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Backpacks

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They say it is smart to travel light, what I want to know is, how light is light?
15 years ago, December 6th 2006 No: 1 Msg: #8966  
Hi,
I am going on a 6 months trip through central and south america.
I wonder what size backpack is the smartest to bring? I was thinking about bringing a 50L pack, but after searching the web I am not so sure anymore.. Less or larger? What are your experiences and what do you recomend? I am not sure of what kind of activities I will be doing, but I want to feel that I can take a small trekking trip if I feel like it.

Monica Reply to this

15 years ago, December 7th 2006 No: 2 Msg: #8986  
B Posts: 138
I'm a huge fan of "travel backpacks" which differ than hiking backpacks in that they are front loading, have zippers that go most of the way around, have lockable zippers and have a detachable day pack. Hiking backpacks on the other hand, may provide a better weight suspension but they are mostly toploading which is annoying if you have to rummage to the bottom of your bag to find something and then re-pack it all (especially somewhere in public where you don't want to display all the contents of your bag).

I've travelled with a 77 L backpack which is entirely too large (I'm about 5'4'' in height). If you have larger, you pack more = way to freakin heavy!
Cons of a large backpack: its heavy. Having the pack on your back is one thing, but constantly lifting it up at least 50-100 centimetres in the air (to put it on your back) is another.
More cons: the bigger it is, the more likely that your pack will have to go at the bottom of the bus or on top. If you're in an area where there is a lot of theft, you want to keep your backpack with you at all times (being able to put your leg over the back, or stick your foot through a shoulder strap).

However, just to be fair: cons of a smaller backpack = can't carry as much, can't buy as many souvenirs along your travels (unless you decide to mail it all back home), what you bring has to be very efficient, practical and useful.

Questions to ask yourself:
Are you a packrat? Are there many things you absolutely cannot live without? Are you going to want to purchase many things along the way of your travels?

If you do decide to go with a smaller pack, but realize you are a packrat (as I am)... things you can do to cut down on weight:
for sleepsheets... try to find a silk one instead of cotton (its lighter and compresses smaller).
find a sleeping bag (if you need one) that compresses to the size of maybe 2 loafs of bread instead of 10 loaves of bread (sorry.. not sure what else would work as an analogy).
Bring clothing/footwear that serves multiple purposes. ie. sarong (towel, blanket, fashion attire), chaco/teva sandals (great for shower, water sports, all around walking),
select clothing that is quickdry - will dry quickly in a few hours (usually synthetically made v. something made out of cotton).
Try to pack clothing that is layerable and thinner v. bulky sweaters that will take up lots of room (same goes with sweatpants).
Try to figure out what can be bought locally in the country you're in (not too expensive) v. what cannot be easily found in that country (certain drugs from home, tampons, condoms, etc). If its found locally, don't bother packing it along.

Hope this helps. Feel free to e-mail me if you have further unanswered questions.

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15 years ago, December 7th 2006 No: 3 Msg: #8987  
B Posts: 5,195
Ideally - your main pack should weigh about 12kg! (mine 18kgs! but I have all this technical junk...)

But get a large pack so that you have the option to fill it up and send things home when you need to..

And everything Laura said 😊

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15 years ago, December 7th 2006 No: 4 Msg: #9007  
B Posts: 44
"He who would travel happily must travel light."
-- ?

It depends on what you're hoping to do... The smaller/lighter, the better! But, if you are hoping to go on a "small trekking trip," you might need something bigger to carry camping gear. If you are visiting a popular trekking area (like parts of the Andes or Himalayas), you might be able to get by with a small pack and just hire mules or porters to carry rented camping equipment.

While walking through the jungles of Sumatra and Borneo, I only had a small "dry" daypack. I thought this was great! On the other hand, while trekking throughout South America, I carried a heavy pack with a tent, sleeping bag, etc. This was necessary, but annoying when not camping. And if you carry a sleeping bag, buy a compression sack to decrease its size!

In my opinion, one problem with getting "a large pack so that you have the option to fill it up and send things home" is that it often gets filled up for most of the trip with non-essential items. I think bringing the smallest possible pack with essentials is the best way to go as it forces you to travel light.

Have fun!

poz
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15 years ago, December 8th 2006 No: 5 Msg: #9022  
Thanks so much for your great answers, but do you think 50L sounds to large? Reply to this

15 years ago, December 8th 2006 No: 6 Msg: #9036  
I am using a 65L pack and it is perfect for me. I wanted to go smaller, but I also wanted a good suspension system (I have had back problems in the past), which wasn't available in the smaller sizes. Though I rarely had the pack full, having the extra room comes in handy when I buy souvenirs or pack along camping gear, so I am glad I went a little larger - I even had enough room to carry a giant slab of limestone that I purchased at Palenque, but I don't recommend it! With the exception of when I had the rock on my back I always felt like I was traveling light, but I suppose 'how light is light' is up to the person carrying the weight.

Keith Reply to this

15 years ago, December 10th 2006 No: 7 Msg: #9064  
B Posts: 138
I agree with Keith. 65L is an ideal size. 50L is on the small size.

You'll find that even if you go minimal - packing along a pair of hiking shoes, sandals and shower flipflops + sweaters + 1 pair of pants + 1 pair of shorts eat up a lot of space (not including toiletries, essential medicine, journal, book to read on the bus, etc).

I don't know of a lot of 50L that have zip-off daypacks on them - I highly recommend the packs that have the zip-off daypack which is great for when you're doing daytours so you can carry more than what fits in a purse. Reply to this

15 years ago, December 10th 2006 No: 8 Msg: #9066  
My advice would be always to go with the smallest backpack that you can. This depends on how little you are prepared to travel with. Certainly don't consider anything bigger than 65L. It should be possible to make do with 50 L. My backpack is 65l and to be honest is half empty at the moment. I carefully throw things out of my pack at regular intervals. As others have said you can always rent or buy equipement along the way and then chuck it (or if you must mail it home - not an option for me as I don't have a home!) The problem with a bigger backpack is that you will be tempted to fill it. Reply to this

15 years ago, December 10th 2006 No: 9 Msg: #9072  
N Posts: 3
I read somewhere that, ideally, your backpack shouldn't weigh more than a quarter or a fifth of your own body weight.

Most of my friends usually carry 11-12 kg backpacks, but I can't carry more than 9 kg (I weigh 45 kg). There are no fixed rules here, but I think you should first see how much you *can* carry, based on your weight/fitness level. Reply to this

15 years ago, December 10th 2006 No: 10 Msg: #9074  
B Posts: 44
Lauralee:

Packing minimally with hiking shoes, sandals and flipflops?

To each his/her own :-)

poz
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15 years ago, December 10th 2006 No: 11 Msg: #9075  
I'd go with a 50 litres, sure. In six months you'll have to buy clothes along the way anyway, and many places, like Brazil, offer excellent quality and price. Books you can exchange, MP3s are light, and I am going to check Lauralee... are you really travelling with all those shoes? I personally go with just 1 pair of revered boots... Reply to this

15 years ago, December 11th 2006 No: 12 Msg: #9080  
B Posts: 138
I challenge that packing 1 pair of boots + 1 pair of sandals + 1 pair of shower flipflops is a lot... on the basis of being a girl.

Situations where packing around only 1 pair of boots as your footwear is inconvenient:
When your wet boots that havn't dried as quickly as I would like yet you still have to wear them around because you have no other choice.
Going into a decent restaurant with boots freshly entrenched with mud after coming back from a hike
Realizing that the hostel's showers are downright sketchy and you'll get athlete's foot or other fungus... because you have to shower barefoot.
Walking around on the beach getting sand stuck in your socks and shoes.

Plus its nice after hiking for a day to kick them off (your feet will be hot, sweaty and swollen) and switch into something different. When I think sandals I'm thinking tevas or chacos (the kind that double as approach shoes). There are occasions where you're going out for the evening to a club or strolling around where something other than dirty hiking boots would be preferable.

But like Jeff says... to each his/her own...
If you are trying to go ultra minimal, then definitely 1 pair of shoes may be the way to go.
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15 years ago, December 11th 2006 No: 13 Msg: #9101  
B Posts: 5,195
I personally have ditched the sandals and go with - cross trainers (hiking/running/walking) and flipflops - everything else - though I think it would depend on the environment to which your going to. Reply to this

15 years ago, December 12th 2006 No: 14 Msg: #9120  
But when you are travveling in a really hot climate, can you walk around in cross trainers without your feet getting soaked in sweat? On the other hand, in the amazon and mountains it might be good to have footwear that covers your feet? im not sure what to bring. Im going to buy one pair of new shoes. I am already bringing flipflops, but I am wondering if I should buy a pair of cross trainers or sandals?

I am a really small person, and I know a small pack will be the most confortable. But I still worry about bringing to much or to little. 50L might be okay.

Reply to this

15 years ago, December 12th 2006 No: 15 Msg: #9126  
B Posts: 44
When I was in South America, I brought a pair of trekking boots (because my goal was to trek as much as possible) and a pair of sandals (for everyday use and showers). This wasn't the most convenient, but it worked...

If you aren't going trekking at every possible moment, I'd bring some cross trainers and sandals.

poz
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15 years ago, December 14th 2006 No: 16 Msg: #9191  
I'd like to back up Lauralee here - when I travel I carry exactly the same shoes she does. I only wear my cross trainers if I'm doing some serious walking/it's chilly etc. My sandals I wear most of the time otherwise. Flip flops are perfect if the sides of your feet need a break, and also if you want a night out where you're not wearing clodhoppers. And they're tiny and so light!

In terms of the other stuff, I religiously travel light - I travelled for months with 1 t-shirt, just washing it out every night, eventually buying a new one when the thinness was starting to get indecent! Trust me, if you travel light you'll be complaining a hell of a lot less than everyone else. In terms of a backpack, definitely get one with a zip-off daypack. That's my biggest regret and frustration - but I'm too cheap to shell out for another one!

In terms of buying all the fancy clothes...they're SO expensive. If you're going to hot places, then just wait til you get out there and buy the cheap stuff the locals do - like buying hemp in Asia (versus buying it at home, which costs so much it is laughable!) Definitely go with layering - thin fleeces etc are so much more useful than a big momma one. Reply to this

15 years ago, December 15th 2006 No: 17 Msg: #9206  
Liz Miller: But is 50L travelling light? How large is your backpack?

What does zip-off mean? Is that when you can zip it all the way to the bottom?

Does anyone know if it is expensive to mail stuff home? (From South America to Northern Europe)

Thanks Reply to this

15 years ago, December 16th 2006 No: 18 Msg: #9222  
B Posts: 5,195
> Does anyone know if it is expensive to mail stuff home?

Yes - it's expensive! from South-America to Europe.... South-East-Asia to anywhere is cheap. Reply to this

15 years ago, December 16th 2006 No: 19 Msg: #9224  
B Posts: 138
Yay. Thanks for backing me up on that one Liz! Shoes I'll carry around even if it means carrying around a towel thats so small it won't even wrap around my waist.

As for for zip-off it means that on a travel pack (50ish L and larger) the front of the pack will have a mini day backpack (these range between 10-15 litres usually) that you can zip on and off. The mini backpack is great for day trips, going to the corner store, etc without having to dump out your pack. Also, if you can manage it, packing in all your essentials into that and doing the Inca Trail with your small daypack only means not packing around a 50L up and down a lot of steep slippery stairs.

Maybe because in Canada tech gear is cheap so I don't think twice about recommending it to every traveller (quick-dry wicking clothing is worthwhile). If quick-dry is expensive to buy in Norway, I would suggest at the very least buying a couple pairs of underwear that are mostly nylon (or synthetic generally). Cotton takes longer to dry and if you're in a hostel with not a lot of sunlight it takes even longer to dry.

oh yeah. I would definitely recommend at least one pair of long underwear. Cold (bucket) showers at high elevation can shock your senses. Reply to this

15 years ago, December 18th 2006 No: 20 Msg: #9253  
My backpack is 65L, but when I'm just travelling normally, I normally have a fair bit of space left. I use the extra if I'm carrying my camping stuff too. I am thinking of going to buy a 50L travelpack with a zip-off because it does really annoy me, and my old one is getting quite ratty now anyway!

And Laura - totally agree! I carry one tiny little travellers hand towel to do some basic drying, and the rest of the time I use my sarong - which is a great towel, dress, skirt, top and pretty much anything else you want it to be! I'd say that was a better option than one of the bigger travel towels. Reply to this

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