out boots.
If you’re heading to colder climates then it’s best to layer instead of having one main piece of outerwear.
Rain Jacket: 1
I’ve always found a rain jacket to be useful as the final or only outer layer in almost any situation. If you’re heading to mostly warmer climates ignore this advice and buy or pack a simple poncho.
Rain pants: 1
I’ve carried them around for a long time because they’re light but I’ve only used them a handful of times.
Base Layer Top and Bottom: 1
For cold weather I wear compression base layers like the ones offered by Under Armour. They help with mobility while trekking and wick away moisture. With this base layer, a long sleeve, pull over, and rain jacket I’ve been able to keep fairly warm in just about every cold climate I’ve been in.
Recommended Base Layer Top: Under Armour Cold Gear
Some simple fleece gloves with liners will work fine. Anything thicker just takes up too much room.
Beanie/Knitted Cap: 1
You got to cover that head with something warm.
Toiletries and Medication
Soap and Container
Toothpaste and Toothbrush
Contact Solution and Case
First Aid Ointment
This is something you always want to have in your pocket. I usually apply it before eating at a restaurant if I'm in a dodgy place or in a country where it's much easier to get food poisoning.
Sun Screen and Moisturizing Lotion:
Getting burned and having to lug around a heavy backpack is absolutely terrible. Moisturizing lotion will prevent you from looking like a dry river bed.
I try to carry a small bottle with me at all times. I use the Off! brand since it works for me. In certain third world countries I had trouble finding repellent that worked because it lacked DEET.
See a travel doctor for specifics
Besides having the standard Mefloquine (for malaria) and Ciprofloxacin (antibiotic), I also have: Ibuprofen, Meclizine (for sea sickness), Pepto Bismol (upset stomach), and anti-diarrhea medicine.
Not really necessary since you can just use a piece of rope, but the hooks come in handy if you’re going to hand wash a lot.
Eye Mask and Ear Plugs:
If you’re planning on camping a lot you can save quite a bit of money and become really flexible going off the beaten track. Rental tents are pretty awful most of the time.
Single Person Tent:
Lighter tents come at a cost but first make sure the rain fly is reliable.
There’s no reason not to carry a footprint since it’s light and prolongs the life of your tent.
If you’re worried about weight and space then a light sleeping bag will work as long as you’re okay with wearing layers before sleeping. But do yourself a favor and double check the temperature rating. With a compression sack you can make a bag pretty compact.
A sleeping pad is a must. An inflatable one is a bit more expensive but so much more compact and comfortable.
This is my preferred pillow but you can always take along a pillow sheet and just throw in your jacket/clothes to create one.
Also good to have for hostels when you need to pack your stuff early in the morning without disturbing your neighbors.
Spork and Knife/Multitool:
This doesn’t have to be a heavy Leatherman but a simple pocket knife to cut up vegetables.
I’ve never carried a steri pen or water purifier. Instead I use Betadine, an iodine solution. Put two drops per liter and waiting 15-20 minutes. It’s cheap and does the job but leaves a slight after taste.
Useful to tie stuff to your pack and if you want to have a clothesline to dry clothes.
A stove isn’t entirely necessary since you can go with cold food but you’ll probably want a hot meal once in a while. Gas is usually available but may be hard to find except in major cities. You can buy a cheap pot and use the lid as a cutting board or plate.
Unless you’re carrying a lot of photography gear there’s really no reason why you can’t keep your primary pack’s volume down to 30 liters. Any more than 35 liters and you’re over packing.
I use an F-Stop Loka which is a photography pack that can also accommodate camping gear with various straps. If you don’t have tons of photography gear then find a pack with plenty of compartments and make sure to test it out in person. You’re going to be on the move so you want something comfortable. Set the proper load bearing adjustments so you aren’t putting the weight on your shoulders.
Second Pack/Day Pack:
This will hold your valuables while your main pack is in the luggage compartment. It should be small enough to fit between your legs while you’re seated.
Stuff Sack Backpack:
A stuff sack backpack is perfect for carrying some small necessities while out for the day and is extremely light. You might want to just use this as your daypack if you’re not carrying too many electronics.
Since I do a lot of water activities while traveling, a dry bag has been a necessity for me. A small 10 Liter dry bag is sufficient to put a camera, wallet, and some clothes.
Stuff Sacks/Compression Sacks:
Good for organizing all the small pieces of clothing and throwing laundry into. They’re light to carry and cheap.
Compression sacks are great to make sleeping bags easy and compact to travel with
Recommended Stuff Sacks: Sea to Summit
Recommended Compression Sack: Outdoor Research Ultralight Z Compression
These are great to have so you can keep the main pieces of clothing organized in your bag. They’re useful but definitely not necessary.
I’ve used this item a lot and in questionable accommodations it’s definitely made me feel more comfortable.
Not necessary but nice to have especially if it has timer/alarm functions.
For those with terrible eyes. Don’t forget these even if you have contacts. Eye infections can and do happen so if your vision is bad and you’re without your glasses, it’s a pretty big handicap.
These are a necessity but if you’re somewhat like me this is one thing I’m constantly losing or breaking so I tend to go cheap.
Any bandana or neck covering will be useful on those long walks out in the sun to protect the back of your neck.
Good to have for sun protection.
A Rain cover is definitely necessary and sometimes they come included with the pack.
Bring a small pack of dryer sheets and also place a sheet in each stuff sack of clothing you have. It’ll keep your clothes smelling nice and your laundry from reeking. You can also throw one into your shoes saving people around you from having to smell that terrible odor.
Don’t bring a water bottle. They take up too much space. Even the collapsible plastic ones start leaking with repeated use. Instead just get a liter plastic bottle and if you want a handle just grab some duct tape and string to make one.
Bring extra zip lock bags, a garbage bag, binder clips, and rubber bands. They’ll end up coming in handy at some point in your trip.
Forget the mosquito net. Almost every place you’ll stay will provide one if it’s particularly bad. If not then find somewhere else to stay. Don’t forget to check for holes before you commit to a bed.
Get a small padlock for lockers in hostels but don’t get anything silly like a bicycle lock or wire mesh lock for your bag. It just makes your bag an obvious target and adds on unnecessary weight.
Don’t pack anything white.