[Skip to Content]

What To Take

One of the most common questions asked by people thinking of going backpacking is – “what do I need to take?” First of all though, you need to think about what you’re going to put it all in.

Buying a Rucksack

Your first concern should be a rucksack. Two things are important when choosing your rucksack: the first is fit, and the second is capacity. The fit of the rucksack is vital because you are very likely to be carrying it for a lot of the time. Always buy a rucksack after you have tried it on (with weight in it).

When you are trying on your rucksack, all the weight should be on your hips rather than on your shoulders. You should feel the weight being carried around the small of your back. This is where your natural centre of balance is.

Size does matter. Too big and you’ll be tempted to pack your entire life into it before you go. Too small and you’ll just end up buying a bigger rucksack later on in your travels. For a long journey expect to need a good 60-litre rucksack. Also, most manufacturers have also designed rucksacks especially for women. These are shorter in the back, slightly narrower and have different hip and belt adjustment straps, so there is no excuse for not finding the right rucksack for you.

Finally, when you have found a rucksack which is the right size, the right price and suitable for your journey, do a last check and look to see whether:

  • The seams are double or triple sewn
  • The major seams are covered or sealed
  • The rucksack is as waterproof as possible
  • It is made out of heavy-duty nylon
  • The base of the is rucksack is thicker than the rest of it

What Should I Pack?

So now that you have bought your rucksack what should you put in it?

A useful thing to remember is pack what you think you’ll need, empty it and halve it and pack again! You always end up taking far too much stuff away.

Don’t forget you may want to buy items whilst you are over there too and items such as mosquito repellent or sun cream may also be cheaper if you buy along the way.

The following detailed list is arranged for when you first pack to go away. When you reach your destination, you don’t need to hold everything in your daypack. Just remember to keep your important stuff safe if you leave it behind! E.g. store it in a padlocked safe.

The basic list

  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping sheet
  • Rucksack cover
  • Roll mat
  • If camping, a tent
  • Padlock
  • Plug adaptor
  • Plastic bags
  • Torch
  • Lighter
  • Clothes line
  • Toilet paper
  • Penknife
  • Safety pins
  • Sewing kit
  • Knife, fork and spoon
  • Hairbrush or comb
  • Towel
  • Washbag - toothbrush, toothpaste, tweezers, nail clippers, shampoo, shower gel, moisturiser
  • Hairbands
  • Make-up if wanted
  • Razors
  • Earplugs
  • Contact lenses or glasses if needed
  • Condoms
  • Tampons/sanitary towels
  • First aid kit
  • Tubigrip (elasticated bandage)
  • Mosquito net
  • Dictionary
  • Map
  • Batteries
  • Anti-malarial tablets
  • Raincoat
  • Hat
  • Sarong
  • Shirt
  • Trainers
  • Flipflops
  • Shorts
  • Skirts
  • Long sleeved shirt
  • Walking boots
  • Vest tops
  • Smart clothes if working
  • Warm jumper
  • T-shirts
  • Jeans possibly
  • Underwear
  • Swimwear
  • Socks
  • Photographs
  • Wedding ring
  • Universal plug


  • Paper and pens
  • Insect repellent
  • Suncream
  • Money belt
  • Visas
  • Insurance documents
  • European Health Insurance Card if in Europe (taken over from E111 Visit www.nhsdirect.nhs.uk for details)
  • Tickets
  • Details of first night’s accommodation
  • Phone numbers and email addresses of friends and family
  • Travel guide/books
  • Alarm clock
  • Small wallet
  • Sunglasses
  • Camera
  • Pack of cards
  • Drivers licence - home and international
  • Money
  • Passport
  • Travellers cheques
  • Credit cards
  • ID cards such as ISIC, YHA etc
  • Passport photos
  • Photocopies and real copies of all your important documentation including vaccinations, insurance details, flight details and doctors notes for any medication
  • MP3 player/radio

Note:- You may not need all of this stuff! For example you may not be camping or be going anywhere where you’ll need walking boots etc.

Some Basic Packing Tips

Pack the heaviest stuff at the bottom and towards the inside of the rucksack (i.e. against your back). Pack the things which you will need most often near the top. Be ruthless. Books are heavy to carry and you can buy them anywhere, likewise toiletries.

If you are planning on going into the Great Outdoors, the experts recommend that you pack the following:

  • Water bottle (with water in it!).
  • Survival knife (Swiss army multi-purpose type).
  • Plastic bags for use as water collectors.
  • Foil rescue blanket for shelter, warmth and as a signalling aid if you get into trouble.
  • Nylon cord for multiple uses.
  • Canvas tape for first aid and repairs.
  • Hand mirror for signalling aid.
  • Waterproof matches.
  • Water purifying tablets.
  • Barley sugar for energy food source.
  • You should also bring a ground sheet and a sleeping bag liner if you are planning on camping. And a tent, obviously!