5 Essential Items for Backpack Travel

5 Essential Items for Backpack Travel

If you’re curious which items are your absolute essentials for backpack travel, you’re in the right place.

The following 5 items are items that Brian and I used regularly and were so glad we brought with us on our seven month backpacking trip in Central America.

Here are 5 essential items for your next backpack travel adventure (in no particular order):

  1. Travel towel

    Travel towels are absolutely vital! Most hostels either don’t provide towels, or charge an additional fee to rent one. Additionally, if you don’t bring a travel towel with you, you will not be able to find a lightweight, compact, quick-drying, ultra absorbent one. Normal towels are pretty easy to find in stores, but it won’t be the type of material that is ideal for backpacking. We love these travel towels from Sunland that have loops attached and come with a handy carry case.

  2. Reusable water bottle

    Do you enjoy polluting Mother Earth with unnecessary plastic waste? No? Then bring a reusable water bottle. Otherwise, you’ll be buying copious amounts of plastic water bottles and tossing them after using them once. In places where tap water is not safe to drink, many accommodations have a water jug where you can fill your water bottle, sometimes for a small fee. If you need to purchase water, it is much more cost efficient to purchase a large jug, then fill your (and your friend’s!) reusable water bottle. Brian and I bring our Hydroflask water bottles everywhere – great for keeping cold drinks cold and hot drinks hot. 

  3. Padlock

    A padlock is something that we’re SO glad we were told to bring. If you plan on staying in any shared room accommodations during your backpacking trip, definitely bring one with you. The vast majority of hostels have lockers, but very few provide locks. We love combination padlocks like these because you don’t have to worry about keeping track of a key (just be sure to make a safe note of your combo!). Additionally, it is a good idea to bring a smaller, thinner luggage lock as well – we’ve stayed at several hostels with lockers that had holes too small for our standard combination padlocks to fit through. At these times, we were very glad we also brought small luggage locks to keep our valuables secure.

  4. Packing cubes

    Packing cubes are CRUCIAL if you value organization like we do! It is so helpful to be able to compartmentalize your stuff. When you reach into your pack, being able to know exactly where certain items are makes all the difference. Packing cubes save us so much time and energy. This is one item I wouldn’t go traveling without! We use these TravelWise packing cubes. They are cheaper than most packing cubes, but they work just fine and help us stay neat and organized while on the road. Eagle Creek is a widely recommended brand for packing cubes of a slightly higher quality.

  5. Collapsible backpack

    A collapsible backpack is super helpful for packing minimally. You’ll definitely want to bring a smaller day pack with you. Some backpackers choose to bring a full day pack in addition to their larger main pack, but Brian and I didn’t want to bring that much stuff. Instead, we both brought smaller backpacks that we could easily fit inside our large packs. I brought a small backpack I already had, and Brian purchased this collapsible lightweight pack from Outlander. It is a great price, and packs into its own little pocket. Brian says this was one of the best purchases he made prior to our trip – he used it just about every single day. 


All in all, your packing list will vary depending on your planned activities and destinations, desired type of travel, and the purpose of your trip.

Do your research. Seek advice, plan ahead, and you will have no problem being completely prepared.

Remember, you will be carrying everything with you from place to place, so be sure to pack as lightly as possible. Additionally, you will be able to buy most basic items in stores/markets if necessary. Aim to only bring what’s necessary, and try not to bring anything “just in case.”

A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if you will be using the item more than 50% of the time. If the answer is no, leave it at home!

Did we miss something that should be on this list? Please comment and share your essential items below!

Happy travels!

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