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Backpacking Southeast Asia – What To Pack

So you’ve decided to backpack Southeast Asia (fantastic decision). You are going to have everything you need on your back and that can sometimes be a little daunting. The most common reaction is to get the biggest bag you can think of (60/70 L). Then to fill up this bag with clothes that you probably won’t end up using or, even more likely, things that you wish you did not have just for the sake of the weight on your back. The amount of articles telling you what to pack on your SE Asia backpacking extravaganza is overwhelming, and mostly focused on women, but I’m here to give you a nice little summary of what the most important things to keep in mind are when beginning to pack.

The glorious finished product

The Backpack

Probably the most important purchase you will make in your backpacking career (no pressure). Those amazon and Wal-Mart packs sure do look nice with the $20 price tag next to them. Please don’t do it. Please. (please). The sooner you accept the fact that you will most likely be spending around $100 the easier this will be. The second hurdle is coming to terms with the fact that 40L is as big as you need. This one was awfully hard for me. I looked at the 40 L and thought to myself that I would pack more than that for a weekend on the beach. But I didn’t pay any attention to myself and bought a 40 L bag anyway, on the advice of many more seasoned backpackers. It is very important to remember that no matter how long you go, you are packing for a week (maybe a week and a half). There are opportunities to do laundry everywhere, and more importantly really really cheap ones. The final step is to choose an actual bag (brand and model) and make the purchase. Easiest way to do this is go to an REI store and try some bags on (with weight in them) and purchase the one that feels right. Also, size is very important and they’ll take care of that in store. It’s going to hurt your wallet a bit, but spend the money and your back, your feet, and your travel buddy (won’t have to listen to you complain every day) will thank you.

I have this (seemingly) tiny bag… What do I put in it!?

The Essentials

 This kind of depends on your plans but also kind of doesn’t. It is going to be hot and it is going to be humid = you are going to sweat like never before. In my opinion the number one priority should be sweat-wicking, or dry fit shirts so you don’t have to wring out your shirt every ten minutes. After you have some of those think the same for shorts, so bring some active wear shorts. With this heat comes just as much sunshine – bring a hat! Guess what else this wonderful region has an excessive amount of… Mosquitoes! It is for this reason that I would highly recommend bringing some hiking pants (because let’s be honest you are going to hike) that will protect you from mosquitoes but that ideally zip into shorts. Also, a long sleeve dry fit or hiking shirt would be great. Mosquito repellant can only do so much. Oh, and it rains. The funny part is that it will still be a million degrees while it rains so find a light rain jacket because if not you’ll get the same amount of wet except it’ll be a tad bit more salty!

The not so essentials but still bring

Bring some t-shirts but always keep in mind a very important piece of information: “clothes in most (sans Singapore) of SE Asia is dirt cheap.” Don’t have space? Don’t worry about it for a second! Chances are you’ll like the local clothes and buy some regardless! Anyway, still pack some T-shirts (not your favorite shirts cause chances are they won’t make it back). When in Thailand, go party. That’s a saying, right? I’m not sure how fancy you will want to get but no one enjoys wearing pants in 1000% humidity…just leave them at home. I like bringing one nice pair of shorts and one nicer-than-everything-else-I-packed shirt, just in case. This might limit your rooftop, stylish-chic dress code escapades but you’ll be alright.

Non-clothes things that are kind of convenient

One of my favorite things to have is a nice daypack. Not too big but big enough so that I can carry everything I need for a day out and about. This will take up a lot of room in your bag but you can always tie it to the bottom like you would a tent! A portable charger will come in handy more than you can think. On a 12 hour bus ride and your phone runs out of battery…disaster (or not, also bring a book). A rain cover for your bag is also very important, the worst thing that can happen is for everything in your bag to get wet. Have I mentioned the mosquitoes? I don’t think I mentioned my hatred for them though. If anything, just stuff your bag with bug repellant. If you happen to despise these little things as much as I do then look into Premetherin. A dry sack to stuff any electronics in if you get stuck in a rain storm is a nice thing to have. A towel that dries fast, money well spent.

Shoes… or no shoes?

Shoes are big. They are even bigger when you are a size 12… I am a strong proponent of needing nothing more than a pair of Chacos. Going hiking? Chacos. Going to roam the city? Chacos. Going out? Rock the Hipster look. Sure, shoes would do a fine job but what about when it inevitably rains and they take forever to dry. Or what about when it’s a thousand degrees and you end up walking in a sweat puddle. This can be solved by taking some nice lightweight shoes and a pair of sandals, but why bother. That is just my opinion though, and there is nothing wrong with taking more than just Chacos.

Parting thoughts and what I packed

That should be good enough to get you rolling and in the mindset of packing for this adventure. Obviously, I did not mention everything (yes bring bathroom essentials and underwear) but I think I mentioned everything necessary to build your pack. The keyword there being “YOUR”. Don’t go off a list and pack exactly what it says, everyone puts an emphasis on different things and that’s perfectly fine. Now saying that here is a list of what I packed:

Laying it all out helps you get a packing plan of action



• Rain Jacket
• Long pants that unzip to shorts
• Two active hiking shorts
• Athletic shorts that double as pijamas
• Long sleeve hiking shirt
• 4 dry fit-y shirts
• 4 normal t shirts
• 2 tanks
• 8 underwear
• Hat
• 2 Bandanas
• Fancy pants + shirt (I was dragged into this and am ditching it within the first week)
• Chacos

Bathroom stuff

• Deodorant
• Hand sanitizer
• Toothpaste etc
• Shampoo/soap
• Homemade first aid kit
• Contacts etc


• Portable charger
• Headphones
• Camera
• Ipad
• GoPro
• Charging cables


• Rain cover
• Towel
• Bug repellant
• UV water filter
• Dry sack
• Collapsible Water bottle
• Journal
• Locks (2)
• Travel Documents
• Day pack


Disclaimer – I will come back and update this once I finish my backpacking trip. It sounded like I was an expert though… let’s see how much I edit when I get back! :p

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