My New Backpack is 1/3 the Size of My Old One. Am I Crazy??

Traveling light is a mantra to live by. While I always heard this statement, I never quite took it to heart. That is, until I had to hike up a mountain with my full, 45 pound (20.4 kilogram) pack on just to find some accommodation for the night!

But here’s the thing. Before I set off on that trip, I thought I was packing light. After all, I had taken only enough clothes to last me 5 days and only the guidebooks I needed. It looked like I had space because my backpack had a whopping 90 liter capacity. When full, it came up past my neck and was wider than I am!

All over Asia, people would remark about the behemoth on my back. I watched other backpackers going by with 50 or 60 liter packs and even a few who would breeze in with ultralight packs, including one French-Canadian fellow who trekked through the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces in China with all of his stuff on his back!

He served as a great inspiration to me and since my return home I have been in the market for the perfect new backpack. I was looking for small, really small, like small enough to be a carry-on bag. I also wanted something comfortable and that came with an integrated rain cover, all of which my old backpack lacked.

So I set out to wander through one of my favorite stores in the world…REI. As I perused their extensive backpack collection, something definitely caught my eye. It was considerably smaller. So much so that it’s 1/3 the size of my original pack: The Deuter Futura 32 (pictured above).

So just how much smaller is it physically! Well, just look at this side to side picture with my old backpack!

And look at how much thinner it is than my old backpack!

I’ve shrunk 90 liters down to a mere 32! But size wasn’t all this pack had going for it! With pockets galore, there are plenty of handy spots to stash things. Unlike other top loading packs, its main compartment can be sealed off into two, with the lower one being accessible from the front. And best of all? Deuter’s “Aircomfort System,” which creates a space between the pack and your back! It’s the perfect solution to avoid sweating up a storm while wearing it!

So now the question is, am I crazy to have done this? I mean 1/3 less space than I had last time around? I don’t think so.

When I spent 4 days CouchSurfing in Salt Lake City last month, I took a bare minimum–2 outfits, one of which I wore on the plane. I packed everything, including toiletries, my travel towel and my super handy silk sleeping bag (which works fantastically well as basic bedding), into a very small daypack and even had room for a book, netbook and water.

Why is this relevant? Well, why exactly do you need to pack much more for a 6 month trip than you do for a 4 day one? It’s not like many people are going to see you wearing the same clothes over and over again. Take along some detergent and wash you clothes in the bathroom sink. Trust me, I know it sounds “weird,” but it’s a great thing to do! If you get things that will dry quickly (i.e. not denim), they’ll dry overnight.

Traveling in cold climates? Winter clothes can be really bulky! That’s why you should invest in some good lightweight gear (REI is a FANTASTIC place to find this stuff!). The name of the game is lightweight layering. Do be forewarned though that good outdoor gear can get quite expensive. And trust me, it’s definitely worth it!

So do I know for a fact that I can fit my life into 32 liters? No. But given all of this, I certainly think I can. And you know what? Now that I have the pack, I don’t have much of a choice but to make it work! Now…somewhere to go to try out my new gear….hmmmm….

Next time you go for backpacking, ask yourself this: Are you ready to climb a mountain with your pack? If not, pack less!

What do you think? Am I crazy for shrinking my backpack this much? What are your space-saving tips and thoughts on ultralight travel?

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35 Responses to My New Backpack is 1/3 the Size of My Old One. Am I Crazy??

  1. Ayngelina January 8, 2011 at 11:02 am #

    I travel with a 65L with no daypack but I think I could easily go down to a 45L and it will be the next pack I get.

    • Aaron January 8, 2011 at 2:06 pm #

      See I don’t think I could totally eliminate a day pack. There’s certain things I prefer to always carry with me (like my netbook). I’m interested in finding one of those collapsible ones that becomes really small!

  2. Lisa E @chickybus January 8, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    I think you’re smart, actually! I have a medium-sized backpack (no body bag, that’s for sure, and smaller than your last one), which has a removable day pack. I’ve had it for 10 years and it seems to work well. The brand is Eagle Creek. I do wish it had some extra compartments, though.

    Yours looks great. Definitely smaller than my current one. I think you’ll be very happy with it (even if there are a couple of minor packing challenges). There’s nothing better than traveling light and the mobility and freedom you get as a result!

    • Aaron January 8, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

      I agree! The French Canadian fellow who inspired all this showed me how he packed everything. Things went into Ziploc bags that he would then suck the air out of…

      I don’t think I’d be willing to go that far, but we shall see… (Oh and his pack was 36L, which, at the time was unfathomable to me!)

  3. Iain Mallory January 8, 2011 at 1:19 pm #

    Glad you have seen the light Aaron, going lightweight is the new nirvana, also encourages you to actually pack less and leave more at home!

    • Aaron January 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm #

      I think you’re spot on by describing it as the new nirvana as it really does feel like I’ve found enlightenment!

  4. Ryan - PauseTheMoment.com January 21, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    I’m loving your new bag! I’ll be heading over to my local REI next week and I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for that one. I’m curious to find out if they have something similar in the Online REI Outlet store. You can find amazing deals there, the only reason why they’re cheaper is because they’re the 2009 version or last years model. Who cares, right!?

    Anyways, I just returned from a 6 month RTW trip and I took the REI Mars 84L bag. Yikes! Never again, that’s for sure. I feel your pain. I’m looking for something around the size of your new bag maybe slightly bigger because I do have an 11″ netbook that I carry along with a few other electronics which may take up too much room in a 32 liter.

    Thanks for sharing this great post. Keep up the good work.

    • Aaron January 21, 2011 at 1:13 am #

      Actually the bag I got was the 2010 model so it was greatly reduced on the REI site (not the outlet and all the stores I checked only had the 2011 model). I don’t know if they still have any of the 2010 model in stock though!

      I too carry electronics including a 10″ netbook and think I’ll do fine. I travel with 2 sets of basic clothes, plus thin warm layers. It does the trick! I’m also looking into getting a collapsible day pack that I could use for netbook and a few other supplies for a day out and about. The pack I got also has a sleeve that’s intended for a hydration bladder but could work very well for a netbook!

  5. Garreth Lodge January 26, 2011 at 9:00 am #

    Love that Backpack. I have my trusty old 65l that I’m going to take with me. I bought it off ebay in 2007 for a music festival and it’s been good to me. But because I’ve never done an extended period of continuous backpacking before I’ve started to doubt it and have been looking at 40l packs instead. I think I might start out with my old trusty but can see me possibly upgrading to something smaller on the road! Great post. That Eagle Creek is hugeeeee!

    • Aaron January 28, 2011 at 11:59 pm #

      Hey Garreth,

      Sorry for the slow reply! Somehow your comment ended up in my spam filter! Glad you enjoyed the post and my new backpack! I can’t wait to try it out myself! I think the issues with the capcacity of your pack is less about how long you travel but the experiences you have carrying it! I discovered fairly early on that I was in a bad situation when I had to hike with my pack on and that wasn’t terribly dependent on how long I was traveling for. Unless you’re concerned about having to bring more stuff for a longer trip? Still, why do you need more for if you travel for a year than if you traveled for a week? Sure different climates pose challenges, but that’s where that pricey (and thin) warm gear comes in handy! I’ll be curious to hear if you feel inspired to take the plunge for a smaller pack!

  6. Alex Rascanu January 26, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

    I still laugh when I think about the huge backpack I used on a 2 months trip to Europe 2 years ago. As we become more experienced regarding travel, our backpacks get lighter and lighter.

    • Aaron January 26, 2011 at 9:53 pm #

      Hahaha what a true statement! And I can totally fit into my old backpack! Yikes!

  7. Nick Laborde January 28, 2011 at 12:07 pm #

    When I went to REI to get my pack, I told them my plans. The first thing they tried to sell me was a 90L pack. They said that’s what every one uses on an extended RTW trip. I said “HELL NO!” I did a lot pf research on what different travelers were using. Not one of them said they wish they had a bigger pack, actually they said they wish they had a smaller one.

    I ended up with a Gregory Z55, which I still think is a little big. I love Lisa’s description “Body bag”, that’s right on.

    • Aaron January 28, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

      I was given the exact same advice before buying my first backpack. “Get one as big as you can.” I was young and naive so I took all the advice I could get. Of course, this was back in 2006 and I hadn’t even heard of a travel blog before! You’re smart to have avoided their advice! 55L seems to be a good size for a starter. Spend enough time wtith it and you just may want to downsize to ultralight, like me!

  8. Micah January 29, 2011 at 12:03 pm #

    Great post, Aaron. I just recently went through this debate myself. I slimmed down from the 85L pack I took to Central America to a 55L pack for a much more extended upcoming trip to SE Asia. Less is definitely more. Maybe I’ll take the plunge and knock it down to 32 one of these days!

    • Aaron January 29, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

      Hehe thanks! Glad your making your own slim down! I kinda feel like I’m skipping the middle size and going right in the “deep end.” Though I know that I can make 32L work. After all, I don’t have much of a choice now!

  9. Maria Pavel January 30, 2011 at 10:34 pm #

    Hi Aaron,

    You sure travel a lot if you need and have such huge backpacks. I think you shrinked your backpack too much, lol, I don’t think that you will be satisfied with a smaller backpack. What tips can I give you for space saving and thoughts on aultralight travel…. Hmm…. well, try to make your backpack in the order of priorities, start with the bare necessities, and after, the more non-that important stuff. Always have water and you cellphone with you, no matter what. My thoughts on ultralight travel… well, I don’t really know, my only advice on ultralight travels is to … enjoy them!

    Best regards,

    Maria

    • Aaron January 30, 2011 at 11:38 pm #

      Hi Maria,

      Haha well I’m getting rid of the big backpack and sticking with the new small one. Why don’t you think I’ll be satisfied with the smaller one though? The key in my mind is to pack minimalist. I don’t need more than 2 sets of clothes…one to wash and one to wear. Aside from that, it’s just toiletries and electronics. Doesn’t sound too hard, at least in theory!

      Aaron

  10. Teresa G. January 30, 2011 at 11:45 pm #

    I think downsizing is great; it’s the start to getting used to packing less! At first I purchased a larger bag and at the last minute exchanged it for a bag one size smaller and I’m starting to feel this big might be big already!

    It all depends on how well you know yourself; what kind of trips you will be taking.

    Now, anything smaller and I might be concerned!

    • Aaron January 30, 2011 at 11:50 pm #

      Haha any smaller and I’d be concerned! Of course, once I take this one out for a spin, maybe I’ll be inspired to further downsize! 😛

      I do know that I’ve had a “religious experience” on downsizing and, while I have no practical experience, I know I can make this size pack work! Glad you saw the light before it was too late!

  11. Tran January 31, 2011 at 12:23 am #

    With a smaller bag, you will be able to indulge any invitation. That in itself makes the downsize worth it in my view.

    • Aaron February 1, 2011 at 11:17 pm #

      I agree! Won’t have to worry that I won’t be able to do something cuz I don’t want to lug my bag around! Definitely ran into some situations like that when I was traveling with my 90L behemoth!

  12. George April 9, 2011 at 5:46 pm #

    Hi Aaron,
    This really got my thinking about what I pack for my trips. I recently went on a trip to Guilin, China and walking around with a 40 lb backpack sure made it less enjoyable. I’ll look into this model of backpack and see if I can’t cut down on some of the stuff I normally pack.

    George

    • Aaron April 9, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

      Hi George,

      I’m glad you were able to gain something for this post. My whole epiphany about traveling light came very close to Guilin at the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces near Longshen. Don’t know if you ever made it there, Much as you, I never thought about how heavy my pack was until I had to walk around with it for a while (or in my case, hike up a mountain with it!). It is very easy to cut down on what you bring by packing only two or three sets of clothes and then washing them frequently. You can even use your sink at your place of lodging, particulaly if you invest in quick drying clothes which will certainly be dry by morning.

      Good luck!
      Aaron

  13. Rosemary June 11, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

    Thanks soooo much, Aaron, for all your info. I thought I had packed light until I read your tips. We will be traveling soon to the UK, where our entire family has suddenly moved to different parts, England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. To visit all of them, the advice you gave to travel light has been a God-send, especially since my son has a medical condition and needs constant guard against microorganisms (your tips for self-laundering and antimicrobial clothing treatment). Thanks again.

    • Aaron June 12, 2011 at 4:56 am #

      Thanks Rosemary! I’m so glad you found my tips to be useful! Best of luck on your own travels and packing adventures!

  14. pats August 31, 2011 at 7:50 am #

    i took an 11 day trip recently, with only a timbuk2 h.a.l. backpack….i think it is about 32 litres and my bag weighed less than 7 kilos.
    i’m a woman in my mid-forties and the trip was a cafe/socialising/hanging out/spa/relaxing sort of trip, not maxtreme adventures in the wild.

    my packing limitations were self-imposed, thanks to travelling alone and getting over a recently broken leg.
    i had to be able to carry the bag through three airports each way, on my own.

    travel with one small bag is incredibly liberating and feels wonderfully light in every way.
    i was able to pack and go within 5 minutes. and i was self-sufficient.

    the right clothes are key.
    i found a bunch of layerable, mix and matchable, crushable, drip dry clothes in a limited palette of black/gray/white/red and i handwashed an item or two most evenings.

    i don’t care about carrying bazillions of accessories any more….i wear basic jewellery, pack a pair of fancy earrings….a couple of scarves are enough (one cotton and one wool/silk will cover most climatic conditions)…two pairs of shoes are enough.

    the ipad2 has revolutionised my travel style also.
    it is an in-flight entertainment centre. i can run my company from wherever i find myself. it is an indispensable source of travel info on the go. it is a communications centre.
    and it uses the same charger with international plus as the iphone and ipod (make sure you have the 10v one if you want to charge an ipad).
    i still carry a separate camera (a small leica).

    i have finally realised that i generally do not have to carry toiletries sufficient for the entire trip.
    just a couple of days’ worth of most things is ok.
    then i get the fun of sourcing and buying basic supplies in a foreign country and trying something new.
    for carrying shampoo etc, i like gotoobs…silicon leak-proof refillable bottles.
    i’ve used them for the last 10 or 11 trips i have taken and they are still like new.

    i pack my clothes into a waterproof drawstring bag that has a soft fleece lining….it reverses to make a great travel pillow.
    i have a few waterproof lightweight pouches and bags for my other stuff because i like to keep things contained and organised.

    • Aaron September 1, 2011 at 1:01 am #

      Wow Patti thank you so much for sharing your experience! Having now traveled with my 32 Liter pack I know just how liberating it is! Ended up walking a few miles uphill in Seattle with it and never looked back! It’s the ultimate way to travel and you’re so right that the right gear makes all the difference. I’d add to what you said that finding lightweight stuff is important too! Especially lightweight stuff that can also be very warm! It ain’t cheap, but it’s a worthy investment! And I LOVE your waterproof drawstring bag doubling as a pillow idea! That’s brilliant! Safe travels!

  15. pats September 1, 2011 at 3:55 am #

    aaron…that bag/pillow thing came from REI in seattle 3 years ago.
    we don’t have REI in australia (heck, where i live we don’t have anything beyond a pub, a grocer, a butcher and a post office) and it was about the most exciting shop i’d ever been in, in my life!
    o and i got a silk sleeping bag liner while i was there and that thing is my best friend.
    i’m chilly, my husband isn’t….i’ve got the silk, and he doesn’t.
    and it weighs almost nothing.

    have you seen the guy who travelled with just what he could carry in his pockets and his fancy-schmancy vest?
    a bit extreme for me, but i was inspired nonetheless.

    • Aaron September 1, 2011 at 7:49 am #

      Good to know! We don’t have REI in NYC yet either (but we’re getting one in a couple months which I’m so excited for!), only some subpar east coast equivalent. Yes, I also travel with one of those silk sleeping bag liners, very handy! You must be talking about those ScottVests. That I could never do! Maybe wearing a pack gives me a certain level of security…or something!

  16. pats September 1, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    on the subject of warm thin layers:
    in paris this april, my husband bought himself three merino wool t-shirts at decathlon.
    they were expensive….compared to a t-shirt….but very reasonable compared to other merino products.
    i am sure you already know about this stuff: it is thin, waaaaarrrrm, soft, machine-washable, it wicks, and it stays miraculously odour-free for ages.
    cons: it is kinda delicate and does need some care not to be snagged or have holes worn in it from rubbing straps etc.

    silk is another fibre to look out for….super-light and thin, with amazing insulating qualities.

    every now and then, as i am packing my little pack, i consider sir edmund hillary, who along with sherpa tensing, was the first man up mt everest, fifty odd years ago.
    there was no ultra-lite you-beaut whizz-bang microfibre kevlar mylar stuff around then.
    those guys did it old-skool and it must have weighed helluva lot and been damned uncomfortable.

    this weekend, i am packing for a 9 day trip to japan.
    we are going to see the autumn leaves of kyoto!
    like you, i find packing light to be a somewhat zen activity.
    i have everything laid out ritualistically on a white towel before i begin.
    my husband is coming with me. we can share toiletries and tech, which gives us both a litre or two extra space.
    i am trialling a couple of 2009 hemlock timbuk2 backpacks that i bought bnwt on ebay.
    i suspect i will like them even more than the h.a.l. which has a bit too much organisation for me.

    sorry, i have completely taken over your comments….but most people aren’t very interested in discussing the nitty gritty of packing light!

    • Aaron September 2, 2011 at 12:17 am #

      Yes, yes I’m a big proponent of merino wool…good stuff! I’m on a big anti-microbial kick too and into getting stuff that wicks away moisture too and is breathable because I sweat a whole lot!

      Fear not, I’m a total packing nerd! I’ve got a few posts about the progression of this ultralight backpacking kick that are linked above under related posts. If you want to continue this conversation, please feel free to use the Contact Me link above!

      Have a wonderful trip to Japan!

      And I bet Edmund Hillary had porters… 😛

  17. Daniël October 1, 2011 at 8:20 pm #

    I typically like to pack ultralight, also. But for my next trip in December/January I had to buy an 85L bag to carry camping gear (tent, sleeping bag, etc) … it should be interesting for sure!!!

    • Aaron October 11, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

      85L?? That’s huge!! Sounds like you’ll have lots of stuff to carry though…

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