The Key to Packing Light for a Trip

June 14, 2015

by Bobbi Newman
When you're packing for a trip - whether it's across the globe or up a mountain - there are a number of questions you should ask yourself to ensure you're not hauling more than you need.

1. Do you really need that?
2. Can you wash some of the things you are taking (if you are going for more than a day or two)?
3. Can you re-wear some things without washing them?
4. How much space does that item take up, and can you substitute something that takes less space?
5. Find things that pack flat - like a hat
6. Wear your bulkiest items while traveling
7. Look at it once you really need it?
8. For personal items - get the smallest container you can and use it
9. Be willing to re-wear items and not worry that someone already saw you in it
10. Minimize shoes

Is it possible to go away for 2 weeks with an overnight bag and a daypack? 14 year old daughter and I went to Costa Rica for 2 weeks and managed it - and we had extra space in our bags (even with the 35mm DSLR camera and lenses!).  We were not on a luxury trip, so we didn't need anything more than a sundress as far as anything "dressy", which helped.

When it comes to cosmetics, some companies offer trial sizes throughout the year - tiny versions of their face care that will last for several weeks if used carefully.  These help immensely.

Be prepared to wash some items in a bathroom sink - you can use hand soap or bring individual laundry detergent packets. Make sure you wring the items out as much as you possibly can.  I've also found, oddly, that while wicking t-shirts dry faster on you, light cotton wrings out better and dries faster when hand-washing and hanging in a warm, humid environment.  (Actually, even my jeans dried faster when hand washed than my synthetic hiking pants.  I need to run more experiments on this). 

Also be prepared to make use of air conditioning in humid environments or heat in cold environments to help dry your hand-washed items...and be prepared to take
damp items and find ways to get them to dry (like spreading them on the back deck of a car while driving).  

When you start to pack, think about what you intend to do on this trip.  Assemble the  required items...and then sort through and pull out anything that isn't a requirement.
For example, you may not really need two pair of long underwear when going out for an overnight will probably be fine.  Even if it is cold for both days, you
can wear that pair for two days on that kind of trip.  If there is a chance that you could get wet and need a dry pair, that is a different story.  

Look at your assembled items - is there anything that can pull double-duty?  (I once saved someone from hypothermia because I had a rain jacket and a fleece for insulation...the fleece stayed warm when wet and was fairly water resistant, so I wore the fleece in the rainstorm, while the experienced mountaineer that I was with (who didn't bring a rain jacket...and didn't learn his lesson, because this happened more than once) squeezed into my rain jacket, which saved him from hypothermia.  But...if I didn't need to save him, I also really didn't need both a fleece and a rain jacket that day...either one would have been fine.)

So, can your rain jacket also be your wind-proof layer?  Will your light insulation also work as a rain jacket in the climate you are headed to?  Will your hat work as both a sunshade and to keep rain off?

Look at your assembled items again - do you have high heels and a dress when you are going ice climbing in Ouray?  If so, you probably do not need them.  Really.  I can name all the restaurants in Ouray, and while there is one that high heels and a dress would be nice in, unless you know you are going there (and staying there, or someone is going to hold you up while walking there), you don't need high heels and a fancy dress in the winter in Ouray.  If you are going there in the summer, a nice, packable sun dress and flip-flops might be useful, though!

Ok, so that's a start...I could keep rambling, but we'll stop here for now.

About me and how I learned to pack light: 

I backpack, climb, hike, ski, and just about anything outdoorsy, travel and am a private pilot.  I learned from someone who read much of  what Ray Jardine, one of the original ultra-light pioneers, wrote.  Saving an ounce here (cutting off the handle of your toothbrush) and there can really add up.  My daughter and I partially learned these techniques because we spent a fair amount of time traveling over the past 10 years in a small plane - either a 4-seater Cessna 182 or a Piper twin Comanche (we never had more than 3 people in either).  One of the issues about traveling in a small plane is that the useful load - which includes fuel, people, and luggage, is critical and limited.  Thus, packing light is essential.  My daughter and I have managed to pack light enough (max of a carry on each) to accommodate such trips for 10 days in California, 10 days in Wisconsin, 10 days all over Wyoming and into Montana, and 2 weeks in Costa Rica, among other adventures, such as backpacking and hiking.  We are almost never without gear for day hikes...a small daypack, water container, hiking socks, trail running shoes, and a rain jacket.

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