How I cut my RTW backpack from 16kg to 7kg

I carried over 16kg on my back for three months travelling through America and Canada.

Never again.

Here is why and how I cut my round-the-world baggage to a mere 7kg – carry-on luggage only!

Why we became lightweight

In the US we got sore from carrying our monster bags. So sore that we lost the will to backpack at all. We hired cars and threw them in the back, temporarily forgetting the pain they caused us. We took them off at every available opportunity, grimacing when it was time to get going again.

We tried everything to lessen the discomfort.

I strapped padding around my waist to stop the bruising where the hip belts were causing pressure. I’d sit on the bed to put it on before standing up. Anything to avoid slinging the bag over my shoulder, which became as unmanageable as pulling a train.

Janine next to her bag on a train
Our bags needed their own seat

Lyden damaged his knee running for a bus with the enormous weight. When he was still in pain—weeks later—he started throwing things out, determined to improve the situation. I picked up the blister pack of paracetamol he discarded as he hauled his still-massive pack onto his aching shoulders. My quizzical face broke into laughter.

This just wasn’t working.

In Toronto, we had trouble getting out of the city in rush hour. We sat on the platform reading, looking up now and again as a train came in. We couldn’t dream of getting on packed tubes with our bags; they took up the space of an extra person. If we turned around at speed, we could knock someone to the floor.

A crammed tube train with the doors open
We were on the platform for over 2 hours!

Benefits of travelling light

With our lightweight bags, we can travel free and easy…

Quick to pack, less to lose

Travelling light means we have less clothes to wash and avoid buying items we can live without. We have fewer things to take care of, lose or damage. It also means we can be packed and ready to go in 5 minutes flat!

Air travel

We can board flights with carry-on luggage only. Hooray for bags which fit hand luggage dimensions for all major airlines! Our bags are always with us so they can’t get thrown around or tampered with. We can avoid lengthy queues and don’t need to arrive early to check in.

Janine sorting her bag before check-in at Birmingham airport
We’re not doing this again!

Overland travel

We can get on busy trains and buses without waiting for a quiet time to travel. We can place our bags on our laps and be able to see in front of us—what a joy.

Go stealth(ish)

We can go undercover a little more easily. Let’s face it, our pasty skin is going to be seen a mile off in India, but there are ways of being low(er)-profile. With our streamlined bags, we’ll avoid looking like naive tourists waiting to be ripped-off or mugged. No cameras around our necks, bum bags stuffed with cash, or roll mats hanging off our rucksack.

Comfortable to carry

We can weave in and out of crowds and move with minimal discomfort. A friend of ours triggered a serious back injury from carrying 23 kg on a trek. It may have felt OK at home, but over any distance the weight will get you. There will be an element of back sweat from carrying any bag, but there’s no escaping that in hotter climates!

3 ways I lightened the load

1. Leave things behind

The simplest way to cut weight is to do without. You may have some quick wins here, and it is only a decision away.

Camping gear

In the US, we camped around 4 nights out of 90. We’re not planning on camping, so I’m leaving behind a tent, roll-mat, headtorch and blow-up pillow. I didn’t carry the 3 man tent all on my own, so I will half the weight of our Vango Banshee 300 to account for the weight-saving calculation. (Full weight – 2.75kg.)

Weight saved: 1375g (half a tent) + 650g (Multimat Superlite 38) + 50g (cheap blow-up pillow) + 105g (headtorch) = 1.86kg.

Sleeping bag

We used our sleeping bags a lot in the US; motel rooms were cold and we sometimes faced bug infested sheets. I love my Rab Ascent 700 down filled sleeping bag but have decided that if I faced the same situation again, I would ask for more blankets or stay somewhere else.

Considering we’ll be in hotter climates for much of the time, having my sleeping bag with me isn’t worth the weight or inconvenience. It’s been ditched (or rather lofted) for a Eurohike silk liner, weighing a super-light 116g. Jolly good show!

Weight saved: 1290g (sleeping bag) – 116g (silk liner) = 1.174kg.

Walking boots

I won’t need these in India. If we travel to a colder country and I need some, I will rent or buy a pair. So, my Salomon Quest 4D 2 GTX will be left behind, although I would highly recommend them for colder climates and trekking. They’re more expensive than some boots, but well worth it.

I’ll be wearing my new Teva Terra-Fi Lite sandals for trekking and walking in hot climates. I wasn’t quite ready for barefoot options which Lyden fell in love with, but for the ultimate lightweight sandal, read his post; The best lightweight, packable travel sandals – a comparison.

Weight saved: 1400g (boots) – 440g (Terra Fi Lite – womens 7) = 960g.

Kindle

I won’t manage without reading, but I’m leaving my Kindle Paperwhite behind. I’ll access Kindle books and Google Play books on my phone instead. With it’s large screen and EXCELLENT battery life, I’m a happy camper with the superb OnePlus One phone.

A OnePlus One phone next to a Bic biro
Maybe not the lightest phone, but my OnePlus One replaces my Kindle Paperwhite

Weight saved: 279g (I haven’t taken the OnePlus One weight off, as I would have taken it anyway).

Out of interest, the OnePlus One weighs 166g.

2. Take lighter versions

The bag!

My Deuter Aircontact 75 + 10 litre rucksack weighed nearly 3kg. It was a great bag, but far too heavy when loaded up. I was so convinced that I would NEVER carry it again, that I put it on eBay as soon as the trip was over. I more recently gave up my favourite Osprey Aura 35 litre bag (weighing over 1kg). It had many zips which could entice hungry pickpockets and it wasn’t offering quite the capacity I needed. It was replaced by something unimaginably good for the lightweight, security minded traveller…

The Arc’teryx Alpha FL 45 litre weighs a stunning 650g!

It’s waterproof, would be difficult to open by a thief, and only has one outside pocket. This will stop me from losing track of my belongings (in different zips) and risking pickpockets from having a lucky dip at my expense.

The added bonus? It’s actually a 33 litre bag, extending up to 45 litres when you need it. For me, this is the perfect bag – I can be low profile or load it up with food and extras when I need to. All other bags are dead to me, making a seemingly expensive bag a worthy investment.

Lyden wearing his Arc'teryx FL 30 litre backpack
Lyden went for the smaller Arc’teryx FL 30 litre to carry his 7kg

Weight saved: 2900g (mammoth bag) – 650g (awesome climbing pack) = 2.25 kg!!!

Now that’s an impressive saving for something which only carries your stuff.

Laptop case

Eagle Creek Pack It Specter 13″ laptop sleeve weighs a feather-light 78g. Needless to say the old Belkin, weighing 322 grams, has been sold. Good riddance to another heavy transporter!

Weight saved: 322g (Belkin sleeve) – 78g (Eagle Creek sleeve) = 244g.

Waterproof jacket

I love my Gore-Tex Pro Mountain Equipment waterproof. It’s the best jacket for the most torrential weather you can imagine, and kept me bone dry and insulated in America, Canada and the Cairngorms. I have put it into storage as it is too heavy and bulky to justify in a hot monsoon climate.

I opted for a jacket which didn’t carry a huge price tag, which means it’s not the lightest you can get. Still, for its waterproof capabilities, it’s hugely impressive. It saves me a good chunk of weight, packs very small into its own stuff sack, and makes me look quite young despite my multiplying grey hair. I got it in ‘dark cerise’ (shocking pink to my eyes) which makes me feel like a mischievous 4 year old. Introducing the Berghaus Stormcloud!

Janine wearing her Berghaus Stormcloud
My Berghaus Stormcloud keeps me dry on a drizzly day in Scotland

Weight saved: 585g (Mountain Equipment, size 12) – 275g (Stormcloud, small) = 310g.

Trousers

Rab Helix (size 12) weigh a marvellous 230g, compared to 390g for Rab Treklite pants (a heavier weight trouser of the same size).

They offer incredible stretch and comfort, and can button up to 3 quarter length which is an added bonus. I chose them in the light coloured ‘Pepper’ so they reflect the most amount of light.

I’ll wash them in the sink (or in the Ganges!) and they’ll dry overnight. I have leggings as a backup; I won’t be taking any short skirts or shorts as it isn’t respectable for ladies to show much skin in India. For our onward travels I can have fun sourcing local clothes.

Weight saved: 160g.

Warm layer

I took a rather bulky and weighty North Face fleece on the US trip. Forget that. You can now get super lightweight down jackets. I chose the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, weighing in at 186g (size small).

Weight saved: Approx 300g.

Shoes

I’ve swapped my bulky New Balance trainers for lightweight Skechers, which weigh a mere 120g per shoe! They’re the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn, despite my reservations that I’d never get on with a slip-on. They don’t have memory foam like some of the Skechers range, which I think is an advantage (I tried and didn’t like). This also helps to keep the weight down without compromising on comfort.

Janine's Sketchers Go Walk shoes
Unfussy, comfy and lightweight

The Skechers ‘Go Walk’ can be crushed down as there is really nothing to the top material. While not great for wet weather, the sole is supportive and made out of some magical material which is as light as a feather. Technology these days eh?

Weight saved: 548g (New Balance) – 240g (Skechers Go Walk, size 7) = 308g.

Glasses case

You may think I’m being silly now, but it’s amazing how much those extra grams add up. After weighing the glasses cases I had, I popped into a local optician and spent £2.50 on a lightweight but solid alternative (the top one in the picture).

Weight saved: 66g (it all counts!).

3 glasses cases of different weights
Top – 48g, middle – 100g, bottom – 114g

Travel towel

I had a Lifeventure Hydrofibre trek towel (extra large) for the last trip, weighing 160g. It did the job and I was convinced it was one of the lightest on the market.

This time I’m taking an extra large PackTowl (no that isn’t a typo – it’s spelled without an e) at just 89g. It doesn’t boast the ability to carry six times its own weight in water like the hydrofibre one, but it can absorb four times its weight. It’s quicker to dry, lighter, and feels much softer next to the skin. Yippee!

Weight saved: 71g.

Make-up

As most make-up is going to slide off my face in sweat, I’ve decided to go minimal. I only wear it occasionally these days so couldn’t justify any more than eye-liner, face powder and a brush.

Eyeliner, face powder and brush
I got it down to 38g total!

Weight saved from original make-up kit: over 200g.

3. Taking fewer duplicates

Underwear

I’m taking 3 pairs of knickers this time (leaving behind the extra 7 I took before) and one bra.

After much deliberating, I bought an Icebreaker Sprite Racerback bra. It’s incredible percentage of authentic merino wool—96%—is unbeaten by other bras (correct me if I’m wrong). More merino and less man made fabric means more breathability, less stink and more comfort. I’ll wash it overnight which means I won’t need more than one. Good job, as merino wool is pricey in the UK due to import taxes and VAT. It only comes from a specific type of sheep in New Zealand. It’s well worth the price tag even so.

The runner-up was Smartwool’s PhD Seamless Racerback bra. As it has a double layer of fabric, and only 68% of the inner layer is made of merino, I had to reject it for the Icebreaker. I’ll be in the hottest temperatures I’ve ever experienced, so the extra layer didn’t seem wise. Maybe I’ll get to try it out in the future – Smartwool’s PhD socks are the most secure and hugging I’ve ever felt!

For days I want to feel a little fuller up top (I’m a small B-cup and the Sprite isn’t underwired), I’ll pop on my bikini bra. Dual functionality – I love it!

Weight saved: 210g (knickers) + 79g (underwired bra) = 289g.

Follow our journey from the beginning – From Scotland to India.

Trousers

I’m only taking one pair of the Rab Helix at 230g (see above) rather than two, plus 1 pair of leggings.

Weight saved: 230g.

Tops

I’m leaving behind the extras this time (I doubled up before; 2 long sleeved tops, 2 t-shirts and 2 vests). This time I’ll only take one of each top, plus a bottle of Dr Bronner’s magic soap to wash them. It really is magic stuff and can be used to wash everything, including my dirty little face.

Weight saved on three tops – 280g.

Total weight saving

These savings add up to a whopping 9.2kg! This is equivalent to the weight of an average 9 month old child! Phew – I’m going to feel better without that on my back!

How things are different

Our last trip was to North America in the coldest months of winter. Our upcoming trip is to India – in the hottest months of summer.

It would be easy to think that we’d need to carry less weight and bulk this time purely because we need less clothes. Whilst that’s true, if we were going to a colder climate now, we would still only carry 7kg. We’d wear the extra layers and hiking boots, so we wouldn’t need to carry them on our backs.

We’re committed to a lightweight life and there’s no going back!

How can you cut down your travel baggage to feel more lightweight?

Ideas and tips welcome in the comments below!

Comments

  1. Rocco says

    Impressive 🙂

    I know where you are coming from, when I travel to Italy I have a monster backpack to avoid hefty airline charges as I can squash it down to fit inside the size frames at the airport check in desks.

    But yes even one backpack at 10kg is a killer wandering around the airport knocking stuff of the shelves while navigating Boots or WH Smiths in the departure lounge and even a short mile walk to the train station is murder with a big backpack.

    Very wise words indeed and I will consider these pearls of wisdom when I travel next time

    • Janine says

      Hi Rocco,

      The weight adds up doesn’t it! You’re doing pretty well to travel with 10kg, but the lighter the better.

      It can feel like we’re taking it too far at times, especially when we get the weighing scales out in shops and are logging the figures on a spreadsheet (Lyden loves Google sheets!). But as you said, you really feel the weight, even over short distances and in public spaces. I’m sure we’ll be really glad of the effort when we hit the road!

      Cheers for the comment 🙂

  2. says

    I have an immense amount of respect for you guys. For your methodical and precise research. The detail and your pragmatic approach to becoming more lightweight. But most of all, for actually doing it. As a seasoned traveller, I’m used to my 15k rucksack and will probably not manage to travel with less. I’m a little magpie, attracting tat wherever I go. I can’t imagine not accruing more tat as I go along or having the self-discipline to say ‘no’. I understand and appreciate the ideals of simplicity and non-attachment but, for me, they are just that – ideals. My 15k bag is inconvenient and bulky and a worry when we’re separated but I’m not yet brave enough to change my ways. Well done you guys. It’s brave and pioneering. Much respect! 🙂

    • Janine says

      Thanks for your comment Tor. If it hadn’t been for Lyden and his spreadsheets and firm approach to it, my bag would certainly weigh more than it does now. I’m still trying to reason ways of adding the odd thing back in to the pack as my mind starts to panic I’ll need them!

      I like your expression ‘tat’! When I was in Japan a fellow traveller spoke about travelling the world and accumulating ‘ethnic shit’. By this she meant souvenirs and keepsakes. On my Japanese trip I bought only 2 things; an authentic kimono and a hand made tea-pot, both from the geisha district in Kyoto. I was very proud of them both.

      That was until I wore the kimono and realised I looked a douche bag (but still kept it a further 8 years!), and accidentally smashed the tea pot about a year later. To me, I’ve come to realise that most of life is about just one thing. Letting go. My ability to let go of possessions has strengthened in all this, but as for my mind…

      Well, let’s just say we’re all a work in progress!

      So, what am I trying to say… I get where you’re coming from, and thank you so much for your support and encouragement 🙂 🙂 🙂

  3. sara says

    Great tips!
    As you know, We’re terrible hoarders and our house is full of tat but I do like to travel low cost and I hate to pay for a hold bag. I have been working on fitting as much as possible into my hand baggage for ages. Your suggestions are really helpful and I can’t improve on them at all!
    We bought a new tandem last week. It is dismantle-able so it can fit in a bag and go on the plane with us. It will be quite a challenge to carry camping stuff as well but I think we can do it and that will be brilliant.

    • Janine says

      Hi Sara,

      Great to hear from you! I must say it was quite tricky to shop for a bag online which has the correct dimensions for international flights. But that’s a great place to start, as starting with the bag means you can’t overfill!

      I’d love to see a picture of you on your tandem. It may not be lightweight, but it sounds like incredible fun. Lyden’s not so sure and would HAVE to be at the front, ha ha!

  4. says

    Hiya, great article 🙂 travelling light has always been a hard thing for me, camera kit alone can easily weigh more than all your kit! But a couple of things I learned…. In a hot country go for a sarong instead of a packtowl – lighter, just as quick to dry and multifunctional 🙂 what are you doing for a mossie net? And I’d swap the laptop for an iPad mini. Oh and a 4th…. Just a camera phone? Ok, probably yeah for India, but there are places where even a high end compact will be preferable when you get home…. (some like the Sony rx100 aren’t massive although not cheap either. For ease of control over weight I’d still go for canons g1x but is a fair weight compared to rest of your kit at nearly 500g….)

    • Lyden says

      Hi Chiz,
      You noticed you were mentioned then! Let me address the points you raised:

    • Sarong – this could be a great tip, and one we hadn’t considered. But will it absorb enough water?
    • Mossie net – We haven’t decided yet. There are two types; one attaches to a hook in the ceiling (which seldom exist); and the other is a pop-up tent style, which weighs more than we would like (and we don’t know how much space they take up!), so neither is perfect. We will see how much of a problem we find the mosquitoes
    • iPad – we work on our laptops every day and don’t fancy going any smaller than 13″ and a full sized keyboard. There are some ultra light laptops coming to the fold now though. Most famously, Apple’s new Macbook.
    • Camera – Agree that a phone may not do justice to some of the places we’ll be visiting. We took a Sony RX100 to North America with us… and lost it, losing ~15% of our photos (we were backing up regularly). When considering the weight issue on top of this risk factor, we decided to survive with phone pictures.
    • We’ve woken up in India for the first time this morning, and can slightly feel the burden from carrying our 6-7kg backpacks yesterday. It’s fine, but we wouldn’t want to go heavier. We’ll keep you informed of further gear discoveries as we settle in to the ‘India way’.

      • says

        I wondered if that was me 😉

        Sarong – I used it for exactly that when travelling through Oz and Nepal and had no issues with it not being absorbent enough. But although it is multipurpose, I didn’t really use it for much else… Swings roundabouts and take your pick 😉

        Mossie net – if in a malarial area, (and not staying all the time in a 5* airconned hotel!) don’t skip this… The ones that hook up can be attached to ceilings walls etc with tape – duct tape, gaffa tape is best but heaviest and sometimes reluctant to let go the next morning, electrical tape often fails to stay put, iirc we found masking/drafting tape is best compromise for enough stickyness. Or use dental floss/cord to tie it off to doorframes, curtain rails etc… A good while since I’ve needed to use, but a bit of ingenuity goes a long way with attaching them!

        Real shame to hear about losing the camera – and so many pix 🙁 Hope the phones stay safe on this trip! (But with those you should at least be able to do easy auto-backup to a cloud…. assuming wifi/data connection can be found!)

        Look forward to hearing your reports as you travel! Must admit I’m pretty jealous of the lightweight rucksacks – I strongly suspect mine will weigh more than that tomorrow on a full day walk in the hills!

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