The Only Backpacking Through India Packing List You Need

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:

  1. Desert
  2. City
  3. Mountains
  4. Beach
  5. Jungle (Ghats, Forests)

When it comes to packing for the beach, if you are going to Goa or Kerala you’ll find this girly beach packing list helpful, but for Kerala you’ll need to add a few more conservative items as a solo female traveler.

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

backpacking 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.

sela pass arunachal pradesh

Gym shorts for sleeping (or working out if you’re into that kind of thing)

1 long cute fancy skirt

1 long cotton maxi skirt

2 cute crop tops

1 long sleeve thin sweater

1 long sleeve blouse/ cover up

1 long sleeve demin button up shirt

3 t-shirts. I love the V-necks from Urban Outfitters.

2 cami’s

1 tank top to sleep in

7 pairs undies

1 comfy bra. I love these Sparkle & Fade Bralettes in scallop lace from Urban because they are SO comfortable and super cute. Also great for sleeping on trains to put money in)

1 real bra. These Kimchi Blue triangle bras are as real as it gets for me and take up so little space)

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.

Surfing in Varkala

1 rain coat. I take my Black North Face Venture jacket. With layers under and a scarf you’ll be warm enough in the mountains.

1 pair regular socks

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. 

hippie in heels bangkok
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!

manali india himalayas hippie

backpacking india packing list

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.

women packing list india beach

best five star hotel in south goa alila diwa

women packing list india beach

Here it is: Burberry Brit, NARS The Multiple in Orgasm, Sephora Bronzer in Aruba and brush, Bobbi Brown Shimmer Brick in Rose, Victoria Secret Concealer, Smashbox Be Legendary Lipstick in Pout, Laura Mercier Lip GlaceClinique Almost Lipstick in Flirty Honey, Lash Power Mascara, and Clinique Moisture Surge(which is one thing I can’t live without!) 

Also:

Chapstick

Tampons or DivaCup I didn’t love the DivaCup. You can buy OB brand in India, but if you want applicator you’ll have to pack them. It’s best to just get used to OB.

For contact wearers, take extra. Know your prescription. You can pick some up on the road very cheaply if need be.

Nail clippers & tweezers

Dove soap in a Ziploc bag, takes way less space than a plastic case

Razor. You can buy replacement Venus blades in all Indian shops.

Eye drops

Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray can’t be without it

OPI nail polish to take when you get manicures (I love the Opi Take Ten Mini Kit but just take one or two)

Packet of tissues for restrooms (you’ll keep buying more throughout the trip, or a roll of t.p.)

Hand sanitizer

Hair ties & clips

Sun Bum Face Stick my favorite! It also smells like bananas!

What Not To Pack - Keep These Off Your Backpacking Checklist

Extra Necessities I packed for India

REI Trael Sack Sleeping bag, compresses to size of football and can be strapped to bottom of bag. I kid you not, this is SO needed! I love REI.

Sleeping bag mummy liner (amazing/life-changing, but you could make your own with a sheet if on a tight budget). I use this on the trains.

trains india transport

Master Lock Chain for trains if you’re in lowest class

Loads of paperwork, photos, cards, passport & visa

Therm-A-Rest travel pillow I like that this one is compressible and fits in the side pocket of my backpack. This is the brand REI carries. I take it on planes with me as well.

travel india train

Microfiber travel towel any microfiber towel will do fine

Sunglasses

Journal and pen, which for me is so important

Headlamp for trains/buses and early morning treks. Nerdy but necessary.

Dirty laundry bag (when you buy clothes in India you will get a silk bag instead of plastic so I used this and threw away the bag I brought)

Lonely Planet. If I go somewhere a short time, I don’t bother but if I’m there a long time with loose plans, I take one along.

My little travel medical kit

A small side strap everyday purse (I use a little leather Coach one)

Small packets laundry detergent (buy more as you go but I always hand-wash)

backpacking india packing list

backpacking india packing list

Do NOT forget Travel Insurance before your trip!

My go-to is always World Nomads who I’ve used on all my trips and who have an incredible reputation. They are also partners with Lonely Planet.

Electronics

*I won’t list all that I take now because with blogging it is more. This is what I took when backpacking prior to blogging.

Canon PowerShot SX120 IS with a Lowepro camera caseand case with extra SD card and batteries

 iPhone 4 with OtterBox case plus charger

US to India Adapter

Fossil Leather Watch

Headphones

Cheap Nokia for local Sim card

Travel Alarm Clock absolutely necessary on trains to get off. Solar powered and perfect when I hadn’t charged my phone up in days

What I packed that I never actually used

Pad lock. Unlike Europe, you won’t be locking your bag in train stations.

Bug spray (but, hey I got Dengue Fever…My bad.)

Compass/whistle (I got carried away at REI when they seemed worried about me I started buying everything they suggested.)

Snack bars

Baseball hat

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.

-The links to amazon are affiliate links meaning I get a tiny percentage of anything you purchase. This helps me keep Hippie in Heels running so any support is very appreciated!

 

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56 Comments
  1. 2 years ago
    J in Beijing

    Good tip on layering leggings and jeans- I always do that when it gets cold! I need to get a new backpack soon for my summer travels so will check out Osprey..I need to find out if they stock it in Beijing.
    J in Beijing recently posted…What Exactly Is An “I Love Beijing!” Day?

    Reply
    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      Osprey is great, it’s just so expensive. The great thing is they have warrantys (I forget how long) and REI is basically lifetime warranty anyways, and they sell them! I don’t know about Beijing, but man if they have as high of customs fees as India, I wouldn’t order from the US! I paid over 50% for my ASOS.

      Reply
  2. 2 years ago
    Laura

    These are great tips for backpacking in general, but I have had India on my mind lately. Hopefully I’ll get there one day :)

    Reply
  3. 2 years ago
    Corinne

    This list is so comprehensive! Thank you for taking the time to create it!
    Corinne recently posted…Weekend Update – Music, Hostels and Bikes

    Reply
    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      No problem. It actually gets to serve as a guide to myself on my next big trip :)

      Reply
  4. 2 years ago
    Taylor

    This is a good list of things to pack in general. I’ll be taking most of this stuff on my upcoming trip for a year (although I’ll just be using a 48L backpack, yikes! I hope I can fit everything). I love the merino wool socks and the darn tough wool socks, they’re so comfy and warm! Thanks for sharing :)
    Taylor recently posted…Grand Canyon Less Traveled

    Reply
    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      I’m sure you’ll have no problem fitting it all in! It’s once you find treasure when shopping that you’ll have to make room for ;)

      Reply
  5. 2 years ago
    Michael Huxley

    Great list! I love those ali baba/fisherman pants, so versatile! One thing that is vital according to all my female friends is a long shawl, as it can be a top, an extra layer, a small blanket for overnight buses, a head scarf or skin cover if needed, basically it can be used for so many things.

    I disagree with the padlock, I’ve always found a good padlock useful in hostels and many other places, but I think most people get carried away at outdoor supply shops before they leave for their first trips!
    Michael Huxley recently posted…Getting around Singapore – public transport.

    Reply
    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      Yes, I love buying scarves as I go and keeping them as souvenirs. I even have a couple pashminas as curtains! It looks cute. The lock thing I usually would in hostels and such but never stayed at a hostel in in India or anywhere would I’d need to lock something. In Europe or SE Asia, really anywhere else, I take one!

      Reply
  6. 2 years ago
    Elora

    Thanks for this! I will be saving this page, definitely….
    Elora recently posted…A Colorful Celebration

    Reply
    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      It’ll come in handy! Even I’ll use it in the future.

      Reply
  7. 2 years ago
    Megan Saia

    Hey Rachel! Thanks for this post, it was very helpful as I am planning a month and a half long trip to India next summer. It is my gap year and m parents have finally decided to let me go with a friend but they want me to call them periodically. What is your advice on this? Do I get an international plan? A SIM card? A prepaid phone? Also is the osprey 60 too big for a trip my duration? Thanks, Megan.

    Reply
    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      Hi Megan! My parents were the same. You should get a crappy nokia for 20 bucks that you can put a SIM card in. I atually wrote a post on it! Search my site for “sim card” and it’ll come up. You can refill 500 rs on your sim and it’ll last Ages!! the 60 is NOT to big at all. I used a 65.

      Reply
  8. 2 years ago
    Colleen

    Hi Rachel! Thanks for the great list!
    For the Chaco’s sandals, why would you buy the single over the double strapped?

    Reply
    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      the double strap pulls a little and unless you’re wearing them every single day and they wear to your foot, you have to adjust them for a few minutes to make them comfortable. Single strap would be easier to work with.

      Reply
  9. 2 years ago
    Simone

    I have been to India several times myself. And I find the best way to dress is simply to buy Indian clothes – not the tourist stuff but what people there actually wear. Indians LOVE Westerners who wear their fashion!

    Personally, I hate backpacks, but I have found that in India there is always somebody who is willing to carry your luggage for just a few rupees. It helps them earn some money and I have my hands free! Classic win-win situation.

    I am a bit astonished that you didn’t use sun screen? I would think that this is essential to prevent sun burns (and I have seen some really ugly ones!). Also, bring a hat or simply do like the Indians do: use an umbrella. I have seen people getting really sick and blaming it on the food when in reality they were probably sun sick.
    Simone recently posted…Making bags

    Reply
    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      Hi Simone, thanks for commenting. I don’t wear the Indian stuff because it feels a bit like dress up to me. Maybe it’s because I live here and am more comfortable just wearing my regular stuff. You’re right people are always there to carry for you! As for the sunscreen, I get tanned pretty easily and just never use it- I think living here has made me used to the sun now and I don’t even think about it.

      Reply
  10. 2 years ago
    Ana

    I’m planning a trip to Rajasthan but we might go a little more north to dharamsala in October. What are your thoughts on taking a fleece coat? Will it just take too much room in my bag? Also, if I’m not planning on hiking so much, should I still bring hiking boots?
    Thanks!

    Reply
    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      I think it’ll take up too much room. I’d just wear layers. I was there in November and although it was cold at night, during the day the coat wouldn’t be necessary. If you are out once the sun goes down you might get a little chilly but its not worth carrying a coat through your whole trip. The boots, if you’re not hiking, tennies would be ok instead- but very stable ones not little keds.

      Reply
  11. 2 years ago
    Francesca

    hey Rachel,

    Have you ever used a money belt under your clothes? loads of peeps are telling me to get one? x

    Reply
    • 2 years ago
      Rachel Jones

      No, I haven’t and I don’t think it’s necessary- but then again I’m not always the “safest” traveler. I think as long as you have a purse that zips and you hold onto it you’ll be okay. I’ve actually only known one person to lose her wallet and she may have been pickpocketed or may have dropped it.

      Reply
  12. 1 year ago
    meaghan

    Your packing lists and blog entries are wonderful. I’m heading to India at the end of February in 2016, and you are easing my stress big time! I was wondering what size Therm-A-Rest travel pillow you use? I am also trying to get one, that isn’t too bulky and I have no idea how to pick!

    Reply
    • 1 year ago
      Rachel Jones

      Thanks Meaghan… I don’t know the exact size, but by looking at it I would guess it’s 12 inches long and about 8 high? it’s pretty big for travel but it scrunches up very small and fits int he waterbottle holder on my backpack

      Reply
  13. 1 year ago
    Jill

    Hi Rachel,
    Thanks for the comprehensive list. I’m going to be in india next week – Chennai and Ahmanebad (Gujarat). It’s mostly for business meetings and in 4-5 star hotels. What would you recommend for minimal packing for this?

    Reply
    • 1 year ago
      Rachel Jones

      Hi Jill, you could always pick up some items here. Most biz girls I know here wear dress pants with a button up blouse/shirt.

      Reply
  14. 1 year ago
    Mike

    Hi Rachel,
    Love the site, great read and useful info! I’m leaving for a 3 month cycle tour of India soon and am in the middle of packing and waiting for my visa to arrive. I’m wondering if bottled water is generally available, even in rural areas, or do I need to pack some sterilising tablets? I can get through about 5 litres a day.

    Reply
    • 1 year ago
      Rachel Jones

      Yes even in rural areas i’ve always found some. In restaurants sometimes not, but filtered water is usually offered. Some people it doesn’t setlle well with so on longer trips I would bring your own in case you stop at a very rural dhabba

      Reply
  15. 12 months ago
    Lianne

    Thanks for this list. But but why did you pack sunscreen and didn’t use it? Seems like an absolute necessity no matter where you are!
    Lianne recently posted…Traveling in Taiwan for Chinese New Year: 7 Tips

    Reply
  16. 11 months ago
    Jenn

    Thank you so much for your thorough list! Your blog about India is my go-to for tips to prepare for my upcoming trip :)

    Reply
  17. 10 months ago
    crazy sexy fun traveler

    In India I would be fine with just lose pants, a lose white T-shirt, a pashmina and flipflops (or barefoot as I prefer.) The most comfy for sure :)
    crazy sexy fun traveler recently posted…Fantastic Floating in Barcelona

    Reply
  18. 9 months ago
    James

    This list is very sexist. UM hello, 50% of the population are males.

    Reply
  19. 8 months ago
    lauren

    Hey Rachel! I love how thorough this list is! I have one question though- I will be traveling throughout various parts of India during late September-Early February (Slow travel, not too fast paced) and was wondering if it’d be useful for me to bring a sleeping bag instead of just a bed sheet. I’m worried that since I am a budget traveler, my accommodations won’t be the best. I want to have peace of mind that I’m nice and arm, but also not subjected to potential bed bugs, etc. Did your sleeping bag work out for you well or was it a bulky hassle? Thanks!!

    Reply
    • 8 months ago
      lauren

      *nice and warm

      Reply
    • 8 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      If you don’t mind carrying it then yeah I would take it along. Especially the months you are going!

      Reply
  20. 7 months ago
    Keely Jackson

    Such great information thankyou, my friend and I are looking at traveling India around Christmas 2016 for around 4 weeks backpacking, we don’t want to go to high populated areas and maybe looking at travelling down the coast, any suggestions ?
    Cheers Keely

    Reply
    • 7 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      Hi Keely,

      The only coastal town between Mumbai and the start of beaches of Goa is Ratnagiri. It’s not touristy at all and has a neat temple.

      Reply
    • 7 months ago
      Keely Jackson

      Thanks so much, I have heard there is a blue city ? And do you think we can do and see fair bit in 4 weeks of the coastline of India ?

      Reply
      • 7 months ago
        Rachel Jones

        Yep the blue city is called Jodhpur in Rajasthan. 4 weeks on the coast would be a lot of time. Enjoy!

        Reply
  21. 7 months ago
    Chris

    When you travel through India do you just purchase bottled water, or did you use some kind of sterilizer? I will be travelling through East Africa and India and think that bottled water purchases everyday could end up adding up over the long run

    Reply
    • 7 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      I just buy it in India because a huge bottle is 20 rupees which is about 30 cents US. I have heard of people using steripens but I just don’t know if I trust it!

      Reply
  22. 7 months ago
    Dhilal

    Hi!

    I’m looking to stay in India for two months and I feel like I should see a lot but feel like I shouldn’t skip through it either. Do you have any suggestions?

    Also, how far in advance did you apply for your visa? I want to arrive in May.

    Thank you SOOO much :)

    Reply
    • 7 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      Keep in mind, once you apply, the date that’s on the visa stamps your start of 6 months, so you don’t want to apply too early I think a month is okay.

      Reply
  23. 6 months ago
    Lauren

    BEST POST EVER. For India and all places! <3 I love ALL your posts. Thank you. You seriously answer ALL my questions. For example putting brands that India has is incredibly helpful! Often I think silly Americans are ignorant and dont realize the products India has…

    Reply
  24. 6 months ago
    Maxi

    i’m SO glad i stumbled across your blog the other day. i’m gonna go to india in december to do a yoga instructor course in rishikesh and reading your blog really convinced me to stay longer after that to travel the country!
    Maxi recently posted…-gettingthere

    Reply
    • 6 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      That’s awesome to hear! Let me know how the class goes :)

      Reply
  25. 5 months ago
    Grace

    Hi!

    Super great advice!! However, I am curious about the clothing choices. I noticed that you put down crop tops and tank tops. I was under the impression that India is a very conservative country and that clothing like that would draw unwanted attention. Is that clothing just for Goa? I know its more liberal there. I am travelling through Varanassi, Rajasthan and the Himalayas. Would it still be appropriate to pack crop tops and tank tops?

    Reply
    • 5 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      Hey Grace, check out this article which explains a bit more about girls’ clothing in India http://hippie-inheels.com/how-to-dress-in-india/ bellies are usually okay as thy show completely in a sari & most of my indian girlfriends wear them in the cities, although not somewhere very rural. tank tops are okay – some salwar kameez are sleeveless but take a scarf to throw over for temples.

      Reply
  26. 5 months ago
    Rhonda Stevens

    This is extremely helpful post! My friends and I are planing to visit India in two months. We still have no idea where exactly we are heading to. It’s great to find this further information so we will be much more prepare about our trip! Best regards

    Reply
  27. 3 months ago
    Berta

    Hey Rachel,
    I read your articles to prepare for my upcoming trip to India! I found very useful information like this checklist. Did you ever use mosquito net while sleeping? Do you think it can be found in India easily on markets? Or should I bring one with me?

    Reply
    • 3 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      You could find one here easily if you want one, but any place you go that you will need one, it will be provided- at least that has always been my luck.

      Reply
  28. 3 months ago
    Nawaf koshim

    Good tips ….my plan is set in May I ll go Kashmir first then I drop by Goa…

    Reply

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