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How to pack light: reduce your luggage weight for motorcycle touring & hiking

Image courtesy of freedigitaolphotos.netImage courtesy of freedigitaolphotos.netFirstly, why bother packing light? Isn't it better to bring everything you might possibly need just in case? You know, 'be prepared' and all that? 

Sometimes we pack light through sheer necessity (because stuff is heavy!), other times it's because simple means less to worry about losing or breaking. Think camping mentality and make do.

For motorcycle touring a lighter bike is much more manoeuvrable and therefore safer to handle. In our opinion the journey should be as enjoyable as the destination, and that goes for trekking too. If you have to hike your kit to your camping spot, a lighter load means less chance of blisters and sores, and no shoulder, knee and back pain to battle with later on! Sounding worth the effort now?

Excess equipment also has a way of distancing you from the natural world, without you even realising your precious 'stuff' can be undermining the whole ethos of your get back to nature camping trip!

See below for our guide and a few extra tips on how to lighten your load:


1. Make a list of everything that you'd like to take. Everything you can think of, clothes, cameras, binoculars, sandals, games, books and magazines...

2. Lay your kit out on the living room floor to get the measure of it, weigh each item as well if you can and tally it up. You'll be surprised at how much is there!

3. Remove anything that is non essential, and the 'just-in-case' items'. Get brutal, you'll thank yourself later! ;) 

4. Study each remaining item critically to see how it can be further substituted with something multi-functional or at least made smaller and lighter. I've read advice from mountaineers who even cut their tooth brushes in half to save the weight of the handles, at first it sounds somewhat extreme and unnecessary but when you have to carry everything on your own back then every gram saved here and there adds up to a considerable difference overall!

5. Repeat steps 2-4 several more times until you're left with the minimum kit you know you can get by with! You just know there's something still there you're kidding yourself about 'needing'...

6. Make a meal plan to ensure you only bring the food you need.

7. A problem shared is a problem halved. Are you travelling as a group? Often there's no need for each person to have their own complete set of pans with stove etc so share the kit out between you. One person carries the tent (unless you're each sleeping separately of course!), another the cooking equipment, someone else the communal food items and so on...

8. Learn some survival skills. Knowledge is the lightest and most useful piece of equipment you can bring with you, and practising your survival skills can be a fun pastime for a camping trip! You may be able to forage some of your food whilst hiking or at the beach, make your own tent pegs on arrival if there are trees around, gather moss and leaves for a comfy mattress instead of relying on a bulky foam mat, or you could even scale the tent itself right down to a simple tarpaulin shelter...


Still not sure where to begin? Here are some lighter or more compact substitutions that we regularly employ to help get you started:

  • Bring water purification tabs or a filter (or a refillable bottle for camp sites with drinking water taps) As long as you're not visiting a desert, sourcing your water on site is better than trying to carry all of the water you'll need from home. Water weighs 1 kg for every litre, consider that the average person needs to drink 2-3 litres per day and your knees and back will definitely thank you...

  • Pack a microfibre towel instead of a full sized heavy towel from the airing cupboard. Our microfibre towels are possibly the best camping items we've ever invested in! They dry super quick and hardly take up any space at all in our bags.

  • Bring a spork instead of multiple cutlery sets. Everyone's seen these nifty little spoon-fork combos, and many also have a small serrated section that acts as a knife. For tougher food items or for less awkward butter spreading we use our personal carry knives which is a much lighter and less rattly load for sure.

  • Switch to castile bar soap. It's made from natural oils, is biodegradable and can go as far as replacing shower gel, shampoo, laundry detergent & washing up liquid! We like the Dr Bronners 'magic' castile soap with citronella oil for a refreshing neutral smell and antibacterial properties. For a camping trip we slice a useful sized piece from the main bar and pop it into a ziplock bag along with a washing up sponge and a microfibre cloth for drying up.

  • Consider your choice of clothes. Microfibre fleece is lighter and packs flatter than wool, the same can be said for polyester canvas trousers instead of cotton and denim... Generally man made fabrics dry much quicker than their natural counterparts which is always handy away from tumble dryers and heating, and can even include protective coatings for water, mosquitoes and UV rays!

  • Don't bring the whole kitchen! Unless you really need it all, we've found that most cook sets can be broken down further to just a couple of components. A kettle only has one purpose, whereas a well chosen pair of nesting pans can be used as frying pans, saucepans, mixing bowls and even eating bowls if you really need to! We don't personally drink many hot drinks so find it better to just heat one mug of water at a time when we each fancy a cuppa. For a more detailed look at reducing weight from the camp kitchen specifically, check out our article here.

  • Do bring a bandanna! They have so many uses it speaks for itself: use one as a lightweight head covering to keep the sun off (can be applied wet for additional cooling properties!), they make a good hand towel or flannel, can protect the hand from hot objects, filter debris from water, make a useful food covering to keep the flies off, a carry-bundle for gathering wild foods, you may need to wave a brightly coloured one as a signal flag for help, tie one on for a bandage or sling... you get the idea. That's quite a long list of items now narrowed down to one!

  • Miniaturise. Do you really need the entire bottle of sun lotion or cooking oil for a 3 day trip? Pour only what you'll need into smaller containers, these days you can easily source handy travel sized empty containers for cosmetics and foodstuffs. The same goes for cooking spices and herbs, decant them into smaller bags or lightweight pots. I like to clean and save any useful storage pots we end up with from other things instead of throwing them out - tic tac mint pots and takeaway sauce containers are especially convenient! Needless to say take care with how you pack things to avoid the little white room and the guy with the glove if travelling through customs! ;)

  • Use the spaces in between. If anything has a gap in it, use it! It may not be lighter but a smaller volume bag is much easier to deal with for sure. 


We hope these tips have helped you, let us know what you think and which you will implement  for your next trip in the comments below!


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Does anyone have any other tips on packing small and light? We love to hear from you! Please share your tips and experiences with other readers in the comment sections below. Remember to keep to our Community Rules!

Sarah is a UK artist and writer with a lifetime interest in camping and survival techniques.

Living the #vanlife since before it was a hashtag and touring on two wheels with her husband Ryan, they have a wealth of camping and motorcycling knowledge to share, and know a thing or two about packing light! read more

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