When backpacking, everyone says to pack lightly but most travelers learn the hard way with a 70-80 kilo pack filled to the brim, barely able to wobble up the 5 flights of stairs to their hostel room. There are so many options to choose from when deciding the weight of one’s knapsack but each traveler must find a balance between their own personal traveling necessities and the ease at which they travel.
While some travelers swear by a 30-40 kilo bag because not only can you stuff it underneath your seat but you don’t necessarily have to check it on flights, making your trip that much faster. Others, can’t live without the basic necessities, such as more than 2 changes of clothes. Whatever option you choose, make sure you pack lightly because not only will you not want to lug your 70 kilo pack through 20 blocks of hot sweaty people in search of your hostel but you will want to have room to fill your pack up with wonderful treasures that you find along the way. Below is a list of ten ways to make lugging around a large sack as painless as possible.
How to Pack Lightly
This towel should be light, small and fast-drying. Try either a Viscose towel (it has a soft, sleek feel), or a Micro Fiber towel (which feels more like a towel). Go for the biggest size as they run pretty small and you don’t want an uncomfortable run-in while walking to and from the shower. I recommend the Sea to Summit Tek Towel.
2. Rain Jacket
This needs to be compact as you will often need to stuff this into your day bag when going on excursions. While Gortex jackets will provide the best coverage, they tend to be very expensive. I opted for a Marmot jacket made from 100% Nylon Ripstop and its great. I bought the jacket over 5 years ago and it still keeps me dry. Marmot Woman’s PreCip Rain Jacket or Marmot Men’s PreCip Rain Jacket.
This is a must have on any travelers packing list. At some point on every travelers trip you will require a blade, can-opener or bottle opener. Plus, the tweezers and scissors just mean that you don’t need to pack an extra pair in your cosmetic bag. However, if you are opting for the 30-40 kilo bag and plan to check it on a flight, be aware that you will not be able to bring along a Swiss army knife. Check out this popular Swiss army knife: Victorinox Swiss Army Champion Plus Pocket Knife.
If going on a beach vacation, a sarong is a necessity. Lugging around another towel will only add weight and room to your bag. I usually pick up a sarong my first day at the beach and use it as my beach towel. Not only will it dry relatively fast in the heat but it can also be used as a blanket on long bus rides and a cover-up for both men and women.
When I traveled through India and couldn’t bare to sleep on the dirty sheets, I would simply roll out my comfy sleeping bag and imagine I was resting in a nice hotel. Not only does a sleeping bag offer travelers great flexibility (i.e. you are able to sleep in dirty accommodations without a care) but it also allows travelers to sleep in a range of accommodation (i.e. camping without borrowing a company’s dirty sleeping bag) and similar to the Sarong it can serve as a blanket on heavily air conditioned bus trips.
6. Flashlight or LED Light and a headlight
When backpacking I generally opt for the smaller LED light, while its not great if you need it for trekking, it serves it purpose. Depending on where you go, you will be surprised by how much you use your flashlight. For instance, several towns/cities in Eastern Africa do not have electricity past certain hours and if there is a rain storm which knocks out electricity, you will definitely need your flashlight to get yourself around. I know while it may seem excessive to have a headlight as well, this is one of my most prized traveling possessions, desired by all fellow backpackers whenever camping. It is near impossible to cook dinner, holding a flashlight, unless someone holds it while you cook. A headlight offers the flexibility you need to find your way around sheer darkness.
7. International Cell phone
Before you leave on your trip go to almost any unauthorized cell phone dealership and they can unlock your phone. This enables you to make/receive calls and texts abroad when you buy a local SIM card. Oftentimes SIM cards abroad can be as cheap as a beer (or even cheaper) and easily available. For instance, in Thailand SIM cards were sold at almost every 7-11. However, in some countries, gaining phone privileges is a bit trickier. For instance, in India, you need to register your SIM card number before you arrive in India and Orange requires your identification details. Cell phones are not only great for communicating but they also have a calculator, which always comes in handy when bargaining abroad and converting currencies; an alarm clock which is a must have in order to make early morning flights or to merely start your day off at a reasonable hour and; usually a camera for the unexpected photo opportunity.
For all the ladies reading this post, if you are going away for longer than 3 weeks you will need to bring along tampons. The problem with large amounts of tampons is that they take up a lot of room. That’s why whenever I go on long trips I opt for the pocket size tampons such as O.B. to make room for more important cosmetics. While these can be a bit gross in unsanitary conditions, they work just as well as any other tampon.
9. Mini Brush
I have long hair and love my big hair brush but to save space in my bag I bought one of those small crappy hair brushes from the drugstore with a mirror attached. The added mirror is great because not only does it save room being neatly tucked into your brush but it’s difficult to anticipate whether all hostels will have mirrors available.
10. Multipurpose Clothing
While this is a very broad category it can encompass anything from zip off cargo pants that function as both shorts and pants to multipurpose dresses that can be worn in numerous ways (I really like American Apparel’s cotton spandex jersey Bandeau dress http://store.americanapparel.ca/rsa8339.html) or a shawl that can be worn as a head/ shoulder covering.
Packing tips to maximize space in your backpack
- Roll rather than fold your clothes- not only are they less likely to get wrinkled but you can fit more clothes in more compactly.
- I like to use Ziploc bags for my clothes squeezing the clothes into each bag. Depending on how much you stuff into a bag you can try and seal out the air. I can usually fit three Ziploc bags, filled with all my clothes, in the top portion of my bag. While this system keeps the clothes compact it’s also a great way to organize your stuff. For instance, I put all t-shirts and tank tops in one bag, all bottoms in the other
- I like to use mesh bags for bathing suits, underwear etc.
- To keep things as clean as possible I cordon off the top of my bag from the bottom part of my bag using the zipper found in the lower section of my bag (most good knapsacks will have this feature- I travel with an Asolo). I keep all clothes at the top of my bag and I put shoes, books, electronics, toiletry bag and my sleeping bag in the bottom part.
- While I bring a small bag for Laundry, I only use it if I am sending my laundry out to be cleaned. Otherwise, I merely keep one pocket in the inside of my bag as the laundry pocket and stuff dirty socks, underwear in there. If I have a lot of big dirty items, such as jean, I usually put those in the bottom half of my bag. This keeps my clean clothes smelling fresh for as long as possible.
Its not always easy to pack lightly, but if you follow these simple tips will reduce the size of your pack.