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Ultralight Packs for International Travel
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Sean Passanisi
(passanis) - MLife
Ultralight Packs for International Travel on 02/08/2013 16:46:45 MST Print View

Hello. I recently purchased a bomb proof 5 lb Arcteryx pack. After doing more research on these forums, I'm considering swapping it for something much lighter (I haven't used it). Seems like the Gossamer Gear Gorilla/Mariposa or the Granite Gear Crown VC are good choices, but I'm worried about durability.

My backpacking trips are simple 2 to 3 day trips. I'm a lightweight packer and could definitely get my total weight down within the recommended carrying range of the Mariposa or Crown VC (under 30 lbs). But I'm planning an extended vacation through Southeast Asia towards the end of the year. I still think I can easily work with 30 lbs, but I'm worried about durability between planes, trains, autos, etc.

Has anyone taken one of the ultralight packs on a multi-country tour? Or would I be better off having a separate lighter back from my local trips and something more durable for international travel?

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: Ultralight Packs for International Travel on 02/08/2013 16:57:14 MST Print View

I travel between two and four months out of the year, and I consider myself a UL traveler. I avoid UL backpacking-style backpacks for two main reasons:

1. The "pack everything into one large hole" works great for my backpacking trips, but poorly for travel trips.

o when backpacking, I pack just what I need, so at camp, it's a matter of emptying everything out
o but when traveling, I don't need to unpack everything every night -- so 'one big hole' works poorly for me

2. UL packs are too flimsy for international travels -- picture strap-tearing baggage claim carousels and workers rudely tossing packs up or down bus roof racks.

As an alternative, I would highly recommend that you buy a day pack instead -- and switch to packing both 'light and compact'. Being much smaller in size, a typical campus book bag can be kept light while still using heavier pack cloth and providing multiple compartments and pockets for easier packing and organizing.

Eagle Creek day packs are very well built, but expensive. For much cheaper but still solid choices -- look at Jansport. Then there are and store brands as well.

My own pack is a 28L day pack. The longest I've traveled using a similar size pack is on my 7-month, round the world trip back in 2009. Think how free and easy your trip will be -- when all you carry is a day pack -- just 'grab and go'.

EDIT: Forgot to add... my pack weight - including the weight of my backpack which is typically 1.5lbs -- is around 12 lbs. -- and that includes a 10-in. Android tablet.

Edited by ben2world on 02/08/2013 17:11:42 MST.

Stephen M
(stephenm) - MLife

Locale: Mind your own business
Re: Ultralight Packs for International Travel on 02/08/2013 17:42:43 MST Print View

I have taken my Six Moon designs Swift on a couple of multiple country tours, it fits as hand luggage and then I check a light sports bag with stuff that needs to go in the hold.

Brad Abrahams
Re: Ultralight Packs for International Travel on 02/08/2013 18:12:09 MST Print View

I just did a couple-months in Ecuador combining multi-day treks and more touristy-traveling. I used a combo of the HMG Expedition and a packable day pack. I chose the expedition because of the large volume, waterproof material, and toughness. Worked out very well.

Jason Torres
(burytherails) - F

Locale: Texas
travel pack on 02/08/2013 18:47:58 MST Print View


Ben has the right idea and makes good points. Going UL while traveling is asking for a disaster- flimsy straps that catch on everything, sensitive fabrics that tear more easily, buckles with sensitive teeth...UL belongs on trail where you carry the pack all day and set it down gently at night to lay your head on.

I normally travel with just my pack unless it is more than a four night trip. That being said, I own 5 packs and use each for very specific situations.

For travel I use my Osprey Kestrel 48. Why? see below..

-read BOMBER: this pack has seen the bottom of canyons (the fast way from 30ft up lol), full on white-out conditions in the Tetons, the business end of razor sharp texas limestone that should have opened her up like a can of beans, and yes- many airports
-stiff frame; holds its shape just enough without being rigid and fits head first (shoulder straps down) into any standard overhead bin (yes even when it is over-filled
-main compartment has a zipper at the base: I normally keep my sleeping bag at the bottom (loose and not compressed but packed down tight. My spare change of clothes go at the top so I can have them readily accesible without having to pull out half my belongings. Easy access and who wants to repack everything after you took so much care to make it fit?
-mesh pocket under the hood: this one is great. I never have to take out my liquids, I just store them in the mesh zipper and leave the hood open (laid shoulder straps down) so it unfolds and is visible as it goes through the security check.
-two zippered pockets at the top and one on each hip: many storage options and my magazine stores perfectly in the stretch pocket on the outside
-volume: perfect volume for 4 nights if planned out well
-compresses everywhere:yep.. straps flapping around so the conveyer belt can eat it alive? nope

hope this helps you. weighs roughly 3 1/2 lbs- gulp

Susan Papuga
(veganaloha) - M

Locale: USA
Re: Ultralight Packs for International Travel on 02/10/2013 02:35:54 MST Print View


I agree with everything Ben said. I think two packs are a better option with a UL for backpacking and something more sturdy, but not obnoxiously big or heavey for international travel. A good size daybag could do the trick.

I traveled independently around the world for 18 months in 2005-06. Of course, this was before I knew anything about UL backpacking, but I was attempting to carry as little as possible. My trip included urban and wilderness areas and everything in between with travel by planes, trains, automobiles, buses, boats, barges, camels, horses, etc. I used an Eagle Creak Intercontinental Journey Pack for the first 12 months. This was a popular travel pack at the time and combined backpack and suitcase funtions.

Travel packs are not so much in vogue any more and for good reason. Although it had great travel and security functions and features, like clam shell loading, zippers, secret compartments inside, all openings lockable and a security wire running through it so you can lock it to anything, for anytime it was out of your site, like in a hostel. However, the harness system was really bad and carried poorly, especially with much weight. There were times, in between mailing things home, that the weight was upwards of 40 lbs and nearly broke my back.

My itiniary had substantial backpacking built in to the last part, so I knew when I got to New Zealand that I was going to buy an actual backpack, which I did and then used that for the final 6 months. Although not UL, it was much better due to the better harness system and ability to carry well even with more weight.

Now if I were to make a similar journey, I would start by analyzing the trip to see how much is urban, how much in developed versus lesser developed countries, how much wilderness areas, etc and whether I was backpacking and how long or just day hiking. For urban or travel in lesser developed countries, I would choose a pack that was made out of sturdier materials than cuben fiber or the other popular UL fabrics. Again, like Ben said, a good 25-30 L regular pack would serve you well.

For international travel, you really do need good security features for when your pack is out of your site. Imagine your pack strapped to the roof of a jalopy bus bumping along the back roads of whereever. You can absolutely count on prying hands searching through your bag for anything valuable or attractive for the taking. In that scenario it is really great to be able to lock every opening of your bag, but this feature really only exists in the clunky, uncomfortable travel bags. However, if you have a larger day bag that you can have with you inside of the bus, you avoid being separated from your bag. You should still carry a lock and perhaps a cable to lock your bag in your lodging, etc.

If however a significant part of your journey was rugged backpacking for multi-day stints of long duration, you may consider an UL pack set-up or just have UL gear in a regular pack.

FYI - some invaluable references I used for trip planning, cheap air tickets, etc.
Check out the web site and the books by Edward Hasbrouk, The Practical Nomad and, which is a travel agency in san Francisco that specializes in independent, global travel. Edward did work with them, then took a sabatical to update his books. He may or may not be back with Airtreks now. Either way, look into both of them before you get tickets anywhere else.

Hope this helps.


Brian Lewis
(brianle) - F

Locale: Pacific NW
Know anyone in-country?? on 02/10/2013 10:32:12 MST Print View

A big issue IMO is whether the nature of your trip allows you to pack along some things that you leave somewhere in-country while you're roaming that country --- or not.

Whether that be with someone you know, or some sort of business or whatever, if you can pack your ultralight pack and some spare clothes and so forth into a duffel that stays in one place while you're there, that makes a big difference.

If not, then it boils down to just how much stuff you need in-country --- i.e., whether you can bring everything you need as carry-on baggage. I did that just fine for a few weeks in China, but wasn't trying to sleep outdoors or backpack there in general. In Europe I went with the heavy "convertible travel pack" approach as I just had to check baggage and didn't have local contacts in both the areas I was hiking in.

If taking just one flight and little or no local transport, a cheap (disposable) duffel is an option.

You might also consider whether a really lightweight duffel combined with a lightweight pack is in total lighter than one of the hefty convertible packs. Something like this:
In that scenario, you carry your protective pack duffel along with you!

Benjamin Brillat

Locale: Northeast USA
Lightweight backpack plus airline cover duffel = the best on 02/11/2013 07:01:22 MST Print View

I'm just back from overseas having taken the REI Flash 62 (3 lbs) and the "Pack Duffel" (19 oz):

This setup was fantastic. I think Osprey had a lighter backpack collapsible duffel, but on our trip, I ended up checking the backpack on no fewer than a dozen different airline flights. The Osprey cover was much thinner, and I'm not sure it would have survived. The REI Pack Duffel weighs more but it's a very heavy fabric. It's also lockable with a single lock - doesn't keep out anyone with a knife but it stops the casual thief.

Once we got out of the airport/taxi, it was very fast to take the backpack out of the Pack Duffel, collapse it back down, and get on our way.

In case you're wondering what happens to your bag when you check it, watch this Delta video where they checked a camera-equipped case:

Pay attention to all those conveyors and stuff at the beginning - the automated sorting machines are incredibly abusive on fabrics. You really don't want to skimp on the protection of your bag while it's going through those systems. You can see how one dangling backpack strap could easily get caught and torn right off. A thicker, heavier backpack might not tear as easily itself but it would still have tons of straps and buckles hanging off waiting to get caught on something.

Andy Anderson
(ianders) - F

Locale: Southeast
Campmor Essential Carry On on 02/11/2013 12:13:08 MST Print View

Not sure if its durable enough for your trip, but for the price ($30) you can't beat the Campmor Essential Carry On bag. It is manufactured by Outdoor Products and is now sold under the Campmor name. Lots of stuff about it on the internet. Kind of has a cult following with the one pack travelers. I picked up one recently because its cheap and light, but have't used it yet. The removable backpack straps are nice too.

Sean Passanisi
(passanis) - MLife
Thank you on 02/11/2013 19:07:39 MST Print View

Hi all,

Thanks for the thoughtful replies. I'm still considering the benefits of a lightweight back vs. the durability and accessibility of the heavier ones. I do like the suggestion of using a duffel. In fact, I already own the indestructible 19 oz (gasp) REI one. This could be a good solution for transporting an ultralight pack, albeit at a significant weight penalty (though I would probably use the duffel even with a more durable pack).

Overall, I feel like 50 liters in the baseline of what I feel comfortable with at my experience level in terms of either backpacking or international travel. I find myself wondering whether a 3.5 lb pack is really so much different to me than a 1.5 lb (or less) ultralight pack (I realize this is a personal preference). The heavier pack would afford me the ability to carry a heavier load, which is both a positive and negative.

Sean Passanisi
(passanis) - MLife
forgot to ask... on 02/11/2013 19:29:28 MST Print View

... what is the largest bag that you can typically carry on to a plane? I would think 60 liters is too big but my friend swears that he's taken his 75L Dueter on planes several times.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: forgot to ask... on 02/11/2013 19:47:40 MST Print View

"... what is the largest bag that you can typically carry on to a plane? I would think 60 liters is too big but my friend swears that he's taken his 75L Dueter on planes several times."

Generally, it's the Rule of 45 -- meaning the sum of the pack's length, width and depth should not exceed 45 inches. The wheelies that you see people rolling onto the airplanes are frequently 22 x 14 x 9 ( which add to 45). Of course, no one will bat an eye if you exceed by an inch or two -- but a max. configured pack that's bulging at the seams may be redirected to the cargo hold.

Translated to volume, the max. is "generally" 40 L. Or 50/60L if it's not fully packed -- but strapped down nicely.

Hauling in a 75L -- don't count on it. Airlines are more aggressive at redirecting large packs to the cargo hold -- so they can charge more fees.

Ben 2 World
(ben2world) - MLife

Locale: So Cal
Re: forgot to answer... on 02/11/2013 19:49:29 MST Print View


In addition to size limit, some airlines also impose weight limit. Check with your airline to be sure. I recall a few years back when British Airways had a measly 13 lbs. limit for carry-on!

Susan Papuga
(veganaloha) - M

Locale: USA
Re: forgot to ask... on 02/12/2013 01:57:21 MST Print View

Reemeber that U.S. domestic baggage rules are different than international. if you're traveling abroad on different airlines, you'll have to check those standards.

TJ Christopher
(Compel) - F
International Carry On on 02/16/2013 22:02:34 MST Print View

+1 watch out for carry on baggage limits on international airlines.

The size and weight limits are not only more restrictive than the domestic US carriers, but they actually enforce their rules. It's pretty routine for gate agents to weigh and measure baggage that looks like it exceeds the limits.

Daniel Paladino
(dtpaladino) - F - MLife

Locale: Northern Rockies
Durablility on 02/23/2013 11:54:16 MST Print View

I think an UL pack would work fine, as long as you're careful before loading it on buses, trains, airplanes, etc.

Personally I think the best bet for international travel (especially to Latin America/Africa) is to pick up a second hand pack that looks retro and worn in. Attracts less attention, and, if you can find a an old Dana Designs pack, carries extremely well.

Philip Marshall
(philthy) - MLife
re on 02/25/2013 18:06:06 MST Print View

I tend to agree with Daniel. I've traveled internationally with my backpacks and I think that a pack that can deal with the rigours of the backcountry should be able to deal with being handled by luggage handlers. I would also say: the simpler the pack, the better. Less pockets, daisy chains, webbing, compression straps to catch on other people's luggage.

I have always found it a bit more difficult to pack for a trip where I will be going for small (2 - 3 day) trips into the backcountry and combining that with urban travel. In that situation, I have taken a duffel bag as well.

Daniel Paladino
(dtpaladino) - F - MLife

Locale: Northern Rockies
International Gear List on 02/26/2013 22:27:21 MST Print View

Check out Danny and Kristin's gear list from their Latin America trip here

Edited by dtpaladino on 02/26/2013 22:28:52 MST.