South America Packing List – Everything You Need To Take!

Backpackers in South America

Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of possibilities when it comes to making a packing list for South America? We’ve got you covered!

A backpacking trip around South America may well be the best trip that you’ve ever taken. The continent provides a dizzying array of things to do, with everything from hiking to beach bumming to partying. In case that isn’t enough choice for you, throw in the diverse range of climates across the continent and you’ll be struggling to know where to start!

As the temperature varies hugely all over the continent, it is worth checking which countries are enjoying good weather during the months you plan to visit. Some activities are off-limits during parts of the wet season, for example, Amazon exploration or the Inca Trail, so it is important to do your research to get the most out of your trip.

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The South America Packing List Checklist

For those of you who have already made up your mind, then you’re in the right place. This post will tell you exactly what you need to pack for a backpacking trip around South America. As well as learning from our own mishaps backpacking the continent (you really do need a woolly hat despite what you may have heard), we have spoken to travellers and made the ultimate South America packing list!

Choosing the right backpack for South America

This first item is absolutely paramount for your South American adventure to be a success. After all, every backpacker needs a backpack!

There is some disagreement between backpackers about the best backpack to choose but generally, you will want something which is sturdy, doesn’t attract too much attention and has some degree of back support.

For those backpackers looking for a backpack of carry on size (no bigger than 45L), many companies such as Osprey offer bags that specifically cater to these measurements. However, if you are going to places which vary hugely in temperature or require you to camp, chances are you won’t be able to fit everything you need in a bag of this size. Instead, consider a larger 70 or 80-litre pack.

For more advice on this topic, check out our article here: The Best Backpacks for Travelling.

Day Packs and Anti-Theft Day Packs

As well as your main rucksack which will hold the bulk of your belongings, you will also need a smaller daypack. This should be light with a couple of compartments to store your most important belongings. As this is the bag you take with you on a daily basis, you probably won’t need to keep that much in it, namely your passport, phone, money and a bottle of water.

If you are particularly concerned with safety, it might be worth investing in an anti-theft backpack. There are hundreds of these available on the market and it can be confusing knowing which to choose. Check out our anti-theft backpack comparison post to help you decide which pack is right for you.

If saving space is more important to you, it is worth considering purchasing a fold-up backpack for convenience.

ZOMAKE Ultra Lightweight Hiking Backpack - Water Resistant Small Backpack Packable Daypack for Women Men

Toiletries – What to bring from home?


If you’re doing your bit for the environment then definitely make sure you check out the range of solid shampoos available. One bar can last you around three months! See more advice here on plastic-free toiletries.


If you are somebody who usually uses conditioner, then you will need it in South America as well. There is plenty of good, solid conditioner bars available online but it is easy to pick up traditional liquid conditioner while you are there.

High Protection Suncream

Although South America isn’t hot everywhere you go, the altitude makes you vulnerable to sunburn when you least expect. It is worth buying this at home to ensure value and quality, although you can easily replenish your stock after a visit to a pharmacy. Never opt for anything lower than factor 50 and make sure to reapply after swimming!

Nivea Sun Immediate Protection Moisturising Sun Spray SPF50+ 200 ml


This will be very important as not all bathrooms will provide soap (even in hostels)!


Easy to buy from pharmacies, supermarkets or even little old ladies in local markets. There is a lot of variety and you can usually buy the same brands that you are familiar with using at home.

Lip Balm with SPF

It is something you never consider until it happens to you. During my stay in Huacachina, I burnt my lips very badly and woke up looking like a fish. It was really painful and took days to heal. Always remember to apply a good quality lip balm with SPF protection!

Burt's Bees Lip Balm Stocking Stuffer, Moisturizing SPF 15 Lip Care Holiday Gift, 100% Natural with Sunscreen, Water Reistant, All-Weather (2 Pack)


Unless you are particularly picky about the type of razor that you use, these are cheap to pick up on markets and from individual street vendors, so you could leave this until you get to South America – or just go hairy!


Always better to be safe than sorry! Take a supply from home and stock up if needed from any local pharmacy.

Mosquito Repellent

If you are spending some time in the jungle, you absolutely should be using mosquito repellent with a high DEET content. Surprisingly, this isn’t always easy to purchase in South America so make sure you bring some with you. The best renowned brands with DEET content include Jungle Formula and Off!

Jungle Formula Maximum Insect Repellent Spray with DEET, 150 ml

Mosquito Net

Generally, nets are provided in areas that suffer from mosquitos. However, these nets are not always in good condition and it is common to see holes which these pesky critters can sneak into while you sleep. If you do want to carry your own, then buy a lightweight version that packs away small.

Universal Backpackers Mosquito Net for Single to King-Sized Beds – Fully-Enclosed Bed Canopy for Travel or Decoration – Free Bag, Hanging Kit & Adhesive Ceiling Hooks for Easy Setup

Toilet Paper

Most public toilets in South America can be used for a small fee. Once you have paid, you will usually be handed a wad of toilet paper. However, depending on how you are coping with the available food(!), this might not be enough. Always carry a roll of toilet paper on you so you don’t get caught short. Sometimes, you don’t always have the time to run off and buy some before it is too late!

Nail Clippers

Just because you’re travelling around South America, it doesn’t mean that you can completely say goodbye to personal hygiene!

Shower Bag Organiser

These are super handy in keeping all of your essential toiletries together. If you invest in one of the hanging ones, you can even take them into the shower with you!

Toiletry Bag with Hanging Hook Travel Bag Waterproof Makeup Cosmetic Bag Gym Bag Large Capacity Handle Toiletry Bag Black Organizer for Accessories Toiletry Bag for Women and Girls Full Leather Organizer for Accessories Toiletries Shampoo

Footwear for South America

Flip Flops

Havaianas are great for those lazy beach days!

Havaianas Men's Top Mix Flip Flops, Navy Neon Yellow, 9

Hiking Shoes

Personally, I prefer shoes over boots because there are less clunky to carry. Hiking shoes are built to cope with rough terrain so they will be a great partner for trekking as well as being comfortable for day to day use. Salomon, KEEN and Merrell all get great reviews on Amazon. 

Pictured below: Merrell Women’s Siren Edge Hiker.

Merrell Women's Siren Edge Q2 Sneaker, Vapor, 8 M US

Walking Sandals

These are a great option for exploring cities with a hotter climate. Sometimes you need to let your feet breathe!

KEEN Women's Whisper Sandal, Dark Shadow/Ceramic, 8 M US

Clothing Advice for South America

When it comes to packing for South America, layering up is key. Think layers over big bulky items of clothing. You always want something that will pack down small but that still serves its purpose! Here are some suggestions for clothing that are particularly useful in South America…

  • Lightweight Fleece: The temperature varies wildly so you will need to be ready for all scenarios. A fleece is a warm option which folds down small.
  • Quick Dry T-Shirts: These are a great option for travellers who plan to do some adventure activities during their trip – just make sure your travel insurance covers you! Quick dry t-shirts are great for washing on the go and also keep you cool during exercise.
  • Sports Leggings: These are a must-have item for travellers in South America. Selecting sport specific leggings will mean that the fabric is designed to be sweat-wicking which will come in use during physical activities or in hot climates.
  • Vests: Great for sunny days.
  • Scarf/sarong: A multi-purpose item which will come in use time and time again. It is necessary to cover up to enter some religious buildings and also to avoid getting burnt on the beach.
  • Buffs: Another great item with many uses. Wear it around your neck to stay warm during hikes or use it as a headband to keep your windswept hair at bay!
Man with hiking poles crosses bridge
Buffs are designed to keep you warm but also wick away sweat when you are doing demanding physical activities.
  • Jumper/Hoodie: You will need some kind of warm jumper for chilly nights and bus journeys. If you are planning on doing some Patagonia treks, the warmer the better!
  • Sunhat: Do not be fooled by grey skies. As so much of South America sits on the Andes, it is easy to get sunburnt at altitude, even on cloudy days.
  • Hiking trousers: The kind of quick-dry trousers that zip off into shorts are ideal.
  • Jeans: Great for casual day wear in cities but don’t take many pairs as they are heavy and bulky.
  • Shorts: Different to the hiking shorts mentioned above, pack a pair of light comfy shorts for beachwear or exploring particularly warm cities.
  • Underwear: It goes without saying that you will need this. Make sure you pick something comfortable!
  • Hiking Socks: If you’re planning to take on some of South America’s greatest treks, you will need tailored socks. These will help to keep the blisters at bay!
  • Socks: For day to day wear.
  • Waterproof jacket: The type of jacket that packs down into a small bag. These are easy to carry with you just in case the weather suddenly changes.
  • Base layers/thermals: These are something you will definitely want at some point during your trip. If you are spending any time at altitude or trekking through the mountains, thermals will be a lifesaver!
  • Swimwear: South America is home to some great beaches and there are some incredible opportunities to get in the water, be it for diving or surfing!
  • Woolly hat: You will be surprised how useful a woolly hat can be! However, if you forget yours, don’t fret. You can buy these adorned with alpaca stitchings all over the continent.
  • Gloves: Should be comfortable and have some grip. This makes them more adept to use with hiking poles.
Alpaca wool jumpers
It is easy to pick up warm accessories made from alpaca wool, especially in countries like Peru and Bolivia.

Female Specific Clothing Advice

  • Bras: At least one sports bra for adventure activities and another couple of comfortable everyday options.

Medical Supplies for Latin American Travel


It is always worth having a stash of basic paracetamol to ward off any headaches, hangovers or other types of pain. Absolutely bring a box or two of these from home as they are very expensive in some South American countries. In Ecuadorian pharmacies, they will insist on seeing your passport before they sell you any medication.

Activated Charcoal

A pot of charcoal is a cheap investment well worth having. Just one tablet when required will calm most tummy upsets and help to fight off stomach bugs.

Nature's Way Activated Charcoal Supplement, Gluten-Free, 100 Capsules (Packaging May Vary)

Diarrhoea Tablets

Some parts of South America have a notoriously bad reputation for food hygiene (Bolivia, I’m looking at you!), and as a result, it is always best to be prepared. Try to eat in restaurants with a high turnover of guests and avoid drinking juices that haven’t been prepared with filtered water. Your bowels will thank you later!

If you haven’t managed to avoid the dreaded churning stomach, make sure you have some diarrhoea tablets tucked away to bung you up if need be. Although it is best to let it all out, this isn’t always possible, especially when you’re on a lengthy bus journey!

First Aid Kit

This is a must-have item for backpackers. First Aid Kits are easy enough to pick up but are worth their weight in gold. South America is a haven for outdoorsy adrenaline seekers so a few cuts and bumps come with the territory.

First Aid Kits usually contain antiseptic wipes, plasters (band-aids) as well as iodine. Some of these kits also come with scissors but remember that you can’t carry these in your hand luggage.

Mini First Aid Kit, 110 Pieces Small First Aid Kit - Includes Emergency Foil Blanket, CPR Respirator, Scissors for Travel, Home, Office, Vehicle, Camping, Workplace & Outdoor (Red)

Read more about travel first aid kits here.

Hand Sanitiser

Sadly, hand soap in public toilets is not always easy to come by and you can leave the bathroom feeling a little gross. Always pop a bottle of hand sanitiser in your daypack so you can freshen up when need be. Keeping your hands clean will also help to prevent stomach upsets too.

PURELL Instant Hand Sanitizer, 8-oz. Pump Bottle

Sterile Needle Kit

For backpackers looking to go off the beaten track in South America, especially into the Amazon, it is advisable to bring a sterile needle kit. This is so if you require emergency medical assistance somewhere with poor facilities, you can rest assured knowing that the needles are sterile.

Lifesystems Mini Sterile First Aid Kit, CE Certified Contents, High Quality Items for Travel And Holiday

Motion Sickness Pills

Although it is possible to buy these from South American pharmacies, it isn’t a bad idea to bring a pack from home. The driving throughout the continent can be nauseating and the Galapagos speed boats can unsettle your stomach. Definitely take these ahead of flying over the Nasca Lines, it is an amazing experience but one that can be a little stomach-churning!

Anti-Malaria Pills

Although these are not required all over the continent, in some parts of South America, it is recommended that travellers take anti-malaria pills. The Travel Health Pro website is a great resource for establishing whether you will require these, just simply search for your destination country for more information.

Altitude Resistance Pills

There seems to be a lot of debate between backpackers about whether it is necessary to take pills aimed at preventing altitude sickness. The most recommended advice for dealing with a rapid increase in altitude is to allow yourself 2-3 days to acclimatise. During this time, make sure you stay hydrated and avoid pushing yourself too hard physically. 

If you are concerned about dealing with the effects of the altitude, book an appointment with your doctor before your trip to discuss your options. You may find that you are prescribed Diamox to offset the symptoms. Paracetamol can be used to treat the headaches that come as a result of adapting to altitude.

Feminine Medical Items for Backpacking

Sanitary Products

If you’re a tampon user, you might want to stock up on these before your backpacking trip. Although they tend to be available in most places, there is less variety than you are probably used to and they can be expensive. Pads are widely available.

For stress-free periods that don’t depend on local pharmacies, why not try a menstrual cup such as the Mooncup? This reusable alternative is a far better alternative for the environment and can last for up to 10 years!

DivaCup - Menstrual Cup - Feminine Hygiene - Leak-Free - BPA Free - Model 1

Contraceptive Pill

It seems to be fairly easy to buy the contraceptive pill across South America. Countries such as Argentina and Bolivia do not require a prescription and it is possible to purchase different varieties of the pill at any pharmacy. The price depends on the brand but there are cheap options around.

Beauty Products

Any kind of beauty product tends to be expensive in South America, particularly make-up. This continent is a great place to go wild and get up close to nature so save yourself some hassle and go natural. If you can’t bear to go completely barefaced, invest in a waterproof mascara that will stay on even in humid weather.


These are surprisingly challenging to find in some parts of South America. I had to go through over six shops in Cusco before I actually found some hair ties that didn’t have colourful bobbles on them. Stock up before you travel.

Toothbrush and Toothpaste

Although toothbrushes can be bought all over South America, invest in one of the plastic-free-versions before you travel to do your bit for the planet. Toothpaste can be picked up everywhere.

Biodegradable Eco-Friendly Natural Bamboo Charcoal Toothbrushes - Pack of 4

Documents and Essentials for Travel

Bank cards

Bring both credit and debit cards. It is always worth having at least one Visa card and one MasterCard as these are widely accepted across South America. However, many ATM’s will only accept one or the other. For more advice on how to save on ATM fees and expensive exchange rates while you travel check out this article on the best travel cards.


It is a good idea to have at least a little in the local currency beforehand. These save you having to withdraw money the second you arrive from costly airport ATMs. Always make sure you have a small stash of USD available to you as well, many departure taxes can only be paid in USD, even if that is not the local currency.


You will definitely need this!

Photocopy of Passport and Visas

It is always wise carrying copies of these in case of theft or loss.

Travel insurance details

Keep these details flagged in your emails and also make sure you have at least one printed version. You may be asked to show proof of travel insurance when visiting the Galapagos Islands. See here for advice on the best travel insurance for South America.

Copies of Important Reservations

Call me old school but I like to have a printed confirmation of important reservations. Always take a print version of your flight booking, you never know when you could need it! After I arrived at São Paulo airport, the woman in customs was going to refuse me entry as she didn’t believe I had a connecting flight. My printed flight booking saved me there!

Extra Passport Photos

It is worth having a few of these in case they are required for visas.

Safety: Anti-Theft Travel Items for South America

While the safety situation for travellers to South America is definitely blown out of proportion, you may want to invest in some anti-theft and secure travel accessories for your backpacking trip in order to feel more confident on the road.

Anti-theft daypack

These specialist anti-theft backpacks usually come with slash-proof fabric and lockable zips. They are a good way to keep your belongings safe, especially in areas where bag slashing or snatching is common. 

Bumbag/Fanny Pack

Keep your most valuable items exactly where you can see them to help deter opportunistic thieves. It is much easier to pickpocket a backpack than a bumbag!

JanSport Fifth Avenue, Black, One Size

Money Belt

For an even more subtle way to carry your cash, purchase a money belt to wear under your clothes. Look for belts that have RFID blocking technology like the one below as this will stop thieves skimming your bank cards as they walk past. If a money belt isn’t for you, there are a range of money belt alternatives available too!

Travel Money Belt with RFID Block - Theft Protection and Global Recovery Tags (Beige-REG)

Extendable Padlock

A padlock is always handy for staying in dorm rooms as most hostels will provide lockers but not actual padlocks. Having a padlock with an extendable lock allows you to lock your belongings to your chair on long bus journeys so you can get a restful nights sleep.

Master Lock 719D Steel Cable with Integrated Outdoor Padlock with Key, 1 Pack

Decoy Wallet

If theft is something that you are concerned about, you could always carry a decoy wallet to hand over if threatened. Stash your real cash in a money belt but always carry the decoy just in case. Keep a couple of cards you don’t need inside, (like an expired gift card or a store loyalty card) and a small amount of cash ($10 or so) to avoid being called out if the worst happens.

Travel Insurance

You should never travel without travel insurance and for good reason! Always make sure that you are covered for any adventure activities that you plan to do and if you are visiting high altitude locations, make sure that this is covered in your policy as well. Some providers exclude claims for accidents that occur above 3000 m.

Technology and Travel in South America

Warning: Replacing or repairing technology in South America can be very expensive, therefore it is advisable to buy products of this nature at home.

E-Reader or Kindle

The world of reading has evolved massively over the last ten years and sadly, paper books just don’t cut it anymore. Many hostels have relinquished their book exchanges because they find the same old paperbacks hanging around for years on end.

Without a doubt, the way forward is an E-Reader or Kindle. Some of these have massive amounts of storage so you can take enough books to last you years! The great thing about getting a Kindle is that you are able to top up your Amazon account before you go and buy books on the road using the money already applied to your account.

Kindle Paperwhite – (previous generation - 2018 release) Waterproof with 2x the Storage – Ad-Supported

Mobile Phone

I have heard many travellers say that they downgraded their mobile phones as a precaution for travelling in South America. However, a newer phone allows you to use all of the best apps for helping you get the most out of your trip.

In order to keep your phone out of unwanted hands, make sure you lock it away at night and don’t check it absentmindedly at night or whilst you’re walking through busy areas.

Portable charger

This is a must-have for long, arduous bus journeys! Portable charges are usually small and compact which means they fit comfortably in your daypack and you’ll never have to be without your phone.

INIU Portable Charger, USB C Slimmest & Lightest Triple 3A High-Speed 10000mAh Power Bank, Flashlight Battery Pack Compatible with iPhone 13 Pro 12 11 X 8 Samsung S20 Google LG iPad etc [2021 Version]

Travel Adaptor

Although it is common to see country-specific travel adapters, invest in the long term and buy a universal travel adaptor. Bonus points if it has a number of USB ports too as you’ll be able to charge the vast majority of your stuff at once. I guarantee this will make you hugely popular with your dorm mates who are arguing over the last socket!

International Travel Adapter Universal Power Adapter Worldwide All in One 4 USB Perfect for European US, EU, UK, AU 160 Countries (Blue)


There is a lot of debates about the best camera to take travelling. Although the DLSR can’t be rivalled in terms of photo quality, they are heavy, expensive and probably overkill for the average backpacker. Instead, opt for a cheaper and lighter camera which is easy to operate. Check out this guide for more tips on choosing the perfect travel camera for beginners!

Spare Camera Battery

There is nothing worse than being halfway through a once in a lifetime experience to realise your camera only has one bar of battery remaining. Purchase and carry a spare battery for times like this.

Cables and Chargers

This is obvious but it is something we are all prone to forget from time to time. Some ultra-specific cables (like cameras for example) can be very difficult to get replaced on the road. Always go through all of your electronics to make sure you have the right cables for them.

Waterproof Camera

Action cams are very popular for backpackers in South America owing to the wealth of adrenaline activities you can do there. Although the favourite action cam is by far the GoPro, the point and shoot TomTom Bandit is a good option for those on a tighter budget.

Waterproof Phone Case

This is a great option for backpackers who don’t have the money to splash out on a specific camera for underwater use. Instead, grab one of these waterproof phone cases for all your snorkelling and diving trips.

JOTO Universal Waterproof Pouch Cellphone Dry Bag Case for iPhone 13 Pro Max Mini, 12 11 Pro Max Xs Max XR X 8 7 6S Plus SE, Galaxy S20 S20+ S10 Plus S10e /Note 10+ 9, Pixel 4 XL up to 7" -Black

Memory Card

Many tour operators will often include videos and photos in the price to help you remember your trip. All that you need to do to get them is to provide a storage device such as a memory card for them to be saved on to. A USB drive is another good option but memory cards take up less room.


Noise-cancelling headphones are a must for travel. Not only are they great for blocking out the noise from other people but they also prevent sound leakage from your device which means that your music isn’t bothering anyone else. Win-win!

Portable Speakers

There will probably be a time during your backpacking trip when someone will ask, ‘anybody got any music?’

Music is a great facilitator in social situations and portable speakers come in handy for beach days, barbecues and outdoors socialising in hostel gardens. In short, they are never a bad idea!

OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker, Louder Volume, Crystal Clear Stereo Sound, Rich Bass, 100 Foot Wireless Range, Microphone, IPX5, Bluetooth Speakers (Black)

Miscellaneous items…

Electric Shaver

For all you guys looking to stay trim during your trip, you may have found exactly what you are looking for in the form of a small battery-powered shaver. These are a great way to avoid splashing out on haircuts and beard trims!

Dry Bag

Travelling with at least two dry bags is a great idea. They are perfect for adrenaline activities where you could get wet or even for just keeping the sand out of your camera on the beach. The dry bags pictured below offer several different sizes so grab a few different ones to keep your belongings safe and dry, no matter the weather! 

2L/3L/5L/10L/15L/20L/30L 500D Tarpaulin Heavey-Duty PVC Water Proof Dry Bag Sack for Kayaking/Boating/Canoeing/Fishing/Rafting/Swimming/Camping/Snowboarding (Lightblue, 2L)

Laundry Bag

Let’s be honest here, backpackers are stinky. We recycle the same outfits over and over, without giving them half of the washes that they probably need. When it comes to repacking your bag, you don’t want to have to mix your smelly, dirty clothes with your fresh and clean ones. To prevent this, designate one bag as your laundry bag. A normal supermarket bag will suffice but if you are trying to cut back on your plastic use, take a look at a fabric alternative.


Don’t be tempted by the knock-off sunglasses you will be offered on South American beaches and instead opt for a pair that actually protect your eyes. It is best to purchase these in advance of your trip so you actually know what you’re getting.

It is important to look for shades that keep you safe from both UVA and UVB rays as these can both be damaging to your eyes. Sunglasses can be a costly purchase so make sure you get a decent case to prevent scratches and lengthen their lifespan!

Smith sunglasses (pictured below) are a great choice for outdoor activities as they not only keep your eyes protected but also enhance the colour of your surroundings. Although these sunglasses aren’t cheap, they will last for ages if you take care of them! 

Smith Lowdown XL 2 Sunglasses Black Gold/ChromaPop Polarized Black Gold

Ziplock Bags

These bags are useful for pretty much everything but particularly prove their worth in organising more tricky items. Ziplocks are ideal for storing long cables and helping to keep smaller bits such as hairbands and Kirby Grips together. For even more organisational joy, packing cubes are a great invention.

Filtered Water Bottle

This is likely to be the best investment you will make for your South America trip. There is a big plastic disposal problem over the continent and sadly, it is common to see plastic bottles laying by the roadside.

In the vast majority of places, South American tap water isn’t safe to drink so you will be forced to buy drinking water or filter your own. A filtered water bottle will take out all of the nasties for you and help you to save money on single-use plastic alternatives.

Although these water bottles can be a costly upfront purchase, you will quickly make your money back! The Grayl Geopress is our favourite filtered water bottle!



Still a necessary item that it is worth bringing with you!

Microfibre Towel

This is a must-have item for any backpacker. While they lack the luxury of a hotel-style towel, they do the job and take up just a fraction of the room in your pack. Microfibre towels are generally quick drying too, which makes them ideal for travellers!

Rainleaf Microfiber Towel,Green,24 X 48 Inches

Waterproof Backpack Cover

If you intend to do a lot of camping, trekking or biking, you may also find that investing in a waterproof backpack is worthwhile for keeping your stuff dry!

Even if you don’t plan on doing a lot of outdoor activities, a waterproof cover for your backpack is always a good idea. South American weather can be unpredictable so it is always best to come prepared. Always take note of your backpack size when buying a cover, you don’t want to end up with one that doesn’t fit! (The pack cover was voted the best budget present in our gifts for hikers post!)

Sleep Mask

You absolutely will not regret purchasing an eye mask for those overnight bus journeys. In South America, it is bizarrely common for buses to show loud films late into the night. Block out the cheesy Jackie Chan action flicks with one of these bad boys and you’ll be asleep in no time!

Alaska Bear Natural Silk Sleep Mask, Blindfold, Super Smooth Eye Mask Unisex (Black)

Ear Plugs

Sleeping in dorm rooms for months on end means you will inevitably come across some snorers. Of course, sharing a room with a loud snorer is most people’s nightmare, especially when they are low on sleep themselves. However, carrying a little pack of these with you means you will be able to drift off with no problem.

Flents Ear Plugs, 10 Pair with Case, Ear Plugs for Sleeping, Snoring, Loud Noise, Traveling, Concerts, Construction, & Studying, NRR 33

Snorkel Equipment

If you plan to do a lot of snorkelling during your trip, it might be worth investing in your own mask and flippers beforehand. Renting this equipment on the Galapagos Islands can be expensive and the gear often isn’t of the highest quality.

If you are doing all your snorkelling in your first couple of destinations, you can always sell on your equipment to another traveller who is looking to save a buck on rental.


South America is a great place for language enthusiasts. Depending on where you are, Spanish and Portuguese classes can be found for cheap all over the continent. In order to consolidate your learning, flashcards are a great tool – if you can find them.

I searched for these for over a month in a number of different cities around Peru but to no avail. Bring some with you from home or get ready to spend hours cutting up coloured cardboard…

Journal or Travel Diary

Keeping a journal is a great way to remember your trip by. It helps you to record tips and recommendations that you have learnt from other travellers and also helps you to plan (as much as you want to anyway)! As brilliant as mobile phones are, they can sometimes attract unwanted attention and let’s face it, no one is going to be interested in stealing your diary!

Old World Journal (Notebook, Diary) (Travel Journal) (Guided Journals) (Full Size Foldover Journals)

Safety Pins

Safety pins are useful for a whole manner of things, whether it is keeping your jeans done up when you’ve lost the button or replacing your old iPhone EE sim for an Argentinian one.

Camping/Outdoors Gear for Backpacking South America

Depending on where you going in South America, you may not need to go full Bear Grylls and think about camping. However, for backpackers considering a visit to more off the beaten track areas and especially Patagonia, camping is a necessity to keep costs down.


Although you could purchase one of these prior to your arrival, another good way to pick up a tent of decent quality is to look for people selling second-hand ones in Facebook groups like our very own South America Backpacker Community!

Many travellers buy camping equipment for one particular destination and then sell it on. This means you can pick up some great equipment for a steal of a price, all before selling it on again when you’re done with it! 

If you are going to look for your camping equipment this way, make sure you leave plenty of time to find something. You don’t want to be buying pricey camping equipment from specialist shops in Patagonia because no one was selling in the three days you gave yourself to find something!

Sleeping Bag

Make sure you don’t skimp too much on a sleeping bag as you will definitely regret it if you do. There can be a real danger when camping in cold conditions so make sure you’ve got a sleeping bag suited for the climate.

Opt for something which caters for all seasons, packs down small and is light to carry. The Clever Hiker has got loads of great recommendations when it comes to helping you choose a warm and lightweight sleeping bag.

Hiking Poncho

The weather changes quickly all over the continent and it is easy to get caught out, especially when you are trekking at high altitudes. Therefore, investing in a hiking poncho is always a good decision.

The best ones pack away very small and have something reflective on them just in case you get caught trekking in the dark. They usually cover from your head, right down to your knees so they are a great way to stay dry. Many hiking ponchos will have a decent-sized waterproof pocket for your electronics too.

Anyoo Waterproof Rain Poncho Lightweight Reusable Hiking Hooded Coat Jacket for Outdoor Activities

Duct Tape

This is a must for any adventurer. Duct tape cures a manner of all problems. Leaky tent? Duct tape. Hole in your shoe? Duct tape. Bad blisters? Stick a bit of duct tape over your normal plasters to keep them on!

Although a whole roll of duct tape takes up a lot of room, you can unwind a load and fold it up small. This is definitely one for the backpack, you never know when you could need it!

Hiking/Trekking Poles

I am a firm believer that when it comes to hiking, injury prevention is far better than cure. Trekking poles help to reduce stress on your knee joints and your arms also take some of the impact that would otherwise be absorbed by your leg muscles. When used correctly, they can aid in helping to sustain your body during long treks, especially when there are steep sections of trail.

TrailBuddy Collapsible Hiking Poles - Pack of 2 Trekking Poles for Hiking, Camping & Backpacking - Lightweight, Adjustable Aluminum Walking Sticks w/ Cork Grip

Head Torch

These are particularly useful if you are camping or embarking on trekking tours with early departure times. However, a head torch is also great for less active backpackers who are staying in dorm rooms and want to pack with minimal disruption to their roomies.

We recommend using a head torch with a red light as this affects your night vision less and is less glaring for anyone you accidentally point it at.

PETZL, ACTIK CORE Rechargeable Headlamp with 450 Lumens for Running and Hiking, Black


For those of you who like being outdoors, consider purchasing your own hammock. Of course, you can opt for the typical lazy day style hammock but more hardcore travellers may find a specific camping hammock better suited to their needs. The Wise Owl Hammock (pictured below) packs down to the size of a grapefruit! 

Wise Owl Outfitters Camping Hammocks - Portable Hammock Single or Double Hammock for Outdoor, Indoor w/ Tree Straps - Backpacking, Travel, and Camping Gear, Navy & Lt Blue (Single)

Inflatable Pillow

Although many travellers opt for the U shape travel pillow, an inflatable pillow is definitely more backpack friendly.

Scrubba Wash Bag

The Scrubba lightweight roll-up wash bag is great for backpackers who plan to wash their own clothes at least some of the time during their trip. Simply add water to your clothes and a little bit of wash liquid (or powder), before sealing the bag and scrubbing.

Scrubba Portable Wash Bag – Hand Washing Machine for Hotel and Travel – Light and Small Eco-Friendly Camping Laundry Bag for Washing Clothes Anywhere

Liquid washing soap

Great for travellers using the Scrubba Wash Bag, one bottle of Wilderness Wash will last you months. Just be careful that you dispose of your dirty washing water responsibly and away from natural water sources.

Sea To Summit Wilderness Wash (1.3 Ounce/ 40ml)

Washing Line

Pick up a portable washing line so you are able to dry your laundry wherever you go. The best options have a twist method for hanging clothes as they don’t require you to carry a bag full of pegs.

Design Go Go Travel Clothes Line, White, One Size

Camping Stove

Opt for a lightweight stove for basic cooking while you are camping. Be aware that gas canisters aren’t always easy to find and therefore, it can be beneficial to look at stoves that use other kinds of fuel.

Portable Coffee Maker

A travel coffee maker is an invaluable purchase for the backpacker that just can’t function without caffeine! You can buy loads of different types but opt for something that is easily packable which doesn’t take up too much space.

A Spork

An easy to use, multi-functional piece of cutlery that should be in any adventurer’s travel kit!

Light My Fire Camping Spork - Titanium Spork - Camping Utensils Metal - 3 in 1 Camping Spoon Fork Knife Combo - Spork Travel - Backpacking Spork - Lunchbox Spork - Camp Eating Utensil - Version 1.0

Let’s Pack This Up…

Pick up some packing cubes to get yourself organised! They have been a complete game changer for backpackers and make unpacking and repacking much easier, especially when you only need to find one thing!

The ones we recommend are the Bago Packing Cubes as they are durable and have a see-through mesh panel so you are able to see what you have packed in each cube without getting it out. 

Bago 4 Set Packing Cubes for Travel - Luggage & Suitcase Organizer - Cube Set (Purple)

Is there anything else you would add to this monster South America packing list? We would love to hear your thoughts!

Sheree Hooker Bio Pic
Sheree Hooker | Editor @ South America Backpacker + Winging The World

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind, a travel blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks.

Find her on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

1 thought on “South America Packing List – Everything You Need To Take!”

  1. hi! bungee cords and carabiners are always a must for me as well. never know when they’ll come in handy–as a makeshift laundry line, strapping oversized items to a pack, or for clipping on a water bottle!

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