Top Ten Backpacker Essentials: The Gear to take you around the World

It’s called backpacking for a reason baby, because everywhere you go you have a pack on your back. The trick is when you carry your life on your back you can’t bring all the conveniences of home with you, on the contrary you’re going to need the bare essentials. But when going from a lot to a little sometimes you need guidance to narrow it all down, well lucky for you I’ve created a simple little starter list.

1. Water Bottle

Water Bottles

A good water bottle has many advantages, but the main one is your health. The number one way travelers get sick is dehydration, but if you have a good quality water bottle handy then you need worry not. Get yourself something good quality, durable, metal or heavy grade plastic like a Nalgene, and definitely get something that has the least amount of chance of leakage, because you don’t want to reach in your bag for a sip and find your liquid all over your laptop and passport. Bonus: refilling a water bottle is more environmentally friendly than tearing through plastic single use ones. If you don’t kill the Earth you get to travel on her longer. Hippy moment over. 

2. Multi-tool

This is the multi-tool I carried until it was stolen at the Vietnam Airport, DAMN YOU!! It was great while I had it.
This is the multi-tool I carried until it was stolen at the Vietnam Airport, DAMN YOU!! It was great while I had it.

A multi-tool is like a swiss army knife on steroids. It has the ability to become a saw, a knife, a can-opener, a screwdriver, a needle nose pliers, even a wire cutter. Mine  has come in handy many times. I recommend getting one about 5-6 inches long, you don’t want anything too big, we’re trying to keep it small remember.  Also, invest in good quality, I had a Gerber that worked fantastic and ran me about $50, but if you have expendable income you could get something even nicer like a Leatherman. Spending the extra money is worth it, because if you do buy a cheapy $10 made in China one, yes it will work for a while, but in a short period of time it will dull and break, and nothing is more annoying than having to buy the same thing twice when you didn’t have to or needing it in a far away place and being shit outta luck. Remember what saved the guy in 127 Hours? A multi-tool. Bang, worth proved, discussion over.

3. First Aid Kit

This is about the size and contents of my first aid kit, pretty solid.
This is about the size and contents of my first aid kit, pretty solid.

This is pretty self-explanatory, life throws lots of curve balls, so be prepared. Again, try to keep it small though, try not to buy a giant first aid kit that is the size of it’s own suitcase. First aid travel essentials you will use the most are bandages, Neosporin, antihistamines, Imodium/diarrhea medicine (this is a must), and aspirin/Tylenol. Ladies, you may want to throw in some tampons, because on the road in a 3rd world country it’s always a gamble if you can find them. Also, customize your first aid kit. While store bought first aid kits are pretty solid, they are always missing a little something, so check em out and add a few things you might need; for example chapstick or lip balm.

4. Toilet Paper

This is probably too much t.p.
This is probably too much t.p.

I cannot stress this one enough, especially if traveling through China, you are never ever guaranteed the TP.  Let’s face it, you eat weird stuff on the road, and if natures screaming you don’t want to get stuck in a bathroom with chocolate milkshake butt and no means to “rectify” the situation. Always have either a small roll of TP or a pack of tissue. You’ll thank me for this one day, but before you thank me wash your hands. 

5. Good Quality Backpack

My glorious backpack, how I've come to love you.
My glorious backpack, how I’ve come to love you.

Of all the things to save money on this is not the one.  Your backpack is like your baby, you carry all of your belongings, more bluntly, your life in it and you want it to last. Take the time to go try a few on, find out the brands that last and what makes a backpack a good fit for you. Don’t go nuts though, a goliath backpack isn’t going to give you anything more than an extra 50 kilos on your back and a pain in your ass and you don’t want to feel like a pack mule. For myself I purchased a Gregory Baltoro 75 and so far so good.

6. Power Converter

I have this universal power adapter, he's been good to me.
I have this universal power adapter, he’s been good to me.

This is crucial, you’re not in Kansas anymore bub and this is thing that will be the difference between you using your phone, shaver, or computer, or being a caveman again.  As you may have guessed other countries use different power connectors, so a good universal converter that can cost you anywhere from $2-$12 will save many a day.

7. Condoms

This could be you. Wrap your tool.
This could be you. Wrap your tool.

Didn’t see this one coming I’m sure, but in Asia especially they don’t make condoms that are, shall we say, Western sized.  So unless you want to run the risk of a busted condom or a condom that doesn’t fit at all and the chance of bringing home a souvenir you don’t want like an STD or an illegitimate child, then you definitely need to stock up before you go over seas.

8. Deodorant

Fabio knows whats up.
Fabio knows whats up.

This was a surprise for me, but in Asia, even in developed countries like South Korea, you are going to have a hell of a time finding deodorant. They just don’t use it so make sure you pack a few sticks before your journey or you won’t be faking the funk on a nasty dunk, you probably won’t even be able to dunk, so you’ll just be straight up funky.

9. Emergency Documents

A mattress will be too big to pack, so think of somewhere else to hide your money.
A mattress will be too big to pack, so think of somewhere else to hide your money.

There are specifically three emergency documents you need. The first is passport photocopies, because if you lose your passport, which I’ve seen happen more than once, having a photocopy will help fast track your embassy into getting you a new one. Second, passport photos are a must, the more the better especially if you are planning on hitting multiple countries. At borders when you get visas, even when I got my paperwork to trek in Nepal, I need passport photos, and if you don’t have them it can really set you back. Third, it’s not really a document, but you need to have emergency money and in USD. The idea of getting robbed or losing a purse sucks, but having a back-up plan is a great idea. The US dollar is the way to go as well, because even though the value has diminished it is still the golden currency of the world and is accepted/preferred almost everywhere. Remember, the key to emergency money is a good hiding spot. I like to hide my money….psych, I’m not going to tell you where I hide my money, find your own damn hiding spot.

10. Smart Phone

Lonely planet is now on your smart phone, digga damn.
Lonely planet is now on your smart phone, digga damn.

I’m always the last to get on the trend train and I hate carrying around crap I don’t need, especially technology, because it is usually dense and heavy. But I can’t tell you how invaluable I’ve seen smart phones become in the global community. It provides you a watch and an alarm, you can make phone calls simply by buying the countries local sim card, or even better you can download a Skype app and talk for free. You have calendars and agenda programs in your phone like the iCal app on the iPhone.  The applications you can download alone are priceless. For instance money converter apps to help you stay on budget. GPS and map apps that can give you directions and help you find your way when you are lost. Other great apps are translation apps where you can find a phrase in English like, “Where is the Bathroom?” and the phone can literally say it for you in Mandarin or Russian.  Also, smart phones provide you internet access wherever there is wifi which has limitless positive possibilities to aid you in travel. Even Lonely Planet has a smart phone app and country guides. Last but certainly not least, having a smart-phone eliminates the need to carry around a camera and with applications like Instagram you can take pictures of exotic locations in a bunch of different filters.  Basically, the smart phone has become the new must have travel device and I can’t deny it’s worth.

There it is, ten really great things to have when you are traveling that can bail you out out of heaps of trouble and help you maximize the badassness of your adventure.  Now all you have to do is finish packing and hit the road, onward traveler!         

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  • Vanessa

    Posted on July 05, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Awesome list! Bringing your own condoms are an absolute must. Even if you have no intention for on-the-road hanky panky, you never know when you might help a friend out and you can always donate them to a health centre before you leave. In a lot of developing countries there are a lot of barriers (get it?) for accessing reliable, high quality condoms.

    • Stephen

      Posted on July 09, 2013 at 1:07 am

      Yeah, no doubt the condom situation was a surprising one overseas. Donating them to a health center is an awesome idea! Thanks Vanessa!

  • Rahul

    Posted on October 08, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Hello stephen smile
    wow, you have covered almost every tiny thing a backpacker have to in his knapsack ! I must say, you nailed it

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