How do you define ultralight backpacking?
Sure it’s minimalist packing, but everyone seems to have their own definition of this idea. After all, on my 2010 Asian Adventure I thought I was packing light… I had enough sets of fresh clothes for 5 days and enough shirts for a week!
Want to know the secret that I discovered to ultralight packing? It’s something so amazingly simple yet I bet you won’t be a fan of it! I sure wasn’t when I was first presented with the idea but I quickly became a huge proponent!
The secret to ultralight backpacking is to do your own laundry.
You’re probably thinking, “…What, WHAT? How do I do my own laundry??”
Easy, you pack a universal drain stopper, which takes up practically no room, a little detergent and use your bathroom sink!
Now, I know that this sounds like a totally crazy concept. But if you don’t do your own laundry (or have your laundry done every-other day), there simply is no way to pack ultralight!
Sink laundry is quite simple really…
1. Cover the drain
2. Start filling the sink with warm water
3. Add a few drops of detergent—the water will start to foam up
4. When sink is nearly full, turn off water
5. Insert clothing into sink and let soak for a minute or so
6. Rinse clothing items individually, wringing them out as much as possible
7. Roll items in a towel to remove as much moisture as possible
8. Hang items up to dry. If you invest in quick drying gear, they’ll be dry in a few hours! And if you bring a small, elastic clothesline, it will help you in this process!
Now, why is this necessary? From a realistic standpoint, you don’t need to pack any more than 2 sets of base clothes…1 to wash, 1 to wear. After I drastically downsized halfway through my 2010 Asian Adventure, my clothing packing list was as follows:
- 3 Icebreaker T-Shirts (merino wool–odor resistant and fast drying)
- 3 pairs of ExOfficio Underwear (odor resistant and fast drying)
- 3 pairs of Merino wool socks (odor resistant and fast drying)
- 2 pairs of nylon convertible travel pants (not jeans, which will never dry overnight! These guys are lightweight and fast drying)
- 1 swimsuit (doubled as something to sleep in)
- 1 pair of Merino Wool long underwear (warm, odor resistant and fast drying)
- 1 SmartWool long sleeve shirt (moisture wicking, warm, odor resistant and fast drying)
- 1 fleece top (lightweight)
- 1 Mountain Hardware soft shell jacket w/ separate Mountain Hardwear fleece vest for warmth
- 1 hat (appropriate for use in the rain)
- 1 pair of REI Rain Pants (which fit into its own pocket)
(If you noticed that my list is heavy on Merino wool products, there’s a good reason for that! It’s the best fabric for traveling and you can read more about that here!)
See, I faced a packing challenge. My travels took me from subtropical temperatures in Southeast Asia to upwards of 16,000 feet or 4,876 meters in the Himalayas. This required a smart layering system that I just barely accomplished (I was definitely wearing every single item I’d brought at those higher altitudes!).
But the key here is that the only way I could travel with so few articles of clothing is to wash them frequently!
Let me let you in on another little secret though. One word: “antimicrobial”
This special treatment for clothing lets you wear your clothes longer before they start to smell. Now, with polyester clothing this is a nasty series of chemicals. But Merino wool is naturally anti-microbial and won’t stink at the end of the day like that polyester stuff does!
I know, I know, I’m suggesting that you wear “dirty” clothes. But think about it… The longer you wear your clothes, the less laundry you have to do! And let’s think about this realistically… It’s not like you’re going to be seeing the same people very much so who cares if you wear the same thing! And if it doesn’t smell, then you really don’t need to wash it after one use, now do you?
You’re probably reading this thinking that I’m absolutely nuts. Sorry, but if you want to pack ultralight you have to leave those stylish clothes at home…seriously nobody will care if you don’t look cute!
And as for washing your own clothes in the sink? Trust me…you’ll get used to it real quick!
What are your secrets to packing light?
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