Packing light
December 17, 2013 4:30 PM   Subscribe

I've always packed light by taking a backpack on all trips and going carry-on only. But I'm going to be extensive international travel with a 35-liter backpack and want to know how to pack even lighter. Usually I only go on 1-week trips, and thus pack a shirt for every day, etc. How can I pack lighter? I've heard that Merino wool is a good material for shirts that can be worn a couple times before needing a wash. What are your tips and tricks?
posted by signondiego to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (20 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Roll your clothes instead of folding them.
posted by mannequito at 4:36 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am quite good (if I do say so myself) at packing light. Things that I do:

- Bring light undershirts that I can wear under a cardigan, sweater, or button-down. This extends the life of the "outer" shirts, cuts down on the space needed by minimizing bulkier "outer" shirts and maximizing lightweight, little undershirts, and if you bring a diverse selection of undershirts you can still create a lot of different outfits.

- If you are comfortable doing this (I am), bring a small selection of pants that you are comfortable wearing over and over again instead of many pairs of pants. (Maybe I'm gross, but I will wear a pair of jeans an unspeakable number of times between washes.)

- Bring ONLY 2 pairs of shoes. For me this is usually a hiking/walking shoe or sandal and a comfy but slightly dressier pair of flats. Wear the bulkier pair when you fly.

- Seriously minimize the number of toiletries you bring. BARE ESSENTIALS only. You can live with your zit cream/fancy eye makeup/perfumes.

- Skip the jewelry, or bring 1-2 small items in your carry on if you must.

- If applicable, ditch the laptop and bring a tablet instead.

- Softcover books only!
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:36 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, re: books-

- Consider leaving them behind for someone else to read when you move on to a new destination. I love my books too much to do this, but others have done it and reported that it made their trip a little easier.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:38 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Will you have access to laundry during your travels?

On long trips I usually just pack two or three changes of clothes rather than one for every day. I'll bring more socks and underwear and expect to wear my pants several times between washes, and also potentially wash shirts, socks, and underwear in the sink. Or just suck it up and send out laundry.

I don' t know that I would necessarily shop too much (I tend to just bring dark colored t-shirts which can be washed in the sink and hung to dry over the back of a chair), but if you'll need to look dressed up or professional at all, you may want to look into things that either can be worn several times between washes or which are quick-drying and/or hold their shape better than the standard professional/dressy clothes that need a lot of care.

TL;DR: In my opinion this is all going to depend where you're going, what your access to laundry is like, and how nice you need to look.
posted by Sara C. at 4:40 PM on December 17, 2013

Best answer: I take enough clothes for three days only. You can wash underthings and shirts easily enough in hotel basins, but they often need longer than overnight to dry, hence three days is especially safe. If you are a woman, you can make it look like you have more than three outfits by bringing a bunch of different accessories (silk scarves, different coloured stockings, tights, or socks, belts, etc). They don't take up much space.

Ballet flats can roll up into small spaces, so you can take more than one pair of shoes. (I would take a sturdy pair, plus one pair of ballet flats).

Wear all the biggest items of clothing on the plane - sturdy shoes, bulky jacket, jeans. Skirts take up way less room in the bag than jeans do.

Skip all toiletries except toothbrush. You can either use the stuff at the hotel, scavenge from your friends, or buy and dump at the other end. Obviously only if you are okay with using cheap varieties for a week or so.
posted by lollusc at 4:40 PM on December 17, 2013

If your hair is long don't go overboard and skip taking conditioner though, unless you are staying at places nice enough to give you conditioner. I did that once as a college-aged shoestring backpacker and wound up having to cut off my hair, it got so messed up. Have a little bottle.

Bring thin nylon socks you that will dry fast when you wash them in your basin (also they take up less room than cotton socks.) If you are really serious about packing light, consider synthetics instead of cotton for all your clothes -- much easier to wash and dry overnight in a hotel or hostel room. Cotton takes forever to dry.

If you're bringing your own towel, bring a waffle bath sheet instead of a regular thick towel. (If you are hosteling, don't pare down size-wise -- you need it big enough that you can walk out of the shower in it amongst people.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:53 PM on December 17, 2013

Best answer: I only pack what I already preferentially wear in my daily life. Packing for travel is not the time to try to pack the things that you never wear, but would be theoretically suitable. If it's not a backpack-suitcase hybrid, but a traditional pack with only one large opening at the top, I like to use packing cubes. It helps to keep things organized and it's much easier to find an item without having to unpack or dig around forever.

I also like to bring a tiny bottle of concentrated detergent and a traveler's clothesline to wash and dry things during overnights.

Dark colors will wear much longer as they won't show stains and wear as much. I usually bring about 3-4 thin black t-shirts (cotton blend), 2 pants: one jeans, one black, an overshirt or two, a thin hoodie, a scarf, and a jacket. No more than 2 pairs of shoes. Many of your choices will depend on climate as well as your own style.

I've never regretted taking lots of extra underwear and socks.

35-liters isn't so small that you have to sacrifice toiletries and such. Don't bring full-sizes, but you can start off with your essentials. I usually buy very well-made and secure bottles at a place like REI so that all my toiletries are in bottles that I know are unlikely to pop open in my bag. Buy and refill your containers as you need once you're on the road.

If you haven't bought your pack yet, I'd suggest a hybrid backpack that has a large zipper around rather than a true backpacker's pack. Hybrid bags usually also have an option for a zip on-and-off daypack (a great option that I'm always happy to have).
posted by quince at 4:58 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Take an undershirt, a pair of underwear and a pair of socks. Fold the sleeves of the shirt in, then fold into thirds. Lay the underewear on top, then the socks, toes in, with the opening sticking out. Roll this up very tightly and turn the socks over the roll to hold it in place. This is similar to a ranger roll but is in my mind superior because each roll contains a full days undergarments.

You can reuse outer layers more easily if you have fresh inner layers. Speaking of layers - a tshirt, longsleeve T, a button down shirt or sweater, and a windbreaker will be good to quite a ways below freezing. By packing many layers, you can take lighter things and combine them for warmth if necessary and leave the bulky cold weather gear at home.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 5:18 PM on December 17, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm in the adventure travel field and must travel lightly internationally. I've done long trips with just carry-on and often advise people on how to pack. Here are my standard rules for packing for a casual trip:

Three pairs of quick dry underwear. I prefer ExOfficio. If you're a girl, bring panty liners that can extend their use.

Two pairs of shoes - both broken in and comfortable. One casual but still good looking and can still withstand lots of walking and hiking. My vote are for Keens.

Eagle Creek Pack It Cubes, double-sided. Roll your clothes VERY tightly. You can fit in a LOT of clothes in those suckers. I usually only bring 3 or 4 changes of clothing - socks, shirts, etc but only 2 pairs of pants (one of which is NOT a pair of jeans); the 3rd pair I wear on the plane. If you are traveling a lot, by day 5 you are somewhere else and no one will know you already wore those changes of clothing unless you stink to high heaven.

One Eagle Creek Pack It Cubes with a see through top. I put all my miscellaneous stuff here - electronic gear, small first aid kit, etc.

One headlamp OR a small bright LED light the that's finger size. Just do it.

Your shirts - all neutral. I prefer hues of gray. Doesn't show dirt and goes with everything.

One large zip lock bag. For stinky things.

One empty plastic shopping bag. For things that get dirty and need to be separate.

At least 5 zip ties.

In a pinch, you can wash out underwear or spot clean with shampoo.

Travel size everything. You can always buy more toothpaste, shampoo, soap while on the road.

When I arrive at my hotel for the night, I quickly identify two places where I leave things. In the bathroom, I put one of the white hotel towels on the counter and anything I use in the bathroom I leave here. NOTHING LEAVES THE WHITE TOWEL. Contact case. Toothbrush. Whatever. In the morning, I don't have to go thru the whole bathroom to check if I left anything behind. I put another white towel on the table next to my bed and carry-on. If I take anything out and it's not on the white towel in the bathroom, it's on the white towel on the table. Since doing this, I have never left anything behind a hotel.

Hope this helps.
posted by HeyAllie at 5:21 PM on December 17, 2013 [33 favorites]

Best answer: I also bring a lot of light, soft knit things that can be layered for warmth and that dry quickly after you wash them in the sink. Unless you really love jeans, I wouldn't bring them if you can avoid it--they are very bulky and take forever to dry. My partner swears by the Gramicci pants they sell at Sahalie. I usually bring 2-3 pairs of lightweight pants, 3--5 knit tops, and 2 pairs of shoes, 1 a bulkier walking shoe and 1 nicer pair that's small and also good to walk in.

And I definitely agree on the need to buy good-quality travel containers that won't leak--don't get the cheap ones at Target like I did! And put them in plastic baggies just in case.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 5:29 PM on December 17, 2013

Best answer: There are lots of tips and tricks at His philosophy is that you can pack for any length trip and only bring carry-on. Obviously you don't have to go to that extreme, but the advice on that site helps you think about what you really really need and what you can leave at home.

Spoiler: bring way less clothes than you think you need and be prepared to hand-wash your clothes practically every day.
posted by pianissimo at 6:01 PM on December 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

The secret to long trips is that you need the exact same amount of stuff as you need for short trips. You just do laundry while travelling, and buy consumables as you go (if your trip is really long). Just give up the idea that you need to have a highly varied wardrobe.

And now, an actual tip: Make sure that ALL your clothes can be mixed and matched. I find this easier if i pick a colour family, or bring all neutrals, or almost all black, but your mileage will vary depending on your style. But regardless: all your tops go with all your bottoms, go with at most two pairs of shoes. Incorporate 'variety' into your wardrobe (if you care about that, as i do) via accessories and jewellery.
posted by Kololo at 6:02 PM on December 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Ultra Light Hiking. Lots of info out there...

I highly suggest a 'technical' set of clothing that is silver impregnated or something of the sort, they make business style clothing like this as well.

Pack Cover
Sleeping Bag
Sleeping Pad
Titanium Pot
Titanium Cup
Titanium Spork
Rain Jacket
Rain Pants
Rainproof Hat
Trail Runner Shoes
Zipoff Pants to Shorts
Tech Shirt
Tech Socks
Alpine Jacket (wicking layer + shell layer)

This setup got me 3000+ miles on foot across the US, Central America and a little bit of Europe, every season including snow, slept on ice with a 4 season thermarest.

I carried an Alcohol Stove, but I found decent alcohol was hard to find in other countries, with the exception of local high octane liqours. I highly suggest getting an international multi-fuel that you can feed unleaded gas. You can add more clothing, but if you don't mind you can combine the raingear with the regular clothing to add warmth.

Merino wool is awesome, as is polypro depending on your preferences.

Some packs also have a break-off section that can be used as a daypack, so you can leave the larger pack in a hotel room or hostel locker.

Now-a-days, I also carry a small folding 5w solar panel to charge phones and other things because I find myself in the middle of nowhere with little services alot of times.

Carry toilet paper too... don't know how many times I've been on some tiny rural bus and had to find *something* just to wipe with..
posted by anthroprose at 7:15 PM on December 17, 2013

Best answer: Capilene, especially for undergarments. Wears well, lightweight, cleans easily, dries rapidly. A three-day set worked for me on a yearlong RTW trip (3-4 days of rapid-dry clothing gives you room to skip washing for a day or two if need be and still be presentable).
posted by aramaic at 7:46 PM on December 17, 2013

Best answer: I find merino wool stinks when wet, which is a pain when you need to dry it in a hotel room.

However, unless I'm somewhere really hot, I will happily wear trousers and tops several times before washing them. I tend to pack three sets of clothes when I go anywhere, unless there are a clear set of different activities that need different clothes - when I was cycling I took two sets of cycle clothes and one set of normal clothes but with an extra normal t-shirt.
posted by kadia_a at 11:01 PM on December 17, 2013

Best answer: If you already know how to pack for one week, you're set. Pack that bag, and plan to do laundry as needed. Assuming you're not spending weeks in the wilderness or something, you don't really need to do any packing magic.

I like to use jumbo zip-loc bags (maybe 2gal size?) instead of the packing cubes, including a couple extras for rearranging once clothes/shoes get dirty. Squeeze the air out of them when you zip them up. It's easy to find stuff, because you can see everything. Going through my bag reminds me of shuffling folders around if you pack them fairly flat, not bursting at the seams. Dry things stay dry, dirty things don't get other things dirty, you get the picture.
posted by ktkt at 1:59 AM on December 18, 2013

Best answer: I use mesh lingerie laundry bags instead of packing cubes, they're extremely lightweight. I also use near-bulkless ziplocs almost exclusively to separate all my small stuff into kits or themes, and then I pack a few empty ziplocs for whatever comes up. Old contact lens cases are good for holding tiny amounts of things like ointments or pills or that one special moisturizer just in case you get sick of going without. I pack travel size everything since I avoid checking my bag, but other options are share with a friend, buy it there, go without. If relevant, I carry a pegless clothesline which makes finding a place to hang up wet clothes so much easier. A thermal/baselayer shirt is much smaller than a jacket of equal warmth. Cosmetics are usually small enough to bring the essentials but hair styling equipment is all bulky for me-- between putting my hair in a bun or wearing the same clothes all the time I have felt pretty drab at times but I use a mantra, "I'm out to see the world, not have the world see me."

For any big trip, I write out a list (in my email) of every single thing I'm packing far ahead of time, try to make it minimal, and then revisit it later before packing to cross out even more things. Makes the actual packing a breeze, especially for the kits of tiny but useful stuff I pack.

I generally try to obey a rule that I pack only things I use regularly and will use repeatedly on the trip, but I also make sure I have a half-dozen Pepto tablets or bandaids or a needle and thread because having to acquire those things on the road just for one use, even on a short trip to my mom's or whatever, is a pain, and it is more likely that I get into little scrapes when my usual patterns are disrupted. There must be at least 30 little things I bring but they all fit into space less than a quart size bag.
posted by zizania at 8:22 AM on December 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I forgot to bring an item of clothing on a trip so I bought it at a thrift store and gave it away when I left (since it wouldn't fit in my luggage and I didn't need it at home). If you're going to be in a colder climate only temporarily, you can do this with sweaters or coats and skip packing them.
posted by desjardins at 9:30 AM on December 18, 2013

I've always been surrounded by folk who take the kitchen sink away almost.. it's stressful to be bogged down by all that crap.. part of doing it light well is taking a certain pride in living 'the buddhist way' for a while I think.

Use every vacuum.. put socks/deodorant inside packed shoes, take a tiny towel (face or even a flannel) if you can face it... this is a bit of a sacrifice but makes a lot of difference. Double up your shampoo as shower gel and clothes wash, if you're female? (or like leggings!) these are great as they can be a layer/trousers/sporty or pajamas.

Take one nice top and you'll feel great in it
I sometimes take stuff that's dying.. socks or whatever so can dump towards the end and take something home from the place.
posted by tanktop at 1:55 PM on December 18, 2013

Oh, also! A sarong is an awesome item to pack for long trips, as it can play many roles -- large towel, light blanket, serious scarf, beach coverup, skirt, mini dress, etc. I picked one up during my last major trip, and I totally love it.

I am also enamored with the tiny pack towel (like 1ftx1ft) that clips onto your bag. If you are in a hot humid place, it's great to be able to dab/wipe your face when you get sweaty, and when you encounter bathrooms with no way to dry your hands (or if you just want to be eco friendly), you have your own towel. If you need to wash your hands on the go, use some water from your water bottle to moisten your tiny towel, and you can give your hands a good scrub. They dry amazingly fast. Super awesome.
posted by ktkt at 10:02 PM on December 18, 2013

« Older Give me your links to critical readings of...   |   Crush Me Out on Sweden! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.