This is the guide you’ve been looking for. How to pack your backpack for world travel is difficult, but it doesn’t have to be.
If you’ve wanted to learn how to:
- Pack your bag to travel for extended periods
- Cut down on weight to get under baggage requirements
- Remove unnecessary items from your bag
- Pack in a simpler way
If any of these are you, this is your guide. Let’s get started.
Chapter 1: How to Pick your Perfect Pack
You’ve gone online and seen all the backpack options.
Osprey, Nomatic, Matador, Peak Design, and on and on. It seems like the list never ends. How do you weed through all of the options to find the pack for you?
Luckily, by asking yourself a few simple questions, you can find your perfect pack.
Let’s look at the questions.
What features are most important to me?
It sounds cliche, but choosing a pack is highly personal.
The reason that’s true is that you’re unique. What is important to you isn’t going to be the same for someone else, and you should decide based on your preferences.
So, there are a few things to decide here:
How does the bag fit my body?
People’s bodies are unique.
So, is the backpack too big or too small? Do the hip belts cross in a comfortable area? Will there be anywhere that would rub or begin to hurt after you wear it for extended periods?
The only way to know this is by visiting a shop and trying it on, so find a local shop and give it a test before you buy.
For example, I have a long, skinny frame. So I want a longer backpack that will spread across my back evenly for weight.
Now, do the same with your body and determine what backpack suits you best.
Does it have enough pockets? Do I even want pockets?
Pockets can be extremely useful or a massive headache.
Some people like them, and others hate them. But pockets are great for stashing away anything you need quickly. However, they’re a prime target for thieves, so keep your valuables out of them.
Or, just avoid them altogether and get a bag that removes them!
Personally, I enjoy having pockets on the inside of the pack. I like the storage it gives me, but also doesn’t leave anything exposed to fall out or get stolen.
You may be different than me, though, and would value pockets. It’s all down to personal preference.
Is it front-loading or top-loading?
The two main methods of filling a bag are front and top-loading.
With a top-loading pack, it’s your standard backpack. Put something at the bottom, then something else on top, and repeat. You get more support with a top-loading pack because it is for hiking.
The main downside is difficulty reaching things at the bottom of your backpack. It involves unpacking everything in your pack.
That’s not the case with a front-loading backpack.
With a front-loading pack, the entire front of the bag will unzip, allowing you to reach things at the bottom of your bag or any area. But, you do sacrifice some support to reduce your headaches.
Weigh your options. Do you want more support, or do you like the ease of reaching things wherever they are in your pack?
Is the bag durable and secure?
Backpacks are expensive, and you don’t want to buy a new one in three months.
So, find out how durable and secure your bag is. Can it handle a beating if you take it on a hiking trip? Will it hold up to wear and tear? Are the zippers high-grade or cheap?
Your bag is arguably your most important item when traveling (besides your passport); treat it as such.
What are the top travel backpack brands?
The travel backpack industry is huge, and it seems like it’s only growing.
Every day there are new backpacks popping up with a hot new feature every traveler needs. Honestly, it’s hard to keep track of them all. Luckily, though, there are some tried and true brands that most travelers turn to.
And here are a few of them:
- Peak Design
This is by no means the full list, there are many more brands to choose from.
So, I encourage you to scout the top options and see what works for you.
If you ask my opinion, I love the Osprey series and personally use the Osprey Farpoint 55L. The 55L comes with a detachable daypack, which narrowly allows this backpack to slide under the airline baggage requirement.
But you may hate the Osprey series, and that’s fine! Choose the pack that has what you want.
Chapter 2: How to Get More Out of Your Packing List
Everyone tends to overpack.
It’s almost like it’s an instinct; we want to always take more “just in case.” But, those just-in-cases rarely happen, and you’re left with a bunch of dead weight you carry around as you say, “I’ll be smarter on my next trip.”
But we rarely are unless we make a conscious effort. So, here’s a method to help yourself condense down and stop overpacking for every trip. And, it’s only a few simple steps:
- Get five shirts
- Select three pairs of pants
- Choose seven pairs of underwear
- Grab seven pairs of socks
- Grab two pairs of shoes
- Wisely choose your accessories
Step 1: Get five shirts
I’ll tell you a little secret: you don’t have to pack many shirts.
In fact, you could get away with packing even less than five (I know because I’ve done it). And you can, too.
Think of all the clothes you wear every week. If you’re like most people, it’s probably limited to a small section of clothes in your dresser/closet. And they work in different situations.
Travel is no different.
Pick five favorite shirts for different situations: casual, formal, and everything else. Have at least one shirt for each situation. If you do it right, you’ll have multiple shirts for each occasion. Then, at the end of the week or as needed, just do laundry wherever you are.
Every country has laundry services; use them to your packing advantage.
Step 2: Select three pairs of pants
Honestly, I think this is the most straightforward category to narrow down.
Most people overthink it, but it’s simpler than it seems. And here’s what I mean.
Pants fall into (mostly) three categories: pants/jeans, shorts, and dress pants. Well, look at what you need to take — three pairs of pants! And you can even combine your dress pants and jeans depending on the activities you’ll be doing. So, you could cut even more or take an extra pair.
Plus, if you invest in a quality pair of pants, they’ll hold up well and only need washing every couple of days.
A quick note, you should adjust these based on your lifestyle. If you’re more active, then you may require more clothes. Or, you’ll be doing wash more frequently.
So, think about your travel style, and adjust based on your needs.
Step 3: Choose seven pairs of underwear
I feel this doesn’t need much explanation.
I advocate for re-wearing clothes as much as possible when it’s hygienic. Rewearing underwear simply isn’t.
So, choose seven pairs of durable underwear. I say durable because you’ll be washing them often, so it’s best to get pairs that will hold up. Merino wool is always a great choice to help keep bacteria and other unhealthy growth away.
Regardless, pack enough underwear to get you through the week.
Step 4: Grab seven pairs of socks
Much like underwear, socks aren’t something I’ll recommend re-wearing.
At a minimum, take seven pairs of socks. And even more, if you’re a hiker, runner, or active traveler.
One way to slim down in this area is to wait until you reach your destination. Socks are worldwide, and you’ll have no issue finding them wherever you go. So, you can save some space (but spend a little money) by packing fewer pairs of socks.
But, also know that clothing costs are cheaper in most destinations outside the US and Europe.
Step 5: Grab two pairs of shoes
You don’t need to take your entire shoe wardrobe when traveling; you’re not Kanye West.
But you do want two solid pairs of shoes. The type of shoes will depend on what you plan on doing.
For example, I love to run (shocking by my website title, right?). So, I take a pair of running shoes with me everywhere I go. But I have a decision to make for my second pair of shoes. Do I take a nicer pair for evenings out? Or do I take a more comfortable pair for walking around?
What you decide to take depends on what you plan on doing. Think of what your plans are while traveling, and pack accordingly. The lighter the shoes, the better.
Remember, you’ll carry these a lot, so decide how much you truly need your Yeezy’s before you pack them.
Step 6: Wisely choose your accessories
This is one of the most common areas I (along with others) overpack.
You often don’t need all the accessories, gadgets, and other small items you’re taking. Consider each use case, and see if you can narrow it down.
For example, do you have a charger that charges multiple devices? Take one instead of taking multiple. Do you need toothpaste when you can buy it where you’re headed? Probably not.
Carefully consider each piece you’re packing and figure out if it’s a necessity or not. If you can buy it at your destination, it’s probably unnecessary to pack.
And this goes for hygienic essentials also.
Chapter 3: Rolling vs. Folding — The Great Debate
No matter who you ask, you won’t get a consensus on this issue.
You’d be surprised by each side’s allegiance for such a minor detail. But, it could significantly impact how you pack your bag. And your main objective is to take everything you need but keep it as light as possible, right?
So, I’ll explain why rolling your clothes will make for a better option.
Why you should roll your clothes
Scour the blogs, travel influencers, and anyone else that dips a toe in the travel industry, and you’ll see this argument somewhere.
There may be pros to folding your clothes, but they’re outdone by the benefits of rolling. When you’re on the road for an extended period, you’ll do everything you can to save space and lighten your bag even an ounce. And, for that, rolling is a better option.
Let me explain.
Rolling saves space
You can save almost double the space by rolling your clothes!
This is because little air pockets stay in the clothing when you fold it. This may not be a lot of space, but it adds up quickly in a small backpack. And that’s space you need.
When you roll your clothes, you press most of that air out. Which reduces the amount of space in your backpack.
You avoid the wrinkle monster
You’re not putting many creases into your clothes when you roll them.
Plus, pairing your rolled clothes with a set of packing cubes will make your life easier (more on this next).
Folds and creases are a pain to get out when traveling and don’t have easy laundry access, so just avoid them.
Rolling pairs perfectly with packing cubes
Packing cubes are God’s gift to travelers, and I’m not being hyperbolic.
The ability to pack everything you’re taking — shirts, pants, socks, underwear — into a compact cube that also organizes your clothes perfectly?
Now that’s heaven.
And you don’t get that when you fold clothes. Packing cubes are meant to keep your clothes tight and compact. And it’s challenging to keep a folded shirt tight and compact without wrinkles.
So, rolling is a much better space-saver.
Easier to move around in your backpack
Each person’s bag is like its own unique jigsaw puzzle.
You’re moving stuff around, taking things out, and putting other things in, and you’re constantly rearranging to find the perfect fit.
And a tightly rolled cylinder is easier to move around than a folded shirt.
There’s one caveat, though…
Rolling your clothes will be better than folding them in most cases. However, there are some clothes that are better for folding, like:
- Some dress shirts and pants
These are better to fold because they already take up much space. Rolling them often causes them to take up more or makes it harder to pack in your backpack.
So, 90% of your clothes can be rolled, and that’s the better option. But, if you have clothes that take up a lot of space, just fold them and save yourself a headache.
What about the “bundling” technique?
The bundling technique involves laying your clothes out on top of each other and then slowly folding them over until it makes one giant package.
Think like a big loaf of bread. But, this method won’t work well with a backpack simply due to how much space it will take up. It’s more suitable for a suitcase or a larger bag.
The bundling technique isn’t bad, but it’s not ideal for backpacks.
Chapter 4: Before You Start Packing, Consider this…
You may have thought about this, but look at your clothes and sort out the heaviest item from each category.
These will be the items you’ll wear on the plane. Pretty simple, right?
You already have to wear clothes on the plane (thank goodness, am I right?). So, wear your heaviest clothes and save yourself some trouble. No chance of getting hit with baggage fees, your pack has more space and is lighter, and you’ll be a bit warmer on the plane (which is usually a bit cold anyways). And this allows you to take some extra clothing if necessary.
For example, I visited Peru and knew it’d be colder when we were hiking. So, I packed an extra shirt, wore one of mine on the plane, and then put my zip-up hoodie over that.
More space savings.
Incorporate this into your own packing, and you’ll have no issues with clothing on your trip.
Chapter 5: Stuffing Shirts in Your Bag the Right Way
Nothing is worse than pulling your shirt out of your bag, and it has more wrinkly than elephant skin.
Luckily, rolling your shirts is the lotion to those wrinkles. And it’s a pretty simple process to follow. In fact, there are only three simple steps.
Here they are:
- Fold up the bottom of the shirt and fold the sleeves in
- Fold each side of the shirt toward the middle
- Roll and seal
Let’s look at each of these in more detail.
1. Fold up the bottom of the shirt
This is easier with a flat surface, so find a good one to use and lay your shirt flat to get the wrinkles out.
Next, fold up the bottom of the shirt about 6-8 inches on all sides. Then, fold each sleeve toward the shirt’s middle. Now, the shirt should form a rectangle with no pieces sticking out.
On to step two!
2. Fold each side toward the middle of the shirt
Now that your shirt is even on both sides, it’s time to fold it inward.
So fold half of the shirt so it meets the middle. Then do the same with the other side. Now it should make a long skinny rectangle.
Flip the shirt around so the neck is closest to you and the folded end is furthest.
3. Roll and seal
Now start tightly rolling the shirt toward the folded end.
This is easier if you have something to place on the opposite end (or someone to hold it) so it stays tight. Make sure you get the roll as tight as possible to save as much space as possible. Once you reach the top, flip the rolled part inside out over it, making it a cylinder.
You can use a rubber band to make the roll tighter and ensure it holds.
What about long-sleeved shirts?
Long-sleeved shirts can follow the same method as above, with one minor change.
First, fold the arm sleeves in at the elbow to the shoulder. Then, fold the arm toward the middle as you did with the short-sleeved shirt. So, it’s the same process, just one extra step.
And that should help you avoid wrinkles in long sleeves, too!
Chapter 6: Packing Pants to Perfection
You probably aren’t taking one kind of pants.
If you are, then this process just got a lot easier! But I’m assuming you’re not. So, I’ll break it down by each type of pants.
Here’s what I’ll cover:
- Pack your shorts simply
- Make your pants go poof
- How to make your dresses disappear (not literally)
Let’s get into it.
Pack your shorts simply
Shorts are the easiest thing you’ll pack all day.
Start by flipping the waistband about 4-5 inches toward the bottom (like you did with the shirt). Then, flip one side toward the middle and do the same with the other so they meet. Then, start rolling from the bottom toward the folded waistband.
Once you’re at the top, flip the waistband around the rolled shorts and seal it with a rubber band.
Make your pants go poof
Pants seem to take up a lot of space no matter what, but this method will help with that.
First, lay your pants out on a flat surface. Next, fold one pant leg over the other. Then, about halfway up the pant leg, flip the top part out at a 90° angle. Last, start rolling up from the bottom of the pants toward the waistband.
When you’re at the top, take the pant leg you left sticking out and flip it inside-out over the rolled-up pants.
How to make your dresses disappear
This one is for the ladies out there.
I don’t have any experience in this area, so I consulted my long-time travel partner and girlfriend. If any girl knows how to pack, it’s her.
To start, lay your dress flat on a flat surface like the other clothes. Next, fold down the top half of the dress to the middle. Then, fold each side toward the center. After, fold the dress in half vertically and roll it up from the bottom into a tight package.
You’ll need to use rubber bands or hair ties to secure this. But, this will make sure your dresses stay wrinkle-free and save a ton of space. Win-win, am I right?
So, that’s all for pants and dresses.
Over to you, Socks and Underwear.
Chapter 7: Saving Space with Socks and Underwear
I said shorts would be the easiest, but I had forgotten about socks and underwear.
So I retract my previous statement. Socks and underwear are the easiest things to pack. But, there is a method to packing them well, nonetheless.
So, let’s get to it.
Saving space with socks
First, separate your socks into individuals.
Then, start rolling up from the toe. Roll until you reach the top, then fold the ankle hole over the rolled-up sock. Now repeat 14 times for each sock you have.
Simple and boring, but it works.
Ultimate underwear packing
Okay, this title was a bit of a stretch, but it’s an important topic still.
Start by folding the waistband down over the underwear a couple of inches. Then, fold one side toward the middle, and repeat with the other side so they meet. Then, start rolling from the bottom and flip the folded waistband over the rolled-up underwear.
This should look exactly like the process you did with shorts.
The other option is to simply roll these up without any folding. Since underwear takes up so little space, you don’t save much room by following this method. So, it’s up to you.
Either way, your valuables are taken care of.
I said shorts would be the easiest, but I had forgotten about socks and underwear.
Chapter 8: Assigning Accessories
As I mentioned above, you want to be ultra-selective with what accessories you take.
These can add up quickly and take up more space than you realize. So, one idea is to get an electronics organizer.
These nifty little packs help you keep everything in a tiny place. It’s like a packing cube for electronics. And it helps you narrow down what you take. It needs to go if you can’t fit it in the organizer. This will force you to start thinking about what accessories you take and don’t.
Honestly, this is one of the best methods for packing, period. Buy something with limited space, and force yourself to fit your items inside. Anything that doesn’t make the cut stays home.
Minimalism is your best friend when traveling worldwide.
Chapter 9: Clearing Space for Cleaning Items
You have basic needs to meet while traveling, right?
Cleaning your teeth, body, and other needs are essential to take care of. So, surely you need to pack all those things with you, right?
When you travel, the only thing you need to take is a toothbrush, some toothpaste, and maybe some deodorant. Other than that, you’ll find everything you need at your destination.
So, don’t take up space packing medicines (unless necessary), shampoo, and other supplies. Do the smart thing.
Get them when you arrive.
Chapter 10: Packing with the Tetris Technique
Okay, so you’ve narrowed down everything you’re taking and rolled them up nice and tight.
Now it’s time to start packing your backpack. So, hopefully, you picked up those lovely packing cubes I recommended. But, if not, you can still make this work.
Let’s pack that bag!
Sort your clothes into their respective cubes
While you were packing, you may have begun to notice something interesting.
Some of your clothes take up much more space than others. And that’s to your benefit.
Packing cubes come in 2-3 sizes. Shirts go in one packing cube. Pants and shorts in another. And your underwear/any other items will take up the last one.
It’s almost like they designed these specifically for this purpose! But feel free to switch around as needed. Maybe your pants and underwear fit in a larger cube than the shirts.
Experiment with what works best for your situation.
Put the largest cube in the bottom of your bag
Your largest packing cube takes up the most space and is the heaviest.
So, stuff it in the bottom of your pack out of the way. But be sure you don’t fit anything you’ll need while traveling here, as it’ll be the most difficult to reach (unless you have a front-loading backpack). Otherwise, pack it and forget it until you arrive.
Once that’s out, it’s time to start playing Tetris.
Position your second pair of shoes in the center
If you’re taking a second pair of shoes, you’ll be surprised to learn that where you pack them matters a lot.
Putting them in the bottom of your bag, especially with a large packing cube on top of it, is too heavy. It will simply pull your shoulders back.
And that leads to back pain. So, it’s best to pack them in the center of your bag, typically right above your large packing cube. This keeps the weight in the center of your back, which is better for weight distribution. No back pain equals happy travels.
The other option would be to place your medium packing cube on top of your large, then your shoes on top of it. But this depends on the dimensions of your bag. So, test out different options to see what is most comfortable for you.
But remember to keep your shoes near the center of your bag.
Fit the two remaining cubes into the bag
Now that your biggest cube and shoes are out of the way, it’s time for the smaller items.
You can either lay your medium packing cube down with the small one on top or lay them vertically on each side of the bag. This allows you to fit more things between them, giving you more space.
The way you place them is up to you, and that’s why this is called the Tetris Method.
You’re constantly turning, removing, and replacing to find the best fit.
Fill in any accessories and remaining items
Now all that’s left is to fill in the remaining space with any other accessories you have.
If your backpack has pockets, this is the perfect opportunity to start filling some of them in. Anything else can fit in, around, and between the cubes in your bag. There’s no real strategy to this other than the one you discover.
Once you fit everything in, it’s time to tighten the straps and try it on to see how it feels!
Pretty exciting, right?
Chapter 11: Testing and Adjusting
Okay, so you’ve packed your bag. Now all that’s left is waiting for your trip, right?
Now is the time to check your bag and make sure everything is ready to go.
Is it under the transportation weight limit? Does it exceed the dimensions for a plane/bus/etc.? Are there things you can remove to make it lighter, or maybe something you should add that you forgot?
This is something I tinker with up until the day of my trip. And it’s a great way to find the small ways you can save space. Like editing an essay before publishing, you’re getting out the small mistakes to make it ready to shine on travel day.
So, look at your bag and see what you think.
You’ll be spending a lot of time with this bag and its items, so you better make sure you’ve thought about each small detail that went into its packing.
Chapter 12: Wrapping It Up
Yes, the pun is intentional in this headline.
Regardless, I’ve traveled extensively for the last five years, exclusively out of a backpack.
Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. And now is my time to share what I’ve learned to help as many people as possible.
Many people want to travel the world but don’t want to spend much money to do it. And backpacking is the easiest way to avoid expensive trips. I’m assuming you’re one of those. With the tips in this guide, you’re well on your way to taking that trip.
So, when you do take your trip, send me a picture if this guide helped you out. I want to know that this guide is actionable and helpful. And I’ll enjoy every traveler who reaches out.
If there’s anything you think I missed or would like me to cover in more detail, let me know in the comments, and I’ll get on it as soon as possible.
For now, enjoy your travels and keep slimming down that backpack!