Eytan from 20 Liter Adventure shows us how to travel ultra light.
TurnipSeed Travel is thrilled to present a comprehensive, ultra-light packing guide from seasoned blogger Eytan Levy of 20 Liter Adventure. Eytan is a self described "pretentious English major whose rant-laden, sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense." We're thrilled to have him on our team!
"I could never do that."
"I like options."
"I want to look nice."
As an obsessive ultralight backpacker, I've heard every excuse in the book. Most of the time, people find it absolutely unthinkable that anything less than 52 outfits will serve their needs while they're on the road, so they won't even bother trying to cut things down, or paying attention to those who have.
The truth is, you don't need much. Ultralight backpacking isn't really about compromise; it's about efficiency. And if you do it right, you'll end up with a svelte little pack that will fit into the overhead compartment on the plane, and you'll never have to worry about your suitcase mysteriously disappearing into the middle of nowhere while you're trying to have an adventure somewhere. Plus, I'm lazy. Why would I want to do a weightlifting routine when it's a billion degrees outside with 4,000% humidity?
So, how do you pack so little that people will ask where your "real" bag is? Well, let's begin:
Here's where to make some of the biggest gain. Since clothing will probably take up the most space in the pack, cutting it down is the easiest way to reduce weight. Here's the secret: Bring enough clothing for a week, and do laundry once a week. Okay, so you can also bring enough clothing for HALF a week, and do laundry twice a week and you'll be fine!
I can't tell you how many times I've heard people describe this as completely out of the question. I can't imagine why, so I'll just skip right over it. But here are some tips to make it work: Bring 5-7 tops and bottoms and feel free to bring a mix of t-shirts, button-downs, pants and shorts. Whatever you like!
What About Fancy Occasions?
Try to bring versatile clothing, so everything is appropriate for any social situation or weather condition. You might not get there, but try your best. Pick items that match everything else, so you're never looking for that one particular shirt that only goes with that one particular pair of pants.
Bring only one or two "nice" outfits, and try to make them casual enough to wear on regular days, so they don't end up sitting there uselessly most of the time. Ideally, your "regular" clothing should be classy enough for a night out as well, depending on what kind of night it is.
Bring at least one or two "outdoor" outfits, though again, try to keep them casual enough to wear on regular days. These should be the type that can be washed in the sink, and hung up to dry overnight. You'll probably get stuck doing it sooner or later. You could actually bring quick-drying clothing, but laundry is common enough nowadays that it's not entirely necessary. Keep everything light. Better to keep the basic layers thin, and add more layers for warmth.
Which Brings us to Outerwear...
Bring a sweater, or fleece jacket, or whatever you like. Just one. Keep it lightweight, since we'll be adding more layers if it's really cold. I like to bring a rain jacket and a light windbreaker. I wouldn't call these 100% necessary, but they're quite useful, and they're the lightest I could possibly find. Bring an umbrella otherwise, though a light jacket of some kind is generally a good idea.
What About Winter?
I've always pointed out that even if you need winter gear, it's really not a big deal, particularly if you're wearing it all the time anyway. Here's all you really need, even if it's snowing: Bring a puffy coat. These things are spectacular! They'll pack down to half the size and weight of a fleece jacket, and they're slick and smooth, so they can generally stuff into nooks and crannies where other gear can't go. Layer this on top of a sweater or fleece jacket, and you'll be warm and cozy.
Long underwear is a good idea in the dead of winter. I found them quite useful, though some people prefer just wearing a jacket. Warm socks are great. I generally bring a few pairs of lightweight socks (which I assume you'll have anyway), and a few pairs of medium-weight socks, and just combine them together if I'm really cold. A scarf, hat, and gloves are great too, though keep in mind you can pick these up on the road as you go. It's not such a big deal to pack them ahead of time, though. They're small.
So, if you've been keeping score, this is literally all you need. 5-7 outfits, a few outer layers, and you're ready to take over the world!
Gentlemen, we have a distinct advantage in this arena. We can bring just one pair of shoes. There's no reason to bring hiking boots, sneakers, and dress shoes all on the same trip. Just bring one pair of nice-looking, well-made leather shoes and you're done. They'll take you through the mountains and look great while you're out on the town. There's no reason to bring anything else. Except sandals, of course.
Ladies have nothing quite like this, but if you bring one pair of walking shoes and one pair of evening shoes, plus flip flops, that's really all you need. Women's flip flops and flats are generally pretty small, so this combination of 3 won't be so bad, and it'll cover every situation. (Note from Vanessa: I'm in love with Tieks, a high quality, hand stitched, comfortable, durable, Italian leather ballet flat shoe that can be folded up. They come in a rainbow of beautiful colors and are perfect as a no-space, dressy shoe.)
I actually tend to overpack in this regard, but I actually use everything I bring. I have pretty much one of every kind of toiletry, but since they're all mini bottles, it's not so bad, and I can skip the bag check at the airport. There's really no reason to carry the big bottles, since it'll take up extra time on each flight to check bags and retrieve them later, as opposed to picking up whatever you need while you're on the road. You'll probably be in a store sooner or later anyway, so restocking won't take up any more time than pulling a bar of soap off the shelf.
Oh, and bring a travel towel. Those things are amazing. This is easily one of the best ways to reduce a significant amount of size and weight at a very small cost.
So you'll probably have quite a few other odds and ends when you go traveling; books, journals, documents, an alarm clock, sunglasses, and all sorts of other random assorted items that come in handy all the time. I don't have too much to say here, other than it's a good idea to carry a minimum of stuff, and to keep each item as lightweight as you can. I met a guy carrying 10 books, and I looked at him like he was a crazy person! I find the stuffable backpack to be especially useful. You might have a purse already anyway, in which case I'd skip it, but if you like having a backpack, they're incredibly useful, and tiny when packed.
I doubt I'll be able to convince anyone when it comes to packing electronic devices, and I've seen people bring what appears to be the entire computing power of NASA with them wherever they go. I'll never convince them. No way!
But I will say that it's worth thinking about what you really need, especially when internet cafés are so widespread. It's not that difficult to bring a laptop, but think about how frequently you'll use it, how much it's going to weigh you down, and how easy it is to walk over to an internet café for an hour or two. And do you really need an external hard drive when you can just bring a few extra memory cards instead? But I digress....
It might be worth considering bringing a tablet instead of a laptop. This may or may not work for everyone, but remember that it also doubles as a book reader, so it's quite a lightweight addition to the gear setup if you can make it work. Even the cable is smaller, and might even double as a cable for your phone if you have one. It's not going to work for everyone, but it's something to think about.
Well, I hope this helps provide some ideas. If done correctly, ultralight packing should provide you with comfy shoulders and little to no adverse effects. I actually managed to use these techniques to their extreme, and traveled for 9 months through winter and summer with a 20 liter daypack that weighed 15 pounds and fit into the overhead compartment on the plane.
Mind you, you don't have to go this light, but if you only go halfway, you'll hit carry-on requirements and can skip those annoying lines. It's a great threshold to hit, and if you select each puzzle piece carefully, it should work out just fine. Your shoulders and feet will thank you, and they'll reward you by not complaining all day that you should just get a taxi instead. Hope you have fun!
Looking for more packing inspiration?
Travel Gear Review: Tieks Shoes
Do You Really Need To Pack A Travel Towel?
Backpack Review: The Porter Osprey 46
Posts by Location
Posts by Date