I was recently asked by a listener if I had a recommendation on a backpack for her 17 yo son. He likes long hikes. Any tips or advices would be appreciated. I will come back to this question at the end of the episode. The question sparked several reminders of my own packing and backpack stories- looking for the right gear for the trip. In short the answer is never in the gear.
To share the human side of my packing journey I once packed a full size iron on a short trip to New York City (while staying with my cousin). I once packed all of my kids outfits including my daughter’s hair pretties in gallon sized ziploc bags (I like to call those poor-man’s packing cubes), and my greatest packing success was fitting 2 adults and 3 kids traveling for 7 days in 2 rolling carryon bags. Then there was pandemic packing when we packed everything including toilet paper, nonperishable food items and cleaning supplies. I guess you could say we packed everything including the kitchen sink.
After years of adventuring with kids, here are some of my tips to help you pack lighter
- Reuse the same packing list over and over again. 80% of the item don’t change
- Use the Capsule wardrobe concept: what 5 items can I wear to create 10 different looks?
- Change looks with jewelry (earrings or necklace can change a look, so can a hat or vest for the outdoorsy)
- What are the most comfortable items you own
- The only things you need to “pack extra” are underwear and perhaps socks.
- Favor thin moisture wicking material. It rolls easily and usually doesn’t hold wrinkles. It’s also easy to add or remove layers as needed. I have worn up to 4 layers before.
- Traveled south we tend to leave bulky winter jackets behind and favor several layers + our rain jackets that are thin, waterproof and windproof.
- With the exception of a few remote places, you can usually find something you need or forgot at a local convenience store. Sometimes those pinch purchases become your favorites.
- It’s easy to fill space if you have it. Challenge yourself to start with the smallest pack or bag and go from there.
- The more you pack the heavier and more cumbersome it will be. More luggage requires a bigger car, more hands and makes maneuvering (especially with kids) more stressful.
- What aspects of your luggage can be go-ready? Do you have a toiletry bag packed and easy to grab and go? In the case of our trip to Seattle with kids, I wanted the mornings to be easy. While perhaps over the top having 1-2 grab and go outfits packed so if you just need an overnight you don’t have to scrounge through your large suitcase to find the items you need. When we have a late night travel we usually pack a first night bag where everyone’s PJ, toothbrushes and anything need for that first night and next morning are all in one bag so we can simply grab that one bag as opposed to going through several.
- Be cautious in making vacation a first time experience using the items in your pack. Things might look vacation worthy, but can lead to a miserable experience.
- My youngest is extremely particular about tactile things like how his socks fit and the type of material. We asked him to help us pack for Cleveland for a weekend (granted he was 3). When we got there he would not wear any of the clothes we packed. He had one outfit that he would wear. We let him wear it 2 days in a row and since we were just there for a long weekend we decided to wash it and wear it again.
- Daytona 500 with my husband I used a new sunscreen, a really good one for sensitive skin. I ended up having an allergic reaction to the sunscreen and that afternoon my forehead, ears and neck began itching uncontrollably. It spread all the way to my stomach before it finally began to subside over a month later.
The act of packing for a trip can also be a metaphor for major life decisions. It is easy to keep thinking we need to have everything we need just in case, sometimes lightening the pack will make the next step much easier to make. It’s funny, because we are a few months away from a major life decision and it seems like all we keep doing is going over the packing list. Last week I finally realized, this is the 3rd time I have been over the list. There is nothing more we need in order to move forward. In my book I refer to this as the Knowing, Doing, Being Cycle where we feel like we need to learn and study enough before we are ready to take action, or we might be doing all kinds of meaningless things that preclude us from stepping into who we are meant to be. If you can relate to this statement, sit down for 5 minutes with a paper and pen and just dump everything out of your brain. Every fear, every question, every responsibility, every wish, every thought. When you feel like your brain is empty just leave it and walk away- no requirement to sort, assign or do anything with the list. A week later take a fresh piece of paper and do it again without looking at the first list? How do the lists compare? Which ones are taking up most of brain capacity. If you feel stuck after that, contact me. I often work with people to help coach them through little steps to design their ideal life. My specialty is designing an adventurous life with kids (and as a reminder my husband and I still work full-time).
I want to come back to the message requesting my recommendation for a good backpack for her son.
I always want to meet people where they are at and without asking a ton of questions. My response was:
Don’t overthink it. You can backpack with just about any backpack and be fine. I try not to focus on gear. But, I want to respect your question as you are asking for my insights. I am not brand loyal. We have an Osprey bag that we bought on FB marketplace and a Kelty pack that we bought a long time ago. Things I would look for are waterproof (note waterproof zippers are a pain to open so we decided to get a waterproof cover), also separate zipper access points so I can access something in the bottom of the pack without having to unpack everything. We don’t do multi-day hikes where you need to pack out massive amounts of water. If he is interested in thru-hiking (more than 3-4 days) in the wilderness, should also consider how he is going to carry and consume water.
We have some of our favorite items and brands, but that is what works for us. I would rather determine what is of value to you. I hope this episode helps you see that you don’t need special gear, the right things, or everything including the kitchen sink to have a good experience. If you aim for a deep awareness of what you value, how to optimize key things that are comfortable for you, and use less time and energy thinking about the stuff- it’s an opportunity to be a little lighter heading into your next adventure experience. By letting go of the baggage holding us in place we make room to receive the next opportunity.