What does one pack for a very very long backpacking trip with no end date? Too much, apparently, if you’re me. [In the time since I wrote this and forgot to post it I’ve since discarded many items]. I’m hoping to do a “what’s in my pack” post one of these days, but taking it ALL out, arranging and photographing it seems a huge amount of work now that my items are all nestled into their assigned nooks and crannies. So instead, I present:

5 Unexpected and Slightly Random Backpacking Essentials

The Multiclava

Multiclava around neck (not currently in use)

What Is It | I’ve mentioned this before. It’s like a bandanna without an end (it’s sewn together), and the packaging boats a variety of uses. For me, it’s proved valuable in ways beyond what the inventors may have intended (seems unlikely they imagined people would use it to stash valuables around their stomach).

Why Use It | The multiclava aka buff has a lot of uses. Here are a few of my favorites (and most creative).


  1. Headband/bandanna. OK this isn’t creative, but I like headbands.
  2. Cover for dirty hand while sleeping on bus. So I can rest my head in my hand but avoid touching my skin with dirt/germs/filth (and avoid breaking out as a result).
  3. Dust mask. Great for riding in tuk-tuks, sandy spots, or other transit where there is pollution.
  4. Hiding valuables on your person. See more in this post: How to Secure Your Valuables While Traveling (On Person)

What Is It | A carabiner is basically a clip-on keychain. Probably, it has other names too. You don’t need a real one (like used for rock climbing), any cheap/free one will do.

Why Use It | I use it to clip my sneakers on my bag. Clip my flip flops on my bag. Clip my big water bottle to my bag. Clip my bag to my other bag when I’m leaving it in storage. Clip shopping bags to my bag. Clip my shoes together. Clip my wet towel to my bag so it doesn’t get other items wet. I could go on. But you get the idea. High utility value! Wait, did I mention I use it to attach things to my bag?


What Are They | Small, cloth zipper pouches. Such as makeup or toiletry pouches, or small wallet-like pouches.

Why Use Them | I have at least 5 in my bag as I type this. I use pouches to organize everything and also to keep my items contained so they don’t get lost. I have a pouch with all my chargers/cords, one dedicated to “essentials” (headlamp, plastic spork, padlock, sharpie), one dedicated to my hair ties, one dedicated to medicines/bandages. They are a lifesaver. Not literally, but packing-wise. It’s also fun to buy patterned ones as you travel — a souvenir you can actually use, which kind of sort of makes it “in budget.”


What Is It | You know what a scissors is.

Why Use It | People always ask me why I have a scissors, and I always say in response “why don’t you have scissors?” I use them ALL THE TIME from cutting tags off shirts, trimming rogue strings off cheap market clothing, giving myself a quick haircut, removing packaging, cutting out pictures or directions from maps, cutting visa photos, I can go on…Just make sure to put them in your checked bag when in transit or they might get confiscated.

Shark Leash Watch

What Is It | A plastic, waterproof watch with a light, cloth band and velcro clasp.

Why Use It I had a Shark watch (or 5) as a child. When debating what watch to get for my travels I knew I wanted one that was waterproof and comfortable to wear all day everyday and maybe at night. I use it daily and love it. It’s stained a nasty color of brown, that’s how much I love it. It’s also easy to velcro onto my bag if i don’t want to wear it, or to velcro important items to my wrist (IE a key while I am running). Waterproof is essential for swimming/showering/getting caught in the rain/unexpected travel spills. The light is essential for dark bus rides/hostel rooms. Also it’s fun to play with. I mean, it’s call the “shark light.” 

Roka Sunglasses

Sunglasses in Action

What Is It | Ok, everyone has sunglasses right.

Why Use It | These are by far and away my #1 best travel “gear” item I purchased. They are comfortable, stay tight on my face while I run to catch a bus, lean over the deck of a ferry, or look for shells on the beach. They totally obscure my eyes when I want to feign I am sleeping to avoid conversing with a creepy stranger or overzealous traveler. Best of all, they remain in surprisingly good shape despite being worn for months on end, thrown into random bags (without their case, oops), and slammed into dozens of metal hostel bunk bed posts. They are comfortable and don’t give me the too-tight glasses headache. And they look cool (read: normal).

Other Contenders

Fanny Pack | Lots of people have these. I didn’t for my first 4 months, but now I do I’m obsessed. Sometimes, you really just don’t want to carry your bag. And sometimes, it beats shoving cash into your underwear.

Beads | I like to craft so this provides me with hours of amusement, fresh travel jewelry as I make new bracelets, and a nice little token/souvenir to present to other travelers I befriend.

Plastic Coil Hair Ties | I guess these are all the rage now, if you are up on the latest teen trends (which I am not). Regardless, I find them useful for avoiding knotted hair on long bus rides, as well as closing bags, affixing stuff together, and myriad other uses. Also don’t get gross/wet like hair things after swimming since they’re plastic. I will note, however, I have lost a lot of hair using them.

Posted by Katie

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