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Budget Traveler Must-Haves: 8 Essentials for Backpackers

Budget Traveler Must-Haves: 8 Essentials for Backpackers

My husband and I are preparing for much-needed natural get-away this weekend at Cagbalete Island, so it’s time to pack! While the items we bring on every backpacking trip will always depend on the destination itself, there are some things that are just absolutely essential to have with us no matter where we are going to end up. Making sure that we have these specific things along always saves us money, time, and stress—which is always ideal when you’re on vacation! So, for my fellow budget-backpackers, here’s my checklist of essential items to have with you on every trip!

Photo by David Christopher Hizon
Photo by David Christopher Hizon


1. A water-resistant backpack

While having a backpack is a pretty no-brainer part of backpacking, there are many different kinds and styles to choose from. When it comes to travel, you want something that is practical, not necessarily fashionable, although I’m sure there are many out there that are both! For me, the number one quality that I require from a backpack is that it’s made from water-resistant material. Even if you’re not headed for the beach, you never know what’s going to happen along your journey. When you get caught in the rain or have to wade through a river, it’s really reassuring to know that all your clothes and other essentials are going to stay dry and protected.

Image by fir0002 via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-NC 3.0)


2. A headlamp

When you’re away from home and exposed to the mercy of nature’s elements, you’re definitely going to want to have a light source handy. While many may opt to go with a normal flashlight, I prefer a headlamp any day of the week. Having a hands-free source of light that is always pointing in the direction that you’re going can be a life-saver. If you’re exploring a precarious cave or something similar, having an extra hand to catch yourself if you slip just might end up saving you a world of pain. Bonus tip: Go for a headlamp with an LED bulb as they last longer.

Image by Evan-Amos via Wikimedia Commons


3. A pocket knife or multitool

Nature is unpredictable, and it’s pretty much impossible to be prepared for everything, but I still like to try! Having a good pocket knife or multitool always makes me feel safer when I’m surrounded by a forest. Choose one that is small enough to keep in your pocket but still has as many different tools as possible. You never know what you might need—a screwdriver to replace the light in your headlamp, tweezers in case you end up with a nasty splinter, a mini can opener to save space if you’re bringing along canned goods to eat, tiny scissors to cut your sweater loose if you end up snagged on something. All these tools are handy to have pocket-sized versions of!

Image by Francis Flinch via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)


4. A map of your destination

A map is always helpful to have, and we’ve found that they are often surprisingly hard to find when you’re already there. The last time my husband and I took a road trip to Tagaytay, we ended up wanting to explore and drive somewhere else. We spent an hour stopping at different stores in hopes of finding a map, with no luck. When we finally did find one, it was three times as expensive as it would have been back home! We learned our lesson there, and now we make sure to always buy a map of the area we are going to—before we go there! National Book Store is usually a great place to find some inexpensive maps.

Photo by Janessa Abigail Hizon
Photo by Janessa Abigail Hizon

5. A portable mini-cooler

In order to save money, most backpackers bring along their own food. While there are lots of non-perishable options that you could bring (canned food, granola bars, etc), if you’re picky like me, you might prefer bringing something you already cooked at home. If you don’t have a way to keep it from spoiling, though, what’s the point? For this reason, I consider having a miniature cooler to keep perishable items in an absolute necessity for trips that will last more than one day. Just pack it with some frozen water bottles, and you’ll be able to keep your favorite foods fresh for the trip—plus, you’ll have extra water along as an added benefit!

Image by V1ND3M14TR1X via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)


6. Extra socks and shoes

A good rule of thumb for backpackers is to always have two pairs of shoes—one for hiking and trails, and one that you can get wet. A good pair of hiking boots or at least rubber shoes is usually what I wear out the door—they’re perfect for long walks or uphill climbs—but it’s always important to have a backup pair. For me, I usually bring a pair of slippers or something else that I can wear in the water. If you come across a river that you have to wade through or a flooded part of the trail, you’re gonna want a way to keep your good shoes dry. Few things are more uncomfortable than hiking in wet socks and shoes! Since slippers and sandals are so thin and lightweight, it’s easy to just slide a pair in your backpack, just in case.

Photo by Daniel Case via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)


7. Sunscreen, mosquito repellent, and toilet paper

These things seem to be such basic necessities for hikers/campers, but you’d be surprised by how easy it is to forget to bring them! And the worst part about that is when you go to a tourist spot or nature reserve, the sellers often seem to take advantage of this fact by charging extra high prices for essentials like this. Trust me, when you’re hiking up a mountain covered in mosquito bites with sun-burnt shoulders and sudden realize you need to answer nature’s call—you’re going to be full of regret (or carrying a lighter wallet) if you didn’t remember to bring these three things, which you should be able to get at any drug store or supermarket.

Image by KaurJmeb via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5)


8. A pillowcase

A pillowcase? That sounds like kind of a weird thing to call an essential, doesn’t it? But don’t worry, I have a good reason for always bringing a pillowcase along: If you’re going to be camping, or just end up wanting to relax and lay your head down somewhere for a bit, a pillowcase is all you need. No reason to bring actual pillows, they will just take up way too much space—just stuff your extra clothes into the pillowcase, and you’ve got a makeshift pillow to use!  It’s a pretty handy trick when you’re trying to pack light but still want some comfort along your travels.

Image by Fluff Abrahamsson via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)


As someone who has always been in love with nature and has loved to camp, hike, and backpack ever since I was a kid, I’ve learned a lot from my experiences and now that I’m in my 20s, I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of what I absolutely must have when traveling. While the definition of “essential” items for backpacking ranges depending on each person’s needs and preferences, these things are definitely going to be useful for any person to have with them! What do you consider to be essential when you’re going backpacking?

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