The 32 Liter Packing Challenge!

Packing is like Zen to me. It’s an activity that brings me great calm, as I work to perfect what I would consider to be an art form. But this time was different. This was the time I truly put my new “ultralight backpacking” mentality to test!

You see, in December I drastically downsized from a whopping 90 liter backpack to a pint-sized 32 liter one. Sure, I’d been on 4-day trips since, but I always took a small daypack. But this was no weekend trip. This was a 17-day adventure on the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada, all centered around the TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) conference, which I will be attending later this week in Vancouver.

Despite all the talk about downsizing, I had never actually packed my new backpack…yet. So when I took to it, I discovered something that wasn’t completely unexpected. It wasn’t easy!

Mastering the Fit

Packed Deuter Futura 32
Fitting everything into a 32 liter pack is like assembling a puzzle as you struggle to find a carefully placed nook and crevice for that last little item. Fortunately, my new Deuter Futura 32 has plenty of pockets, though this process was made even more difficult by one it’s signature features…its Air Comfort system, which provides a gap between the pack and your back which allows air to circulate. I’m a huge fan of this, but it does have one disadvantage…the back of the pack interior is curved, forcing you to be even more creative with placement!

Maybe I’m just crazy, but to add to challenge, I was determined to get myself into one bag. That’s not to say I didn’t have a daypack with me…I have a Sea to Summit daypack that collapses down to almost nothing and attaches to my backpack. But for the purpose of getting to the airport (where I would re-pack the daypack to hold things like my netbook at my feet), I wanted to prove to myself that I could in fact put everything in my backpack. And you know what? I did! (Though since I originally wrote this post, I’ve added an actual daypack so I could keep my valuables at my feet and went with the slim Osprey Talon 11)

My Packing List

So, without further ado, how did I pack a 32L pack? Here’s what’s in it (including what I’m wearing on any particular day), revised to show my latest fascination with Merino Wool products:

If you happen to have noticed that I didn’t quite follow my own “one to wash, one to wear” philosophy (brining no more than 2 of everything) you’d be correct. There were some clothes that I needed to pick up at REI in Seattle that are included in this count.

So there you have it! My success at the 32 Liter Packing Challenge! I’d like to leave you with a memorial to the items that didn’t quite make the cut…

Baseball cap & polo shirt…you’re gone (well back in NYC) but certainly not forgotten!

How have you had to get creative with your packing situations?

P.S. I’ve only highlighted products in this post that I actually use and love. If you buy any of these products through the links on this page, I receive a small percentage of the sale. It doesn’t cost you anything extra and you’re supporting all the work I’ve put in to this site over the years! How cool is that??

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30 Responses to The 32 Liter Packing Challenge!

  1. Jacs_13 June 7, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    Too funny, glad u downsized!

    • Aaron June 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm #

      ME TOO!

  2. Skott - Get Up & Globe June 7, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    Aaron – I am jealous! I have also bought the Deuter, but mine is a 55+10L for our RTW adventure…try as I may, I am struggling to bring my packing list down any tighter…but I will use your list as inspiration and see what I can do…

    • Aaron June 7, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

      The key is to pack two sets of clothes and do your laundry in the sink on a very regular basis….Good luck!

  3. Amanda June 7, 2011 at 7:23 pm #

    Very impressive indeed!

    I went to New Zealand (in the pre-winter) for 2 weeks with a 36-liter backpack. It was incredibly difficult! I’m usually a chronic overpacker, so it took me quite a few tries to make everything fit (including my 15-inch Macbook Pro). But I eventually did, and didn’t regret it, since it meant not having to check any luggage on my way there.

    Granted, I ended up accumulating a few things along the way, and had to check my backpack on the way home. But I still traveled lighter than I ever have before, and was really proud of myself!

    • Aaron June 7, 2011 at 7:25 pm #

      That’s great Amanda! It really is a pretty incredible feeling! My first day in Seattle I ended up walking all the way up Queen Anne Hill (which is REALLY steep) with my pack, which I never could have done before! It was a great affirmation that I made the right choice!

  4. Jade June 14, 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    Very impressed! I once packed 30 clothing items into a small carry on and thought that was a good packing challenge- I have nothing on you! ps. miss you already! 🙂

    • Aaron June 15, 2011 at 2:41 am #

      Thanks Jade! I was impressed I could do it! And missing you too! Greetings from Tofino on Vancouver Island!

  5. Charu June 16, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    I cannot believe you crammed all this stuff into a backpack. I have to carry a roll on at all times because I’m paranoid about creasing etc. It’s pretty stylish too!

    • Aaron June 16, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

      The key is to invest in fancy clothes that don’t wrinkle… 😛

  6. Richie June 27, 2011 at 4:37 pm #

    I’m about to head off for 30 days with a 35 litre bag, not too worried about the fitting everything in! I’m a minimalist!

    • Aaron June 27, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

      Hooray! Good luck!

  7. Lee June 27, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    This is brilliant. I’m going on my first solo trip to Europe and almost got the exact same pack! But I looked inside and couldn’t for the life of me feel comfortable with the size. I ended up with a 36L! The little extra room makes all the difference 😀

    Thanks for sharing this! Very inspiring!

    • Aaron June 27, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

      Thanks! You can cram a surprisingly large amount into that small space, and the extra pockets really help a lot! Good luck with your 36L!

  8. JC June 27, 2011 at 7:15 pm #

    That’s great Aaron! Good to hear more people making it work with a much smaller pack.

    I’m looking at downsizing my backpack as well to less than 40L (from 55L) so I won’t have to check it in. I’m currently leaning towards an Osprey Kestrel 38, but will now check out that Deuter Futura backpack next time I visit my local REI. Can’t wait to try it out on my next trip!

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Aaron June 27, 2011 at 11:23 pm #

      Ah, I was also eyeing a similarly sized Osprey. The featured were so close to Deuter’s that it was almost like splitting hairs. The selling feature for me was that the Deuter had the ability to divide the main compartment into two, allowing you front access to the lower section. It’s great for dirty clothes or toiletries! Enjoy your trip to REI! I can’t wait till we finally get on in NYC in the fall!

  9. Kelsey August 1, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    I’ve now spent 6 weeks in France, with another 3 to come, with only a 40L pack and my camera bag. It’s easier than you’d think, if you pack carefully, roll your clothes, and choose things that compress well.

    • Aaron August 1, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

      Indeed it is easier than most people think. It’s all about being organized and having the right gear. And the freedom of having such a light pack is worth its weight in gold!

  10. Erin December 5, 2011 at 4:02 am #

    I’ve been travelling with a 30 litre backpack for 21 months now and wouldn’t have it any other way. I love just having one bag to worry about and being able to take it on planes and buses with me.

    • Aaron December 5, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

      Well, unfrotunately, I like to travel with a small Swiss Army Knife when I travel, which means I can’t carry my pack onto a plane. But how amazingly light and small it is I’ve found to be super useful…like when I try and do crazy things like walking around town with it for hours! Glad to hear you like your pack!

  11. Jennifer October 24, 2013 at 5:04 pm #

    Aaron, I appreciate your packing tips, coming from the perspective of drastically downsizing from an oversize pack. With an open mind, any kind of traveler (with kids, or older) can adapt and downsize. After years of checking luggage and coming back home with twice as much as I left with, I have seen the light. I thought that with two small children, our annual international flights “required” plenty of stuff, and heavy, check-in luggage. Now that they are big enough to carry more of their own things, Mommy does not need to be a pack mule—I probably never should have been one in the first place! We are starting to fly more for pleasure travel, and although my husband is not aware of my obsessing/scheming about one-bag travel, I know that we will want to travel more, just by carrying along less. He usually throws his stuff in a small backpack, while I pack a large suitcase for me and my daughters, out of habit. No more! Epiphany is not too strong a word, and I can see how that happened for you, on that mountain road with a huge pack. I went to Malaysia alone for 10 days once, with a very small backpack, and it was the best. It is possible to get back to that point. Thanks again for your tips. (Merino wool all the way!)

    • Aaron October 25, 2013 at 1:45 am #

      Thanks for sharing your story Jennifer! I’m really impressed that you’ve made the one bag strategy work for you with young kids in tow! Must have been no fun being their pack mule though! It really is liberating though to not have to worry so much about your luggage! I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve had to kill time at a destination waiting to meet a CouchSurfing host or friend. Or how many times I, after spending hours upon hours of sitting on a bus, train or plane have opted to walk a few kilometers with my stuff rather than take a taxi. Neither of those options would have been possible with my oversized pack.

      The whole theory, though, is that you don’t need more for 3 days for 10 days worth of travel. Or even for 3 months worth of travel! Sure, seasons make a bit of a difference, but that small backpack that got you through 10 days in Malaysia could get you through an infinite amount of days anywhere! And glad to hear you too have discovered the joys of Merino Wool! Cheers!

  12. Jason April 30, 2015 at 7:42 pm #

    Sorry for the thread resurrect… I just got the 30L version of this pack and was wonderings, where in the bag did you place the mac? The curve has got me afraid I’ll break my laptop if I were to take it.

    • Aaron April 30, 2015 at 8:07 pm #

      Oh, I got a sleeve for it, which pads it and is no bigger than the MacBook Air itself. With that, I can confidently stick it just about anywhere. At least on the 32L version, the front is not curved, so I usually put it along there if I’m not also carrying a day pack (which I do on flights…I would never trust not having my laptop at my feet).

  13. Peter June 13, 2015 at 9:24 am #

    Hi Aaron,
    Just came across your site. Thanks for sharing your list. I have never bothered with surge protectors before till I saw your list. 2 questions:

    1) Do you use it all the time?

    2) Do you think it offers surge protection on both 110V and 220V? Quick check of your model indicates it may not. Notebooks are able to take in 110/220V. But since surge protectors are plugged to the A/C outlet first – what happens when you plug in a 110V surge protector to a 220V outlet?

    Thank You

    • Aaron July 4, 2015 at 12:35 pm #

      Yes, I use it all the time. Power stability can be rather dicey in parts of the developing world so better safe than sorry! That said, I never even thought about surge protectors needing to be dual voltage! Most modern electronics are so I haven’t used a converter in years, but you raise an interesting point. Thankfully it’s never been a problem for me, but a quick search of the internet indicates that there could be some major implications for using a surge protector that’s ratted for 110v on a 220v plug… Hmmm… Time to look for a new surge protector! Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

  14. Aaron D. February 27, 2016 at 1:12 am #

    I know that I’m late to this party, but if anyone is still watching, I have a question. I’m new to backpacking, and I didn’t see anything in this list about food. Did food fit in the pack?

    • Aaron February 27, 2016 at 4:18 pm #

      I suppose it really depends on how much food you’d want to bring. Personally I pack for travel, but there’s no reason why this method doesn’t also work for hiking. And using this method, I still have sufficient room for souvenirs. So provided that none of the food was too big, you should be able to fit enough for at least a few days.

  15. Paula June 18, 2017 at 6:03 pm #

    Hi
    I’m due to visit the UK for a month (staying with family, friends and also at a hostel) (having not been back ‘home’ there for 11 years). I’ve just spent an obsessive amount of time looking at carry on options (whether to have a wheelie etc) but I think I’ll stick with a backpack – as small as possible – so as not to look SO conspicuous as a tourist while making my way from Paris Orly to Le Havre (my novel route for visiting my family in the UK, with a stop off at Rouen for a gallery, airline delays permitting).
    I have recently come across a textile artist who describes herself as ‘itinerant’ and just travels around doing exhibitions etc -hmmm lifestyle options…..which brings me to the conclusion that maybe I shouldn’t just go for the cheapest option (there were some ridiculously cheap ones on ebay – brand new and looked pretty ok), but rather get a backpack as a future investment, so a known brand Thanks for the tip offs!

    • Aaron June 18, 2017 at 9:12 pm #

      Good for you for looking for quality. I got my pack way back in 2011 and since then it’s been to Australia, Austria, Canada, Cuba, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Malaysia, Morocco, Oman, The Philippines, Spain, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, UAE! Glad to say that it’s been holding up fine!

      Also, if you’re in the market for a pack, do yourself a favor and go try them on at a shop before you spring for one. Fit is key for comfort and a good shop will be able to add a some weight to the pack to simulate carrying stuff in it.

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