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On Packing Light: The Complete One-Bag Packing List

A one-bag packing list designed for indefinite travel across multiple climates and locations.

Skylar Renslow
Skylar Renslow
12 min read

This page covers my complete minimalist, one-bag packing list. I'll share my thoughts, gear recommendations, and why it's always better to travel with just a small backpack.

Across the last few years, I've traveled to more than 20 countries, from short-term trips to being on the road for 58 weeks straight. Over the years, I've slowly optimized and refined my kit list and strategy, doing extensive research and reviews to find the best gear. On almost every trip I take, this is exactly what I bring.

This packing list is designed for general travel across multiple climates and activities. If you're doing a backpacking trip or have specific gear requirements, you might not be able to be as selective with what you bring. That said, you can still use it as a template and get some good gear ideas and recommendations.

Before we get into the full list, let's start with a few general thoughts.

  • There might be a few definitions of "one-bag" travel. For me, it's a backpack with 45 liters or less of capacity. Sure, a rolling suitcase or a large hiking backpack technically qualifies as "one-bag," but those aren't really in the ethos of ultralight or minimal packing.
  • You don't need any of the gear here. You already have everything you need to go out and explore in your closet. Don't let the gear listed here make you think you need to buy it, or you won't have the "optimal" experience. That's all bullshit, and none of it really matters. That said, all the gear I mention here has been (and is continuously) curated over years of trial and error, and it'll serve you well. If no product is explicitly mentioned, that probably means I haven't really found a need to upgrade what's already in my closet.
  • You don't need as much as you think. If you are questioning if you need it or not, you probably don't. There might be times when you think you wish you had a certain item, but those thoughts tend to melt away when you're on the road.
  • Packing for two weeks is the same as packing for two years - you'll inevitably have to do laundry. No need to pack 365 pairs of underwear.

The Daily Carry

The things that are on my person at all given times.

iPhone - I'm too deep in the Apple ecosystem at this point. I always go for the largest size and the Pro model. It's the tool I'm interacting with the most on the road, so the larger screen size, battery, and camera are all incredibly important. The leather cases from NOMAD are fantastic.

Saddleback Front Pocket Wallet - I bought this wallet years ago based on a recommendation from a friend. Ten years or so later, this thing is still going strong (it even looks/feels better). Always opt for a front pocket wallet to avoid any pickpockets. I've never really done the travel wallet (moneybelt?) that straps to my body, but it's probably not a bad idea.

Schwab Bank Debit Card - Another recommendation from a friend years ago. Schwab isn't a typical bank; they're a brokerage first, but they still offer checking and savings accounts. Because of that, they are more or less an online bank and they don't have many physical locations or any ATMs. The upside though is that they'll reimburse you for any ATM fees worldwide, so you never have to worry about paying $5 extra to take out some cash. Better yet, there aren't any fees or account minimums, and the customer service is awesome.

American Express Platinum - There are so many folks out there who do good overviews of all the credit cards and how to play the airline/hotel points games. I wouldn't call myself an expert, but I dabble enough to be fairly knowledgeable. I think that around 2014 or so, playing the points game started becoming a worse and worse deal for consumers. Still, it makes sense to have a travel-focused credit card. I opt for the American Express Platinum because I'm based out of Seattle, and there's a Centurion Lounge here - they're easily the best lounges out there. The Chase Sapphire Reserve is another good option, and it is actually easier to justify the high cost of the annual fee. There's also a case for having both. Either way, make sure you actually use the points all these cards give you before they get devalued. Don't count on your Amex being accepted by stores/restaurants outside the U.S. Always keep a Visa or Mastercard handy. I only really use the Amex for buying big-ticket travel items - flights, hotels, Airbnb, trains, etc.


The Travel Backpack

The natural first inclination is to reach for the biggest hiking backpack possible. Resist the temptation. Unless you're doing a specific backpacking trip, leave the 70-liter Osprey bag at home. Those types of bags are just not great if you're doing anything other than hiking - you'll take too much shit, and you'll never be able to find it. You'll also stand out like a backpacker/tourist immediately. Maybe that's okay with you, but I prefer to be a bit more incognito.

Look for something under 45 liters in capacity, which is the maximum legal carry-on size for U.S.-based airlines. But even at 45-liters, the backpack will get pretty heavy, so I'd recommend the ~35-liter range.

Note: The indicated capacity on backpacks is not always the best indicator of how much the bag can hold - some bags manage to hold a lot more than you'd expect because of how it's designed. So yeah, size doesn't always matter.

The Minaal 2.0 - I have tested many, many backpacks, but I always end up coming back to the Minaal 2.0 (they have a 3.0 version now). It just feels right. It's the perfect combination of size, comfort, and design. Even when fully packed out, the Minaal carries well enough that I can walk around a city for hours without any issues or fatigue. I also have good spatial awareness when carrying the Minaal; it doesn't sit too far off my back, which is extremely helpful for small or crowded spaces.

Maybe the biggest benefit of the Minaal 2.0 is that, in a pinch, you can fit it under the seat in front of you. An absolute game changer when you're flying a budget carrier or are the last person on the plane, you'll never be stressed about overhead bin space (aka time for one more drink at the lounge).

The Peak Design 45L Travel Backpack is fantastic if you need something bigger. It's well built and works great as a daily carry option at your destination - it can collapse down to 35 liters. My only qualm with this bag is it's pretty heavy, and the straps aren't the best, so when you have it packed out, it can get pretty uncomfortable.

Whichever bag you choose, packing cubes are a must. Most bag manufacturers will make packing cubes designed for their bags. You don't necessarily have to choose those, but they tend to work better. The Minaal packing cubes fit the bag perfectly and are incredibly lightweight. Packing cubes also act as a limiter for your clothes - once those are filled, that's all you can bring. Don't bother with the packing cubes that zip down and compress your clothes; you'll just be adding more weight to the pack.

I'd also recommend a packable backpack or tote that you can use as a daily carry option when you're walking around (groceries, computer, notebook, etc.). The Peak Design Packable Tote is fantastic.


Electronics

Macbook Pro - Many days are spent in coffee shops grinding away, especially when I'm traveling indefinitely. I currently have the 14″ Macbook Pro M1 Max, which is a great combination of power and size. If I weren't working, I'd probably take an iPad or nothing at all.

Charging Cables - Now that the iPhone uses USB-C, I'm finally close to getting my dream of USB-C everything. However, sadly all USB-C cables are created equal. To make it easy, I just picked up a few Thunderbolt-4 grade cables. In any case, whether it's USB-A, USB-C, Micro-USB, or lightning cables, make sure you get extra-long cables or extension cords. You never know when the plug or outlet will be inconveniently placed in the back corner of the Airbnb.

Noise Cancelling Headphones - I'm not the biggest audiophile in the world. Don't get me wrong, I love music, but can I distinguish the technical differences between the latest Bose and Sony headphones? Sadly, no, I can't. There are many audio-specific reviews to help you guide your choice, but I picked up the Sony WH1000XM4 on sale a while ago, and they're great. If you're not taking a long flight, noise-canceling earbuds like the AirPods Pro might work well and save you some space (I take both).

Headphone Splitter - For sharing a movie or podcast with a partner or friend. I don't bother with the Bluetooth ones.

Travel Adapter - These are always frustrating because they're so damn bulky. I like the EPICKA Universal Travel Adapter. It's well-built and has both USB-C and USB-A options.

Kindle Paperwhite - I'd prefer physical books, but e-readers are just too convenient. Alternatively, I've surprisingly enjoyed the reading experience from the Libby app if you don't like eReaders but still want the convenience.

Portable Charger - Never fear about running out of juice. It's by far one of the most used accessories on this list. There are many options out there, but this one from Anker works pretty well.


Clothing

Pants (x2) - The Outlier Slim Dungarees are by far the most comfortable and versatile pants I've ever worn. They toe the line of chinos/jeans very nicely and can take on anything. On a trip to Iceland, I accidentally sprayed myself with gasoline (long story) and was able to get it out of the Slim Dungarees when I got back. They're breathable to keep you cool in the summer but thick enough to keep you warm in winter. They come at a steep price point but are worth every penny. The other pants I bring are the Western Rise Evolution 2.0, which are just as capable as the Outlier pair.

Underwear (x5) - Depending on how long you're traveling, you'll probably do laundry in the sink at some point, so having underwear that dry fast will be critical. The ExOfficio Give-N-Go boxer briefs are the best, hands down.

Socks (x5) - I only take wool socks these days. A nice mix of heavy and lightweight wool will get the job done. Basically, all of my socks are from Smartwool or Darn Tough. Don't sleep on compression socks, either.

T-Shirts (x4) - I take about four T-shirts with me, most of them are Merino wool, which are great wrinkle-free travel clothes options. I've been really happy with the ones from Unbound Merino. I use basic colors like navy, black, and grey to keep it simple and easy to mix and match. They are also great base layers for hiking and backpacking.

Long-Sleeve Shirt/Sweater (x2): This might not need to come depending on the weather throughout your trip, but having at least one light long-sleeve layer is helpful. Right now, I have a black Smartwool Quarter-Zip and a green sweater from Unbound Merino (use "GROG10" for 10% off your order).

If you like what you see from Unbound Merino, you can use "GROG10" for 10% off your order.

Shorts (x2): Two pairs of shorts used for everyday wear, workouts, and swimming. I'm a big fan of the Myles Everyday Short.

Insulated Jacket - Patagonia Nano Puff, hands down the most comfortable jacket I've ever owned. It also does a great job of keeping you warm and works well layering under another shell.

Rain Jacket - I have a simple REI rain shell (that they don't make anymore) that I travel with. It's pretty cheap, no fuss, and easy to pack down. If you're looking for something a little more durable, try the Patagonia Houdini or Montbell Versalite. The important part is that it can pack down to almost nothing.

Shoes (x2) - Shoes are easily the most challenging part of one-bag packing, especially if traveling across multiple climates. I always bring a pair of boots, and I'll try to bring a pair of trainers if it's a longer trip. The Lems Boulder Boots are the best lightweight, waterproof boots I've ever used. I've put those things through so much, and they're still going strong. I also love the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite III – they pack so small and can be used to work out and walk around in.


Toiletries

This section can range pretty widely since many toiletries are very personal to how you take care of yourself. But this is an area that can end up taking up a lot of space and add some weight to your bag. Try to go as generic as you can, avoiding brand names as much as possible - most of this stuff can be found at pharmacies or other stores around the world.

Toiletry Kit - The Matador Flatpack series is excellent.

Panasonic MultiShape - An excellent toothbrush/beard trimmer combo. What a world we live in.

Melatonin - I'm a horrible sleeper, so occasionally, I need something to help put me out for a night, especially when traversing different time zones.

Argan Oil - Hair and face moisturizer (you can usually find this in any city, too).

General items:

  • Deodorant - I love Native deodorant and essentially refuse to use anything else. It's the only natural deodorant I've found that doesn't irritate me and actually works. I actually have packed a few of these at a time, depending on how long I'm on the road.
  • Floss
  • Nail Clippers
  • Tweezers
  • Cotten swabs
  • Toothpaste
  • Sunscreen

Medicine/First Aid - Most of the time, I don't take much outside of Ibuprofen/Naproxen. But for any extended travel, I'd definitely bring some antibiotics. You can usually pick some up over the counter in other countries (foreign pharmacies are great), but you can also ask your doctor beforehand.


Misc.

Aeropress Go - If, like me, you require coffee to function, this will save you a ton of money. It's probably one of the more luxurious items I pack, but it's absolutely worth it. The Aeropress is indestructible and makes the best damn cup of coffee - you'll never rely on the coffee machines from the hotel, hostel, or Airbnb. I've even used it in an airport (ask for hot water). The one trouble is the filters, which you run the risk of running out of, but odds are you'll come across a hipster coffee shop that sells them.

Beanie - Only necessary if you're going to a colder destination. Get a wool one for extra warmth.

Bucket Hat - Something packable and with decent sun protection.

Gloves - Don't judge me for wearing fingerless gloves. Those touch-screen-compatible gloves never work well.

Sunglasses - You will inevitably lose these, but Knockarounds are cheap enough to thrash around but offer good sun protection protection.

Jump Rope - Even when you're not traveling, jump rope is one of the most effective cardio workouts you'll get. It weighs practically nothing and can be packed anywhere.

Turkish Towel - You want something that will dry quickly; there's nothing worse than putting a wet towel into your backpack. Please don't bother with microfiber towels; they're made with synthetic fibers (plastic) that are prone to pick up odors and smells. Turkish towels are made from long fiber cotton that dries quickly and doesn't stink.

Notebook + Pen - Pick up some Field Notes notebooks. Keep one on you and a couple in your backpack.

Sleep Mask + Ear Plugs - Undoubtedly the most underrated piece of equipment on this list. I've had my fair share of hostel experiences that were successfully remedied with these. Hell, even if you're not doing any hostel budget traveling, these things can come in handy.

Water bottle - I go with a simple 32 oz Hydro Flask.


Apps

Airalo - Affordable and reliable eSIMs.

Maps.me - Sometimes Google/Apple Maps won't cut it (in places like Albania, for instance). Maps.me is a good option for offline maps; try and download them ahead of time when you have reliable WiFi.

WhatsApp - As much as I don't really love using Facebook products, everyone in the world, both people and businesses, use WhatsApp.

Google Translate - Better than the Apple translation app. The only thing that drives me nuts is sometimes, even when the language is downloaded, the app tries to use data/WiFi to translate. Why Google, why.

Libby - A surprisingly great reading experience for ebooks and magazines from your local library.

Splitwise - If you're traveling with a group, this will be immensely helpful to track and share expenses.

Overcast - The best podcast app around.

CurrencyConverter - If you travel across multiple countries, it's hard to keep track of all the different exchange rates. I've had a decent experience with this app, and I don't think it's stealing my data.


Final Thoughts

Everyone is different, so what works for me might not work for you. It might even take one or two trips to find the right balance between how you travel and what you're comfortable with. That said, I've found the above sufficient for me to pack indefinitely across all climates. Hopefully, this gives you a place to start and the courage to venture into the one-bag way of life.

What am I missing? What products should I check out? I'd love to hear your recommendations and kit list!

Gear

Skylar Renslow

I mostly walk around, take pictures, and write things.

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