I feel your pain, Cynthia. Traveling light is a big challenge for outdoorsy types because of all the gear, footwear, and clothing we have to carry. And with the airlines practically forcing you to take out a mortgage to check bags, its not exactly affordable either. Read on for some simple solutions to your problem.
Wear your biggest pair of shoes instead of packing them
Once, while traveling to Seattle to climb Rainier, I wore my leather mountaineering boots on the plane. I felt—and looked—like a dork. But I saved a ton of space in my duffel bag. I don’t recommend you try this with ski boots, though.
Take a messenger bag, not a backpack, as your personal item
I have this great daypack that sports all kinds of little pockets for organizing things. I never take it on planes. The more pockets and organizing features a bag has, the less room it gives you for storing your stuff. Go with a simple, big messenger bag. The same theory applies for suitcases: a duffel on wheels is your best friend because it usually consists of just one giant compartment.
Buy your toiletries when you arrive
This tip adds a little expense to your trip, but it's worth it. You'll save valuable space if you don’t have to pack toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, and the like.
Avoid clothes made from cotton and other natural fabrics
There’s nothing more comforting after a long day on the trails than taking a shower and slipping into a pair of blue jeans and a cotton shirt. But if you're traveling, forget it. Clothes made from natural fibers occupy too much suitcase space, and are more difficult to wash and dry. Quality synthetic-fiber pants and shirts generally wrinkle less, are lighter, and are way more compact.
Bring fewer clothes and wash them more
No matter how long your trip is, don't bring more than three days' worth of clothing. If you followed tip number four and brought only synthetic-fiber clothes, then you can easily wash and dry everything by hand in your motel bathroom or at your campsite.
Leave the laptop behind
For you dinosaurs who still have a laptop, leave it behind. Enter this century and get a tablet computer and a compact wireless keyboard. Even better, just use your phone for email, Web surfing, and, if you must, Foursquare.
Rent or ship your gear
I’ve shipped bikes and skis before, and found that in most cases it’s not worth the money. Renting equipment is usually a better option, as long as you find a high-quality outfitter in advance. But ground-shipping a small box of stuff to and from your destination is often much cheaper than the $50 to $150 round-trip cost of checking a bag.