There seem to two types of ‘packers’ in this world: the last-minuters, who leave everything till the eleventh hour and end up frantically throwing all their gear into a bag in a three-minute, panicked blur of chaotic disorganisation; and the packing geeks, who diligently start getting organised a week in advance, making spreadsheets, obsessively laying out neat piles of kit, and refining and re-refining their set-up OCD-style until perfection is achieved. Which one are you?
No matter which camp you’re in, packing for an expedition is an important stage of your journey: it’s when the excitement and anticipation of your trip should kick in. Whenever I grab my Osprey Rolling Transporter 90 and and Archeon 25 day pack (as pictured below), I start to get excited about the adventure ahead. But, sadly, the stress of deciding what to take (and what not to take) often puts a dampener on many people’s pre-getaway buzz.
Fear not, however. Whether you’re off backpacking around the world, away for a weekend in Snowdonia, or spending a week touring Scotland, we’ve set out a list of 10 genius tips and tricks to help you travel like a pro. These expedition packing hacks cover everything from organisation, security, waterproofing, freshness and much more. Follow them and the only thing left to do is let the adventure commence!
1. Don’t over-pack, don’t under-pack - hit the sweet spot instead
This is the most difficult thing to get right. You don’t want to forget something you’ll end up really needing, but equally you don’t want to be weighed down by a bulging duffel bag full of stuff you end up never using.
In truth, you are probably more likely to over-pack (most people do) – to avoid this simply lay out everything you think you need, and then halve it (it sounds drastic but it works!).
2. Ask yourself ‘do I really need this?’
A classic mistake is thinking ‘I’ll take this just in case’. It leads to over-packing. Remember that it’s highly unlikely they’ll be a heatwave in Scotland in February, or a cold snap in Morocco in summer. Ditch anything that’s a ‘just in case’ item and reduce any multiple items (pack three pairs of pants, not six). And if you’re absolutely desperate, you can always buy something during your travels.
3. Making a packing tick-list
One of the best ways to ensure you don’t forget anything is to make a packing list. Brainstorm everything you need first and then, when the time comes for packing, tick things off as they go into your bag. Keep a separate last-minute list (put it by your door) to ensure you remember those last minute essentials – keys, wallet, phone, etc – before you leave.
4. Get your Tetris on – use packing cubes
It’s sod’s law that whenever you need something from your bag, it immediately migrates to a hidden, unreachable crevice of your duffel or the darkest, deepest depths of your backpack. Avoid this infuriating phenomenon by using packing cubes – lightweight sacks for storing and separating your gear, enabling you to find things easier. They also fit neatly, Tetris-style, into your bag.
5. Become a packing cube master
For pro-level packing cube organisation, use colour-coded cubes for easier identification; pack the kit you need first at the top of your bag; keep heavier packing cubes at the wheeled end of your duffel bag/suitcase to improve stability and prevent crushing other items; and fill any dead space in your bag with smaller items (e.g. socks) to avoid items moving around in transit.
6. Be efficient with space
Using every last bit of space is a crucial packing skill. Save space, for example, by rolling up socks and placing them inside your shoes. Another space-saving tactic is to use vacuum compression packs, from which air can be squeezed out, thus enabling you to pack more efficiently in a compact space.
7. Roll don’t fold – and avoid creasing your clothes
It’s pretty annoying when you’ve packed crisply ironed clothes, only to arrive at your destination to discover a million creases. But you can dodge this bullet by rolling rather folding when you’re packing. It’s a tried-and-tested crease-avoidance tactic. Another strategy is to mostly pack travel-friendly clothes made from crease-free fabrics, rather than woven fabrics like cotton which are prone to wrinkling.
8. Keep your gear smelling fresh – use tumble dryer sheets
One risk of putting everything in the same duffel bag is that unsavoury odours from some items (e.g. your trainers) can be transferred to your clean clothes. Help to keep your bag and clothes smelling fresh – just like a ‘summer breeze’ or ‘lavender fields’ – by placing tumble dryer sheets in your bag. Alternatively use potpourri sachets or scented drawer liners
9. Separate the clean and the dirty – take a laundry bag
Set aside a plastic bag, laundry bag or tote bag for your dirty laundry. Place a couple of tumble dryer sheets inside it and seal it, thus separating your clean and unclean gear, and avoiding any bad smells contaminating the rest of your stuff. If your duffel bag or backpack has a side compartment, use that for a further barrier between the clean and the dirty.
10. Everything else – this list could go on and on
This list of packing tips could be seemingly endless. Everyone has their own little hacks and strategies to get the most out of their travels. So here is a quick hit-list of other top tricks:
- carry a spare set of clothes in your hand luggage, in case your hold bag is lost
- layer plastic dry cleaning bags between clothes so they slide, rather than snag, in transit
- place disposable shower caps over the base of your shoes to avoid them staining clothes
- organise your electrical items in zip-lock bags – stops them being loose and fiddly
- be tech-savvy: kindle instead of book, tablet instead of laptop, means big space savings
- weigh and measure your luggage – don’t fall foul of airline restrictions
- luggage tags – add your address to luggage, they’re vital if it’s ever lost
- personalise your luggage – use tags, belts, ribbons or stickers to make your bag stand out
- keep your valuables safe – use a bumbag or money belt and always keep it on your person
- store toiletries in a watertight bag – then if they leak, they won’t spill everywhere
- save space by carrying mini-versions of toiletries - no need for full bottles
- carry a reusable water bottle – you can fill it at the airport and it’s good for the planet
- bring gaffer tape – it will help you with a myriad of different repairs
- remember to follow the airport liquid rules – use a transparent, zip-lock bag
- carry a mini padlock to secure your suitcase while it’s in transit
- pack layers rather than a really big coat – it gives you more flexibility for all weathers
- if you’re travelling to somewhere wet, get a waterproof bag cover
- pack less clothes but take travel washing detergent and do your laundry on the road
- take dual-purpose items - a coat that doubles as a travel pillow provides double the benefit
Published 17/07/2020. Edited 30/06/2021.