The Essential Female Backpacking Packing List

"On a long journey, even a straw ways heavy" Spanish proverb

How does a girl decide what goes into her backpacking packing list? At first I thought to find the biggest backpack and fill it with as many of my material possessions as possible, after all travelling for an extended period of time will throw up all situations! But, after taking advice from many other travellers, I realised that one of the best things about travelling is the opportunity to simplify your life and be free of unnecessary material things one accumulates.

I thought sensibly and selected a fairly small but realistic sized back pack, one which I could comfortably carry across all types of terrain and methods of transport that we will encounter! After all, the last thing you want is to be held back from jumping on that speed boat to the next island or that cheap tuk tuk to the bus station due to a very large and restrictive bag, not to mention having more things to worry about losing!

So here is a summary of my female packing list and how it’s worked out for me! Click here for the male backpacking packing list!

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My Backpacking Packing List

female backpacking packing list
Bags

  • 1 x 40 litre back pack (with a few different compartments to separate shoes from underwear and bikinis for example!)
  • 1 x 18 litre back pack (moderately sized day pack for my daily essentials....passport, purse, phone, camera, kindle, sunscreen, sunhat, sunglasses, scarf, snacks, water)
  • 1 x smaller over-the-shoulder satchel type handbag (really useful for things you need to quickly access without going into your back pack each time e.g. purse, camera, tissues etc but can easily fit into my day back pack when on the move!)

Feet

  • 1 x comfortable walking trainers (I went with non-waterproof breathable Salomons as we’ll be mostly in warm climates)
  • 1 x walking sandals (for longer walks around cities and towns)
  • 1 x nicer brown leather sandals (slightly nicer option to wear out in evening when not walking too far!)
  • 1 x flip flops

Clothes

Starting from the bottom up....

Trousers & shorts

  • 2 x 3/4 length trousers (good for long journeys, trekking and appropriate for visiting temples)
  • 2 x pairs of shorts (also handy to have at least one pair with zip pockets for cash and camera!)
  • 1 x walking trousers (with zip off bottom half as shorts)
  • 1 x pair of jeans (for the rare night out or to look less like a nomad sometimes!)

Dresses & skirts

  • 1 x kaftan (over the swimsuit type dress)
  • 1 x day dress (I went with a black cotton comfortable one)
  • 3 x night dresses (I wanted to feel nice going out for dinner on honeymoon but you probably only need 1 or 2!)
  • 1 x day skirt (neutral colour to go with everything!)

travel packing list

Tops

  • 4 x t-shirts
  • 3 x vest tops
  • 1 x nice top (to wear going out in the evening)
  • 2 x long-sleeved tops (1 which is a light cotton to wear in warm climate)

Cardigans & jumpers

  • 1 x black cardigan (goes with everything!)
  • 1 x nice grey light hoodie (again goes with everything and not too heavy)
  • 1 x fleece (for colder climates....especially Antarctica!)

Jackets

  • 1 x waterproof jacket (with hood)
  • 1 x nice light neutral colour jacket (for cooler climates)

how to pack for a year out

Underwear & PJs

  • 14 x underwear (I recommend small light ones which are quick drying!)
  • 4 x pairs of socks (mixture of trainer ones and slightly thicker walking ones)
  • 3 bras (2 straps and 1 strapless - in hindsight a couple of sports bras would be better than normal bras for the heat and comfort when travelling!)
  • 3 x bikinis (probably only need a couple but I like having the choice!)
  • 1 x shorts & vest top PJs
  • 1 x cotton trouser & top PJs

Other

  • 1 x flexible belt (1 without restrictive holes to fit on every pair of trousers, shorts, dress!)
  • 1 x large scarf or pashmina (very handy for when you need to cover your shoulders when visiting a temple but don’t want to put on a jumper in the heat.  Also good when there is an unexpected tropical rain shower and to cover up from the sun if you’ve forgotten your sunscreen on an outing!)
  • 1 x travel towel (very handy on longer journeys when you just want to wash your face or have an unplanned dip in the sea or swimming pool!)
  • 1 x silk liner (for dodgy looking bed sheets or even just to protect yourself from the mozzies when no bed net is provided!)
  • 1 x sunglasses (inexpensive ones you won’t worry about losing or breaking and can be easily replaced at a local market!)
  • 1 x sunhat
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  • Passport
  • Tickets/booking confirmations (though we haven’t bothered printing many as most accept electronic reference saved on i-phone!)
  • Bring a few passport photos ready for use for visas (something we forgot and had to buy!)
Toiletries
  • 1 x Insect repellent (with 50+ ‘deet’ to fend off the mozzies!)
  • 1 x Toiletry bag (with miniature shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, toothbrush, toothpaste, razors, deodorant stick, linen wash, spare sunscreen, face wipes, face cream)
  • 1 x small make up bag (couldn’t go without my mascara and lipstick of course!)
  • 1 x anti-bacterial hand liquid (very handy to have in your bag to use before meals!)
Medicine
  • 1 x first aid kit (a proper travel one from Tiso for example)
  • Then other essentials such as malaria tablets (need to buy in advance for visits to malaria affected countries you’re visiting - we went for malarone as least side affects though expensive. Good tip is to order from Lloyds pharmacy online and collect)
  • Ibuprofen, aspirin, rehydration tablets or powder, Diarrhea tablets, Savlon cream (to help soothe bites etc) and obviously make sure you get your vaccinations in advance!
 

Electronics Packing List

  • 1 x iPhone & earphones (very handy for iTunes/Spotify for music and for keeping in touch with home via facebook, emails, ‘whatsapp’, ‘viber’, Skype etc - we’ve had no problem finding free wifi in most places so far!)
  • 1 x Nikon D3000 DSLR
  • 1 x kindle (loaded with good books and travel guides!)
  • 2 x plug convertors
  • 1 x travel hairdryer (not essential but chosen as my one ‘luxury' item!)
Other
  • 1 x large compression pack (the key to getting all of this in my 40l backpack as it reduces volume by 50%!)
  • 1 x padlock (for your day pack with your essential items to reduce chance of theft, we recommend a combination lock .
  • 1 x pegless clothes line
  • 1 x eyemask, travel pillow and earplugs (great for those long journeys or noisy A/Cs!)
  • Games (highly recommend Monopoly Deal Card Game and travel Scrabble!)
So that's it, my backpacking packing list! What do you think?  Anything I've missed that you think I need?  Let me know in the comments below!  Interested in what Barry has taken with him? Have a look at his backpacking packing list! Come and learn more about Laura and Barry here!
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42 Responses

  1. Nick Smith
    | Reply

    That’s a great, detailed packing list!

    In my personal opinion, I would consider 4 x t-shirts, 3 x vest tops and 14 x underwear a little excessive.

    Maybe it’s because I’m a boy, but I could easily get by on 3 x t-shirts, 2 x vest tops and 7 x underwear.

    • Laura
      | Reply

      Thanks for the comment Nick! Agree I could get by with slightly less tops, but I’m loving having enough clean underwear for two weeks at a time! Thanks for the feedback :0)

      • julia
        | Reply

        Hi i have a “stupid” question: say you fly somewhere and you bring your 40 backpack. How Do you carry your 2. Small Backpack? Heavy to Wear two backpacks. Hugs Julia

        • Barry
          | Reply

          Hi Julia, good question! We wear the big backpack on our backs, and we put the small back pack on our front with our arms through the straps. It’s comfortable for us, and means we can keep our expensive items in front of us and in sight all of the time. Some people prefer to only have one bag, we prefer two.

          As for flights, we check the 40l bag into the hold of the plane and take the small bag as cabin baggage. Hope that helps!

          • Katie
            | Reply

            Just as tip you can get large backpacks that have smaller ones attached to the front with a zip, so you can get 55l on the back with a 10l on the front, when you don’t need to carry all of it you just have the 10l one or when you going from place to place you just attach it and carry as one :) sell on amazon

            • Barry
              | Reply

              Thanks for the tip Katie, funnily enough Laura has just invested in one like that and we’ll have an updated packing list up in the next couple of weeks! It’s great, do you have one as well?

      • Maria
        | Reply

        Hi Laura,

        I am going on a 3 month trip. Would u recommend a 40L backpack? I wasn’t sure how long your trip was for when u out this list together. Thanks!

        • Barry
          | Reply

          Hi Maria! When we originally put this list together it was for a 1 year trip and numerous different seasons!

          How much you take depends on where you are going, what the weather will be like and what types of activities you are going to do. I would say that a 40l backpack is sufficient for many people for 3 months, but for others they may prefer a 60l. As you’ve probably guessed from our packing lists, we’re not the lightest of packers for our trips, but we don’t mind as we work as we go. You’ll find other packing lists where people take a lot less than us!

          So what I would say is pack as light as you feel comfortable with. You can always buy things on the road, but you might want to make sure you purchase a good backpack, walking shoes and/or sandals before you go and medication. Everything else you can probably get on the road! The less you take the happier you will be when you’re attempting to get off a bus or train at a station, you don’t want a heavy bag at that point!

  2. Gina
    | Reply

    I always have the hardest time with shoes because they take up so much room. Sounds like you got that figured out well. :)

  3. Lizzie
    | Reply

    What brand of compression sack did you use? It seems like a really good idea. :)

    • Barry
      | Reply

      Hi Lizzie! Not sure of the brand to be honest, but I think we only paid about $10 for two. If we were to do it again, we would skip the large compression packs and buy two or three smaller ones – it can be annoying having to open up the big pack to get one thing out!

  4. Ligia
    | Reply

    Perfect packing list! Thanks for sharing!

  5. @Earth2eartha
    | Reply

    This is a pretty good list! I ended up just bringing about 8 pieces of underwear though, but everything else you brought – I think I have on my list as well! Those compression sacks saved my life! Here’s my list if you wanna compare :) http://tinyurl.com/cnbpz8u

  6. Cristen
    | Reply

    Hi.. Great advice!… i got a 40L backpack and I feel much more confident that all of my things will fit.. Did you check you backpack in while flying? If so did you wrap it up or put it in a bag of some sort so the straps would not get eaten on the baggage carosel?
    Thanks
    ~Cristen

    • Barry
      | Reply

      We do check our backpack in but don’t wrap or put it in a bag. All we do is tie the straps on the back together around the two back straps which makes it easier to pickup for baggage handlers and means the straps don’t get caught on anything! Takes about 2 minutes in the airport.

  7. gillian
    | Reply

    Compression packs are a great idea!… this may be a silly question but once opened
    how are they re-compressed, all the ones I have looked at require a vacuum, are there
    specific travel compressors? Any more info would be a great help.

    G.

    • Barry
      | Reply

      Hi Gillian! They are easily re compressed yes, all you need to do is seal the bag closed (kind of like a zip lock) and then squeeze the air out by lying on top of the bag. We’ve used them for a year and they still work now! No need for a vacuum thankfully.

  8. Laura Whelan
    | Reply

    Hi Laura & Barry! Thanks for sharing! Great blog and photos! Backpacking list was exactly what i was looking for! :)

    • Barry
      | Reply

      You’re welcome Laura!

  9. Peppy
    | Reply

    This is a really great list, thanks! I’m trying to choose a backpack for a 3 month trip (possibly longer) and it now seems that 60L bag will be surplus to my needs. Phew! Going to go for the 40+15L option!

    • Barry
      | Reply

      Great! Glad we could help Peppy!

  10. Nwillow
    | Reply

    Hi, Im struggling to find a 40L pack which has the 15l daypack attached to it (Zipped on) , do they come in this form, or did you buy the 2 seperately? ID much rather have them both attached together so theyre easier to carry.

    Wheres the best place to purchase the backpacks?

    Great page btw, with everything i need in one place :)

    • Barry
      | Reply

      We had them separate on purpose, so that we could keep out valuable electronics in front of us in busy markets. Also made it easier when we took our small backpacks onto buses so we could work on our laptops, watch a movie etc!

  11. Anna
    | Reply

    Hi Laura,
    Here it is, my list from my three months in South America: http://annaselundberg.com/2013/08/03/packing-list-for-three-months-in-south-america-what-to-bring-and-what-not-to-bring/
    Thanks again for the inspiration :-)

  12. Shawnel Macdonald
    | Reply

    Thank you so much for this list, it is great! I am going to Africa for two months and then hopefully heading to Southeast Asia for a month after. I have never done travelling to this extent, never mind backpacking! I have read quite a few “Packing Lists” online and a lot of girls bring a lot of shoes! I was just going to buy Keen sandals, because they are hiking shoes, sandals, water shoes etc. so they would fit all the criteria right? I was also thinking of bringing (along with my backpack), a cloth duffle bag (since it would be easy to roll up if i didn’t need it or easy to fill up if a bought things) and a smaller, purse-like bag for the important things (money, passport etc.). Do you think that is a good idea? Also I have seen on a few sites people bringing sleeping bag liners while they are staying in hostels/hotels… is that for if the sheets are gross orrr?

    • Barry
      | Reply

      Hi Shawnel! Sounds like a great trip you have planned, Africa and South East Asia will be great!

      Keen sandels are great for your destinations, we took closed hiking trainers because we were heading to cooler climates but if you are staying in warm climates they should serve you well! For your other bag choices, the simple things you need to think about are: how often will you be using them, and what will you be putting in them? What do you plan to use as a day pack and what will you have inside it? We normally take a small 18l backpack out with us during the day, with water, hats, sunscreen, maybe jackets, guidebook etc so you’ll need something comfortable for the day time.

      As for money and passport, we keep those on our body, not in a bag or purse. We mix it up between zipped pockets or just hidden on our person depending on what we are doing, we don’t ever have those things in our bags just in case.

      The sleeping bag liners are a debatable one – we don’t use them anymore, mainly because the hostels we choose are normally pretty clean. I think we used a liner once in our lives! Plus, depending on where you stay, a lot of hostels dont allow you to use them because (depending on what you believe) they actually transport fleas and other little creatures in the liner!

  13. MissC.87
    | Reply

    Hi Laura,
    I’m thinking of taking a 40 or 45 litre backpack so I can take it on flights and not have to check anything in. Are you able to take your bag on flights? I saw from a previous comment that you check it in. Is that because it can’t be taken on board flights or because you choose not to?
    Thanks.

    • Barry
      | Reply

      HI there, we check our backpacks in because we have larger bags than the 40 to 45 litre bags! Just a personal preference for us – it doesn’t bother us that we have to wait a few minutes to get our bags after a flight, but other people are all for carry on! We choose to take on board our small 18 litre backpacks because thats where we carry our laptops and cameras. The same goes for buses: large backpacks in the hold (nothing of value there) and small backpacks with us on the bus!

  14. Holly
    | Reply

    Might sound like a silly question. But where is ur smaller backpack when ur using the 40lt bag?? Is it folded up inside ? :)

    • Barry
      | Reply

      We normally only use the 40l when we’re moving between cities, so when we do that we put the smaller backpack on our fronts! This is so when we’re on a bus, we can dump the big bag in the hold and not worry about it, and keep all our expensive items (laptop, cameras etc) on us in the bus as we travel in the small backpack.

      Once we arrive, we leave both bags in the room and I take my small backpack with camera in for exploring! Hope that helps!

      • Holly
        | Reply

        Perfect thanx :)

  15. Jenny
    | Reply

    ok this might seem harsh but you could easily half what your carrying. We can all really learn a lot from guys on how to cut down our wardrobe when backpacking especially as we tend to struggle with the excess weight. so i”m going to make a suggestion for following readers on areas i’d advise on cutting weight. i’ve done allot of long term backpacking trips and heavy bulky bags are a nightmare, they wear you down and make it harder for you to spontaneously catch that spare tuck tuck or gondola seat. trust me when i say you need the same for a fortnight trip as 6months if your in hot climates. Wash your cloths as you go every time you get in the shower it should dry overnight if its not to humid. So these are the items i’d hack

    -1 x 18 litre back pack (just use your satchel type handbag, as a girl its more versatile)
    -1 x walking sandals (just use your ‘nicer’ pair but get comfortable nicer pair)
    -1 x flip flops (you’ll only really want them for the beach so buy them as you go if this arises, there so cheap)
    -2 x 3/4 length trousers (just take one pair)
    -2 x pairs of shorts (just take one pair)
    -1 x pair of jeans (jeans are heavy and few travellers ever end up wearing them, if you really like denim for cities opt for denim cutaways (shorts))
    -1 x kaftan (use a sarong its more versatile and means you don’t need your pashmina or scarf )
    -3 x night dresses (just bring one and if possible chose a day dress that can be worn as both)
    -4 x t-shirts (bit excessive, i would only bring two)
    -3 x vest tops (bit excessive, i would only bring two)
    -2 x long-sleeved tops (you right that this is a great item but you only really need one)
    -1 x nice grey light hoodie (cardigan and fleece is enough and jumpers are bulky and weigh quite a bit so its and easy weight saving item to hack)
    -1 x waterproof jacket (unless you really planning to be in wetter climates, monsoon seasons, or mountain trekking. most people are better just picking up a cheep umbrella or a disposable poncho )
    -1 x nice light neutral colour jacket (heavy and bulky just wear your cardigan)
    -14 x underwear (five max, just wash them)
    -3 bras (i agree but definatelly two of these should be shorts bras (one wight, one black works well) and as a girl sometimes its just nice to have one normal bra you feel sexy in)
    -3 x bikinis (2 max)
    -1 x shorts & vest top PJs (just use you day tops (clean obviously, but you should be fine to wear the same tops)
    -1 x cotton trouser & top PJs (just use your day wear if you really want something on your legs)
    -1 x Toiletry bag (ok these are the items i’m not bother with taking- miniature shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash, toothpaste, deodorant stick, linen wash, face wipes, face cream) now these are things you want so what i suggest is if you are travelling with a group don’t duplicate, get full size ones and each take one item, or if you are by yourself consider not bring these with you but buy them once you there, conditioner, body wash, face wash and face cream you really wont want at all. your face will have so much suncream on it when traveling that face creams are a bit redundant, get a two in one shampoo when you get to your destinations each time you arrive and use it as all types of soap (face/cloths cleaner too).
    -1 x small make up bag (get your point but keep it as minimal as possible)
    -1 x Nikon D3000 DSLR (way too bulky and kickable. i’m actually a photographer as a profession and i don’t bother with carrying an SLR unless i’m on the job, a camera is only a tool having a bigger camera wont make you photos much better, travel photos are normally spontaneous so your really not going to be taking advantage of an SLR when its stuck on automatic, just get a good compact camera and if you want your photos to look better concentrate on considering composition and lighting)
    -don’t forget you need your chargers for electrical items so were possible try to own electricales that use the same chargers or else you end up with loads of wires
    -1 x travel hairdryer (ok like you said its a ‘luxury’ item, but if your staying in hotels they normally have them and even better if your staying in hostels the places are normally falling down with all the girls carrying them so just borrow, you normally make loads of friends traveling so this really wont feel weird)
    -Bring a few passport photos is a brilliant suggestion it always catches you out if you forget. also photocopy your passport it comes i handy at the embassy if you lose your passport.

    ok sorry if this sounds mean but i’m just hoping to help readers out so i hope its useful to some people. think of it this way most girls have a huge wardrobe but wear 10% of their cloths 90% of the time same with what we bring backpacking so its best to really thinking about each item before you pack it because you’ll be stuck carrying it. If you are backpacking for a really long time you tend to buy some cloths as you go along. always leave home with decent amount of spare room in you bag and post things home if you find out you don’t need them. I once went travelling with a backpack weighting 3kg for 3 month (asia) yes i was mad but it really was great and i didn’t need more (a lot more was hacked that in this list cull (cloths basically consisted of 2 dresses, sarong, cardigan and one change of underwear)). Good luck and happy travelling.

    • Barry
      | Reply

      Hi Jenny, thanks so much for the detailed comment! You win the prize for longest comment on our blog ever!

      Seriously though thank you for the alternative suggestions on our packing list, they will be very useful for those who like to travel lighter than us. We’re about to embark on our travels again in the coming weeks, so we’ll be posting an updated version of our packing lists and I imagine we will be cutting down on some of the clothing items above so watch this space! Thanks again for commenting!

  16. Anna @ Fitness à la Anna
    | Reply

    Awesome packing list – I am just getting ready to go on a 6 month trek around the world, trying my best to keep my packing list as minimal as possible!
    Anna @ Fitness à la Anna recently posted…12/09 Pics from the Weekend & Fitness for the WeekMy Profile

    • Barry
      | Reply

      Haha good for you Anna! Definitely pack light, we are currently reviewing our list ready for our travels next year to Japan and beyond, we’ll be packing even lighter this time! Have a great trip!

  17. Sarah
    | Reply

    Thanks for your packing list suggestion! Very helpful, although I also packed quite a bit lighter (and didn’t even use all of my clothing). Clothing is very cheap depending on the country–so if you forgot something, it is likely possible to purchase clothes elsewhere.

    The only other suggestion for the women’s packing list would be: tampons. Maybe this was already mentioned, but tampons are almost impossible to find in some parts of the world. And this is especially annoying if you are in a hot, tropical location! ;)

    And tissue. You can usually buy this in country, but then it is useful to take with you on trips away from touristy areas or cities. Most places in the world (at least the few that I have been to) do not usually have toilet paper available/especially in public restrooms.

    • Barry
      | Reply

      A couple of great tips there Sarah – thanks! We due to update our packing lists after the last 2 years of travelling and will add these things in! Thanks again for commenting :0)

  18. Amanda
    | Reply

    A little late to the party, but this list is currently saving my life AND my sanity, as I try to pack for my trip to SE Asia in 15 days!! I like to think I can figure these things out on my own, but sadly, I’d probably end up trying to stuff a pair of heels into my bag if I didn’t find a list that did not include that ;). Thanks again, you rock!

    • Barry
      | Reply

      Haha thanks Amanda, packing can be pretty stressful! And as for the heels, maybe you’ll be invited to some fancy cocktail party and just wish you had a pair ;0) enjoy SE Asia, we love it there!

  19. Rachel
    | Reply

    Great list and good call on the 40 litre rucksack! I’m considering investing in something around the 45-55L mark for my next trip, as I get too tempted to over-pack with my 70 litre one. I’m also thinking I could probably get by with 2 bikinis rather than 3, but I use travel detergent a lot when I’m travelling, so I don’t have to take as many clothes! Other than that I think the clothing list is spot on really :)

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