Packing it in

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This weekend I did two things that have been on my list for a while. I tried packing all my trip gear into the Tom Bihn Aeronaut, and I took the fully loaded Aeronaut (which I've now started to refer to in my head simply as "Tom") for a jaunt around town, on foot and by public transit. The result was somewhat discouraging and very revealing. For those of you who want the Coles Notes version, here are my conclusions:

  1. I want room for more stuff.
  2. I want to carry less stuff.
Me and Tom and my Boston Marathon jacket, at the bus stop. (A self-portrait)

The Stats:

Approximate weight: 25lbs - 3 lbs over the 10kg. limit for most carry-on.
Approximate dimensions: 25" x 15" x 10" - about 1" too big in all dimensions, due to bulging.

Some thoughts on the packing:

I am very grateful that Tom Bihn makes a high quality product. Heavy duty construction and good zippers are essential when you're cramming a year's worth of stuff into 2700 cubic inches.

Not surprisingly, shoes are an issue. I wore my traveling yak-leather shoes and packed my running shoes and my new sandals in the bottom end pocket of the Aeronaut, and it's a squeeze. I don't know what I'll do when I want to wear the sandals and pack the Yaks.

I also had to repackage my Malarone prescription, because when I picked it up it came in FIFTEEN boxes, with twelve blister-packed tablets per box, taking up about 12" x 5" x 2.5" of space. Luckily, the pharmacist provided me with a giant pill bottle, properly labeled, so on Friday night I popped all 180 tablets out of their shiny foil and dumped them in the bottle. Much better.

Dear GlaxoSmithKline: Seriously?

I did some triage on my first aid kit (heh heh... get it? Triage... first aid... heh...). I abandoned about half the bandaids and Pepto Bismol tablets, some antiseptic swabs, and the crash scissors. I also put everything into a zippy pouch that's flatter than the much swishier but slightly more bulky zippy pouch most of the stuff came in. Also, why do OTC drugs like acetaminophen, ibuprofen and dimenhydrinate (Gravol) come with 24 tablets in a bottle big enough to hold 100 tablets? And would I get into trouble at border crossings if I repackaged them into smaller, unlabeled containers?

Other items that may be on the chopping block:
  • bathing suit (Could I just wear a pair running shorts and running bra?)
  • extra running/sleeping shirt (I have 3 technical t-shirts and 1 sleeveless t. That may have to be enough.)
  • extra running/sleeping shorts (Though I haven't yet figure out how to wash and dry these overnight and still have something to wear to maintain basic decency in a hostel.)
  • the Absolute Shoulder Strap (The backpack straps are unquestionably the most comfortable way to carry a fully loaded Aeronaut, which means the strap would likely only be used for:)
  • the Convertible Packing Cube / Shoulder Bag (I love it dearly, but it may be extraneous.)
I've also decided on a new daypack. Astute GSRED readers may remember that my first pick for a traveling daypack was the Rick Steves Civita. The Civita has the advantage of being super light and packable, but its big disadvantage is its complete lack of structure (referred to by the GSRED Product Testing Division as E.F.Q. "Extreme Floppiness Quotient"). It's also not even remotely waterproof.

Instead I've decided on this pack, from MEC. It's a hydration pack, which will make it great when I'm doing long runs (or on long camel treks in the desert!), but also functions well as a daypack. It's smaller than the Civita (13 litres, as opposed to about 20), but I think I prefer that. Also, the interior sleeve for the hydration bladder fits the Eee PC perfectly, it has a chest strap and removable waist straps, a good number of compartments, and some structure. (I'll just have to get over the fact that it's called the "Petite Fille". Yeesh.) The problem is that all those extra features mean that it doesn't pack up nearly as tightly as the ole' Civita. Despite going through about 47 packing permutations this weekend, this is still causing some consternation.

Some thoughts on wandering around with fully loaded pack:

I walked a few blocks to the bus stop and made my way down to the Exchange District where I enjoyed an unsecured wifi network and a tasty but very sloppy veggie burger. (Seriously, they should serve that thing with a bath towel because I almost needed a shower to get all the vegan creamy salsa off. I think I still have some in my eyebrows.)

I also spent some time at MEC. I hauled the Aeronaut up to an empty bench in a corner of the upper level, along with various sizes of small zippy pouches. Then I proceeded to unpack a thousand tiny bits of miscellaneous gear to try and organize them more efficiently for easier, tighter packing. I was only mildly successful, but very grateful that the sales person didn't mind me sitting there amid a pile of pill bottles, adapters, chargers, cables, toothpaste, sink stoppers and other travel effluvia, cursing softly and occasionally resting my face in my hands and sobbing quietly.

As for actually carrying the bag, the first few blocks were fine. The first hour was ok, but 25 lbs was hefty to swing around, especially when getting the pack on and off. I can't imagine how people travel around the world with 30 or 40 or 50 lb packs. By the time I was hiking to the bus stop for the return trip, my shoulders were sore and all I wanted to do was go home. Then I realized the next time I do this there will be no home to go to.


TravelingToLive said...

Wow Pam, your pack is VERY small! Goodluck with the packing, I am sure you will figure it out.

Gillian said...

We did the exact same thing this weekend. And it was simultaneously pleasing (it all fit...yay!) and stressful (there isn't much stuff in there!). Our packs come in at 25lbs also...but we're not trying for carry on so we have a little more space. I agree with you about the drug companies - the bottles are at least three times larger than needed - I don't get it!'s all coming together!

Viviane said...

Your bag looks tiny! Congratulations on making it in to that size.

Lisa said...

why did my eyes get all teary reading this entry...:((

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