Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Packing for a Trip

Back in the day I travelled for work a lot. When my one year anniversary at that job rolled around, they did the math and told me I’d been in the office less than four months. With that much travel, you pick up a few packing tricks. While it’s been a few years since I had that much work-related travel, my wife still considers me the car Tetris champion when we go on trips.

I have a tendency to overpack. It’s something I’ve worked on, but I still haven’t completely broken the habit. So what and how do I pack when I’m going away, either for a long weekend or week-long vacation?

My primary piece of luggage is a military style backpack by Red Rock that I picked up at a gun show at least ten years ago. As with so many of my preps, this exact pack no longer seems to be in production. However, the manufacturer still offers a verysimilar model. The only modifications I’ve made were to add a couple of carabiners to one side and one shoulder strap in case I need to attach something that doesn’t have MOLLE loops.

Speaking of MOLLE loops, this pack has a plethora of them on both the front and sides, therefore any accessory items so equipped can easily be added as necessary.

The author's backpack, front and rear

Since this pack has a number of compartments, I tend to divide the contents into groups. The larger, bottom front pocket contains my socks and a sleep mask. The socks are not combined or rolled, simply folded in half and layered. On shorter trips there may also be room for my underwear.

The smaller front pocket has a variety of tools and accessories, some of which you may remember from my post on pocket survival.

Contents of the smaller front pocket

  1. Phone/tablet stand: I bought this after Erin showed me hers. (Stand, that is.) It’s useful for both cell phones and tablets.
  2. Small wallet tool: this tool was discussed in my previous article.
  3. Pocket Declaration of Independence and Constitution: A gift from the Cato Institute.
  4. Spare Batteries, bulb, and reflector for flashlight: Batteries and incandescent bulbs are consumable items, and a flashlight is useless without them.
  5. Victorinox Swiss Army Knife - Swiss Champ, bottle opener, and small multitool: The Swiss army knife is the same model from my pocket carry post. The bottle opener and small multitool were giveaways at trade shows.
  6. Stopcock wrench and snowflake tool: The same ones from pocket carry.
  7. Flashlight: I’m a particular fan of Surefire flashlights. While most of mine have had LED bulb upgrades, this one hasn’t yet.
  8. USB wall wort and USB charging cable: Pretty generic. I do need to add a USB A to C cable for my new phone.

The middle compartment is where I put my toiletry kit. This is packed in a small 5.11 tool bag I got on sale at a gun shop. A few plastic bags for laundry and such, as well as a disposable poncho, are kept in the bottom of this compartment.

The main compartment is where the magic happens. The clamshell zipper makes this an exceptionally easy bag to pack. Depending on the duration of the trip and clothing requirements, it may be packed a few different ways.

Inside of the main pocket

One of the most important considerations when packing something that rides on your back is making sure the heaviest/bulkiest items go as close to your lower back as possible. (but see Editrix's Note, below.) In my case, that means footwear if I need to bring anything other than what’s on my feet. If not, or adjacent to the shoes if so, are pants which are layered so the folds don’t stack. T-shirts are rolled and placed near the top and down the sides, along with underwear if they don’t fit with the socks, similarly rolled.

Button-down shirts are either rolled like the t-shirts or folded and carefully placed on top of the other contents to help reduce wrinkles. This generally doesn’t work, but I still try. I also usually have a book or two in the mesh pocket of the main compartment.

If I were packing for an outdoor adventure, my process would be mostly the same, but clothing would be packed in large ziplock bags or vacuum sealed and some additional tools, such as a Mora knife and fire starters would be added. This backpack also has a pocket for a hydration bladder built in behind the main compartment.

Once everything is in place, the bag is zipped and the cinch straps are clipped and tightened. This can make for a relatively compact and balanced package: in the past I’ve packed an entire week’s worth of clothing and toiletries in this bag and still had it fit in the overhead compartment on an airliner. With attention to detail and careful folding, rolling, and packing, it’s possible to fit much more than expected in a relatively small bag. 

Editrix's Note: This is contrary to how I learned to pack a backpack. I was taught to keep the heaviest items in the middle of the pack, closest to my spine. 

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