Regardless of the circumstances- wilderness backpacking, international traveling, heading out of the house for a day of errands- we can all get behind the idea of a packing list. It’s infinitely more pleasant to arrive at your gate, your campsite, or your gym feeling light and breezy, than to feel like you’re slogging and sweating every step of the way.
Wondering how to make that happen? These 10 tips for packing light will get you started:
1. Make a list, check it twice.
Take the time to think through your itinerary and match it up with exactly what you’ll need. You’re a lot less likely to throw in that extra pair of shoes or pants if you’ve already written ‘one pair pants’ down on your packing list.
2. Channel Marie Kondo.
Lay out everything you’re planning on taking and ask yourself when you’ll use it. If your answer starts with ‘I might…’ or ‘What if…’ nix it. (As in: ‘I might end up going to that fancy event,’ or ‘What if I get my first pair of pants really dirty?’) Only bring items you’re certain you’ll use every day.
3. Layers, always layers.
Layers = versatility. An enormous bulky jacket might keep you warm on cold nights backpacking or exploring the city on a winter night, but during the day, you’re carrying that extra weight. Instead, bring lighter layers that add up to something really warm. Because hey, if you’re wearing all your clothes at once, you’re not carrying them.
4. Matchy-matchy, finally a good thing.
That bright orange plaid shirt and zebra print pants might show off your personality, but unless you’re comfortable wearing them together (and with everything else you bring) stick to items that all match. Neutrals are best. You won’t make quite as much of a fashion statement, but you’ll be better off if you can mix-and-match any top with any bottom in your bag.
5. Abide by the Rule of Three (or Two)
Unless you’re traveling somewhere extremely remote, it’s likely laundry will be available. Even if it’s not, you can always bring laundry detergent strips and wash your clothes in a sink (or in a gallon plastic bag, if need be). If you’ve got three shirts, pairs of underwear, pairs of socks, etc., you can wear one, dry one, and wash one.
As a backpacker, just start to appreciate being a little smelly, and bring no more than two of any item: one to sweat in during the day, one clean, dry pair to wear at night. On longer backpacking trips, use a couple drops of biodegradable soap to wash out the undies you’re not wearing, and dry them out by keeping them in your sleeping bag overnight. In either case, choose fabrics that are lightweight, warm, and dry quickly- wool is a great option.
6. Multiple functions > better than one.
Stick to bringing gear and clothes that serve double (or triple, or quadruple) duty. Pack tights that you can wear solo and in lieu of long underwear. Sarongs can be used as a blanket, beach towel, coverup, skirt, hobo bag, and sheet. Duct tape can cover blisters, repair broken gear, and be used as a sink stopper if you’re doing laundry.
7. Smaller + lighter = better
When you’re choosing between two items that serve the same purpose, always choose the smaller, lighter option. A lightweight, packable down jacket may serve you better than a bulky fleece. If you’re a reader, a Kindle (or your phone) is way better than your hardback copy of A Storm of Swords.
Aspiring ultralight backpackers: borrow a kitchen scale, and weigh your gear. A mini Bic lighter weighs .3 ounces less than a fullsize, and a trash compactor bag weighs 1.9 ounces less than a standard rain cover.
8. Sharing is caring.
Unless you’re venturing out solo, it’s easy to split up gear and equipment that everyone will use. Sharing a tent is the most obvious example, but don’t stop there; it’s just as easy for a group of four or six to share a single water filter and stove, and toiletries like floss, bug spray, and toothpaste. Who knows, if you’re willing to get really intimate with your buddies, you can share a toothbrush or single spork (I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve done both).
9. Invest in high quality gear.
When it comes to backpacking gear, the relationship between price and decreasing weight is linear. It’s easy to cut pounds off your backpack weight if you’re willing and able to spend a couple extra hundred dollars to buy a down sleeping bag, lightweight stove, and titanium cookware.
10. Empty space is your friend.
If you’ve followed these tips so far, you probably have a backpack or duffel that’s partially full of carefully selected, top notch clothes and equipment. Now carefully zip the bag closed and back away, because you. Are. Done. Seriously, if your bag isn’t full, you’ve done your job right, and curb your instinct to fill the bag to the gills.
The world is your oyster, and with that lightweight backpack, you’re ready to go get ‘em.