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Paul Smith: Packing light

It's a fine art to pack so that you have what you need without weighing yourself down. —Paul Smith photos
It's a fine art to pack so that you have what you need without weighing yourself down. This is my duffle with no wheels by my tent in Russia — no wheels was a bad idea.—Paul Smith photos

Tips for the road or water

Quite often folks ask me for advice about outdoor gear. Most of the time it’s a fishing rod or some sort of fly fishing equipment. I suppose that’s what I know the most about. A lifetime of praxis, theory, and reading I suppose must count for something.  Second to that, I’d say are winter clothing and boots, given that I’m liable and inclined to sleep in a tent throughout our coldest winter nights. So folks figure that I know a warm coat or comfy frosty weather socks.

My old reliable Osprey hiking pack - Paul Smith photo
My old reliable Osprey hiking pack - Paul Smith photo

Although it never gets Labrador cold here on the Avalon Peninsula, I still can dress myself for the elements. I am always happy to do my best to help out those blessed with the spirit for adventure.

Last evening an old friend called me for a chat. He has a daughter who is planning some lightweight travel and backpacking through Europe with a companion. He wondered if I could advise on appropriate backpacks for their travels. I was most happy to help. In fact, I’m thinking there might be more adventurers out there who might like to read about the very same issues and challenges.

First, I must admit that I have never backpacked through Europe. All of my dedicated backpacking has been in the forest carrying a tent, axe, and sleeping bag.

My pack of choice for overnight outings is my Osprey Aether 70-L, a grand bag, but it’s much too big to fit in the carry-on bin at the airport. Most savvy travellers don’t check their luggage. They travel light with just a carry-on backpack. Give or take a few inches, 40-L seems to be the average size bag you can use as a carry-on. The Osprey Farpoint 40-L would fit the bill. So would the Kelty Redwing 32-L, or the Patagonia Headway-45-L. 

Is it enough space? Yes indeed.

Understand that travelling in the woods or on mountains is very different than touring city streets and towns. For one thing, you might likely be sleeping in inns, hotels, or hostels, as opposed to the Earth’s bare soil. So you can leave behind your sleeping bag and pad, as well as a tent.

You might not need an axe. In any event, even the smallest hatchet might raise concerns at airport security. And only snacks need be carried on your back, not two or three day’s food supply. All that said 40-L, or even less is tons of volume for an extended European walk and fly-about. 

You keen observers out there might be thinking about clothing needed for maybe a month or more on the road. I say two months is no different than a week.

Bottom line, you have to wash up your clothes on the road. Nowadays it is so simple and easy. You just buy yourself the hiking stuff. That’s lightweight quick-dry pants, shirts, underwear, and so on. It weighs next to nothing, washes up nicely in a sink or shower, and dries so fast, you won’t believe it.

When I clean up on the road I wash my clothes with me in the shower. I could stay on the road indefinitely, with a 40-L pack, including a 6-pc 5-wt fly rod, a box of trout flies, and a decent-sized camera. No rubber boots, I’d wet wade with my sticky bottom Teva sandals. Tevas were originally conceived for water — Colorado River I believe. I wear them kayaking and fishing often. They are very lightweight, durable, and functional, and fit nicely in a 40-L pack, a great nomad’s shoe, even if you don’t fish.

Experience teaches

Like I said, I have never officially backpacked around urban and rural Europe, not in the conventional sense, but I have travelled quite a bit for fly fishing. These travels have landed me in some wonderful urban locations en route, Stockholm, Helsinki, Oslo, Reykjavík, to name a few. That’s the experience I draw on.

There is beauty in functionally simple
There is beauty in functionally simple

Hauling a full fishing and photography outfit overseas isn’t easy or simple. That’s where my travel-light experience comes from. I travel to fish and photograph, so I can publish articles in fly fishing magazines. My carry-on is a waterproof roll top 40-L or thereabouts bag. But that gets filled with my Nikon digital camera, lenses, and tripod. Yes, the tripod is totally essential. I have one as compact as will work. This total outfit usually weighs in at about 25 lbs.

My big bag is a rolling duffle, presently I’m using an Osprey 120-L Shuttle, an older model. Now they come in 100-L and 130-L options. That’s what I put everything else into, besides my photography gear.

Of course, this bag has to be checked. But I can wheel it around the airport, or even around town, while toting my camera outfit on my back.

Whatever you do, avoid situations where you cannot move from A to B without assistance. No matter your plans, the unexpected usually happens. I got grounded from my flight in Murmansk, with a no wheels duffle. It was not fun.

Consider this. I am only allowed 50 lbs. in my duffle. I typically carry four fly rods and four reels. For non-tropical I need chest waders, wading jacket, two fishing shirts, and wading boots. Add to that a couple of jackets for layering.

When travelling by boat it’s good to have a waterproof bag.
When travelling by boat it’s good to have a waterproof bag.

Then there’s the fly boxes and fly lines, along with a fishing bag of some sort. Weight adds up very fast. I figure I get about 10 lbs. left over for a complete wardrobe. T

hat would be two pairs of denim jeans and nothing else, hence no Levis. So, I have developed packing super light to a fine art. And I wash my clothes in camp. There is no other way.

If you have any travel or packing tips be sure to e-mail me. I’ll share them in a future column.

Paul Smith, a native of Spaniard’s Bay, fishes and wanders the outdoors at every opportunity. He can be contacted at or follow him on twitter at @flyfishtherock

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