How to Pack a Travel Backpack
As a savvy traveler, there are many skills you’ll need to perfect for life on the road. Things like the art of catching a lift from a total stranger and negotiating the best room rates with unsympathetic guest house managers.
But of all the skills you’ll need to master, the elusive art of traveling with just a backpack is perhaps the most important.
Carrying a ton of stuff is cumbersome and uncomfortable, not to mention more expensive. Traveling with just a backpack means you won’t have to check your luggage and risk having it lost or damaged.
Whether you’re looking to be more comfortable and mobile or to skip the wait at the baggage claim, taking a minimalist approach will make life on the road so much easier. Here’s how to pack a travel backpack, plus our top tips to help you maximize your space.
How to Choose the Best Travel Backpack
Knowing what to pack and how to pack it aren’t the only things you’ll need to get right. Finding the best travel backpack is the first step to success. Choosing a carry-on-sized backpack will help you to avoid overpacking by forcing you to prioritize.
You want a backpack that is designed with travel, comfort, and efficiency in mind. It should open from the front to allow for easy access to your gear. Multiple compartments, pockets, and straps are essential for organization and quick access to your most important items.
Here are some key features to look for in the perfect travel backpack:
Perfect carry on size for most major airlines
Dual compartments with clamshell and top-loading access
Multiple interior pockets for optimal organization of all your travel accessories
Easily accessible padded laptop compartment
Hidden anti-theft pocket for extra cash, travel documents and more
A removable hip belt that doubles as a standalone hip bag or sling
Top loading waterproof pocket for toiletries
External water bottle pocket
Luggage pass so you can slide the travel backpack over the handles of a rolling suitcase
TSA pocket for easy access to your passport and other personal items at the airport
The Pakt Travel Backpack was designed to be the perfect travel backpack and meet all the above criteria to make packing easier, help you stay organized, and keep you light on your feet. It also features a harness system that is designed to provide all the comfort of a trekking backpack, including premium padded shoulder straps, removable sternum straps, and load lifters for optimum weight distribution.
The exterior of the Pakt Travel Backpack is durable and water-resistant to keep your valuables safe and dry. It’s also made from earth-friendly materials and shipped 100% plastic-free. It’s the ideal travel backpack for almost every travel scenario, from business trips to weeks-long treks through Europe.
How to Travel with Just a Backpack
The next step is to decide what to bring and what to leave at home. This exercise will require some serious thinking, so turn on some tunes and feel free to grab a cocktail to get yourself in a packing frame of mind.
Start by finding a decent amount of empty floor space, a large table, or an empty bed. Lay out every single item that you plan to bring. This includes everything from clothes and shoes to documents, electronics, and toiletries. If you’re thinking about bringing it, lay it out!
By this point, it’s probably become quite clear that the sprawling mess in front of you is never going to fit in just a backpack. Don’t worry! We’re going to help you whittle it down to something a bit more manageable.
What to Bring
Start by putting the items that you absolutely must have to one side, such as your travel documents and laptop. Then it’s time to weed out the excess. This packing list is a great example of what you really need for weeks or even months on the road.
Shoes are bulky and heavy, and you only need two pairs - one pair for running and walking and one for dressier occasions. You’ll be wearing one pair and packing the other. If you want more options, a pair of flip flops or sandals won’t take up much space if it’s a warm-weather journey.
One week’s worth of clothing should be plenty for most trips. It’s so much easier to do laundry than it is to carry around a ton of clothes. Be sure to stick with a neutral color palette that will allow you to mix and match every item.
When you’re packing a backpack for travel, every item should serve multiple functions. For example, a lightweight button-down shirt can also work as a layering piece and can be worn to dinner. A dress can be fancied up for drinks but also double as a beach coverup.
What to Leave at Home
When you’re trying to decide what to leave at home, start by placing any “nice to have” items in a separate pile. Items you’ll only use on unique occasions probably aren’t worth carrying around for your entire trip. If you’ll be staying mainly in hotels, you may not need to bring a towel, soap, shampoo, or a hairdryer. That said, hostels and guesthouses may not provide these basics, so consider checking ahead.
If you’re having trouble deciding what to leave behind, think about the activities you like to do when you travel and prioritize accordingly. Remember, if you find that you really need something you didn’t bring, there are stores all over the world, even in the most remote places.
Bulky gear, like tents and tripods, can often be rented locally, too. If there’s room left at the end, you can always bring an item or two back in.
How to Pack a Travel Backpack
Now that you’ve whittled your pile down to only the essentials, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of what goes where and how to fit it all in.
What Goes Where
Clothes: Your clothes and shoes should go in the main compartments of your travel backpack.
Toiletries: For air travel, your liquid toiletries will need to fit inside a one-quart plastic bag. The waterproof front pocket on the Pakt Travel Backpack is the perfect place to pack your toiletries and any other items that might leak. While going for travel-sized bottles is certainly an option, keep in mind that shampoo bars and bar soap are much lighter than liquids, use less packaging, and are much easier to pack. If you need to bring a towel, consider a microfiber towel. They weigh much less than a regular towel, dry faster, and take up a lot less space.
Laptop: If you’re bringing a laptop, it goes in the padded laptop sleeve. A universal travel adaptor is also a must for international travel and can be packed in one of the smaller mesh pockets located in the main compartments of your pack.
Everything Else: Anything you’ll need before or during your flight should go in the front pockets of your travel backpack. Make sure things like spare cash and your passport are in the security pocket so they’re safe, yet easy to access as you make your way through TSA and airport check-in.
Weight distribution is a key consideration when it comes to making your backpack comfortable to carry. Sternum straps, load lifters, and a hip belt are essential for good weight distribution. Try to keep the heaviest items in your bag as close to your body as possible.
This will help you maintain your center of gravity when you’re carrying the backpack. Placing the weight further away from your body will cause your backpack to pull on your shoulder straps and make it feel heavier.
Take Advantage of Every Nook and Cranny
You’ll want to use every bit of space in your backpack. Pack your items tight, right into the corners of the bag. If there’s an extra bit of space, such as the inside of your extra shoes, stuff some socks or t-shirts in there.
Make Use of Those Pockets and Straps
Be sure to take advantage of the extra pockets and straps on your travel backpack. Start by putting things you need quick access to in the hip and front pockets. Things like a small first aid kit, your travel rain jacket, an inflatable pillow, or a sarong that can double as a blanket on the plane are all great choices.
If you’re bringing a tripod or yoga mat, they can be attached to your pack using the accessory straps. A water bottle goes in the side pocket and your coffee kit fits neatly into the remaining space in the main compartment. , A rain cover and packable tote fits perfectly in one of the interior mesh pockets of the bag without taking any additional space.
Securing Your Travel Backpack
You’ve got to sleep sometime! Be sure to think about how you’re going to secure your backpack during those times when it’s out of sight. All exterior zippers on the Pakt Travel Backpack can be locked together using a cable lock for extra security.
Packing a Backpack for Travel: Space Saving Tips
Wear Your Bulkiest Items
One of the best ways to save space in your travel backpack is to wear your bulkiest items on the plane. This includes items like your sneakers, jeans, and jacket.
Pack Versatile Lightweight Layers
If you’ll be traveling through multiple climates or to a location where temperatures are likely to fluctuate, your best bet is to pack lightweight layers. That way, you can put on or take off a layer as the temperatures change without packing a ton of heavy items like bulky sweaters.
Of course, if you’re traveling in cold weather, bringing some warm, bulky clothes can’t be avoided. In this case, consider using a compression bag for these items so they don’t take up so much space. A heavy jacket can also be attached to the outside of your pack using detachable straps.
How to Pack Your Clothes: Rolling vs Folding
Your heaviest clothing should be as close to your body as possible, midweight items in the middle, and lightweight items in the bottom. Consider rolling your clothing instead of folding it. Rolling is more space-efficient and also reduces the number of wrinkles in your clothing.
Use Packing Cubes
The best way to pack a backpack for travel is to use packing cubes. Our packing cube set comes with five cubes that allow you to separate your clothing into categories and maximize the space in your travel backpack.
The large zippered cubes are ideal for pants and tops, while the two smaller cubes work great for t-shirts, pajamas, and shorts. The stuff sack style bag is perfect for small items like socks and underwear.
Bring a Laundry Bag
Having a multipurpose smaller bag with you to use as a laundry bag allows you to keep dirty items separate from clean items in your backpack. Our multipurpose Packable Tote makes a great laundry bag. You can also use it as a beach bag or shopping bag, or bring it as your personal item on the plane.
Once your backpack is fully packed, put it on your back and give it a test run. How does it feel? Can you lift it comfortably and walk around with it on your back for at least a short distance. Does it look overstuffed?
If it’s practically bursting at the seams or you can’t carry it comfortably, you need to go back to the drawing board. Putting too much strain on yourself or your backpack could lead to disaster on your trip.
Keep in mind that you’re likely to accrue a few items on your travels. Even the most minimalist of travelers will likely end a trip with an item or two. It would be a shame to look back and wish you could have brought home an amazing memento of your trip, but your backpack was just too full.
Looking for more ways to travel like a pro? Shop our selection of minimalist travel gear for conscious travelers!