Small Backpack

How to Pack for 3 Weeks in a Small Backpack


March 22, 2016 - Austin Grandt

How much stuff do you really need when traveling? During my previous trip to Japan, I was surprised when I showed up to my friend's house to head to the airport and all he had was one tiny backpack for a 3 week trip. I secretly wondered, "how is he going to last these next few weeks?". Not only did he last, but he taught us all that you can always find something to cut out of your bag to travel lighter. 

Here at Trip Dojo, we are big fans of packing light. A backpack and a carry on are normally what I bring with me and I only check a bag out of convenience if it is free, as is the case on Southwest. Most travelers tend to pack WAY too much stuff and check multiple bags. Dragging heavy luggage around can put a damper on your trip and you only end up using a fraction of what you brought.

This style of travel is becoming more popular as people realize that they often don't need as much stuff as they think they need. There is also a sub-movement of ultra light packers who prefer to pack in one single bag and carry nothing more. Backpacks, like the Tortuga Backpack or Minaal bag, cater to these types of travelers and I suspect this style of travel will continue to get more popular. 

In my friends case, he was packing in a bag much smaller than these, which impressed me even further. Throughout our trip I periodically asked him if he had enough clothes, toiletries, etc. and his answer was always yes. Towards the end of our trip, I asked for some advice on how others could pack in such a little bag as him.

On a long journey, even a straw weighs heavy

- Spanish Proverb

Convinced that you need to consider packing lighter? Here are some of the tips for packing in a small backpack to lighten your load.

1. Roll Your Clothes

Rolling your clothes saves a TON of space. I already do this in the duffle bag I normally carry and I've found that you can carry about 2-3x rather than just folding your clothes. The drawback to this method is that your clothes can become wrinkled quite easily if you don't roll the well or they become unrolled. I normally only carry t-shirts, a long sleeve, and some bottoms (jeans or shorts) so this normally isn't too big of a concern. If you have to travel for business, you will likely be traveling with a garment bag that your nicer clothes will go into.

When packing my back I normally follow these 4 steps to maximize my space:

  1. Roll the bulkier items (jeans, sweatshirts, etc.) and put them at the bottom
  2. Roll my t-shirts and fill in between the bulky items
  3. Stuff my socks and underwear towards the edges
  4. Place items that need to be folded at the top

Like I previously said, don't expect your clothes to be wrinkle-free coming out of the bag, but it should be pretty good. If you are concerned with wrinkles, use the shower trick at your hotel room to steam your clothes. 

2. Wear the Bulk

Sweatshirts, jackets, and bulky items are very difficult to pack. These items take up a lot of room in your bag and can make you feel like you should be taking more bags. Don't give in to this and try to wear as much of the bulky items as you can onto the plane. Planes are often cold anyways and I try to wear layers as much as possible. You can stuff your jacket in the overhead compartment and it can act as a blanket in dire times.

6 Sweaters

3. Get Rid of Redundancies

Do you often bring 4 pairs of jeans, only to wear one the entire trip? I think this happens to a lot of us and getting rid of these redundancies will free up a ton of space in your bag. Be ruthless with what you carry. Ask yourself if you will absolutely wear/use that item while on your trip. If there is any level of hesitation, don't bring it. The only exception to this rule is a small first aid kit, which I try to bring on most of my trips. 

Some of the items that we tend to carry a lot of are bottoms (pants and shorts), jackets, and sweatshirts. You often only need one solid long sleeve to fit 95% of situations, yet I see many travelers bringing 3-4 of these bulky items. 

4. Limit the Tech

Quite often one of the things that takes up the most room in a carry on is the amount of tech you bring. I always think I need to carry my full mirror-less camera, iPhone, two extra batteries, Nintendo Switch, etc. when in reality I use my iPhone for the majority of the time and use the battery once. Take inventory of what you really use to ensure that you are only bringing the essentials.

It can definitely feel like you are going to be missing something or that you won't get the perfect shot without your full camera. In ultra light packing like this, you might not always have the gear that would be optimal for every specific situation on the road. Instead, it's important to remember the rule of "almost perfect" and come to terms with the idea that you might not have everything perfect for your trip, but it will likely be just fine!

Our pick: iPhone 8

An all around great phone to have with you on the road. Stay connected, take beautiful photos, and keep your maps with you all in your pocket.

Expand for Detailed Description


  • Compact
  • Updated camera takes great photos even in low light
  • Multi use


  • Can be difficult to get unlocked if with specific carrier
  • Needs tool to switch sim cards

5. Take Less

This one seems silly. It's obvious, but the less you take the smaller the bag you can carry. Most of us carry enough underwear, socks, and t-shirts for every day that we are on a trip. If you are willing to do a load of laundry (which can be a fun and interesting experience) on your trip, you can immediately cut the number of items in half. If there is anything that you are missing, you will likely be able to buy it when you arrive at your destination.

Product we love: ExOfficio Boxers

To reduce my load on underwear specifically, I have been taking ExOfficio with me as they are easy to wash in the sink and can dry overnight. There are a bunch of other shirts and pants that can do the same, which is super handy in a pinch if you don't have access to a washer or dryer. 

Expand for Detailed Description


  • Packs well to save space on your trip
  • Sink washable
  • Built for comfort



  • Pricier than "regular" boxers

Taking less can often lead to a smoother travel experience as you don't have to lug massive bags through the airport. Use these tips as a guide to help you pack for your next trip. If you have any other tips, we would love to hear it and add it to the list. Leave your comment below!

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