What if I told you that bringing less on your trip is actually the best way to go? While you might know that already, it’s easier said than done. This is especially for backpacking and adventure travel. Now, I’ve never “backpacked” myself, so this blog post is by a fellow traveler who backpacked around for two years. No matter what kind of traveler you are, there are great tips for packing light in this post!
Cal Bailey from Mountain Leon is here to share his best tips on packing light when you’re backpacking through Europe, or out in the mountains!
If there’s one lesson that my backpacking days have taught me, it’s that careful deliberation is essential when choosing every single item I put inside my travel bag. It may go against everything you know, but when it’s you vs. the wild, your best weapon will be packing efficiently, not heavily. And believe it or not, you don’t really need to pack a lot of things—even for a year-long trip to the mountains!
With less equipment weighing you down, you’ll be able to travel faster and farther, with a whole lot less suffering. Packing light may mean sacrificing some comfort, but it will help you more in the long run. Of course, it’s okay to bring some extra items that will be useful for unexpected moments, but what I’m saying is, just don’t bring too much.
After all, the beauty of traveling is in immersing oneself in the journey—and you can’t really do that unless you’re light and ready every minute of the adventure.
How to Pack Light (With Lots of Gear and Technology)
So, how much should my bag weigh?
Of course, this varies from person to person, and it depends on what type of outdoor activity you are after and for how long. For the purposes of this article, let’s say you’re planning on taking a week-long trip.
Experts generally recommend about 20 pounds (9 kilograms) or less for a week or two of travel. This may seem too little, but with just a few, simple changes, you could reduce about 5 pounds (2.25 kilograms) to 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) from your total load.
The most foolproof way to instantly lighten your load is to replace the largest items with lightweight substitutes, meaning your backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and pad.
Top 10 Tips to Pack Light
1.Invest in lightweight everything
Backpack: Backpacks are the ultimate go-to for light traveling. Look for one with high-quality stitching, an ergonomic design, and a lot of interior compartments.
- The best packing hack: get a bag slighter smaller than the one you’ll use, fill it up with everything you need, then transfer everything to your real bag. This will force you to pack less and lighter.
- An ideal pack weighs 2 pounds (1 kilogram) to 5.5 pounds (2.5 kilograms), so try to find one within this range.
- To lessen the weight, you can even remove unnecessary features like straps, buckles, and pockets.
Tent: Nowadays, you can find ultralight tents that weigh 4 pounds (2 kilograms) or less. You’ll need trekking poles and lightweight cords to set it up. For less than 1kg, you could use a tarp or hammock, but these very light shelters can only protect you from so much.
Trekking Poles: Carbon fiber poles are the lightest ones. Poles are essential as they help maintain balance on rough terrains, offer support for uphill and downhill climbs, and double as tent poles.
Sleeping Bag or Sleeping Pad: Some travelers opt to bring both, but unless you’re camping in extremely cold conditions, one should suffice. You can read this guide as a help in choosing the right sleeping bag. A combination bag, with a thicker side and a thinner side, is an option that will withstand a range of temperatures yet is still relatively light. To save some weight, you could find a ¾-length pad instead of the regular full-length one.
Jacket: You need an ultra-thin fabric that is durable, breathable, wind and water resistant, and most importantly, keeps you warm and comfy. Avoid heavy fabrics that take up a lot of space, such as wool.
Stoves: For short trips, an LPG canister stove is the way to go. For longer trips or travelers who don’t need to boil plenty of water: alcohol stove. For forest trips: wood stoves (to avoid bringing fuel). Bring dehydrated food, and simply add boiled water instead of cooking from scratch.
Technology: If you absolutely must bring along a laptop for work or documentation purposes, find yourself a light travel laptop. Don’t forget to pack a powerbank with it!
2. Abide by the multi-use rule
A rule to live by: make sure that every item you bring can be used for more than one thing.
There’s no need for plates when you can eat food right out of the pot. Bring a spork instead of a spoon and fork, eat oatmeal in your coffee cup. Dr. Bronner’s can wash clothes can substitute as shampoo, cleanse your skin, clean the dishes, and even brush your teeth.
3. Drink like a camel
Instead of lugging around water the whole day, drink like a camel in the morning to keep you hydrated for most of the day. If there are streams or lakes along the way, use a filter to refill your bottle.
Flimsy plastic bottles are better to carry around as they’re usually 80% lighter than a harder plastic bottle.
4. Repackage your food
If you’re planning on taking a week-long nature trip in a forest park, you should bring enough food to keep you going. Have food to sustain you with at least 3,000-4,000 calories per day. It sounds like a lot, but trust me, you’ll need all of it because you’ll be walking long distances and doing all kinds of strenuous activities for most of your trip.
Of course, it’s going to be a bit more challenging to pack food that will last for days because of the perishable quality of fresh foods. So while you’ll be able to eat fresh foods on the first day, you’ll need other options after that. Some of the foods that you can pack and will last longer include:
- Energy bars
- Trail mix
- Cured meats (e.g., beef jerky)
- Dried fruits
- Dehydrated foods like pasta, rice mix (if you can boil water)
The best way to eliminate bulky packaging is to choose small packets for condiments and other things, or repack your food in Ziplocs to keep it well preserved.
5. Don’t pack more than a week’s worth of clothing
Bring clothes you wouldn’t mind using over and over again and that are easy to match with other pieces of clothing.
Never pack clothes you just might wear. Chances are you’ll forego using these clothes because you’re not really inclined to wear them in the first place. Remember, packing light means sticking to the essentials. So, pack clothes that you know you’re actually going to wear and can be easily mixed and matched.
Also consider what season you’re traveling when deciding what to bring. For instance, if you’re heading for a backpacking trip in the summer, have your swimwear ready.
As for shoes, bring along just 1 extra pair. Both your packed pair and the ones you’ll be wearing should be comfortable enough to let you walk around and explore for hours.
6. Pack smart
Rolling clothes is far more superior than folding as it produces fewer creases and frees up more space. Invest in slim packing cubes by eBags to help you organize your clothes and waste less space.
These are so helpful for compartmentalizing everything, from clothes and undergarments to small gadgets and tools. Since packing cubes come in an array of sizes, you can fit each one strategically into your backpack.
To learn more about packing techniques, MEC has a tutorial about “packing zones.”
7. Don’t bring too many toiletries
Aside from a travel-sized toothpaste and toothbrush, there’s no need to bring along a bag full of toiletries. Always, always stick to the barest essentials or those that have multiple uses.
And if you can’t let go of that favorite brand of shampoo or sunscreen, then put it in spill-proof packaging like these Human Gear GoToobs made of food-grade silicone. These are perfect for toiletries (or even condiments!) and they meet airline standards for liquid transport.
8. Bring only what is absolutely necessary
If you find yourself bringing something “just in case,” chances are you won’t end up using it at all. Remember that you can rent outdoor gear locally or find a substitute within your essentials. Back up items will only take up space, add weight, and slow you down. Keep in mind that you should only bring must-haves, not nice-to-haves. You’ll only regret lugging around half your closet, instead of enjoying the trip as you should.
To recap, this is everything we think you should bring:
- Sleeping bag
- Stove and fuel
- Water treatment or filter
- Plastic water container
- Lighter or waterproof matches and fire starter
- Lightweight cord
- Disposable underwear
- Gloves or mitts
- First aid kit
- Navigation system (map/GPS/compass)
- Flashlight + batteries
- Firestarter (waterproof matches/lighter)
What you can do away with:
- Full-length sleeping pad
- Utensils and plates/bowls
- Dishes and cup
- Reading materials
At the end of the day, the lightpacking movement aims to make your trip as enjoyable and as hassle-free as possible. You know what they say: with a light load comes a light heart. Having the best time in traveling means you’re not bogged down by unnecessary things.
If you do feel like you need something in particular, compensate for that extra weight by exchanging it for a lighter alternative. Remember: lightpacking isn’t about bringing as little as possible, but about bringing as much as you need for as little weight as possible.
About The Author: Cal Bailey runs Mountain Leon – a travel blog he started after two years backpacking around the world. If you want to learn more about life on the road or his blogging, check it out!