When packing for a typical trip, items that are at the forefront of most of our thoughts are the basics – clothes, underwear, a toothbrush, rain jacket. But when you are actually living out of a single backpack (think tortoise carrying his house on his back), packing takes on kind of a new meaning. Things that aren’t typically a consideration for a week-long retreat now become increasingly important – How can I segregate all things dirty and gross? How can I save significant space or weight? What is the best way to organize all this teeny, miscellaneous shit so it doesn’t get lost? What items will be the most versatile?
Below are some of the items we considered to be essentials on this trip. They largely contributed to our minimalist packing goals, while also helping to keep us organized during the chaos of moving from place to place. If you’re not interested in these particular brands (or the items have been discontinued or are out-of-stock), hopefully this at least provides a starting point for finding something that best suits your needs (and budget).
For the environmentalist:
Water bottle – Klean Kanteen, Classic 27 oz. (800 mL) ($21)
- This is an old favorite. We’ve had our current Klean Kanteen bottles since 2008 and mine is never more than a meter from me on a daily basis (whether traveling or at home). I’ve always had problems staying hydrated, and this bottle has been my savior.
- Reusable = sustainable; reduces waste from plastic water bottle consumption.
- Stainless steel, BPA-free.
- Leakproof cap (this is a reasonably accurate claim – mine occasionally leaks a small amount if turned sideways, but overall it’s quite good).
- Company is committed to sustainable practices and philanthropy (a portion of profits are donated to charity, and employees are given paid time for community service).
For the compulsive organizer:
Shoe Pouch – Eagle Creek Pack-It Original Shoe Sac ($14)
- Item number one of our apparent Eagle Creek obsession. Each shoe bag held two pairs of footwear – a pair of flip flops and a pair of minimalist running shoes. We found the shoe pouches to be an absolute must-have for packing away dirty shoes and keeping them off of clean clothes. This pouch is also washable… bonus!
Toiletry Kit – Eagle Creek Pack-It Original Wallaby ($37)
- Enough compartments to keep everything organized; includes one removable, clear, zippered pouch and small (shatterproof) mirror.
- Kit has a handle, if you’d like to carry it separately (for flying or such).
- Kit also has a hanger, a desirable feature for campsite and hostel showers.
Water-resistant zippered pouch – Eagle Creek Pack-It Original Sac, Small (6” x 8”) ($9)
- Good pouch for organizing miscellaneous smaller items. I used mine for medications, as (1) it was water-repellent, and (2) I could just throw the small pouch in whichever backpack I was carrying (I always carry headache and stomach meds, as well as Benadryl, in case of a random, unknown allergic reaction while out and about).
Money belt – Eagle Creek, Undercover Money Belt DLX ($21)
- While we never used the money belt as an actual belt, I was still glad I had the option if needed. It’s moisture-wicking if you do wear it, made of lightweight nylon. Although not used for its true, intended purpose, it did provide a convenient, compact, and secure means to compartmentalize passports, money, and passport photos.
Polyester laundry bag – Reisenthel (The Container Store) ($10)
- We selected this laundry bag based on great reviews from other travelers. While I’ve never used another laundry bag, and consequently can’t speak to its superiority, it certainly has been great for us. It comes with a little pouch (with snap enclosure) and, when all folded down and snapped up, is not much bigger than a matchbook. Fantastic for storage when not in use, and essential for segregating stinky laundry when travelling long-term.
For the space-saver:
Minimalist wallet – Flowfold Card Holder Wallet ($10)
- Manufactured in the U.S. by a small company in Lewiston, ME, the wallet is made from repurposed sailcloth (lightweight, durable, and water-resistant) and is 100% vegan.
- Capacity is listed as 8–11 plastic cards plus a few bills. I currently am carrying 6 cards and some bills easily, though I think 11 cards would be a squeeze (err on the lower end of the specs).
- Takes up so much less space than a traditional wallet, which is critical for long-term travel, and really kind of nice even for day-to-day use.
Universal Travel Adapter – Road Warrior ($28)
- Compact, lightweight, and versatile (compatible with outlets for 150+ countries)… what more could you ask for?
Light-weight travel towel – REI MultiTowel Lite (X-Large, 54” x 25”) ($22.50)
- Microfiber fabric is quick-dry, and the towel packs down into a small (included) pouch.
Men’s travel underwear – Exofficio, Give-N-Go Boxer ($26/pair)
- This underwear is perfect for traveling – lightweight, comfortable, and they pack down to about 1/3 the size of a pair of standard, cotton boxers. Moreover, they dry almost instantaneously, making them a fantastic choice when you’re doing sink laundry and line drying.
Black, twill pashmina scarf/shawl – Amazon ($9)
- Great for covering your shoulders or head in temples, churches, and mosques. At the beach, it can be used as a sarong, and if it’s a bit chilly, it can be worn as a regular old scarf. Super versatile, great space-saving item, and very budget-friendly… you can’t ask for more when a single piece of fabric is that practical.
For the person with too much stinkin’ camera gear:
Nikon 3oo mm f/4 PF telephoto lens ($2,000)
- While Stephan’s go-to telephoto lens is typically his 80–400 mm AF-S VR, the glass is unquestionably bulky, tipping the scales at 1.6 kg (3.5 pounds). In an attempt to cut down on heft, he purchased this 300 mm lens just before the trip. With a mass of only 755 grams (1.6 pounds), it made an invaluable difference, eliminating nearly a kilogram (2 pounds) from his pack. Additionally, the lens’ smaller size – 147.5 mm (5.8 inches) vs. 203 mm (8 inches) on the zoom – was also instrumental in fitting all of our gear into precious little space.
Note: To compensate for the loss of focal length, we typically threw on a 1.4x teleconverter, for a total focal length of 420 mm.