Updated: Mar 22, 2018
When I did my 107-days trip in China and Taiwan in 2012, my backpack was about 11 kilograms and that included my winter and photography gears. In summer of 2016, I went on another 15-day journey in eastern China and my backpack weighed only 8Kg — apart from no winter gears, I also reduced my photography gears and applied my own tips below to reduce the weight of essential items.
Travelling in backpacking style does not mean carrying bulky and heavy backpacks around. My backpack was one of the smallest and lightest among backpackers despite the long journeys.
Reducing the weight of luggage, including backpacks and towed luggage, is not difficult. I had shared my experience in iPackTravel mobile app (iOS only) since 2013. And I am sharing some of them here. Tried and tested!
1. Reduce Number of Clothing
Travellers often over-pack their luggage with at least five sets of clothing that won't be worn on their trips. Unbelievable? But it happens. Being worried that they may run out of clothes to wear, they will usually pack extra. Most often than not, they will return home with most of their clothes unworn.
How much clothing to bring will be enough? Remember that you will always be wearing one set and, maybe, there will be a set for sleeping. Packing another 1 to 3 sets are enough for any trips in a hot climatic place. For travelling in colder places, add an extra warm jacket and change 2 sets of clothing to 2 sets of thermal underwear.
3 sets of light clothing, a sleeping set and a towel.
More importantly, pack a travel detergent, or buy it at the travel destination, to do your own washing. If you wash your clothes everyday, you will need to pack just 1 set. But that can be tedious, so washing on alternate days may be more reasonable and that may need 2 sets. However, if the clothes are not soiled or stinky, you can wear them for another day before washing.
You may need an extra set just in case your laundry won't dry or for times when you may not want to wash clothes, such as on the day before checking out of the accommodation or other situations that do not allow you to do so.
In summary, pack roughly 2 or 3 sets, not counting the optional set for sleeping and the set you will be wearing. Don't worry about packing too little, you can — or probably will — buy clothes on trips, especially t-shirts as souvenirs.
2. Don't Bring Jeans
Jeans are very common in many people's wardrobes but they are not suitable for trips in tropical or summer locations. Having thicker materials, jeans are heavier, warmer to put on and walk around under the hot sun, readily sweat-absorbing, hard to wash by hands and even harder to dry. If you are travelling to another location with a still-wet jeans in your luggage, it will stink! And you may need a belt for your jeans (most men do).
Drop those jeans from your packing list. Get pants, half-pants or shorts, that are made of lighter materials such as linen, nylon or polyester. Sport slacks can also double up as pants, good for walking around, easier to wash and dry, and lighter for the luggage.
Dual-purpose pants that can change from long pants to half-pants are best for hot weathers and they also reduced the number of pants you need to bring on trips. Get those with drawstrings and do away with belt to save more weight.
3. Reduce Size of Shower Tower
Full-size shower towels are usually big enough for wrapping around one's body and can be quite bulky to bring along on trips. If you take a shower before checking out of an accommodation, you will be lugging a heavy and wet full towel in your luggage, which will stink after several hours.
But, do you really need to wrap a towel around yourself and walk around the room or even in dormitories?
Instead of packing a full-size cotton towel, get a small microfiber towel that can do the job of drying water from your hair and body after shower. And put on your clothes before exiting from the bathroom. If you need to wash the towel after several days of use, wash it in the morning and hang it out to dry. Microfiber towels will dry up within a couple of hours — and much faster in an air-conditioned room.
In addition, you can drop that face towel from your toiletry list. Just use one towel for washing up and shower, it saves space and reduces the weight of your backpack.
4. Use Travel Containers for Toiletries
The weight of gels contribute directly to heavy luggage. Many travellers bring big bottles or tubes of shampoo, shower gel, toothpaste, facial wash, sunscreen, etc, fearing that the gels may run out on a journey. Some are just lazy and simply shoved the items into their toiletry pouch from bathrooms, even for a few days' trip. If those big bottles or tubes are half-full and do not weigh as much, their sizes take up space too.
Use 100ml refillable bottles, or recyclable small bottles, to bring just enough for the trip. On average, 100ml of shower gel can last about 3 to 4 weeks — unless you like a lot of foam. You can find out your usage rate by filling small bottles with each of your gels and use them everyday before your next trip. Use the result as your own reference.
Note: Don't fill bottles or tubes to their brims, they will burst or spill out their contents under pressure when flying or when your backpack is being compressed. Always leave some air voids. Also, seal the gels in plastic bags, just in case they do spill out and make a mess inside your luggage.
If you are travelling with a close friend, share the gels and lighten each other's load. Don't worry about quantity, you can replenish toiletry gels almost anywhere, so there is no need to carry too much.
Alternatively, you can omit bringing gels and buy them after reaching your destination. These items can be so much cheaper than in your hometown, especially if you are from Europe or the United States. However, there may be chances that you will not be able to find your preferred types and in small bottles.
5. Bring Correct Power Adapter
When getting power adapters for electronic devices, most travellers will do the easiest thing: get one with the most types of adapting plugs and sockets that can be used in most countries around the world and save the trouble once and for all. That multi-plug adapter usually comes in a size that is big enough to house all odd-shape plugs — not to mention its weight and cost.
Multi-plug adapter (S$15), 3-pin adapter (S$1) and a 2-pin adapter (S$1).
If you are travelling in one country, you will most likely be using just one of the bulky adapter's plugs, and the others are just white elephants. Also, one multi-plug adapter can power or charge only one device at a time.
Being bulky and heavier also has another problem: it can't fit well in worn-out wall sockets that are commonly found in old accommodations. The weight of the adapter will pull itself out of the wall socket!
Before going on trips, do some homework and find out which kind of plugs (or sockets) are commonly used in your travel destinations and get the specific adapters for your devices. Single-plug adapters are usually much smaller in size and, being lightweight and specifically-designed, can fit well in wall sockets, even worn-out ones. They are also so much cheaper than the multi-plug version. Furthermore, you can bring along a couple of these adapters and charge up to two devices at the same time.
6. Share Batteries
Assuming you have a torchlight that needs 2 AAA batteries and a shaver that needs 2 AA batteries. That will be 4 batteries in total to weigh down your backpack. Why not change that torchlight — it's cheaper — with one that needs just 1 AA battery? Then, you will need 3 AA batteries for both devices.
Let's say you want to bring along a battery-powered fan that uses 2 AA batteries. That will be 5 AA batteries in total. But 5 batteries are heavy.
Will you need to use the torchlight, the shaver and the fan at the same time? No? That means you will need just 2 AA batteries at any one time! Get the drift?
To put it simply, select equipment that use only one type of battery as best as you can. This will reduce the number of batteries you have to carry on the trip and save yourself some money too. Don't carry spares, batteries are easily available anywhere — except button cell batteries. If you are bringing devices that use button cell batteries, do bring spares. They are very light anyway.
7. Share Charger / Charging Cable
Sharing of charger or charging cable has the same concept as sharing batteries. For example, iPhones have the same charging cable as iPad Mini, so they can share a charger and cable. In this way, devices that share same charger and/or charging cable will reduce the need to bring all chargers and cables of different devices on trips.
When getting new devices to bring on trips, try to get those that can use a common charger and/or charging cable. However, by sharing charger or cable, only one device can be charged or powered up at any one time. This will not be an issue if only one device needs to be charged at a time.
If there is a need to charge multiple devices at the same time, get USB devices that can be charged through USB ports. In this way, a USB charger with a multi-USB adapter will be able to charge multiple devices at once. But respective charging cable will still be needed for each device — cables are still lighter than chargers. This method is also better if there is only one power point available in the room.
8. Reduce Size of Power Bank
As mobile technology evolves, mobile devices get more functions and they become more power hungry. As a result, mobile users get power banks with higher ratings to feed their devices. But, higher-rating power banks are bulky and heavy.
When taking flights, power banks and batteries are not allowed in check-in baggage. Power banks above certain ratings will also be confiscated (IATA recommended less than 100Wh). Individual countries may have their own aviation laws against high-rating power banks and it is tedious to check the law of each country you want to travel to.
To prevent your power bank from being confiscated and also to reduce the weight in your luggage, get a smaller power bank with ratings not exceeding 20,000mAh for travel use. Most electronic devices use around 5 volts. (5V x 20Ah = 100Wh)
I actually use a 5,200mAh (8Wh) power bank that can provide one or two charges for my mobile phone when needed. And I will charge up my phone in the accommodations every night. If you minimise unnecessary usage of your mobile devices when touring during the day, you will not need a high-rating power bank.
My mini power bank comes with a LED light, so I save on bringing a torchlight too.
9. Replace Guide Book with E-Guide
Guide books are heavy and bulky to bring on trips, but most travellers relied a lot on these books while on the roads, having done little read up prior to the trips. And if you are on a journey that will take you across several countries, how many guide books do you intend to bring along?
Guide books are usually for general reference and cannot keep you updated with the latest developments — especially political or religious matters that you may need to be aware of to stay out of unnecessary troubles.
Undeniably, guide books are valuable resources for planning trips, so use them to plan itineraries before the trip — not on the trip. Jot down a rough itinerary on where and how to go places and roughly what to do at each location. Then, go on the trip without those heavy books. Alternatively, download electronic versions of the relevant guides and store them on your mobile phone.
When on the trip, interact with locals, accommodation staff and fellow travellers for more information on the hows, wheres, whats and whens. They can provide valuable information from their experiences or knowledge that couldn't make it into the guide books — which are usually published months, if not years, ago.
10. Leave Laptop at Home
Planning to bring a laptop, including its heavy charger, to a holiday? What is so important that you will need to be on a laptop and cannot wait until after the trip?
The weight of a laptop and its charger can easily add 2-3 kilograms to your luggage. And if you don't feel safe leaving it in a hotel room, you will probably carry it in your backpack all day when touring around. It is not worth the hassles to lug one everywhere but use it once a while.
Some travellers did end up not using their laptops at all and regretted bringing them in the first place — they could not dump them, of course.
Alternatively, get a light and small tablet or an iPad Mini. If you use an iPhone, get an iPad Mini that can share the same charging cable (see no. 7), but you will not be able to charge both devices at the same time.