There are loads of backpacker’s packing lists all over the web, but this one is specific to India. 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 can make a huge difference, so I’m putting together this backpacking through India packing list! Before I share what to pack for India, I’ll just link to some other resources and blog posts you might want to check out. I’ve been living here in India and traveling all over the country for the past 5.5 years.
India Packing List: What to Pack for India
Before You Go
My India Guide Ebook
Of course, I have to say pack my book (even though it’s on your phone or Kindle). I do think that my India guide will make sure you have the most stress-free trip while seeing all the top attractions here (no FOMO!). You can read more about my book on India here. I have been here over 6 years now and put all the tips I have in this book along with itineraries (with custom maps) and made it a real path you can follow.
Budget Tip for Getting Here + Around
Assuming you’re backpacking through India because you’re on a bit of a budget, here’s my favorite tip on getting the BEST deal for flights both international and domestic. Skip all the other flight search engines, and use Kiwi. You can even play around with the routes here.
I LOVE Kiwi, and I’ve written about how I use it a few different times. It seriously is the best!
- Here’s a full review on my experiences with Kiwi
- How to use the multi-city tool to fly around India for only $200
Before You Come, You NEED These 4 Things
- Travel Insurance. I use World Nomads which is what Lonely Planet recommends and you can read here what is and isn’t included in their plans.
- A VISA. You would be surprised how many people email me saying they showed up without one and got sent home. Click here to see what one you need and GET IT ahead of time.
- How you’ll stay in touch. You can buy a SIM card if you have an unlocked phone. You need to bring documents to do this in India like 2×2 images and passport/visa copies. It can be a huge pain. If you’d rather have it set up ahead of time, Trabug is a travel phone that you can have shipped to your hotel in India. This phone has the internet and all kinds of India travel apps on it. It’s more expensive than a SIM, but SIM cards are also a hassle. You don’t want to be in India without access to the internet.
- My essential guide to Goa. I wrote a 170-page ebook the Insider’s Guide to Goa which you can buy with this link. It’s all my secrets to make sure you have the BEST time here.
- To start planning your India trip, check my step by step blog post which takes you through it all. Also, read my 100 tips for traveling India. This blog post is more about a traveling through India checklist in terms of packing, but those other posts are full India travel checklists that take into account everything you need to do to prepare.
Figure out what regions you’ll be traveling in. India has 5:
- Jungle (Ghats, Forests)
When it comes to packing for the beach, you can pack normal clothes like shorts and dresses. If you are going to Goa or Kerala, you can pack pretty much whatever you want. For Kerala, you’ll need to add a few more conservative items as a solo female traveler. Overall, if you were backpacking around Asia and India was just one place, I wouldn’t pack special stuff for India: the same way you have to cover at a temple in Cambodia would be a similar outfit to wear in India.
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!
Detailed 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 took my REI Crestrail 65L Backpack for 3-6 months, and I take my smaller REI Traverse 48L Backpack for 1-3 months. I have used REI for nearly 10 years and these backpacks can make it through anything.
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. If you’re going to shop, definitely do the larger bag.
General India Travel Items You’ll Want to Pack for India
1 pair of long yoga pants (yes, you can wear them in yoga classes here but don’t walk around in them)
1 pair of yoga capris for layering if you’re going to a cold region
These were great with leggings underneath 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’re from Topshop, and they’re the bomb! Since they’re high waisted, they’re really flattering, and I’ll only buy “Jamie” jeans now in every color. I also love these Levis.
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 denim button up shirt
3 t-shirts (I love the V-necks from Urban Outfitters)
1 tank top to sleep in
7 pairs undies
I am bikini obsessed. I love San Lorenzo, Agua Bendita, and Vitamin A, but for travel, I always take my L*space bikini. They are a little more full coverage than the Brazilian style I normally wear and they stay on for surfing or whatever adventure sports you try.
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 in the mountains in winter. This brand of wool socks is incredible.
Don’t bring these items to India
Most of these you’ll wind up buying here anyway!
If you’re into Ali Baba pants, you can buy them everywhere in India. Yes, you’ll look like a tourist but if you don’t own items that are loose, then buy the cheap 100-200 rupee Ali Baba pants. I, personally, wouldn’t wear them again. I did 6 years ago and can hardly look at those pictures! Now, I wear loose silk pants or loose wrap around pants that are conservative but actually cute. Click here to see where I buy my travel clothes. For outfit examples, you can see what I wore on my recent Rajasthan trip and even check out this post on what to wear in India so you can see outfits that I often wear here. If you want more tips, you can read what to wear in Morocco which are pretty similar.
Don’t bring scarves. Buy a thin silk scarf in Rajasthan to cover your head, and buy a thick pashmina scarf as you head north to keep warm.
Sarongs are another thing to buy here. Don’t even bring one! You’ll get these when you go south to Goa or Kerala.
Any other wool and cold weather items shouldn’t be brought. Buy mittens/gloves, yak-wool poncho or blanket, and a wool hat once you get north. You can even leave this behind as they take up a lot of space and are really cheap.
Smaller bags or pursues just take up space and you will want to buy one. 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.
What Shoes to Pack for India
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. I have written a post comparing Chaco’s which you can read here.
1 pair tennis shoes (optional)
I take smaller ones, not big clunky ones. They go with dresses instead of looking like work out shoes. I actually didn’t take them to India, but I’m adding them to this list because I know some people like to run. I don’t know why as running is the worst. You can read my post on my favorite shoes for travel here.
1 pair of sturdy boots
well, you can sort of see them here? haha!KEEN Hiking Boots 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.
Some nicer sandal options I’d bring if you want them from Sol Sana or, more casual, Reef.
What to Pack for Skincare, Hygiene, and Beauty in India
Most of what is in this photo below you’ll need. I take travel size to save room although it doesn’t save money. I won’t list them all out since you can see them here. The baby wipes you can get here at all the shops, so you can add more as you go. Remember, most toilets won’t have paper. The second photo is the make up I take which I’ll list below.
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 Glace, Clinique Almost Lipstick in Flirty Honey, Lash Power Mascara, A face mask, and Clinique Moisture Surge(which is one thing I can’t live without!)
Extra toiletries to bring
Tampons or DivaCup
I didn’t love the DivaCup for India because the bathrooms aren’t clean. You can buy an 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- Put it in a Ziploc bag. It takes way less space than a plastic case
Razor -You can buy replacement Venus blades in all Indian shops.
Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray – It’s a total lifesaver.
OPI nail polish
You’ll want it if you get manicures or pedicures. 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.
Hair ties & clipsSun Bum Face Stick – It’s my favorite! It also smells like bananas!
Other necessities to pack when traveling in India
REI Travel Sack Sleeping bag – It compresses to the size of a football and can be strapped to the bottom of your bag. I kid you not, this is SO needed! I love REI. If you aren’t traveling like a bum like me or camping, you won’t need a sleeping bag.
Sleeping bag Mummy Liner – It’s amazing and life-changing, but you could make your own with a sheet if on a tight budget. I use this on the trains.
Master Lock Chain – For trains, if you’re in lowest class
Loads of paperwork, photos, cards, passport & visaTherm-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. Here are my favorite travel pillows.
Microfiber travel towel – Any microfiber towel will do fine.
Sunglasses -Here are some of my favorites:
Journal and pen, which for me is so importantHeadlamp – 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
Small packets laundry detergent – Buy more as you go, but I always hand-wash
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. You can easily type in your dates and get a quote instantly too. They are also partners with Lonely Planet.
*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 case and case with extra SD card and batteries
India travel adapter: I love this Adapter which is global and works great here in India.Fossil Leather Watch
Cheap Nokia for local SIM card
Travel Alarm Clock – It’s absolutely necessary on trains to get off. Solar powered and perfect when I hadn’t charged my phone up in days
NOTE: There’s, of course, a better option now than when I was backpacking. I listed it above, but just in case, you’ll want to get Trabug if your regular phone isn’t unlocked or you don’t want to deal with the paperwork. Check it out here.
What I packed that I never actually used
Unlike Europe, you won’t be locking your bag in train stations.
But, hey I got Dengue Fever…My bad.
I got carried away at REI. When they seemed worried about me I started buying everything they suggested.
Used my headlamp or phone light
Swiss army knife
It was cute and pink, but I only used it twice.
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, 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 this one.
Ok, that was a lot! If you’re planning on coming to India, check my travel resources page to see what I use for booking flights and hotels.
** This post contains affiliate links. As always, I appreciate your support!
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