Ultimate ultralight travel packing list

Ultimate Ultralight Travel Packing List

Quite a few times I’ve heard backpackers complain about weight limits or maximum bag allowances on airlines. They haul 40-pound monstrosities that limit how comfortable they are, how fast they can run to catch the train, and how often they have to take a taxi because their bag is too heavy. They end up going a little slower, seeing a little less, and paying a little more. When they look at mine, they ask me where my “real” bag is.

My ultralight backpack can beat up your ultra-obese backpack.
Me and my trusty 20 liter backpack, enjoying ourselves a little Moldova.

I have traveled around the world on extended trips up to 9 months long with nothing but a 20 liter daypack, through summers, winters, jungles, cities, and everywhere else. It weighs less than fifteen pounds and fits in the overhead compartment on the plane.

I never have to worry about lost bags, check-in times, or waiting by the conveyor belt. I am the first person in line for customs, and stroll right in. I spend nothing on laundry or taxis. I am the first to finish packing every morning. I never spend more than five seconds trying to find something at the bottom of the bag. I wander around for hours with my pack, just because I can. I’ve gotten to the point that I really don’t know how to do it any other way, and my scrawny shoulders continue to thank me.

It’s a fun game I like to play with myself find to be an amusing intellectual challenge, but despite year after year of life on the road, I have met less than half a dozen people who do the same thing, and we are endlessly perplexed. Sadly, I have never been able to convince anyone to follow this plan. But I’ll give it one last try. It’s for your own good.

How to pack for ultralight travel

The bigger they are, the harder they fall...uncomfortably on your shoulders.
80 liters vs. my 20.

When thinking of things to pack for a trip, most people bring everything, “just in case,” and end up hauling a bag full of garbage they never use. Don’t do that.

Not a single person I’ve ever met has said “I wish I brought more.” You can spot the seasoned travelers simply by bag size. Instead of thinking about what to add, think about what you can cut. You know who else said that? Oh, just Bruce Lee is all.

Your limit should be the same as the airlines: 22” x 14” by 9”, or 45 liters (though it’s slightly smaller on certain no-frills European airlines). This will keep you in check (and allow you to reap the benefits of carry-on-only travel), since it’s all you can take, and it’s more than you need. If I got by with 20, you’ll get by with 45. Trust me. Just peruse this page and assume you’ll include twice as much.

1) Shopping for Ultralight Backpacks

For quite some time, the only options available were hiking packs, and while they’re quite good at what they do, a few companies have started designing what I consider travel-worthy backpacks (carry-on size, with a fully opening zippered panel, so you can pack it like a suitcase), which work great when you want to open everything up, instead of traditional top-loaders that need to be emptied completely to find something down at the bottom.

Since travel often requires lots of packing and unpacking, and somewhat less walking, it generally makes more sense to get a backpack optimized for travel, rather than hiking (unless you plan on hiking with it, of course). Check out a list of favorites here.

Wheeled suitcases aren’t a terrible idea, especially if you have back problems, but just remember they add weight and you’ll go crazy on cobblestones.

2) Ultralight Travel Clothing Basics

People constantly ask “how can you have enough in a daypack to travel for a year?” The thing is, you’re not packing for a year. No one is.

The secret is to pack the same gear, no matter how long the trip is. I bring 3 sets of clothes, wash whatever outfit I’m wearing when I take a shower, and hang it up to dry overnight. And you don’t even need to do manual laundry. If you bring a week’s worth of clothing and do laundry once a week, you can travel forever. It’s that simple.

You might get stuck with a sink wash sooner or later, which is why everything should (hopefully) be high-performance and versatile, wicking sweat and drying quickly, which cools you in summer, and warms you in winter. Try not to bring separate clothes for hiking, lounging, and clubbing. Just get clothes that look good and feel good. They should be suitable for any social situation. It’s a tall order, but it can be done.

Ultralight clothing basics
Next-to-skin basics: Shirts, underwear, and long underwear.

Shirts: No cotton. It soaks up sweat and stays wet all day. Get polyester or merino wool t-shirts (read more about why merino is everyone’s favorite here), both of which wick sweat and dry quickly. Polyester should have an odor-control treatment if you plan on making any friends. Though I won’t judge you, it’s nice to have a fancy shirt for special occasions. I’d skip warmer thermal underwear. You can only wear them in winter, and you’ll probably bring t-shirts anyway, which dry faster after a sink wash. Leave the insulation to the outer layers, which you don’t need to wash as often.

Underwear: Let me tell you, “performance underwear” feels just as good as it sounds. Spoil yourself. Again, make sure it’s quick-drying, lightweight, odor-resistant, and comfy (take a look at a list of favorites here). In winter, long underwear works wonders. You’ll only need a single pair if you wear regular underwear underneath, so you won’t have to wash the heavier one as often.

Travel pants and shorts.
Maybe go with 2 shorts and 1 pant in summer.

Pants and shorts: Travel pants, ideally, should be lightweight, wrinkle-free, water-resistant, quick-drying, and look completely normal, despite having a few hidden pockets for hiding valuables. There are literally only a few that actually do this (which is ridiculous), but you can find a list of good travel pants here. Try to find pants that don’t look too silly, so you won’t have to bring extra pants for fancy fun times. If your pants fit, you can skip the belt, and for guys, quick-dry shorts double as swimwear. You can cut some corners here, as cotton pants won’t hold you back so much if you have an umbrella, don’t mind washing rarely, or have laundry facilities. Given the rarity of truly travel-worthy jeans, don’t feel bad bringing regular jeans.

Merino backpacking socks
Two light, two heavy. Ankle socks are good too.

Socks: I bought a pair of merino wool socks and threw out all my white cotton gym socks the same day. Seriously. Merino wool warms in winter, cools in summer, insulates even when damp, dries quickly, resists odor, and is soft and plush and wonderful. I’ve found nothing more comfortable for my feet. Most socks blend merino with polyester and other materials, and work well. I bring two ultralight pairs for summer use, and a warmer pair in winter, worn over the lighter ones so I don’t have to wash the heavy ones as often.

3) Outer layers

Layering is crucial. It’s better to take a few lighter pieces that you can layer together, rather than a heavy one you can only wear in Antarctica. You may have your own comfort system on this, but here’s what I recommend (or check out my winter travel gear list for details):

Fleece jacket, synthetic puffy jacket, and rain shell
Fleece sweater, synthetic puffy coat, and rain jacket. Wind jackets are nice too.

Inner warm layer: Find the lightest fleece or wool sweater you can find, comfortable when it’s cool, but not cold. I look for close fits to layer more easily, and a high, snug neck so I can skip the scarf.

Outer warm layer: For winter travel, goose down or synthetic insulation jackets (those big puffy ones) are one of the best ways you can shrink things down. Goose down is triple the warmth of fleece for the same weight, and packs down to half the size, meaning a medium-warmth jacket weighs 8 ounces. Synthetic insulation isn’t as warm or packable, but it dries faster and retains its insulating qualities when wet, whereas goose down does not, which is why I have thus far gone with synthetic. Since it is encased in a nylon shell, it works well as a windproof outer layer, while the fleece sweater on the inside will be comfortable against your skin.

Rain jackets: I don’t have much to say here, and umbrellas work well enough anyway. I just look for light weight, comfort, a hood that covers my face, and enough venting to keep me cool (take a look at some ultralight rain shells, some of which are half the weight of standard jackets). Don’t get something insulated that you can only wear in winter. Layer instead.

Wind jackets: Climbing up a windy mountain on a chilly day calls for something windproof that won’t overheat, and a wind shell is the only thing that fits the bill. I wouldn’t call it a necessity, but mine is about 3 ounces, and I wear it all the time.

4) Travel Shoes

I met a guy with separate hiking boots, running shoes, evening shoes, and sandals. Here’s an idea. Why not buy shoes that look good and feel good?

Light hiking boots and flip flops.
I highly recommend a casual leather shoe rather than the hiking boots shown here (I was in a hurry!).

There’s not much reason to bring serious hiking boots, which are designed to support 50-pound packs, which you won’t have. A nice-looking, tough, comfortable shoe that fits properly and offers good support will be suitable for all occasions. Especially if they’re waterproof.

One pair of shoes, end of story (probably leather, described here). And one pair of flip-flops or sandals. Comfy but light.

Women’s fashion is less forgiving. If you have to bring a separate pair of evening shoes, just make them small. If all it’s got on top are straps that can lay flat, perfect. Only bring one pair. Anyone who calls you out on repeat clothing will be another scruffy backpacker who will be in no place to make comments.

5) Travel Accessories

Again, anything you stuff in here should add value, not just weight. So far I’ve avoided packing cubes, but they’re not a bad idea.

Travel toiletries and travel towel.
Toiletries and ultralight travel towel, which works even if it’s tiny.

Toiletries: I travel with nothing but airplane-sized bottles (maximum 3.3 ounces, or 100 mL) so I can take them on the plane, and reuse them on each trip. When the bottles run out I buy a larger one, refilling the mini so I can throw the big one away sooner. This way I might have one or two big bottles at any one time, instead of my entire supply being oversized (though an all-in-one bar soap is great for solving this problem). Check out a comprehensive toiletries list for details.

Travel towel: This is another of the most significant ways you can cut size and weight, as huge cotton towels are big, heavy and dry slowly. Microfiber towels are light, small, super absorbent, and wring out 90% dry. You can even get by with a washcloth-sized micro towel which will fold up to the size of a napkin, though it’ll take some extra time to dry yourself off. Definitely get one of these. They’re cheap and enormously efficient (though I’ve recently discovered linen towels are even better).

Emergency blanket.
A tiny emergency blanket (though I’d say a sleeping bag liner is more useful).

Sleeping bags: This is another one of those “surely I must need this” items that people end up never using. 99% of people stay in hostels and never use their sleeping bag. If you’re worried about hostels that require you to rent sheets, I’ve traveled for 15 months and spent maybe $3 on them. It’s not worth the extra weight. If you want to be a little warmer, you can sleep in your long underwear, or you can get a bag liner, which is incredibly lightweight and small, and will keep you warm enough indoors. If you really need a sleeping bag, you can find some that are the size of a 1 liter water bottle and weigh 1 pound. But if you don’t plan on camping, forget it.

Daypack: I try to avoid bringing an extra bag, but now that we have ultralight options that fold up into their own pocket, I’d recommend it. You’ll do a daytrip or climb a mountain and you’ll want to bring a jacket, food, water, maps and whatever. I had one made by Sea to Summit that holds 20 liters, weighs 2.4 ounces, and fits inside a coffee mug.

Travel extras.
Extraneous extras: Hat, scarf, gloves, books, sunglasses, passport and pouch, and (mini) playing cards.

Other extras: I’d recommend a money belt (unless your pants have security pockets), a deck of cards, a nice small camera (or smartphone), a journal, sunglasses, an outlet converter, hat, gloves, and two books (it’s hard to find a book right away once you finish), or an e-reader. Those are all the extras I ever use. Umbrellas aren’t a bad idea if you don’t want to spend $100 on a rain jacket. Just remember that if you want to add extras, think about how often you’ll use it, and if it’ll be worth it.

Budgeting for ultralight travel

Backpacking water purifier in a water bottle!
Optional: A water purifier built into a water bottle. Check out a list of my favorites here.

Poor? So was I. Patrol eBay and watch for sales. Besides, you shouldn’t buy more than a minimum of gear. Three backpacking outfits shouldn’t be too expensive, and you might have a few running shirts already, and some warm clothes, and good shoes. Some of it you’ll wear back at home after the trip, especially the socks and underwear.

If you have to cut corners when packing for a trip, regular cotton pants and shorts will be fine, as long as you’re not washing too often and rainstorms don’t ruin your day. You can skip the rain jacket and bring an umbrella, and winter gear can be cut outside of winter. I wouldn’t cut the travel towel, since it’s less than $20 and will save you lots of space and weight, and quick-drying base layers are kind of a necessity for this to work, unless you’re doing machine washes once a week or so, in which case it’ll be fine.

Guidebook cut to pieces.
A guidebook, cut apart with edges taped. Lasts forever, fits in a back pocket, and makes a great gift to random people when you leave a country! Click here for instructions.

You should now be a thoroughly converted ultralight, minimalist backpacking genius. Once you do this, it’s hard to go back. This method is forced upon all travelers on Rick Steves’ tours, many of whom claim it’s impossible ahead of time, but talk about how great it is after. This strategy has close to a 100% success rate. And whether you’re packing for Europe, or Asia, or India, summer or winter, it’s always the same.

Oh, and by the way, the photos displayed here represent absolutely everything I took on a 9 month trip (except the camera), from temperatures below freezing to body-temperature sunshine. Towards the end of the trip, someone asked if there was anything I would have added. I said no. Someone else asked if there was anything I would have removed. I said no. I was super proud of myself.

Eventually I added a few things: A packable daypack, an ultralight wind jacket, a collared shirt, and swapped the emergency blanket for a sleeping bag liner instead (which is still just optional anyway). Overall weight was almost the same, and these items can be extremely useful.

Hmm. Talking about all this makes me want to go shopping. I’ve been working on getting my year-round pack down to about 12 pounds…

About SnarkyNomad

Eytan is a pretentious English major whose rant-laden sarcastic tirades occasionally include budget travel tips and other international nonsense. You can follow his every narcissistic word on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.

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164 Comments on “Ultimate ultralight travel packing list”

    1. Thanks! It’s a game I like to play. I think this is about as minimal as you can go while still being a normal human.

      1. I feel more confident after reading this… I wanted to go super light. Gonna do a 20L for 4 months in Asia. Thanks for the tips!

      1. I had to do a ridiculous amount of business travel for about 10 years and think that you could follow most of the tips in this article but replace the travel clothes with a two pairs of black work trousers (wear one, pack one), splash out on two of those wrinkle free shirts (hang in steamy bathroom whilst showering to help release any stubborn wrinkles) then a couple of ties. If you need a jacket then wear it/carry it on the plane. The problem with business travel is you normally have to carry a company-issued laptop which may be heavy, ditto for the phone and any related power cables, adapters etc. But I still think you can get away with carry on provided they don’t make you carry brochures and product samples. I am female and I followed the same principle (2 x black trousers, 2 x black/grey tops) but carried a couple of bright scarves, dressy earrings to lighten things up and make it seem like I was wearing a different outfit every day – ties can have the same effect! Also I choose black because it is more forgiving if I spill food/drink and easier to spot clean without being noticeable. Females normally want to carry make-up too but it’s amazing what you can do with one bottle of foundation and an eye shadow kit that doubles as blusher and eye liner!

    2. I am off tomorrow for 10 weeks, work mainly but a bit of sight seeing and walking and commuter type cycling. I’m very close to the recommendations above, and my pack weighs 6kg of which 2.8kg is 15″ work laptop, phone, cables, chargers.

      My ideal travel lappy is a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 12″ at under 1kg. I am stuck on windows 10 and linux and am not interested in apple. I need to use Microsoft Office lots, and MS Excel in particular at a high level. So tablets and ultrabooks are out of the question.

      Where I think most people miss big weight savings is in the pack.
      Once you get something with multiple pockets, you are getting up over 800grams and as much as 2kg for 30-40liter pack.
      Honestly, you don’t need a pack that opens like a suitcase if you pack your stuff into ‘cells’. These cells can be put in a top loading stuff sack or a single compartment duffel bag. You might have a maximum of 5 cells so it isn’t a big deal to top load.

      The lightest strongest fabric used today for packs is dyneema.
      Using this, you can get a 40 liter pack under 0.5kg, such as this one
      https://www.hyperlitemountaingear.com/summit-pack.html#product_tabs_specs
      This pack will store 40 liters, despite it saying it’s a 30liter pack, and it only weighs 360grams.
      There is a similar pack for 190grams that is just a stuff sack with shoulder straps.
      These are also highly water resistant.

      Cutting 1-1.5kg off your pack is a LOT when you are restricted to 7kg total carry-on weight.

      personally I use a $9 40 liter duffel bag that weighs 230grams. These things are more prone to failing, but I just buy another one. Usually I get at least 3 months of business travel with them. The handles are long enough to allow me to wear it as a backpack, and I use the shoulder strap to wrap around it longitudinally and compress it firmly. This always reduces it to legal carry-on dimensions. BTW, it is practically impossible to fill a 40 liter bag and keep it under 7kg. The idea of 40 liters is to put stuff in there (that you were wearing) once you have gone through check-in and wherever you are likely to get your pack weighed.

      To travel light, you have to go through a paradigm shift.
      When I was younger it was nothing for me to wear the same shirt every day, week after week…cleaned regularly of course. Same for pants. And I wore a school uniform for years. Same shirts and pants 5 days a week. If someone is going to judge me on my clothes, I am honestly glad to filter them out of my life. They will be third rate thinkers and doers.
      Interesting people are into ideas and sharing them, and doing stuff, not sitting around posturing in clothes.

      The most interesting people do interesting stuff. And usually the smartest and most capable don’t travel to pick up chicks and hang in nightclubs. I’ve been traveling for 40 years, and the most interesting people I’ve met have been on specialist backpacking walks, attending seminars by high achievers in a field. The most interesting and attractive and intelligent members of the opposite sex I’ve met have been at unique health retreats (Thailand, Northern California, Maldives). Quality people care more about what you believe and what you do rather than what image you concoct via clothing.

      Outlier pants are excellent travel pants and are acceptable in business and at the beach. They are worth the price.

      For warmth, I wear a singlet, t-shirt, l/sleeve fleecy and lightweight vest.
      I don’t have an outer shell for rain but use a lightweight poncho.
      I do carry zip off Columbia hiking pants mainly cos they are so light and they look excellent as shorts and not too bad as trousers.

      My toilet kit is a zip lock plastic bag for storing stuff in the freezer. My toilet, sewing, and first aid stuff is less than 300grams. Seriously you only need a little toothpaste or powder. Scrap the deodorant (by eating healthy), aftershave etc. If you are going out, borrow some from a mate, or collect stuff from hotels in mini bottles. I only carry small toothpaste tubes.

      I don’t carry a camera. My S7 phone is fine and always with me. Most people post pics to the internet and don’t need the resolution of a dedicated camera.

      I could go on but will spare you.

      1. Using packing cubes in a top-loading pack is definitely a good way to manage the black hole effect of a big pack. It looks like you’ve got the absolute lightest options of each category, which is pretty impressive. I might go on a trip like that at some point, just to see how light I can go…but occasionally I prefer the functionality of something else, and am willing to handle the extra weight. But of course it adds up.

    1. You are a thief. You are stealing all the fun and experiences that people who don’t travel leave laying around all over the place. :)

  1. I also traveled for many years and through dozens of countries. The only problem i have with traveling this light is that no girl will take you serious in a club any where in the world when wearing ultra light zip off pants and mountain shoes.
    You can also never fit in anywhere ( like a regular tourist or an expat) since the obvious back packer vibe that surrounds you. Unless you don’t mind alone at night this isn’t the way to travel.

    I speak from first hand experience that being a poor (looking) backpacker isn’t helping at all when approaching girls in a foreign club.
    Nice idea but no.

    1. None of the gear on this page fits that description, and although it can be a Sisyphean ordeal finding decent-looking clothing that’ll work as hiking gear, it’s certainly possible. I didn’t have any zip-off pants on this trip, and for nearly the whole time the only shoes I had were nice-looking casual leather shoes. High-tech but logo-free t-shirts look like ordinary t-shirts.

      The only “missing” item that I find practical is a collared shirt, which would only add as much size and weight to the setup as…a collared shirt. Swapping out a pair of lightweight pants for a pair of jeans also isn’t such a big deal either, and then you look classy enough for whatever. Very doable.

      I also don’t think the end goal of international travel is to impress foreign ladies, but I suppose that’s an aspiration for some.

      1. I guess the objective of international travel vary from person to person. For some, it’s about the people they meet and the girls they hook up with. For others, it’s about the culture, history, architecture, art, food, and the locals (in a non-sexual way). Obviously, what is essential will be very different to both groups.

        That said, it’s definitely not going to break your back if you did include a nice shirt and pants in the load, which might add 1 pound of weight but will now allow you to be equally well-prepared for a mountain trail or a night club.

        I travel super light too. My trips are usually around 2-3 weeks, but I do my laundry every night, so I could conceivably travel with the same load for months.

        Among my clothes are 2 quick-dry T-shirts and a decent collared long sleeve shirt. The T-shirts are for daily wear, and the long sleeved shirts are for dinner or when T-shirts are not appropriate. I wear zip-off pants daily, but I also pack a pair of lightweight black slacks that go with the long-sleeved shirt.

        This way, I’m prepared for most situations during my travels.

        1. Chris, How about culture,history,architecture,art,food and the locals AND having an interest in local women?

          In fact dating local girls will teach you a lot about the local culture. They will take you places a regular tourist or even a backpacker never comes.

          Happy travels

        2. I skipped the collared shirt for that trip since I couldn’t find something I liked, but it’s something I recommend and plan on bringing for the next trip.

          1. My wife bought a silk shirt for me prior to our 7-week bike tour in France. Packs really light and small, doesn’t get smelly, dries fast, and like wool, is warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm. I wore this shirt in the camp ground and when we visited the more civilized tourist sites. This was my “dress” shirt for the trip and it served me well.

    2. My experience is completely different! If the girls you approach can not take you serious unless you dress all up, then perhaps go for some girls with a bit more substance?
      I am currently traveling around the world with a 25 liter bag (and have been doing so for around 5 months now) and I use hiking clothes everywhere, and for everything, since it is all I have. I have only met one who said anything about it but still it wasn’t a problem. I have met a lot who were either inspired, thought it was cool or even said that it is the right way to do it.

      I think it has more to do with your own perception on how you need to be and what other people think of you than the clothes you are wearing.

      OCDemon. Thank you for a good article. I wonder how you got it all down in a 20 liter. I am going to upgrade because I need winter clothes for some of the next places I am going.
      I should probably mention that I choose a pack where everything can fit in the main compartment of the bag to protect against thieves in busses and cities etc. Maybe that is the difference between your 20 liter and my 25?

      1. Minor secret: I had to strap the shoes to the outside of the bag, so if you wanted to fit those inside, it would have been maybe a 25 liter. Plus every company has different standards for what constitutes 20 liters, so your 20 and my 20 might be totally different.

        1. Hi,

          I also include in my packing, some good painkillers, antihistamine and a tube of hydrocortisone.Every insect I come across seems to regard me as food hence the above.

          The space inside any extra shoes, should be used for small items, such as toiletries / medication or anything else.

      1. My last remark was aimed at “Around the World in 80 Girls (more like 80 brain cells in realityl)”.
        Your blog is first rate and very informative.
        Larus

  2. Hey!
    I am a (french) lady and I travel with possibly a little less than OCDemon. So attracting women won’t be an issue, as long as u look good and don’t smell. Woman care more about the fact that u are interesting ;)
    Tips: the Keirin Cut pants from Outlier are fantastic for traveller and look very good. If you ever need to change you backpack, the Synapse Tom Bihn bag is fantastic while not looking like a hiking bag.
    Travelling light is a real advantage! Keep going ;)

    1. I have to strongly disagree with you Caro.
      A man can be the most interesting guy in the world but without the right looks he will be straight up rejected by most girls in clubs. Most women are just equally shallow as men when it comes to looks.

      It’s hard to be interesting if a girl doesn’t even give you a chance to talk to her and goes straight into ignore mode. In an ideal world we would judge people on character and personality but unfortunately we don’t live in an ideal world.

      No pun intended but most girls don’t have a clue what it’s like for a guy to pick up girls especially in cold/shallow places like clubs.

      1. Yes, it’s surprising how infrequently we women (sorry, girls) really take time out to consider the plight of those desperate backpackers who believe theyre entitled to our attention and hassle us endlessly when we go out. You truly have it harder than anyone else.

        OCDemon: thanks for this post, I’m currently midway through a trip and I’ve found myself trying to whittle my luggage down since about the first week in– sometimes it’s easier to know what you need and what you don’t for a particular trip once you’re on the road. People packing as ultra-light as you make me very jealous because I have to carry some camera equipment for my work, but if I can get everything else down to the bare bones hopefully I can still reap some of the benefits of lightening my load further. Cheers!

        1. Yes, that last part is what I tell people, that they don’t have to go nearly as light as I did, but if they manage to go even HALF as light, that’s 40 liters and that’ll pass carryon requirements. I’m probably going to bring more equipment next time than before (I’ve never brought a laptop or a phone), but that’s all the more reason to keep other things in check.

        2. That first part their is so on point. “who believe they’re entitled to our attention and hassle us endlessly when we go out”. Backpackers withstanding, this is what I notice at so many clubs and it’s utterly ridiculous.

  3. Wow. That is impressive! I love my travel towel and it’s surprisingly large for how small it packs. I’m going to have to find a way to convert some of these into girl-friendly (i.e. boxers and more than one pair of shoes– I just can’t do it!) options. Thanks for helping me rein myself in on the packing front!

    1. Thanks. I’m sadly going to end up packing more on the next trip (laptop or tablet, and stupidly heavy things to lock them to bed frames), but oh well. I would recommend Travel Fashion Girl for specifically female ultralight travel gear tips, as they actually have lists for small, medium, and large packs. Her Packing List is also helpful.

      1. Skip the books and use a small tablet (with kindle app) or kindle instead. You save a lot of weight and bulk. And a tablet is extremely versatile for traveling. Writing, blogging, reading, emails, book flight tickets, travel guides, storage for pictures (use sd cards), music, movies, dropbox for backup of pictures. The list is endless and all in a small package, less than a pound even with a protective cover. If you carry a charger then switch it for a universal charger or use the same brand as whatever else you need a charger for or get an adaptor.
        Obviously it is not the same as reading a real book. But I got used to it.

    2. As far as undergarments go, I’d highly suggest looking into Icebreaker. The price you pay is a little (or a lot?) more than what you normally might pay but they are absolutely one of the best options out there. Comfort, style, and travelworthiness, they’re a terrific brand. The true absolute minimalist would be good with just two pairs from them, so I’m sure you’d be great.

      The situation with shoes is actually surprising. Even if you bring multiple – though they should all have a specific use – you can definitely find more packable options that still look quite nice from some of the higher end travel companies.

      1. Maybe I’ll give ’em a chance one of these days. I was a little tentative on the idea of having to hand wash them, which requires quite a vigorous scrub, and polyester’s slick and smooth surface usually survives the mangling of a vigorous hand wash a little better than fuzzier fabrics. But if you have access to washing machines, there’d certainly be no problem.

        1. You’d be surprised actually. There’s a fair few tech nomads and hardcore outdoor minimalists out there who just use a lot of Icebreaker. One of them who seems to have a sizeable following and knows what he’s talking about almost solely wears wool and has only two pairs of the Icebreaker underwear. I’d never really thought much of washing things in the shower, but when you’re that minimalist it seems convenient and time saving.

          1. The problem with shower washing is that generally speaking either you’ve washed the clothes badly, washed yourself badly, or your showers are far too long for a lot of situations. Take all of Australia for instance with it’s seemingly chronic condition of permanent drought.

            Sink washing is a fair bit nicer to the environment, but if you’re in a hostel just use the machine once a week.

  4. Great list and article. My wife and I have learned to travel with older Deuter 40L Futura Zero packs – pack 20 lbs max – try for about 12-15 if we can. Since we’ve eschewed packs with lots of pockets, we do use packing cubes – Rick Steve’s sells some that are pretty darned light. As a gadget person, I use a small crampon bag (mesh on one side makes it easier for TSA) to hold the 7″ tablet, phone, camera, small mp3 player, flashlight and chargers and cables, etc. Gave up on liquid laundry soap – switched to highly concentrated powdered Charlie’s Soap, and just put it in pill pouches and label them – haven’t been hassled by any customs agents yet. I use an older Black Diamond Magnum for a day pack and my wife uses a Magellan’s Daytripper for the same purpose. Check out Tilley’s Unholey ankle socks sometime – I love mine. Picked up a few tips from you – thanks!

    1. Thanks. I’m thinking of using packing cubes next time, though I’ve always tried to figure out some other way, like rolling up one outfit into a t-shirt, but nothing like that seems to work. I’ve wanted a backpack with a panel loading zipper, but they’re so rare that I can’t find one with all the features that I want, so I think packing cubes will make up for the organizational issues.

      1. I have a multipurpose packing cube, the Tom Bihn Packing Cube Backpack, that, when turned inside-out, doubles as a very handy daypack; In this case, it is sized to fit perfectly into one pocket of my go-to one-bag, the Western Flyer (my review of which is here).

        Since I travel mostly for work, the WF does double duty as a briefcase and a transit backpack, and the PC Backpack makes for a handy daypack for cycling or sightseeing (and since it actually makes the WF easier to pack it is worth the small weight add). It also has the eyelets on the inside to clip accessories, tablet sleeves or water bottles to suspend from the top rather than crumple to the bottom.

      2. I keep all my clothes in an airtight, waterproof stuff sack. This makes it possible to squeeze out all the air and compress the clothes into a tight, flat shape. Downside is, cotton items will get wrinkly. Leaves a lot more space in the bag for other things. Also, the bag is slippy so it’s easy to remove from my pack or slide other things next to it. The bag itself is super light. Outdoor Research makes some good ones.

  5. Great read. I seek out ultralight packing lists to obsession, and this one did not disappoint. My husband mocks me relentlessly for my interest in taking as little as possible when we travel. We have an upcoming week long trip for which I have done a couple packing dry runs. Much to my delight and his amusement, I am taking only enough to fill a medium sized handbag that’s not even big enough to carry a laptop. Just to compare, I put it all in my tiny little Eddie Bauer packable daypack and the bag just flopped over because it wasn’t even half full. Total weight: 6 lbs.

    I would love to do an extended trip overseas and challenge myself to do it with a daypack, but unfortunately it’s not in the cards right now. Hopefully sometime soon.

    Thanks again for an enjoyable read!

  6. Wow, great job! Definitely inspired to pack lighter for my upcoming trip, although I am moving. I’ll be taking a suitcase & 30L backpack, plus my snowboard… & plan on living in the U.K. for the next 5 or so years. I plan on using the 30L backpack anywhere I travel to within Europe, which I thought would be quite small until I read your post. I actually consider this quite parred down to what I took to France for a year, so very proud this go! But I envy your packing style, great read. x

    1. I always try to point out it’s a lot more doable than people realize. At this point laundry facilities are so common that it’s not absolutely critical to make everything quick-drying, but I think the rule about bringing a week’s worth of clothing and doing laundry once a week is easy, even for people who like looking fancy. Have fun on the trips.

  7. I just want to say I love this blog. I did this exact thing when I traveled to Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos a few years ago. Although I was probably closer to 30 liters I was still carry on sized. As stated above I do wish I would have packed less (if I could do it again, I would have only taken two pairs of those zip off pants. One on my body the other in the pack. Would have saved a lot of space. )

    The only two things I would add that I found insanely useful and weight practically nothing would be one of those credit card sized magnifying glasses and a good quality AAA flashlight (like the Maratac AAA or the Streamlight MicroStream). I used both of these pieces of kit more than I ever imagined I would on my trip and they weigh practically nothing. The flashlight was probably my most used electrical item of my entire trip and the magnifying glass was especially handy when looking at maps, inspecting the quality of an item you are considering buying, checking gear for damage, or even checking small scrapes and cuts.

    1. Well thanks! I kinda feel lazy, but I might go a little heavier next time. Part of the reason I did this was that it used to be difficult to deal with laundry, but it’s easier nowadays, and if you add maybe 3 extra t-shirts and under layers it’s not so bad. Though I think it’s still good to have a sink-washable outfit or two, since sooner or later it’ll happen. And check out those keychain LED lights. They’re tiny, and some of them are amazing.

  8. I’m one of those rare freaks who has increased their bag size. I spent six weeks in South East Asia with a 45L backpack. It was awesome, and I don’t feel I was missing anything (in fact, there was even stuff I could have left behind, and I had room for lots of souvenirs).

    But now I’m planning six months in South/Central America and I’ve got myself a 60L Berghaus Jalan. Why? One word: shopping. I’m probably taking the same amount of stuff with me for six months as I did for six weeks in Asia so I could definitely have avoided upsizing, but I’m going as much for the amazing handicrafts and beautiful colours as for the amazing views and amazing experiences.

    It’s all about knowing your own style. I don’t really think many girls would be up for only taking three outfits, but there’s no reason you couldn’t survive on a week’s worth. I’m intrigued to see how much my travel partner is bringing, she is definitely not a minimalist. Before I went to Asia, we both went to spend the weekend at a friend’s house. I was going straight to the airport from there, so brought my 45L pack. Her bag wasn’t much smaller and that was just for the weekend haha.

    1. I actually switched from a 20L to a 45L, though it’s just because those particular packs had the features I wanted. Nowadays I’m much more likely to get something bigger, so stuffing it perfectly isn’t an issue. I also had the shoes strapped to the outside of the 20L pack, but on the inside of the 45L.

      I would consider mailing home the souvenirs. I mailed home a couple small boxes of gifts, and it was pretty cheap. If you send a few smaller boxes you won’t worry too much about losing one or another. It’s easy enough to carry them around, but if you’re planning on carrying a whole lot, it’s at least worth looking into shipping rates, especially if the trip is going to be really long.

      And I’m always fascinated by people who bring huge bags for just a weekend. If it’s a 4 day trip, you only need clothes for 4 days, right? RIGHT?!?!

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