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Our recent posting about Packing Light got us thinking more about luggage after travellers asked us for ‘plain language’ advice about how to find the right bag for their trip.
Actually this is not difficult as it may seem. There are many different styles, shapes and sizes of luggage so things such as mobility, design, colour, durability, functionality, capacity and security all have a bearing on what you select.
Before I purchase any bag I look for the following features;
- If trolley style or wheel-able I check that the ‘chassis’ is built from robust materials and that everything is put together solidly. Components are properly attached, rivets are fixed properly, zips are properly sewn and stitching is robust. I look for luggage with solid recessed wheels and avoid bags with wheels that protrude below the bag by more than 1/3 of their diameter.
- If back pack or hybrid style I check the ergonomic features of the harness system. I check the attachments, compression straps and security features. I avoid bags with features and accessories that will protrude, catch, dangle, or come loose
- Generally I look at the materials used to ensure that they are durable, I want to make sure that the corners are adequately protected and the carry handles retract or are properly fixed.
- I look for practical common sense features and I prefer luggage that is compact.
Firstly decide if you are going to check your bag or take it on board with you. If you are going to take it on board the size of your bag is limited to a maximum weight of between 7-10kg (15-22 pound) maximum length of 56 cm (22 inches), width of 45 cm (18 inches) and depth of 25 cm (10 inches) including side pockets, handles and wheels.
We have all seen travellers cramming larger bags into overhead lockers but airlines are increasingly more vigilant about what goes into overhead lockers and there is a serious move underway to standardise the size and capacity of carry-on bags. It’s best to stick to the approved size and weight.
If you are going to check your bags then style and size is likely to be decided by what you want to take and what that might weigh. For simplicity let’s limit the discussion to;
- A 2-4 week holiday that does not involve gear such tents and sleeping bags
- A 2-4 week holiday that will involve gear such tents and sleeping bags
Option 1: Without Camping Gear
If you agree with the Pack Light principles in my earlier posting then your weight limit will be around 13-15kg (28-33 pound). For luggage in this weight range I always go for something with wheels. I don’t want to waste weight and space on heavy luggage so I prefer something half way between soft and hard shell. I look for a bag with robust lockable zips and a lightweight chassis that fully accommodates the handle and has recessed wheels. I don’t expect my luggage to last longer that a couple of years so I don’t like to pay more than $100. If I can find a bag that looks like one of these examples; reasonably durable, mobile, light and robust, expandable and with no more than 2 practical front pockets I’m set.
Option 2: With Camping Gear
Camping involves bulky gear; sleeping bag, tent and sleeping mat. For this plus 13-15kg of other gear you will need a bag that will handle the weight and bulk.
You will be looking for a bag with a capacity of around 70-80Litres. There are back packs, wheeled style and hybrids to choose from as well as cargo bags. In this range of luggage your decision should be based on how you intend to get your belongings from one place to another.
If you intend to carry it on your back and want something that is also suitable for holiday and home base trekking then one of the backpack style bags will be best. Select a bag with ergonomic harness design constructed from robust and water resistant materials. Find a bag that is primarily top-loading but also has a bottom loading compartment for your sleeping bag. Avoid bags with more than one external pocket but bags with a zip pocket incorporated into the top loading lid are good. I prefer a bag that has enough internal capacity to accommodate my sleeping mat.
If you intend to wheel the bag but also want the ability to carry it comfortably on your back then select one of the Hybrid style. Look for a bag with the same features as the back pack I described above. Take care to avoid bags with a heavy chassis, wheels which protrude too far below the chassis and handles that can’t be stowed in zip up compartments. Many hybrid style bags have robust side and top mounted carry handles and many feature detachable day packs.
Finally if you don’t intend to carry the bag on your back at all then you can choose from a wide range of trolley or wheel-able luggage. It will need to be in the 70-80litre capacity to accommodate your kit. Look for a bag with a full length zip that will provide complete accessibility. Select a bag that is light weight and constructed of durable materials. Bags with robust recessed wheels and handles that collapse into zip compartments are best. Perhaps something like this will do the job
Packing for travel is never easy. There are lots of questions and many variables to sort out. Questions like; where I am going, what the weather will be like, will I use public transport, how many bags can I comfortably manage, what sort of baggage is best and what gear and clothing will I take.
When I started travelling 20 or so years ago my baggage always used to weigh around 20kg. I needed a large 75 litre bag for that amount of weight. Clothing was bulkier in those days and boots were seriously heavy. Amongst other stuff, travellers carted weighty books, heavy SLR cameras and bags of film. Now, that we live in an age of lightweight layers and digital tech all I need is around 14kg. I can get everything I need for a 6 week journey into a 40 litre bag.
I have a simple rule; I take as little as possible. It’s easier to say that than it is to achieve it but here are my self-imposed rules for preparation and packing.
- Do your research on things like climate, season and weather conditions prevailing during the time of your travels.
- Decide how you are going to get between destinations. Public ground transport options will invariably require ‘hands free’ or manoeuvrable luggage that can fit into overhead bins or racks.
- Decide on a luggage limit of two items; your main bag and your hand/shoulder bag.
- When you have answered the 3 questions above decide what type of luggage is the best solution for you. Backpack, wheel-able soft or wheel-able hard, shoulder carried or trolley style or both.
- Decide the capacity (in litres) of the luggage that is best for you. A standard full length back pack is about 70 litres, standard carry on trolley style luggage is about 25litres
- Decide on the essential gear and clothing items that you must take, make a list of the essentials then go over that list with a super critical eye. Ask ‘why is this item essential’.
- Learn about the cultural clothing norms and expectations of the places that you will visit. Take note of what is appropriate and inappropriate. Plan your wardrobe accordingly.
- Decide how you are going to pack your wardrobe; roll, fold or in one of the popular commercial cells, folders or cubes. Choose a ‘system’ that optimises space and keeps your clothes compact and tidy.
- Choose clothes that are easy to wash out and dry overnight, light versatile clothes that can be worn as layers and combinations are best
- Select items that can be combined or worn individually to suit the situation and conditions e.g. Lightweight Merino style wool long sleeved T worn against the skin in combination with a ‘technical’ lightweight windproof/waterproof shell jacket is a good combo for cool – wet conditions anywhere and a lot more versatile than a bulky rain jacket. Add a travel umbrella for downpours and shade
- Pack at least one combination for ‘dress up’ occasions when that ratty T, or travel weary jeans won’t cut the mustard.
- Take no more than 2 pair of shoes. One light pair of travel or sport sneakers or sandals plus something a bit sturdier for active use like a trek shoe or cross trainer. Toss in a pair of flip flops
Here is my standard spring /summer travel wardrobe;
- 2 pair of lightweight trek/active style travel trousers
- 1 pair lightweight travel jeans
- 1 summer weight long sleeved ‘good’ shirt
- 3 summer weight short sleeved travel style shirts
- 2 cotton short sleeved T’s
- 1 light weight Merino style wool short sleeved T
- 1 light weight Merino style wool long sleeved T
- 1 technical active wear style rain/windproof shell.
- 5 pair under wear
- 5 pair socks
- 1 pair travel sneakers or sandals
- 1 pair light trek shoes
- 1 pair swimmers
- I pack my clothes and shoes in specialised travel folders. My clothes fit easily into a single medium size garment/shirt folder. I pack my shoes, undies and socks into 3 separate shoe size tubes/cubes. I can get all this and my sundry gear into a 40litre soft shell trundle bag.
- If you need something else you can easily buy it as you travel.
Once you have your clothing sorted, think about the ‘other’ gear you will need – first aid, toilet bag, phone/camera chargers, documents,
Here are a few tips;
- Toilet gear – Take as little as possible with you. There are few places in the world where toiletries and cosmetics can’t be purchased locally. If you have particular preferred brands then decant into small containers. The same rule applies to toothpaste, shampoo, gels and creams.
- First Aid – Pack only your prescription meds and over the shelf items that are essential. There are 4 common ailments that travellers should be prepared to deal with.
- Travellers Tummy
- General infections
- Wounds and scrapes
Ask your GP to prescribe an antibiotic for respiratory infections and an antibacterial for gut infections. Include an over the counter antibacterial cream plus a supply of band aids, wound dressings and tape. We also recommend an anti-nausea medication in tab form and a few sachets of electrolyte replacement powder. A simple kit like this will be good for most common travel ailments.
- Documents –save documents onto your phone, pad or tablet – If you don’t use this type of device, take the minimum number of hard copy documents.
- Chargers – nowadays, most electronics charge via a USB cable which saves having to take bulky gear. For phones and tablets buy a multi plug travel charger with at least two USB slots. Some cameras can be charged by USB cables but many still rely on the clunky battery charging station and cables. Take only the essentials.
- Laundry stuff – take a small ziplock sandwich bag of laundry powder, a universal sink plug, a mini scrub brush and a length of elasticated travel clothes line which does not require pegs plus a couple of inflatable clothes hangers.
- Sun protection – Take a ‘scrunchable’ wide brimmed hat or peak cap, a collapsible travel style umbrella and a good sunscreen cream.
- Gadgets – In my main bag I usually stow a lightweight multi tool and a micro torch or small headlamp along with a few spare batteries. I take a small roll of ‘gaffer’ tape and a small selection of plastic zip ties for emergency repairs.