Backpacking 101: What To Pack When Space & Weight Are Super Limited

October 5, 2015

Need to travel light? Backpacking is useful whether or not you're in Eurpoe, you'll save a ton! Here's how-


Juliette here, and I have some advice for any of you who think you’re too much of a heavy packer to try backpacking.  Trust me, you can do it and it’ll save you a lot of backaches and checked luggage fees too!

Although a carry-on suitcase and small tote bag can take you pretty far (see my last article on packing for nine days with limited luggage!), sometimes even those compact items can hold you back from a true adventure. As I began to prepare for my next trip, traveling the perimeter of Iceland in 11 days, I quickly realized that my teeny tiny suitcase was not going to fly being lugged over glaciers, volcanic rock and grassy fjords.

As I accounted for all the “necessities” I had neatly placed across my bed, I knew that I would need to cut these items down by half. Not only did I need to fit it all into my pack, I also needed to keep it under 11 lbs due to airline restrictions. As I sorted through my ‘musts’ and the ‘I can do without’ piles, I concluded how little I actually needed to be safe, comfy and journey-ready! it’s was simply a game of Tetris, utilizing space and making the tough decisions on weather or not a truly needed three pairs of shoes. Let the fun begin!

backpack front An extra strap around the waist helps even out the weight of your supplies!


The bulkiest of items, plan to wear your heaviest shoes on the plane. I’ve broken in my hiking boots and will save an ample amount of space by forgoing trying to stuff them into the bottom of my bag. While I initially had planned on bringing an extra pair of sneakers, I couldn’t reason why that would be necessary. I threw in some light weight flip flops to use in hostel and AirBnB showers!

clothes sized Even though Iceland is chilly, even in summer, a swimsuit is needed for the geothermal pools open year round.


Luckily, the weather will be colder this time of year (well, year round in Iceland), so I won’t be sweating heavily and, to be completely transparent, I can wear pants and tops for more than one day. I’m bringing a pair of cropped leggings, one pair of jeans, fleece lined leggings and a pair of shorts for sleeping. For the under layers, a couple of camis and workout tops will cover me for the rare afternoons of warmth. I’ll also be bringing a chambray button down and flannel shirt to make sure I have layers as well as two heavier knit sweaters. To make sure I’m swimsuit ready for the Blue Lagoon and hot springs, I tossed in a bikini for good measure. Lastly, along with long socks to prevent hiking boot blisters, I’ll be wearing my lightweight rain jacket for the majority of the trip. As per usual, my plane outfit will be the bulkiest clothes to save space!

necessities sized Even though we’ll have a WiFi GPS, a paper map is a must!


Since we’ll be staying in a variety of places, I’m bringing one sheet and a small hand towel to use in hostels to avoid extra charges on these items. I’ll also be bringing a converter, phone charger as well as my necessary documents along with multiple copies. An empty bottle to fill up along the road is a must as well as a small bag of protein powder so I have some back up nutrition if needed! Space saving tip: there’s no way a full sized pillow is going to make the cut so I’m going to keep the small pillow the airline provides for use in AirBnBs that don’t provide bedding.


Since this will by no means be a fashion show, my toiletries will be as simple as they come. Travel sizes of conditioner, shampoo (doubling as body wash), razor and sunscreen will be squeezed into a quart size bag. I’m also bringing just enough vitamins to get me through the trip, this is not the time to get sick! My only splurge is a travel size tube of mascara for a night out in Rekjavik. Hey, a girl still wants to look fly during the 24 hours of daylight.

weight sized (Just barely) under 11 pounds!


I’ve chosen a 26 liter back pack with multiple pockets and a bottom zipper. This will allow me to access different items easily even if they’re not packed at the top of my bag. With various zippered pockets, I can keep my passport secure but accessible. Now, the real trick is getting it to be under 11 pounds!

backpack sized Cheryl Strayed would be proud!

What’s your space saving tip?
My best tip is if traveling with another person, split up the goods. Consider bringing one charger for you to share as well as splitting up toiletry items. Let’s be honest, am I really going to be washing my hair everyday? Not a chance. A travel size shampoo can easily last a week being split between two.

Stay up to date on Juliette’s adventures by following her on Instagram –julietteelise & twitter @JulietteElise_ !

wearing backpack back sized


12 comments so far.

12 responses to “Backpacking 101: What To Pack When Space & Weight Are Super Limited”

  1. I need to take this to heart! I seriously always over pack. I never regret it but it’s a little annoying having to carry so much stuff! I think I need to be more thoughtful and creative.

    • Juliette Kopp says:

      It certainly takes some getting used to! Packing neutral items always helps me look more put together with fewer items as well. Any little bit helps!

  2. I always over pack – but I think I could manage if I had to stick to a backpack. Make sure your backpack is light to begin with as well. I’ve gotten rid of some heavier ones – because who needs the bag taking up precious weight?

    • Juliette Kopp says:

      Excellent tip! Definitely a good idea to weigh luggage pre-packing, that can make a huge difference!

  3. Phew, that’s some pretty impressive paring down! Still, it’s amazing what necessities we suddenly find are indulgences when space is of the essence. When we moved 1,500 miles with just a moving cube and a couple of suitcases, a lot of things we couldn’t live without were suddenly considered unnecessary.

    Have a great trip!

    • Juliette Kopp says:

      So true! It’s amazing how quickly you can adjust to the bare essentials when necessary.

  4. Love it! Nicely done! We did the same thing when we went to Mexico… One backpack each. We always bring grocery bags so we have a “personal item” to carry back on the plane for the inevitable stuff you pick up. They’re lightweight and don’t take up much space on the way there! And we roll our clothes military style to save on space, though it doesn’t help with the weight problem.

  5. I’m pretty good at being a minimalist, but I do tend to pack quite a bit when I travel. I’m impressed at what you were able to fit in your backpack and the tough decisions you had to make about what to leave at home.

  6. Some good tips, I’m always looking to minimize my packing space! What backpack is that? I love that it looks spacious without being too bulky.


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