What to Pack for China: Essential Items to Put in Your Backpack

Planning a trip to China? There will no doubt be a lot of questions on your mind. How will I navigate the country with no Mandarin (if you can’t speak it)? How will I take the trains alone? How will I handle the food?

These questions, and many, many more, were at the top of my mind when I went to China. But there was also a very pressing query about what to pack for China: what exactly do I include in my backpack?

A lot of things to take to China are run of the mill items that would be on your list for any backpacking trip. I’ve created a basic packing list that should help you to remember any staple items – but read on for some specific things to take to China.

Essential Items to Take To China

Water to Go Bottle

These babies are one of my go to travel items and something that I’d recommend to anyone travelling in less developed countries. They are a bottle and water filtration system – simply screw the filter to the bottle cap, fill it with water from any source, apart from sea water and – hey presto – clean, safe-for-drinking water. I filled my bottle up from taps all over China and didn’t get a bad stomach once. For someone who sometimes has serious stomach issues, that’s saying something – be sure to add one of these to your China packing list.

Lonely Planet China

I’m a huge fan of Lonely Planet – not only do I love the story behind it (the creators travelled from the UK to Australia over land and sea, which is an ultimate dream of mine) – but the guides are fantastically well written and provide great inside knowledge into cities, towns, national parks and even villages. And trust me, China’s somewhere where you’ll appreciate the insider info. Make sure you include a copy of Lonely Planet’s latest China addition to your suitcase!

Mandarin Phrasebook

Unless you’re fluent in Mandarin, one of these phrasebooks will come in very handy. Not only will they help you learn some Chinese, but you can point at various phrases for locals to read in Chinese characters. It makes everyday transactions a lot easier, trust me!

Kindle E-Reader

You’ll likely be taking some long train journeys in China – it’s the cheapest way to see the country, and gives you a chance to travel like the Chinese do. I loved travelling by train in China – but it must be said, it is long. My longest journey was a whopping 44 hours. That’s nearly two days straight on a train, without getting off. I probably spent at least 20 of these hours reading my kindle, and I was grateful to have all of my library on one device!
Related Post – Train Travel in China


I don’t doubt that you’ve been telling everyone you cross paths with about your China trip; and let’s face it, in this day and age, photos can’t always capture the magic. GoPros make it so easy to video and really capture moments; which ensure that you’ll remember your China backpacking adventure forever. I love the GoPro hero 5.

Collapsible Tupperware

At some point in your trip, probably more than once, you’ll go out for a dinner and find you have way too much. It’s just part and parcel of travelling in China. Bringing collapsible tupperware means that when this happens you can just whip one out, expand it and fill it, and tuck into it later on! It’s also great for storing snacks like fruit and veggies. The collapsibility is a great bonus; it means they’re super easy to pack in your bag.

Unlocked Smartphone

I know most people already have one of these, but if you don’t – or if you have one with limited storage – I’d highly recommend you invest before travelling to China. There’s lots of apps that you can make use of that will make your time in China a lot easier – but only if you have a good smartphone with lots of room. Here’s just a few:

  • Google Translate
  • MapsMe
  • China Metro
  • WeChat

If you want ultimate flexibility and ease when travelling in China, you could purchase an unlocked phone and sort a Chinese SIM when you reach the country – this will enable you to use data rather than rely on WiFi. I recently bought the unlocked BLU Vivo and love it.


If you’re staying in hostels in China – and I’d recommend it, there’s some pretty great ones! – you’ll want to make sure you keep your stuff safe. Hostels in China are kitted out with lockers, but you’ll need your own padlock. Pack a combination padlock, rather than one that needs a key – nobody wants to be the one who loses their key and subsequently has to request their own locker be broken into.


Keeping your valuables on the front of your person is a great idea when travelling anywhere – but in somewhere as dynamic and exciting as China, it’s important to have a set place to put your possessions. A bumbag is ideal.


This one is for the ladies – tampons are pretty much non-existent in China, and if you can find any they will be expensive. If you want to feel really comfortable during that time of the month, I’d highly recommend a Mooncup. Not only does it mean you won’t have to cart boxes of tampons around or rely on sanitary towels, Mooncups are much cheaper in the long run and are by far the more eco-friendly option.

Micro Fibre Towel

Of course, a towel is essential whenever you go anywhere – especially if you’re staying in hostels in China, where you’ll rarely have them provided. This micro fibre towel is lightweight, taking up barely any room in your bag and it dries super quickly – making it totally feasible to have a morning shower and a dry towel before checking out and catching your next train! If you’re not sure which microfibre travel towel to take with you, this handy comparison of the best microfibre travel towels will help.


Everyone’s skin is different, so I find it difficult to say that there is one beauty item you must take with you. But, especially if you’re visiting China in the winter or spending time inland, don’t forget to pack moisturiser. The air is incredibly dry, and it can have a serious effect on your skin. This moisturiser is vegan and will leave your skin protected.

Essential Items to Take to China – or any backpacking trip

Here’s a list of essential backpacking items to base your China packing list on. Please bear in mind that this list largely covers what to pack for China in the summer. Read on for what you should take in the winter!

What to pack for China in the winter

China’s climate is harsh. On my first trip, I don’t remember being cold – in July and August, it’s muggy and hot – between 35-40 degrees. Unless you’re going hiking, you won’t really need other clothing items other than listed above.

But the winter is a different story. Depending on which region you’re visiting, temperatures range from 15 degrees to -20 degrees or less. Be sure to pack layers, thermals, long trousers, a warm coat, scarves and gloves. The dryness of the cold makes it even more unforgiving, so be sure to include protection for your lips and skin.

Of course, it’s important to remember that China is a huge country, so the climate in one destination may be entirely different to another! I was in Chongqing last month (December) and while it was cold considering I’d just come from Australia, it was nothing on the severity of the north.

Books to Read about China

Part of the reason I love travelling in China is that it’s a hugely complex country. It’s so different to any other place I’ve visited, and I found it quite a humbling experience. Visiting China made me realise how big the world is but also largely that our fundamentals are all the same. China was my most rewarding travelling experience and I can’t wait until I return.

I think an understanding of Chinese history and culture is fundamental to travelling the country respectfully and with awareness. That’s why I’d highly recommend reading some books about China before or during your trip. Here’s some great ones:

Wild Swans

It’s long, it’s heart-wrenching and it’s eye-opening; Wild Swans really demonstrates what life has been like in China over the last century. It describes the fall of the dynasties, the founding of the PRC and the Cultural Revolution and its after effects through the lives of a grandmother, a mother and a daughter. Reading this book gave me an enormous insight to the lives and woes of the Chinese over the last century, and it gave me a much wider understanding of the country as it is today.

Factory Girls

This book discusses women’s role in China, particularly in working-class backgrounds. It’s an interesting take on the position that they play in society, especially when compared to male’s roles. It’s a necessary piece of literature to understand that part of modern Chinese society.

Country Driving

Another book based on Chinese development, the book not only explores the adventure that is driving in China but also how various industries are shaping and transforming the country. It’s a great book to read to understand contemporary China and how it is shaping the world.

Lost on Planet China

I found this book most useful in terms of learning about where each place is in relation to each other, rather than its culture – I thought the author could be a tad obnoxious. Nonetheless, it’s light hearted, and the narrator does poke fun at himself at times as well, for being a sort of ‘idiot abroad’. It’s also a great read if you’re planning your first trip to China and want to know the hot spots to add to your China bucket list.

Hopefully this list will help you answer some questions about what to take to China! If you have any more queries about China travel in general, feel free to leave a comment or drop me a message over on Facebook.

Disclaimer: some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. This is just one of the ways I keep this slice of the internet running!

 Pinning the night away…Wondering what to pack for China? This detailed China packing list will tell you what items to take with you on your China trip. It includes electronics, clothes and what to pack for China in winter. Click through to find out the best things to take to China!