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I received a challenge from a reader recently, which, by the way, I love. Is it possible to pack well and go light? I mean, extremely light? How about a 10 pound bag? Is it possible or crazy to bring all of the necessities in such a small amount of weight? I have accepted this 10 pound bag challenge. It is absolutely possible, although I tend to be a person who believes in magical thinking. Want to take a trip to crazy town with me?

Of course you do. This weekend marks the beginning of the holiday travel season. Travelers will be met with long lines at airports, long wait times at check-in and tight restrictions for baggage. The baggage fees alone will cost you a pretty penny if you go over the limit. Last year, the airline industry made more than $3 billion off of baggage fees! Ouch! Packing light is more important than ever to keep your sanity and pocketbook in check.

My Method

My typical bar for a bag’s weight is 16 pounds. This reflects the typical restriction of 8 kilos of weight on European carriers like Lufthansa. I’m also packing for extended periods, often up to two months, and usually in the warmer months of the year. Here, I am packing a 10 pound bag for all kinds of weather, assuming a 2 week trip.

In this scenario, I am packing a generic bag. I put together items from my normal rotation of travel clothes and accessories, but only the most critical ones. I chose clothes that include combinations that could take you from L.A. to Chicago in November, and clothes that have casual and dressier combinations.

I have decided to take this challenge even further, just to see if it’s possible. I’m putting together one bag total, no personal item or purse. I am including ALL of the clothes that I would take on a two week trip, accounting for even the things I would wear on the plane. Absolutely everything I would take, with the exception of my cell phone which I used to photograph this experiment, is included in the 10 pound bag.

The Bags

This is the critical piece of this experiment. An empty backpack can account for 3-5 pounds before you even begin packing, and a rolling bag far more. I looked through what I own that could fit all of the most important items but weighs little. None of my traditional bags fit the bill.

The perfect bag for this experiment is the one I use as my spare carry-on for souvenirs, the Lewis and Clark Electrolyte Duffle. It is made of a thin and soft nylon and packs down to a ball about the size of a mandarin orange. I was a little skeptical about it when it arrived. I seemed like the fabric was way too thin to be strong enough for a couple bottles of wine. I was wrong. It was put through serious stress for more than two months and came home looking like new.

To keep this experiment at the 10 pound mark, I decided to skip a traditional purse. Instead I am including a lightweight shopping bag from Reisenthel, a bag company that’s very popular in Europe. It is just a simple shoulder bag, but works well as a basic solution and makes you look like a stylish German. My son used this as his day bag last summer.

I used packing cubes and bags to assemble the contents and keep them organized. Picking from the random assortment of stuff sacks and cubes, I used my Eagle Creek Specter cube for shirts, which were rolled. I found a simple stuff sack from my Rick Steves luggage and rolled my pants up, stuffing them in like a bag of hotdog buns. For my undies, I used a Tom Bihn stuff sack from my knitting bag.

The Clothes

For this experiment, I have picked real clothes that worked for me on the road this year. They are road tested and light.

For tops, I have chosen a basic black tank top, two sleeveless tops, a short sleeved silk top, two long sleeved tops, an angora pullover sweater and a black cashmere cardigan. These items can be layered and worn in a variety of ways that can deal with different temperatures. Washable silk is always a good choice, but even better in this case. I tend to choose colorful tops because everything else tends to be black. Blame architecture school for that.

For bottoms, I have chosen two light pairs of pants. One is navy blue linen, the other is a black rayon blend pair. Both look nice and dressy if they need to but are very comfy. I’ve also included a pair of thick gray leggings from Costco, which can be worn alone if you like that look, or under the light pants in cold climates. I tend to only wear leggings under things or when I’m not planning to leave the house. You’re welcome.

Dresses may not be your thing, but they should be. I’m speaking to the women, btw, but hey, no judgment. Dresses look nice but feel better than pajamas. For my ultralight experiment, I’m packing a simple black travel dress from Eddie Bauer. This dress looks great on and can be layered with sweaters, a scarf and leggings in cold weather. I like to wear it with big, bright jewelry.

The Shoes

My perpetual favorite travel shoes are the Asics Metrolytes in black. I’ve replaced the insoles with Superfeet and they feel like expensive walking shoes. The low profile makes them a little more elegant than the giant neon marshmallow soles on most running shoes these days.

The other pair I’ve chosen for this bag are ballerina flats, assuming that this is a fall or winter bag. I really like my cheap-o $25 ballerina flats from Payless Shoe Source. This year’s pair is a blue suede-like material with a dangling gold charm. They are so cute, I feel adorable when I wear them…if it’s possible for a 6’2″ woman to be adorable. I’ve owned black and beige pairs of the same model. I keep coming back to them because they are the only ballerina flats I’ve found that are light and have a cushioned sole. Someday I’ll be a famous travel writer and will be able to afford Tieks, but until then I’m good with Payless.


Since I am assuming colder weather (just to make this more of a challenge), I have included two sweaters, one of which is a warm cashmere cardigan. Both of these can be layered over any of the other tops. Layering the cashmere over a silk undershirt can keep fairly cozy even without a jacket.

Because it is so light, packable and warm, my fall jacket from Eddie Bauer is a great pick. It stuffs into its’ own little sack attached to the collar. On my trip, it seemed to be water resistant although it does not have a hood. I did not put an umbrella in this bag, partially because they are heavy but also because I always lose them.

The final outerwear must-have is a scarf. My lightweight silk scarf from Benetton is still my favorite. It’s big and can keep me warm even if it’s as thin as tissue paper.


You can skimp on a lot of things in an ultralight bag, but underwear is not one of them. I mean, I guess you could take two pair and wear them inside out occasionally, but I’d like to think I’m more classy than that. So I’m sticking to the 7 pair rule, but choosing only my lightest pairs, including thongs. Sorry to scandalize you with this information, but thong undies are much lighter! Rather than three bras, I’m picking only two, one black and one flesh colored. Wear one, wash one.

For socks, I’m packing three pairs. One pair of the most beloved Costco Merino wool hiking socks (swoon!) and two pairs of black ankle socks.

For pajamas, I am packing the same silk nightgown I bought earlier in the season. It’s light but surprisingly warm and comfy. I like it even more, it’s softer now that it’s been washed a few times.


This is another place where you can spend a ton of weight, so keeping it simple saves weight and space. In this case, I’ve packed my typical toiletries bag that I use for up to two months. It’s a 3-1-1 bag from Tome Bihn with a little hook inside and is the most minimal toiletries kit I know of. I included all of my normal things, with one substitution.

Here, to save weight and space, I’ve included a new find– deodorant creme. I found this little tube in Verona at a grocery store. Just applying a little bit of the paste should last for a week. I made it two days before smelling like gym socks, but still, not bad. I’ll be trying out some of these deodorant pastes over the winter and will let you know the results. Be glad you don’t live with me.

Other Stuff

Our purses tend to be full of things we think we need but really don’t use. The contents of my purse alone can be close to 10 pounds, mostly of candy wrappers and receipts. I went through my bag and pulled out only the things that I could not live without for the 10 pound bag challenge.

I’m packing my iPad, which can serve as a book, guidebook, map, pen and paper, camera and much more. By using the iPad, those things can stay out of the 10 pound bag. I’m bringing the charging cord, wall plug and adaptor, headphones and a small back-up battery.

The remaining random contents of my purse boiled down to kleenex and chapstick. Who knew? Toss in Sunglasses and a couple of necklaces, along with my Box of Awesome, and you’ve got everything you really need.


I was working towards meeting the challenge of packing a perfect 10 pound bag, but I didn’t want to skimp on comfort. I didn’t even bother to weigh things first, I just heaped all of the most important items in a pile, put together outfits that worked as if I was packing a normal bag. Basically, I was just packing as I usually would and eyeballing the weight.

Did I make it? Yes! I was pretty shocked, actually. The bag came out to 10 pounds on the very first try. Exactly 10 pounds! Weird! I was expecting to thin a few of the shirts, but everything fit perfectly and met the weight goal. Goal!

This experiment has kind of messed with my mind. Picking up this carefree, feather-light bag, I am wondering why I need that other 6 pounds normally. Carrying this little bag about is such a pleasure. The only thing that it is really missing is my pillow. I’m betting, however, that once I remove the clothes and shoes that I would wear on a plane, the pillow would fit right in.

Looking at the contents of this bag, I don’t see any real sacrifice in lifestyle from my normal bag. I’d miss my projector, but I can live without it. More jewelry would be cool. I like my regular purse, but maybe this ultralight approach would be better for my back.

A 10 pound bag can be done. And maybe will be my future.   

AWS Staff

This post was published by the Adventures with Sarah team. Click here to find out more about the people that make everything at AWS happen.


  • Judith says:

    Of course it’s possible for a 6’2” woman to be adorable, and you are! Love your blog, helpful, sensible and funny.

  • Julia Williams s says:

    I’m 81, my husband and I go to Italy every year for a month, and I read every word you write. I feel,like you are a friend. Thanks

  • Wendy says:

    So impressive! And I love those Payless flats too. I pack a taupe or black pair on nearly all of my trips.

  • Sarah, what a fantastic post! Thank you! I just started reading your blog in the past month and I have loved every single piece thus far. Although I have no trips planned right now, this post is making me want to plan one just so that I can pack your 10-pound bag!

  • SandyS says:

    Before starting to attend your packing lectures at Rick Steves in Edmonds, I was taking the biggest suitcase imaginable and struggling to keep it to under 50 pounds … and hating every moment of lugging that beast around. Over these past two years, with your help, I’ve whittled it down to 20 pounds max (1 RS suitcase and no personal item). But I can do better and with this post I have new ideas … thanks Sarah!

  • Lynn says:

    You said you couldn’t take your projector. I don’t recall you mentioning one before. Is that tour-related?I find these pieces so interesting and informative.

    • says:

      I take a mini projector with me sometimes to do slideshows for my groups when I can. I also like to watch movies in my room at night sometimes. It’s a luxury, but a fun one!

  • Barbara says:

    You are just the best! I love your post for great information, fun, inspiration! You are absolutely adorable and I have the most fun and positive outlook. Love reading your blog. Thanks for sharing!

    • Barbara says:

      OK, so I meant YOU have the most fun and positive outlook. Well, I think I do too but was talking about you. 🙂

      • says:

        Ha! I think you must too! Positivity is what the world needs right now, I’m in the business of spreading sunshine. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

  • Kathleen says:

    Hi Sarah, I was wondering what items you would wear on the plane, and then how much the bag would weigh afterwards. Just so you know,you are responsible for my kitchen scale living in my closet.

    • says:

      Ha! Love it. I think with the shoes, coat, sweater, socks, pants, underwear and so on, you’ve got about two pounds that you could remove.

  • Julie Magri says:

    “I tend to only wear leggings under things or when I’m not planning to leave the house. You’re welcome.”——————————I’m still laughing at that one. Thank you!

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