Ultralight Packing Tips
If you’re not familiar or new to ultralight packing, then this might be a lot to take in. I used to be your average, run of the mill over-packer, and just threw most of my closet into a large duffel bag. And when you’re packing, it’s natural to want to account for every situation you might encounter, “what if I end up going ice climbing, I obviously need to bring my ice pick”… I have never gone ice climbing. Maybe that’s extreme, but you get what I mean. At any rate, let’s start with a few tips to guide our conversation:
- Ditch the rollaboard. I have an unusual disdain for rollaboards. Ever seen a small child wielding one? It’s terrifying. The truth is that backpacks are going to suit you so much better for ultralight packing needs. If you’re bringing a laptop or other electronics, then you’ll want to get a backpack anyway, and odds are you can fit everything you need in that alone. You’ll need the right bag, but more on that later.
- Be ruthless with your packing list. You’ll have some tough choices to make when packing light. Maintaining a flexible and modular wardrobe definitely helps, but you’ll still be tempted to throw in everything you own. This is especially true if traveling through multiple climates. But trust me on this one, it will absolutely pay dividends in the end. Plus, if you end up forgetting something, it’s usually easy enough to buy it at your destination. That’s not ideal, but we’re talking worst-case scenario.
- Be comfortable with doing laundry. I know laundry is probably the last thing you want on your mind when you’re traveling. Unfortunately, this is one of the trade-offs with packing light. But if you find the right gear, laundry should not only be few and far between but also much easier to manage.
- Fit everything in one bag. Yup, you read that correctly. The goal of ultralight packing is to fit all of your gear and clothing into one bag, ideally between 30-40L in capacity. If you follow the first three tips, this shouldn’t be too daunting.
- Minaal 2.0: I’ve tried a few different backpacks at this point, and so far, I love the Minaal. This bag’s official capacity is around 35L, but if you ask the crew that makes it, that doesn’t mean much to them. The small capacity is aggressive in that it really makes you consider what you’re bringing on your trip and only allows for the essentials. As much of a pain in the ass it is to make those decisions when you’re packing, you’ll be thankful when you can walk through the city seamlessly.
- Amazon Packing Cubes: Cheap, efficient. Other people prefer packing cubes from Eagle Creek or some other niche brands, but I’ve found them to work great. I use the two medium-size cubes as my allowance for what clothes I can take. Once I fill up these, that’s pretty much it for clothing.
- Matador Daylite16: Lightweight and packs down to fit in your hand, so you can usually fit it in your pack somewhere. I’ve used the Minaal as a daypack before, and although it is doable (and necessary if you want to bring a computer), this one is much nicer for that purpose.
- Macbook Pro: Many days are spent in coffee shops grinding away, especially when I’m traveling indefinitely. I have the 13″ Macbook Pro. A good balance between portability and processing power. Plus, I’m way too deep into the Apple ecosystem at this point to opt for anything else. Once this craps out on me, I’d probably consider one of the newer iPads.
- iPhone XS Max: I recently made the switch to the iPhone XS Max from the smaller iPhone screen sizes. I was hesitant about the screen size but it’s absolutely worth it. Plus the camera is great which I do a lot of when abroad and creating content.
- Lightning Charger: Nothing fancy here. Bring a one or two just in case.
- Noise Cancelling Headphones: Ah yes, the great headphone debate. To be entirely honest, I’m not the biggest audiophile in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love music and listen to it pretty much constantly when I’m traveling. But can I distinguish between technical differences between the Bose 700 and the Sony WH1000XM3? Sadly, no I cannot. There are a ton of reviews out there to help you guide your choice, but I do enjoy the Sony headphones and would definitely recommend them.
- Travel Adapter: It’s pretty bulky, but a necessary evil.
- Kindle Paperwhite: “A mind needs a book like a sword needs a whetstone.” – Tyrion Lannister
- Anker Portable Charger: Can charge your phone about 7 times, depending on the battery size. When I first got this my girlfriend thought it was wayyyyy too big and unnecessary. On our following trip to Serbia, I’m pretty sure she used it more than I did. It is a little large, but it’s been a life saver when a reliable power outlet hasn’t been available.
- Micro USB Cables: To charge my Kindle and portable charger.
- Pants (1-2): The Outlier Slim Dungarees, are by far the most comfortable and most versatile pants I’ve ever worn. They toe the line of chinos/jeans very nicely in my opinion and are basically bombproof. Pretty breathable, to keep you cool in the summer but thick enough to keep you warm in the winter. They do come at a steep price point, but trust me they are worth every penny, you won’t be disappointed. Often this is the only pair of pants I bring, but occasionally I pack another pair of SDs or a pair of joggers.
- Boxers (x6): I usually go with about 6 pairs of underwear. You’ll probably end up doing laundry in the sink at some point, depending on how long you’re traveling, so having pairs that dry fast will be very helpful. If you want something cheaper, take a look at Uniqlo boxers, otherwise, MeUndies makes some fantastic ones as well.
- Socks (x5): This can depend on type and length of trip, but I usually stick to about 4-5 pairs. A nice mix of heavyweight wool and lighter will get the job done. All of my socks are from Smartwool. Also, if you’re taking a long-haul flight, I’d definitely recommend getting some compression socks, which help increase the circulation in your legs. Yeah, you might not feel like the coolest cat in the world, but you’ll feel infinitely better.
- T-Shirts (x4): I take about four t-shirts with me, most of them are Merino. I’ve been really happy with the ones from Unbound Merino. I stick to traditional colors like navy, black, grey, and white to keep it simple and easy to mix and match.
- Long Sleeve Shirt (x2): This is another item that might not need to come depending on the weather throughout your trip. I bring a black Smartwool Quarter-Zip with me on colder trips and a henley.
- Button Down (x1): I’m not usually at nice dinners or somewhere needing a collar that often, but it’s nice to have one just in case. A light chambray or flannel does the trick in most cases.
- Shorts (x2): Two pairs of shorts used for everyday wear, workouts, swimming. I use shorts from Myles Apparel; durable as hell, look pretty good and dry fast
- Insulated Jacket: Patagonia Nano Puff, hands down the most comfortable jacket I’ve ever owned. It also does a great job keep you warm and works well under another shell (for wind or rain)
- Rain Jacket: I have a simple, REI rain shell that I travel with. Pretty cheap, no fuss, and easy to pack down.
- Shoes (x2): Shoes are by far the hardest part of packing, especially if you are going to be traveling across multiple climates. The one staple I’ll always bring is a pair of trainers I can run, work out, and walk around in. By far the most versatile and necessary for sneaking in a workout. The second pair will usually vary dramatically. If I’m traveling in the winter and there is a good chance of rain/snow, then I’ll bring a pair of waterproof boots. I have a pair from Woolrich that look good and keep your feet nice and dry. If I’m going anywhere else, then I’ll usually take a pair of Allbirds, both of which are extremely comfortable.
- Beanie: Only necessary if you’re going to a colder destination. But again, we’re planning for indefinite travel here so better to be prepared.
- Gloves: The same rationale as above, don’t judge me for the finger-less/mitten gloves. Those touch screen compatible gloves literally never work well.
- Sunglasses: Keep it classic with the wayfarers.
- 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 pack anywhere.
- Ab Wheel: This might seem a bit excessive, and it might be. But It’s one of the best full-body workouts you’re going to get and you can do it basically anywhere. It’ll break down and actually pack pretty easily, but it’ll also add a bit of weight.
- Lacrosse Ball: For after your workout or long haul flight when you need to iron out those muscles. I may be a little behind on this trend, but seriously, it’s a lifesaver.
- Turkish Towel: You want something that’s going to dry quickly, there’s nothing worse than having to put a wet towel into your backpack. I used to go with the microfiber towels, which usually work pretty well but mine developed an odd odor. So I went for a Turkish towel instead and never looked back.
- Pen: Because you never know when ideas will present themselves. Realistically any pen works, but this one writes upside down.
- Field Notes Notebook: These are great to keep in your back pocket while you’re walking around.
- Sleep Mask + Ear Plugs: Undoubtedly the most underrated piece of equipment on this list. When budget traveling with hostels, you’re going to quickly appreciate the world of a difference these make. I’ve had my fair share of hostel experiences that were successfully remedied with these.
- Water bottle: I go with the 32 oz Hydro Flask. I dig this water bottle but feel free to go with whatever bottle you have.
Each person is different, so what works for me might not necessarily work for you. It might even take one or two trips to find the right balance with how you travel and what you’re comfortable with. That said, I’ve found the above to be entirely sufficient for me to pack indefinitely (albeit maybe a laundry day every now and then). Hopefully this gives you a place to start and the courage to venture into the ultralight packing lifestyle. After that, there’s no going back.