How we Packed for our 6 Month South America Backpacking Trip

Surprise – We’re heading back to South America! Well, not literally just figuratively (for now) and what better way to dive back into our South American Adventure than with a packing + preparation post. I get asked all the time how we got ready for our six month backpacking trip and how we packed for such diverse climates. Besides selling some of our stuff (making over 2,500 bucks!) and donating the rest, we made sure to pack (and re-pack) everything we would need while on the road. Here’s a quick overview of what we packed for the trip, tips for essentials and our packing regrets!

What I started with... Pack, pack again, then re-pack!
I started with way too much stuff!… Pack, pack again, then re-pack!

Her Pack

Final Pack
Final pack
  • 1 backpack (did not pay retail price, got it cheap at REI Garage Sale)
  • 1 small day pack (included with pack)
  • 1 MacBook Air + Charger + Cover
  • 2 compression sacks (great for packing bulky items & keeping small items organized)
    • inside the sack: 1 fleece sweater, hiking boots, 1 top layer rain coat, 1 scarf, 1 pair of gloves, 1 beanie
  • 3 pairs of shoes
    • hiking boots (packed in compression sack), Havaianas (flip flops), Teva (closed toe sandals)
  • 1 microfiber towel
  • 1 dress for fancy occasions (actually used many times including a birthday and a baptism)
  • 1 bathing suit
  • 1 bathing suit cover-up
  • 3 stretchy activewear pants from Target
    • 1 long, 2 short (1 intended for exercise)
  • 1 “exercise” top
  • 1 silk robe/cover-up (also used as a bedsheet)
  • 3 tank tops
  • 1 thermal shirt
  • 1 thermal pant
  • 4 t-shirts (1 of them “fancy” enough to go out in)
  • 1 long sleeve Nike top (quick dry)
  • 1 skirt (all purpose, can be worn in cold and warm weather)
  • 1 khaki short
  • 6 pairs of underwear (including ExOfficio brand, wash & dry within a couple of hours)
  • 3 pairs of socks (one of them merino wool)
  • 3 bras (1 black, 1 white, 1 sports bra)
  • 1 Lycra undershirt
  • 1 multipurpose sarong/beach cover/ beach towel/ blanket
  • 1 pair of pj pants
  • 1 small plastic bag for toiletries
    • razor + extra refills of your favorite brand (maybe you’ll find your brand on the road but can be hard)
    • travel size bottles of your favorite shampoo + conditioner (will be hard to find your brand especially if you use the salon quality stuff. You will run out, so bring extra if you really need it)
    • toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash (all travel size, it will be easy to buy these things on the road)
    • deodorant
  • 1 makeup bag
    •   maybe 2-3 brushes
    •   powder, blush, simple eye shadow, mascara
    •   a small baggie or container for costume jewelry (nothing fancy, 1-2 pairs earrings; you’ll find some awesome souvenir jewelry along your travels)

His Pack

Manu's Pack
Manu’s Pack- *Large gloves were not packed and tennis shoes were replaced by Keen sandals in final pack
  • 1 backpack (did not pay retail price, got it cheap at REI Garage Sale)
  • 2-3 packing cubes
  • iPad + charger
  • GoPro Hero 3+ with a few accessories, external wall charger, 3 batteries
  • 1 solar lamp (came in super handy in Baru and on hikes)
  • 1 solar charger (very worth it!)
  • 3 pairs of shoes
  • 1 multipurpose beach cover/ beach towel/ blanket
  • 5 t-shirts
  • 1 “workout shirt”
  • 1 pair of “workout shorts”
  • 1 quick dry long sleeve shirt
  • 1 “fancy” button down shirt
  • 1 polo shirt
  • 1 cotton sweater
  • 1 down sweater
  • 1 thermal pant
  • 1 thermal shirt
  • 1 cotton shorts
  • 1 pajama shorts
  • 1 pair of gloves (did not take in the end)
  • 1 beanie
  • 1 scarf
  • 2 swim trunks
  • 1 “all weather” pair of pants
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 cotton sweat pants
  • 1 pair of linen pants
  • 6 ExOfficio underwear
  • 3-4 pairs of socks (one of them merino wool)
  • 1 microfiber towel
  •  1 small Ziplock with a few toiletries
    • toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash (all travel size)
    • small bar or bottle of body wash
    • deodorant

Absolute Essentials

  • passports along with copies (both USA and South American passports if applicable)
  • power converter
  • first Aid Kit (including medicine, bandages, antibiotic ointment, Benadryl cream (for bug bites), bug spray, sun block etc.)
  • multitool
  • locks and S-Biners for bags
  • unlocked cellphones + chargers
  • the GoPro is awesome! Although I didn’t really want it at first, Manu convinced me and it was a great purchase. We got ours at the REI Garage Sale for under 200 bucks at the time!
  • some local currency of the first country you’re visiting (we also got some Argentinian money from a friend)
  • lightweight external hard drive
  • a roll of toilet paper (you know you’re going to need it at the most inopportune time)
  • baking soda- it will become your best friend! wash clothes with it, drink it when you have heart burn, put it in your shoes etc. You can pick some up wherever you go but I recommend starting out with a mini box.
  • travel insurance!
    • I can’t stress this one enough, if you leave for your trip butt naked just make sure you have this.
    •  We used World Nomads and it came in very handy when I had to have emergency surgery in Chile four months into our trip)
Argentinian Pesos- Thanks Mark!
Argentinian Pesos- Thanks to our friend Mark!

Packing Regrets

  • Not bringing my favorite Jeans.
    • Jeans can be heavy but the perfect pair can be versatile for many situations eliminating the need for some other unnecessary items (like the one below)
  • Forgetting to unpack pants I couldn’t match with any other item.
    • They ended up being my pajama bottoms
  • Forgetting to pack a lightweight external hard drive from the beginning of our trip.
    • My brand new laptop was flooded with images and videos 3 months into our trip even after uploading them to the cloud. I thankfully ended up buying a hard drive in Chile, it was a godsend.
  • Packing clothes meant for “exercise”.
    • The extra shirt and stretchy pants I bought for exercise didn’t really do me any good because between tours, buses, planes and trains we didn’t really have time to workout.
    • Plus, sightseeing all day and all of the treks/hikes we went on was our workout (Machu Picchu, Pichincha & the W trek in Torres del Paine). Bonus- I lost 15 lbs on the trip!
  • Our ancient iPad was heavy, slow, clunky and barely got any use. We’ll think about a lighter weight gadget down the line.

Final Tips

  • Don’t bring a ton of guide books! They’ll pack on the pounds and you’ll miss out on authentic experiences. I know some people swear by them and we even met people on our trip who wouldn’t visit any place unless it was mentioned in Lonely Planet! If you must, here are a few tricks:
    • Borrow some guidebooks from the library a couple of weeks before your trip and do a little research. Keep notes, scans, etc. in an electronic file you can access from the cloud.
    • If you have a library account in the States you can download the Overdrive app and borrow e-books and audio books while aboard (including some guidebooks). I’m curious to know of any similar services in other countries… Comment below and let us know!
    • Many of the hostels have 1-2 copies of guidebooks you can borrow (even some in your native language).
  • REI is amazing but expensive. We bought some items there but saved a lot shopping around online (Amazon!)

Click here to download your very own packing list

◊ Have you backpacked through South America? What was your favorite place and what is something you never travel without? Let us know in the comments below!