How to Pack for Front-Country Travels With the Vagabond in Italy
By: Glen Van Peski
“Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” —Mark Twain
The customs agent at the San Francisco airport said it again, a little louder and more slowly, the way people do when it’s clear the person they’re addressing has not understood: “Do you have all your luggage with you?”
I replied, again, that I did, motioning to the Vagabond hanging on my right shoulder. The guy knew I had just gotten off an international flight and was clearly having trouble wrapping his head around the fact of someone traveling with less luggage than most people take for an overnight. He finally shrugged and waved me on down the connecting flights corridor.
A month before, I had received an invitation, through a happy circumstance of good timing, to an all-expense-paid, eight-day walking tour in Italy. The trip was organized for a friend of mine by Kathy Dragon, Founder and Chief Curator of Whole Journeys. Kathy has been designing exquisite custom travel experiences for over 30 years, in all price ranges.
The plan for this excursion was to travel along a portion of the Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrim’s route, from Florence to Rome. Our group of 12 would be walking 10 to 20 miles during the day with our dedicated guide Lorenzo, ending at a four-star hotel or an agriturismo. Two vans would transport our luggage to the next hotel each day, and we would either have a picnic lunch provided by the guides or eat at a local café in one of the medieval towns we were walking through. So, we really didn’t need to carry much for the day, in fact, Dan Buettner walked with just a bottle of water that he filled at fountains along the way.
Still, I enjoy the challenge of seeing how little gear I can get away with. For this trip, it was great that we didn’t need any gear for shelter, sleeping, or cooking. However, we would need clothes for walking all day, often on dusty gravel roads, and clothes suitable for dining at nice restaurants for the night. After Italian tourism being battered by the pandemic, we were unlikely to be turned away, but Europeans tend to dress up for dinner, and I didn’t want to stick out any more than a 6’ 4” American already does.
My plan was to see if I could pack everything in the Vagabond for travel, then put clothes in a light duffel for transfer each day, using the Vagabond to carry snacks, raingear, first aid, and other necessary items while we walked.
To make it work, I wore some of the bulkier items for the plane ride over, including my Altra Lone Peaks, Bluffworks Gramercy Blazer and Ascender pants, and, since planes are cold, my black Patagonia Nano-Air vest.
Within the bag, I organized as such:
- Bottom: I found that two Sea to Summit shoe bags fit perfectly in the Vagabond, situated vertically in the bottom. I sewed colored grosgrain tape on the ends so I could tell which was which for easy access. I tucked two instant Covid tests for the flight back to the U.S., and the Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil duffle in its stuff sack, in between the two packing cubes.
- Back: I used the Sea to Summit shirt folder to stow two collared shirts inside the back of the Vagabond.
- Hydration Sleeve: My manila folder with paper copies of all the important trip information slipped into the hydration sleeve.
- Zippered Inside Pocket: I used the zippered inside pocket for my passport, Global Entry card, and vaccination record, when those weren’t on my person.
- Outside Zippered Pocket: The outside zippered pocket held currency, either Euros or dollars, that I didn’t have in my Nomatic wallet.
- Outside Stretch Pocket: The outside stretch pocket held a couple KN95 masks, pens, mints, and the like.
- Main Compartment: In the main compartment, above the packing cubes, I placed a pair of LEMS Drifter shoes (black, outside tag removed). These have the zero drop and wide toe box my feet are accustomed to, and fold fairly flat. I put them inside a Peak Design packing cube, and they fit perfectly across the top of the main compartment. Then, I placed my Litesmith pouches with electronics and first aid items, and my Ziploc with liquids at the very top.
As with backpacking, dual use is a great way to minimize gear for front-country travel. We would be stopping at several ponds for bathing, and, as temperatures were in the eighties, it was a welcome respite from walking. Instead of taking a separate bathing suit, I included a Y Athletics flyless brief as one of my two packed pairs of underwear. Especially in Europe, it was totally passable as a bathing suit, and was, in fact, modest compared to some of the thongs I saw.
As we approached Rome, the evenings grew chilly, especially since we were often eating outside, and dinner isn’t until 8:00 p.m. in Europe. My Nano-Air vest paired nicely under my Bluffworks blazer, but was also useful in the cool mornings over my Bluffworks Threshold t-shirts. While color may not be a main consideration for backpacking trips, choosing the right colors can help make pieces more versatile for a front-country trip. The black Nano-Air vest, for instance, looks reasonably dressy. And grey pants are more versatile, and able to hide a little dust and dirt better than a black or tan color.
For walking, I would typically use a Bluffworks t-shirt and Eddie Bauer Guide Pro convertible pants over one of my three pairs of underwear. I had a short wool pair of socks, a longer wool liner sock for the evenings, and a pair of Wright socks, so I could trade off socks for walking. The Altra gaiters kept pebbles and dust out of my shoes, which helped to make sure I had no feet issues on the trip. Every night I would wash my underwear, socks, and t-shirt in the hotel sink, using Sea to Summit laundry soap flakes. They would be dry by morning and ready for another day of walking. My clothing choices for the trip were all washable in a sink or shower, even my blazer and dress shirts, though I didn’t need to exercise that option. It’s great to have clothes available that are made from technical fabrics but look presentable in town. For wrinkle-free, washable clothing, my favorites are Bluffworks and Ministry of Supply. For fit, you can’t beat Proper Cloth, and they are getting more fabric choices all the time. I had a shirt from each of these companies on this trip, and they all performed great.
Everything worked perfectly. The swimsuit underwear performed well, even at a hot springs resort that was full of Italian locals for a day of lounging. With three collared shirts to rotate, my blazer, and nice black shoes, I was presentable for dinners. And the Vagabond made a great day pack. With the heat, it was great being able to carry it over one shoulder, or even by the handles for a while to keep from getting sweaty. For the next trip, I would probably skip the convertible pants and just go with shorts, if the weather was similar. And I would pack a couple pocket squares to add a little color for the evenings—although a nicely folded pocket square would probably have done little to clear up the confusion of the SFO customs agent.
|Italy Gear List|
|10 days, walking 10-20 miles per day, sleeping in 4-star hotels or agriturismos, dinners at nice restaurants|
|Daytime temps in 80's, some evenings to 50's|
|September 14 - 25, 2021|
|Gossamer Gear Vagabond||Used for travel, then as daypack for daily walking|
|Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Duffle Bag (40L)||Used for gear transport between hotels|
|Sea to Summit Travellnig Light Shirt Folder (S)||Took out extra stiffener, just used one with instructions|
|Sea to Summit Travelling Light Shoe Bag (S) - 2||Sewed colored grosgrain on ends for easy access|
|Peak Design Packing Cube (S)||Used for LEM shoes|
|Litesmith Zipsa pouch (M) - 2||Used one for electronis, one for first aid items|
|Quart zipper ziploc||For hygiene items (incl. liquids)|
|Clothing (Worn while flying)|
|Ex-Officio underwear||Washed in hotel sinks, dry by morning|
|Bluffworks Threshold t-shirt (S, V-neck)||Grey, wicking, odor-resistant|
|REI wool liner socks||Grey|
|Patagonia Nano-Air vest||Black for more formal look|
|Bluffworks Ascender pants||Grey for dressier look|
|Mammut black belt||No metal for easier TSA transit|
|Bluffworks Gramercy blazer||Was folded into duffle during daily walking|
|Ministry of Supply Aero shirt||Wash and wear, stretch, odor-resistant|
|Altra Lone Peak shoes||Muted colors|
|Sunday Afternoons Charter hat||Wide brim for sun|
|Clothing (Packed when flying)|
|Y Athletics Silverair Merino boxers||Odor-resistant|
|Y Athletics Silverair Merino boxers (flyless)||Serves as swimsuit also|
|Darned Tough ankle hiking socks|
|Wright ankle socks||Double layer, switch off to avoid blisters|
|Bluffworks Threshold t-shirt (S, V-neck)||Navy, wicking, odor-resistant|
|Eddie Bauer Pro Guide convertible pants||Some stretch, water-resistant|
|Proper Cloth long-sleeved collared shirt||Wash and wear, stretch, odor-resistant|
|Bluffworks Meridian collared shirt||Wash and wear, stretch, odor-resistant|
|LEM Drifter shoes||For evenings. Black, label removed.|
|Marmot Bantamweight rain jacket||Super lightweight and packable|
|Altra gaiters||Worked great for dusty gravel roads|
|Gossamer Gear HeadSweats cap|
|Nitecore 10,000 mA power bank|
|Short USB-c cord|
|USB-c to Lightning adapter with leash|
|Foldable USB-c plug|
|Sea to Summit Travelling Light Travel Adapter (Europe)|
|Binax instant Covid tests for U.S. re-entry (2)|
|Sea to Summit Trek and Travel Laundry Soap flakes||No liquid for TSA issue, used in hotel sinks|
|Micro travel umbrella||Picked up in Japan, measures only 1" x 2.5" x 9"|
|Litesmith Nylofume pack liner||Rain was originally forecast for the entire trip|
|Water bottle - 750 ml. Arrowhead Sport Top|
|Sunglasses with soft case/cleaning cloth|
|Sea to Summit Pocket Towel (S)|
|KN95 masks (2)|
|Pens, mints, etc|
|First aid||Used for foot care for others|
|Hygiene||Dental care, etc|
|Dr. Bronners hand sanitizer spray|
|i4u reading glasses||Super light and compact|
|Global Entry card|
|Vaccination record original in Smelly-Proof bag|
|Copies of documents|
|(Dropbox folder on phone with digital versions of all documents, downloaded in case of no wifi)|
Glen Van Peski is the Founder of Gossamer Gear and a leading proponent of lightweight backpacking.