Minimalist Travel: The World in One Backpack (2017 Update!)

Simplify your stuff, and focus on the experience.

As I get dangerously close to becoming well-traveled, I’m also getting better and better at packing. Last year’s Minimalist Travel post was the culmination of hours and hours of careful selection and planning, but I still had a decent amount of stuff with me in Israel and Iceland.

This year, I managed to trim down the weight I carry even more, and I’m living out of this backpack for even longer. Traveling light is 10% about gear, and 90% about your perspective and outlook; it’s about relinquishing the desire to be prepared for everything, and embracing the uncertainty that you were bound to run into anyways. No matter where you’re going, a lighter pack can help you enjoy your travel even more.

Here’s what I’m carrying in 2017.

The Bag

I’m a big fan of Inside Line Equipment, and this is my third USA-made bag from them. This is ILE’s Radius panel-loader, made with X-Pac fabric instead of Cordura. I removed the internal frame sheet to make it even lighter, and I don’t miss it. The result is a backpack that weighs about as much as a pair of jeans.

The construction is simple, with two internal pockets and three external ones, and it rides close to my back with a low-profile design that doesn’t draw unwanted attention. The back-panel vents about as well as you can hope.

I am very confident in the durability of the X-Pac fabric; I have bike bags made from the stuff that have survived years and years of relentless UV exposure, rain, scrapes, scuffs, and corrosive road salt with no issue. And, my other two ILE bags are still going strong after 1 and 3 years, respectively, without so much as a loose stitch. Eric makes good stuff!

I’m also using the delightfully named ‘Lil Guy Mini Pack from Road Runner Bags, also handmade in the US, and also made from X-Pac. I use it to carry a cheap RFID passport wallet, my phone, a pen and marker, my titanium spork, and some cheap headphones. It rides across the front of my body so I can grab my plane tickets or I.D. in a hurry without taking off my backpack, and without overloading my pockets.

Together, these bags make for a neat system without adding any excess bulk or weight.

The Minimalist Travel Wardrobe

This trip is only 50% pleasure; I’m spending five days in Barbados at a workshop for climate science and coastal adaptation. That means I need to pull off business-casual and formal almost every day of the trip. Challenge Accepted!

Pants

I’m still using the same two pairs of pants after three years of travel. There’s no reason to switch. Prana’s Stretch Zion material is perfect. It’s more durable than denim, more comfortable in heat than pure nylon, and has the perfect amount of stretch for crossing my legs in an Amtrak train or hiking Masada. The Ministry of Supply dress pants (now called the “Going Places” slacks) simply won’t wrinkle if I give them a quick fold, and they’re stain and water-resistant for repeated use.

I’m also toting a pair of Ibex running shorts. The built-in liner is wool, so they stay fresh after a quick dip in the pool. They’re dry in 3-4 hours if you roll them in a towel and then hang them up in your hotel room. I can also wear these on the off-chance I get to do a load of laundry.

Shirts

I can’t believe I’m writing this; the same two Wool and Prince t-shirts I bought last April are both still 100% intact and ready for action, more than a year later. Wool and Prince’s new t-shirt fabric combines odor-fighting merino wool with nylon for durability, so I get a T-shirt I can wear for a week straight without a wash. And now, it outlasts Merino’s fragile reputation, too. I’m more than impressed with this shirt, and would heartily recommend it to anyone serious about getting their money’s worth from an everyday tee.

I’m trying to stick with just two dress shirts. I expect the tee to be dressy enough with my charcoal pants and tasteful shoes for one of the conference’s site visit days, which means I’ll only need to use a button-down twice. I can mix and match the shirts and pants, too. But, I don’t really expect anyone to notice. A little confidence and good personal hygiene means I’ve never ever had a socially awkward moment reusing a pair of pants while traveling.

Everything is hand-washable in my hotel room sink, and I have enough shirts to change halfway through the day, every day, if it’s really hot. This system is my go-to.

Shoes, Socks, and Underwear

True Story: I actually only own three pairs of underwear. Merino Wool’s antibacterial properties are that reliable. I live with my fiance and our two housemates, and all three of these odor-sensitive women wouldn’t tolerate me very long if I smelled bad. I can wear these undies for weeks on end with a nightly wash in the sink.

I’m bringing two pairs of shoes. Vivobarefoot’s Kemba replaces my old Gobi’s, which are still doing just fine after three years (wow!). I am perfectly comfortable hiking in these in all conditions, even the miles of Israeli desert I explored last year. I’m also using the new merino wool loungers from Allbirds. On first impression, they’re very light and very comfortable. I’m wearing mine without the insoles for better barefoot feel.

Outerwear

I’m in love with Rab’s E-Vent anorak. It’s this weird jacket they only produced one run of, and it has no zippers and no pockets. It closes like a velcro dry-bag. The result is an extremely light and compact 3-layer. Outdoor Research’s Helium rain gear is a close second for me, and I use the rain pants all the time — I like their jacket, too. They pack small enough that it’s easy to justify them, and I’m always glad to spend time exploring in inclement weather when there’s less tourists around.

And finally, a simple wool buff might be one of the most versatile pieces of clothing in my wardrobe. Hat, scarf, face mask, sleep mask, sweat band – you name it.

The Mobile Office

  • Computer: 2015 Apple Macbook Air 11″
  • Tablet: 2017 Apple iPad
  • Phone: Apple iPhone 6S
  • Spare Battery: Moko 9,000 mAh Battery w/ Pass-Through Charging

As a freelance writer and scientist, a lot of the work I do demands that I stay mobile. I have a pretty good “office” setup going that hasn’t changed much in five years. I am on my second Macbook Air 11″, plugged into a 2TB backup hard-drive all the time for photo storage and protection against lost files. This year, I also added an iPad, which I find especially useful for reading and annotating large PDF files while I’m working from my computer. I slide both into a cheap closed-cell case, divided by a thin plastic cutting board for protection.

I’m also toting my Nikon D7000 DSLR, my phone, a small 9,000 mAh backup battery with pass-through charging so I can charge everything at once from a single outlet, and all the associated wires and chargers. Not the most compact setup in the world, but it works – and so do I.

Travel Organization and Toiletries

I used to knock any sort of internal organization as wasted weight. But, I’m changing my tune. I’m using the Eagle Creek organizing cubes and a few smaller bags from Granite Gear and Exped to keep my life together on the road. It makes packing much faster and my clothes stay un-wrinkled, even after days of being packed away.

Since this is a work trip, I’m also reluctantly carrying a small electric shaver to keep my beard trimmed. If this were a pleasure trip, I’d prefer my beard au naturale. I’m also carrying some travel soap, toothpaste and brush, sunscreen, a sun stick, a tiny spray bottle of bug spray, and some deoderant.

My Travel Hat

When I was fourteen, I complimented my grandfather’s Tilley hat and he got me one of my own. It’s been on hundreds of adventures over the last thirteen years. It’s not the lightest, not the most technical, and not the most stylish hat in the world. But, it’s a great hat and it suits me.

That wraps up my one-bag travel system for this year. I’m down to less than 11 pounds and I have everything I need for months and months of world travel. Stay tuned for some photo sets from New England, Barbados, and wherever else I end up this year.

Keep Packing,

Max

Author’s Note: I try and keep my site ad-free, other than the mandatory WordPress.com ad at the bottom. For full disclosure, I use affiliate links to support my site. All gear was purchased by me, with the exception of the ILE bag, the Ministry of Supply formalwear, and the Wool and Prince t-shirts. Thanks for reading!

11 thoughts on “Minimalist Travel: The World in One Backpack (2017 Update!)

  1. This is amazing and well written. May I ask one thing – is the onebag described here for warmer climate?
    I am totally into the pants. Maybe I will buy em (=

    1. Definitely a warm climate list! I have done some one-bag traveling in the winter using a light down jacket and some baselayer tights, but it’d be a tight squeeze with this particular pack.

  2. Great post Max! I’m currently looking for a lgihtweight daypack for my next international trip. That ILE might fit the bill! I’ve never used an X-Pac bag before. Are there any downsides over their regular cordura bags?

    Also, how do you like the straps?

    1. I honestly see no downsides to X-pac, as I’ve never managed to wear it out. It’s lighter and more waterproof than Cordura.

      The straps and backpanel are very comfortable for me.

  3. Hey Max. I like the article also. I spend my days in a coporate job and mountain bike a lot at night. I’m looking for clothing and solutions that I can use to make packing and unpacking for my day easier. You’ve given me some ideas. I’m also working on a bikepacking setup and the dry bags look like a good solution for toiletries etc.

  4. awesome post! bookmarked this to use as a guide for when i travel by myself soon!

    also if you have the time, can you do in an in depth review of the ILE radius? and perhaps even a comparison of all the ILE backpacks you’ve had and what kind of person each is for? 😀

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