Minimalist Travel: The World in One Backpack

Escape the oppression of the rolling luggage cart!

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About two years ago, I spent a lot of time living out of a backpack. My original Minimalist One-Bag travel list was a great proof of concept; most people carry way too much stuff when they fly.

I’m headed to Israel in a few days, and then Iceland soon after. In fact, I think I’ll be spending almost the entire summer living out of a backpack, or on my bike. It’s a great opportunity to re-assess what I really need to carry to be happy. Who knows- maybe this list can help you get your pack weight down below 15 pounds for stress-free, carry-on friendly travel this summer. If anything else, it’s a good primer for travel gear that saves weight and keeps you focused on the experience.

The Backpack

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For this trip, I’m using the Inside Line Equipment Flaptop. This has been my everyday bag for months, and I know from experience that it’s waterproof, durable, and comfortable. If you’re a regular reader, you know my original ILE Default bag was absolutely beat to hell, and it never gave up the ghost, so I am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can count on this bag, without worrying about a ripped strap or a leak. I’ll be testing the limits of this bag’s durability this year, which Eric provided knowing how hard I am on equipment. Stay tuned for the long-term review.

The Flaptop is about 32 liters, though I’d guess I’m using about 20. So, what’s in my bag?

I. Clothing

I don’t own a lot of clothing. My philosophy is that a few high-quality items are a better alternative to a constant supply of cheap T-shirts and jeans. Nothing on this list is more expensive than its worth, but I am picking a few quality items for this trip. If you’re a fan of $5.00 T-shirt packs from Wal-Mart, skip this section.

Everything I’ve selected travels well, is wrinkle-resistant, odor-resistant, durable, and simple-looking. It’s not in anyone’s favor to stand out with expensive looking stuff. I look dressy enough to attend dinners, nightclubs, and events without looking out of place walking around a market.

Let’s start with the basics:

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My travel clothing is mostly merino wool. Merino wool is a highly odor-ressitant fabric, spun extremely tightly to mimic the feel of traditional cotton. It’s not quite as soft, but the higher-end merino is pretty damn close. Merino wool comes from a fiber that spent several million years evolving to protect a mammal from wind, cold, moisture, and bacteria. As a T-shirt, it still does that job really well, and definitely out-matches any other synthetic or plant-based fabric.

Wool and Prince Merino Tee and Briefs

The Wool and Prince briefs and T-shirt make an excellent baselayer for all temperatures and conditions. The briefs pass the “sit for 12 hours” test that any airport-friendly underwear should pass, and fit my giant cyclist thighs, too.

I like the Wool and Prince T-shirt update from this year. They’ve added a small amount of nylon to each individual thread, granting durability to the shirt beyond what 100% wool can accomplish. I’ve been wearing them for a few weeks and several wash cycles, and they look like new with no shrinkage or pilling, so they’ll be my mainstay for the trip. I expect to alternate based on which one’s dry, after washing them in hotel sinks.

CEP Compression Socks

I have a bad right foot, and compression socks really keep me moving. If you’re struggling with sore feet, too, you might find that compression helps a lot on days where you’re walking 10+ miles. I don’t go in for the full-calf version, since it really hurts your leg hair after a day.

Prana Stretch Zion Pants

The Prana Stretch Zion pants have been my only pants for the last three years. If that’s not a review, I don’t know what is. They’re made of 3-way stretch nylon, so they’re durable without being restrictive. The cut is somewhere between “casual” and “slim,” so they suit my pretty athletic build without ever feeling restrictive when I’m hiking and biking. I hike, backpack, bike, commute, travel, and work in these pants. I teach college courses in these pants, and then put them on again for the rock gym the next day. They’re great- I highly recommend.

Dress pants, these aren’t. Any traveler worth their salt should be able to dress up once in a while. So, my second pair of pants has to be a little classier:

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Ministry of Supply Aviator II Pants and Archive Shirt

Ministry of Supply are quickly becoming veterans of travel-friendly dress clothing. I first tried their Aviator pants a few years ago, when they were first getting started, and was very impressed with the material, but the fit was a little bit off. Now, with the Aviator II, the fit of these pants is dialed in, and the benefits of having a quick-drying, wrinkle-resistant chino still puts these in my packing list every time. As a plus, the minimalist styling keeps me looking unassumingly sophisticated, instead of flashy. I like that. Simple pockets, simple buttons, simple pleats.

The Archive shirt’s cuffs and collar are “thermolaminated,” so they resist wrinkles better. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds provocative. With a little bit of stretch to the 100% synthetic fabric, it stays tucked even after a long flight and it stays pressed even after being stuffed in a backpack. The best part: it looks identical to a traditional cotton dress shirt, even close-up. No techno-geekery here!

Zara Man Cardigan

I didn’t want to bring anything warm to the desert, and the Zara Man cardigan should be the perfect lightweight layer. It’s a bit of an odd piece, because it’s buttonless. I found it on eBay for $10, and I’ve ended up wearing it a lot more than I thought. Having a light cardigan for lounging around has been great, and doesn’t take up a lot of room. It also helps dress up a T-shirt.

I have a few more outerwear items to go along with it:

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Craghoppers Sun Shirt and Tilley Hat

This lightweight Craghoppers desert shirt works as sun protection and wind protection, depending on the time of day or night. I wouldn’t wear it out to the bar, but with the amount of hiking I plan on doing in Israel, I think this is worth the weight. I still have sunscreen for my neck and hands.

The Tilley hat is a cult classic in the traveler’s wardrobe. I got mine from my grandfather ten years ago. It’s definitely showing its age, but that doesn’t mean its wearing out; I expect a lot of mileage to come, and I know Tilley will take care of me if anything does happen.

Montane Spektr Smock

You can’t actually buy this jacket anymore, but there are lots like it. An ultralight, sub-10 ounce raincoat is a great insurance policy against all kinds of conditions. When it’s cold out, putting on a raincoat and battening down the hatches can significantly increase your warmth. So, I’m covered, even on a cool desert night.

II. Travel Shoes

A good pair of shoes is a must-have for anyone traveling. My right foot is a real problem for me a lot of the time, and I’ve had six surgeries on it. As part of my constant regimen of keeping pain at bay, I use minimalist footwear to keep circulation flowing.

Minimalist footwear can be great for just about any traveler. These shoes are lightweight, pack completely flat, and are very healthy for your feet on long days of walking, although, you do need to slowly work up to the barefoot sole. It took me about six months to be able to wear these shoes full-time.

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Vivobarefoot Gobi

These shoes are absolute rock stars. I’ve had them for three years. The laces are starting to shred, but with no insole to compress and no glue to slowly delaminate, they are impossible to destroy. The suede leather keeps getting softer, and the worn-in look works as a casual shoe and a dress shoe for most things. These were a great value for what I paid for them, considering how many hundreds of miles I’ve walked in them.

Teva Terra Fi Lite

I’m going deep on hiking sandals this summer. I tend to wear these with socks to prevent blisters, though I’ve never gotten a blister without the socks. Maybe i’m preventing a sunburn? Anyways, they’re cheap, durable, comfortable, and versatile. I anticipate a lot of use from these this summer.

I may do a last-minute swap to the Vivobarefoot Camino, if they feel comfortable enough out of the box.

II. Technology

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I’m wired in every day. It’s the nature of being a freelance writer and blogger. Producing content on a weekly or bi-weekly basis means I have to be able to take really good pictures, and carry a pretty decent laptop to push them to the web.

Sadly, I don’t have a pretty decent laptop, but this beat-to-hell one does the job!

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Macbook Air 11″

My trusty Macbook Air has been crushed, dropped, and generally mishandled since day one. Luckily, the flash storage and durable casing don’t really seem to mind. The screen is really small, the battery life is only at 80% of its original life, and it slows to a crawl when I try to edit photos and listen to music at the same time. But, it’s mine, and I love it, and it’s damn reliable. I ran out of storage space, so the 2TB Seagate Backup Plus drive is velcro-ed permanently to the outside.

Nikon D7000 w/ 35mm Prime

It’s an older camera, but it takes better pictures than most of the cheaper DSLR’s from this generation. The D7000 is a great semi-professional camera for the blogger on a budget. The super-fast 35mm prime takes care of 99% of what I want to do with the camera, although I might consider adding a landscape-capable zoom down the road. I wrap this in a cheap Neoprene case and stuff it into my backpack; it’s not babied, and for less than $400 total, it doesn’t have to be.

Spare Battery and Headlamp

This little MoKo spare battery costs only $23, but it’ll charge your cell phone three times to full and it supports pass-through charging, so you can charge the battery and your other stuff at the same time when you finally get access to that airport outlet. Most external batteries don’t allow pass-through charging.

The Light and Motion Solite is a great headlamp. It charges via USB and is REALLY bright, bright enough to ride a bike through city streets at night. I plan on doing some camping on this trip, so this will get some use. Otherwise, the Mammut Burny and my cell phone flashlight would be more than enough.

III. Travel Gear

A few other items really help on longer trips. At the end of the day, my backpack is light enough that the extra space for these doesn’t bug me and the utility gained is a big plus. Could I live without them? Definitely.

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Exped Cloudburst 15

The Cloudburst 15 is a neat little daypack that doubles as a drybag for sensitive electronics in my backpack. Yes, the flaptop is waterproof, but only when it’s closed properly. This is a little insurance policy in case something shakes open on top of a bus. Like most of Exped’s gear, the Cloudburst is packed with extra little features that are intuitive and innovative. In this case, the classic shock cord storage on the outside is supplemented by quick-release hooks on the side, which let you quickly stuff a jacket without having to loosen and re-tension the cord. So smart!

Marmot Strato Pillow

I don’t usually go in for inflatable pillows, since it feels like laying on a pool float. However, the Marmot Strato’s very odd shaping makes it pretty relaxing to lay on, at any angle. And at 1.4 ounces, it’s the lightest inflatable pillow on the market.

IV. Essentials

When you’re traveling, there’s plenty of opportunities to find yourself sick, lost, overtired, or in pain. I try to keep the worst at bay with a pretty good toiletries kit. I supplement this stuff with some band-aids, first aid kit, and anti-bacterial ointment.

  • Sunscreen
  • Toothbrush/Paste
  • Res.Q Ointment
  • Lip Balm
  • Ginger Gum
  • TP
  • Aleve
  • Papaya Enzyme

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Papaya Enzyme, Res.Q Ointment, and Ginger Gum

Here’s the low-down on the weird stuff, since you already know what a toothbrush does.

The Papaya Enzyme is basically an all-natural alternative to Tums. I personally think it’s more effective, and the added bonus of not needing to watch your intake (too many Tums can mess with your chemistry) takes the stress out of taking them. I have a light stomach, and when eating food in a foreign place, these have saved me a few times.

Ginger gum helps with motion-sickness, which I definitely experience on airplanes and on buses. I take a piece preemptively and it seems to help!

Burt’s Bees Res.Q Ointment is one of the only topical remedies I have tried that really helps with soothing skin issues. Poison ivy, spider bites, mosquito bites, and allergic reactions all seem to benefit from the christmas-tree smelling stuff. It’s a nice salve to have on hand for small cuts, too.

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Tom Bihn Zip Wallet

This ripstop zip pouch wasn’t originally my wallet. I bought it as an organizer pouch for a camera bag. When I lost my wallet three years ago, I started using this.

The durability of this little thing has really impressed me. For how light the ripstop fabric is, it’s definitely durable and I wouldn’t hesitate to get a larger Tom Bihn bag made from the stuff. What’s more, the zip wallet holds a few other items, like small zip-ties, a Space-Pen, and a Leatherman Micra, giving me quick access to a lot of useful stuff, every day. Of course, I don’t have the Micra on me when traveling.

Rite in the Rain Notebook

Ok, technically it’s a “Tactical Field Book”, but I like the Rite in the Rain stuff. The notebooks are durable and, with the waterproof ink of a Space-Pen, I know I’m not going to lose those directions if I drop it in a puddle. I take notes all day, every day.

Speaking of water…

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Apparently, everyone gets dehydrated in Israel. I refuse to be a statistic. With this wide mouth steel bottle, I should always have a good amount of water on hand, provided I find a place to refill a couple of times a day. And just in case, the foldable Platypus bottle serves as a backup reservoir for long hikes and longer days. I have used a hydration bladder in the past and considered that for this trip, but I find they’re really difficult to fill at bathroom sinks. This is just a simple bottle, so it’s refillable everywhere.

The Minimalist Travel Agenda

When you travel this light, there are a few good tips I’ve learned that make things easier on your limited equipment.

  • Keep your stuff nearby. A single bag should help you keep track of your stuff, so you’re not caught buying a new wardrobe when TSA loses your duffel. However that also means you’ll want to keep really good track of your bag. I also advise keeping your passport, wallet, and camera on your person instead of in your bag. Pickpockets are pretty good in some parts of the world.
  • Keep your clothing clean. With Merino Wool, a good rinse in the sink is all it usually takes to get the stink out of my underwear, socks, and T-shirts. I’ll wash things each night in my hotel room or hostel, and then roll them up in a towel to squeeze all the excess water out. If you hang them near a window, they’re usually all clean by morning. Synthetic stuff washes up equally well, but I don’t wash my pants every day.
  • Leave room for snacks and drinks. Don’t stuff your bag to capacity; on a long day, you might want to carry breakfast, lunch, and a mid-afternoon snack. On long hikes, I anticipate carrying an extra bottle of water, too. I have lots of extra room in my bag.
  • Pack Intelligently. Put your underwear, socks, spare raincoat, and dress clothes deep in your bag, since you might not need them as often. Things like a spare T-shirt, cardigan, toiletries, and the essential camera are good candidates for quick-access pockets, or the top of your main stash.

Hopefully, these tips can get you out of the death-grip your checked luggage has on your trip itinerary. With just a backpack, your adventure starts the second you step off the plane, not after the 4-hour “prep” phase at the airport hotel.

Travel light, travel smart, and focus on the experience!

Keep Exploring,

Max

 

 

 

15 thoughts on “Minimalist Travel: The World in One Backpack

    1. What does this kit weigh? Read the article twice, but it wasn’t mentioned. This looks to be about what I carried to the Philippines in April for a month (about 10 kilos) and I vow to cut it in half next trip. Anything that didn’t get used this trip is getting left at home the next one. Best test whether I’m actually minimalist – does my bag feel heavy or light? Still not there yet. I’m socially connected and make my money online too and found it liberating to use my unlocked Edge+ as a laptop replacement. Was pretty seamless, kind of liberating, and entirely doable. I still don’t think, despite the hype, the phone camera replaces a good dedicated unit (though it’s the only camera I brought this trip and it was marginally acceptable.) Will try a Sony RX100 next round. 5kg is my goal for hot climate trips. As an aspiring minimalist I was slightly embarrassed to be carrying 10 kilos. Didnt feel light or particularly minimalist at all; especially in 40° Celsius weather.

  1. Feel like you are helping me on my journey to getting a minimalist with this article, thanks! Plus: the kanteen bottle and vivobarefoot shoes are fantastic.

  2. Nice list! I’ve been travelling with one backpack for months also. It’s a challenge to hold back from buying/collecting more things over time.

    One thing — I think the Fuji x100 is the perfect camera for minimal travel. It takes photos of equal or better quality to a dslr, but it’s much smaller. It also looks exactly like a retro film camera (not a new digital pro camera), so I’m comfortable carrying it around all parts of the world.

  3. Love this post – I’m certainly not a minimalist traveller but I do try to keep in down to one bag. I am also unreasonably obsessed with how other people pack… Looking forward to checking out the Burt’s Bees Res.Q Ointment – mosquitos love me and antihistamines do nothing! Thanks for the suggestions.

  4. I SO want to go minimalist. I just returned from a trip and cursed every extra ounce of luggage. I notice you do not list any soap or wash. What do you use to rinse out your clothes and yourself?
    I am allergic to wool, so wool and prince is out. Any ideas for alternatives?

    1. I like Ministry of Supply for travel clothing. It looks sharp and seems to resist odor for me. For soap and wash, I usually go with Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap or Sea to Summit Camp Wash. Both are all-natural and do a good job of cleaning everything- my body, my clothes, my hair, and my dishes!

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