Tips on Packing Lightly



You can pack light by following a few simple principles:

1. Pack the must-haves, not the nice-to-haves

Lay out all your gear. Think long and hard about every item, then eliminate anything you don’t absolutely need. If it’s your first big trip, you might end up packing more things just because ‘more stuff’ feels somehow comforting and safe. But resist this urge to be overprepared. Many first-time travelers wish they’d packed half as much.

2. Don’t pack more than 1 week’s worth of clothing

It’s simply much easier to do laundry than to carry weeks worth of clothing. Pick some versatile favorites with a simple color palette so that you can easily mix-and-match every item.

3. Bring versatile instead of special-case items

Focus on items that will be useful to you all the time (or have multiple uses), and think twice about anything you’ll use only on unique occasions. Keep in mind you can often rent gear locally, or find a cheap temporary fix instead of carrying something for a one-time use. Remember that there are shops all over the world, even in seemingly remote places! If you forget something, you can usually still buy it there. Yes, they do have toothpaste on Borneo.

That said, try not to pack at the last moment. Pack the day before. If you’re in too much of a hurry, you might stress out and stuff your bag too full.

Oh, one more good rule: try to keep a quarter of your bag empty. It makes loading and unloading easier, and can be used for storing souvenirs or gifts.


Having covered a few general tips, let me show you exactly how I pack in a step-by-step way.

So… this is my main 45-liter backpack, a Tortuga Setout. I love this bag as it’s highly versatile and can be used for different types of trips. I use it to store everything apart from just my camera and a couple of other items (I put these in a small day-pack, but more on that later).

Anyway, let’s open it!

The main compartment

In my bag’s main compartment I mainly keep my clothing. The Tortuga backpack is side-loading which gives better access than a top-loading backpack.

It’s often better to roll clothes instead of folding. Fewer creases, more space-efficient. Rolled up shirts (when stacked) are also easy to see at a glance.

I typically travel with two pairs of shoes. One to wear, one to carry.

For clothing, I usually pack the following:

  • 6 or 7 shirts or t-shirts, ones that I know I’ll be happy to wear regularly
  • 7 pairs of underwear. Some advocate bringing as few as 3 (one to wear, one to wash, and one to dry), but I prefer having fresh underwear every day and washing only once a week. I’m just a little weird like that.
  • 3 pairs of pants/trousers; if I’m going somewhere hot, two of these will be shorts
  • 3 pairs of socks for tropical climates, more if temperate.
  • One sweater or hoodie
  • Swimming shorts

Since I often travel in hot climates, I usually won’t bring any nightwear. I’ll just sleep in boxer shorts and a tank top. But if I’m going somewhere cold or temperate, I might add a pajama or jogging pants/trousers.

If you’re a bit of an adventurer, you may want to invest in some merino wool clothing. Merino wool costs a bit more, but it provides warmth when it’s cold, keeps you cool when it’s hot, has the amazing ability to stay warm even when wet, and even dries much faster than cotton. Gee whiz! Seriously though, this stuff is made of miracles. Merino wool socks can be used for days on end without getting stinky, making it perfect for trekking.

I put my dirty clothes in this polyester laundry bag with a drawstring. This keeps the stinky clothes nicely separated, and I like the world map printed on it too. Maybe I should start marking where I’ve been?

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