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How to Pack Just 20 Pounds of Stuff for a Weeklong Trek

I was skeptical that I could get everything I’d need for three weeks

Last year, I had my first experience traveling for several weeks with only a backpack, at least my first time in 20 years since I first toured Europe in my 20s. I admit, I was skeptical that I could get everything I’d need for three weeks in Italy in one pack (and then be able to actually carry it), but I’m proud to say that not only did I succeed, but I’m now a convert. I plan to use only my backpack for future trips.

So what did I learn that I can pass on to you?

Tip 1: Make a List.

Your packing will be a lot easier if, rather than throwing things on your bed willy-nilly, you start with a list. If you’re not sure what you’ll need for a specific type of trip, like a week-long hike, you can always Google “what to pack for [type of trip or length].”

You’ll have several categories on your list, including:

       ● Clothing
       ● Toiletries
       ● Entertainment (tablet, charger, magazines)
       ● On-plane items

Tip 2: Be as Multi-Functional as Possible.

First, you need to accept that you will not be taking an outfit for every possibility. It takes some getting used to wearing the same clothes again and again on a trip, but trust me: you will never look back and regret what you wore on an adventure.

You can make outfits seem different with a few key accessories. A scarf, for example, could be worn over a dress or even turned into a skirt. And if you need something to sit on when on a picnic, that same scarf can do double duty! A bandana could be a sweat rag for your hike, then a washcloth at night. It can also hold your hair back.

One big tip I have is not to bring books. Instead, bring a small tablet that has the Kindle and a magazine app on it. You can use it as a book, magazine, game, whatever, and it weighs relatively little.

Tip 3: Use Packing Cubes

Packing cubes are life-changers. They corral your items, such as socks and underwear, so that it’s easy to stick your hand in your pack to get just what you want. I’ve wasted so much time sifting through a suitcase, and inevitably what I want is at the bottom.

Use cubes of different sizes to organize:

       ● Tops and bottoms
       ● Dirty clothes
       ● Socks and underwear
       ● Weather clothing (jacket, raincoat, umbrella)
       ● Toiletries 

Tip 4: Buy Smart Products

Stores like REI have some pretty amazing lightweight, quick-dry clothing items like underwear, shirts, and pants. Invest in these and you can carry less. In reality you need no more than two or three pairs of underwear (one to wear, one for tomorrow, and one to wash and dry), and minimizing what you bring will free up space.

Tip 5: Purge

With everything you think you want to take on your trip laid out on your bed, walk away from the packing process for a few hours to clear your head. Then come back with fresh eyes.

Your mission now is to ask yourself for every single item: do I really need this? You’ll find that you’ve thrown many things that you might need in certain circumstances, but more often than not, that need never arises. And remember: more than likely you can buy something you didn’t bring, should you end up needing it. So take those extra batteries, extra underwear, and bug repellant out of the stack!

Pack your bag and see how you did spacewise. Ideally I like there to be extra space so I have room to bring souvenirs home. Make sure your backpack or suitcase is an acceptable weight, because it will be your responsibility to lug it around. Never pack more than you can carry!

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