Guide to Ultra Light Backpacking: How to Pack Light and Skip Checked Baggage Fees

Written by Jason Frankle- @WorldPins

Ultra light packing while traveling is one of the best ways to move faster and more efficiency through cities, airports and bus terminals. Several years ago when I first began backpacking I would bring with me a large and heavy 55-liter backpacking pack and pack it full of clothes and other gear that I ended up not really needing when traveling. Not only was this bag a big burden to travel around with, but it also required me to have to spend an extra 30-45 minutes each flight waiting to check in the bag and picking up the bag from the baggage carousel at the destination. This past year I finally became tired of this travel hassle and traded in my large backpack for a 35-liter backpacking bag, easily able to fit in the overhead bin of most airlines. Below is a list of some of the most important items I take with me while still packing into one small travel backpack.   


35-Liter Backpacking Bag

The most important part of ultra light backpacking is bringing a bag small enough to fit in the overhead bin of most airlines without having to check it. I found the best size to do this is to bring a bag no larger than 35 liters. By limiting the size to 35 liters, you can ensure that the bag will fit in the overhead bin of most airplanes around the world. Also, I found that 35 liters is still enough room to pack the essentials when traveling such as basic clothing, camera gear, travel hammock, and other supplies.


Travel Hammock

Packing a travel hammock is one of the best ways to pass time while traveling around cities, parks, and some more secluded and relaxing places around the world. I recommend bringing a Grand Trunk travel hammock and packing it near the top of the bag to take out and use when traveling. When backpacking through places such as Copenhagen and Stockholm, I often found myself in parks with an abundance of trees to hang the travel hammock from. These hammocks served as a great way to take a quick rest while traveling and I could not have imagined leaving home without it in my bag. The hammocks also serve a secondary purpose as a pseudo bed linen for hostels that require you to bring your own linens or have questionable sanitation standards. I have found that some of the best nights of sleep on trips have been in my Grand Trunk hammock on top of hostel beds! Packed hammocks can also serve as a quick and easy pillow to rest on airplanes and in hostels.   

Camera and Equipment

The benefits of shooting with a mirrorless camera such as the Sony a6000 is that the camera is very small yet is still able to take DSLR quality. Because of its small size I am able to easily pack the camera in my bag in addition to my 55-210 mm telephoto lens. I also bring a small zippered bag that contains extra batteries, chargers, power cords, and memory cards in order to ensure I can keep shooting when traveling around the world. I also like to bring a travel tripod and strap it to the bottom of the bag for easy access when shooting. Because the bag is flying carry on you do not have to worry as much about it being thrown about or damaged when flying.   

Sturdy Travel Umbrella

Bringing along a travel umbrella is a definite must, even if the forecast doesn’t call for rain. Most travel umbrellas are very small in size and can therefore easily fit in the side compartment of most 35-liter backpacking bags. I have been in many places such as Copenhagen where I did not expect there to be any rain only to be thoroughly thankful that I brought along the travel umbrella.


Essential Clothing

The biggest factor of packing all gear in a 35-liter bag is that there is very little room for excess clothing. For this reason, ultra light packing may not be for everyone except those who are willing to wear clothes several times and/or do a load of laundry while on the trip. I recommend bringing two pairs of shorts that double as swim trunks and around 5 pairs of underwear, shirts, and socks for most backpacking trips. You can choose to bring more or less depending on the number of days you will be traveling for. As a general rule of thumb, pack the clothes you think you will need on the trip and then remove one pair of each item until you have some free space in your bag. By doing this you can ensure you have extra space for any items or clothing you may want to purchase when abroad.


Overall, ultra light backpacking is a great way to move very quickly when traveling and not have to worry about damage to baggage when going through airports. I have found that I have saved countless hours walking out of airports when other passengers have had to wait for their bags to get offloaded from airplanes and sent to carrousels. As an added bonus, bringing only carry on bags allows you to travel on some of the cheapest airlines that charge for each extra amenity such as checked bags that most other travelers will have to pay. These fees can be as much as $50 per bag and can add up very quickly when traveling from airport to airport.    

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