Tips for Packing Light

pack-light-posterLast week,  Tortuga Backpacks contacted me about participating in an “expert’s roundup” response to the following question:

“What’s Your Best, Non-Obvious Tip for Packing Light?”

I gave it some thought over the weekend trying to weed out what advice I offer that is mainstream or perhaps not as well known. The response I sent was:
“Too many people think packing light is a contest to see who can take the least amount. It’s not. Packing light is the concept of taking only those items you deem necessary for an enjoyable trip. This will be different for everyone. After all, one person’s necessity is another person’s frivolous item.

Go through your packing list or lay out everything you plan to take on your bed or the floor. With every item, ask yourself why you’re taking it. If you start with the words “what if” or you only plan to use it once during an extended trip, it may not be a necessity. Too many non-necessities and you go from packing light to packing heavy. ”

And now I turn to you, my favorite one bag community, and ask what are your best, NON-OBVIOUS tips for packing light?

I’ll let you know when the Tortuga Backpacks posting is available.


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16 Responses to Tips for Packing Light

  1. Ed says:

    Most of my packing (80%) is for 3-5-day trips by car, but I still enjoy the “Pack Light” and “One Bag” approach. I have created a general packing checklist organized by Laptop Bag, Goruck II, Toilet Articles Kit (which goes in the GRII), and for car trips a Hanging Bag and Small Cooler (if taken). This lets me lay everything out on the bed once, snapshot it, put it in a checklist, and then react to the checklist for ever trip (2x/month or more). I’m updating my checklist from the last week-long trip for something upcoming. It gets everything out of my head (a la Getting Things Done) and lets me know that the thinking is covered. The nice thing about car trips is that you can also bring a small bar (oops, another bag :-). Enjoy your site and your posts.


  2. stevenshytle says:

    Learning to pack light happens a little bit at a time one purchase at time after contemplative review of the trip you just fished.

    Once you have packed for a four day trip you and then realize you are also packed for a two week trip is liberating.

  3. My tips:
    1. Do not start thinking about packing the night before your trip!
    2. Develop a master packing list and edit it after every trip – what worked, what didn’t.
    3. If a piece of clothing doesn’t work with the majority of other clothes you are taking – don’t take it (applies more to women than men).
    4. For those uncertainties (i.e. what if I need it?) pack less of what you can easily find at your destination (another shirt, sweater) – err on the side of things that are harder to get at your destination – i.e. good walking shoes, well tailored pants. So, if the choice is between another sweater and a second pair of walking shoes, take the walking shoes!
    5. Think in terms of multi use – i.e. pants you can wear during the day but also for a nice dinner out – Shirt that can be worn alone or over a t shirt if the weather is a cooler, etc.
    6. Always think in terms of multi tasking – i.e. use those nylon shopping bags for packing your shoes, small packing cube that you can empty at hotel and put your daily loose stuff in for your day bag, etc., etc.

  4. Paula Bag Lass says:

    1. Use a carry-on bag that is lightweight. Anything over 2.5 to 3lbs will add too much weight.
    2. As an example, four tops and four bottoms give you sixteen outfits. Careful planning, knowing what type of weather to expect and what activities are planned can produce a successful capsule wardrobe for one or six weeks. Add a couple of woolens or fleece that go with everything if expecting cooler temperatures, layering clothes is the best way. Scarves/wraps always come in handy for numerous situations.
    3. Material made with Modal (mixed with rayon / cotton / polyester etc.), drapes nicely, packs easily, hardly wrinkles, washes well.
    Old style acetate/spandex materials that used to be touted as “travel clothes” are too heavy for lightweight travel.

  5. D M says:

    Packing light, like travel itself, requires you to live your life very differently than how you live your life when you are at home (e.g., money belts, nightly laundry in a sink, quick drying clothing, etc.). That is a good thing. You must learn to live without the creature comforts (“necessities”) that you are accustomed to at home. If not, you will overpack…but you won’t even realize you are overpacking because you will continue to believe that you have packed exactly everything you “need.”

  6. lewis clark says:

    I like to pack David Attenborough’s mindset: any more than a blue shirt and khakis detracts from the scenery.

    Passport, tickets, and cash. Everything else is just details.

  7. elizabeth says:

    Lewis, you are right–and at the top of my packing list for me and my husband I also always write “eyeglasses, contacts lenses, and medications.” Anything else can be purchased. I guess my non-obvious suggestion would be to try to live lightly in general–be ready to quickly pack and travel whether it be locally or far away. Have the right things at all times, and a list in the light travel bags (Tom Bihn in my case) so you can be ready and out the door very quickly.

  8. Thanks again for sharing your advice and for mentioning Tortuga in this post. I’ll let you know when the round-up is published.

  9. elizabeth says:

    A friend of mine had a pretty good, non-obvious travel tip. She always wore silk lingerie for travel, as she claimed it was easy to wash and that it dried quickly. In the Netherlands, she took a really bad spill from a bicycle while riding along the canals. She sustained fractures that required surgery, and she said she was never so glad that she was wearing classy underwear as when she was going through the Dutch emergency room. She said they probably thought she was a klutzy American, but nobody could fault her silken knickers.

  10. Paula Bag Lass says:

    LOL elizabeth!!
    Now if ever there was one reason for silk knickers, that is it!
    Silk is the travellers friend, keeps you cool or warm too.

  11. MWebb says:

    1. Choose very light but tough bags, that don’t have padding. I like RedOxx Aviator “duffels” which are actually one of the last surviving soft-sided suitcase lines around. Most of them are under $50 but are made from tough black Cordura nylon, with UV resistant thread and RedOxx’s famous “big, flat, locking” zippers that don’t “spill” (won’t separate and open with a ball point pen tip). The handle webbing wraps under the bags, snaps, not Velcro’s, together. So work around the “no padding, no organization panels” potential issue, you need to pack clever, clothes around more fragile items.

    I prefer disposable plastic zipties, sold at Frys and other electronics emporiums, used to bind wires into bundles in computers etc. but ever so handy for zip tying zipper tabs together. I choose bright distinct colors – if they are still on, there was no tampering, if gone, I know there was trouble. Keep most people out, since you need a nail clipper to cut them open. And yes, nail clippers pass security, at least small ones. Don’t store extra zipties in the bag you are securing! Keep them in your pocket.

    2. Eagle Creek’s new silicone treated nylon, ultra light packing accessories. For those times when Ziplocs or plastic bags won’t do the trick, or if you are traveling really really far and really really have the money, these ultra-think packing bags are the cat’s meow. No padding or cushioning and usually a single zipper tab per zipper line (instead of dual tabs opening out to either end) – but really, really light, and a lot of sizes to choose from, and if you have a spill, they do a decent job of containing it.

    3. Dry-cleaner “clothes hanger covers” as the lightest way to wrap some clothes items to keep dust and moisture away that somehow made it past the zipper of your bag.

    4. The modern smartphone. It can substitute for a netbook and/or tablet. Also, an Amazon Basics bluetooth keyboard to make your posts (at the hotel, later) and banking much, much easier. The Amazon Basics keyboard comes with a minimalist “wing” stand to hold your smartphone upright for viewing.

    5. But I like using an iPad Mini with a bluetooth earpiece for Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, and Google Voice (via Talkatone, at least until Google enforces it’s TOS starting next year). You can also use the Mini in speakerphone mode, or with Apple Ear Pods or other microphone included earphones or hybrid, regular earphones/Mini built-in mic, but I like to walk around packing or readying for the day while calling my family back home.

    My take on security is I have a cheap (Nokia Lumia 521, unlocked, $99) slightly dumb (it’s Win Phone 8, after all) to make local calls and do FB updates and take pix oveseas. I DON’T have my main email account, which is linked to my bank accounts etc., running on this non-thief worthy phone, just in case it is snatched out of my hands while “on”. For email checking and banking, I do that on the iPad Mini back at the hotel. Apple has better security than almost any laptop, both active (virus resistant) and passive (can’t scan the memory for data while it is locked, and it encrypts). I use an 8 digit PIN which theoretically takes 2 years to crack, plenty of time to change my auto-login passwords (Chrome, mail, etc.) after any theft or loss.

    So with just two light devices – a cheapo smarthphone and an iPad Mini – I can do what it used to take a laptop to do, or, worse yet, a hotel-provided business center computer.

    6. ONE OF YOUR CARRY ON BAGS SHOULD BE ABLE TO DOUBLE AS YOUR EVERYDAY CARRY BAG. I have to admit I am a “hybrid” lightweight traveler. I pack carefully so my carryon (bag, and personal item) will take me all the way through my overseas trip if my checked luggage is lost. My checked luggage is essentially all my “luxury items” and dupes. So my carryon bag is usually a convertible suitcase/backpack, I like the fairly no-frills original edition 2.5 pound Rick Steves “one bag.” Due to the 15.6 (7kg) limitation on Asian carriers, this is usually only half full, and if I lost my checked bag I would repurchase items locally and still have room to bring them home (by checking it on the way home).

    It’s tougher to choose a good “personal item” bag, especially with an eye to having one that makes a good local bag. Here are some of the ones I have used in the past:

    a. The very light, minimalist (thin materials, no plethora of pockets or panels) Rickshaw Bagworks Zero Messengers. The Small and Medium are quite light but spacious. They are the antithesis of brands like the venerable Timbuk2 that use much thicker straps, much thicker body materials, and weight twice as much.

    b. Patagonia MiniMass (this year’s model has a great laptop/tablet slot) which manages to be only slightly heavier than the Rickshaw while adding some admittedly handy organizing pockets and panels, including an exterior water bottle slot. Presently, my favorite, but if you aren’t careful you can over-fill it.

    c. Patagonia Lightweight Sling, a cross body pouch that carries a lot but weighs under 7 ounces. The larger Courier from the same Lightweight line is a rectangle instead of a teardrop but still carries cross-body, the still larger Tote from the same Lightweight line is backpack style and carries the most. All are the thin/papery silynylon used in the Eagle Creek lightweight line.

    d. Sea to Summit silynylon travel duffel and daypack are remarkably small and are packed from the factory into very tiny sacks (I can’t get them to go back in!). I recommend the daypack as an emergency bag – it is so thin it pushes the tolerable limits of utility in favor of its 2.5 ounce weight.

    On the very light bags, it is sometimes worth hunting down some seatbelt webbing (1.5 or 1″) to sew under the stock straps to reinforce them against crunching together and pinching. I did this to several of the Paty bags with good results.

    Every once in a while I find a “gem” in a bazaar overseas. One of my favorite bags of all time is the retro-flight bag, the RedOxx Gator, a chunky rectangle with great padding for electronics or cameras. BUT that padding elevates the weight. I found Gator knockoff, larger, in a bazaar in Asia – not actually a knockoff, more like an independent creation – except it had no padding and its materials were thin. Guess what? What was cheap and flimsy to local eyes was thin and light to mine – and given modern sewing factories and equipment, it had tight, well-sewn seams even at its bargain basement pricing.

    Two general tips:

    First, REI and other outdoor hiking stores often have items that can be “repurposed” to good effect for travel. For example, REI’s Flash 18 and Flash 22 ultra light day packs. As travel companies begin to explore the lightweight travel niche – as opposed to pounding the luxo overbuilt mainstream – there are some gems there, too. It pays to visit emporiums like REI and just slowly, thoughtfully browse.

    Second, for years niche travel companies tried to sell their stuff to us, but generally their stuff was gadgety. The NEW wave of travel companies is a lot better, however – there are some real gems in the Tom Bihn line, whether or not you fall in love with their take on soft-luggage. For example, I love his travel grocery sack, a real lightweight alternative to a heavy tote, and both Packing Cube Back Packs (Aeronaut and Western Flyer configurations) are great, as is the much smaller Packing Cube Shoulder Bag – very light but tough xPac sail cloth, very thin but comfortable straps.

    And one parting observation:

    WHEELIES ARE HEAVY. They are fine if there is no 7kg limitation on carry-on luggage, and fine for your checked luggage (with the caveats below), BUT if you are facing a strict weight limit, they simply eat up too much of your carry-on weight allowance.

    The caveats are – you’d better be strong enough to hoist a wheelie overhead, because you won’t get much help these days. I slightly hurt my back one time doing this! You’d better be patient pulling them down the aisles, which have gotten narrower, and good luck mashing or squishing them around to fit in the overhead if you arrive a wee bit late, and you are NEVER going to fit it under your seat in an emergency. And when the little foreign taxi’s trunk has a big propane tank in it – well good luck mashing and fitting there. But I will grant you they are a lot easier to wheel around in the airport, and handy, sometimes, for flight bags with straps that hook over the trolley handle.

    AND IF YOU WANT THE EASIEST SECURITY TRANSIT, EASIEST BOARDING AND FLIGHT EXPERIENCE, just check as much as you can and bring as little as possible into the cabin. Dealing with luggage that only has to be wrangle to the ticket counter is ALWAYS easier than wrangling that luggage yourself onto the plane and through your connections.

  12. EASYTRAVEL says:

    Here’s a few things I’ve learned the hard way:

    Ultralight means just what it says. If it’s something you don’t use every day at home you won’t use there either. Leave it at home. Subtract weight here of______ lbs.

    Some things can do double or triple duty. Look carefully at the things you pack and see if there’s something else that will work better. That weight is GONE!

    The clothes I WEAR are multi-purpose, sturdy and easy to care for. Nothing fancy here. I don’t stick out like a sore thumb either.

    I have discovered the “Hobo Roll”! I lay out a pair of folded pants and add wash and wear clothing items such as socks, shorts and shirts. Some small items can go in too! Start at the cuff and roll tightly all the way up to the waist. Secure the bundle with a five foot strap. About five pounds. Straps can be purchased at One inch webbing, two D-Rings and a 3 bar slide works perfectly. Two straps are very cheap , very simple and very light weight! The excess webbing threads back through the 3 bar slide to form a hand loop. NO EXPENSIVE BAG! Subtract________lbs. [AND more money available for Italian food!!]

    I made some clothes hangers from three 15 inch lengths of 1/2 inch PEX tubing. I drilled a 3/16 inch hole in the middle and threaded some “550” paracord [about a foot length] through the hole and knotted it so it won’t pull out. The other end is knotted in a loop for a variety of hanging options. Some stainless steel S-Hooks add even more options. Super cheap. Super light weight. These hangers enable me to wash my clothes every day and thus subtract_______lbs.

    I use an “European” military style rucksack for photo kit, toiletries, chargers and cords, medicines and spares.
    Ten pounds.

    Total weight fifteen pounds! Everything I need is there. Getting on and off Planes,and Ferries and in and out of buses, taxis and elevators is so EASY!

    I will NEVER go back to the old HEAVY way! I don’t care what I look like it’s what I feel like and how much I can see and do. Isn’t THAT why we go??

  13. EASYTRAVEL says:

    It takes two whole days to get to Venice, Italy from Oklahoma.

    Tulsa to Detroit. Detroit to Schiphol. Schiphol to Marco Polo. Marco Polo via Bus 5 to Piazzale Roma..

    We took TWO wheelies and TWO duffles! They laughed at us in Amsterdam! My wheeler fell over twice while we waited for the plane. All together about 50 pounds of stuff.

    Wrestle all this stuff onto Bus 5 and off of it then start to drag it to your Hotel. OH!WAIT! !!!!! Where IS our Hotel?? “…I don’t know”. “…ask somebody!”. OK. “…hey where is_______? Puzzled looks. Shrugs. Eye rolls…

    Start to drag all this stuff up the Glass Bridge. Nope not here. BACK over the Glass Bridge. Start over. “…let’s go over here”. Nope. No Hotel. Ask again. Ask again. “…he is down this way”. Drag it all down that way. By now it’s dark. BTW there are no “street signs” in the usual sense in Venice. You just have to know…

    The point of this little story is that with all that luggage the trip of a lifetime rapidly turned into a trip through hell.

    Go ahead buy those expensive bags, totes, and rollers. Love them. Show them off. Rimowa, Valextra,Swaine Addey Brigg, Globe Trotter, Tumi. They ALL become curse words mixed in with expletives and even tears when you drag them through Venice. Or ANYPLACE else for that matter.

    Laying in bed that first night, exhausted,ALL I could think about was “WHAT CAN I THROW AWAY AND DO WITHOUT TO LIGHTEN THE LOAD!” And, man. did I cull!

    Next day we took the People Mover to the ship to ditch our bags via the Boulevard of broken wheelers…[parts of wheelers litter the path]. “…there will be a Life Boat drill at 4:30.” “…you have to be here!” What! There went most of our time in Venice…Only about three hours total for such a wonderful city…

    Too Luggage. Too much stuff. Equals a ruined trip. In no uncertain terms DON’T TAKE A LOT OF LUGGAGE AND EXPECT TO HAVE A NICE TRIP. Every problem we had could have been avoided with two BACKPACKS and two Hobo Rolls!!

  14. EASYTRAVEL says:

    Here are some more ideas that just work: I put my iPhone, Money [notes], credit cards [in a metal box] and a blister kit in Raine pouches on my belt. I secure the flaps with stout rubber bands cut from a large bicycle tube [AKA ranger bands]. I was “probed” many times in Europe but they NEVER got anything! I made NO donations to the local pickpockets! I never put anything in any pocket.

    I carried a cheap CANE too. Cheap in case I had to ditch it BUT I kept it the whole trip. On and off planes and through security in six countries and I always sailed right through! No problem.

    Here’s WHY I carried the cane: Yes you can prop your tired old body up with it but it is also a weapon! Believe me they KNOW this fact! You also use it to maintain a “zone” around you in crowds that prevents pickpockets from getting in close enough to work on your stuff.

  15. D M says:

    A very simple approach that I should have mentioned first:
    1) Bag size no bigger than carry-on airline size, AND
    2) Weight no more than 10% of your body weight.

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