How to pack a backpack for a long-haul flight, under the weight limit, in three easy steps
When heading off on a long trip, you want the flight to be as easy as possible. That means taking all the things you need to make you comfortable, without exceeding the weight limit of what you’re allowed on board. As airlines are getting stricter and stricter about their limits, it’s worth knowing the best things to pack, how to pack them and what you’re actually allowed to bring on board.
Here’s a detailed guide on how to pack a backpack for a long-haul flight, under the weight limit, in three easy steps.
Step 1: Knowing Your Limits
Basically put, you can’t push the limits if you don’t know what they are.
Here’s a quick look at what some of the most popular, full-price airlines allow on a flight, both in size and weight.
- United – 56x35x22cm, no weight limit
- American – 56x36x23cm, no weight limit
- Qatar Airways – 50x37x25cm, 7kg
- Emirates – 55x38x20cm, 7kg
- Cathay Pacific – 56x36x23cm, 7kg
- Lufthansa – 55x40x23cm, 8kg
- Singapore Airlines – Sum of HxWxL shouldn’t exceed 115cm, 7kg
If you’re traveling with cut-price airlines, allowances are similar, but they tend to be a lot stricter about weighing items before you board. Here’s what some of the most popular airlines in that category let you take.
- South West – 61x41x28cm, no weight limit
- Delta – 56x36x23cm, no weight limit
- Air Asia – 56x36x23cm, 7kg maximum
- Norwegian Air – 55x40x23cm, 10kg maximum
- Ryan Air – 55x40x20cm, 10kg (for priority boarding passengers only)
- Jetstar – 56x36x23cm, 10kg maximum
If the airline you’re taking isn’t listed here, simply type your airline’s name and ‘cabin baggage allowance’ into Google and it should come up. Seat Guru has guides for pretty much every airline you can think of.
Finally, it’s worth weighing your bag before you leave, just in case. An easy way to do this is to jump on your bathroom scales at home holding the backpack. Then weigh yourself without the bag. The difference between those two numbers is what your backpack weighs by itself.
Step 2: Knowing what to bring
The next, and often most confusing step, is figuring out what to take on a long-haul flight. There are a few things you’ll need to consider here, including toiletries, food, entertainment, clothing and extra comforts. The best way to keep weight down is to only take what you need on the flight and put everything else in your check-in luggage. So, make a list, narrow things down and swap out heavy items for lighter alternatives.
Let’s be honest, you don’t need a bar of soap, shampoo, shower cap or pumice stone when flying. You really only need a toothbrush, toothpaste, a little deodorant and perhaps a couple of key makeup items to freshen up before you land. Put a mini kit together, rather than your full toiletry bag.
Most airlines have great entertainment (TV and films) provided on board. Unless you want something specific, you’re probably covered. If you do want your own stuff, load something up on either an iPad or Laptop (don’t bring both). If you’re planning on doing work, opt for the Laptop and leave the rest at home. If you’re a book buff, take the iPad with a few novels on it, since that’s lighter than taking a physical book itself. In short, think about what you’ll actually need, take that and leave the rest.
You’ll need your passport, boarding passes and possibly your frequent flyer cards when heading on an international flight. Also bring some local currency, your credit cards and a good pen to fill in customs forms. Consider getting a great travel wallet that will help you organize everything.
Again, food on planes is actually pretty good these days. Snacks, drinks and full meals are generally included in the ticket cost on full-price services. However, if you’re cautious about what you eat, or have had a bad experience with plane food, you’ll want your own snacks. Bringing your own food is also often cheaper than buying from the menu on cut-price airlines. If that’s the case, think about how long you’ll be on the flight, plan for an exact amount and keep to light items (think sponge cake instead of a dense chocolate slice). Muesli bars are an excellent healthy option.
When the air-conditioning is on and you’re in sleep mode, things can get pretty cold on a plane. If you’re heading from cold to tropical climates (or vice versa) it’s also wise to land wearing suitable attire for the temperature. Here’s a quick packing list of things to consider here:
- 1 x spare pair of underwear
- 1 x spare pair of socks
- 1 x spare t-shirt or top
- 1 x jacket or sweater (comfort counts here!)
- 1 x pair of sandals (wear your shoes/boots on first, we’ll explain later)
- 1 x pair of shorts, or pants
That’s it. Having this rolled up neatly in your backpack will also ensure you’ve got some back up with you for the first day at your destination (if the worst happens to your check-in luggage).
If you’re planning on getting some sleep on the plane, it’s worth taking a travel pillow, some earplugs, or noise-canceling headphones along with you on a long-haul flight. Good noise-canceling headphones are worth their weight in gold and are amazing when watching films or listening to music.
Step 3: Knowing how to pack your backpack
The key when packing your backpack for a long-haul flight is access. If you have heavy items, you’ll generally want to put those at the bottom of the bag, since weight at the top pulls on your shoulders and is a lot less comfortable.
Here’s a quick step by step guide on how to pack your backpack:
- Lay out items and split between need vs might need.
- Roll clothes up small and put them in at the bottom. Jeans first, since they’re the heaviest.
- Slide laptop into its own padded sleeve (you’ll need easy access to it during security screening)
- Put Kindle/Tablet into its own slot.
- Store travel wallet and glasses in an easy-access pocket at the front (or top) of the bag.
- Add water bottle into a side pocket
- Attach travel pillow to the outside.
When traveling on long-haul flights, here are a few extra things to consider.
- Wear the weight
If you have a heavy jacket or boots, wear them on the plane. That’s because it won’t get weighed if it’s not in the bag.
- Choose a lighter alternative
If there’s a lighter option compared to what you’ve packed, take that instead. Kindles weigh less than books, sweaters weigh less than jackets.
3. Use a backpack
If you normally take wheeled luggage as your carry on, consider swapping it for a backpack. A wheeled luggage weighs a lot more than a basic backpack.
- Duty Free is Limit Free
This one is a little cheeky. If you’re over the weight limit, grab a duty-free chocolate bar and ask for a bag. Stash some heavier items in that bag. Airports and airlines thrive on duty free, so they rarely (if ever) check what’s in one of those special red bags. Plus, eating chocolate on the flight is great.
This article is adapted from Pacsafe’s Travel Blog.