How to Pack Light: 9 Tips for Packing Your Backpack

Packing & Wardrobe — By on August 19, 2010 at 12:00 pm

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Lost Girl Sophie-Claire Hoeller was a big city girl with a big city closet… that is, until she had to consolidate for a backpacking trip with her boyfriend this summer. Cramming her massive closet into her bag was a no-go, so she had to come up with packing solutions that kept her pack weight limit down, but that didn’t limit her wardrobe. Here are a few of her packing pointers to make packing for your next backpacking trip that much easier.

By Sophie-Claire Hoeller

I have a closet bigger than my bed and more shoes than I could ever need. Needless to say, airline baggage weight limits are the bane of my existence.

As a frequent traveler (I have the silver Lufthansa card bearing those exact words to prove it!) I consider myself rather travel savvy. But as a fashionable woman, I often find that my fear of not having enough outfits outweighs my fear of that damned baggage weight limit.

My boyfriend is well aware of this dilemma, seeing as he usually bears its weight in the form of schlepping my suitcases across airports, onto trains and buses and up and down multiple flights of stairs. So when he put his foot down this summer, forbidding any type of suitcase with wheels or anything heavier than what my 5 foot 4 frame could handle, I was flummoxed.

I had to ditch the entire closet in favor of a backpack. It was like cutting an arm off.

Being fashion-forward with only a 50 liter bag to work with sounds tough, but once you understand the secrets to packing, it’s almost easy. The key? Everything needs to be simple and multifunctional, and one color palette if possible.

Here is how I managed to baffle my boyfriend and travel for a month with an unheard of 10.4 kilos.

1) White shirts

Sweating at a club to sweating on a hike

Never underestimate the power of a simple white shirt. Can easily be worn on a night on the town by simply upgrading it with the use of jewelry. I personally like accessorizing white shirts with big, bold necklaces. Proving its multifunctionality, the white shirt can also be worn hiking, doing sports (won’t show sweat stains!) or for any other occasion.

2) Shirts with sleeves

Grab culture by the sleeves

Despite your instinctual desire to pack only sleeveless shirts, because you know it will be hot and you don’t want to have to wash everything every time you get hit by a wall of 95% humidity, sleeves are essential. When traveling through traditional villages, visiting holy temples or Muslim countries, you’ll want to cover up your shoulders.

3) Sarongs

Multifunctional magnum opus

Works as a cover up for your shoulders as well as your legs (if needed at a holy site for instance), can be used as a blanket when it gets chilly at night, a stylish scarf, a pillow, and a light beach cover-up when you don’t want to get your dresses wet.

4) Colorful dresses

Straight from beach to bar

At least one colorful dress is a must. Works well as a simple bikini cover-up at the beach but can also be worn out at night. Cotton is preferable as it won’t wrinkle as much, and you won’t mind wearing it at the beach.

5) Shoes

Think on your feet

Gladiators are vital. I didn’t bring any and missed them every single day. Gladiators can up the glam factor of practically any outfit, even the aforementioned white t-shirt and jeans, and simply makes you feel sexier than flip-flops. Other than that, bring a pair of sneakers, and flip-flops. Avoid anything with too many annoying buckles, or heels, as these don’t work well on the cobblestones, sand, or unpaved roads you’re likely to encounter.

6) Cropped jeans shorts

Just lose those Nikes

Thinking you need those diaper-like Nike running shorts to go hiking is a mistake, you can just as easily wear jean shorts. Those can be dressed up with a nice shirt, or worn casually. On the other hand, I do not suggest wearing running shorts at the local bars. Jean shorts: 2, Nike shorts: 1.

7) Make-up

Less is always more

Here, a willingness to ditch what you are accustomed to for space is vital. If you can bear the thought, bring a minimum of make-up—only water-proof mascara and eyeliner, you’ll be tan enough to do without bronzer and blush, and eye-shadow might be a bit over the top at the beach anyway. One bright summer lipstick will update the simple eye-makeup and looks great with sun kissed skin. I recommend a bright pink or coral tone, which is flattering to almost everyone. If this sounds like too much of a sacrifice, again, use only items that have dual uses. For instance, bronzer that can be used as eye-shadow, or a blush that can double as lipstick. I also recommend removing nail polish, as it will only chip and become annoying. If necessary, use light colors so that chipping is less obvious.

8) Toiletries

Bigger isn’t always better

I can hear many of my girlfriends gasping in shock and disgust already but I don’t care. Two-in-one shampoo and conditioner, preferably squeezed into a small travel sized container. (Those, by the way, are amazing. I suggest using them for face and body lotion too. Travel make-up brushes are great as well.) After a few weeks at the beach my hair was dry as straw anyway, so using two-in-one or not wouldn’t have made a difference for my hair, however, saved a lot of space in my toiletry bag. Further, conditioner works great as a shaving cream.  Also, splurging for a moisturizing sunscreen is smart because you can ditch the extra body lotion. So beyond the basics such as toothpaste, Band-Aids and sunscreen, keep the toiletries to a minimum.

9) Jewelry

Big, bright, bold

Accessories will dress up any outfit. One long, bold necklace, a bright-colored ring, one pair of big statement earrings are a must, as they can make any outfit look swanky. On the other hand, who are we kidding, you will buy something at a local beach vendor, even justifying it by saying you need it as a memory or a talisman, so leave some space for that in your bag.

Essentially, think versatility. Everything should have at least two uses; day to night, potential layering if it unexpectedly gets cold, and mixing and matching (this is where a uniform color palette comes in). However, keep it simple and natural—as a backpacker you don’t want to look like you tried too hard. Bring things you love, and that you know work for you. Nothing that wrinkles easily. Bring a few bold accessories, preferably colorful to change up any outfit.

Ladies, it is hard to do without the luxuries and the many options we are accustomed to having on a day to day basis in terms of clothes, shoes and make-up, but when it comes down to it, when you’re backpacking you don’t need any of it.

Everyone else is a dirty backpacker too, so there’s no need to try and attain the same level of chic for the local beach bar as you do in New York City on a Saturday night.

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    20 Comments

  • Jennifer says:

    I absolutely loved this article! It was refreshing to find a writer with humor and great travel tips!!! I want to hear more from her!!!

  • Mel says:

    I really enjoyed reading this article! Such a lively style of writing, very Carrie’esque! More, more, more!

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  • I totally agree on the less is more comment for make up. Mascara and sometimes eyeliner is all a girl needs!

    Not sure about wearing the colour white when backpacking around the world. From my experience it’s a nightmare colour to keep clean!

  • globephile says:

    I’m glad to find somebody else who is proving that backpacking doesn’t have to be Tevas and convertible pants! Who said you can’t travel in style on a budget? That’s Globephile’s motto anyway.

  • Adelaide Anders says:

    I don’t find it quite that hard to pack like that……..but then again, I’m not a girly girl…….
    Never the less, great post!

  • Catrine says:

    Thanks for the info! I’m traveling for a few months in January and I will definitely use some of your tips :) Even though I must agree that a white shirt is not something I would bring.

  • Amber B says:

    Hey there, loved this post! Glad to see I’m not the only fashionable woman worrying about these types of things. I am backpacking in Central America soon and I have a 48L pack but I am wondering what you would recommend for a good day bag/purse?

    Summer_inBali Reply:

    Hi Amber, please come to visit my beautiful island, we call it Bali island. A tropical exotic place in Southeast Asia. You will be my guest, I will bring you to explore it. Many great adventures you can do here. So much fun in paradise.
    Contact me anytime
    Adi

    Bali Summer Reply:

    Hi Travelers, please come to visit my beautiful island, we call it Bali island. A tropical exotic place in Southeast Asia. You will be my guest, I will bring you to explore it. Many great adventures you can do here. So much fun in paradise.
    Contact me anytime
    Adi

  • Sarongs are really important! They can make you trendier and protect you to from the environment!

    Rose

  • Fantastic tips for would-be travelers. I have often daydreamed in class what it would be like to backpack throughout Europe and even parts of Malaysia as well.

  • Katie says:

    please can you tell me what back pack you used?? I loved the Tips.
    Katie

    Kimi Reply:

    Oh my gosh, I loved the pack too, looked just the right size for me as I’m the same height (5’4″)

  • robert says:

    hi guys… ready for backpacking!! despite your instinctual desire to pack only sleeveless shirts, because you know it will be hot and you don’t want to have to wash everything every time you get hit by a wall of 95% humidity, sleeves are essential. When traveling through traditional villages, visiting holy temples or Muslim countries, you’ll want to cover up your shoulders.

  • william says:

    I LOVE to travel too, especially road trips. They’re my fav. A travel journal is a great idea! Also, i’d make a book out of it too. Like print the most memorable photos into one book.

    I recently took a road trip to Salvation Mountain like in the movie Into The Wild and posted all of my 100+ photos on the blog.. if you’d like to come by and take a look :) From one adventurer to another.

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