Our #onebag travel experience

by Sunita

We did something slightly unusual on our Wales holiday: we each packed everything into one not-huge backpack and carried those packs ourselves for the entire trip. I say this is unusual because we didn’t meet anyone else doing this who wasn’t either camping or staying in hostels. The people we met in the inns and B&Bs we stayed in were having their luggage transported daily from one night’s destination to the next and using day packs on the walk itself. It’s not expensive to use a porter service (about £5/day), and our relatives who walked Hadrian’s Wall did it this way. So why didn’t we?

One answer is that we’re independent and like control: we didn’t want to have to think about where our stuff was and we had intended to make decisions on the fly. As it turned out we had every night’s lodging booked in advance, which meant we did have to get from one place to a designated next place and that didn’t factor in. A second answer was that we wanted to see if we could do a nearly two-week trip across a variety of conditions carrying everything ourselves, kind of like when we were young. We’ve downsized on a lot of our ten-day to two-week trips to a carry-on rollerboard, but those are still a bit awkward, especially on uneven pavements and cobblestones (not to mention having them drag behind in a crowded city).

I went down the #onebag hole on the internet and found subreddits devoted to the practice (r/onebag and r/heronebag). I watched YouTube videos and read blog posts. You will not be surprised to know that there is an entire community of people who are dedicated to traveling light, and thanks to the magic of the internet they’ve found each other.

Basically, if you’re willing to wash out your clothes and wear the same things repeatedly, you can #onebag it pretty easily, even in cooler weather. The main trick is to take clothes in materials that dry quickly and don’t wrinkle (or I guess you can take linen, which is wrinkly as a feature). In our case we also needed water-resistant and waterproof stuff, since we’d be outdoors every day.

We had quite a bit of what we needed in terms of clothing, such as merino wool t-shirts and long-sleeved shirts/hoodies, Uniqlo heat-tech shirts, wool socks, and quick-dry underwear (and I took 2 camisoles with built-in bras). I picked up a lightweight fleece that packed up small (TheH already had one) and we both bought water-resistant trousers (his from Outlier, mine from Prana). I took a merino wool skirt and a pair of Uniqlo Airism leggings for places I didn’t want to wear hiking pants. For shoes we took our walking/hiking shoes and a spare pair of Allbirds sneakers, which are extremely light and comfortable. For pajamas I used shorts and a long top, both of which could also be used as daywear. We wore jeans on the flights over and back and used them as our backup non-hiking trousers (more on that later). For our waterproofs we had lightweight shells and long pants as well as short gaiters, all of which were essential. They packed down quite small and could fit in the water-bottle slots on the outsides of our packs. We also took small bags (TheH a sling bag, me a small Sportsac crossbody) to use on the flights, for walking around towns in the evening and our two days in London. They both rolled up for stowage during walking days.

All of clothes except the shoes went into two packing cubes (one medium and one small for each of us). I cannot believe how wonderful packing cubes are and how long it has taken me to use them. These were just inexpensive Amazon Basics cubes (we used two of the four in each set) and they were all we needed. We got all our clothes into them and they filled up about half of the backpack, with the rest of the space available for toiletries, electronics, camera, spare shoes, glasses, etc.

The biggest and best electronics decision we made was to leave our computers behind. We have tablet-sized Surface Gos and we were going to take them, but even those added two pounds. So we just took our smartphones. Yes, I wrote all my blog posts, emails, and everything else on the phone, which I have never done before. It worked fine. Not taking computers was a brilliant decision, because (a) we didn’t have the time or energy to use them on walking days; and (b) it helped us treat our vacation as a real vacation. TheH had an Olympus DSLR-size camera and a smallish zoom lens, while I had a compact Panasonic. We each took an ereader, an mp3 player, and earbuds.

We took a minimum of toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, sunscreen, deodorant, toothbrush & toothpaste, and I had 3-4 makeup items) and bar soap that could wash us as well as the clothes. TheH carried a small first-aid kit in his pack with tape, bandaids, moleskin, etc. We also had disposable contact lenses, backup glasses, sunglasses, and reading glasses because we are Olds.

I took my Hobonichi with its most compact cover and put my passport, other ID and credit cards in the available slots. That meant no extra wallet or passport case. I also took a small notebook which I never wrote in (my blog posts substituted, I think). I’d still take a notebook next time, though, because you never know.

Our backpacks were Gregory 26/28L packs (his is the Zulu model, mine is the Jade, both in XS/S sizes so they are 26/28 not 28/30L in volume). They were plenty big enough to carry our stuff, as well as daily snacks and water bottles. We chose those after being fitted at REI. I cannot stress enough that you should get a pack that you’ve been fitted for by a professional if you’re planning to walk more than 2 miles a day, which is any outdoor trip OR any city trip where you have to walk much with your luggage. In every volume size there are a range of packs that you can try. Lots of people use and recommend Ospreys but they didn’t fit me as well. Gregory is a respected and reliable brand, and my pack felt awesome both in the store and on the trip. It was never uncomfortable. I love it.

When we did our dry-run packing my loaded pack weighed about 16 lbs. (I started at 20 lbs. and shed stuff). On the day of departure our packs weighed about 20 lbs. without full water bottles, and I’m pretty sure that with lunches, water, etc. I was at 22 lbs. on most days. That was manageable for me but I wouldn’t want any more than that, and I would love to have less. I didn’t have as much trouble on steep and stony paths as I thought I would; in fact, I forgot I was wearing a pack in worrying about my footing and general fear of heights, but basically you’re carrying an extra 20 lbs. all the time and it makes everything more effortful. The more you can shed, the better.

There was nothing I didn’t have with me on the trip that I missed, which I count as a major win, and there were things I wouldn’t take on the next trip:

  • We took 4 changes of underwear and socks. I think 3 would be plenty, because if you’re washing out clothes most nights anyway, socks and underwear take 3-4 minutes. Maybe I’ll stick to 4 underwear, but definitely 3 socks next time.
  • The jeans were heavy, bulky, and superfluous. I didn’t need them on the plane, especially because I took an extra pair of Prana slim pants for evenings and warmer weather (haha on the warmer weather). The two Prana pants were plenty, especially given I had a skirt and leggings.
  • I would leave the fleece behind too. I had an Icebreaker merino hoodie that was just as warm and dried more quickly. The fleece was nice, but superfluous and bulkier to pack than the Icebreaker.
  • I only wore the skirt/leggings once, but I was glad I had them. If we hadn’t been walking so much in London and eating while we were out and about I would have worn them there. I guess I could have worn them with my by-then-barnyard-level hiking shoes but I balked.
  • We made the newbie mistake of taking multiple chargers and cables. I only needed one adapter (mine charges both through a plug and through USB ports) and my dedicated phone charger, which is small.
  • I wouldn’t take the Panasonic camera again. Either take a far superior camera (like the Olympus) or just use your smartphone. The in-between takes up weight and space (not much, but every bit counts) and you can’t access the photos on the trip without a computer anyway.
  • I took two fountain pens and one ballpoint, along with extra cartridges. One would have sufficed and ballpoints are everywhere so no need to pack one ahead of time.

Overall, I loved the #onebag way of traveling. We were able to almost run through Heathrow to catch an earlier bus to Chepstow when we got in, which we wouldn’t have been able to do with rollerboards, and when we got back to London after leaving Knighton we walked the mile to our hotel from Euston without even thinking about it. We did use an extra duffel to bring home stuff from our London shopping (cheese, tea, books, notebooks), but we had planned on that.

I’m going to try and use the same technique when I go to my annual professional meetings over Labor Day. I think it will work. I’ll keep you posted!