So you did it, you booked the flight! Your dreams are coming true right before your very eyes. After all this time spent fantasizing and going through your day to day with wanderlust, it’s actually happening. You’re going to backpack Southeast Asia.
You can picture yourself now, splashing in the water with the elephants in Thailand or even hanging out in Ha Long Bay in Vietnam. Yeah, this is going to be great. And that’s when it hits you. BAM like a ton of bricks. What in the world am I going to pack?
Backpacking sounded like heaven on earth, until you’re slammed with the realization that you now have to make some every real decisions about what’s important and what’s just extra weight.
Well don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place. I’ve complied for you the Men’s Packing Guide For Southeast Asia. Now first let me say that is by no means a perfect list, everyone is different. If you’re a backpacking pro then you might have a few things that you wouldn’t leave without that I personally don’t bring.
You might also find a few things here that you wouldn’t be caught dead with. That’s okay, and by all means leave a comment at the bottom, backpacking is all about meeting people and sharing tips and tricks. This list is simply the things that work best for me.
First, how long will you backpack for?
Another major factor to keep in mind is time. How long are you going to be backpacking for? If you’re only going for a week or two then that’s great, but the things you choose to bring are going to be a little different. This list is intended for people going for more than a month or so. Jess and I spent five months in Southeast Asia last time, and these are the things I had.
Note: This post does contain affiliate links, which means if you purchase something through one of our links we may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you, of course!)
55-65 Liter Backpack – I found this backpack to be good. Not too big yet not too small. Invest the money and be sure to buy a quality backpack, here is one great example. Regardless of how long you backpack for, make sure it has a rain cover.
27-35 Liter Backpack – You will need a smaller day pack to hold your things while your are out for the day, as well as for keeping your valuables in while moving to the next city/country. Most backpackers wear it on their front while their larger backpack is on their back. Be sure this one also has a rain cover.
Compression Bags – You’re going to want to save as much space as possible so I would recommend two lighter weight compression bags to help press your clothes down to as small as possible.
Clothing Dividers – Once my clothes are compressed down with the compression bags I put them into clothing dividers to help keep them organized. This helps with separating clean and dirty clothes.
Dry Bag – Southeast Asia has a ton of islands and beaches so be sure to also bring along a heavy duty dry bag that you can trust with your camera, phone and other things in.
Ziploc Bags – You have no idea how much you will value a few good ziplock bags while traveling. Bring a few smaller sandwich sized bags with good zipper tops. I use these for keeping things like chargers and various smaller electronics together but also protected in case you get caught in the rain.
iPad or Macbook Air – One or the other of these is a must have for travel, especially long term travel. They’re great for everything from down time entertainment to more serious things such as planning your transportation and sites you want to see. If you’re going to write a lot then maybe the Macbook Air otherwise the iPad works just fine, but either way bring one.
Battery Pack – Power is not always a given. I stayed plenty of places, like when we were island hopping in The Philippines for example, that only had power a few hours a day at best. So some back up power is nice to have.
Plug/Voltage Converter – I use one that converts any plug into any outlet you are likely to come across. However make sure it is also a voltage converter depending on where you are from and where you are going. I am from the United States where wall outlets are 110 volts, most of the rest of the world is 220 volts.
iPod – Backpacking involves a lot of time on buses, trains and planes so if your phone doesn't have enough space for music and podcasts, I would suggest having an iPod.
Headphone Splitter – This is really good to have if you are traveling with a friend or significant other. A headphone splitter gives you the opportunity to watch shows together or even share an audio tour tape to save a little money.
Small Calculator – The street vendors do not want their competition to know what price they finally agreed to with you and so most negation takes place by passing a calculator back and forth. I know phones these days have a calculator on them but that also means handing your phone to random people on the street, not something I’m really a fan of.
External Hard Drive – The amount of storage capacity that you can get now a days in a relatively small size makes having an external hard drive a good item. They’re great for backing up pictures, saving health and travel documents, you name it. I carry a 1-terabyte external drive with me all the time.
Camera – This is a no brainer. Just remember to bring all the extra lenses, cases and covers as well as a few extra SIM cards so you have plenty of space until you can back your pictures up. This is one area where you can afford to bring a little bit of extra stuff, because the pictures you take will last you a lifetime. Check out the camera Jess and I carry.
Headlamp – Don’t be surprised if there isn’t always power in your room or you simply can’t turn it on because you’re in a dorm full of 25 other sleeping people. Having a headlamp is great for being able to see what you’re doing.
Clothes & Shoes
Flip-flops – These are the standard backpacker footwear for the most part. They’re also great for wearing into slightly dirty showers.
Strap on Sandals – Great for hiking and more serious travel. A good pair of sandals that actual strap to your feet are well worth the extra weight. These are the ones I like.
Boots or Shoes – This is a very personal call depending on how likely you think you are to be doing any serious hiking. I wouldn’t recommend bringing both because it’s just too much weight, so choose wisely.
Sunglasses – A great pair of sunglasses is also good to have.
Bandanna – This is an optional one. The weather can be pretty hot at certain times of the year so I kept a bandana within easy reach at all times for whipping my face and hands.
Clothes – I simply can’t go into specific detail here because it is going to vary far to drastically depending on where you are planning on going and what time of year. So I will just give you some basic advice. First off bring less clothes than what you would think, you can always buy more there and it will probably be cheaper than what you would pay for it at home anyway.
Second, bring more underwear and socks than anything else. You can wear the same shirt a few days in a row and the same pants far longer than that, but it’s going to be the lack of clean boxers or socks that will push you into needing to do laundry quicker than anything else. Finally, don’t for get your swim trunks!
Dry Towel – Pretty much every hostel/hotel will either have a bath towel for you or one that you can rent for a small fee. I carry a quick drying towel with me, because it saves money from having to rent one all the time. It is also great to have one that I can bring with me on days to the beach or island hoping tours.
Passport Holder – I would get a passport holder large enough to put other documents in with it. Also spending a few extra bucks to get on that is RFID scanner protected as well is great for protecting your identity.
Passport Photos – There are a number of countries that require a passport photo (or two) to get a visa so make sure you have 10 or 12 extra on you just in case.
Vaccine Documentation – Have copies of all your current immunization records on you so that you don’t get held up at immigration if they ask you for it. Keeping scanned copies of these on your external hard drive is a great idea as well in case yours get wet. In fact just scan copies of your passport and everything, and email it all to yourself so that you can always access it if you need to.
Travel Credit Card – Find a really good travel credit card before you leave so that you don’t ever get stuck without funds. Make sure you choose a card that does not have any international transaction fees in any country ever. We use Charles Schwab because they will reimburse all of your ATM fees!
Hanging Bathroom Bag – Find a carrying case for all of your bathroom things that has a hook on it. A hanging bathroom bag will help when trying to take a shower in shower stalls that often don’t have any shelves.
Toothbrush, Toothpaste, Deodorant – All no brainers
Shampoo & Body wash – I normally put these in smaller 8 or 10oz bottles so that I don’t have to carry the whole thing. You end up having to refill them but it’s better not to have so much weight. Better yet- Jess and I recently started using shampoo BARS! So much easier for traveling and better on the environment, too.
Medicine Bag – Pharmacies are common in Southeast Asia, but it can be difficult to get the “Pharmacist” behind the counter to understand what you are looking for. This is particularly less amusing when you're already sick. It’s also nice to have some medicine with instructions written in English.
Here are a few things I carry in my medicine bag (small bottles of each)
-Motion Sickness tablets
Purifying Water Bottle – Jess and I carried one, along with a spare filter, all the time. In Southeast Asia bottled water is easily found and inexpensive, but it is always nice to have a backup source of something as vital as water. We use Water-To-Go bottles because they actual purify your water from a microbiological perspective as apposed to just filtering out minerals which only improves taste.
I would highly recommend investing in one. I drank Pilipino sink water in Manila out of mine on many occasions and I’m just fine. They do everything they are advertised to do.
Door Stopper – This may seem like a really random thing, but it actually comes in useful. You would be surprised how may places you stay that don’t have locks on the door, so a door stopper can be nice to have to help keep the door closed.
Combination Lock – You will need to lock your daypack while you are out and about. Pick pockets can be a real problem. Find a lock with a flexible cable to fit through the zipper eyelets on your backpack.
Bike Lock – This is to lock my larger backpack to something in the room while I’m out for the day. It may seem paranoid, but theft is by far the most likely crime you will encounter. I also liked having a bike lock when we rented a scooter.
You are normally given a chain and lock to use when renting a scooter however I prefer to have my own because while it has never happened to us I know people who have had scooters "stolen" by the person they rented it from who then claims they do not have it and will tell you that you now need to pay some ridiculous amount of money for the lost scooter or they are not going to give you your passport back
Paracord – This one is optional. I use a paracord as a clothesline to dry my towel and clothes on. It’s also really great for tying things to the back of a scooter, like your backpack. I only bring about 10-15 feet of it.
Needle and Thread – This one is also optional. If you are going to be traveling for a long period of time a sewing kit can be helpful. I had to sew some of my clothes back together more than once while backpacking.
Sleeping Cocoon – If you have never seen one of these before, they're great! It's basically a very lightweight nylon cloth you sleep inside of like a sleeping bag. Sleeping cocoons are really great for keeping bedbugs and other various critters off of you while you sleep. As backpackers we are often on the search for the cheapest accommodations available, and so that typically means less than clean conditions.
Playing Cards – Backpacking often involves a lot of down time, either at the hostel with some new friends or while you’re waiting on a bus. Either way it’s great to have some playing cards to keep you entertained.
Rain Poncho – Find a light weight medium quality rain poncho that you wont mind ditching for a new one if yours starts to get a little nasty over time.
That’s it, that’s everything that I carry with me when I travel. This typically leaves plenty of room for cool things you will buy along the way. Check out some more useful packing info!
Interested in some other posts about backpacking Southeast Asia? Check out some of our tops reads
Do you have some things that you like to bring that aren't on the list? Drop a comment below and let us know what you carry and why!