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Backpacks tend to gain weight over time because their human owners get less diligent about keeping them packed light and efficiently. The longer a given trip is the more stuff that’s going to fill your backpack’s “waistline” – and you might not even notice. That is until your backpack explodes like a pipe bomb the next time you try to find your socks or you pull a back muscle.

woman on scale

Backpacks, like people, need to go on diets from time to time – or better yet, try and watch their weight over the long run. Lightening up your backpack isn’t difficult; it’s a matter of getting back to basics and what you probably already know.

Lay It All Out

You’ll underestimate the amount of stuff you pack if you get lazy and try to eyeball everything. Human beings tend to overestimate what they need and underestimate what they don’t. It’s a great survival trait but in the modern world makes us think we haven’t quite packed enough, “just in case” and the same effect goes for counting calories. (Unless you measure and count everything you eat, you’ll probably (grossly) underestimate how much you eat.)

whats in my backpack

  • Rather than guessing, layout everything you will be packing. Count the number of shirts, pants, socks, everything you’ve packed and see if there’s simply too much of one thing. Eliminate what you don’t think you’ll need and get rid of that shirt you haven’t worn in a year. Then invite a friend or family member over to take a look at everything you want to pack, sprawled out and organized by type (i.e. clothing, electronics, etc.)

Getting a second opinion is crucial as you might be tempted to pack something you really want to be useful but just quite isn’t. A second pair of eyes will also catch ways to pack more efficiently.

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Use The 80% Rule

looking at backpack in mirrorStuffing every last thing you can think of into a backpack and struggling to close it while the zippers are holding on for dear life, isn’t good for your backpack or your back. The first time you pack your bags before leaving home will be the most efficient. That’s when you’ve taken the careful time to layout all of your things and fit them in as best as you can.

After all of that if your backpack is still stuffed, it’s only going to get worse down the line. Leave about 20% empty since you’re not likely to ever pack that well again.

Oh, and of course, you’ll buy souvenirs, gifts, and other things despite your best efforts not to.

Pack The Day Pack

It’s cute looking like a double-sided turtle but rather inefficient for most travelers. You can look into purchasing a folding day-pack like the REI Zip Travel Pack, and stuff it into your larger backpack or travel bag. Limiting yourself to a single bag – or just by reducing the number of bags you carry – will cut down on your overall travel weight. Once you give yourself the luxury of a large day-pack you are sure to use it and end up with two overstuffed backpacks.

Go Back To Basics

We all know that exercise and watching what we eat translates into a healthy body weight – and most of you know the basics of packing efficiently; but it’s easy to get lazy when you’re jetting around the globe.

  • Cut Down Your Cables – There are converters from USB to wall outlets and cheap USB conversion packs that will let you get rid of all those redundant cables you carry. There aren’t many standard inputs, look at the ends of your (i.e. charger) cables and toss out the ones that work with more than 1 electronic you carry.
  • Weigh Your Luggage – You don’t need a fancy luggage scale. Hop up on a regular scale without your backpack, record the weight, then hop up there with your backpack on (or luggage in hand). The difference between the two numbers is the backpack weight. Most airports also have scales for luggage near check-in lines and hotels usually have them as well.
  • Tie Extra Shoes To Your Backpack – Especially useful for business travelers who want to travel light but still get their run in at the hotel gym in the morning.
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Keeping your backpack’s weight and your packing habits in check is a bit like controlling your own waistline. Rather than loading things up and going on purges in a cyclical fashion, it’s better to track and maintain healthy habits consistently over the long run. A heavy backpack does more than weigh down your back but it also burdens your mind. The easier and faster it is for you to pack before you head to your next destination, the less stressful the entire process will be and you’ll have more energy to spend improving your travels.

[photos by: kharied (woman on scale), get down (backpack contents), mynameisharsha (looking at backpack in mirror), Pink Sherbet Photography (measuring waistline)]