Let’s talk Packing: what, why, and how to pack for traveling - Part 3/3

Before diving back into packing, i wanted to make a little note about these posts cover pictures, since i was asked by a couple readers: first one was taken in the Bolaven Plateau, Laos, while the second one is from Cofete Beach in Fuerte Ventura, Canary Island. This post's one is from the same island, somewhere near Mount Tindaya. All of them were taken by me.

The Organization: cubes and pouches, different approaches.

Previous part described my travel clothing, EDC setup(s), kits, the container used for them, how I combine them and how I iterate or avoid iterating their content depending on travel length or destination. Let’s see how I pack that into cubes and what are the different approaches I have tested during the years.

Personally, I have never loved bags with a lot of built-in organization, let alone too many separate compartments. I prefer one big, expandable compartment I can organize with packing cubes and pouches: this allows me to change bags easily if I want or have to and to load and unload it quickly. I obviously appreciate some organization to unload my pockets or for some extra item i need at hand, but it has to be unobtrusive, well thought and not too specialized for me to like it.

Packing cubes

Me being stupid with all the gear i took for a four weeks tour of southern India, with local transport and motorbikes, packed in the first travel backpack i designed: the Companion. Cubes were from Muji, the blue The North Face pouch is no longer with me and now i carry way less stuff. 

I've always packed using sub-bags, even just plastic bags, and learned the benefits of packing cubes long ago, because they allow me to unload the pack in a matter of seconds and compress it to daypack mode. They also protect their content, reduce wrinkles and avoid losing things in the bag itself. It is not exaggerated to state that the ATD1 backpack was developed to be used with cubes.

First thing, i try to pack all garments in one single large packing cube (this one, actually). I fold them, and this will surprise many readers since the mantra of modern packing is “roll it, don’t fold it”. If I had to pack without cubes I'd definitely roll my garments, but using them allows me to avoid this. Sometimes I also fold dirty laundry, place it in a light dry bag or in a plastic bag and put it all in the same cube to fit all garments in one place.

I’ve done most of my recent traveling, including six months mixed weather tours, with one large cube for clothing (plus maybe another medium one for really long trips) and a medium cube with almost all kits in it (trying to avoid too much pouches inception). I use a medium cube also for 1st level dopp and a change of clothing i’d bring for a weekend, instead of just throwing them in the bag.
The few items that I almost never pack in cubes are an extra clothing layer, flip flops, EDC pouch, books or E-reader.

ATD Supply

This was my setup for the same trip to the Philippines I wrote about when listing clothing. I did it with the ATD1 only, but needed to check it in so I packed a drawstring bag, that black thing at the bottom, to carry the laptop and my 2nd line EDC during flights. I packed two cubes: the large one for clothing and the small one for a dopp kit, first aid / medicine kit, an Ortlieb watertight pack liner, laptop cables, travel miscellaneous items and a collapsible bottle. The cotton jacket, when not in use, stays in the front pocket with my EDC pouch. Total weight: 9kg including laptop and ATD1 pack itself.

ATD Supply

All packed in Manila, 2019

How to pack the ATD1 Backpack: the best way(s).

ATD1 is an incredibly expandable and adaptive pack, it can become huge when compared to its smallest form. As we have seen, it is conceived to work with packing cubes. Sidewise, it fits two well packed 10cm wide ones and this can be kept in mind as a sort of unit of measurement. 

My packing experience with this pack is extensive, it is the only pack I traveled with in the last four years and it has been used almost everyday as a daypack since the beginning, trying every way to pack it depending on load and use. When I carry it in daypack mode, I basically compress its side panels and roll top completely, mainly using the front compartment for the useful items I would otherwise carry in my pockets, plus the things I need at hand. In the main compartment, that I access from the clamshell style back panel, I use the stretch sleeves for laptop and books (or any other heavy and flat object I want to sit close to my back), and just throw the eventually remaining stuff in it. A medium ATD packing cube, or any other packing cube with similar measurements, will fit vertically in the pack without it being expanded at all.

On the other hand, for bigger loads, I lay the pack horizontally on a bed or table with the clamshell back panel open, the top unrolled and the side panels totally expanded. Then, I place something soft and small (light jacket, sleeping bag, a fleece, small dirty laundry bag) at the bottom to compensate for the necessary slanted shape.

Via the back panel, I then place the cubes and pouches (or other flat items like a folded jacket) in the pack, forming one or more even "layers" inside it. One of these “layers” is usually just one large or two medium cubes, less frequently some smaller pouches combination. I tend to start with lightest objects, placing the heaviest ones on “top”, as they will be closer to my back when the pack is worn. I also prefer to keep the cubes opening toward the backpack’s back panel, for quicker access.

ATD supply
Kashmir 2018

After a couple times, especially when traveling with the same cubes and pouches, the user will be able to pack it without expanding the side panels completely and then compressing them on the load, because the “thickness” of the cube/cubes will be already known.

Once the content is even, with the pack still lying horizontally, back panel can be closed and sides can be compressed. At this point, the ATD1 can be turned up vertically and eventual excess objects that were not enough to form a full layer can be loaded from the top. If something needs to stay accessible but still protected inside the main compartment, it can be placed close to the top part of the back panel zipper. The top has to be finally rolled tight toward the back, in order to reach perfect compression of the load also on the front of the pack.

ATD1 Backpack
Buckle can be closed on the sides for better compression or on top to secure the whole pack with a wire lock