Please sign in to post.

Packing heavy

I posted recently on my Travel Group thread about our upcoming camping trip, and mused that perhaps that would lead to a "packing heavy" topic, since we always manage to fill up whatever vehicle we're driving. Then Kim posted about how much luggage she and her hubbie took for a short trip this summer; then doric8 chimed in, pushing her old heavy heavy suitcase out waiting to see what was coming; then Pandabear posted about how they managed to pack relatively light for a 2000 mile road trip https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/packing/packing-success-and-failures

So I thought it was time to jump in.

There are two different ways I can go here: 1) how our packing habits have changed over the years as we learn to pack light and 2) the car full of stuff we always take when we go camping.

We used to go camping every year. We started early in our marriage, when as students working (and borrowing) our way through school, we couldn't afford such luxuries as motels and restaurants. So we would stuff the VW bug with a cooler filled with food; whatever camping gear we had (after a few years we had accumulated 2 sleeping bags and a 2-person pup tent, all from Sears, and each costing $19.95;) a change of clothes for each of us, and books.

Yes, the bulk of out cargo was books. Reference books, mostly: bird books, local history, archeology, ethnography, geology, wild flowers, trees, mammals... We were prepared for anything we might encounter. Then we'd take along a few light reading books: for me that would be one rereadable novel and a book of essays; for years it was "Where the Heart Is," by Billie Letts, and "Bird by Bird" by Anne Lamott. For Stan it would usually be some political or sociological treatise. (We have very different ideas about light reading.)

And then since I'm always delving into a foreign language, I would have an exercise book for whatever the current language happened to be.

Fast forward more years than I care to admit to. Now we drive a 17-year old Saturn Vue, which has a lot more room. And we still manage to fill it up. Our sleeping bags are nicer and lighter, our tent is nicer and bigger. And the bulk of our cargo is books (still) and food. We probably take two or three changes of clothes, instead of one.

Food is a biggie here, because we like to eat and I have a metabolism problem that means I can't eat most prepackaged or canned food. So we take homemade bread (at least enough for the first few days,) lots of fresh fruit, and enough prepared-at-home-by-me food to keep us going a while: potato salad, tabouleh, pasta, cheese, something to put on the pasta, canned tuna, peanut butter, frozen hamburger patties...

The main difference now is foods I can eat are easier to find, and we can afford them. But we still manage to fill up whatever vehicle we're using.

Because of a family situation, we haven't been able to get away for our annual camping trip in 5 years. We were able to get away maybe three weeks total, so we spent it on Europe. This year, of course, that couldn't happen, so we're planning a 2 week getaway. Since some states are requiring quarantines, we're staying in Oklahoma, and will probably stay in state parks. I have vowed that we're going to take less food than we usually do, but I suspect the book box (a milk crate packed two-levels deep, with more on top and more loose around the car) will still take up most of the back seat.

I'm curious to see if we really do manage to lighten our load this time.

Posted by
3436 posts

Packing everything you want, as long as it fits in your vehicle, is a joy I had long forgotten and only recently rediscovered.

In my travels to Europe where it was just easier to go with a single carry on to save time at both ends of the trip and allow instantaneous flight changes since there was no checked bag to hunt down to make sure it joined me on my new flight, I had forgone lots of things that make travel comfortable and enjoyable. Going wilderness camping these past few months, I have rediscovered the comfort of knowing I have that item in the vehicle that is exactly what I need for the situation I am in and not having to try and reinvent something to do what that item does.

Good luck on your trip!

Posted by
4119 posts

Packing heavy is three changes of clothes? I would take more than that for a weekend break!

As we aren’t risking flying at present, we took our caravan to Wales for 3 weeks, returning last week. I took enough clothes for a month in case we decided to extend the trip. I was on holiday so I try not to wash clothes when away. Chores are for home!

We have foldable electric bikes that go in the car. I usually only take enough food for a couple of days but this time, I took enough for almost a week as I am trying to minimise the number of times I go to the supermarket. His camera equipment weighs around 20lbs plus his drone. The caravan awning goes in the car. It’s a good job that we have a large Volvo!

Posted by
556 posts

We for sure over pack for camping trips but then we tend to take long trips - 3-6 weeks and some where we're boondocking (no hook ups for water/electric). Started with a small used trailer, then a huge 5th wheel (condo on wheels) then finally an airstream that's "just right". When we get it out of winter storage it takes a week to clean, inventory and restock. I have a check off sheet that's been fine tuned over the years to make sure I don't forget essentials - Mt Gay rum, tonic water and limes being essential items. We don't exactly believe in roughing it.

Lots of books too but mostly on our Kindles.

Posted by
3212 posts

My family camped while growing up. My mother didn't drive but loved adventures, so she spent the week preparing for our trips. Never a trailer, not even a station wagon, maybe a roof rack for the canoe so space in there for the massive canvas tent, the army surplus folding canvas cots, foam mattresses, folding chairs, cooler of food....well, you get the picture. We gilled the car and then some.
When I got married, camping gear was on our wedding registry. I still use the same Coleman stove 41 years later. We tent camped as a family and rarely took a serviced site, and rarely camp near groceries, so everything came with us. Even if I camp on my own, the vehicle is pretty full.
Right now, my garage is full of camp gear as we test air mattresses, tents and tarps for my son and his family to head out for his family camping. They have added a dog, and realize our family camping plan for 4 isn't big enough to include a Chihuaha, so they are off to buy a bigger tent.
I have decided packing heavy (for camping at any rate) is genetic in our family.

Posted by
4245 posts

I used to feel slightly guilty packing heavy for camping. Seems like all the cool kids were hiking for two weeks with about 5 pounds of gear, counting water and dog food.

But I got over it.

I did leave some things off the list: tarp, air mattresses, cooking and eating utensils... Probably more. Flashlight, lantern, ... We are definitely rusty. And of course even when we're in practice, we always remember something essential as soon as we get about one hour away from home.

Posted by
3365 posts

...our packing habits have changed over the years...when we go camping

Started with a two person tent, sleeping bags, flash light, Boy Scout cook kits, some canned stews, soups, crackers, and backpacker stove that had to be primed with a paste. Graduated in stages to a nicer comfort level. Last trip we were in a six man tent we could stand up in for just the two of us. Plus cots, air mattresses, two reading lights, a big bag of clothes each, two burner Coleman stove, a big lantern, regular pots, pans, plates, and utensils. Even had two coolers and a small charcoal grill. And we had plastic wine glasses -- one must be proper with the wine, yes? One thing we realized over the years is that camping really shows how little "stuff" is really needed to get by in the everyday world.

Posted by
3436 posts

Yes, glamping is a thing in the US.

Last fall I was looking at a glamping experience in one of the National Parks near where I am in Colorado. Everything is set up for you, so all you have to do is show up. They have a chef prepare your meals, a full wine list, after dinner drinks and cigars if you are into that sort of thing (no cigars for me). A full bathroom set up with a flush toilet and hot shower. And you sleep in one of the old style canvas 6 man army tents, but the interior bears no resemblance to an army experience. A king size bed, with mosquito netting, electric lights, a wood heater for the winter and fans for the summer, the floor is a Turkish carpet. Better than most hotels I have spent time in, other than the canvas tent instead of a room.

But after talking it over with a friend who was interested in doing this, we decided if that was the experience we wanted, a regular hotel would probably be better because this seems to remove everything that makes camping fun for us. So we ended up in my three man nylon tent with nearly worn out sleeping bags cooking Mountain House freeze dried meals over a camp stove listening to the sounds of the wilderness. I think we made the right choice. :-)

Posted by
3212 posts

That really is glamorous camping. Closest to that I came to are the safari tent camps in Africa. Canadian Nat. Parks also offer glancing, but just provide the equipment. Cigars and food are your responsibility. It is directed to city families who don't have the space to store, or inclination to maintain camping equipment. If Mom didn't have the stuff, my son and family would glamp.

Posted by
556 posts

Yes, glamping. You can actually enjoy the great outdoors without sleeping on the ground or eating food with fireplace ash mixed in. I grew up camping in the more bare bones style. We had an army surplus tent ( though as the youngest I got relegated to sleeping in the car), we had an old metal box with some cooking utensils, cast iron skillet, sleeping bags, cots, etc. Trips happened with little notice and mom just through in whatever she had on hand. It was fun for us kids. Now I prefer a bit more civilized excursions.

Posted by
7829 posts

Ah yes, glamping. I’m taking a lunch break from my glamping preparations. We leave in the morning. I didn’t grow up camping. No way my mother was going to do that. Her idea of the great outdoors was going to the beach. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. As a young adult I started tent camping. We usually went to state parks because my requirements were flush toilets and showers. A few times we didn’t have them, but we usually did. We happily tent camped for 25+ years. I got sick and had some physical problems that prevented me from camping. I ended up retiring early because of this and we decided to buy a travel trailer. We love it. It has all the comforts of home. During this pandemic we have been able to camp and socially distance in comfort. Tomorrow we are heading to Mt. Lassen, with temperatures in the high 90’s. We might even have to resort to using our air conditioning. Our other trips have been on the coast, so it wasn’t necessary. I guess we travel heavy with the trailer.

After we return we are taking a road trip to visit with friends in 3 locations. I’ll pack like I do for Europe and do laundry at one of our stops. I’ll probably bring extra shoes, because why not!

Posted by
5572 posts

Packing is sort of like the the definition of a "liquid": a sample of matter that conforms to the shape of a container in which it is held....

Posted by
556 posts

You're right there Edgar. When we had to clear out our fifth wheel I couldn't believe the accumulated junk. Much happier with a smaller rig.

We'd love to go right now but local campgrounds are full and we're having electrical issues. Fortunately we live with some acreage and some great mountain views so not too bad.

Posted by
3436 posts

Edgar, It can also be described as a gas: a substance that always expands to fill the available space.

I find that the more space I have to put things into, the more things I suddenly need to have with me. :-)

EDIT: And yes, a liquid is probably a better description since liquids are not compressible, within everyday limits anyway, and most things we pack are also not overly compressible.

Posted by
5572 posts

Mark: Gas is compressible. While gas can expand, it can also be compressed to fit the volume of the container. That's what soft luggage compression straps do, and up to a point compression works for soft goods like clothing.

Posted by
1150 posts

A couple of years ago I took a "busman's holiday " (cheap, no frills, but not on a bus)... dividing 2 weeks of vacation among 4 stints as a houseguest. I ended up packing toiletries and PJs into my Rick steves flight bag. I packed a different carryon sized bag for each destination, so as I left a place it was full of dirty clothes. If I was "recycling " a spare pair of Jean's, they were packed on top for easy access. This method worked because I didn't want to frighten my friends with a big suitcase ("I thought you said she'd only be here THREE nights ") and most of those guest rooms are on the second floor.

A subsequent bonus when I pack this way... I live in one of those older homes where you come in the back door and either go up five steps to kitchen or downstairs to basement laundry room. It makes unpacking straight into the washing machine very easy!

Posted by
3212 posts

doric8, I have adopted similar practices for safaris when there are a lot of overnight stays - one smaller duffle bag with 4 changes of clothes, and every fourth night or when there were 2 nights and we could do laundry, the big suitcase came in too to swap out new clothes. The same for hotel/b&b road trips. So much more efficient. People don't need to see that my trunk is packed to the max...

Posted by
198 posts

We just got back from almost a week long road trip of camping and backpacking. We headed to very rural parts, so we packed more than we usually do, but still much lighter than what most people take. We take one pair of pants, one shorts, 2-3 shirts, 2 pair of socks/liners, and enough plus extra clean underwear. That is where I draw the line, clean undies each day is a must:) Hiking boots and Birkenstocks are the only shoes we take. We have a 2 person tent that weighs just a few pounds, and our sleeping pads and bags, and I make backpacking pillows. We usually just do freeze dried meals for backpacking, but we took a cooler this time as well. We take our MSR stove that heats a couple cups of water, but this time also took a tiny propane stove that has enough room to cook 2 hamburgers. So for the camping days we did burgers and fajitas. The other days were a mix of things that did not need to be refrigerated. We did take a 5 gallon container of water since where we were headed there were no services, so you had to really plan. Having that water meant we could refill our Camelbaks before we hit the trails. The only splurge on this trip was we took a canopy shelter for the car camping days to protect us from the sun. That was the best splurge ever!

We pretty much have this down to a science and have packing lists for backpacking as well as a separate one for car camping. We got home last night and had all our gear unloaded and put away in about 15 minutes.

I grew up car camping and we definitely took more stuff than my husband and I do, such as cast iron pans to cook fish with. Even with car camping though, we do it all without dishes as I am not about to start washing dishes while camping. Been there, and am over that. So we only do things that we can eat with our hands and cook/reheat easily with no dishes. A coffee mug and a spork are all that we take and so far that has worked well for us.

Posted by
5572 posts

mikliz97's backpacking story reminds me of my early backpacking days. We had a two-seat Triumph Spitfire Mk 4. My backpack was a tight squeeze in the space behind the seats and my wife's backpack could fit in the trunk (boot) with not much spare room. Our car couldn't carry much more than we could carry on our backs.

Posted by
198 posts

Edgar--My husband drives a little Honda S2000, so similar. We have taken it camping and just taken our backpacking stuff in the tiny trunk. We can't take it actual backpacking though and there is no way it could do those roads, lol.

Posted by
17768 posts

While gas can expand, it can also be compressed to fit the volume of
the container. That's what soft luggage compression straps do

In my case, I use compression straps to reduce the volume of the container to match the volume of its contents so my only-partially-filled bag doesn't sag.

In 2002, when my ex-wife and I went to Germany for two weeks, both of our carryon bags easily fit in the "boot" of my '91 MR2.