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What To Pack For Backpacking In South America


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Kimmie Sparks



Heading out for a backpacking adventure in South America? Get ready for an experience of a lifetime! From the vibrant cities to the stunning natural landscapes, South America offers a diverse range of destinations and activities for backpackers. Whether you’re planning a long-term trip or a short getaway, it’s essential to pack wisely and be prepared for the adventure ahead.


In this article, we will guide you on what to pack for backpacking in South America, ensuring you have all the essentials to make your journey comfortable and enjoyable. We’ll cover everything from clothing and footwear to travel documents, toiletries, and even safety and security essentials.


Before diving into the packing list, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the specific climates and terrain you’ll encounter during your South American travels. With its varying landscapes and weather patterns, South America can present a range of conditions, from hot and humid jungles to chilly mountain peaks. Researching your destinations and their seasons will help you create a tailored packing list that suits your needs.


Remember, when backpacking, it’s crucial to strike a balance between packing essentials and traveling light. Every item you choose should be practical, versatile, and easy to carry. With that in mind, let’s explore the items you’ll need in each category.


Essential Clothing and Footwear

When it comes to clothing and footwear for your backpacking adventure in South America, versatility and comfort are key. Here are the essential items to pack:

  1. Moisture-Wicking Shirts: Pack a few lightweight, quick-drying shirts that will keep you cool and dry in the South American heat.
  2. Layering Pieces: Bring a mix of long-sleeved shirts, sweaters, and lightweight jackets to layer up or down depending on the temperature and weather conditions.
  3. Durable Pants and Shorts: Opt for sturdy, quick-drying pants and shorts that can withstand the rigors of outdoor activities. Consider convertible pants that can be zipped off to turn into shorts.
  4. Comfortable Underwear and Socks: Pack enough underwear and socks to last you a week, and make sure they are made of moisture-wicking materials.
  5. Swimwear: Don’t forget to bring a bathing suit, as there are plenty of beautiful beaches and swimming spots to enjoy in South America.
  6. Sturdy Hiking Boots: Invest in a pair of comfortable, waterproof hiking boots for any trekking adventures you have planned. Make sure to break them in before your trip to avoid blisters.
  7. Sandals or Flip-Flops: Pack a pair of lightweight sandals or flip-flops for walking around cities, relaxing at the beach, or wearing in hostel showers.
  8. Hat and Sunglasses: Protect yourself from the strong South American sun with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

Remember to check the weather forecast for your specific destinations in South America and adjust your clothing choices accordingly. Layering is key to adapt to temperature changes throughout the day or in different regions.


Additionally, consider doing laundry on the road to minimize the amount of clothing you need to carry. Many hostels and guesthouses have laundry facilities available, or you can hand wash items in the sink if needed.


Backpack and Packing Accessories

Choosing the right backpack and packing accessories for your South American adventure is crucial for a comfortable and organized trip. Here are the essentials to consider:

  1. Backpack: Invest in a durable backpack with adjustable straps and good support. Look for one that is the right size for your needs and has compartments to keep your belongings organized.
  2. Daypack: Bring a smaller, lightweight daypack for day trips and exploring cities.
  3. Packing Cubes: These handy organizers help maximize space in your backpack and keep your clothes and belongings neatly separated.
  4. Compression Bags: Use compression bags to minimize the size of your bulky items, such as jackets or sleeping bags.
  5. Reusable Water Bottle: Staying hydrated is important, so bring a reusable water bottle to fill up throughout your journey.
  6. Travel Towel: Opt for a quick-drying, lightweight travel towel that takes up minimal space in your backpack.
  7. Travel Locks: Keep your belongings secure with TSA-approved travel locks for your backpack and daypack.
  8. Travel Adapter: Depending on your home country, you may need a travel adapter to charge your electronic devices.
  9. Ziplock Bags: These multi-purpose bags are great for organizing small items, storing toiletries, and keeping valuables protected from water.
  10. Headlamp or Flashlight: Pack a lightweight headlamp or flashlight for navigating in areas with limited lighting or for outdoor activities.

Before your trip, practice packing your backpack to ensure everything fits comfortably and that the weight is evenly distributed. It’s also a good idea to make a checklist to ensure you have all the necessary packing accessories before you leave.


Remember, it’s important to pack light and only bring what you truly need. Carrying a heavy backpack can make your journey more challenging, so be selective in your choice of items and prioritize the essentials.


Travel Documents and Money

When embarking on your backpacking adventure in South America, it’s crucial to have your travel documents and money in order. Here’s what you need to pack:

  1. Passport: Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your planned departure date from South America.
  2. Visas: Check the visa requirements for the countries you plan to visit in South America and obtain them prior to your departure if necessary.
  3. Travel Insurance: It’s highly recommended to have travel insurance that covers medical expenses, trip cancellation, and loss of belongings.
  4. International Driver’s License: If you plan on renting a car or motorbike, make sure to obtain an international driver’s license before your trip.
  5. Copies of Important Documents: Make photocopies or take pictures of your passport, visas, travel insurance, and other important documents. Keep the copies separate from the originals in case of loss or theft.
  6. Emergency Contacts: Carry a list of emergency contacts, including the contact information of your embassy or consulate in each country you are visiting.
  7. Credit and Debit Cards: Bring a mix of credit and debit cards, preferably ones that have no foreign transaction fees. Notify your bank of your travel plans to avoid any issues with your cards being blocked.
  8. Cash: While many places in South America accept credit cards, it’s advisable to carry some cash for smaller establishments, local markets, and transportation.
  9. Money Belt: Consider using a discreet money belt to keep your cash, cards, and important documents safe while exploring.

It’s also a good idea to have digital copies of all your travel documents saved on your phone or in a secure cloud storage service as a backup.


Remember to keep your travel documents and money secure at all times. Consider using a hotel safe or lockbox in hostels to keep your valuables protected.


Toiletries and Personal Care Items

When packing for your backpacking adventure in South America, don’t forget to include essential toiletries and personal care items. Here are the items to consider:

  1. Toothbrush and Toothpaste: Opt for a travel-sized toothbrush and toothpaste to save space in your backpack.
  2. Shampoo and Conditioner: Bring travel-sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner or consider using solid shampoo bars to minimize liquid items in your bag.
  3. Soap or Body Wash: Pack a small bar of soap or a travel-sized bottle of body wash for showering.
  4. Deodorant: Choose a travel-sized deodorant or consider using crystal deodorant for a more lightweight and eco-friendly option.
  5. Sunscreen: Protect your skin from the strong South American sun by packing a high SPF sunscreen.
  6. Insect Repellent: South America is known for its mosquitoes and other insects, so bring a good quality insect repellent to keep them at bay.
  7. Travel-Sized Towel: Consider bringing a microfiber towel that is quick-drying and takes up minimal space in your backpack.
  8. Menstrual Products: If needed, pack an adequate supply of menstrual products, such as tampons or menstrual cups, as they may not be readily available in some areas.
  9. Prescription Medications: If you take prescription medications, ensure you have enough to last the duration of your trip, along with the necessary prescriptions or documentation.
  10. Travel-Sized Toiletry Bag: Use a small toiletry bag to keep your toiletries organized and easily accessible.

Remember to pack travel-sized versions of these items to save space in your backpack. You can also consider purchasing additional toiletries locally during your trip to minimize the weight of your luggage.


Keep in mind that some countries in South America may have different standards for personal care products, so it’s a good idea to research any specific regulations or restrictions before packing.


Lastly, be mindful of the environment and consider using eco-friendly and biodegradable toiletries whenever possible. This helps minimize your impact on the destinations you visit.


First Aid Kit and Medications

When backpacking in South America, it’s important to be prepared for minor injuries and illnesses that may occur during your journey. Here’s what to include in your first aid kit:

  1. Adhesive Bandages: Pack a variety of sizes of adhesive bandages for treating minor cuts and scrapes.
  2. Antiseptic Wipes: Include antiseptic wipes to clean wounds before applying bandages.
  3. Gauze and Medical Tape: Bring sterile gauze pads and medical tape to dress larger wounds.
  4. Antibacterial Ointment: Include a small tube of antibacterial ointment to prevent infection in cuts and scrapes.
  5. Pain Relievers: Pack over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for headaches, muscle aches, and fever.
  6. Anti-Diarrheal Medication: In case of an upset stomach or traveler’s diarrhea, bring anti-diarrheal medication to alleviate symptoms.
  7. Antihistamines: Include antihistamines for allergies or insect bites.
  8. Motion Sickness Medication: If you are prone to motion sickness, pack medication to help alleviate symptoms during long bus or boat rides.
  9. Prescription Medications: If you take prescription medications, ensure you have an adequate supply for the duration of your trip.
  10. Personal Medical Supplies: If you have specific medical needs, such as an inhaler for asthma or an EpiPen for severe allergies, make sure to pack them.

In addition to your first aid kit, it’s important to have travel insurance that covers medical expenses. Research local healthcare facilities in the areas you’ll be visiting and familiarize yourself with emergency contact numbers.


It’s also a good idea to carry a small card with your essential medical information, including any allergies or pre-existing conditions, as well as emergency contact information.


Remember to check the expiration dates of all medications in your first aid kit and replace them as needed. It’s better to be prepared for any unexpected incidents that may arise during your backpacking adventure.


Technology and Communication

While you may want to disconnect and immerse yourself in the beauty of South America, having access to technology and staying connected can be helpful during your backpacking adventure. Here are some essential items for technology and communication:

  1. Smartphone: Bring a smartphone that is unlocked and compatible with local SIM cards. This will allow you to easily get a local SIM card for data and calls.
  2. Laptop or Tablet: If you need to work or stay connected, consider bringing a lightweight laptop or tablet.
  3. Power Bank: Keep your electronic devices charged with a portable power bank. This is especially useful during long bus rides or when electricity is limited.
  4. Universal Travel Adapter: Bring a universal travel adapter to charge your electronic devices in different countries in South America.
  5. Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot: If you rely heavily on internet access, consider bringing a portable Wi-Fi hotspot or researching local options for Wi-Fi.
  6. E-Reader: If you enjoy reading, bring an e-reader to save space and weight compared to physical books.
  7. Headphones: Pack a good pair of headphones or earbuds for entertainment during long journeys or to listen to local music and audio guides.
  8. Camera: Capture the beautiful landscapes and memorable moments with a digital camera or a high-quality smartphone camera.

For communication, it’s a good idea to have a mix of options available:

  1. Local SIM Card: Purchase a local SIM card in each country you visit to have affordable data and local calling/texting capabilities.
  2. Messaging Apps: Utilize messaging apps like WhatsApp or Telegram to communicate with local contacts or other travelers.
  3. Language Translation Apps: Download language translation apps to help bridge the communication gap in countries where you don’t speak the local language.

Remember to always be aware of your surroundings when using technology and keep your devices secure. It’s also advisable to have a backup of important information, such as travel itineraries and addresses, in case of unexpected device issues.


Finally, consider setting boundaries and taking breaks from technology to fully enjoy the present moment and make lasting memories during your backpacking adventure in South America.


Safety and Security Essentials

Ensuring your safety and security is of utmost importance while backpacking in South America. Here are some essential items and tips to consider:

  1. Travel Insurance: As mentioned earlier, having travel insurance is essential to protect yourself against medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and theft.
  2. Money Belt or Hidden Pouch: Keep your valuables, such as your passport, cash, and cards, securely hidden on your person with a money belt or hidden pouch.
  3. Padlock: Use a sturdy padlock to secure your backpack or locker in hostels and guesthouses.
  4. RFID Blocking Wallet: Prevent electronic pickpocketing by using an RFID blocking wallet to protect your credit cards from unauthorized scanning.
  5. Backup Documents: Make digital copies of your important documents and store them securely in the cloud or email them to yourself for easy access in case of loss or theft.
  6. Travel Safety Tips: Research the safety situation in the countries and areas you’ll be visiting and follow common-sense travel safety tips, such as staying aware of your surroundings, avoiding isolated areas at night, and respecting local customs.
  7. Emergency Contact Information: Carry a card with important contact information, including local emergency numbers and the contact details of your embassy or consulate in each country.
  8. Self-Defense Items: Carry self-defense items such as a whistle or personal alarm to attract attention in case of danger.
  9. Local Currency: Carry small amounts of local currency for emergencies and situations where credit cards may not be accepted.
  10. Traveling in Groups: Whenever possible, travel with a buddy or join group tours for added safety and security.

It’s important to stay informed about the current situation in the countries you plan to visit and be aware of any travel advisories or warnings. Stay connected with other travelers and locals to stay updated on the local conditions and any potential safety concerns.


Remember that no matter how well-prepared you are, it’s essential to trust your instincts and prioritize your personal safety at all times. By taking necessary precautions and being alert, you can have a safe and enjoyable backpacking experience in South America.


Outdoor Gear and Recreation Items

South America is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering a wealth of opportunities for adventure and exploration. To make the most of your backpacking trip, be sure to pack the following outdoor gear and recreation items:

  1. Hiking Gear: If you’re planning to embark on hikes or trekking adventures, pack essential gear such as a durable backpack, trekking poles, a lightweight tent, a sleeping bag, and a camping stove.
  2. Waterproof Gear: Prepare for unpredictable weather conditions by bringing a sturdy waterproof jacket, waterproof pants, and waterproof bags or covers for your belongings.
  3. Travel Hammock: Relax and unwind in the great outdoors by packing a lightweight travel hammock to set up in scenic spots.
  4. Water Purification System: Ensure a clean and safe water supply by carrying a water purifier or water purification tablets.
  5. Binoculars: Spot wildlife and admire breathtaking landscapes with a pair of compact binoculars.
  6. Inflatable Camping Pillow: Rest comfortably during your outdoor adventures with an inflatable camping pillow for added neck and head support.
  7. Outdoor Cooking Essentials: If you plan on cooking your meals while camping, bring lightweight cookware, utensils, and a portable camping stove.
  8. Swiss Army Knife or Multitool: Be prepared for various situations with a versatile tool that includes a knife, scissors, screwdrivers, and more.
  9. Headlamp or Flashlight: Pack a reliable headlamp or flashlight for nighttime activities or navigating in low-light conditions.
  10. Travel Journal and Pen: Capture your thoughts, experiences, and memories in a travel journal to cherish for years to come.

Before embarking on any outdoor activities, research the necessary permits, safety information, and local regulations. It’s also essential to respect the environment by practicing Leave No Trace principles, such as properly disposing of waste and minimizing your impact on the natural surroundings.


Remember to pack according to your planned activities and the specific climate and terrain of the regions you’ll be visiting in South America. Carrying the right outdoor gear will enhance your experience and allow you to fully enjoy the beauty of the continent.


Miscellaneous Items and Extras

In addition to the essential items mentioned earlier, there are a few miscellaneous items and extras that can enhance your backpacking experience in South America. While these items may not be necessary for everyone, they can certainly add convenience and comfort to your trip. Consider packing the following:

  1. Travel Pillow and Blanket: For long journeys or overnight bus rides, a comfortable travel pillow and blanket can make a big difference in terms of rest and relaxation.
  2. Earplugs and Sleep Mask: These can be handy for getting a good night’s sleep in noisy or brightly lit environments, such as busy hostels or overnight flights.
  3. Travel Umbrella: Come prepared for unexpected rain showers by packing a small, compact travel umbrella.
  4. Trekking Poles: If you plan on tackling challenging hiking trails or mountainous terrain, trekking poles can provide stability and support.
  5. Travel-Sized Laundry Detergent: For longer trips, carry travel-sized laundry detergent to do laundry on the go and minimize the amount of clothing you need to pack.
  6. Portable Clothesline or Travel Sink Stopper: These can be useful for drying your clothes in hostels or allowing you to hand wash them in bathroom sinks.
  7. Travel Sewing Kit: Pack a small sewing kit for quick repairs on clothing or gear.
  8. Travel Adapters for Electronics: In addition to the universal travel adapter mentioned earlier, consider bringing specific adapters for your electronic devices, such as cameras or laptops.
  9. Snacks: Having a supply of energy bars, trail mix, or other compact snacks can come in handy during long journeys or when you’re in remote areas without easy access to food.
  10. Entertainment: Bring a deck of cards, a book, or any other form of entertainment that you enjoy during downtime or long transportation journeys.

These miscellaneous items and extras are meant to enhance your comfort, convenience, and enjoyment during your backpacking adventure. Remember to prioritize the items that are most relevant for your specific journey and personal preferences.


Go forth and explore South America with these items in your backpack, and get ready for an unforgettable experience!



As you prepare for your backpacking adventure in South America, packing the right essentials is key to ensuring a comfortable and enjoyable journey. By considering the specific climates, activities, and environments you’ll encounter, you can create a tailored packing list that meets your needs.


In this article, we’ve covered a comprehensive range of items to consider, from clothing and footwear to travel documents, toiletries, and outdoor gear. Remember, the goal is to be prepared without overpacking, so be selective and prioritize the essentials.


Additionally, we encourage you to take safety precautions and be mindful of your personal security throughout your journey. Familiarize yourself with the local customs and regulations, and follow common-sense travel safety tips to ensure a smooth and worry-free experience.


Lastly, while it’s important to have a well-packed backpack, don’t forget to immerse yourself in the beauty and culture of South America. Embrace the adventure, try new foods, learn the local phrases, and make meaningful connections along the way.


Now that you have a comprehensive packing list at your disposal, it’s time to embark on your South American backpacking adventure. So go ahead, embrace the unknown, and create unforgettable memories as you explore this vibrant and diverse continent!