Travelling with carry on bags only is an ongoing process. When we first started serious travelling on our Y2K month long honeymoon to Thailand, we both had 65L packs (ArcTeryx Bora 65s) that weighed about 14kg each when packed. The pack alone was almost 2Kg. We used these for backpacking in Canada and for our annual trips to SEA to avoid the depths of Canadian winters. In 2016 when we were in the process of retiring and down sizing for world travel, we knew we wanted smaller packs for Carry On so wouldn’t have to worry about lost luggage anymore (which had happened 3 times over the years). We ended up switching to a 40L backpacking pack for Paul and a 38L pack for Helen (Gregory J38 and Gregory Z40 from 2016). When packed they weigh close to 7kg each along with a small carry on personal item of about 2kg. The carry on personal items fold down to small sizes and are stored in our main packs when not in use. These packs were half of the weight of our old Arc’Teryx Bora 65s.
7kg is a bit of a magic number these days as lots of airlines use it as the maximum carry on weight. To help keep within the airline limits we purchased a small USB travel scale. It’s been great to spread the load between each of us evenly and keep us both below the magic 7Kg’s. You can check out this website for a list of the various airline carry on weight limits. The more we travel the more we figure out what we really need and what we don’t.
While travelling we used our Gregory packs to do the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, twice :D. We feel we made a great decision to go with backpacking centric packs vs. travel packs. The full suspension on these packs allowed us to do serious backpacking which would have sucked for the back and shoulders using some of the popular travel packs. These Gregory bags we chose can be accessed via clam shell openings as well as through the top. The only thing missing from a “travel” pack is a laptop sleeve. Since we didn’t have a laptop this worked out fine. When trekking we would pare down our packs to only what we needed and added some stuff like sleeping bags, hats, gloves and trekking poles. What we don’t carry we leave in a cheap bag in our hotel to be picked up on our return. Here are the contents of our packs for the Annapurna circuit: Paul’s pack, Helen’s pack.
Fast forward to September 2019 and we had just finished a 1400km Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Southbound (SOBO) trek from the Canadian border down to Crater lake, Oregon. When you are living in the outdoors for 60+ nights, weight is a huge factor. So even though we loved our Gregory’s we decided to give one of the ultralight packs a try. Northern Ultralight is just a 1.5 hour drive from where we are staying and has great reviews so we went with that one. They weigh only half of what our Gregory’s did and were super comfortable when fully packed. We also really like the way the pack can switch from an Ultralight beast to a perfect day pack with the removable aluminum stays and hip belt and cinch straps.
After travelling with the NUL Sundown packs for 6 months (PCT + SEA) we are now firm believers in light weight packs. Everything is easier with a lighter pack. And with modern fabrics, light packs are no longer disposable packs. We do sometimes miss the clamshell opening of our Gregory packs but we would never trade our new ultralight packs for a heavier one with clam shell. Packing cubes make accessing stuff in our NUL Sundowns through the top opening pretty straight forward.