A few months ago I traveled to South America for two weeks of hostel-hopping and backpacking with an internet-stranger-turned-real-life-adventure-buddy, Logan. Our plan was to backpack the O Circuit in Torres del Paine and I didn't want to deal with an extra duffel bag while navigating the cities so I decided to fit all of the gear I'd need for two weeks of travel [including 6 days of backcountry camping] into my Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30. Yup, I was stubborn enough to think I could fit a tent, sleeping bag, clothing, cookware and food into one 30L backpack...and that is exactly what I did. And this is how I did it...
How to Pack 14 Days of Backpacking Gear into a 30L Backpack
Tip #1: Make Lists!
A week or three before your trip start making lists. They don't need to be color coordinated works of art [I may have a list making problem] but start jotting down what you think you might need. Maybe list things by type [gear, clothing, food] or by importance [must have, would like, just because] or...whatever works for you!
It sounds tedious but spend some time staring at these lists. You'll end up adding gear one day and scribbling out a few layers of clothing the next. When it comes to packing, use these lists! If you toss an extra pair of socks in your bag...write it on the list! Again, it sounds tedious but you'll know what you have packed [and what you can easily leave behind if you run low on space!] and you'll know you're not leaving anything essential behind!
Tip #2: Pack...and Repack!
Put those lists to use and pack all your gear into your bag the week before you leave. You might not have all your food purchased yet but start packing to get a feel for just how much space your sleeping bag takes up...and then start scratching a few of those "just because" items off your list!
Once you've whittled your packing list down to the essentials fill up your pack...does it all fit? If it does you are my new hero! If it doesn't [which is usually the case], simply unpack it and repack it a bit differently. Get creative with where you stash your puffy jacket, repackage your trail snacks into smaller, more packable bags and make sure your heaviest gear is on the bottom and close to your body. This is also a rather tedious process...if you need a little encouragement take a photo of your gear strewn all over the room and then again in a nicely packed backpack, it'll feel awesome!
Tip #3: Get Creative with Food!
In my opinion there are two ways to go about packing food for a trip â€” either you buy prepackaged dehydrated meals or you create your own. I prefer the latter. I'm not quite ambitious enough to dehydrate my own food but a pack of instant mashed potatoes + string cheese + salami makes for a fantastic meal on the trail. It takes up very little space and is a single cup meal you can easily make on a tiny camping stove.
That said, your trail food doesn't have to be boring! Buy fresh fruit or veggies just before you head into the backcountry and stash them in your side pockets to tide you over the first day or two. If you're a runner who uses Salt Stick or SCap capsules bring a few with to salt your food [it's way better than table salt!]. To really keep things tasty use drinking straws to store a variety of seasonings to add to your meals.
Tip #4: Research Weather + Trip Reports!
Even if you're not planning out every minute of your trip in great detail it's a good idea to spend a little time researching the weather and reading trip reports. It'll give you a good idea about what you're in for so you can mentally prepare and it will also ensure that you don't over [or under!] pack the essentials. This will also give you the opportunity to think ahead and pack items with the most uses for the weather you're going to be playing in. Plus, trip reports usually come with great tips on gear + camping spots!
I packed very few clothes and actually spent my entire backpacking trip in the same pants + socks + shirt...it was actually much easier than changing clothes in a small, cold, wet tent and made me really appreciate my first shower post-hike! And that's the true beauty of backpacking â€” you're going to get dirty + smelly with or without fresh clothes so why carry clothes you don't really need?
I used those tips [plus sheer determination and a pint of ice cream to help in my sit-on-pack-to-close-it strategy] to get my Fastpack 30 ready for a 14 day trip to South America. It worked! Looking back I would have only changed a few things, such as leaving behind the guide book I never used and adding in a summery dress for my day in the city.
What tips do you have for packing light? I'm sure I missed a few...