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Size Matters: The Ultralight Backpacking List For Female Travelers

by Meg · 3 comments

Just imagine yourself checking out of your hostel in Barcelona and dashing a 1/2 a mile in a mad rush to catch your train to Paris. Exhausting right?

Now imagine doing this with 75 lbs on your back… Yes, I have witnessed this self-inflicted torture in action.

The solution: Pack lighter!

Trust me, your shoulders & back will thank you…

“But, COME ON, what about all my cute shoes and clothes?! Is ultralight backpacking really that simple when you are traveling for months on end?”

I have gotten this question THOUSANDS of times when I told other people (especially women) that I traveled an entire year with a 32L Pack.

It’s hard to recommend backpacks on an individual basis as everyone has to adjust to their own preferences, but both my husband, Tony, and I made due on our trip around the world with our two 32 liter bags and a computer bag for each of us – without sacrificing our style, travel lifestyle… or our precious spines.

Want proof?


BOOM. This is all we carried for 12 months.

So how exactly did I successfully pack my life into a super tiny backpack for a whole year, traveling through a variety of climates and landscapes, with zero regret?

Look at everything I could fit into this 32 liter pack – what else could I want?

Here’s My RTW Ultralight Backpacking List

  • 32L backpack – Deuter Futura 32. I can’t recommend this bag enough. It packs in SO much & very comfortable. I traveled with this puppy for 12 months and still travel with it three years later!
  • A GOOD quality camera – Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5. You’re going to want better photos than your iPhone camera. But DSLRs will be too heavy to trek around. Tony and I researched the BEST point-and-shoot and the Lumix beat all the others. It was an incredible camera for its size and takes AMAZING photos.
  • 1 pair hiking shoes – Merrell Women’s Siren Sport 2 Waterproof Hiking Shoe . These durable and waterproof hiking shoes are lightweight, non-bulky, are perfect for long hikes and can even be used as a running shoe.. Two birds. One stone.
  • 1 pair ballet flats – I love the Puma ballet flats. They roll into a small ball and can either be dressed up or down. I purchased them in a mustard yellow, which seems like an odd color, but they matched every darn outfit. Tip: I purchased separate Superfeet inserts to make the ballet flats more durable and supportive for long walks.
  • 1 pair rubber flip flopsHavaianas Women’s Slim Flip Flop. Havaianas are durable for rubber flip flops (mine lasted 8 years!) and perfect for hot days, the beach, and the nasty hostel showers you are sharing with 100 other backpackers.
  • 1 headlampUltra Bright LED Headlamp Flashlight. This is a must have for overnight hikes and in hostels with bathrooms outside of the main sleeping area.
  • 1 pair hiking pants – prAna Monarch Convertible Pant. These are comfortable and actually cute. I wore these even when I wasn’t hiking. They can also be used as full pants in cold weather and capris in warmer climates)
  • 1 pair running tights – Nike Lady Filament Long Running Tights. This is a super high-quality tight – I have had my pair for 8 years. I had these in black, so I wore them both casually and during workouts.
  • 1 pair jeans… or jeggings if you’re planning on traveling to France or Italy #justsaying. Any brand will do!
  • 1 fleece – North Face Women ‘Denali’ Fleece Jacket. This fleece is super warm and much needed for the very cold nights.
  • 1 zip up hoodie – North Face Women’s Mezzaluna Hoodie. This non-bulky, slimming hoodie was perfect for cooler temps and in the evenings.
  • 1 rain coat – North Face Women’s Resolve Jacket. This jacket is windproof, waterproof, and perfect for layering in rainy weather.
  • 3 quick-dry/no stink shirts – Icebreaker Women’s Siren Tank. Worth the splurge! These tanks are incredibly durable, warm, and stylish. Go for the solid prints, all in different colors for added versatility – I had one in black, light grey, and navy.
  • 6 pairs undies – ExOfficio Women’s Give-N-Go Lacy. I Love these! They are cute, moisture-wicking, quick-dry, and odor shielding. I purchased 3 thongs and 3 briefs for the trip.
  • 1 sports bra – The Nike Pro Bra was my jam!
  • 1 regular bra – Any kind works
  • 1 bikini – Any kind works
  • 1 pair heavy socks – Smartwool Women’s Hiking Medium Crew Sock. These warm, high socks are perfect for chilly weather and hikes.
  • 2 pairs regular socks – Smartwool Light Micro with ReliaWool. These socks are lightweight, moisture wicking, and prevents blisters on long hikes.
  • 1 alpaca sweater, 1 alpaca hat, 1 set of alpaca gloves – I purchased these in Peru when we hiked the Inca trail, but they were great for the places we traveled to that were much cooler than others.
  • 1 sundress – You are going to want to look cute on occasion! My advice: Pack a sundress. This Mireno Wool dress from Icebreaker is travel-friendly and stylish. They barely take up any room in your suitcase, are super light, comfy, and cute… Plus, they are incredibly suitable for strolls through a foreign city on a hot day. Aside from Mireno, I would recommend packing a silk dress that doesn’t wrinkle.
  • 1 travel makeup kit – I can’t remember which brand I purchased but this one looks legit.
  • 1 lightweight scarf – I bought a bold print blue one in Croatia, but it was the perfect accessory to make any outfit pop with a splash of color.
  • 1 shawl – I bought a beach shawl from a roadside stall in Thailand and practically lived in it on the islands!
  • Packing Cubes – I was OBSESSED with the Eagle Creek Packing Cubes, as they kept all my clothes and odds & ends organized and compressed everything into a tight ball for more space in my pack.
  • Other items: Nuun Energy Hydration Tablets (for emergencies), medications, toothbrush, toothpaste, baby wipes, hand sanitizer, comb, hair elastics, bandaids, Advil, small pieces of jewelry, etc.

I am really glad we went with small bags. I remember seeing backpackers wandering around Europe with 75L bags and I was in pain just seeing them haul all that weight around.

For more tips, check out Tony’s article on the best packs for ultralight backpacking!


It really is true that if you have room in your pack you will somehow find a way to fill it. With these small bags, it’s impossible to overpack and weigh yourself down.

Couple o’ questions back at y’all: If you are planning to travel longterm (or have traveled longterm), what do you think is the best size bag? And what’s your go-to travel item every female traveler MUST have on the road? Please share below in the comments!

About Meg
Exhausted from traveling every week as a Business Management Consultant early in my career, I took a year off in 2012 to travel at my own pace. I am a high-energy girl that loves being active, eating food, drinking wine, and exploring the world with my partner-in-crime (and husband), Tony! I now reside in Portland, Oregon and continue to write about travel, food, wine, and the awesome adventures we have in the Pacific NW!

Ali May 14, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Even as someone who travels carry-on only all the time, I’m super impressed with you guys for getting all the way down to 32L! I can’t seem to deal with less than 40L plus either a purse, my DSLR or a separate daypack, depending on the trip.

But YES, packing light! I often think I have too much stuff with me, and no matter what, my pack always seems heavy after walking around with it for awhile. So I can’t imagine being one of those backpackers with the 75L bag. You do NOT need all that stuff!

Great list!

Meg May 15, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Thanks for commenting Ali! A 40L is also a great size pack for longterm travel. We did meet-up with Tony’s parents halfway through the trip in Turkey and they brought us several pieces of warm weather clothes and we swapped out some of our colder weather gear, as the next leg of the trip was to Asia… so this did help a lot! But I also found that when you really did need things that you may have not packed, you could easily buy them abroad, and often for much cheaper than the US. I bought beach shawl wraps and random tank tops from local markets for pennies! Overall, it was really nice not to carry around all that weight.

Shelby August 31, 2016 at 4:29 am

I referred to this list so many times when packing for our RTW and I was confident I would have so much extra space in my 46 L pack and I would do a perfect job packing. Spoiler alert: I have no extra space and I am carrying so much weight between my backpack and messenger bag (I think between two bags I have 35 lbs which seems impossible since my bags are so small). How much did yours end up weighing?

Almost 3 weeks into our trip I am almost ready to ditch about half of the things I brought. I have no idea how you fit all of those things into a 32 L bag! I am so impressed.

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