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How small can you go? Backpack question

I am curious how small of a pack one can use in Europe. I figure if you have 4 days of clothes you can do wash so 4 days is enough.

So, for those of you who have backpacked your way around small have you gone? Have heard as low as 20l but that seems almost insane. Keep in mind I am a super light packer!!
thanks for any input...

Posted by
1127 posts

If you don't mind wearing a very limited wardrobe, you can get by with just one change of clothes, which does require washing every day. This practice really cuts the weight. The repetition is boring, but the reduction in what you have to carry is empowering. You can cut the weight you carry to 10 pounds or less.

Posted by
184 posts

My standard bag these days, for anything over a weekend trip, is a 38 liter pack. It can comfortably hold everything I need without being too heavy or making me panic that I am taking too little. I also still have a little room left for extras I may bring back from any trip. I previously used the RS convertible carry on but I found that it was too big and I wasn't utilizing all of the space.

Posted by
6950 posts

You might want to look at Rick Steves' packing list and do some modifications according to your lifestyle. We basically go by it and can travel indefinitely on 10 kg (22 lbs.) and a 21" rolling bag.

I would always prefer to have an extra pair of pants in reserve, and I always get my jeans and khaki pants heavily starched before leaving. They look good after a week's wear if you don't "get'tem dirty"
And don't be assured that you'll be able to wash clothes every 4 days. It appears on your accommodations whether washing machines are available. Make sure some of your clothes can be hand washed and hung up to dry overnight..

Posted by
943 posts

I have considered buying two pairs of clothing arts convertible adventure pants and wearing one pair and packing the other pair along with 4 shirts, 4 pairs of underwear, & 4 pairs of socks. With this set-up I could stay in Europe for months by washing every third night in the sink. I could pack this in a bag of ~25L.

Posted by
18384 posts

I try to carry (in addition to what I wear), 2 changes of underwear and four changes of shirts. If I don't wash every night, I get behind, and it is sometime difficult to catch up. Everything I take fits in 1400 cu in, (about 23 liters). but I would feel more comfortable with about 30 liters (1800 cu in).

Posted by
6801 posts

It depends on how much time and effort you want to take in managing what you have. I know a guy who went with only the clothes on his back, buying more things over there. Another guy who discarded underwear, t-shirts and socks after one use, buying new ones, so he didn't need to launder.

The weather also makes a difference. Sweaters, heavy jackets and extra shoes are space stealers.

Posted by
4611 posts

You could definitely get by with 4 days of clothes. We have packed 4 days of clothes, continual rotation for a 2-3 week trip. I usually pack 1-2 capris, 2 easily washable dresses, 1 long pant. I wear the long black pants (or a dress) in the evening with a couple of scarves for variety. We hand-wash clothes any night that we're not moving to a different location the next morning. Usually each of us wash clothes for a few minutes while the other person is on the internet.

Posted by
2930 posts

Clothes only take up about 30-40% of my bag now: 1 pair of pants and 3/4 shirts, PJ's, unders. I do pack more now because when I was younger, there was always something I forgot so the packing list makes me pack heavier in some ways, and due to no need for books, lighter in others. No idea how many liters this was. At one stage they were large LL Bean school book bags...but I always brought wheels in those days, too. Then 'they' started perfecting wheeled bags. I don't schlep when I don't need to do so. Now I try to keep the wheelie suitcase at 20 lbs or less and the personal item at 5 lbs, and wheel it. Still, it's all the other junk that takes up the most space, even without books.

Posted by
5152 posts

Cathy, I carry a 1400 cu. in. bag (about 23 L) and have plenty of room. I pack 2 pairs of slacks, a skirt, 4 tops, undies, an extra pair of shoes, a windbreaker, and sometimes a cardigan. I also carry most of our toiletries and supplements. I always have extra room.

I do carry a "personal item," which varies in size, but is no larger than a medium purse. In it I have my journal, our 3-1-1 bag, a small pair of binoculars, and odds and ends - aspirin, pens, band-aids, snacks, tissues... Last minutes stuff that we might want on the plane.

My DH's backpack is smaller than mine, and he carries a laptop case as his "personal item." He's switching to the Appenzell backpack this year (1400 ci), and I don't know what we'll do with all the extra room.

Posted by
158 posts

Last December my husband and I traveled 2 weeks with one 30L and one 45L backpack. On the way back we had an overflow bag of candy, gifts, souvenirs so nothing got crunched stuffing it in our main bags. We had plenty of layers to keep warm, and did laundry in the middle of the trip, with sink laundry in between. I agree 4 pairs of anything is all you need.

Posted by
5789 posts

If you have read Bernard Cornwell's Richard Sharpe series of historic fictions, you would know that it was possible to travel across Spin and Portugal without a change of clothing and only ammunition, some food and a blanket and a storm cape during the Napoleonic Wars era. Of course that required stripping naked ever so often and boiling your clothing to kill the lice. With that criteria, one change of underwear and socks is traveling in luxury.

Posted by
11448 posts

Technically, you don't even need a bag. Here''s one guy who traveled around the world with no bags. (And he stayed clean and odor free.)

No Bag Challenge

Posted by
351 posts

Except maybe in summer, clothes can be worn more than once before they need to be washed. I pack enough underthings/socks to get me from one washing machine to the next but pack far fewer of everything else.

For 3 weeks last September I packed:

2 pants - 1 packed, 1 worn
2 long sleeved shirts
2 short sleeved shirts - 1 packed, 1 worn
2 sweaters - 1 packed, 1 worn
5 pairs/units of each: socks, underwear, bras (+ 1 of each worn)
1 undershirt
1 pair of tights to double as long underwear (never needed)
1 light waterproof jacket
1 scarf, 1 hat, 1 pair gloves
1 pair pajama pants + 1 sleeping tshirt
1 pair shorts thrown in at the last minute

I even opted to not pack a 2d pair of shoes, which worked out fine but was risky.

My longest stretch between washing machines was 5 days.

Did I get a bit tired of those clothes? Definitely, but I never regretted how small and light my suitcase was.

Posted by
1845 posts

When my wife and I went to Scotland in 2002, we bought the RS Convertible Carry-On Backpack. (I used mine just last weekend, it's been great!). We each took the backpack and a small RS daypack for our 10 day trip. When we checked in at the Air Canada desk at Toronto, they couldn't believe that was all our luggage!

I understand about getting tired of the same clothes. I packed fairly light for a mission trip to Nicaragua. I took clothes that were getting old. When I came home, I gave away all but the clothes on my back and used the luggage space to bring back gifts.

What matters is not "how small others go." What matters is what works for you. If you have easy access to laundry machines, you can go really light. You can actually pack your stuff in packing cubes, stack them, then measure the inches. You can use a free online volume converter to determine how many liters of space you need. Something around 35 - 40 liters is reasonable. My bag is slightly larger and I cinch it down with the straps. My Summer Europe bag weighed a total of 13 - 14 lb.s total. The RS Appenzell bag is a good size. You also have to look at how the pack is configured. For example, do you prefer a book- opening type case - a zipper on top, tote-bag type case, or a trail pack? That can make a difference as well.

Posted by
638 posts

You've received a lot of great advice. My 2 cents, since you're going light as possible do not take any clothes that take a while to dry such as jeans, they'll never really get dry, unless you use a dryer and who wants to spend a hour or two in a laundry every day or so?

Posted by
1277 posts

A good friend walked a portion of the camino w one change of clothing. Each evening she showered, put on the clean clothes (slept in them) hand washed the dirty clothes. The Hostels had clothes lines, and some how things really did dry over nite....packed it up after breakfast.

Posted by
1179 posts

I recently did a week long winter level trip using a 16 liter personal item. That was my only bag. The trip included mountain hiking (no snow), a progressive dinner, etc. It poured for several days at the end but I brought everything I needed. The pack weighed in at 6.5 kg, and had my puff jacket, hat, gloves, thermals, and rain pants inside it (I wore the rain jacket).
I brought 3 shirts, 2 pants and a cardigan. I had room for an extra shirt, a skirt, and leggings if I had wanted them. I also had my girly things like makeup, jewelry, and hair tool. I always carry my toiletries with me as I have had some nasty allergic reactions to hotel provided soaps and shampoos.
I did laundry every couple of days or so. I just brought my clothes into the shower with me. Easy peasy.

Posted by
18 posts

So thankful for all of the responses....Cindy I am happy to hear you did it with 16l pack! and I loved the info about the man who traveled 'no bag challenge' what an interesting read Frank II!! and challenge!
Thank you to all who put thought and time into all helped!

Posted by
415 posts

My sister traveled 2 weeks with just a 20 inch carry on and a very small Pacsafe camera bag that doubled as her purse. I told her she could only bring a 22 inch. She still doesn't realize that her bag was actually a 20 inch. She loves that she could completely manage her bags by herself.

We are a family of 4. We did 35 days in Europe with only a 22 inch bag each. I'm a big fan of clean cloths every day. I think some travelers don't realize that while they may not be able to smell themselves, others can smell them.

Posted by
351 posts

And some Americans are obsessed with absolute "cleanliness" and have come to associate any whiff of a non-perfume/detergent scent with dirty, not realizing there is a huge window between smelling like soap/detergent and smelling bad. If you wash your clothes when they need it (which is not necessarily after every wearing) and put them onto a clean body you'll smell fine.

Posted by
2745 posts

This also depends on the size of your clothes. because of your body (a 6'3 200lb mans clothes are bigger than a 5'0 100lb woman's) and because of season and personal choice. In the summer I (average size woman) can squeeze 5 sundresses and 6 pairs of underwear in a tote bag. Wear one pair of pants, one shirt, and a jacket and I'm good for summer in Spain. A pair of sandals will fit too, and I can wear the heavier walking shoes. If I need a full set of long pants and shirts there's no way I could fit it in the same space.

I've also noticed that it's not clothes that are the biggest space hog. That can go to electronics, toiletries, and paper info. Work on limiting those and you are in better shape.

Posted by
41 posts

I've downsized over the years from Osprey Porter 46L to a Farpoint 40, and now a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30L travel pack. I spent 3 months end of summer/autumn (Aug - Oct 16) in the UK and Ireland last year with the 30L pack, and it weighed in at under 6kg - here's what I packed

2 x Outlier long pants (wore one on plane)
2 x Outlier shorts
1 x Prana shorts
1 x Quicksilver boardies
2 x Ice Breaker Ts 100% merino
2 x Smart Wool Ts 100% merino (wore one on plane)
2 x Ice Breaker long sleeve Ts 100% merino
1 x Outlier long sleeve collared shirt merino/synthetic
1 x cashmere V neck jumper
1 x Patagonia R3 Fleece reversible Hoody (wore on plane)
1 x Arc'teryx Cerium SL Down Vest
1 x Arc'teryx Atom Lt insulated jacked (carried)
1 x Outdoor Research Helium Rain shell
1 x Outdoor Research gloves (didn't wear them)
2 x Ice Breaker Boxers 100% merino (wore one on plane)
2 x Ice Breaker Socks merino/synthetic (wore one on plane)
1 x pair of comfortable black leather boots (wore on plane)
1 x pair of Keen Clearwater sandals
Carry on toiletries bag (face wash, toothpaste/brush, floss, mirror, roll on deodorant, Sea to Sumit super concentrated clothes washing liquid)
Close line - surgical rubber band (no pegs needed)
Chamois Towel
Sea to Sumit Dry Bag (improvised washing machine / dirty laundry bag)
Glasses - Reading/Sun / iPhone 6+/ charge cable/ plug / UK adaptor / Recharge battery - iPhone.

With the exception of the underwear and socks everything else can be worn multiple times before it needs washing - 100% merino does not hold body odors. And when you do wash it, it drys super quick. I use the Dry Bag as a mashing machine either in the shower or the sink - put your clothes in a few drops of the super concentrate, you can even use shampoo, fill it with water then either close it up and shake or use your arm to agitate it around, rinse it out, wring it out, roll the clothes up in the hotel towel and hang, most times everything is dry in an hour or so. I then use the chamois towel to dry myself. Chamois towels are great rinse them out in hot water and they are good to go. Those travel 'PAC towels' you see advertised are terrible, they stink to high heavens after about a week even after washing them in a washing machine.

Cotton is another thing to avoid if possible, the only thing good about it when traveling is that it's cheap. It takes forever to dry and you can only wear cotton once, then it needs to be washed. Merino is great - but it's expensive, there are a lot of good synthetics out there today, which are ok.

I stayed at over 20 different destinations/hotels on my last trip, and the only documentation/paperwork I carried was my passport, international drivers license, copy of my travel insurance and a one Page itinerary with address/email/phone of where I was staying and transport details - hire cars/trains/planes/ferry . I scanned (PDF) all of my other documentation and emailed it to myself and also used an app on my phone to save the PDF on my phone.

Anyway - good luck with the 20L endeavor :-)

Posted by
490 posts

I could not imagine traveling with one pair of shoes no matter how comfortable...with all the walking it is good to air out shoes and give your feet a different type of support.

I am beyond the age of back I have been traveling throughout the US and Europe with this combo lately...

Small 15 inched 2 wheeled carry on

and a black urban looking day pack that I would say is the average gym/school sized backpack that was only half full. The 15 inch roller is carry on size for any airline and the second bag is my personal item.

The is roller can be picked up easily and cannot get too heavy...this way I split the weight between the two bags, had a day pack to use without packing a smaller 3rd bag and the harder sturdier roller protected my computer and camera nicely. Manging these two bags was easy, for security I wore the back pack in front at times, and it was easy to just sit in a cafe upon arrival with two small bags, I simple pulled up the handle on the roller and wrapped back pack on them.

The bag I use is by travelon but Samsonite seems to make a good one too. I fit this in the Travelon roller on a recent trip to Italy in the fall when the weather was rainy and cold bummer...

13" laptop computer
2 travel guides
2 magazines
1 medium toiletry kit
1 pair sneakers with 4 pair socks tucked inside
1 pair jeans
1 sweater
1 rain jacket
1 umbrella compact
4 tee shirts
2 button down shirts
1 swimsuit
2 lightweight scarves
5 under wear
1 bra
lots of odds and ends like computer wires and chargers, pens and note pad
1 slim line flat iron for my hair oh vanity
1 Elf sized point and shoot camera

Keep in mind I had other clothing in my back pack, but in warmer weather could travel with just the 15" roller and a much smaller daypack, mini backpack.

Posted by
20 posts

This is my interest as well. Was tempted by idea of taking only one change of clothes, but didn't want to do laundry that often.

My bag weighs 15 pounds, most heavy items are iPad, chargers for phone, camera, etc., and 3-1-1 bag of toiletries needed for hair and skin concerns. If I could, I'd use hotel soap and shampoo. Buying products over there means adding weight to the bag. No go for me.
My compromise is to bring/wear 3 short sleeved shirts, three long sleeved shirts (one for sunny hikes, one for layering warmth, one for dining out), two pair pants, 5 pair socks, 5 pair undies, 2 bras, no dresses or skirts (therefore no extra pair of shoes needed)! Everything is very light. Also bringing rain jacket and pants (ultralight). I weigh everything and put on my interactive packing list.

I pack and unpack several times and wear the backpack to see how it feels.

It's a work of art in progress.😀

Posted by
173 posts

JJ, did the 15" roller bag fit under the airplane seat? I have it wish listed on Amazon. I am short and have wimpy arms, but I insist on taking only what I can manage myself.

Posted by
1585 posts

We took the Best of Europe 21 day tour last June. My single 32 year old son went with us. When we picked him up to head to LAX, he only had a regular school/college backpack and I was concerned. He had plenty of socks and underwear, and several thin tees and three pairs of pants. Laundry was done twice and he did just fine. I wish I could have done the same. I had a RS roll on and managed with very light clothing that rolled well and several items went with other items. I was able to do sink laundry because my clothes were thin and dried fast.

The first time I went to Europe in the 80s, I took the kitchen sink with me! Traveling light is only hard the first time you do it and after that it becomes really easy.

Posted by
1277 posts

I'm still in the roller bag what the heck I'll check it Camp- -- recently bought the Ravenna. Friend is trying to talk me into doing an Amazon matu pichu (forgive my phonetic spelling) and Galapagos islands trip.... somewhere in the fine print i read that the peru train limits you to one 11 pound carry on. Now, i dont travel w anything more than a smartphone and a point & shoot camera.... but 11 pounds is not much!!! If you could also have a " purse " & transfer all toiletries to it.....but 11 pounds would be hardly more than a pair of birkenstocks and three changes of clothes.....(After you allow 2 pounds for the bag... holy cow!!

Posted by
490 posts

Sandybwb, yes, 15" roller fit under seat on Alitalia overseas flight, but this may not fit puddle jumpers..I put it in overhead as well, very manageable and will hold more than you think!

I got buy with a backpack full that weighed less than 14 lbs for a one month trip to Spain and France from Minneapolis. It fit in the carry on bin so never had to check luggage, never had to wheel anything, pay a porter, etc. . It's all in a 40 liter Osprey backpack. 5 ExOfficio underwear, 1 long pants-lightweight cargo hiking pants, 2 cargo walking shorts, 2 t-shirts, 2 button shirts-ExOfficio longsleeve Airtstrip lLight, toiletries kit with electric shaver that weighted 1 lb together, Dell XPS laptop weighted 2.7 lbs, Goretex rain shell, wide brim hat, baseball cap, polartec pullover, 4 pair of no show socks, ASICS goretex running shoes, compact Vortex binoculars, compact Canon camera. These are in addition to what I wore on the plane---cargo pocket jeans/slacks, ExOfficio long sleeve rollup shirt, socks, Keen closed toe waterproof sandals. Carried passport, phone, wallet in my pants or shirt pockets. Most pockets are either zipper or button down for security. Also carried in my hand a small lightweight 13 liter daypack by Pacsafe for security against pickpockets, but it was mostly empty to and from Spain. I used this daily while walking the streets and sightseeing. The 40 L pack stayed in the lodging we rented in San Sebastian.