Since the days when I sold hiking backpacks at a sporting goods store ten years ago, I never understood the desire to carry those heavy, bulky bags while traversing long distances. They are tiring, awkward and back breaking. I had heard of a guy named Ray Jardine who was pioneering ultra light backpacking. Ray built this incredibly light weight and very minimalist backpacking equipment and took them on multi-month long hiking trips.
Ray was right! There are so many positives to minimalist backpacking, I cant imagine wanting it any other way. While I wont be covering thousands of miles on foot and sleeping under the stars like Ray, I will be carrying everything needed to be comfortable for many months in vastly different countries and climates on my back.
My back is of great concern with this trip. I have two herniated discs and am often in pain. I knew that if I were to do this, my pack had to be very small and comfortable to handle. Doing normal traveling and tourist activities had to be as easy and simple as possible. Traveling small was the only way.
Besides the obvious weight advantages, here are some other reasons to travel ultra light:
The more weight you carry the more supportive of a shoe you need. Heavy packs require heavy boots. Light packs can be supported with a good trail running shoe. The average person takes around 2,000 steps per mile and heavy footwear can add 1-2 pounds of excess weight to your feet. Therefore every mile I walk with a heavier shoe is the equivalent of lifting with my legs an extra 4,000 POUNDS per mile, that's 2 TONS! Sounds exhausting!!!
You have everything you need with you all the time. So if you are caught in a freak rainstorm, spilled your choco-frapachino-latte on your shirt or twisted your ankle and need Ibuprofen, the solution is most likely on your back. And if you decide to change your schedule last second, there is no need to go back to your room to get your pack.
No checked luggage- easy on/off airplanes. No waiting around airport carousels waiting for your bag. No airport gorillas throwing your bag around breaking everything in it and tearing holes. No waiting for US Customs to recheck your bag on an incoming international flight.
Low profile- less of a theft target, blend in better with locals. Carrying a large pack draws attention and announces you’re a tourist and your bag is stuffed with riches. Carrying a small pack helps you blend in with the locals as you look like you are just out for a stroll.
No separating yourself from your bag on taxis or buses. Large bags go in the trunk of a taxi and can be held ransom for a higher fare. They are also stored above or below the bus where it can get lost, damaged or stolen.
Nothing unnecessary. You arnt carrying around a bunch of stuff you rarely use. If it isn’t being used several times a week, it becomes a burden you must carry.
Lightweight/compact = less fatigue = longer days, better balance, move quicker.
Easy to walk to local destinations, saving cab fare and getting exercise while experiencing a close up of local life.
On a train or bus- spin your pack around onto your chest to keep a more watchful eye on it or use it as a pillow.
When going out for the day and don’t need everything but maybe a jacket and some food, drop the bag into a small storage locker and use your super ultra light daypack.
Cant over pack- small bag keeps you from carrying any unnecessary items and excess souvenirs.
There are a few downsides of lightweight backpacking:
You have to buy expensive clothes that you might not normally wear. No jeans, band t-shirts or sweatshirts.
Along those same lines you have to buy expensive gear. Ultra light equipment is not cheap. This cuts into your travel funds.
Sometimes you just don’t have it. You cant carry everything, so you will have to improvise a bit.
Frequent clothes washing. With only 3 shirts, laundry day comes often.
Have to wear the same thing a lot. Not a lot of choices for different activities.
No room for souvenirs. They either arnt purchased or they are shipped home right away.
No tent or sleeping bag. Must find decent shelter every night.
As you can see, I feel the benefits far out weigh the negatives. If you are serious about traveling long term and doing/seeing as much as you can, there really is no other way than Rays way.