Top 10 Backpacking Essentials

When you’re living out of a backpack for several months, you need to ensure that you have all the essentials stashed away, without going overboard and packing everything but the kitchen sink!

While you need to minimise on the amount of gear and clothing you pack, having certain items with you is essential. We’ve put together a list of our top 10 must have items for travelling, so you can ensure you don’t leave anything important behind…

Hand Gel

It’s an absolute must for any destination, allowing you to keep your hands clean no matter where you are and when washing facilities aren’t available. It’s wise to clean your hands with anti-bacterial gel after toilet visits, after handling foreign currency and before meals, this will help to minimise the risk of stomach upsets and illness during your trip. Anti-bacterial hand gel is cheap to buy and comes in pocket sized bottles, making it easy to keep to hand when you’re out exploring.

Lightweight Sleeping Bag / Sleeping Bag Liner

Bedding in many hostels and other budget accommodation leaves a lot to be desired and chances are you won’t fancy laying on some of the set ups you’re faced with! A lightweight travel sleeping bag is a great way to remedy this problem and is also a good option for any traveller who plans on camping during their gap year.


If you’re feeling cold, adding a sleeping bag liner to your sleeping bag will add extra warmth or in hot countries, a liner on it’s own is an excellent alternative to a sleeping bag.

There are many lightweight sleeping bag options available to suit your destination, ranging from 1 season for tropical climates through to 4 season sleeping bags for cold climates.

Travel sleeping bags are tested to EN13537 standard, this determines the temperature ratings and conditions in which the sleeping bag would be suitable for use.

You can determine which travel sleeping bag is best suited to your needs by researching the climate of your destination and thinking about the activities you will be taking part in, such as treks and camping. Some sleeping bags even have anti-bacterial and mosquito protection as well as mosquito nets in the hood to keep mosquitoes and other insects away!

First Aid Kit

A basic first aid kit should always be a part of your travel kit, having a few handy dressings, bandages and plasters can come in extremely handy for minor cuts and scrapes during your trip. In some countries, you may need a more extensive kit including sterile needles and syringes, this is essential in areas with poor medical facilities. Other useful medical items include water treatment tablets or drops, diarrhoea relief and rehydration sachets.

Backpack Locks

Many destinations are crawling with pick pockets and opportunist thieves who are just waiting for you to let your guard down! Ensuring your backpack is secured with a good quality lock, should hopefully be enough to deter thieves and keep your gear safe.

Cable locks are also a great option for travellers, these locks have a flexible cable shackle and can be used to lock backpack zips and hostel lockers as well as secure your stuff to a fixed or hard to move object to prevent theft.

Mosquito Repellent

Wherever you go in the world you will most likely come across mosquitoes or other biting insects, especially in tropical climates. Arming yourself with a good mosquito repellent will make your trip a more enjoyable and bite free experience and will also help to prevent the contraction of life threatening tropical diseases such as Malaria.

There are many different types of mosquito repellent on the market at the moment, but the main one you will come across is DEET repellent, this is by far the most popular choice amongst travellers.

DEET mosquito repellents are available in a range of strengths, with 20% formulas for low risk malaria areas and 50-100% formulas for higher risk areas, repellents are mainly available in a spray but can also be found in lotions and roll-ons for easier application to hard to reach areas.

Travel Towel

Travel towels have a wide range of uses besides drying you off after a shower or dip in the ocean and come in an extremely compact size, great for saving space inside your backpack!

Designed to be lightweight and compact, as well as highly absorbent and quick drying, travel towels are a firm favourite in the travel world. Most travel towels are made from a smooth microfibre material but other options are available if you don’t like the smooth texture of microfibre towels.


Taking a towel from home is a big No-No for travelling, these kinds of towel take much longer to dry and will most definitely result in an awful damp aroma wafting out of your backpack every time you open it, not to mention their cumbersome size! There are travel towels on the market with a special anti-bacterial coating, this helps to keep them fresh, so there’s no need to worry about odours or even mould developing on your towel in hot and sticky climates!

Mosquito Net

In some countries, this may not be 100% necessary, but in some of the popular gap year destinations including South East Asia & Africa, you’ll find a mosquito net will be a welcome addition to your travel kit. There are many different styles of mosquito net available, including wedge, box, ridge and bell shapes as well as free-standing options.

The type of net you will require all depends on where you will be sleeping, out in the wilderness and we’d say go for a ridge or free-standing net. If you’re claustrophobic opt for a bell or box shaped net, as these provide more ‘living’ space inside the net, many travellers use the wedge style nets as these are the easiest to hang due to their single hanging point – some also come with a spreader bar to give you a little more space inside the net.

Money Belt

A security must have for travellers, money belts offer a discreet and safe way to store your cash and small valuables when you’re out and about. There are many different styles of money belt on the market including ones that can be worn around your neck or waist or worn as a holster under your arm.


Many money belts with have a soft and breathable backing so that they can be worn underneath your clothes, making them much more discreet and harder to identify for those opportunist thieves. Pacsafe have developed a range of money belts and neck pouches which have a slashproof wire that runs through the strap, this helps to prevent thieves from slyly cutting them off when you’re distracted!

Plug Adapters

When travelling you will come across a range of different plug sockets and if you don’t have the correct plug adapter, you can find yourself unable to use appliances such as hair dryers as well as being unable to charge cameras and mobile phones.

thai adapter

If you’re travelling to several countries, a worldwide plug adapter is a wise investment – these adapters normally cover the European (2 round pins), Australian (2 angled flat pins) and USA (2 flat pins) plug types, which are the main types you will come across when travelling throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas. Some countries have their own unique plug, so if you’re travelling to South Africa, India (some parts use the European plug), Israel, Switzerland or Italy, make sure you get yourself the plug adapter that is used in that country.


Whether it’s a hand held torch or head light, a torch is a valuable piece of kit for any traveller! If you’re camping or taking part in treks, a torch will be a welcome addition to your gear and will help you find your way around your tent and the camp site after dark. However, you don’t necessarily have to be camping or trekking to need one. If you’re staying in a remote area you may find yourself in need of a torch to find your way around on a night, or if you don’t want to wake your dorm room buddies at the hostel you’ll be glad you packed it!

So there you have it, 10 essential items for your backpacking trip. You may need some other gear depending on your destination and the activities you will be taking part in, but this list provides you with a good starting point when you’re creating your gap year packing list!

For more backpacking essentials, check out our Trip Essentials page in our online store!