The Art of Lightweight Travel; Gear for Reducing Weight

Long, long ago in a far, far away post (Lightweight Travel – more accurately travelling Lightweights) I made a promise to provide some tips on packing and light travel gear. This post is belatedly fulfilling that promise, and providing a some helpful advice on how to avoid the need for a team of Sherpas for a weekend trip to Rome.

Travel gear; Sherpa porters on the Everest Base Camp trek in Nepal, the Himalaya Sherpa porters in the shadow of Pumori in the high Himalaya, Nepal

Sherpas should be avoided in general travel

Decision making

It is necessary to make some tough decisions when travelling light. Often entailing compromises, between luxury and necessity, but with some shrewd choices it is not necessary to be uncomfortable. Those with the ‘just in case’ mentality, including superfluous items to allow for every possible contingency will need to make the most compromises.

The type of trip being taken, the length and intended activities which are planned will have bearing on requirements. A round the world trip will have different needs to a weekend in Paris, a camping or hiking trip obviously requires different equipment to staying in a luxury hotel, while snow sports or other specialist activities need appropriate equipment.The anticipated weather conditions are also important, research the destinations to be visited. Be aware of the temperatures to expect and how often it is likely to rain. Check the long range weather forecasts for shorter trips, and pack accordingly.

The other compromise that will need to be made is likely to be cost. Cutting edge travel clothing and gadgets can be expensive, but purchasing the best quality that can be afforded usually pays off.

Travel gear; Tourist at the Muhammad Ali Mosque in Cairo, Egypt on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Dressing in local clothing is a good option

Decide what will be needed carefully, cutting back is important but don’t scrimp on true essentials. There is an old adage “any fool can be uncomfortable”. If it’s likely to rain include a waterproof jacket and if winter camping inside the Arctic Circle a summer weight sleeping bag is unlikely to keep you warm.

Packing

“lay out all the clothing and money you intend to take, then half the clothing and double the cash”

This well known quote is spot on; most of us can manage with less clothes and could certainly do with more money!

Restrict your baggage to one main bag and a small carryon keeping both small. Large packs/bags will only tempt you to fill them.

Do not leave packing to the last minute as it usually results in additional items being thrown in which will not be needed and increase weight. Allow plenty of time and lay out what you intend to take, trim back as much as possible. Consider buying rather than packing, take minimal clothing which would be relatively expensive to purchase. Depending on your budget, items such as t-shirts, scarves and sarongs can all often be purchased cheaply in destination and then left in charity shops prior to heading home.

Purchasing of bulky, heavy items such as toiletries is recommended, it will greatly reduce the weight of your luggage and doing some shopping in the local stores will provide some insight into the culture of the destination. However, unless you have in depth pharmaceutical knowledge carry prescribed medication with you.

I’ll assume you listened to your Mum and know to always roll! It usually takes up less space than folding and avoids creases.

Travel gear; Lightweight travel in the English Lake District, Cumbria, England on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

A heavyweight in lightweight travel

Versatility

Choosing what clothing to take is about keeping it simple. Select several garments in a colour which you like but won’t show up dirt easily. Then accessorise with garments that will brighten and compliment your base colour. Keep them to a minimum, with the possibility of supplementing them with in destination purchases. Versatile items like sarongs can be used as headwear, scarves, shouls, skirts and large ones even dresses. Running shorts can be worn for swimming or as underwear and t-shirts makes suitable nightwear replacements.

Most travel clothing companies have an extensive range of high quality products which are lightweight, dry quickly and even provide SPF protection and/or anti-mosquito treatment. Manmade fibres are preferable as they wick sweat away from the skin and dry quickly, silk is another versatile fibre. Avoid cotton, it dries slowly when wet, and can chill the wearer, it also becomes heavy when wet.

Self laundry is the friend of the lightweight traveller, wash your clothes regularly, then mix your wardrobe choices up to provide variety. Wash early and quick drying fabrics will be ready to wear the following day.

Resist taking several pairs of shoes. Versatility is again important, unless extreme trekking is planned most footwear can be used for several circumstances. Trekking sandals can be worn around town as well as on terrain which isn’t too rough. Good flip-flops are fine for short walks as well as being great around the pool or on the beach. Dress codes must also be considered, some hotels or restaurants may not allow approach shoes, trekking sandals or flip-flops, therefore research likely accommodation and dining options in case they have restrictions.

Most experienced skiers will want to take their own equipment rather than hiring it. If skiing equipment costs aren’t included in your luggage allowance consider wearing your boots and ski jacket, both of which are heavy items.

Lightweight travel gear and minimal luggage at Bastia airport on Corsica, France on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography

Why carry when you can buy

If you’re likely to be staying in hostels or camping then a good sleeping system will be essential. Bedding may not always be available and even if it is may not be hygienic. Rather than carry a bulky, heavy four season sleeping bag choose a lightweight one and combine it with a silk liner for extra warmth. In warm conditions the liner can even be used on its own, a versatile system.

A hammock is a great item of travel gear, enabling the traveller to keep the weight down, as a good quality one takes up very little space. The only downside is that in commercial campsites hanging spots can be rare.

Gadgets

Most of us love gadgets, they make our lives simpler, allowing us to share our memories and keep in touch with loves ones back home. There has been a great deal of minimisation and convergence in technology recently. Phones have been capable of taking images for many years but cameras now include GPS systems and Wi-Fi connectivity. Inter-changeable lens cameras are being reduced in size and tablets provide us with many of the benefits of a laptop, without the weight and bulk.

Universal adaptors are compulsory for most travellers but those with USB functionality increase versatility. Charging our gadgets is obviously of paramount importance and universal chargers which can supply power to several devices or types of battery will reduce they need for several chargers.

Minimise all documentation, use online guidebooks where possible and buy maps locally. Keep passports, tickets and any prescribed medication close at hand.

These are general tips which should help every traveller reduce some weight in their travel gear, it is not intended as a definitive list. Help finish the post, I’m sure there are plenty of readers with useful advice, please add your lightweight travel tips to the comments.

Wine from a Catalonian vineyard, Spain on Mallory on Travel, adventure, adventure travel, photography Iain_Mallory_03909-2-1

Some items are worth the extra weight

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Comments 14

  1. Nita

    Great tips! If only I could lose the just-in-case habit.. Always want to give myself more choices to decide while traveling.. Lol.. Over-packing is acceptable for girls anyways, it’s expected 😀

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      Iain

      Thanks Nita but don’t forget to leave space for the most important items …… duty free 🙂 fashionably late and overloaded huh.

  2. Derek Freal

    Yeah, really need to do some unloading myself…thanks for the tips Iain. My RTW backpack currently weighs 29.2 kilos according to the airport scale plus I have an additional handheld carry-on bag that has most of my electronics. Then again these are now my only possessions in the entire world, so letting go of even more is hard to do. I’m going to try tho 🙂

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      Iain

      That’s a pretty heavy backpack Derek, I hope you don’t carry it on a daily basis? I can understand your reluctance to shed the load however when it is actually everything you own. Good luck making the tough choices.

      1. Derek

        Oh God no, I don’t carry it on a daily basis! As a matter of fact I left it in Jakarta several weeks back and just took clothes, camera, and tablet with me in the smaller bag while I explore central and eastern Java, Bali, Lombok, Komodo, etc. Since I have to pick it back up when passing back through Jakarta on my way to Sumatra, that we be when I reassess my possessions and decide what can be trashed / donated to locals.

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          Iain

          I’m glad you don’t carry such a heavy pack around Derek 🙂 That sounds like some tough decisions will be made, just hoping you don’t obsess about it, spoiling your explorations.

          1. Derek

            Oh I’m definitely not obsessing about it. In fact I’ve been so busy with the locals, the sights, the culture, and now this batik school in Jogja that I’m enrolled in that I had not even given the bag a second thought until reading your post. Also fallen behind on my writing / tweeting / reading friends’ blogs as well…there is just so much amazing stuff to do here! Anyway, great chatting mate…best of luck on your journeys! I’m sure we’ll be chatting more — and one of these days when we’re in the same country at the same time we will definitely have to cross paths!

          2. Post
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            Iain

            I’m glad to hear it Derek, sounds like you’re having too much fun anyway. Enjoy the rest of the trip and yes hopefully we’ll bump into each other one day soon.

  3. Edmund Chavez

    The travel clothing industry has exploded in the last several years. High-end travel clothing manufacturers include ExOfficio, Columbia, Patagonia, Royal Robbins, The North Face, and Mountain Hardwear. Companies like Orvis, TravelSmith, and Magellan’s have their own lines as well. The common denominator is price: None of it is cheap. There are some shortcuts to affordable travel clothing, but nearly every light traveler should avail himself of a few of the best items offered by the high-end manufacturers. When packing light, good quality goes a long way.

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      Iain

      I totally agree Edmund, it’s worth spending a little more for good quality clothing and equipment. Sometimes buying cheap is false economy.

  4. Ismael Banks

    Wear a money belt . A money belt is a small, zippered fabric pouch on an elastic strap that fastens around your waist, under your pants or skirt. I never travel without one — it’s where I put anything I really, really don’t want to lose. For more, see Travel with a Money Belt: Your Portable Safe .

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      Iain

      Money belts can be useful Ismael, they can reduce luggage weight and are obviously useful for security. Most look pretty terrible though, a manufacturer needs to produce a leather version which looks like a normal belt.

    1. Iain Mallory

      Hi Julie, glad you found it useful. I understand what you mean about packing for every contingency, but I believe good planning is about packing for every likely contingency 🙂

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