The internet is full of packing instructions, hints and hacks, so I have always thought that the world would not need another “how to pack” guide, honestly. That being said, one of the topics we face most while answering the messages that we receive from our customers or from people interested in our products is packing: questions about how we pack the ATD1 Backpack, feedback about how they pack it, requests of suggestions about how to choose a luggage for a certain trip, and the list goes on. So, since ATD Supply makes travel gear developed with a fair share of miles under the belt, I decided to put all those chat and email discussions together, adding my personal notes, and explore how I travel and pack, hoping this will be of some utility.
In this first part, we will talk about the questions that lead my gear choice before each trip, big or small, and the luggages i tend to use. The second part will be all about packing lists, exploring the kits i carry and how they combine with each other. Last part will be about packing, we will talk cubes and how i pack.
The travel: defining its purpose, destination and means of transportation.
Like many of us, I've been traveling to different kinds of places and in many ways, from tentacular cities to secluded outdoors destinations, from car camping to months long backpacking trips, sleeping literally everywhere (fancy hotels, train stations, parks and streets included) since I was a late teenager. It has always been in me and I have always been encouraged to do it (which was not common in Italian parenting style). My first long range backpacking trip, a 6 weeks long summer “inter rail” in Spain, saw an 18 years old me leaving with a 80l basic hiking pack full of useless things, including at least 2 kg of canned food to save money during the trip. Now I pack almost the same, way smaller, amount of gear for any trip that is over 2 weeks, I discovered how to spend almost nothing to eat around while traveling repeatedly as a broke backpacker in Europe, northern Africa, India and SouthEast Asia, and at the same time i learned how to enjoy comfort and self indulgence as years passed. I learned what can be left behind because it can be found almost everywhere for a few bucks and what I necessarily need to pack for my well being and peace of mind.
The author pretending to be ok while fighting high altitude disease at 5000m. Kashmir, 2018.
I tend to be quite minimalist in general, trimming my possession to things I use and make me feel good. That said, I have, and sometimes I pack objects that an intransigent minimalist would definitely judge as non essential. Plus, even if adaptability is something a person who travels should master, peace of mind and comfort are really important to me: a 45h long, 2nd class train trip across northern India can be literally a nightmare or a relaxing experience also depending on the ability to have what makes you comfortable at hand.
Clearly, as each trip teaches me new things about me and how to pack, in these years I developed some fixed bits of kit I always or almost always carry when I pack, but we’ll get there. Let’s start from the travel itself: a 2 days business trip, a day at the beach, a long car trip to visit and be hosted by some friends or relatives for a bunch of days, a weekend getaway to another city with your partner and a month across Iran with local transport can obviously lead to whole different set of needs, and these are the questions that should drive the packing list AND the luggage choice:
- Do I have specific needs (prescriptions, “gender related needs”, habits, sports I want to train in, etc)?
- What mean(s) of transportations will be involved?
- Will I fly? (consequently: will i check my luggage in or take it with me in the cabin?)
- Will I face any restriction in terms of items I can carry during the trip and/or at
- Will I face warm weather or cold or both?
- Will it rain a lot?
- Will I have to walk with my luggage?
- Will I face formal or semi formal events?
- Will I have the chance and time to wash and dry garments (or have them washed)?
- Will my trip include activities that involve specific gear I'll have to carry (hiking, sports, work, etc.)?
- Will I be able to leave my luggage in a room or car or will it stay with me?
- Will I face authorities' controls and/or high petty crime that could lead to the “loss” of fancy items?
- Will I need more than basic First Aid gear because of low medical standards or availability?
The Companion Backpack: my first attempt to design a travel backpack, as my only luggage in Kerala, 2015
The luggage: before checking what to pack, check where to pack it in.
Except for those comfortable car trips with a comfortable base and limited time or need for walking around with a bag (where i use a tote, or more rarely an old Patagonia Black Hole duffel bag), and except for those trips where i need a second bag to store specific gear (being it hiking or kayaking gear, snowboarding boots, a ceremony suit, etc), i always travel with the ATD1 Backpack as my only luggage. Its ability to expand, be packed with all the needed gear and then be quickly compressed and used as a daypack once at destination is what I was trying to achieve while designing it and it’s still the best feature it has so far. The other three features i love as i did on day one are its bombproof construction (mine has no real sign of wear, after four years of constant and definitely unkind use), the fact that it’s still comfortable even if i have to walk with it fully packed and, last but not least, its unobtrusive aesthetic, making it capable of blending in all environments without being too formal, too tactical, too technical or too fancy looking.
In the pack, I always pack items in packing cubes, their number depends on the trip: i use our signature ones, some old Cordura® ones i made years ago or, in the past, some basic Muji ripstop nylon and mesh ones.
If the trip could involve heavy or prolonged rain exposure or water proximity, I pack a thin but sturdy Ortlieb Pack Liner dry bag in bright orange, folded.
ATD1 in daypack mode. Ladakh 2018
When i have to carry a laptop AND i need to check the pack in for a flight, or tie it on a truck’s roof, or on a motorbike’s side rack, i tend to carry a secondary bag to be used as a carry on, usually an ARB tote bag or just a random cotton tote bag depending on the space i have. On the other hand, if i won’t have to check the pack in for a flight, or even if i will, but have no laptop with me, i just go with my first EDC line plus some additional items in my pockets or in a small pouch that will later disappear in the pack once I have it back, usually an ASP pouch or the sturdy 10l dry bag bought ages ago in some random market in South East Asia that i still bring if the trip is supposed to involve water activities at some point.
Rolling luggages appeals to me, especially if they are well designed and sturdy, like Pelican or aluminum, Rimowa style ones. That said, I don’t own and I actually don’t plan to own any at the moment. Sure, sometimes I secretly envy those who push their four-wheeled luggage around airports with a finger, while I have my pack on my back, but I instantly come out of that dream when I see the same people dragging them on uneven grounds once arrived, or carrying them by the handle to avoid the same grounds. They are the type of luggage you can see more frequently while traveling, they have their advantages, but the people i’ve seen loading them on small boats in South East Asia or fighting with Delhi sidewalks looked more tired than me envying their wheels during some airport stopover. I don’t exclude the chance of having one in the future for easy and comfortable trips, or if I will ever need to transport more fragile equipment, but that’s not in my plans now.
A dry bag used as a liner was particularly useful during a 8hrs motorbike ride to Khong Lor valley, Laos, in monsoon season 2017.