To travel light, collect everything you think you need, then cut it in half. You will still have more than you need. The pack should not be full, since you will inevitably acquire things along the way, and you will need room for extra water and food in remote areas. There are only a few important things, as most items can be obtained overseas (except X-Large clothing). You can buy and sell, or rent, cold weather gear as you need it. As a general rule, the longer you are going the less you should take.
"I have yet to find anyplace in the world where you could not buy clothing, low to middle quality footwear, and toiletries, although it costs more in Europe and Scandinavia. Next time I travel to the Third World, I will take an empty pack and fill it up with cheap clothing on arrival. Do not carry all the clothes you will need for the whole trip, but wear them out and replace them along the way. Do not take 'stuff' you *might* need, but could acquire along the way (like a set of dress-up clothes). And do not take a lot of technological garbage intended to isolate you from the very places you want to experience, such as Walkmen, fancy cameras, etc.." <Larry Lustig>
"Oh, one more thing, do not worry about fitting everything into your pack -- there seems to be some magical expansion and contraction going on as you add and delete items from the pack. Our universal rule after the trip was that your pack will adjust to however much 'stuff' you end up having in your pack. A corollary to that is -- do not pack more than you REALLY need, because your pack will adjust and forever get heavier. This is especially true as one moves from a colder climate to a much warmer one -- the weight and size of the pack is inversely proportional to the climate! ;-)" <Eberhard Brunner>
My RTW Packing List!
Doug Dyment's "One Bag"
Mats Henricson's "Universal Packing List"
Lani Teshima Miller's "Travelite FAQ"
Ducky's "Tips for Travellers"
Geoff & Lenka's Impressive Packing List
If you have a radio, camera, or electric shaver, you will need to determine if batteries will be readily available, or decide whether you are willing to carry a battery charger and adapters. "Consider rechargeable batteries and one of the little lightweight solar AA battery rechargers available at good backpacking supply stores. I've seen them for around US$20-40. Be kind to the planet, and yourself; go rechargeable." <Scott LaMorte>
"You only need to take information for the first few destinations, then have the rest mailed to you, or buy it along the way. Books are usually more expensive outside the US, but you can look for used ones. You can also trade books with those travelling in the opposite direction. In Bangkok, Khao San Road is the famous backpacker's area, and there are lots of used travel books. You can even buy fake press cards and student ID cards, the latter being useful in Europe." <Russell Gilbert>
"India and Nepal were excellent places to buy books, either new or used. Very cheap, and lots of selection!" <Dave Patton>
Many travellers carry large backpacks and check them in, without any problems. However, most recommend that you resist the temptation to carry large packs, you can live indefinitely out of a single carry-on. This can save you a lot of hassles at airports, and you always have all your possessions with you. There are times when you may have to check them due to airline regulations. Also, if you are carrying a tent or sleeping bag, you may not be able to fit it all into a small pack.
I don't mind checking my backpack in most situations when I feel the departure and arrival airports are relatively safe. I just load my valuables and medicines into my small, carry-on 'daypack' and hope for the best. I have travelled without most of the 'stuff' in the backpack, so I am not too worried if it disappears, much less gets broken into. On that note, you would be surprised just how much you can carry-on.
A small backpack is no greater than 114cm (45") when the length, width, and height are added. A pack with dimensions of 53x38x25cm (21"x15"x10") will qualify as carry-on luggage and supposedly still fit under your seat; at least, they fit in the overhead compartments on most international flights.
Many long-term travellers are using small internal-frame backpacks that distribute the weight to their hips. These have wide, well-padded waistbelts and shoulder straps. Two of the many packs that meet these criteria are:
The Eagle Creek "Solo Journey Pack". It has an outside pocket and a panel-opening main compartment, of maximum legal carry-on size 51x38x25cm (20"x15"x10"), weighs 1.5kg (3.4 lbs), and has an internal aluminum frame, foam padding, shoulder straps, and hip belt. The straps tuck away to convert to a conventional suitcase. Very high quality Cordura construction, true lockable zippers, tie-downs, and is dressy enough to look like formal luggage when the occasion calls for it (it comes in Evergreen, Black, and an insipid Harbor Blue).
The Eagle Creek "Continental Journey" 53x38x25cm (21"x15"x9") is the "Solo Journey" with a zip-on daypack 41x30x15cm (16"x12"x6"). It weighs 2kg (4.4 lbs).
Note: Zipping a daypack onto your backpack, or placing it inside isn't a wise idea. Besides the awkward feeling due to the extra weight farther from your back and another potential zipper failure, the daypack could be removed, cut open, or the entire backpack stolen. The daypack should never leave your side -- it is like having a kid. The majority of backpackers wear their daypack on their chest. If something happens, you want to be able to drop the big backpack and run with the daypack. There are 'razor artists' who will slice it open and let the belongings fall out behind you, and you will not know until much too late.
Dana's Arcflex series, and particularly the Terraplane and Bombpack come highly recommended, but may be expensive. They are "bombproof" and the closest thing to a custom pack. They are superior for off-trail use because of an aluminum stay, which you can manipulate to fit your back perfectly and spread the load of the pack. There are many companies that sell similar designs now.
There is an on-going debate concerning which type of pack is better, a top-loader or a panel-loader. There are newer designs that combine the best aspects of both, so keep your eyes open in the stores. I lived out of a top-loader for two years and didn't have any trouble getting to my belongings since I used stuff-sacks. I also like the fact that it is harder for casual thieves to get into. No matter how many locks you have, a serious thief will cut the bag open.
The panel-loader design, the one with zippers that allow you to open the bag completely, makes it much easier to access all your belongings quickly. Many travellers don't know how to load them properly, and you will see most of the load in a bulge, with the pack sagging down and back. Internal straps and external compression straps can remedy this, and also take the load almost entirely off the zipper.
With either design, the expensive ones are overkill since most usage consists of carrying the pack from the hotel room to a bus, and from the bus to the next hotel room. The important criterion is that it has a decent internal frame and a good waistbelt that places the load on your hips. There are times where you may have to haul the backpack around for a few kilometers looking for a place to stay.
This isn't the type of equipment you should mail-order unless necessary. Most stores have a resident expert on backpacks, who usually knows how to fit internal frames. They should have weights in one form or another, usually small sandbags, to place in the backpack. Load up with 10kg (22 lbs) and go for a walk in the store for at least 5 minutes. Some stores in popular hiking areas have demo packs you can take home, or rentals that you can try out.
Most backpacks are too big to carry on a three-day trek if you aren't carrying a tent and stove. Make sure your smaller 'daypack' is good quality with heavy-duty zippers (look for YKK), and ample padding on the shoulder straps, even if you won't be using it for trekking. If you intend to carry more than just a few kilos in your daypack, get one with a small, padded, hip belt to prevent it from bouncing into your lower back. One with an internal frame, or arched suspension system would be nice if it doesn't add too much to the weight or size.
Closely examine the stitching and support where the shoulder strap meets the bag, as it is one of the most common points of failure. I don't skimp on daypacks since they get used much more, and quality ones aren't replaceable in most of the places I like to travel.
In most cities, I leave the daypack in the room and only have: a bottle of water in a carrying strap, a camera, an extra roll of film, some toilet paper in my pocket, and a photocopy of the city map from the guidebook. If you are real good at packing light, then you could buy just a large daypack, or a very small backpack, and unload most of your 'stuff' in the hotel room in a light nylon bag when you need to use it as a daypack.
In some left-luggage places, they will not accept backpacks unless they are locked. This is done to reduce the number of complaints about valuables (like cameras) being stolen when they are picked up. Therefore, you should try to find a way to lock the zippers of the pack so that nobody can enter it without forcible entry (that's the critera they use). This can be a valuable asset at many times. If you have a top-loader without zippers, you might consider carrying a large, lightweight bag (nylon) that has a ring for the zipper to lock to at the closure end. The bag can also be used for checking the packs in for a flight. I do not suggest a canvas duffel since it will be too bulky and heavy.
Carry nylon fabric, a supply of monofilament fishing line, and a needle with an eye big enough for the line, to repair your pack while on the road.
"Rather than monofilament line (for backpack repair), I would suggest waxed dental floss. It is much more multi-purpose, very strong, better suited to 'sewing', and some travelers might already be taking it along." <Brent Byer>
"If you need a pack repaired, get it done by someone with the right equipment. I had a cheaper pack when I was in Europe and needed to have it repaired a few times -- the people who handle your luggage don't care if they damage your pack by picking it up by a single pocket or strap. I ended up going to shoe repair shops. They are used to fixing packs and other heavy cloth items. They were all reasonably priced, fast, and did good work." <Mr. Moose>
See The Great Outdoor Recreation Page for more information on outdoor gear.
Links to backpack manufacturers can be found in the section Travel, Map & Outdoor Gear Catalogs at the end of this guide.
The decision to carry a backpack or a normal suitcase can be influenced by the types of transportation you take, as well as security considerations. Anyone can easily break into either a backpack or a suitcase, but usually a suitcase takes longer to get into. And it offers more protection for fragile contents, and better protection from dust and rain. No zippers to get jammed, either.
Although you are entitled to two suitcases on trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific flights (the second one maximum 55" length, width & height combined), the limit for checked luggage elsewhere is only 20kg (44 lbs) (however, I checked 27kg everywhere RTW and was never charged for 'over-weight' except where the in-country airline allowance was only 10-15kg, which occurred several places). The 20kg allowance goes into effect after your first stopover in a foreign country.
Luggage that is easy to handle at airports and on airplanes may be difficult on trains or buses. For example, the largest suitcase officially permitted on a trans-Atlantic/trans-Pacific flight (62" length, width & height combined) is too large for most First Class train compartments in Europe (the place a Eurail pass allows you to sit) and may be impractical for bus travel as well. When changing trains, you may find you have to manage several flights of steps with your luggage, which can be a chore, especially if you are travelling alone.
Most places you stay will store luggage for you at low cost, so you may want to also carry or buy a smaller pack or duffel bag for in-country excursions, leaving your souvenirs and other excess items behind.