Traveling light — it’s the only way to fly, right? Reducing your pack load is also the best way to hike, backpack, or generally move about Eastern Europe, Africa, or any other multi-week or multi-month travel destination.
Fanatics go to extremes to shave ounces off their pack. With just 12 – 15 pounds on their back for several month excursions, featherweight gurus cover twice the mileage in a day that the poor schmucks lugging around the kitchen sink can manage.
While foregoing a tent to sleep outside in a bivy bag or sawing off the last three inches of your toothbrush to shave off a few micrograms may be more extreme than you’re willing to go, anybody planning to carry a pack — even for just the time between a station and your hotel — will benefit from the principles that ultralight hikers espouse.
Before your next trek, adventure, or trip across the pond, consider these general weight-slimming tips for your pack, and save your back a bit of unnecessary strain:
Pay Attention to Weight When You Shop for a Pack
Last week, a 95-pound female friend of mine emailed me three pack options she’s considering for a trip to southeast Asia. At each of the links, I found a different 90-liter or larger pack, each weighing over six pounds.
“I want to make sure I have enough room,” she explained.
With that size pack, she’d have enough room to bring home a new friend, as well as plenty of mementos. Remember that you’re going to be carrying your pack! It’s more about ‘how comfortable will this be?’ than ‘How much can I cram in here?’
Find a pack that doesn’t weigh more than a few ounces over 3 pounds. The pack is nothing but your vessel, so if we’re trying to reduce your overall weight, why add unnecessary pounds to something that does nothing for you but haul your other stuff?
Remember that you can always strap or lash extra items to your pack, as I often do with a foam bedroll or dirty shoes.
Pack With a Scale
Digital scales are cheap on eBay. Find one that weighs in ounces, or fractions of ounces, and weigh everything that you’re packing for your trip. When you realize that your epic novel weighs a pound-and-a-half, maybe you’ll rip it in half and just bring the part you’ll actually get to (or find a smaller, paperback book).
This can be tough for some people, but when traveling, you’re inevitably going to stink sometimes. You don’t need to carry your entire wardrobe. Start with this rule — no cotton! Carrying jeans while traveling is foolish. They’re heavy to start with, and any cotton article of clothing can absorb water and add extra weight to your load.
I have two pairs of convertible pants that I bring everywhere when traveling. These double as my shorts, swim trunks, dress pants, hiking pants, etc… With three pairs of super-thin socks, a thermal shirt, a nylon button-down, three pairs of polyester underwear, and a poncho, that’s all I need for non-freezing climates.
Invest in the Right Sleeping Bag
I’ll confess — I own too many sleeping bags. For nights that could freeze, I carry a 15-degree down bag. If it’s just going to be a bit chilly, a 40-degree down bag is perfect, and weighs just under 2 pounds. Finally, in the summer, I simply carry a small down blanket.
If your budget allows for just one bag, consider a lightweight 40-degree down bag with an additional silk liner. Together, you’ll have options for comfort in climates ranging from freezing to sweltering jungle nights.
And one more tip: When in areas with high condensation, if you tend to touch the wall of your tent with the foot box of your sleeping bag, bring along a plastic bag to slip the bottom of your sleeping bag into while you sleep. You’ll be much happier stuffing a completely dry bag back into its sack in the morning.
Dehydrate Your Food
Unless you’re traveling in the desert or extremely arid conditions, you will likely be filtering water along the way. Use this to your advantage when it comes to food. Much of the food we eat at home already contains water — milk, pasta sauce, even fruits and vegetables. When you’re carrying your food, think more along the terms of a pack of instant oatmeal; you want items where you ‘just add water.’ Powdered milk and pasta sauce are a smart choice for traveling. A home dehydrator is a relatively cheap appliance that can be used to dry out fruits, vegetables, and even meats for your trip. You’ll be acquiring water along the way, so why carry those extra pounds in your pack?
Pack With a Friend
When you’re packing for a trip alone, it’s very easy to continually say, “I’ll need that” and throw it into your pack. Even if you do your initial packing by yourself, get together with a travel companion or just a friend before leaving to help you downsize. It’s much easier for someone else to realize that you don’t need to carry three heavy books and two pairs of boots, when the need seemed obvious to you.
Especially if you’re traveling in a foreign place, remember that you may want to pick up a few things along the way. Need a new shirt because you only brought two? Dress like a local. You’ll enjoy the experience and you’ll actually have some room in your pack to get your souvenirs back home.
Guest Post by Joe Laing