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5 Gear Ideas for Packing Better and Lighter

Packing for vacation with a carry-on by bringing lightweight clothing and double-duty travel gearI go on the road with a lot of different kinds of bags. Sometimes I know I can check one so I’m not all that careful about it, but on any trip I can travel with just a carry-on if I have to. I’ve been known to not even do that when traveling on Allegiant or Spirit Air. As you can probably guess from the name of this blog, I hate to spend money on extra fees, so paying for baggage hurts. I’d rather be packing better and use those funds for actual travel fun.

How did I fit all my crap into one carry-on? Well, I’m a big fan of double-duty items and things that enable you to jam in more clothes without adding weight. Here are a few of them.

Pare Down the Underwear

First of all, are you packing things that can be sink-washed and will dry quickly? Start with the underwear. It’s hard to get excited about what underwear you pack for traveling, but it matters a lot. You can take off with just two or three pairs if you pack quality travel underwear. These are not cheap, at $15-$20 a pop depending on the where and when, but I have only been able to wear out one of these and that was after at least four years of trips. The other four or five I have still look new. You can sink wash them in a few minutes and they’ll dry in a few hours.

There are some other options out there too, so check out this post on the best travel underwear.

Wicking Shirts and Lightweight Travel Pants

travel wicking shirts

I was in the anti-wicking crowd for a long time, until they got the stink out. I couldn’t help but notice the correlation between stinky backpacker and synthetic t-shirt in the tropics. But then the companies starting building in odor-killing properties and using merino wool and I converted. I like the idea that they whisk moisture away, but the real benefit is fast drying after a sink washing. So you can pack less and stay fresh-smelling.

I also carry mostly lightweight travel pants and quick-dry collared shirts too. When I do check a big suitcase, I can pretty much scoff at even a 40-pound weight limit you get on some airlines as I’m always way under.

I sometimes look like a walking ad for ExOfficio, with the #2 brand filling out much of the rest being from Craghoppers – the British counterpart. Both make great stuff that dries quickly after a sink washing and is wispy-weight light. If I’m going somewhere cold I like the expensive but non-stinky merino wool base layers from Ibex or Icebreaker. The best value choice is usually Columbia Sportswear. They pack a lot of features in technology into travel clothing with all the latest tech. (If you are willing to pay more to save the planet though, go with Patagonia. Here’s their sale page.)

Double Duty Travel Shoes

double duty travel shoesShoes generally take up more space than anything else you pack. So most people who are lugging around big and heavy suitcases (or can’t lift their carry-on bag into the overhead bin) are usually packing way too many shoes. Spend more time thinking through what you’re going to do in the destination and then pack as few pairs of shoes as possible. That usually means packing shoes that can work in a variety of situations, rather than just one.

I used to review a couple dozen pairs of travel shoes a year when I ran the Practical Travel Gear blog and some of the brands I loved best have passed on. But the ones I pack the most are the ones still going strong from Ecco, Keen, Oboz, Lowa, Ahnu, New Balance, and Teva. Ask yourself these questions: “Can these shoes work for exercise and walking around? Can I hike and bar-hop with them? Do I have to dress up any? Is there something flatter/lighter I can pack.

If you’re traveling for business, you can probably get by with two pairs of shoes: dressy and not dressy. If you plan on running or going to the gym, there’s your second pair. The worst that can happen is you’re looking Italian the rest of the time, wearing nice footwear when you’re not in exercise or hiking shoes.

Whatever you pack, wear the biggest/heaviest pair to the airport so it’s not taking up space.

Bring Smaller & Lighter Versions of What You Use at Home

Yeah, I know you have your favorite bottles of goop and cosmetics, but do you really need a two-month supply? Put enough for your trip into reusable bottles or buy travel-sized options at your local drugstore or Target. If you really want to pare down, there are some innovative products from Sea to Summit that weigh almost nothing for shaving and washing.

What else can you apply this strategy to? Spread all your stuff out on the bed and see. What’s too heavy? What’s too big? There are lightweight hats that crush flat, lightweight gadgets that will replace larger ones, you can pack a Kindle reader instead of thick books, there are jackets that compress down to a small pouch, daypacks that do the same, and compression packs from Eagle Creek that will allow you to squeeze in more socks or t-shirts. Each of these items can make a contribution to packing better and lighter. 

Packing Better by Buying Local When You Travel

buying slocal supplies when traveling

Spending a few bucks in a Bosnian supermarket.

I called this “gear ideas” instead of “gear items” because this last one is a packing better strategy more than an item you can buy. There was a time when you would find it hard to get what you need where you were going, but those days are mostly gone. Sure, it’s hard to find plus-sized clothes in Asia or big hiking boots in India, but if you’re of a relatively normal size you can get what you need after arrival. Some items are tougher, so do stock up on tampons, sunscreen, or your favorite face moisturizer, but in most cases you can find what you need for close to or less than what you would pay at home.

And remember, every place has toothpaste and aspirin for sale if you run out. Pringles and Snickers too.

What strategy do you use to pack light?

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Monday 5th of February 2018

Also, the wool garments don't necessarily need to come from outdoor apparel companies. Unless I am doing some very intense hiking I don't need all the the panels/seams that are on some outdoor garments for range of motion reasons. Having them doesn't really bother me aesthetically, but not having them, and therefore having a garment with cleaner lines, is even better


Monday 5th of February 2018

I have been a carry on only person my entire adult life. I like to dress chic while in the city, but be prepared for the parts of the journey that take me to outdoor activities. For me merino is instrumental for not only the easy maintenance, but also how aesthetically versatile it is. Besides being a very functional fabric, it it's also a higher quality looking fabric than most other easy to travel with/maintain fabrics. A simple black merino top can be worn for my hikes and then in the city paired with a skirt some jewelry (I usually bring a couple of fun pieces that are interesting, but are small, durable, and obviously not valuable). I also usually pack a couple of simple chic dresses that I can layer things over or under. So if it's cold, that hypothetical merino top can be the base layer under the dress. Tights or merino leggings are lighter even easier to wash than pants. Those too can go from the trail to a chic city environment if they are a solid basic color like black. A trip to Colombia where I might be at the beach/outdoors and bogota (hot/cool outdoors/urban), I would pack for clothing: 2 tank dresses (something that doesn't look dumb with sleeves coming out from under) a mid weight long sleeve merino top, a merino t shirt, some other kind of tshirt, quick dry shorts, a tank top, a cashmere cardigan, a pair of merino leggings or 2, or a pair of leggings and a couple of pairs of regular tights (depending on amount of beach time vs city time), merino arm warmers, and a swimsuit. And maybe a light short sleeve sink washable silk blouse (takes up no space, looks great, easier to maintain than you would think) Round that all out with some underclothes. That all fits into a weekender style bag or not particularly large backpack easily with room to spare for everything else I need This yields many outfits. The key is layerabillity and situational versitiliy.


Saturday 25th of November 2017

great post! yes, your tips for light backpacking is awesome and useful. this post will also help the traveller who wants to make their backpack in trekking and hiking also.


Saturday 28th of October 2017

Long before your trip, as your socks, underwear, T-shirt give up the goat, wash and store them. For the first few days of your next trip, you wear once and throw away.


Wednesday 25th of October 2017

if i can't use it ,id don't buy it.