Ultralight Backpacking for Travel

I’ve been backpacking for 12 years and ultralight hiking for 3 years. Why haven’t the two converged? As we traveled through Vietnam this February I couldn’t help but notice the extreme backpack sizes by nearly all the travelers. We were greeted with comments like “Where’s your other bag?” “I’ve never seen a bag that small.” At Madam Cuc’s hotel in Saigon they have a special pulley system with a hook for hoisting your backpack to your floor. And there are only 5 floors. When I carried both Chris and my bag up 4 flights of stairs, the friendly staff didn’t understand why. It’s simple. We both used a Golite Jam for the trip. Weighing in at 1 pound 10 ounces for the men’s version, and 1 pound 9 ounces for the women’s, this is one of my favorite ultralight hiking packs . It’s made to carry a tent, sleeping bag, 3 to 4 days of food, and clothing for rain and the cold. Imagine how much empty room was in the pack minus everything I just listed. All you need for traveling through Vietnam is one pair of pants, one pair of shorts, one warm top, multiple pairs of underwear or boxers, multiple pairs of socks (unless you’re a sandal user) and misc. gear (toiletries, ipod, camera, book, first aid kit, etc.). My bag wasn’t even half full. If I had the luxury to extend the trip to 3 months through SE Asia my packs contents wouldn’t change a bit. In fact, I was going to bring an even smaller pack, the Osprey Talon 22, but decided to bring my Canon XSi Digital Camera, and needed a little extra room. So what packs are travelers using? There are two kinds and I’ve used both.

The first kind of pack is found in the travel section of stores like REI, such as models by REI, Eagle Creek, and Osprey. There are two major problems with these packs. They aren’t built with same emphasis in comfort as a hiking pack. The designers make the assumption you’re not going to be hiking 15 mile days. And they’re right. But even still. What if you have a 2 mile walk from the train station to your hostel? That’s a common theme. Wouldn’t you want a pack designed to for maximum support? The second major problem is that they weight nearly 5 pounds, and can carry more than you’ll ever need. The biggest plus these packs have going for them are the ease of accessibility. With the type of ultralight packs that I’m proposing, they often have one area of entry, and thus it can be difficult to reach something at the bottom of your pack. The solution is simple. Stuff sacks. Why have your items loose? I have all my items separated into stuff sacks like these for easy access.

The second kind of pack that travelers use is a hiking pack. Good start, but it’s the wrong size. It’s on the opposite side of the spectrum. I see travelers with packs like these from Gregory, Mac (let’s not forget the international crowd), or Berghaus. Again, these are weighing around 5 pounds with the capacity to take your entire wardrobe and the kitchen sink.

Bottom line, grab yourself an ultralight hiking pack and you will travel light and fast. Perhaps even more important, you won’t ever check a back again. Bags are getting lost and delayed more than ever, and many airlines are starting to charge for checking a bag. Coming home from Mexico yesterday, we had a connection at the world’s busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson, in Atlanta and might have missed or flight if we had to wait at customs for our bags.

I will go into more detail about recommended bags and the subject in general and do my best to converge ultralight hiking and traveling.

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One response to “Ultralight Backpacking for Travel

  • kit

    I agree!

    I will mention that one annoying thing about backpacking packs is that there are SO many compression straps hanging off all over the place that it can be difficult to get them all to stay inside an overhead bin. I’m going to be trying a Golite Ion soon since it has nothing to it but the backpack straps. Both the Jam and the Talon seem to get this right, too.

    Another real benefit of ultralight travel is that having a bag that’s a backpack or purse as your main bag gives you the potential to see museums and other things along the way to your hotel. It’s much more freeing to be able to wend your way through the city on your days of arrival and departure with your luggage. Otherwise, these days tend to get blown as ‘getting settled’ with hitting the hotel as the first and last stop.

    The really neat thing about the UL backpacking experience is that it tends to make you a lot more prepared to deal with anything, even compared to the people lugging the massive packs and rolling suitcases. It’s amazing how many times I’ve been traveling with a glorified purse and had to lend out my flashlight, blister kit, sunscreen, and so on to heavy packers.

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