25 chapters, 100,000 words, 120 illustrations
 Table of Contents
On $25 a Day or Less
Art of Travel - European and World Backpacking

Chapter 20

Organization and Packing

Cramming  Glossary  Packing  Theory  Personal

MANY HAVE BEEN the times I've peered down from a high hostel bunk at an awesome array of stuff being crammed into a backpack. I've witnessed the process for hours while the crammer regales onlookers with tales of Tierra del Fuego, the Pampas, and of some tiny place where a ten dollar bill creates great excitement.

Yes, I think in amazement, she (in this particular case) is a brave and hardy traveler, but how will all that fit inside that pack? And if somehow it does, how far could she possibly carry it? Did she spend this much time packing in Tierra Del Fuego?

Sometimes it's better to shorten the story and hit the road with a wink and a flash.

Organization and Packing Glossary

Mesh bagMesh bags
Available from supermarkets for washing lingerie for $2, and from outdoor retailers for $3. These can be your chest of drawers, keeping like or related items together. Since you can see inside, locating and removing contents is faster. Put socks in the sock bag, stove items in the stove bag, food items in the food bag, etc. Having several colors and sizes is helpful.
Nylon ditty bags
Available from outdoor shops for $3. Made of coated nylon to keep gear dry if your pack is left in the rain without a cover. Use various colors and sizes to make it easier to find whatever the hell you're looking for.
Cord lock
For closing mesh and ditty bags, a plastic gizmo which when pressed releases two cords passing through it.
Plastic zip freezer bags
I always have several in use. Freezer bags are thicker and last longer. Premium brands with sliders reseal easily. Pack extras, and see Practical Kate and Mischievous John's Big Zip Bags.
Built-in pack pockets
Your pack may have as many as five outside pockets. Don't stuff them completely full. Having just a few often-needed items in each pocket improves accessibility, saves time and frustration. You can also vary the size and feel of items in each pocket since mostly you will be locating with hands only. Other items needed sporadically--say every few days, once per week, or emergency items--should be placed in one or more toolbags inside the pack.
Accessory pack pockets
$10 to $25, about 5 oz. (140 g.) Many internal frame packs have only one pocket. This makes them more streamlined for squeezing through narrow canyons and fighting onto buses, but less convenient for getting to your gear. Pack makers offer optional accessory pockets which fit onto the pack, often by attaching to compression straps. Each pocket usually has two separate compartments, and some packs can carry up to three extra pockets.
They add, however, considerable bulk and floppiness to the pack. Built-in pockets are more streamlined and stable. The only pocket I need or want on my toploader backpack is the built-in hood pocket.

Packing the Internal-Frame Pack

Internal-frame pack design requires semi-careful packing because the bottom of the load becomes part of the load-bearing structure. This is most apparent in packs with a bottom sleeping bag compartment. Here the relatively light and bulky sleeping bag forms a base for other items to ride on. Furthermore, items stored in this lowest area apply more downward force on the pack-wearer because this is the pack area furthest from the wearer's center of gravity line. Therefore it is doubly important to use the sleeping bag compartment for bulky but light items.

Put the sleeping bag in a stuff sack before loading it into the lower compartment. There should also be room for a few other items such as a rainjacket, sock bag, t-shirts, tent rainfly, etc. This is not the best place to put a water bottle, guidebook, or other weighty items.

Many panel-loading packs, including most travel packs, have only one large compartment. In these it is also best to place your sleeping bag and other light-but-bulky items in the lowest recesses.

For the rest of the main body of the pack place heavier items nearest the back wall of the pack, as close to your center of gravity as possible.

Your pack may have one or more access zippers, including one for the sleeping bag compartment, the top pocket, and perhaps a panel to the main compartment. It's easy to place frequently needed items such as camera, binoculars, guidebook, and toiletry bag in strategic locations near these zippers. For a top loading pack put frequently used items in last, near the top.

Do not leave home with a jammed-full pack. Allow 15% empty space. This makes accessing the pack easier and life on the road better. And as you acquire new things don't be hesitant about giving away or mailing back what you don't need.

Toolbag Theory

The toolbag is a nylon, mesh, or plastic zip bag which contains items I don't need often, but are necessary to have. It may also be divided into two separate bags: one for rarely needed or emergency items, the other for anti-inflammatories, etc. As you travel you'll work out what best goes where.Toolbag #?

Toolbag #1
Includes occasionally needed items such as detergent, nylon rope, spare butane lighter, matches, spare razor cartridges, earplugs, aspirin, and rubber bands.
Toolbag #2
Contains items I rarely, if ever, use. These include a plastic zip bag containing medical supplies, aluminum reflective blanket, Therm-A-Rest patch kit, stove repair kit, spare AA batteries, plastic garbage bag, condoms, sewing kit, tweezers, iodine tablets, superglue, duct tape wrapped around a pencil, magnifying glass, and spare plastic freezer bags. Photo: an in-practice one-two combo.

Personal Kit

Toilet kit zip bagI use a quart-sized mesh or plastic zip freezer bag to contain the items I use the most: toothbrush, toothpaste, hair pick, razor, four-ounce Nalgene plastic bottle containing liquid soap/shampoo, a small bottle of roll-on deodorant, a pair of folding scissors, and a small mirror. (Note the slider on the top right corner of the bag.)

In the external frame pack I use for trail hiking I place the bag in an external pocket and pull the whole thing out when needed. In the internal frame pack I use for travel I keep the kit in the hood pocket for quick access.

I recommend spending a dollar for a small Nalgene bottle at your outdoor shop, as they are strong and won't leak. CampSuds and Dr. Bonner's are concentrated all-purpose, biodegradable soaps which last a long time. Use them sparingly in wilderness areas, and never within fifty feet (fifteen meters) of Nalgene 4 ounce bottlerivers and streams since all soap is harmful to naturally occurring bacteria and organisms.

Don't bring a Madison Avenue assortment of hair care products. I carry only a pick and a small bottle of shampoo. Most backpackers get by just fine without a hair dryer.

I dispense with shaving cream by using a good razor, by rubbing soap directly on the whiskers, and by not overshaving. (For a lasting lather try Williams mug soap, found wherever moustache wax is sold.) I had a battery-powered travel razor, but it proved ineffective and ridiculously heavy at five ounces with batteries.

For makeup just bring a small quantity of the basics--no more than the bottom of a plastic zip bag. One of the great beauties of backpacking is how it simplifies our lives--if you don't have something, you probably won't need it.

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