Within my family, I’m sort of notorious for my inability to pack light. As a pre-teen, I made up hotel beds with my own pillow and blankets lest any exposed skin come in contact with whatever bodily fluids the last occupants left behind. As a 19-year-old college student, I saw most of Europe at a 90-degree angle, having stuffed a 95-liter Eagle Creek backpack to capacity.

My packing skills have slightly improved with age. I think the turning point came on the first day of the 13,800-foot-high Inca Trail hike when, saddled with 30 pounds of socks and underwear, I began rewarding myself with a break for every 10 steps I took.  Most who complete the trek hire a porter to carry all their gear minus a small day pack, and Him and I were the only idiots in our tour group to balk at the additional cost. I carried a large, robin’s egg-colored men’s Gregory Z55 backpack (I require a men’s pack due to my freakishly long torso) on that two-week Peru trip, and at 61 liters, it was just too big. With the rain cover deployed and my back hunched over, I resembled a giant blue Galapagos tortoise.

Hiking packs aren’t cheap, so rather than replace the Z55, I had silently promised to simply restrain myself when packing for the Big Trip. The pack just needed a little repair work first. I purchased it in the summer of 2010 from our local redneck emporium, Gander Mountain, and it wasn’t until I got it home that I realized the side zipper lacked a slider to open the zipper teeth. When operational, a side zipper can be invaluable for accessing gear at the bottom of a pack without dumping the entire contents. But as there wasn’t much time before we left for Peru, I figured I’d hire a local seamstress to repair the zipper when we returned. In reality, the pack sat crammed in a closet for two years until I recently extricated it for this trip.  Yet the good folks at Gregory stand by their products, and all it took was an email to the warranty department (warranty@gregorypacks.com) explaining the situation. Eric F. of Black Diamond Equipment, the parent company of Gregory, promptly replied with a reference number, and I shipped the bag to their repair facility in Salt Lake City. A few weeks later, Joe Q. from BDEL called to explain that the repair department would not be able to fix my pack in time for my trip but could they ship me a brand-new Z55 at no extra cost? Mom and Dad: You’ll be bursting with pride when you learn I seized this opportunity to request a smaller pack.

I had strapped on a Gregory Savant 48 during a recent Gander “research trip,” and I liked the water-resistant roll top pocket and the generous horseshoe zipper offering quick access to the main compartment. At 52 liters, the size large Savant is just 9 liters smaller than my Z55, but the frame is shorter (no more bumping the back brim of my travel hat) and the compression straps compact the contents so much that I panicked a little when I saw the shallow box the pack arrived in a week later (Internal monologue: “It’s the size of a preschooler’s sack pack! What have I done?!”). On closer inspection, however, it seems I may have prematurely underestimated the Savant. Sure it can’t handle the bulk of, say, a human body (we recently tested this little-publicized feature of the Eagle Creek bag with help from the Third Wheel), and I’ll probably have to make do without my down pillow this trip, but that’s OK. I reconcile such sacrifices by reminding myself how delicious it will be to sprint past hunchbacked college students burdened by 95 liters of toiletries and designer jeans.