Authored by Susan Guillory
When it comes to luggage, my preference is to travel with a suitcase, with enough clothing options to satisfy my whim. So when the opportunity arose for a week long trek through the Dolomite Mountains, my first thought was: “Oh crap. I’m not going to be able to pack much.”
I dove into hiking blogs to figure out exactly how I was supposed to pack a 40-liter Deuter backpack with everything I would need. Here’s what I learned on the trail. May it help you!
6 Tips for Packing Light for a Trek
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Take Our Everything You Think You’ll Need…Then Get Rid of Half
Any fan of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild can appreciate the desire to pack for every eventuality on the trail. A bear whistle. Bug spray. Condoms…maybe not. So I encourage you to go ahead and pile everything on your bed, including that fur-lined parka, as you start to pack.
Step away from the pile for a few hours, then come back and give it a hard look. Pick up each item and find a reason you need it. Will the weather justify that fur-lined parka? Are mosquitoes even prevalent where you’re headed? Make a discard pile and make peace with it.
Don’t Bring a Ginormous Camera
Photographers may disagree with me here, but I was much happier with my mirrorless Sony RX100. It takes fantastic photos, didn’t bang against my pack or the landscape while I was hiking, and it was easy to access when I needed to take a photo. Also, it was light weight and didn’t take up much space.
It’s also nice to use the camera on your phone once in a while, as you can more easily post photos to social media without the hassle of uploading images to your computer.
Speaking of Computer…
I’m a writer, so I needed my computer. Only I didn’t. I had an extra duffel bag stowed at the hotel during my hike and left the laptop in it for the rest of my trip. But trust me: even if you think you’re going to use your computer, at the end of a long day of hiking straight up a mountain, it’s the last thing you’re thinking about.
That being said, I did bring my tablet, and I was glad. I used the Kindle app, and enjoyed having books to read and games to play before I conked out at 8 pm each night.
Use Packing Cubes
I don’t know how I traveled so long without packing cubes. My world changed forever as soon as I discovered them!
The cubes I bought were too big, so I would definitely recommend starting small, but they organized my clothes (one for clean, one for dirty, one for inclement weather options) and toiletries so I could easily slide out the cube I needed without completely unpacking my bag.
This convenience is super useful if you’re staying in a rifugio (mountain hut) and everyone in your room is asleep when you need something from your pack!
Invest in Dry-Wick Clothing
While you may not have to limit your underwear if you’ve got more space, you can easily bring two or three pairs of ExUfficio or other dry-wick underwear and wash them every night.
I also bought a few Brooks quick dry shirts and lightweight cargo pants. If something didn’t dry overnight, I’d attach it to the outside of my pack during the day.
Work Out a System
The biggest tip for packing light is simply having a place for everything in your pack. Most packs come with a lot of pockets, so strategically pack each one. Keep blister pads (Compeed rocks!) and Band-Aids in an easy-access pocket, but put things like your passport and money in an internal zippered pocket. Then all you have to do is remember where you put everything!
I managed my hike of the Dolomite’s with a pack weighing just 19 pounds. It was a miracle! While I never thought I’d enjoy packing so light, I loved the freedom it afforded me. No checked bags. No toting a suitcase up steps at the train station. I’d travel again this light in a heartbeat.
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I giggled when I thought of the part of Wild when they went through Cheryl’s pack and got rid of all the stuff she didn’t really need. We need to take some of these tips. we have actually been wanting to upgrade our camera lately so that it’s smaller and easier to carry around, especially on treks! I also have been meaning to invest in some dry-wick clothing, I have a feeling as soon as I try them it’s going to be a game changer!
I kept thinking about how she had to purge her stuff, and that actually helped me pack lighter!
Great tips! I love packing cubes and recently bought dry-wick clothing for our trip through Africa and loved them! Total game changer – and they make such a difference when hand washing on the road.
What brand doyou recommend for packing cubes? I need smaller ones.
Love your article! These are perfect information for first-time backpackers. I will prefer to pack with cubes and want to carry my SLR camera always, Capturing some stunning photos of nature is more enjoyable and memorable for hiking.
Thanks for the comment, Srimanta. A good camera is essential.
The get-rid-half tip really works for me, especially when combined with quick dry shirts. While I wasn’t out trekking, I’ve travelled for week-long trips using just a laptop/camera backpack, with a laptop and a DSLR inside. :) It actually feels amazing being able to travel really light, and once you get used to it, there’s no turning back. Unless, of course, the situation warrants a suitcase, heh! ;)
So true! It is freeing, and you never miss that stuff, do you?
Really, the packing cubes help? I just always thought they would take up valuable space — the sides, the seams, the zippers all unnecessary weight. I’m a minimalist (only travel with a carry-on) but I have to admit I’ve never backpacked.
They’re amazing for staying organized … many packs have little functionality for diving your things into certain spaces, so it’s hard to find different gear when you have to dig through everything. Packing cubes solve that :)
It comes down to a personal decision weighing up the benefits of each over the space & weight it may take up in the bag.
Yes. I truly appreciate the idea of packing light on a trek. As I read, I am reminded of my own first time when I had packed as if I was setting up my new home :)
Great set of tips!
Glad you can relate Nisha! Happy travels :)
Dry-wick clothing is an absolute must! You can check the weather all you want, but mother nature has her own ideas. Getting caught on a trek in the rain and then being wet for days after is not only uncomfortable but can make you sick. Great tips!
Absolutely Annie … in my experience mother nature doesn’t care about our weather predictions lol! She often likes to go against the grain!!!
And yes, absolutely re wet clothing making you sick … it’s never fun to be stuck in the rain without protective clothing!
I’ve stopped traveling with my computer but I haven’t thought of packing cubes or dry wick clothing. I seem to always get caught in the rain on vacation so now I know. Kudos to you both. I’m not sure I could hike with 19lbs :)
Dry wick clothing is amazing, especially if you have a habit of getting caught in the rain lol! As Annie mention in her comment above yours, getting soaked and then being wet for days after is not only uncomfortable but can also make you sick. Not a problem if you’ve got a hotel to head back to and dry off, but if you’re on a trek there’s not a lot of relief.
I am the worst light packer! I really do believe everything will have a use! After travelling for a year now I’m slowly getting better but only because I know my 15kg backpack has to actually be carried around! Packing cubes do sound useful, I usually have to take everything out my bag to get the one thing I want at the bottom!
Haha we’ve all been there! You’ll continue to get better as you go along, it’s taken me 10 years to figure out the stuff I never use, and I still sometimes pack it :D!
Definitely check out packing cubes, they’re fantastic for staying organized and not having to upturn your whole bag when you need something specific from it.
Happy travels Jess!
Great tips here – I will look out for the cubes and dry-wick clothing before my next trip.
Glad we could help Linzi :) Have a great trip!