Backpacking Light (sub 7kg)

8 minute read

I'm currently spending 3 months travelling across Asia, namely Japan, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand and Sri Lanka. As I enjoy lightweight travelling, I decided to review my current travel set up to make it leaner and lighter. Backpacking light is a relative term and also very subjective/personal so my opinion is by no means gospel. Travelling light does have many advantages (less to carry, less to lose), but for every advantage there is some form of disadvantage. Usually inconvenience or cost (light == expensive). So take the below changes with a pinch of salt and if you can extract an value from them, then the post has done what it intended to do.

Basics

  • Rucksack (580g) - what you take and how big will depend upon climate and activity. My current 45L backpack was intended for and used during a fair amount of hiking largely during warm(ish) months. Therefore it's got a fairly decent back system, the added cost of which is more weight (it weighs 1.7kg). For my 3 month trip I will be doing very little hiking, nothing more than day hiking (ie most of my stuff will be left where I'm staying while I go off with a day-sack). And it'll be during fairly warm months, so I won't need to carry much bulk. Hence I've opted for a Arcteryx Ceirzo 35, it weighs 580g (insanely light) saving me 1.1kg over my more heavy duty pack. In retrospect I do like the pack but it has a couple of design faults and is a top loader which can be frustrating. I'd be willing to take on an additional 400g and get something that unzips fully, with plenty of compartments like the 5.11 Rush 24.
  • Day Bag (530g) - For walking around during the day I find a 10-15L bag about the right size. As I don't want to spend much more I've opted to take my Alpkit Gourdo 20L bag. It's effectively a dry-bag with straps. At 530g it's fairly light but fully waterproof, which can be very handy. In future though a 10L dry bag with carry strap would be sufficient and weigh 300g less.
  • Dry Bags (100g) - to keep my kit organised and dry (as my rucksack doesn't have a rain cover, I've got a couple of Alpkit cordura dry bags. Plastic bags are just as good although not seal-able and noisy (in hostels when packing). However, I already own the dry-bags so may as well use them. A 13L, 8L and a 5L means I can divide up my kit and keep it dry should I get caught in a down pour. Combined, they weigh no more than 70g. In future I'm going to give packing cells a try as clothes can air a bit better in them and they're easier to organise in the pack.
  • Umbrella (350g) - For its size and relatively light weight an umbrella is very handy when exploring cities or going on walks. At £8 I can always donate it to a hostel if it's not needed any more.
  • Jacket (100g) - I have a whole range of jackets. One of my favourites is my Montane Featherlight as it folds up to the size of a large apple. For the parts of Asia I'm going to it's well suited as it's not too warm and is fairly windproof and shower proof (I should miss most of the rainy months).
  • Sunglasses - I'm a firm believer in having proper protective lenses in front of my eyes, especially when out in the sun for long periods. A cheap Boots pair would suffice, but I take my Oakley Juliets as I may as well use them.
  • Hat - for protection from the sun when doing prolonged outdoor activities. A baseball cap is ok although I prefer something with protection all the way around so take my foldable leather Aussie hat. In retrospect a cotton hat would have been better as it's lighter, smaller, and washable.

Shoes

I've opted for three pairs of shoes. Normally two would suffice, but in my case I've got some very light offerings so taking an additional pair isn't a problem.

  • Casual Shoes (350g) - For walking around most cities and looking fairly smart I've got a pair of Sketchers Go Walk shoes. They're perfect for warm weather, very light and smart enough to get me into any bars/restaurants I may want to visit (although I question their durability). Normally I swear by a pair of kung fu slip-ons as they're cheap, light and smart.
  • Vibram Five Fingers (270g) - I already own these. In retrospect they're not the best shoe as they offer little support for long walks. And they develop a bit of a stink after a while. They also look odd, although this became more of a talking point on previous trips, so it's not all bad. On the plus side, they're very light and great for beach/rock/sea stuff. And they're super comfy.
  • Flip Flops (320g) - many opt for a super-cheap pair. I personally like my Havaianas which I buy at about £12 anyway, so they're not overly expensive. I can walk for hours in them, plus they're shower proof, ie I can take them in the shower with me (not all showers are as clean as one might like). And they'll last a lot longer than a cheap pair.

Clothes

I find a purely synthetic items not terrible effective as they're not naturally breathable and develop a stink after a while. At the same time cotton, while comfortable ends up absorbing all your sweat and takes ages to dry. I find a poly-cotton mix is usually best, around 60/40 in favour of polyester. For shorts you can't beat swimming trunks for lightweight material, so I always take my boardies with me for swimming and walking around in. Socks and underwear are light so taking an extra pair or two is absolutely fine and means less frequent washing.

  • 1x long sleeve top (250g) - Howies merino
  • 4x short sleeve tops (500g) - 2 polo shirts, 1 t-shirt, 1 shirt
  • 1x trousers (320g) - zip-off walking trousers
  • 2x shorts (550g) - boardies and swimming trunks that pass as shorts
  • 5x underwear - 2 cotton, 3 merino
  • 5x socks - below ankle socks

Gadgets

  • Tablet (380g) - previously when backpacking and cycling to Australia I used my trusty Asus EEE netbook. It worked very well and allowed me to do all the things I needed to (upload photos, write blog posts, skype, book flights, research etc...). It does however, weigh around 1.6kg with charger and sleeve. So I decided to sell it, and have now opted for a Google Nexus 7 tablet. It's a nice size to hold and use (I've tried it out plenty over 10" tablets) and weighs only 500g (with charger and case, saving me 1.1kg). I'll be able to do all of the above although not always as conveniently (tablets do have their limits).
  • Camera (1900g) - this is the one area I chose not to cut back. The obvious lightweight option would be my Panasonic compact camera weighing in at around 360g. Instead I took my dSLR as photography is something I enjoy when travelling. I missed it a lot when I cycled. It weighs 1.9kg for a Nikon D90, 18-105mm lens, 35mm lens, charger, and shoulder bag. The shoulder bag doubles as a "handbag" so can be used as an allowed additional carry-on for most flights. In retrospect I don't think I'd bring it again. My compact takes as good photos in most conditions and is more accessible and 1.5kg lighter! Plus I'd be less precious about it.
  • Phone (140g) - it's always handy to have an unlocked phone when abroad. Mine doubles as an MP3 player. It's an old Nokia 5800 with 8Gb micro-sd card (for storing plenty of music), decent battery life, and can be charged via usb. I avoided bringing my newer Android phone along, but now wish I had brought it. A decent smart phone is very useful when out and about, especially for maps.
  • Other - I also carry a usb-powered hard drive for backups and movies, travel adapters and a usb memory stick. The usb hard drive I sent home. In future I'll opt for a few 32gb SD cards or a couple of 64gb ones when prices drop. They're much lighter, smaller and corrupt less easily.

Toiletries

  • Towel & Face Cloth - both quick drying. The towel is closer in size to a hand towel.
  • Wash Bag - toothbrush, toothpaste, toothflosh, deodorant, hair moulding clay, soap, shampoo, razor, razor blades, shaving oil, tweezers, blunt scissors,
  • Shower Puff - saves loads on shower gel as a small amount lathers up loads.
  • Sun Block - factor 30 as standard, 150ml worth in two bottles.
  • Moisturiser - as I'm getting old and need it after wet shaving.
  • Insect Repellent - 3M deet cream, 50ml.
  • Balms - Zambuck tin of ointment. Great for infections or stopping mosquito bites from itching.
  • Medication - anti-malaria etc...
  • Washing powder - a 75ml juice bottle filled up with washing powder. So I can hand wash clothes, or not have to pay for powder when in hostels.

Conclusions

If I dropped my dSLR and portable hard drive, I'd Iose around 3kg in weight, maybe even a little more. Instead I would take a compact camera and memory cards.

In future I'd consider a 5.11 Rush 24 as my main bag. I'd then take a waist pack of some sort to sling over my shoulder, or a small satchel. It would need to be able to hold my compact camera, phone, water bottle, phrasebook, long sleeve top and umbrella at any one time. And possibly my tablet but that's not a necessity.

It would mean I'd drop 500g from not having to take a pack and day bag. Instead I would have a compact satchel and 10L dry bag allowing me to be very flexible. I reckon the total weight of my main pack would then be around 6kg if a little under! Dropping 500g here and there may not sound like much, but it's the equivalent of being able to take 2 extra t-shirts and 3 extra underwear. Or a tablet!

Updated: