There are loads of backpacker’s packing checklists all over the web, but this one is specific to India. Probably unsurprisingly, you will have to take a different type of clothing and tools for your trip in somewhat-conservative India. Backpacking India alone is a unique experience and you can expect to be challenged in many ways. Being prepared with a useful backpack can make a huge difference.
The first thing you have to ask yourself is what part of India am I going to? There are 5 main regions:
In the big cities and rural areas you need to dress conservatively. It’s going to be scorching in Rajasthan with dry heat. If you plan to go to the mountains during winter for treks, you’ll need warm clothes too like a parka. With so many types of clothing necessary, it could get complicated trying to decide what you need. So here you go!
Backpacking through India Packing List
I went to the Himalayas in November for a month (I know, what was I thinking!?) and it was amazing but frigid. I went to all 5 of the different regions listed above and fit everything I needed in a 65L backpack. I take myREI Crestrail 65L Backpack for 3-6 months, I take my smaller REI Traverse 48L Backpack for 1-3 months.
Even if you go to India for less than three months, I think you need the larger bag if you’re planning to go to more than 3 of the 5 regions.
Packing Clothing for All Over India Trip
1 yoga pant long
1 yoga pant capri (use for layering)
Jeans. They were great with leggings under while in the mountains. The breezy Ali Baba pants are much too thin. I wear my black high waisted “Jamie” skinny jeans constantly now. They are from Topshop and they are the bomb! They are highwaisted so are really flattering and I’ll only buy “Jamie” jeans now in every color.
Gym shorts for sleeping (or working out if you’re into that kind of thing)
1 swimsuit. I am bikini obsessed. I love San Lorenzo, Agua Bendita, and Vitamin A, but for travel, I always take my L*space bikini because they are a little more full coverage then the Brazilian style I normally wear and they stay on for surfing or whatever adventure sports you try. I go for the Chloe Top & the Estelle Bottom.
1 pair microfiber sock liner from REI, 1 pair of Darn Tough wool socks. I’m not kidding that it’s cold. This brand of wool socks is incredible.
Clothing missing because you’ll buy it there:
Every day pants. Yes you’ll look like a tourist but unless you have a better idea or won’t be comfortable in them, buy the cheap 100-200 rupee Ali Baba pants– loose and conservative.
Buy a thin silk scarf in Rajasthan to cover your head. Buy a thick pashmina scarf as you head north to keep warm.
Buy breezy beach dresses and a sarong when you go south.
Buy mittens/gloves, yak-wool poncho or blanket, and a wool hat once you get north.
Buy a little coin purse and another little bag for the jewelry you buy along the way. These double as great souvenirs and you can trade pants with travelers as you go! Keep in mind cute western clothing is sold everywhere, but don’t buy it in Bombay, Delhi, or other big cities in the markets. Wait until you are in a tourist town- believe it or not, more options at a better price.
Packing for India: Shoes
1 pair sandals- I wore Chaco Sandals a year ago EVERY SINGLE DAY. Ranked awesomely for hiking and rafting, I have worn them all through Thailand as well. When white-water rafting they stay stuck to my feet. If I had to re-order, I would get single strap instead of double.
1 pair tennis shoes (optional)- I take cute Diesel ones, not big clunky ones. They go with dresses instead of looking like work out clothes. I actually didn’t take them to India but I’m adding them to this list because I know some people like to run, although I don’t know why as running is the worst.
1 pair boots- KEEN Hiking Boot options worked really well for me and I kept them shoved in the bottom of my bag, until eventually I tied them on the outside. I sadly don’t have any pictures that show the boot except a glimpse here :( they looked cute with jeans though!
If you’re wondering what footwear I would wear to match a nice dress, like the ones I bought in Goa, I go barefoot which is totally ok in India or towards the end, in Goa, I bought a cheap pair of flip flops that I threw away.
Bath & Beauty Packing List in India
Everything in this photo below you’ll need. I take travel size to save room although it doesn’t save money. The second photo is the make up I take which I’ll list below.
Compass/whistle (I got carried away at REI when they seemed worried about me I started buying everything they suggested.)
Tiny flashlight (used my headlamp or phone light)
Swiss army knife (it was cute and pink, but I only used it twice)
*My bonus tip*
DON’T bring a carry-on. In your small purse take what you need for the plane ride. As you travel and want to buy things, if you pack only this you’ll have room in your bag for a while. If you want something larger, like when I bought a wall hanging in Rajasthan, then buy a carry-on bag. They sell woven striped bags all over India for about Rs 100-200 and you’ll see that every other traveler has one! The bag will then serve as another souvenir; you can put all your goodies in it, and on trains keep it next to you while you sleep. Your backpack with mostly just clothing and toiletries can be chained on the floor below you on trains and buses or thrown on top of a bus with no worries of losing your new special mementos.
If you are going to be taking 2 day treks, you should bring a small day-pack backpack, in which case you will use that as a carry-on and disregard advice above. Don’t make this a “cute” bag, make it practical like the ones by Eagle Creek.
Ok, that was a lot! If you’re planning on coming to India, check my my travel resources page to see what I use for booking flights and hotels.
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Rachel Jones is an American who left a career in nursing to live on the beaches on Goa, India two years ago where she is now a Thai masseuse, candle-maker, and travel writer. Her award winning website gives advice on the other 28 countries she's been to but has become the go-to site on India travel, focusing on off beat places & “glamorous travel”. Hippie in Heels has been featured in ELLE magazine & was voted by Flipkey as one of the top 25 female bloggers to follow this year. You can follow her adventures on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Google plus.