tips for ultralight packing

You can spot an over-packer from a mile away. They’re the traveler using both hands to drag a suitcase across the cobblestones of Rome. They’re the backpacker banging train passengers as they awkwardly fumble down the aisle. They struggle through subway stations, strain their backs up staircases and spend a whole hour waiting at the airport baggage carousel for their third piece of luggage to make an appearance.

And every time you spot one, you can’t help but wonder to yourself – for what? Why spend all this money to fly across the world, only to be weighed down by the contents of your home closet?

It’s far better to board the plane with a single, minimalist bag. You save money on stuff like baggage fees and cabs. You save time trekking between destinations. And you save your energy for the important stuff: seeing the world from a new perspective.

In this article, let’s discuss how to pack an ultralight travel bag. Here are a few tips for fitting a weeklong trip into a single daypack.

Embrace Merino Wool

The goal in packing clothes for an ultralight bag is to pack as few garments as possible while still covering your bases. You want your clothes to protect you against temperature extremes and stay fresh for the entire weeklong trip – but you don’t want too many items. The solution is simple: merino wool.   

Essentially, merino wool is perfect for ultralight travel because it ticks three boxes: breathability, insulation and antibacterial performance. In warm weather, merino wool breathes and wicks sweat, which keeps you cool. In cold weather, it insulates, allowing you to retain body heat. And because the fibers are naturally antibacterial, they stay fresh for a long time (some travelers report wearing their merino wool garments for weeks without noticeable odors).

Look for companies like Unbound Merino that make their clothes specifically for travel. They offer sleek, neutral-colored items that you can dress up and dress down, meaning you only need a couple in your bag.  


Get Creative with Space Savers

So, you’ve got your men's merino t-shirt, a couple of pairs of merino underwear and two pairs of socks. You have an alternate pair of footwear like flip-flops for beach days. You have a sweatshirt in case it gets chilly at night. And, in addition to the pants you're wearing, you pack a spare pair of breathable and stylish merino wool shorts. With your clothes chosen, you can turn your attention to condensing them.

Condensing items is all about reducing surface area, and there are a few ways of achieving that:

  • Vacuum Storage Bags help you reduce the interstitial air in your clothing, thereby reducing the volume significantly.
  • The Rolling Technique similarly compresses clothing. While vacuum storage bags reduce more volume than rolling your clothing, they can make clothing wrinkly, so some travellers prefer the rolling technique.
  • Item Repurposing makes use of hollow items like shoes or sunglass cases. For instance, you can store your socks in your shoes.
  • A Collapsible Water Bottle solves the problem of carrying a bulky water bottle.
  • And some people find that Packing Cubes help them keep their bag more organized, which cuts down on rummaging (a rummaged bag is never quite as compact).

What about jackets and coats, hats and scarves, you might ask? For that, let’s turn to the next tip.

Wear What You Can

Ultralight packing is slightly more challenging in the fall or winter – but it’s not impossible.

To save room in your bag, wear all of your bulky items on transportation days. Hit the plane in your bulky coat and gloves, or board the train in your fall jacket. Planes, trains and buses tend to have separate compartments for excess clothing, which you should use to your advantage to keep your bag as light as possible.

Hit the (Digital) Books

Books are, unfortunately, not space-effective. While you may prefer the tactile charm of a physical paperback, consider reading your books digitally to save space. You can bring an e-reader or – for an even more compact alternative – simply download books to a Google Play Books app on your phone.

Be Ruthless with Your Edits

Lastly, here's a guiding principle to apply to all your packing: Be ruthless. A lot of what ends up in our backpacks is "just-in-case clutter," items we include on the off chance that we may need them. But how often do you really use that third pair of shoes, those dress pants or that Uno pack? People tend to live their lives pretty conservatively in an average week; it’s no different when you’re travelling.

With just a light backpack on your travels, you’ll find that you’re more mobile, more agile, freer. Follow the few tips above and leave the over-packers to wait at the baggage carousel while you squeeze every last minute of adventure from your trip abroad.