A Global Rucksack Revolution: Thru-Hiking, Bikepacking, and Traveling 15 Countries with One Rucksack

A Global Rucksack Revolution: Thru-Hiking, Bikepacking, and Traveling 15 Countries with One Rucksack

This is the tale of a global rucksack revolution through 20 months, 15 countries, and 5 continents — all with one Kumo 36 pack and no plans.
Hike the Drakensberg Grand Traverse through South Africa and Lesotho

Hike the Drakensberg Grand Traverse through South Africa and Lesotho

In September 2017, Ras "UltraPedestrian" Vaughan traveled to South Africa and the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho to take on the Drakensberg Grand Traverse. This roughly 140-mile trail was the furthest off-grid Ras had ever been, and he looked forward to the vexing extremes of the landscape. He also looked forward to being a visitor in a new place and meeting those who call it home.

Ras collaborated with filmmaker Joel Ballezza of The Wild Ones Films to document and share this journey on the Drakensberg Grand Traverse. Joel brought the narrative of Ras's time on the trail to life by reviewing and curating over 65 gigabytes of GoPro footage Ras brought back with him.

Drakensberg Grand Traverse

Interview with Ras Vaughn on Hiking the Drakensberg Grand Traverse

Ras took some time to answer some questions we had at Gossamer Gear about what his trip was like, why he chose to document it through video, and how others can prepare to attempt this route.

Gossamer Gear: Can you explain what an "only known time" is, and what you find appealing about completing these types of treks?

Ras: An Only Known Time (OKT) is like a Fastest Known Time (FKT) except that instead of trying to shave days, hours, or even mere minutes off of an established time, you are trying to establish the first FKT for a new route, a new iteration of an existing route, or according to a different ethic. Only Known Times are the Schrodinger's cat of the FKT scene because an OKT simultaneously exists as both the Fastest Known Time and the Slowest Known Time for a route until a second person completes it and the two possibilities resolve into a single reality.

How was your route on the Drakensberg Grand Traverse different than how it is typically hiked? What appealed to you about attempting to hike it this way?

The Drakensberg Grand Traverse (DGT) is a route across the main range of the Drakensberg Escarpment from Sentinel car park at the north end to Bushman's Nek in the south. It traverses the heart of the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site. The route crosses back and forth over the border between South Africa and Lesotho, "The Kingdom In The Sky." The DGT is roughly 220km (137 miles) long with more than 9,000 meters (30,000 feet) of elevation gain, although those numbers vary because it is not a set trail. The standards for the DGT were established in 1999 by Gavin and Lawrie Raubenheimer. The Drakensberg Grand Traverse is more akin to a peak-bagging route than a trail. The only maintained trails on the route are the first five kilometers out of Sentinel car park and the last ten kilometers into Bushman's Nek.

Drakensberg Grand Traverse

To complete the Drakensberg Grand Traverse one must achieve each of the following waypoints:

  1. Ascend the escarpment via the chain ladders at Sentinel Peak
  2. Summit Mont Aux Sources (the source of Kwazulu-Natal's Tugela River)
  3. Summit Cleft Peak
  4. Summit Champagne Castle
  5. Summit Mafadi (the highest point in South Africa at 11,319 feet)
  6. Summit Giants Castle
  7. Summit Thabana Ntlenyana (located in Lesotho, it's the highest point in southern Africa at 11,424 feet)
  8. Descend via Thamathu Pass to Bushman's Nek

My specific goal was to adhere to a strict unsupported ethic–no resupply or buying supplies along the way, no accepting trail magic or food handouts, carrying all your trash until the end, and traveling unaccompanied. I take a lot of inspiration from the climbing world, and in mountaineering this would be considered Good Style, or Fair Means. Accomplishing a project according to that ethic fascinates me, and I wanted to test myself on the Drakensberg Grand Traverse and see if I could be the first person to maintain that ethic and complete a Double Drakensberg Grand Traverse.

That question mark, that doubt about whether or not I could do it, really excites me and makes by brain light up and fire on all cylinders. Basically, the ethic you choose for an adventure determines the rules of the game, and the rules are what define the game itself. For instance, Rugby and American Rules Football are very similar games, differentiated by just a few rules. Those few rules, those slight differences, are what determine which game you are playing. Same with OKT/FKT.

Drakensberg Grand Traverse

Below are the stats for my single solo DGT:

  • START AT SENTINEL CAR PARK: Day 1, 9:45 AM, Monday, September 11, 2017
  • WAYPOINT #1 THE CHAIN LADDERS: DAY 1, 11:15 AM
  • WAYPOINT #2 MONT AUX SOURCES: DAY 1, 2:25 PM
  • WAYPOINT #3 CLEFT PEAK: Day 2, 6:25 PM
  • WAYPOINT #4 CHAMPAGNE CASTLE: Day 3, 2:58 PM
  • WAYPOINT #5 MAFADI: Day 3, 9:51 PM
  • WAYPOINT #6 GIANTS CASTLE: Day 4, 6:50 PM
  • WAYPOINT #7 THABANA NTLENYANA: Day 5, 5:08 PM
  • WAYPOINT #8 THAMATHU PASS: Day 7, 8:15 AM
  • FINISH AT BUSHMANS NEK: Day 7, 2:47 PM, Sunday, September 17, 2017
  • 6 days, 5 hours, 2 minutes

When did you decide to make a film about this particular adventure? How did you go about capturing the footage?

From the moment the opportunity arose, I knew I had to do something more with it than just experience it and keep it to myself. Africa is where Human Life first emerged and the homeland not of Hominids, such as ourselves, but of Bipedalism, the very behavior that differentiates Humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.

I had heard stories of the Basotho Herd Boys that live and work in the Maloti Mountains in Lesotho and I wanted to be able to tell a little bit of their story. They are a culture that bridges the gap between our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the development of agrarian culture, and the encroaching Information Age. As a People, they sum up the struggles of all Humanity over the last 7,000 years. Plus, I knew I would be immersing myself in some of the most beautiful, rugged, and seldom-visited terrain on the planet and would want to document my experiences.

I had an old GoPro Hero 3+ and my friend Joel Ballezza of The Wild Ones Films loaned me a small powered gimbal (steadicam) to stabilize the shots so they would be high enough quality. I shot everything myself, so any shots of me hiking by meant I had to set up the camera, then hike past for the shot, then go back and get the GoPro rig. It was an interesting experience because you look at what you are doing differently when you are thinking about how other people are going to see it, how you frame shots, how you share your perspective. In the airports, I did a lot of passive filming, just letting the camera record as I negotiated the lines and security checkpoints and crowds, and I was really happy with how these shots captured the overwhelming nature of international travel.

How did this being an international trip affect your planning, as well as your experience once there?

My original plan had been to join a completely different project that I had been contacted about. But, after I had already purchased my plane tickets and made plans to visit my daughter, who was serving in the Peace Corps in Madagascar at the time, I got word that I would not be a part of the other expedition after all. So, I suddenly found myself with a roundtrip ticket to Johannesburg, and no solid plans.

Fortunately, I already had my gear and food and other supplies ready, so it was a fairly easy pivot. But, doing my route research once I was already in South Africa gave me a shorter window of time and more limited resources than I am used to for such preparations, so the entire adventure had a very free-flowing and last-minute character to it. But, southern Africa is a place where fluidity will be foisted upon you if you try to adhere to a strict gameplan, so this was actually an advantage. The international aspect of it had me in way over my head and far outside of my comfort zone, which is precisely the type of challenging psychological terrain I love to explore. So, I couldn't have asked for better.

Drakensberg Grand Traverse

Which Gossamer Gear items were the most helpful to have on your journey, and why?

The One impressed me beyond measure. It's so compact and light and functional, and yet surprisingly roomy. I'm 6' 3" and a lot of tents are quite cramped for me. The One has such ample space that it made a perfect home for me all across Lesotho and South Africa and on to Madagascar afterwards. It felt almost like a spaceship because I would hike until after dark each night, so in the morning I woke up to a new world that I had never before seen in the daylight.

The Vagabond is the perfect carry-on adventure bag. Crammed full, it still fits under the seat of an airplane. Through the airports I would wear it backwards as a front pack, which let me keep an eye on my film gear and easily access travel documents, layers, and snacks and beverages that I had with me.

LT5 Three Piece Carbon Trekking Poles came out just in time for this adventure, and their compact size when collapsed was absolutely key to them fitting in my checked bag. I can't imagine having to try to haul trekking poles around with me from plane to plane and airport to airport without breaking or losing one, so being able to fully collapse them and put them in my checked bag was essential. In addition, their full adjustability made it easy not only to customize the set-up of my tent based on the conditions, but allowed me to change their height from day to day to change the way my body was moving so I could rest certain muscles while engaging others.

Drakensberg Grand Traverse

Did you run into many locals along the way? How did they add to your experience of the trail?

The Basotho Herd Boys were amazing and inspirational. A few of them that I met had learned English and I was able to talk with them. Others were extremely young and inexperienced with Western visitors. One of them, seen in the video, was so shy that he flinched away any time I stepped near to him or when I offered my hand in greeting. His tentative and awkward wave, to me, sums up the precarious balance in which their culture hangs.

Meeting the Basotho people was extremely humbling. I was visiting their land with my aspirations of First World athletic achievement, and their lives made my elective striving seem silly and self-serving in juxtaposition. I would struggle all day long to move through this challenging terrain and beat my way to the summit of one of the peaks on the route only to find a stone hut occupied by Herd Boys just a couple hundred feet below the summit. What for me was a personal accomplishment was for them simply another day at the office.

Drakensberg Grand Traverse

But, they were all friendly and interested. One young man hiked along with me for about five kilometers talking with me the entire time. Then he suddenly stopped and announced, "I must get back to my goats because of the jackals." He was 21 and had gone to a school when he was younger, so his English was very good. He was very proud to be a Herdboy. He thumped his chest with his hand and said, "I am a Herdboy! I don't wear trousers, I wear shorts! I don't wear a shirt, I wear a blanket!" He had made his hat by weaving grass together with fibers from maize bags (like woven plastic feed bags).

But, many of the Herdboys have smartphones tucked into their blankets, as well, and they trade videos and music with one another via bluetooth. The influence of Western culture is just a click away. Despite his proud identity as a Herdboy, this young man told me he doesn't like Basotho women, and he wants to move to America and marry a white woman.

The Herdboy culture is teetering on the brink between the ancient and the modern, but this balancing act won't be able to go on for long. I feel incredibly blessed to have gotten a glimpse of these amazing People at this equally amazing moment in time.

What's the best way someone can prepare for hiking the Drakensberg Grand Traverse? Is there anything you would've done differently looking back?

The Drakensberg Grand Traverse involves mostly off-trail travel, and backcountry navigation. Other than the first and last few kilometers, there's no maintained trail on the route. It's all cross-country travel and linking together game trails and stock trails used by the Herd Boys. In most instances, these don't even head in the direction you are trying to travel, so it's a constant matter of making sure you are on route. Long routes in the United States like the Grand Enchantment Trail and the Oregon Desert Trail would be good test pieces.

It's important to be prepared for the cross-country travel, as well. The terrain is challenging and you will not make the same sort of daily mileage as on a marked and maintained trail. So, it's key to plan a schedule based on shorter mileage days that take all day to achieve.

Drakensberg Grand Traverse

In the end, weather ends up cutting your trip short from what you had originally planned. What did that feel like and how did you make peace with the change in plans?

Honestly, to this day, I have not made peace with the change in plans. In retrospect, I think I should have turned around at Bushman's Nek, headed back up into the Maloti mountains at least as far as the cave, and tried to weather the storm there with the possibility of continuing on after it passed. But, it was a big storm that knocked out the power and internet as far east as Durban, South Africa, and continued for days. So, it's unlikely I could have continued on without either being delayed multiple days, thus stretching my food extremely thin, or by violating the strict unsupported ethic I was attempting to maintain.

It was the tail end of a cyclone. The Drakensberg Escarpment rises drastically and dramatically to the highlands of Lesotho, so weather rolls in off the ocean and over the savannah until it suddenly hits a wall of rock 3,000 meters high. This produces the sort of extreme and quick-developing storms for which the Drakensberg is famous, and which ended my Double Drakensberg Grand Traverse attempt, leaving me stranded in an unfamiliar part of a foreign country with no friends or connections I could contact.

If it had been in the North Cascades in Washington, or on the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona, or any number of other places, I would have risked it. But with the language barrier, the international borders, a lack of detailed maps, little knowledge of the surrounding area, and no local connections to call on, I didn't have the bailout possibilities I would have had at home.

Drakensberg Grand Traverse

But, even though on some level it still bothers me, it's just the nature of the game. Publicly announcing a goal and risking failure before the eyes of the world is just the ante in the FKT/OKT world. That risk of public failure puts some skin in the game, puts something at stake. And, I enjoy playing the game in that way. Generally, I learn more interesting things about myself and the world in which I live from my failures than from my successes. Our lives are a collection of the stories we live. And, "Everything went exactly according to plan and I succeeded," isn't a very interesting story.

It was an amazing blessing to complete a single Drakensberg Grand Traverse. Aside from the weather, I had exactly half my food supply left and half of my batteries charged, so I was in perfect shape to finish the Double in 12 days. I feel good about what I accomplished, and it would be an understatement to say I had a life-changing experience. Meeting the Herd Boys of Lesotho was amazing. In the end, the story of my failed Double Drakensberg Grand Traverse is about the Herd Boys, more so than about me. And my failure to achieve my first world athletic goals only makes for a better story. "White Man Triumphs in Africa" is a headline on the wrong side of history, and an overused one at that. I had expected to be humbled by Africa, and I wasn't disappointed.

7 Things I Learned Thru-Hiking in America as a Brit

7 Things I Learned Thru-Hiking in America as a Brit

Having thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail (AT) and Continental Divide Trail (CDT), I could offer a lot of technical advice about how to hike America's long distance trails. However, in this post, I want to share what it's like thru-hiking in America as a Brit. I'm sure some of these social and cultural observations I've made over the years will bring a smile to your face. I'll also talk about some of the extra things a foreigner needs to think about and plan for when taking on one of America's long trails–as if planning for a 2,000-mile hike wasn't complicated enough already!

Thru-Hiking in America as a Brit: "Are you from LUHN DUN?!"

Having worked periodically in the United States, as well as hiking two long trails, I've gotten my fair share of attention for my accent. My accent is a traveled, watered-down one, but every time I say "Paul" in Starbucks, an American thinks I said "Cole." Trying to correct them just makes it worse, so now I've given up and say my name is Thomas.

thru-hiking in america as a brit

I've had a few "you're not from around here, are ya?" from gruff middle-aged men when hitchhiking in the back of a pickup truck. And yes, I've had giggly "I luuuurv your accent!" once or twice in local watering holes. Getting attention for the British accent can get annoying at times. Generally though, it's a great conversation starter and people just want to hear my story. That storytelling is a fun aspect of thru-hiking in America as a Brit, and has followed me throughout these experiences, observations, and lessons from the trail.

1. Being Amazed at the Array of Junk Food in the Grocery Store while Thru-Hiking in America as a Brit

I remember getting excited as a kid going into Walmart when on holidays in Florida. It wasn't until returning to America as an adult that I realized how much rubbish there is on sale in American supermarkets.

When I bought my first food resupply for the AT, I was overwhelmed by the amount of different crisps I could buy. Other hikers around me were gorging on things called "Honey Buns" and "Ding Dongs." What was all this sugar-coated madness? After the initial shock wore off, I quickly became a convert, eating a Twinkie here and there and sampling these mysterious "Corn Dogs."

By the end of any long distance hike, I'm always sick of everything in my food bag. At least thru-hiking in America as a Brit means there's always something new and awful to try. Over the years, I've tried to cut back on the amount of junk food I eat, whilst still keeping it interesting on trail. To see what kind of foods I eat on a backpacking trip, check out this video series on my Youtube channel.

thru-hiking in america as a brit

2. Witnessing the Booming Thru-Hiking Community in America

It's not until you step out on a busy trail like the AT that you realize what a booming community of long distance hikers there is in America. I knew from research before the AT how many people hike the trail. I wasn't prepared for how much infrastructure exists around the trail. Hostels, restaurants, and shuttle services all specifically catering to thru-hikers.

Once I became more involved with the community through social media, I realized what a booming community it is. Not just the AT, but also the trails out west, such as the PCT, and even shorter, lesser known trails. Coming from a very suburban, English upbringing, I wasn't aware such outdoor-oriented communities existed.

3. Discovering the Wealth of "Cottage Industry" Gear Companies

Business is booming for cottage manufacturers in America's backpacking community. When preparing for the AT, I spent hours researching what gear to bring. I found the majority of the best and lightest options were being produced on a small scale for the U.S. market.

I love to see people with an entrepreneurial mindset earning a living doing something they love. I'd love to support more businesses coming out of the U.K. or Europe. However, I'm a firm believer in finding the right tool for the job, which often means purchasing from American companies.

thru-hiking in america as a brit

4. Marvelling at Wide Open Spaces while Thru-Hiking in America as a Brit

Aside from dog walking on the weekends, all the greenery I saw growing up was at the local playground when I was up to no good. Nothing could have prepared me for the vast open spaces of the American wilderness.

Simply being able to walk in a "straight" line through the woods for five months boggled my mind. That was before I headed out west and saw the sweeping mountain vistas of the Rockies. Turning 360 degrees from the top of a 13,000-foot mountain and not seeing any sign of civilization made me feel humbled and small–as if me and my friends were the only people on this beautiful earth.

5. Logistics of Thru-Hiking in America as a Brit

Planning a multi-month hike is complicated on its own. As a foreigner, there are even more logistics involved. Europeans (which I still am for now, cough, Brexit, cough) can stay in the United States for 90 days without a visa. After that, it's off to the embassy for paperwork and fees.

I've had four separate U.S. visas over the years. Despite lots of paperwork, background checks, and fees, they are fairly straightforward to get.

Another complication is ordering hiking gear, or sending yourself resupply packages out on the trail. Having gear sent to Europe from the U.S. can be cost prohibitive due to high customs taxes. What I've done in the past is had gear sent to a hiker friend in the U.S. and picked it up when I arrive. For the CDT, I was lucky to have my good friend Cheesebeard's mum send our resupply boxes. We headed to Costco and Walmart before the trail and purchased all our junk before pre-packing our boxes to be sent out.

What it is to have good friends.

thru-hiking in america as a brit

6. Not Seeing Another Soul for Days while Thru-Hiking as a Brit on America's Trails

On the AT, I was surrounded by people on an almost constant basis. If you sat down in the middle of the trail, even in the remotest areas, you would see at least thirty people in a day–whether that be other thru-hikers, or someone walking their dog.

The story was not quite the same on the CDT. We hiked some sections where we didn't see another soul for three or four days at a time. Some of these areas on the CDT are so remote that no one heads out there to walk the dog or take a stroll. Harsh weather and crazy conditions also presented some real risks. Dealing with high temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit is not a regular occurrence in the U.K. Just a lot of rain.

7. Embracing the Hospitable and Caring Nature of Americans while Thru-Hiking as a Brit

Despite the teasing between Brits and Americans, most Americans are the most hospitable and welcoming people I've ever met. On the AT, I had several strangers invite me into their homes when they heard what I was up to. They'd make me food while sharing the history of their town to a ragged British man that appeared out of the woods.

I made friends on that first hike that are set to be friends for life. We've had many adventures together since and have more hikes in the works. Friends spread out all over the U.S. invite me to crash at their place, eager to catch up if I'm ever passing through. I often take them up on their hospitality.

The Next American Hiking Adventure in America for this Brit

There are so many cultural and societal differences thru-hiking in America as a Brit. Those I've shared in this post are just a few that resonated with me. This summer, I'm heading back to the United States to link together a series of trails in the High Sierra. To follow along on my hiking adventures, stop by my website and say hello!

The Michinoku Coastal Trail in Japan is the New Long-Distance Hike of Your Dreams

The Michinoku Coastal Trail in Japan is the New Long-Distance Hike of Your Dreams

The Michinoku Coastal Trail is the newest long-distance trail for hikers to add to their destination dream list. This trail, which officially opens on June 9, 2019, is a coastal trail stretching along the breathtaking Pacific coastline of Tohoku–the northern region of Japan. It is about 1,000 kilometers, or 621 miles, long and takes about one and a half to two months to complete the entirety of the trail. It's ideal for hikers looking for a short thru hike with endless beauty and culture.

You can find the latest coastal trail route map here: http://tohoku.env.go.jp/mct/english/top/pdf/route.pdf

Michinoku Coastal Trail

Gossamer Gear Explores the Michinoku Coastal Trail

Grant Sible, President of Gossamer Gear, took his friends from Tokyo for a quick tour of the trail in early April 2019.

Michinoku Coastal Trail

"Hiking along the coastline will most definitely fascinate many hikers from all over the world. While enjoying the hiking itself, hikers will get to see the cultural aspects of Tohoku, too, by stopping at the local fisherman's market for fresh seafood, or at an Izakaya (local pub), and interacting with locals. Local people are very friendly and generally welcoming towards foreigners," Sible describes.

At the same time, it is also important for hikers to keep in mind when interacting with the locals, that many of the villagers still have a vivid memory of the 2011 tsunami. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Tohoku area during this time, and was followed by a tsunami sweeping away most of the small villages along its Pacific coastal region. However, those villages have now mostly been rebuilt, and welcome tourists and hikers from around the world. Visiting the trail and exchanging greetings with the locals will not only be a delight for hikers, but also for the locals. Many never had much thought on hiking culture before building the Michinoku Coastal Trail, but now realize its impact to the region's economy and people.

Michinoku Coastal Trail

What Can You See on the Michinoku Coastal Trail?

Hikers will experience a great variety of sights along the Michinoku Coastal Trail, including beautiful cliffs, rias, and coastline, along with traditional shrines and temples located near the trail.

Michinoku Coastal Trail Michinoku Coastal Trail Michinoku Coastal Trail

There are six visitor centers located along the trail, providing information and resting areas for hikers. Day hikes or section hikes are also a great way to experience the Michinoku Coastal Trail. The trail comes and goes from the coastline to small local villages, providing hikers easy access to public transportation.

Michinoku Coastal Trail

Information on the Michinoku Coastal Trail

Accessing the Tohoku region is easy using bullet trains from Tokyo station, which is connected to Narita International Airport or Haneda International Airport by airport limousine bus. You can find additional maps and more detailed transportation information at the following websites:

Michinoku Coastal Trail

The trail officially opens on June 9, 2019. Throughout the year, hikers can enjoy their walk on the trail. However, the snow season in the northern part of Tohoku starts in December and continues through April.

Hikers will find many accommodations along the trail, varying from campgrounds to luxury hotels. You can find the latest list of trail accommodations here: https://www.michinokutrail.com/accommodation

Michinoku Coastal Trail

At this time, no hiking permit is required for the Michinoku Coastal Trail.

For more information about the Michinoku Coastal Trail, see the contact information below:

Management Office of the Michinoku Coastal Trail NPO Michinoku Trail Club Address: 5-300-31-1 Yuriage, Natori Citiy, Miyagi Prefecture 981-1213 Japan Tel: +81-22-398-6181 Email: info@m-tc.org

Best Lightweight Luggage for International Travel? Same as for the Trail.

Best Lightweight Luggage for International Travel? Same as for the Trail.

We all know what it looks like. Carefully packing everything into our carry-on luggage just to have to dump it all out again at the security checkpoint. Hustling up and down escalators and trains to get to our gate. Dodging people through busy terminals. Add an international flight connection to all of this, and it can make for a stressful journey. By the end of the day, it can feel like you've completed a thru-hike of the world's airports. That's why at Gossamer Gear, we think the best lightweight luggage for international travel is the same as it is for the trail.

best lightweight luggage for international travel

Gossamer Gear's Best Lightweight Luggage for International Travel

Whether you're going from plane to trail, or plane to coffee shop hopping, there's a Gossamer Gear bag that will fit your lightweight travel adventures ahead. Each comes with a unique design to organize all of your needed items. Each also comes with the added bonus of letting you feel like you're out backpacking the wilderness even if you're just killing time during a long layover in Dulles.

Best Business Travel Backpack

If you're on a work trip, we recommend bringing along the Drifter daypack. Constructed with custom N100D Robic Camo Jacquard Fabric, this carry-on luggage will stand-up well to being stuffed under a plane seat or into an overhead bin. The fabric has has a stylish, professional sheen to it that will also blend well with the conference room surroundings during your business meetings ahead. And, finally, this pack has two padded sleeves on the interior that can hold both your laptop and your tablet.

best lightweight luggage for international travel

Best Travel Backpack Carry-on

Another great carry-on option for lightweight international travel is the Vagabond. With a large exterior pocket and plenty of space in the body of the pack, the Vagabond can hold a few extra layers and provides easy access for storing the items you'll need to take out for screening during the TSA security check-in. With two carry handles, the Vagabond allows for easy maneuvering on the London Tube or when racing to hop on your ferry ride to Santorini.

Best Backpack for Checked Luggage

If you have to check a bag for your trip, the best lightweight luggage for international travel is the Silverback 55. This pack is made to be tough, even as it's thrown around under the plane and onto the baggage claim belt. It is also designed to be able to carry a bit heavier of a load while maintaining its lightweight and comfort. If you're packing for a rugged backpacking trip abroad, the Silverback will be your best travel companion.

best lightweight luggage for international travel

An Example of Gossamer Gear's Lightweight Travel Backpacks in Action

The above packs are just three of Gossamer Gear's many options for lightweight luggage for international travel. Depending on your needs, any of the packs will make a great travel buddy.

Here's one story of how Scotland "So Far" Forbes used the Murmur and the Summit for his lightweight international travel. (Note: While the Summit is no longer available, the Quiksak or Riksak would make perfect alternatives for this scenario!)

best lightweight luggage for international travel

I've trusted Gossamer Gear's packs for my adventures in the outdoors in the past few years, but this past summer, I got the opportunity to test out the Murmur and my Summit in more urban areas, and in a more traditional travel environment. In this case, I had an encounter with a novel obstacle–not rugged granite peaks or dangerous stream crossings, but rising airline baggage costs. I decided that rather than pay the additional fees to check a bag, I would push the limits of what my airlines considered a "personal item." My Summit/Murmur method was able to come in small enough, despite packing a whole month of Europe into a bag used by most people for maybe a few snacks and water.

The system involved going big into the murmur for most uses, but in the morning, going into the airport, I would go small. The Murmur would fit inside of the Summit, with plenty of space for other things on top of it. I would wear almost all of my clothing, make use of all of my pockets, and game-face it onto each plane. I repeated this process over ten times during my journey. Nobody ever challenged the size of my pack because it was so compact. I loved both packs' durability and flexibility, and having no frame in either pack meant that I could always fit everything I needed well under the seat in front of me, as well as into any other place I needed to. It was a real treat to know that I had dependable packs throughout my month in Russia, Turkey, Denmark, Switzerland, and Scotland.

best lightweight luggage for international travel

Happy travels–wherever your lightweight luggage may take you!

All photos courtesy of Scotland "So Far" Forbes.