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Downsizing to Just a 42L Backpack and Purse for Two-Week Trips

downsizing to a 42l backpack

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The following downsizing to a 42L backpack article was submitted by Emily Beck. See all of our downsizing stories in one place.

I used to pack more outfits for a week and a half than someone would need for an entire semester abroad. I love fashion and dressing to match the place I’m going, but I always end up with too much.

Now I’m learning to manage packing supplies for my Crohn’s disease, as well as enough outfits and travel snacks, for two weeks in just a backpack and a purse.

My Tipping Point

While in India, I admired a girl who carried everything in a 60L backpack. It was still large, but compared to my giant rolling suitcase that had to get strapped to the top of a jeep, it seemed like nothing.

I ended up buying a ton of clothes there to wear, and I found half the items I had packed weren’t useful. Instead, toting it around made my back sore, and I was always super sweaty and uncomfortable.

Although I had an amazing time, I still imagine how my new, much less invasive luggage would’ve been especially useful on that trip.

Emily's backpack compared to her two full-sized luggages
Emily’s backpack compared to her two full-sized luggages

It had taken two trips, a trip to Italy and then to India, for me to realize that being a “just in case” or “mom” packer, didn’t suit me. (We at HPL call this succumbing to the inner worried mom voice.)

The endless energy I got while traveling was depleted by dealing with all my stuff, and it made me lag behind everyone else. Sure, I had enough snacks to feed the entire group, but it wasn’t sustainable.

How I Pack Light for Two Weeks

The most important thing I did to be able to fit everything in a 42L backpack, was downsizing my clothes; I’ve recently learned how to pack a capsule wardrobe! I used to let myself get carried away with buying cute outfits for the upcoming trip. When the time came to pack, I was always having to take out new items.

Now I take more time planning, enjoy the process of getting ready, and only buy necessities (especially being recently graduated and on a budget).

Typically about a month before a big trip, I lay out in a journal where I’m going and “guesstimate” where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing each day, even if it’s just a list of things I want or might have to do there.

TIP: Make this a part of the pre-trip countdown.

Then I look at the weather, write down a range of temps and whether it’ll be sunny or rainy, and start a list of essentials from my closet. I have a clothing rack that I hang those clothes on and visualize all my outfits without holding back.

Emily hangs her clothes on a rack to better visualize her outfits
Emily hangs her clothes on a rack to better visualize her outfits

Over the next month, I add things to the rack so I can see my outfits. I think through how often I actually wear things so I know in the end what’s really going to be useful on the trip. This helps hold me accountable and turns my exciting trips to the store into making more realistic purchases.

I try to pick a day 1-2 weeks before that when I can do laundry and run errands if I need to. At this point, I double-check the weather.

TIP: I also leave out a grocery bag (try a reusable one) that I throw things into for those times when you wake up randomly in the middle of the night and remember something you just “cannot forget”.
Emily lays out the clothes she plans to bring on her trip
Emily lays out the clothes she plans to bring on her trip

Then I go through clothes, toiletries (downsizing toiletries is key), shoes, and snacks, and lay them all out on my bed. I roll everything up, check to make sure it fits, and leave it until I forget what’s in there.

Bringing out my backpack always makes me reconsider and put some things away!

After a few days, “pre-flight anxiety” usually kicks in, and I go through everything again. At this point, I almost always take out a few more pieces of clothing… this is my room for souvenirs!

After this final review, I also take photos of outfits laid out on my bed so I’m sure to wear everything. (I don’t always use the photos, because I pack things that match everything else so it’s easy to throw something together if I need to.)

The photos keep me from spending too much time getting ready at my destination.

Packing in My New 42L Backpack

The first two times I traveled with a backpack, I used a 28L. Although this was impressive, I found that my things were crammed and inaccessible during travel. It made me just as annoyed and anxious as when I was trying to find something in my large luggage.

To solve this, I recently splurged on a 42L Cotopaxi backpack that has a bunch of accessible pockets and nooks. It is perfect for in-flight outfit changes and post-flight freshening up in the airport bathroom (when you don’t want to take everything out and have to put it on the floor… gross!).

It can get heavy, but I just apply a “28L mindset” while I’m packing.

Emily's clothes packed in double-sided compression packing cubes
Emily’s clothes packed in double-sided compression packing cubes.

I also use double-sided compression packing cubes. They are a dream! They keep my dirty and clean clothes separate and allow me to still fit in a lot of cute clothes.

My original plan after downsizing to a 42L backpack was to visit the UK, but we ended up postponing the trip for a year. I went to our family’s place in Cape Cod instead, for some quiet relaxation away from the crowds. It’s just a short drive, but I still packed for it in my new lighter way!

Interested in Downsizing to a 42L Backpack?

Does Emily’s story sound familiar to you? If you are always being held back by your luggage and want to make the change to traveling with a backpack only, here’s what you should know.

A 42L backpack is the maximum size range we’d recommend here at HPL. Anything bigger than that and you would struggle to carry it easily and it would most definitely not count as hand luggage

It’s a great size option because it can be taken as hand luggage on most flights while still being big enough to fit in all the gear you need for your travels.

While a 42L backpack can be the size of many carry-on suitcases and in many cases will qualify as a carry-on, make sure you double-check the airline restrictions. For stricter airlines, you might have to check it in. 

Check the dimensions of your backpack when packed. If it is stuffed full of extra gear, it may no longer fit the airline’s carry-on luggage policy.

Don’t forget! Our ultralight packing course, HPL Packing Method, can make this process so much easier. Pack your lightest bag ever without sacrificing what you truly need.

42L Backpack Options

When choosing a backpack remember that it’s going to get much heavier once all your clothes and shoes are packed. Make sure you choose an option that has a comfortable carry with supportive shoulder straps.

Depending on your travel style, you might want to invest in a backpack with an adjustable sternum strap or an adjustable hip belt. Hip belts take the pressure off your shoulders.

Think about your essentials when traveling and how often you’ll have your backpack on you to help you decide on the best option for you. 

If you always travel with your laptop or tablet for work emergencies then you want to make sure your chosen backpack has a laptop sleeve or tablet sleeve. If you’re going to be doing a lot of walking with your backpack on, then you might want to choose an option with an exterior travel water bottle pocket.

We’ve rounded up some of our favorite options below if you’re interested in downsizing to a 42L backpack:

42L Cotopaxi Allpa Travel Pack $220

Emily downsized to the Cotopaxi Allpa 42L backpack
The Cotopaxi Allpa Travel Pack is made from durable, lightweight, ballistic nylon paneling.

The Cotopaxi Allpa 42L Travel Pack is the one that Emily splurged on when downsizing to a 42L backpack, and we can see why.

It has a weight-distributing, low-profile harness system with an adjustable and removable hip belt. There is a padded laptop compartment, YKK zippers on all closures, 2 internal mesh compartments, an included rain cover, and an exterior water bottle pocket that accommodates bottles up to 3″ in diameter. And we haven’t even covered all of its features!

Plus, it has a lifetime warranty and repairs!

Cabin Zero Classic Plus 42L Backpack $116.00

If you are downsizing to a 42L backpack, the Cabin Zero Classic Plus is a great option.
The Cabin Zero Classic Plus 42L Backpack comes in four fun colors.

The Cabin Zero Classic Plus 42L Backpack features a front-loading main compartment, a quick-access front panel zip pocket, an enhanced air-mesh back panel, and a waist belt. It has a water-resistant coating, YKK zippers, top and side grab handles, and it is made from durable polyester.

Caribee Komodo 42L Team Backpack $119.95

When downsizing to a 42L backpack, the Caribee Komodo is a great option.
The Caribee Komodo 42L Team Backpack has a reinforced comfort grip grab handle.

The Caribee Komodo 42L Team Backpack has the latest version of Caribee’s Bio-form padded harness system with air mesh padding and a sternum strap for additional pack stability.

It has a flat water-resistant base that makes it stand upright and makes packing and finding your items easy. The front pocket storage is ideal for quick access items. Pockets on both the left side and right side can store smaller items and hold drink bottles.

Inateck 42L Carry-On Travel Backpack $59.99

When downsizing to a 42L backpack, the Inateck 42L Carry-On Travel Backpack is a great option.
The Inateck 42L Carry-On Travel Backpack can be carried in three different ways!

The Inateck 42L Carry-On Travel Backpack has a hidden zipper pocket for personal items. The adjustable chest strap, broad shoulder straps, and breathable back panel make for a comfortable suspension system. The main compartment can open like a suitcase, making looking for your clothes easy and convenient.

Check out our other backpack recommendations here:

About Emily: A designer by day, Emily spends most of her free time at the beach dreaming up her next great adventure. She also enjoys horseback riding and is an aspiring renaissance (wo)man. You can find female travel-related design work, sketches, photographs, and paintings inspired by trips in her portfolio.

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Gear We Use

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Speakeasy Hidden Pocket Scarves


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Splice Reversible Jaisalmer Tunic


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Eagle Creek Compression Packing Cubes


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Tom Bihn 3D Organizer Cube


Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack - Fits in the palm of your hand!
Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack


Turkish Travel Towels


Travel Resources

HPL Learnables

Handbag Packing Masterclass – Learn to pack your lightest bag ever in this revolutionary packing class run by HPL founder, Brooke.

Creative Ways to Minimize Your Toiletry & Beauty Kit – Practical tips alongside DIY recipes designed to help you pack lighter, smaller & with fewer liquids. (Also included as a bonus to Handbag Packing Masterclass.)

Book Your Trip

Viator – Enhance your trip experience by booking from thousands of tours across the globe. – Search for hotels, hostels, and apartments using this one resource. Use it for flights, car rentals, and airport taxis as well.

Trusted Housesitters – Save money on travel accommodation by becoming a housesitter. Housesitters often have extra duties, like caring for pets and gardens.

Reader Interactions


  1. Nancy Yates says

    I looked at the fabulous backpack you recommend which I find very expensive, but beyond the price, I wondered if the bottom end is reinforced in any way so as to prevent slashing a more than distressing way of being robbed of your bag contents when in a crowded place (a person comes up behind you and slashes open your bag taking all the contents). The zippers do seem to be fairly but not entirely inaccessible for crowd situations. So, I guess what I am pointing out is that despite the price, this bag seems to have some flaws. Not sure it would be a good investment.
    I would also like to point you towards a great travel skirt, Rip Skirt, which fold up so small and can be a big bonus for many situations – go from a dining room to beach to a cultural site; sometimes too a skirt is just cooler than pants when you are off some place warm.
    Happy travels.

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