How to Prepare for Your First Backpacking Trip (list and tips)

hiking backpackPreparing for your first backpacking trip may seem overwhelming or intimidating at first. You have a lot of questions like:

  • Where should I go?
  • What should I pack?
  • How do I pack light?
  • How do I make sure I stay safe?

You likely have many more than that, and I promise I will address all of them.

So how do you prepare for your first backpacking trip?

To prepare for your first backpacking trip you will need a list of essentials gathered from trusted site and a list of non-essentials that you will want to take. This is the most vital step for a new hiker as you are more likely to not think of something essential since you are just starting and do not yet have the experience to know what is important.

Here’s what we will cover to get you prepared for your trip.

Planning Ahead

There are a few things you need to plan out before you run off to backpack around the world. If you leave without knowing what you are doing and what you need, you could find yourself in some serious trouble.

Knowing Your Route

Detailing out where you will be going is vital to every aspect of your trip. Why? Every place you go will have its own climate, rules and laws to follow, and weather conditions that you may need to prepare for. You also need to figure out whether you will be backpacking solely in nature, only in cities, or a mix of the two. This is crucial when it comes to how your packing list should be implemented.

Gathering Proper Documentation

If you are thinking about leaving the country, the first thing you will need is a passport. Without it, you will not be going anywhere. Make sure to fill out the proper forms and have a photo taken a while before your departure date; a passport can take a while to be approved.

If you do not have any other identification, get it. This is for your own safety in other countries. If you get lost or have a medical emergency, the authorities will know who you are and can contact the right people.

Getting Insurance

Most backpackers strongly recommend getting travel insurance. What is travel insurance? It is a plan you buy that will ultimately protect you from any mistakes. These “mistakes” include lost luggage (if you are flying and your backpack has to be checked) or even something as serious as a medical emergency you face abroad.

Your insurance will not cover anything you could have easily prevented, so keep that in mind. Purchase a plan based on your own needs; there is no reason to buy the highest tier plan if you don’t absolutely need it.

Notifying Important People

Anything can happen when you strike out on your own. You will not likely be in danger, but in case you might be, tell the important people in your life where you are going and keep them updated while you are on your backpacking trip. This will put their minds at ease and help them know who to call if you get hurt.

Give them your number, and get theirs in return. You can use it if your phone dies and you need a payphone instead. If you get hurt, your ID and the contact list will help officials get in touch with the people you care about.

Backpacking Packing List

Obviously, some of what you pack will vary based on your location and what you plan to do. However, there are a few necessities you should get to save yourself a lot of trouble later.

  • Backpack

Duh! You can’t be a backpacker if you don’t have one. The reason this is even being mentioned is because there are several you can get depending on your needs. This should be a starting point for your search.

  • For Surviving the Weather

No matter where you go, you will likely need a backpack that shields all of your material from the elements and especially rain. Some of the things you should be carrying will be electronic, and you have to keep them dry for them to function. Here is one example of a highly recommended waterproof backpack. According to reviewers, it is roomy and extremely water resistant!

For Tech Lovers

Backpacking from hostel to hostel in cities around the world gives you an opportunity to use your laptop, tablet, or eReader. This backpack was made with you in mind. There are special pockets that are the perfect size for a laptop or Kindle. It has room for all of your other necessities as well!

  • For the Avid Hiker

Some of you first-time backpackers are staying outdoors and away from the hustle and bustle of city life. In that case, you need a backpack that serves your specific situation. Whatever you choose should still be able to hold up against the elements, but there are more features for hikers and adventurers that others just don’t have. This one is unisex, and it is one of the most highly rated available.

  • Hammock

If you fall into the “outdoorsy” category of backpackers, you should have something more portable and lightweight than a tent to sleep in. Hammocks are generally a safe choice, as long as you learn how to string one properly. Read the exact specifications of the hammock that you choose to ensure that it will fit your size and hold up under your weight. If you do not know how to string up a hammock, it’s easy to learn!

Check out this tutorial for tips and a list of what you will need. If you can find a spot to practice before you go, do that.

  • Clothes

This goes without saying, right? Everyone needs clothes when they go backpacking. What you probably didn’t know was exactly what you need and how many clothing items you should have.

  • Weather Appropriate Clothing

This is where being informed about the climate conditions and weather forecasts ahead of time comes in handy. Pack items that you know will keep you comfortable. For cold climates, get one good coat that will fit in your pack and shield you from the elements. You don’t need a bunch of bulky layers if you have that.

  • Sturdy and Stylish

When you go backpacking, you can’t carry your entire wardrobe with you. Have sturdy clothes that can take a lot of wear and tear. For the hiker, you need high-quality boots that won’t fall apart after your third rough trek. Those wearing jeans need pairs made of rugged denim that won’t rip if you take a tumble.

  • Washable Clothes

You may be wondering how on earth you will keep your few outfits clean after weeks or months of backpacking. You would be lucky to find a laundromat, and you don’t exactly want to carry around a ton of quarters to pay with. That is why you need a portable washing bag! The Scrubba Wash Bag is tiny, but it gets the job done! It’s fairly simple to use, too. Follow these steps and everything will be good as new!

  • Step One: Fill with water, cleaning liquid, and clothes
  • Step Two: Roll up the bag
  • Step Three: Deflate the bag
  • Step Four: Rub the bag to work in the soap
  • Step Five: Rinse with fresh water

If you need to dry the clothes quickly, they also have a convenient drying towel for purchase. For more in-depth information, visit their site here.

  • Quality Over Quantity

You are packing light, so keep in mind that you do not need an outfit for every day you’ll be gone. That’s what the wash bag is for. According to other backpackers, you need very little based on a week’s worth of clothes.

  • Two pairs of pants at most will suffice. It seems extreme, but how many could you possibly need?
  • Two pairs of shorts if you are in a warmer climate.
  • Five pairs of underwear. This is just something you should not ever skip. This is acceptable because underwear is generally small and easy to roll up.
  • One sunhat to protect your scalp and shade your eyes for those people backpacking across hot and sunny countries.
  • Sunglasses for protecting your eyes. You don’t even have to put them in your bag; just hang them around your neck or on your shirt for safekeeping when you are not using them.

More Clothing Tips

Travel experts and seasoned backpackers have a few tips in mind for you that will make choosing clothes much easier than you would have initially thought.

  • Buy moisture wicking clothes. They dry faster and keep you from feeling soggy and sweaty while hiking.
  • Find things with versatile fabrics. If it stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter, take it based on where you are going.
  • People in really warm climates should stick to something light and breezy for comfort. Light materials are also easier to pack!
  • Clothing items can have multiple purposes; take advantage of that. Bring things you can layer and pieces you could use on any occasion.
  • Wear darker clothing. Stains are better hidden on black clothes, and you can wear them for longer without anyone noticing.
  • backpacking in the woods
  • Sleeping Bag

Whether you are roughing it or staying in a hostel, bringing a sleeping bag is never a bad idea. You’ll be comfortable, and you won’t have to lug along a blanket or sheets. SInce you are backpacking, you plan to travel light. Not all sleeping bags are bulky. This one, for instance, weighs only a little over 1 lb. It zips open for more comfort in warmer climates and closes up for those braving the cold. This is just one example of many you can choose from, so do not let the price of this model discourage you if you are trying to be more budget friendly!

  • Reusable Items

For a more eco-friendly experience that will save you a lot of money, buy reusable things for your backpacking adventure instead. As an added bonus, one item is much easier to pack than several!

  • Water Bottle

Reusable water bottles are incredibly useful, and there are some that can stand up to long term backpacking trips. They are affordable, easy to clean, and will keep you adequately hydrated no matter where you are.

  • Menstrual Cups

For the ladies out there planning their own trip, there is no need to sweat over having enough tampons. Menstrual cups are environmentally friendly, comfortable, and cheaper than buying boxes of Kotex every month. You can wear them for up to 12 hours, unlike the other hygiene products on the market. Menstrual cups lower the risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome as well. To learn more about them, visit this website.


Some of you may not need everything on the list, but there are a couple that any backpacker should have to avoid trouble.

Phone/Phone Charger

Your phone is not just for entertainment; it is a crucial survival tool. Without it, you can’t contact emergency services, you can’t get in touch with your family members if you need them, and you will have a harder time finding your way around without your GPS. Some phones also have flashlights attached, so that could be one tool you’ll save money on.

Phone chargers are just as important because, without one, you will obviously be without your only tool for contacting the outside world. People staying in hotels and hostels can just bring a regular charger, but those of you getting away from it all need something that does not require an electric outlet. Solar powered portable chargers exist, and they work quite well! Here is one you should consider for your backpacking trip.

  • Kindle/Nook

Taking an eReader with you can be a lifesaver. While you wait in airports, bus stations, train stations, etc., you can get lost in several good books without taking up all of your valuable space with paper copies.

  • Laptop/Laptop Charger

If you are working remotely while you travel, you may need your laptop to do so. Don’t count it out! Your waterproof backpack will keep it safe, and you will be able to get everything you need done at a place with WiFi hotspots.

  • Camera

You are going on the adventure of a lifetime, so why not document it? Many smartphones have great cameras, but you should probably save your battery life for more important things. Bring your camera with you! No, it doesn’t have to be some fancy Nikon to take wonderful photos. GoPros are designed for this type of thing specifically! They can take a lot of damage and still work perfectly, unlike your typical camera. Some models are also water resistant. You are getting a great deal for the price, and the compact size won’t hinder you from packing everything else you need.

  • Toiletries

Traveling light is not an excuse for ditching your hygiene products. To accommodate all of your needs, toiletries now come in travel sizes. You can buy them at your local WalMart or Target for really low prices. What you’ll need:

  • Travel size toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Mini deodorant
  • Mini shampoo, conditioner, and body wash
  • Travel towel
  • Facial cleansing pads

If you need anything else, you will likely be able to find it in a backpack friendly size as well. When you have your materials gathered, you will want something to carry them in instead of just throwing them in your backpack. You can find tons of travel bags made for cosmetics and toiletries just about anywhere! Put them in a safe spot and organize your pack for an easier time later.

  • Sewing Kit

Learn how to sew simple stitches. You can repair anything you need to if you rip your clothes with a travel-size sewing kit in your backpack.

  • First Aid Kit

Having one of these is absolutely vital. If you need to sacrifice something else to fit it in your bag, do it with no hesitation. These kits keep minor injuries from growing into something worse. What should you have in it, though? I’ll tell you.

  • Your medicines or an EpiPen for allergies. If you take medicine, bring it with you. Do not risk your health for the sake of a vacation. You want to come back eventually, don’t you?
  • Bandages and ointment. These will cover any scrapes, cuts, or burns you have to keep the wounds from getting infected. The ointment will do the same, but it is best to use them in conjunction with each other. Waterproof bandages are the best in terms of durability and sealing off a wound.
  • Antiseptic wipes. Your hands need to be absolutely clean before treating a wound to protect it from infection. Keep some antiseptic wipes around for any situation that may arise.
  • Pain relievers and fever reducers. Pills like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are great for reducing your discomfort and bringing down a high body temperature.
  • The products mentioned above are the most basic medical essentials, but there are a lot more you should consider packing. Find them here.

A tip: you can buy pre-stocked first aid kits from your local drug store or online. They come in all manner of sizes for anyone in any situation. The key here is just to remember that you need one that will help you out if you get injured.

woman with hiking backpack

How to Optimize Your Packing Space

Everything needs to fit just right if you plan to bring everything you can on this list. Throwing things in loosely and hoping for the best won’t work, I can guarantee that. All great backpackers know that optimizing your space is the only way to fit in all the items you need and want to bring. Here are some tips that may help you out:

  • The clothing you pack should have multiple purposes. A sundress could double as a coverup on the beach. Hiking sandals like Chacos can be used on the trails or just touring a new city. You will pack half of what you originally planned while still having an outfit for every occasion.
  • Fold everything up and small as you can and have them face vertically instead of horizontally. You will be able to see exactly what you have without taking the contents of your bag out each time you need a shirt.
  • Roll up your socks and underwear and put them inside your shoes to utilize the pocket space for other things.
  • Only have two pairs of shoes, and pack different kinds. You don’t need two pairs of boots. Instead, pack boots and sandals or boots and tennis shoes. You’ll have a versatile wardrobe on the go without overpacking.
  • If you aren’t staying in a remote location, buy your toiletries when you get to where you are going. This also gives you room for anything else you may want to take.
  • Lay out everything you think you need, and then take only half of it. It sounds crazy, but it helps you prioritize what is really vital and what can be left at home. Doing this frees up some space for souvenirs you may want to buy later.
  • Download your travel guides on your Kindle or phone instead of carrying one of each around. You will also look less like a tourist which makes you not as prone to being scammed out of your money by a thief or vendor.
  • Clip your water bottle to the outside straps of your backpack so that it is not taking up precious real estate inside.
  • Try not to have anything bigger than a carry-on. It will ultimately be lighter, and you shouldn’t have to worry about lost luggage at the airport.
  • Anything you can buy in solid or powder form when it comes to toiletries is better in the long run because it is less messy and usually more compact.
  • If you don’t have room for something heavy like a coat, just bring a lot of lighter and more compact things to put on and layer them as it gets chilly. As an alternative, you could tie it around your waist. This may limit your mobility, though.

Safety Tips

Your backpacking trip should be fun and exciting, but you need to keep your own safety in mind while you are out there getting lost in a new adventure. If you don’t, things will turn sour pretty fast.

  • Keep a first aid kit on you at all times. It would be pretty hard not to, seeing as how everything you own will be on your back. Just do not forget it at home. It was on the packing list for a good reason! Most minor injuries can be treated with what you have in it.
  • Get every immunization you need to fight off foreign diseases and viruses if you plan to be backpacking abroad. Talk to your doctor about where you are going, and they will recommend the best course of action. Skipping this step could potentially be fatal, as you are not immune to diseases you have never been exposed to.
  • Pay with your card more than paper money. You could become a target for theft if someone sees you waving bills about. If you need to keep cash on you, have it in small amounts.
  • Have your important documents and your money in sight 24/7. The problem with going to other countries is that sometimes, those places have a problem with pickpockets. If you are not careful, you could lose your ID card and all your money without knowing until it is too late. That being said, keep your things in a waterproof pouch. Weather conditions are just as much of a concern as theft. Your passport could be ruined if it falls into the water or gets rained on. These documents and your currency are what make your trip possible. Without them, you would be completely stranded.
  • Get that travel insurance I talked about in the “Plan Ahead” section. Have proof of insurance with your other documents so that if anything goes awry, you can get help and resume your journey as soon as possible.
  • When setting up a hammock, you need to really scrutinize your surroundings. Never string your hammock over rocks or steep hills. If you fall, you could be seriously injured and incapacitated. Your first aid kit probably would not be much help in that event. Look at the trees you are attaching the straps to. If they look unstable, thin, or rotted, find somewhere else to set up! Falling branches and trees are no joke. It is better to be safe than sorry.

As long as you use a little common sense, everything should go smoothly!


That was a lot easier than you feared it would be, isn’t it? You don’t have to agonize over what to pack. You can spend all of that extra time reading up on what you are going to do in your chosen locations! Everything will go smoothly because you’re informed about the weather patterns; a little rain can’t stop you now!

Relax, have fun, and take plenty of photos for your friends and family back home on your backpacking trip. Send them a postcard if you can, and pack something small for yourself on the way home. You have all the space in the world if you followed the packing tips! Let no minute go to waste. Get out there and start your adventure!

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Rickie Arms

Hi, I'm Rickie Arms, owner of Glampingorcamping.com. I am so invested in writing the best and most informative articles for you that I went out and bought a travel trailer just so I could write about it for you. I spend just about all of my off time both camping and glamping so I can share everything I have learned and will learn with you. I have spent my whole life camping and over the last 10 years, I have spent a large amount of time checking out glamping experiences with my wife and kids as well. Thank you for coming by and we hope to see you back here getting great information in the future. Rick Arms-

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