Deciding what toiletries to take backpacking
Deciding what toiletries to take backpacking was a big concern for me. I generally travel with a lot of products & cosmetics, but with limited space available in our backpacks, I had to cut back and focus on the absolute essentials. I was really worried about running out of simple things on the road like shampoo and shaving foam, especially as we were about to embark on travelling to some pretty remote places. This led us to sourcing specific toiletries which were compact and long lasting. During this process we discovered some amazing travel and beauty products which we would love to share with you!
Whether you are about to go backpacking, or want to save space in your luggage, our ultimate list of toiletries will help you cut down on unnecessary items. Below you will find links to some of the products we are obsessed about, and why we recommend them.
Sun lotion is so much cheaper back home, so best to bring this with you. We opted for a high factor lotion, and waterproof of course. Sunscreen with an SPF 30 and a UVA rating of 5 stars is considered the best standard of protection. Aldi have a very affordable range in this category, as do Tesco and Nivea.
I personally cannot live without a good moisturiser, and with my skin being so exposed to the elements it gets dry really quickly. Aloe Vera, by Banana Boat is a great rehydrator, and perfect if you accidentally burn.
One of the worst things about island life: Mosquitos. We always keep stock of repellent and put this on before dusk and dawn to avoid being bitten. We recommend using Autan which is cheap and easy to pick up in most pharmacies and supermarkets across SE Asia. We use Jungle Formula (50% Deet) for anywhere at risk of Malaria, and bring this from home. Deet also stops other little critters such as bed bugs, which unfortunately are quite common while backpacking.
Antiseptic cream is essential for any cuts, stings or scrapes, especially on coral. It can be hard for wounds to heal in tropical places, and infection can spread fast. I always keep a small tube in our day-bag just in case.
We use After Bite on fresh insect bites. It contains an ingredient called ammonia which quickly reduces itching and pain right away. We have used all kinds of stuff over the years and After Bite works the best.
Tiger Balm is a great little go-to! We generally use it to ease and cool itchy mosquito bites, but it is also good for rubbing on temples if you have a headache, aching joints, stuffy noses, and covering up bad smells. This is so cheap and easy to pick up in SE Asia, and there are many variations to choose from, so we wouldn’t recommend bringing this from home.
Basic Toiletries Checklist
Hanging toiletries bag
A toiletries bag that can be hung up is really handy in SE Asia. Most bathrooms are a wet-room style, so being able to hang your bag up somewhere dry will make life a lot easier. It also means that you don’t have to keep unpacking your bits and bobs, which is great when you are on the go! They are usually extremely spacious, so you won’t have trouble fitting everything in. We use one made by Wenger.
Solid shampoo has by far been one of our best backpacking buys. It will keep you going for months on the road, plus it minimises your use of plastic and liquids. We chose two bars from LUSH cosmetics. They smell incredible, make your hair feel amazing, and double up as a delightful body wash!
Hair gets pretty dried out with all the sun sea and sand, so bring a bottle of conditioner. Be frugal. Use no more than a grape sized dollop (you don’t need more than that) and your bottle will last a lot longer than you think.
Rather than using a liquid body wash, a couple of bars of soap are more compact and last a long time! Cheeky travel tip: collect as many free ones from hotels along the way, they’re perfect for emergency back up supplies 😉
We highly recommend the King of Shaves shaving oil. With up to 100 shaves per 20ml bottle, this item is practically made for backpackers. It it such good value for money and it smells wonderful.
Solid deodorant lasts a lot longer than a liquid or spray can. We opted for Mitchum deodorant which protects you for up to 48 hours. Great for hotter climes!
This isn’t a necessity, but it’s a nice little luxury to pop in your bag! A glove loofer is great for softening skin and clearing all those dead cells from days in the sun.
Razor & blades
It is actually crazy how quick nails grow in the sun! Keep them looking neat and tidy by packing a file or two.
Hair ties & bobby pins
Plastic coil hair ties are ideal for backpackers with long tresses, as they are strong and don’t tangle your hair making them great during water sports especially snorkelling and diving. Bobby pins help keep those loose strands in one place.
Hairbrush / Tangle teezer
Detangling your hair after being in the sea can be a nightmare, but the tangle teezer tackles the worst of knots! It is also lightweight, easy to pack, and basically unbreakable. For anyone dealing with long hair on the road, this should be your go-to hairbrush.
With humidity and temperatures generally soaring over 30 degrees, makeup is likely to melt off of your face in most parts of SE Asia. Plus when you are on an adventure of a lifetime, you’ll hardly be worrying about the state of your eyeliner 😉
But, there are some occasions where it is appropriate and feels nice to apply a little something! My personal go-to brand for travel makeup is Glossier. Their focus is on ‘no makeup’ make up. Their products offer easy application, compact packaging and beautiful light enhancements to the skin. Check out my favourite products: haloscope, boy brow and balm dotcom.
My makeup must-haves
Nail polish remover pads
In some of the more remote places we’ve stayed, mirrors are non-existent. We packed a camping mirror which comes with a suction pad to stick onto bathroom tiles. Of course tiled bathrooms don’t exist in some places, but we always found something random to hook it onto!
A Microfibre towel is really handy to have, especially in situations where bathroom towels are not provided by your accommodation. You may spend a night camping or in remote beach bungalows where towels are not always be provided as standard. Microfibre is super thin and very quick drying so perfect for on the road!
Washing Line & Travel Wash
Having somewhere to hang your numerous wet clothes out to dry is extremely handy while backpacking. We chose a travel specific washing line, made from twisted elastic. You simply tuck clothes in between the elastic strands – no need for pegs!
As for travel wash, just pack some, you’ll need it! We went for good old Dr Beckmann which lasts ages, only downside is it doesn’t really smell of anything.
Is that enough toiletries to take backpacking?
As a self-confessed drug store addict, this was a very interesting process for me. I have since realised that I relied on way too many products back home, and used things far too liberally. During this trip I have made one bottle of conditioner last over 6 months (and I have a lot of hair!!) how amazing is that?
For any of you still having a mini panic after reading this list – don’t! It’s honestly not that hard to stock up on toiletries and beauty products in SE Asia if you need them. Just be mindful that certain things are more expensive (like sun cream) and a lot of branded beauty products are fake. By minimising the amount of toiletries we took with us, we have saved money, plastic, weight, and space in our bags and has ultimately given us the freedom to move around more easily.
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If you have any questions about any of the products featured, or would like to share your packing list tips with us please feel free to comment below 🙂