Packing Tips

HI-USA Packing Tips

When traveling, your luggage will be your new home during your trip. Luggage is one of the most important pre-trip choices you can make. What you pack and packing tips are important as well.

Packing for Travel

Pack light! Click here for a sample packing list.

Luggage or Travel Pack?

We recommend a travel backpack, especially one that goes from hand-carried luggage and back again for three reasons:

  1. It leaves your hands free.
  2. It weighs less and is more comfortable.
  3. The compartments keep you organized.

When shopping for a quality backpack you should consider price, size, accessories, construction/quality and fabric. Here's a list of things to consider when shopping for a backpack.

Backpack considerations:

Size does matter

And smaller is generally better. (3,000-5,000 cubic inches is a good range.) The more room you have, the more stuff you'll take, and the more weight you'll be lugging around with you. When full, your pack should weigh absolutely no more than 25% of your body weight.

Pack light!

If you follow only one of our suggestions, let this be it. We've seen far too many travelers stumbling under the weight of excess baggage. We can't say this one enough, so we'll repeat ourselves: Pack light! Items that you're considering taking "just in case" or which don't have multiple purposes, should be left at home.

Price

In general, you should expect to pay somewhere between $150 and $250 for a good travel backpack. (Cheaper ones might be exactly that, cheap, and more expensive ones aren't necessarily better.) Buy the best and most comfortable pack you can afford. This is definitely not the place to skimp. Consider it a worthwhile investment for all future trips - you'll get much more use out of your pack than the purchase of any airline ticket you'll use for a single trip.

Frame - internal or external?

Backpacks generally come in two basic styles: external or internal frames. We strongly recommend internal frames. Your best bet: a convertible travel pack that can be carried as either a backpack or hand-carried luggage similar to a suitcase. We especially like convertible travel packs that also have detachable daypacks as part of the package. External frames are more likely to get bent or broken by mechanical baggage handlers, more difficult to handle getting on and off trains, and less likely to fit in storage lockers. They also typically have to be checked with other luggage on flights, and you may have to sign a waiver giving up all rights to file a damage claim with the airline.

Day packs

Most travel packs incorporate a small, detachable daypack into their design. If using something other than a travel pack, you should also bring along a smaller backpack or shoulder bag to use as a daypack. Either way, keep your day pack almost empty so it's not an additional burden, and fill it with essentials (food, camera, sweatshirt, rain gear, guidebook, water bottle) when leaving your big bag in a hostel or train station locker. With a daypack you can go exploring while leaving most of your gear behind. Beware of fanny packs! No, not just for style's sake, but because they're easy prey for thieves. Use a moneybelt instead.

Fit

On packs that fit well and are adjusted properly, most of the weight will go to your hips rather than your shoulders. A pack that fits properly (with a wide and sturdy hip pad, along with good pack length and shoulder straps that allow the pack to properly fit your torso) should put almost no pressure on your shoulders. Try it on, secure the lumbar pad against your lower back, and adjust the hip pad so it rides comfortably on your hips. Then check to see that the shoulder straps are easily adjustable, well-padded, and wide enough to be comfortable. Finally, put some weight inside and hike around the store for a few minutes (hours, or days…) to see how it feels. Many manufacturers make different sizes of backpacks to assure a good fit. The suspension system is primarily what determines fit and with a good fitting pack. While backpack shopping, if a pack does not fit you or isn't comfortable, walk away - no matter how good a "deal" it seems to be. And ill-fitting and/or badly constructed backpack is one of the worst mistakes you can make.

Construction/Quality

The stitching should not be too close to the edge of the seam or the material will unravel and make your pack disintegrate. Look for reinforced stress points, smaller stitches (so more per inch) and lock stitching (which won't unravel if a thread breaks) instead of chain stitching (which will.)

Fabric

Most packs are made of durable materials, usually of some kind of nylon. "Denier" is a rating of the fabric's density - the higher the denier number, the more durable the cloth. Look for a rating of at least 1,000, though you might want to go even higher.

Zippers and buckles

Zippers should be sturdy and slide smoothly. (Make sure the stitching is not too close to the zipper, or it might get in the way.) Carefully check the buckles on the waist and shoulder straps for strength and ease. Make sure that the zippers lock into place. We especially like zippers, that in addition to the pull tabs, also have a place to insert a padlock - at least on the main compartment(s).

Other Features

If you're the organized sort - not a bad idea when on the road - then a lot of pockets and compartments will help you keep your stuff sorted. You might even consider a pack that has a zipper along the side so you can get at all your things; top-loading packs aren't great when what you need is at the bottom.

Packing Tips

  • When packing, don't think, "Will I use this?" Think, "Will I use this enough to justify lugging it around everywhere I go?" When in doubt, leave it out!
  • Don't take anything you can't afford to lose.
  • Veteran backpacker Rick Steves offers the following rule of thumb: When packing, lay out everything you think you need. Then take half the stuff and twice the cash.
  • Travel isn't all glamour. Sometimes it can be quite dull, so bring a deck of cards, something to read, or something else to help kill time.
  • Bring clothing that is multi-purpose and can be mixed and matched and used over and over again.
  • Be prepared to dress appropriately. Some holy places may require you to have your head or shoulders covered or won't allow you to wear shorts.
  • Select quick drying, drip-dry materials (e.g., not jeans) and remember that dark clothes hide dirt better.
  • Pack in advance and carry your pack for extended periods of time before you go. It will inspire you to eliminate the excess. Better to find out now rather than later!
  • You can't plan for everything, and you can always borrow or buy what you might have forgotten.