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Considering an ultralight pack this year - experienced feedback, please

I’ve been seriously contemplating trying something different for my trip this year. (I’m mid-60’s, and this will be my 14th European trip.) Usually I take my Eddie Bauer 2-wheel Expedition 21 and my LL Bean Stowaway Daypack as my personal item. I ride a lot of trains, but this trip will be traveling by rental car in England/Wales with just a few trains, and I will join the RS Best of the Adriatic tour afterwards. I’m taking an EasyJet to/from the endpoints of the Adriatic tour; I did pay extra for space for my suitcase in the plane.

Six years ago when Sarah Murdoch first took the ultralight packing challenge she mentions in this video, I purchased the same G4Free 1 pound bag from Amazon and used it as a bag for domestic weekend trips and some tent camping.

Ultralight Bag Unpack
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6qDVqqbyNUc

I weighed every single item in this year’s packing list this afternoon for my month long European trip, and the contents weigh 8.6 lbs. With the bag weighing 1 pound, that comes to slightly less than 10 pounds. (My LL Bean daypack would have my crossbody purse, itinerary papers and a few snacks in it.)

If you have packed ultralight for a European trip, could you give me any feedback? I would love to hear both the positives & negatives. And if you’ve used this G4Free bag, I would greatly appreciate your comments. Thanks so much!

Posted by
4595 posts

I saw that video and bought the bag too, but it wouldn't be my first choice for long travel...because for me, it doesn't seem to fit well. I am a plus size woman with upper body issues. It doesn't have a waist strap (but as a sewist, I could fix that....if it falls to my waist) and I am not a fan of top load bags, particularly if moving every day or two...unless you are willing to add a bit of weight by using packing cubes.
The other consideration may be security. Even though theives can slash a bag, I often use a mini combo lock to slow pilferers down. You mention you have a car. A pack will look less tempting, perhaps, but with straps able to be cut, there is no way to secure it to the trunk as you can do with a suitcase. Your concerns about this may vary.
If you have used it and carried it for goodly distances at home, I can't see why it wouldn't work away. 10 pounds is freeing.

Posted by
5260 posts

Hi Jean,
I am not an “ultralight packer” but I’m intrigued by what you’re considering on your upcoming trip.

I did not watch Sarah’s video but I presume that the G4Free bag is a backpack, right?

If so, how do you intend to carry (both) your LLBean daypack (if used as a personal item bag), and your G4Free bag?

Or are you packing your LLBean bag inside the larger bag and forgo having it as a personal bag?

BTW, would you please share your packing list?

Wishing you a wonderful trip!

Posted by
7463 posts

Hi Priscilla!

Yes, the G4Free is a very light, unstructured backpack.

I only use my day pack when switching locations, so it is either on my back if I’m walking a long distance, or I move it to one shoulder or across my chest when I’m among people or boarding a train. It’s not as bulky as a backpack, so it lays pretty flat. If I bring the G4Free, I’ll just have it in the shoulder or chest position.

I keep my purse inside the day pack and then just use my crossbody purse during the day. I don’t carry a water bottle, etc. so the purse is light. The day pack is small enough to be considered as my personal item on the plane.

I’m heading off to a meeting this morning, but I can share my packing list this afternoon. During this trip, I don’t have a special dressy event such as a classical concert or opera, so this would be my chance to be bringing a little less than normal.

Posted by
13 posts

I have been using a 1-lb bag with "hidden" backpack straps for several years that I got from Campmor. Sadly, the bag is no longer available. I use two mesh RS packing cubes and a lightweight Eagle Creek folder that add functional structure to a structureless bag. I take about 9 lbs of clothing and shoes; I really pare down what I bring so I don't have to lug a heavy bag around the airport, etc. I've been travelling like this for 4 decades, always with bags that are 1-2 lbs. I also have a slightly heavier RS bag that I occasionally use, but I can really feel the extra pound or so of weight. What I like about both bags is that they have a shoulder strap for times when you don't want to use the backpack straps (public transportation, etc ).

Posted by
290 posts

I do not like ultralight packs or the simple reason is that they usually have much less support and structure for comfortably carrying any amount of weight. Especially any pack without a hip belt.

My current pack of choice is an Osprey Farpoint, which weighs in at 3.5 pounds. Even with this extra pack weight, I am never had issues with carryon weight restrictions. For my last trip, my total pack weight was 15 pounds and my under seat bag was another 4 with the camera, Kindle and iPhone. I do pack light choosing lightweight clothes, foregoing bringing a laptop (and sometimes leaving my iPad home) and minimizing toiletries.

For my day pack, I prefer the cross body style (especially when carrying the Farpoint on my back through cities and airports) and love my Tom Bihn Co-Pilot. It carries everything I need during the day, fits under my seat on the plane and feels much more secure in crowded situations. Plus, I have never had to check it in at museums when other travelers are blocked from entry with backpacks.

I was into ultralight backpacking for years and brought this ethos into my travels. However, I will not sacrifice comfort. It is so easy to bring travel size toiletries and buy replacements there when I run out.

Posted by
1457 posts

dotilgen, thanks for the idea of using a packing folder to add structure. Great idea.

Posted by
11 posts

I am curious how many L are these bags its hard to tell from the video and they come in a wide range of sizes. Thanks

Posted by
3246 posts

I’ve only travelled once with a backpack rather than a suitcase, and won’t again..
I just found it too hot on me in warm climates, and awkward to keep taking it on and off.
I do pack lighter every year, but I’ll stick to a suitcase for now.
I look forward to hearing which pack you will take in the end, Jean.
I love packing discussions!

Posted by
4595 posts

@patriciakaiser, I am pretty sure it is the 40L bag. Though light, it is still the size of a carry on suitcase. In fact, if you filled it, I don't think it would fit into the metal sizer thingy. Given that size, without a frame or hip belt, you could be looking at an uncomfortable carry. (I like the folder board recommendation for some rigidity, though).
I have an older 3 pound backpack that was recommended by the one bag website 12 or so years ago. Frame, hip belt and flap to hide the shoulder straps, but too big and heavy when full and trying to get it around the airports. It had a shoulder strap as well, but that was very painful to carry.
I also have a suitcase like backpack that is about 38 L that I would be more likely to use. It is similar to this https://www.amazon.ca/Hynes-Eagle-Approved-Weekender-OrangeGrey/dp/B071J41NY7/ref=mp_s_a_1_7?crid=2DE1OXYB94JFN&keywords=20+inch+travel+backpack&qid=1678210098&sprefix=20+inch+travel%2Caps%2C204&sr=8-7
I have used it for 2 weeks in late summer and would consider it for longer. Unfortunately it is too big for the Personal Item Only fares becoming so prevalent. The sternum strap makes a big difference, and the side straps let you cinch it down so it fits closer on the back for weight balance. With a largish, but lightweight cross body purse, you could be set for all but the coldest weather (or specialty) trips.

Posted by
7463 posts

AMann, one of my issues are those small overhead bins on the commuter flights from Spokane to Seattle! My Eddie Bauer 2-wheel fits fine into them. My issue is that with many people having luggage, everyone needs room, too. I had a guy ramming his roller bag suitcase into the same bin. It physically was not going to fit that space unless he bent the bar securing my wheels, which he was attempting! I jumped up and made him stop - whew! Not a great way to begin a trip to Italy!

Then I had a similar thing happen for our recent trip to Hawaii - same bins, same issue, but I knew to keep an eye on it this time.

So, I’m strongly considering Plan B.

Posted by
7463 posts

Packing List requested by Priscilla & for info sharing. PLEASE readers, don't shift the topic to my packing list and telling me what I should add or leave out. Thanks! : )

What I wear on the plane & the contents of my money belt:
3/4 sleeve B&W top
Pashmina scarf
Black pants
Underwear
Keen Sandals
Passport
CDC Card
2 ATM Cards
1 Credit Card
Euro large bills

What is in my day pack:
5 Coffee Nescafe sticks (to survive time zone changes & avoid migraines)
3 Individual Bags of nuts
2 Protein bars
Itinerary, reservation tickets
iPad
Apple shuffle, earphones, charger
Purse is inside my day pack when taking transportation; otherwise, I only carry a purse during the day. (contents listed here:)
PHONE
Reading glasses
Mints
Some TP
2 pens & paper
Purple Coin purse
Purell individual packs

What is in my suitcase: (This is in addition to what I wear on the plane.)
2 lightweight dresses
3 tops
1 Black capris
1 scarf
4 panties, 2 bras
1 culotte slip
Lightweight nightie
iPhone/iPad chargers
Small flashlight
3 RS Electrical Adapters, 3 UK Adapters
Collapsible silicon cup - for coffee & to not use hotel bathroom cups
Lightweight Toiletry Kit contents:
Comb
Toothbrush/2 travel toothpastes (buy a small tube for rest of month)
Razor
Lightweight sunscreen
Mascara & Eyebrow mascara
Lipstick/Burts Bees balm
Crystal Deodorant
Dry makeup remover cloths
Meds
Conditioner - tiny concentrated tube, like a small toothpaste
Q-tips
Necklace & extra earrings
Columbia raincoat
Shoe bag for dirty laundry
A few ziploc bags
Earthbreeze detergent sheets in a small Ziploc
A backup pair of reading glasses
2 KN95 masks; 3 Covid home kits (fit them into one box)
1 Plastic silverware

Posted by
7021 posts

Jean, I admit also that I have had no experience with ultralight packing, but I am very intrigued with this. I’m curious, though, when you mentioned that having a rental car for most of the trip makes a difference. I would think that it would be better to utilize ultralight packing when you are doing a lot of train travel, and schlepping those bags to and from the trains. With a car rental, it’s a little easier to take things in and out of it, at least, in my opinion.

Regardless, I looked at that bag on Amazon that she uses and I actually have that G4Free backpack. I bought it a few months ago when I was looking for a new personal item and I’m still thinking about using it for that. But now I’m considering it as a main carry-on. I don’t know if I have the discipline to get down that much, though. But it could be interesting to try! 😊

Posted by
7463 posts

@Mardee,

I waffled back & forth last year - suitcase vs. backpack for my 24-day solo trip in June. In the end, I stayed with my suitcase because I had 12 different hotels and lots of walking to/from trains (absolutely loved the whole trip and that travel style!). I didn’t want to find out partway through the trip to lots of smaller towns that a backpack was a problem carrying.

Even though this trip is 31 days, since the majority of the first two weeks are by car, I could just carry the pack in my hand the few steps to the car in most locations. So if this is a poor decision, the impact isn’t as negative.

I’m feeling like this is the trip to try it since my husband probably won’t travel with me next year, so it’s back to my faster travel mode on the trains.

Posted by
2226 posts

I'm a backpacker but not ultralight (my bag weighs 3 lbs.). However, I'm weighing in on the backpack plus second backpack as a personal item issue. I did that for the first time last summer and I won't do it again (with the RS Civita day bag as my personal). All my previous European trips (19) had been with a fanny pack (worn in front) as my personal item. That hands-free method of travel is very much superior to having to figure out how to carry the second backpack when the first one is on your back. My fanny pack is large enough to carry a small Platypus water collapsible water bottle, guidebook sections, small snacks and even my tiny umbrella when needed.

Posted by
1259 posts

Hey, Jean, you're super organized and committed to try this. Go for it and report when you get home.

Of little interest: My last few seasons of backpacking were ultralight; I went from 30-40 pounds to about 15, including the kitchen and bedroom. Packing for bicycle touring was easy after ultralight backpacking and carryon-only air travel was even easier. Although, truly, I do not know if I could get my load much below 15 pounds and still feel secure, comfortable, warm, and dry.

Happy travels.

Posted by
14269 posts

"I would suggest seeing if you can try a sea- to- summit ultralight that folds up (like we had at the meeting last Saturday) and fill that with your 8.xx pounds and go for an hour long walk, at least and see how you feel. That might answer some questions for you."

Jean, if by any chance you want to borrow that Sea to Summit, let me know. I'm happy for you to take it for a spin, hahaha!

Posted by
712 posts

Okay. Which G4Free bag is it? There are quite a few on Amazon and I couldn’t figure out which one it is. Duh!!
Our last trip was 9 weeks so a good, comfortable backpack and smaller roll aboard would have worked nicely.
Our upcoming trip will be 6 weeks and I am thinking that a convenient sized backpack as my personal item might be necessary.

Posted by
7463 posts

@Pam, I’ll wear my G4Free packed for our next RS Travel Group meeting, and you can wear your Summit bag packed! LOL!

Posted by
7463 posts

Hi SJS, mine is the G4Free Lightweight Packable Hiking Backpack 35L Travel Camping Daypack Foldable. It shows crazy colors. I bought mine six years ago, and it’s black/gray.

Posted by
323 posts

This is extremely helpful- thank you!
I’m unfortunately not up to that level of packing YET but bookmarking this for the great advice here.
Happy travels!

Posted by
5260 posts

Thanks for sharing your packing list, Jean!

You’re seriously a minimalist when it comes to packing!

Posted by
14269 posts

Hahaha Jean, as if that group needs any conversation starters! Mine will just be a back up bag but I can put my rain jacket, rain pants and water bottle in it!

Posted by
7021 posts

SJS, here is a link to the bag: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07YJTYLTP/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Jean, that makes sense. I might try that idea, although I don’t know that I can get it down to 10 pounds. But maybe 15 pounds? Regardless, it would be fun trying. It’s definitely an experiment. I have the bag so I might as well pack up some stuff and see what it all weighs and go from there. You are definitely an inspiration!

Posted by
4595 posts

@SJS, keep in mind that both of the linked backpacks are too big for 'personal items' for most airlines.

Posted by
7021 posts

Jean, you’re right. I’m not sure why I thought that was the one she was talking about. Oh well, good to know. I guess I have a different one. It’s been a while since I bought it so I can’t even remember where I got it from.

Posted by
1536 posts

@Jean, your links go to 2 different bags, one is 35L and the other is 40L.

My question is if you are only carrying 10 pounds of stuff, why do you need a bag that large?
I noted on Jane's trip report of her trip to London that she is an ultralight packer and she uses the Appenzell Day pack which is 23L and weighs 1.5 pounds. It weighs more than you want, but wouldn't it be better to use a smaller bag? I am wondering if not packing it full and it not being structured would cause your things to lump at the bottom?

I carry about 16-17 pounds in a 3.5 pound backpack. So far, not interested in packing lighter, but it is impressive!

Posted by
7463 posts

Thanks Vandrabrud! I couldn’t tell from my iPad if the black no longer available link would work. I will remove the second link!

Since both the weight & the volume affect the size of backpack I need, I’m planning on packing this bag this weekend to see how the volume fills the bag. Usually I take one packing cube of clothes, one packing shoe bag for dirty clothes (which stays small since I wash almost every night), a small packing cube of underwear, a toiletry kit, and a gallon Ziploc of the misc. items. My goal is always to have about 1/4 of my suitcase (or in this case a backpack) empty so that I can purchase a couple of souvenirs.

Posted by
7463 posts

Hi! Just a general comment to everyone who has replied - thank you so much for your replies! This may be a new way for me to pack this year, and I really appreciate each comment that has made me think of specifics before I make a final decision.

I have a feeling that if this works, it will be a whole new way of packing for my subsequent years where the backpack style could help so much with my love of train travel! …although my current suitcase usually fits on the shelf above my seat.

A test run this weekend - both physically checking the volume of my items against the cubic liters of the bag, and a short walk initially to feel how the pack behaves in motion. And Janet, per your comment, I will also add my daypack on my shoulder or across my chest for the complete test. ; )

Posted by
7021 posts

Jean, I think that’s the backpack that I linked to. I knew I got it from someplace.😊

Posted by
3262 posts

I love my wheels as I have said many times here BUT I am walking some of the Camino Frances in May so I have spent the past few months trying to figure out how to love my backpack and take what I have or think I need. I have found my sweet spot to be 10-12 lbs, but my packing has not included snacks and water. My full weight of all items is 17.6 lbs which includes my 2 1/2 lb camera and a battery brick (which is in and out of my bag depending on my mood, so undecided), small crossbody and waistpack. While I can carry the full weight, I am just not interested for this walk. I have decided to use a modern day mule and use a small wheeled bag for checking my poles and then transporting non-daypack items between stays. Carrying 17 lbs for 15 miles does not interest me…especially with days in Madrid where I would like a non-hiking outfit. I slightly digress with the backstory…

I have found small packs for the personal item annoying as there is no chest strap or good waist belt. Just IMO.

After my experimenting to date, I suggest a pack with hip belt that will transfer the weight to your hips even for a light pack of 10 lbs. Keep in mind that although your pack is 10 lbs, you have another bag with weight that you are carrying. (Why do you have two backpacks? Can you fit it all in one and pull out the bag you need for inflight when you are on the plane?) If you are going to do this, do it right with a good pack. Go to REI or such and get fitted. You will learn a lot. You don’t have to buy. They will load it with weight for you. My pack is Osprey 34L Sirrius and is just carryon size. I am in my late 60’s for reference. Get something you will enjoy carrying. I will also point out that Sarah is 6’ tall and a younger woman so I assume is much stronger, certainly than I am…

Posted by
712 posts

Thank you all for further input. Does seem that even a 35L is more than I want and is too large as the personal item. I will still have a wheeled suitcase as I really don’t want to totally schlepp with just a backpack.

And both Jean and Pam-still thinking I want to make one of your CDA meetings!

Posted by
7463 posts

SJS, we would love to have you join us for one of our Coeur d’Alene/Spokane gatherings! I really like how we have such a nice variety of travelers in our group! So, whether you want to talk RS tours, independent planning, fast vs. slower, couples/solo/friends traveling, somebody has experience to share. And the French Bakery goodies & coffee are great!

Posted by
7463 posts

Wray, what a nice trip and definitely lots of planning & decisions for you to consider!

Currently this is my reasoning - subject to change: My light day bag has everything I would want to access during the flight, while waiting for a train & while riding it. I would never open my larger backpack outside of a hotel. Snacks, marked up 1-page maps & tickets, my rain jacket if I might need it, and purse are all more secure if I can see them in front of me in the day pack vs. on my back. And when I move to the RS tour, the day bag could just be my overflow bag, if I purchase some souvenirs and leave it in the storage on the bus. Then I would just carry my backpack & purse to/from hotels until I finish the tour.

Posted by
1 posts

Jean, could I please ask - is your LL Bean Stowaway Daypack your personal item on a flight? I have a RS carry-on backpack style suitcase that I plan to use. I am worried that I will get challenged at the airport with another small backpack. Can you fit the LL Bean Stowaway under the seat?

Posted by
3262 posts

Jean, That makes sense regarding the smaller backpack for a bus bag, etc.

Posted by
7463 posts

Hi dpaklarson, yes the LL Bean Stowaway is my personal item. It easily fits under the plane seat, even the ones where the electrical box crowds out some of the space. I’ve used it as my personal item for several years.

Specs
Capacity: 1,343 cu. in.
Dimensions: 19"H x 10"W x 7"D.
Weight: 14 oz.

My strictest requirements on this trip are my EasyJet flights. Their personal item requirements:
Approx. 17.5 x 14 x 8”

My day bag is probably about half full; I sometimes fold it in half when placing into a tight spot, so I’m not worried about the 19” dimension.

Posted by
7463 posts

I just completed a full pack this afternoon, and it’s coming in under 10 pounds with the G4Free. It seems very viable at this point! I’ll do another pack in a month to see how it’s feeling overall. My husband & I are both losing our Winter weight, so another check walking around with the backpack will be helpful.

I also placed the packing cubes into my ebags Motherlode Jr., but it was heavier and felt wider/bulkier - didn’t feel as good on my back although there’s more packing features on this backpack - the one I use for most domestic trips.

I added two more items to my packing list - a new linen shirt (an extra option for evenings & if I’m getting too much sun….and Pam talked me into it! ) and one more dress. I like wearing dresses on vacation, especially when it’s warm. (If I drop anything during the last pack before leaving, it will be the third dress.) I used three packing cubes - one larger RS and two smaller RS black mesh, a toiletry small zip bag, a Ziploc bag, and the raincoat folded up into its hood. For the cubes, I just folded the clothes and stacked them in the cubes, and slid all of them into the backpack together. I didn’t use any of the extra pockets in the bag, so there’s some extra room at the top. Volume-wise, I couldn’t go lower than the 35L. Items are lightweight, but they do take space.

Posted by
14269 posts

Har-de-har-har Jean!! That is a beautiful shirt! Much more stylish and striking than my plain white one!

Posted by
5260 posts

Hi Jean,

Sorry I have an off topic question.

How do you wear your money belt when wearing a dress?

Posted by
4595 posts

@Priscilla, remember a money belt is for your deep security...not for normal shopping access...so a dress is no different than with pants. If you need your passport for a hotel check in, do a toilet visit just befor arrival or in their lobby toilet and retrieve it then.

Posted by
7463 posts

Hi Priscilla, MariaF is correct; the money belt is always underneath clothing. I wear a culotte half slip with dresses, or tuck it inside underwear.

I wear dresses on the days I’m not checking into a new hotel and need to show my passport, or I wear pants to the hotel and change into a dress after I’ve checked in if I really wanted to wear a dress that day. In the evenings, I usually like to wear a dress unless it’s cold outside.

Posted by
4595 posts

@Priscilla, a thought for you is to sew deep pockets into your dress for accessible but secure placement of daily use cards or money. If you can sew it with a zipper, even better.

Posted by
7021 posts

.and Pam talked me into it!

Ha ha!!! Pam is such a good enabler!!

Posted by
5260 posts

Thanks Jean and Maria F for your replies.

Since I only wear pants, or skirts, with a hidden pocket attached to the waistband (instead of a money belt) I couldn’t picture how that would work with a dress. Ha!

I also don’t generally carry a purse so all my valuables (passport, credit/debit cards & some cash) are in my hidden pocket. I keep some cash for the day’s expenses in a zippered front pocket of my pants or my skirt.
Yes, I added the zippers to pockets.

Fun thread, thanks!

Posted by
7463 posts

Priscilla, yes, you & I do the same - passport, ATM cards, credit card and large Euro bills are safely in the money belt. Just my next five hours of money are in my purse. : )

Posted by
7463 posts

Thanks for sharing the article, Mardee! I agree to a general sense of savings in both time & money of not having a checked suitcase. It’s a great topic to ponder. And Mardee, thank you for your previous topic post! I’m using italics below! ; )

But, as a retired engineer, the article also bugged me because she didn’t stay consistent in her comparisons. First, she mentioned having a roller bag, but it was small enough to go into the overhead bin, so some of her later “cost savings” would not apply, saying a roller bag is a negative choice and switching to a backpack, instead.

For instance, my husband and I both received this money opportunity she mentioned:
However, airlines generally require passengers to fly on the plane with their bag, so if you checked your luggage, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to say yes to a last-minute flight change.

In our case, we each received an AMEX card loaded with $1000 for taking a later flight. As mentioned, we were only eligible because we didn’t check a bag….but we each had a roller carry-on bag in our hands. Rollers had nothing to do with it as inferred in the article title; we were eligible because we didn’t check a bag - whether a roller or a backpack.

Later, she says she has a small school-size backpack, so she can go everywhere without leaving it at the hotel and save tipping a bellhop. Hmm, I’m definitely not walking around sightseeing with 10lb. on my back! And the finale is that she can just buy toiletries wherever she needs them. But, she conveniently forgets to calculate both the time wasted and the cost acquiring those. …and needing to carry an extra sack to now carry those since there wasn’t room in her school-size backpack. ; )

I love the topic of consideration of time efficiency, savings & convenience factors between luggage options, and I’ve certainly been comparing them recently between the ones I own. Just analyze them in an unbiased manner to weigh the true positives & negatives of each.

Posted by
4595 posts

It is a good article to consider costs of wheeled vs carry, but she lost me on the 'carry the back pack waiting for check in' part. I also am too green to buy and discard toiletries for a tri that includes a mobile travel itinerary....though I expect to do that for a couple of items for my 'stay for a month' travel.

Posted by
7021 posts

Jean and Marie, I agree that she was very inconsistent in what she said (and some of the comments in the article noted that, too). But I did like the spirit behind what she is saying. We'll see - I'm really really really going to try and pack as light as possible for this upcoming trip!

And Jean, I noticed the italics! Nice!