Ultralight Packing – Is it Worth It?

Ever since the launch of the Basic Economy Fare (see my blog post on it), I have been exploring and reading about ultra light packing. How to pack for a long trip in just a backpack. On my trip to Barcelona, I got the perfect opportunity to test the idea. I bought an ultra low fare on Norwegian Air, one of the new low cost European airlines. Low price, but a strict 10kg/22 lb limit on cabin baggage. That was your main baggage and personal item – COMBINED! With my carryon suitcase weighting ~5lbs (2.2kg) empty, I decided that this was the opportunity to put those ultralight packing skills to work.

What I used:

For this, I decided to use an Embark Jartop Elite Backpack. It’s slightly larger than your normal personal item backpack, but smaller than carry on wheelie bags, and extremely lightweight empty. In addition I used my Overland Donner bag as my personal item.

Headed out for 10 days with just a backpack, small purse, and the clothing on my back

What I packed:

After consulting many lists on the minimum items you needed I packed:

  • 2 pairs of pants
  • 3 short sleeve t-shirts
  • 1 sleeveless t-shirt
  • 2 tank tops for layering
  • 1 long sleeve t-shirt
  • 1 dress
  • 2 bras
  • Enough underwear for the trip
  • 1 pair of sneakers
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 infinity scarf
  • Small amount of statement jewelry
  • Toiletries, make-up and my 6 port charger with cords
  • iPad and phone
  • Camera

On the plane I wore

  • 1 pair of leggings
  • 1 sleep tank-top
  • Long, cardigan
  • One big scarf
  • Sports bra
  • 1 pair of slip on flats

Just a few shirts and pants, a dress, and a few accessories were all that was needed

I only bought one sleep outfit, so I ended doing a small load of laundry in the middle. And it turned out to be much hotter than expected, so while I never used my long sleeve options, everything needed a good wash when I came home because I had been sweaty most of the time.

I ended up having all the clothing I needed and some I didn’t even wear

At end of the day, if I moved things around, I could get my purse in my backpack, but I found it easier to carry it outside my backpack so I could access my documents and phone while in the airport and on the go.

How’d it go?

Honestly, not as well as I hoped. I managed to fit it all in, and found the two combined were just over the 10kg point. At the airport, I put my purse down and just weighted the back-pack, which came in at 8.8 kgs. I had the iPad, a good 2 lbs (.9 kg), in my purse. I was worried when they put the approved cabin baggage tag on the backpack and not the purse, but I discovered that they did that with everyone, and it seems while the site says they weigh the personal item, I didn’t get it weighed in either direction.

The next issue was bulk. While the backpack is smaller and lighter than the wheelie bag, it needs to be carried. And after a while, it gets heavy. In addition, because it doesn’t have the rigid structure, it was bulky and unwieldy. I ended up hitting a few people, and on the way back, had to really push it to fit in the overhead bin since it was wider than the approved measurements.

The third issue was coming back. I was full up on weight and space on the way to Spain. But while I was in Spain, I engaged in my second favorite activity with my mom – shopping! I went with a one for me, one for someone else, present shopping mentality and ended up with quite a few items purchased and no place to put them. Since I was flying back with my mom, and I knew she was checking a bag, I put my bottle of wine, and heavy books for the kids in her suitcase. But the suitcase as also packed to the brim and it barely fit. My backpack came in at 10.5kgs, but because my mom’s bag was 7.5kg (and she bought the more expensive ticket with more weight in the carry on allowed), we were able to go by without issue. I also took out a big tote bag and passed that as my “personal” item. I was able to fit my purse in, but it was bulky to carry and looked quite obnoxious. I ended up taking the purse out, and kind of hiding it as I went on the plane so they didn’t see I was carrying the three bags.

I needed room to bring home souvenirs for my kids and all my friends

The fourth and final issue was I was stressing the whole time. I was stressing about weight on the way there. I was stressing about weight on the way back. I was calculating how much I could carry, how I’d bring items on board especially if it is overweight, and if my backpack even survive being checked, etc.

The Conclusion

Is it possible, yes! Is it worth it, maybe not. I would absolutely bring the same amount of items again. In fact, I never used my jewelry, long sleeve shirt or rain jacket, which took up precious weight and space. For my trip to Malta, I packed the same amount of stuff, but in a wheelie bag, not a backpack. I had plenty of room to bring back my souvenirs. In the future I would factor in that weight to make sure I knew exactly how much I’d be spending on a flight. Because there is nothing worse than carrying 22lbs on your back while trying to navigate the long airport corridors, and the long weight in immigration. And who goes on vacation and DOESN’T go shopping? Well, maybe some people do but I’m not one of them. To me, this was a good test in understanding what I can do and what I want to do. Can I travel with just a backpack? Yes, It’s possible. But I do I want to? No, it’s too much work. I’m happy with my wheelie bag. I’ll just have to learn to pay for the convenience.

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