Ultralight Luggage: 4 Trade-Offs to Consider

ultralight luggage downsides

What could you do with an extra 2.5 pounds (about 1.1 kg) when packing?*

It might not seem like much at first glance, but in the world of packing light, that extra weight allowance is huge. I could pack an extra outfit (including jeans), or a pair of boots, or maybe even my laptop.

It is for that reason I always travel with ultralight, minimal (and small) luggage. If I can save a kilogram on the vessel that holds my belongings, I can pack comfortably even when trying to meet 7 kg (15 lb) carry-on baggage restrictions.

That said, choosing to travel with ultralight luggage comes with some trade-offs, which I’ve learned while traveling with both ultralight backpacks and suitcases. I believe these trade-offs are worth it, especially since I try to travel ruthlessly light, but you may not. Here are the extra considerations that go along with choosing ultralight luggage.

*The weight mentioned was when looking at 2 similar sized carry-on suitcases made by the same company, with one in the lighter weight line. The actual weight you save varies by luggage size, brand and model.

lojel lumo ultralight suitcase

1. Less Sturdy Construction

I’ve gone on several trips over the past year with a Lojel Lumo carry-on suitcase (the Lumo line has been replaced with the Alto line; check out Lojel products on Amazon). This ultralight suitcase has served me well in that it provided ultimate space with limited additional weight. However, when comparing it to other models in the Lojel range (which I did at the travel goods show where I received it), some definite trade-offs were noted.

First off, the wheels are thinner than the dual wheel system of their other lines. This means the suitcase feels a little less stable when standing up, and I found that putting anything on top (like a laptop bag) makes the suitcase more top-heavy and prone to nearly falling over when in motion.

ultralight luggage tradeoff thin wheels
The thin wheels of the ultralight model.

Secondly, the handle was a T-bar model instead of the more robust U-shaped handle. The handle feels more wobbly and less sturdy, providing a bit of (annoying) give when pushing it along on floors that aren’t super smooth.

Both of these trade-offs were necessary to shave off the extra grams/ounces of the suitcase. While I do find them annoying at times, they are not enough of a downfall to have me shy away from the ultralight model. But for you, they might be something worth considering.

Some things to consider when going for ultralight backpacks might be the use of thinner material and a less robust frame. Neither of these necessarily means the backpack won’t be any good or serve you sufficiently, but they are important things to keep in mind when shopping.

2. Fewer Features

To make ultralight luggage, not only will there be trade-offs in the construction, but also with the amount of extra features. So, an ultralight suitcase will not have that built-in drink holder, that extra umbrella slot, or that built-in battery pack for recharging your devices on the go. My Lojel Lumo pretty much contains one special feature, that being a built-in TSA-friendly lock.

Ultralight backpacks may forego additional organization pouches and pockets, hefty internal frames, built-in rain covers, and even hip belts altogether.

lojel lumo basic shell suitcase
Ultralight luggage often has fewer features. The closer to a basic shell, the lighter it will be.

In essence, ultralight luggage will be more like a basic shell– which is the case for my Lojel Lumo suitcase and my favorite Tom Bihn Smart Alec backpack (no longer being made, sadly!).

My Smart Alec backpack has been my faithful travel companion for years due to it’s spacious 26L size, sturdy fabric and construction, and it’s total weight of just 1 lb 15 oz (865 grams). My main gripe has always been the lack of a hip belt and compression straps, but the fact remains that if it did contain those, then that extra weight would keep me from being able to pack an extra outfit or pair of shoes when carry-on weight restrictions are in play.

3. Less Organization

smart alec backpack inside
The inside of the Smart Alec backpack is a basic shell with 2 pockets.

Additional pockets, pouches, and compartments actually add weight to luggage due to extra fabric, padding and zippers. That’s why, as mentioned in point 2, ultralight luggage tends to be more like a shell. I actually prefer to have the shell version of luggage, but other travelers might fear that lack of built-in organization.

Ali, admittedly a bit of an unorganized traveler, actually relies on that built-in backpack organization to make her packing work for her. While you can create your own custom organization using a combination of lightweight packing cubes (my favorite brand right here on Amazon) and pouches, it may not be your ideal luggage situation.

4. Better for Body?

Besides saving money on baggage fees, one of our top reasons for packing light is so that your luggage isn’t a burden on your body. Lifting a lighter suitcase into an overhead bin puts less strain on your body. Carrying a lighter backpack puts you at less risk for back/shoulder/hip injuries (very real luggage related injuries).

keep light luggage light
Complement your ultralight luggage by actually packing light.

Using lightweight luggage helps, but if you continue to stuff it with the heaviest items you can find, it might not make much of a difference at all. For example, my Smart Alec backpack with it’s lack of a proper weight-bearing hip belt means I carry any weight of the contents directly on my shoulders. When my bag is heavier than I like, I can definitely feel neck and shoulder strain after a surprisingly short amount of time.

Some backpacks will cut weight by taking away some of the additional padding on shoulder straps. Other light models won’t include a robust suspension/frame system. My Lojel Lumo suitcase, with it’s wobbly handle and less sturdy standing, sometimes causes more arm strain when trying to push it over uneven surfaces and carpet.

To combat these potential body strains when using some models of ultralight luggage, I make it a point to always pack super light as well. Otherwise it won’t be better for your body.

Moral of the Story:

Whenever someone asks me if they can pack for their trip with just a carry-on (or just 15 lbs of belongings), I always tell them it’s possible if they are willing to make some sacrifices. The same goes for when choosing ultralight luggage. There might be trade-offs, but that extra weight saved will be worth it if packing super light is the goal.

What are some of the trade-offs you’ve experienced when choosing your ultralight luggage?

P.S. You may also be interested in this post: Why Solo Female Travelers Should Pack Carry-On Only

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ultralight luggage tradeoffs
ultralight luggage downsides

Written by Brooke

Brooke Schoenman runs the show at Her Packing List. Inspired from years of travel experience, Brooke decided there needed to be a travel gear site focused on the needs of a wandering female.

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Packing Cubes – Organize your luggage with the lightweight, durable and compressible Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes.


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Pacsafe – Since they come with extra theft-resisting features, Pacsafe bags make you a more confident traveler. We especially love this bag.

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Nalgene Toiletry Bottles – These leak-free toiletry bottles and tubs come in all sizes – even super tiny, helping minimalists pack it all without bulk.

Turkish Towels – They’re thinner than most travel towels, and they actually cover your body! We can’t get enough of Turkish towels for travel.


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Speakeasy Supply Co. – They make the awesome hidden pocket infinity scarves that are perfect for stashing secret cash, lip balms, and passports.

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Comments

  1. Lady Light Travel says

    I have found that ultralight luggage and packing cubes are quite a bit more expensive than regular weight items.
    That’s OK by me. The cost is less than a forced check (and fees) or a Dr visit because I strained my back.

    As a long time backpacker I actually prefer an open bag with few side pockets or compartments. That way I can pack differently for different trips. The single compartment is also nice if I am carrying larger items.

    I also want to point out that having things wear out isn’t a bad thing. Do you really want your luggage to last 20 years? Luggage is morphing quickly at this time. If you buy super sturdy luggage then you won’t have an excuse to replace it with better luggage.

  2. Fiona Ludbrook says

    I used a hybrid suitcase/backpack in the 1990s, then upgraded to a hybrid backpack/wheelie case, then to a lightweight soft whellie, now downsized again to carry on size. First a soft wheelie, now a fantastic 40 gram duffel from MacPak. I needed a small duffel for Botswana where light aircraft will not accept wheeled luggage.
    The duffel was in many ways a forced purchase, but having already used it once, i prefer it to the wheeled case, or a backpack, which I hate getting on and off and is a genuine security risk when wearing one, of being injured in the case of attempted theft.
    I am am also feeling the benefits of an extra 2-3 kilos less weight, before I even start packing!
    Contents will remain as always for me, having got my luggage items down to a pretty fine art.
    Of course it depends where you are travelling as to how much the level of bag snatching increases, but it was a common experience for many backpack style luggage, in South America’s bigger cities

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