That is a photo of everything I own. You can count if you are the OCD type. I see around 60 things. I could be a lot more minimalist, but that would take more work on a daily basis. I could have more stuff, but I like how it all fits into my tiny backpack. I’ve wandered the world for the last year with only this, and it has been more than enough. I hiked through the snow above the arctic circle in late November and climbed mountains in the sweltering heat of central India in the summer, and this was all I needed.
And yes, that really is everything, aside from the camera I took the photo with. Which means I was completely… er… nevermind. Let’s move on, and try not to look into any reflective surfaces.
Let me break it all down for you.
Typically, when people ask how many clothes I have, I say “about a week’s worth”. That’s true regardless of the weather, thanks to layering. Any less and laundry would get annoying, any more and it would get too heavy.
There is a miracle fabric that you will keep seeing pop up throughout, and that’s merino wool. This isn’t the scratchy, thick, overly hot wool you grew up with. This comes from high-altitude sheep in New Zealand. It’s light, soft, toasty, thin, wicks away sweat, dries quickly, and somehow never stinks. I don’t claim to fully understand the sorcery this uses, but it has invaded just about every part of my wardrobe because of how awesome it is.
Most of these are t-shirts, and half are merino wool. I could probably make due with just that half, but I like a little more variety. T-shirts can be used as an underlayer for warmth, an overlayer for style, or by themselves when it’s warm. They are very flexible and people around the world wear them, so you never have to worry about looking like a tourist.
The merino wool half of the T-shirts are Icebreaker Tech Ts and Smartwool Microweight Tees. The only real difference is that the Smartwool shirts are slightly thinner and cooler. I have worn them while rock climbing and going out dancing all night in smokey clubs. Somehow the next day when I smelled like someone emptied an ashtray into a sauna for sumo wrestlers, these shirts always smell like they were just washed. While they are more expensive than a cheap cotton T-shirt, I really can’t recommend these enough.
The other half of my T-shirts are from assorted artists that I enjoy. They are thin for very hot days and have brighter colors than merino wool shirts come in. There is also one collared shirt for when I need to dress up a little. I work from the road and have nice dinners on occasion, and it’s good to show you clean up well.
For colder weather, the trusty Icebreaker Long-sleeve Zip has always kept me ridiculously toasty. It’s trim and slick looking on its own, and it layers well. Finally, the far left shirt is also a trusty standby, essentially a thin zip-up cardigan that makes any shirt I wear it over look dapper. While I picked this up at a store in Montreal while wandering around, I’m sure you can find a similar piece to add for layering.
First off are my jeans. Since I knew I was only going to have one pair of jeans, I made sure they were good ones that fit well, looked good, and were going to last. After a lot of research, I went to Self Edge in San Francisco and tried on a bunch of jeans until I found the perfect pair. They were painfully stiff, but over the next few weeks they wore in, and now I’ve never had a more comfortable pair. I feel like they’ve grown with me, as they’ve gone on just as many adventures as I have. Every mark has a story.
Underneath are the Cloudveil Convertible Pants. I realize that convertible pants are never going to be stylish, but for the times you are hiking, rock climbing, doing yoga, or just need a cooler option with more flexibility, these work great and were the least dorky option I could find. The ability to strip them down to shorts during an unexpected long hike during a heat wave is priceless, and as shorts they act as a great pair of swim trunks. During extremely cold weather, I even wore them as an extra layer over my jeans.
As the Cloudveil Convertibles are no longer available, I’ve started trying out Outlier Climbers. They are classy enough to be dress pants, but stretchy enough to go rock climbing and do yoga in. On top of this, they are durable enough to go biking in every day for years. Honestly, they are truly amazing.
I also have one nondescript pair of black swim trunks I got in an emergency years ago when we found out our ski lodge had a hot tub. Yes, that’s an emergency. Now they act as a secondary pair of shorts and swim trunks, which is great during extended stays on beaches. (That’s the part of world travel you guys always imagine. If only.)
This was the toughest part of deciding what to bring, because they take up so much space. I eventually decided to bring two coats, and I’m very glad I did. The first coat is the Arc’teryx Delta LT Fleece, which is lightweight, warm when there is no wind, and has ridiculously big pockets. Each pocket is seriously that half of the front of the coat. On mild days, it serves as a great light jacket that is form-fitting and looks great.
- Left: Standing on the ocean near Luleå, Sweden. Right: In a snowstorm in Paris, France.
The second coat is a ski jacket called the Stoic Welder Insulated Softshell. It is completely windproof, waterproof, and very warm. In cold weather, I always have this. It has plenty of discreet pockets to store things, and it is very form fitting, so you don’t look like you are wearing your dad’s XXL jacket (an affliction that affects most heavy coats). In the above pictures, I am wearing the Arc’teryx jacket underneath (it was so cold the ocean was frozen), carrying my Camera, Kindle, countless other things, and I still don’t look or feel like a pack mule. I can also take all of those out to get a nice svelt look. The green lines are vibrant, but I like that.
For the cold weather, Smartwool Lightweight Bottoms are the greatest decision you will make. They are that magical merino wool I talked about earlier, so it won’t matter that they are pressed between your skin and your jeans all day, they just won’t get stinky. What they will do is keep you comfy warm while you go about your day, forgetting you even have them on. They are flexible, soft, and woven from the hairs of the gods of snuggling. Don’t forget these.
Underneath it all
That’s right, it’s time to talk about the unmentionables. For some reason, whenever I tell people I just have one small backpack, about half the time I get the response “So you only have one pair of underwear?”. Yes, yes. I’m sure you’re funny to your friends. Anyway. This stuff is small, light, and spends all day pressed against your nether regions, so don’t pick this area to skimp.
One of the great things about culling your possessions down to just a handful of things is that you can justify making sure those are the best ever. That’s how I justified the Icebreaker Anatomica Boxer Briefs for $40 per pair. Make no mistake, I do not regret it for a second. They are by far the most comfortable, stylish, and completely awesome underwear I have ever owned, and they have all the mystical properties of merino wool I previously mentioned. If you are on the road, they are also very easy to hand-wash, and dry in minutes. This is very handy, as you always want to avoid putting wet clothes in your backpack. Unless you like the smell of mildew everywhere, that is.
I also have have a few pair of Ex-Officio Boxer Briefs, which are much more affordable and still have some of the nice qualities of merino wool. Their tagline is “28 days and they never get whiffy”, backed by all sorts of sport adventurers who’ve been given pairs to test their limits. They aren’t as silky soft and dreamy as the Icebreakers, but they do their job well, wash easily, and dry within a few hours.
I’ve always thought that you could tell a lot about someone by their socks. It’s a part of the wardrobe that often gets ignored, because people think it won’t be seen. However, as you travel you will find yourself in a lot of situations and cultures where you spend a lot of time in socked feet, and it’s good to not suddenly be wearing your lack of thoughtfulness as a badge while you are meeting new people.
My favorite socks in the world are made by V.K. Nagrani. They are a wool/cashmere blend to be extremely comfy, they come up over the calf so they never fall down during the day, and they come in a stunning variety of designs and colors. They retail for between $35 and $75 per pair at high-end stores, so these are some serious socks. There’s a secret to getting them cheaper, though, and it’s an amazing experience. In the online store is an option called “Dirty Dozen”. Get this. Within a day, a Sock Valet (yes, Sock Valet) will call you and ask you questions about your personality and wardrobe. He will then pick a selection of a dozen pairs of socks specifically tailored to you and mail them to you with a handwritten note. This somehow drops the price to less than half of their cheapest option, and you get a great selection of socks to suit your entire wardrobe, not to mention an amazing process and story. Tell them I sent you.
I also have a few pairs of Smartwool socks, which are pure merino wool. They don’t have the softness of cashmere, but they are warmer. Honestly, the men’s styles are all boring, and I typically get the women’s styles in XL. (Ooh! He wears women’s socks!) If you just want a pair or two, this is a more affordable option.
It’s not underwear, but also pictured in the upper right is the Kiva Key Chain Bag. It’s a medium-sized backpack that folds up into a tiny pouch that doesn’t take up any space. It comfortably fits a laptop and change of clothes, which is a perfect daypack for me. While it isn’t the strongest material, it is great when you don’t want to carry around a full backpack. I got it as an emergency bag for carrying unexpected cargo during flights, and I ended up using it all the time.
I only have two pairs of shoes. The first is a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. These are made for high-performance running, simulating the barefoot runners of Kenya that dominate every marathon around the world. They are extremely comfortable and much better for your body than normal shoes. They also make great water shoes for rocky streams and are much better than sandals. However, they do look weird (this can be a plus or minus depending on your personality), they don’t provide warmth, and they have a nasty habit of getting stinky if you wear them too often. If you can pull them off and don’t wear them every day, they are some of the best shoes around.
The second pair was much harder to find. I wanted shoes that did everything. They had to be thick-treaded and sturdy enough to handle hiking up craggy mountains and comfortable enough to walk around on sidewalks. Unfortunately, every shoe I found that met these requirements looked like I was wearing a camping supply store on my feet. Until I found the Adidas Terrex Betas. These shoes are specifically made for adventuring, and have handled mountains in a rainstorm as easily as a corporate meeting. In an absolute pinch, they could even pull off formal. I’ve never found shoes that were this sturdy, comfortable, and fashionably flexible. They are another must have.
For my entire life, I’ve avoided hats. I’ve always been of the view that you had two options when it came to hats: wearing a baseball cap and looking like a fratboy douche or wearing a fancy hat and looking like a douchey douche. Then I came across the Goorin Bros. and their Chong hat. High quality, unique without being douchey, and ear flaps that kept my ears warm during the coldest days. Suddenly the sun was out of my eyes and my hair wasn’t in my face. My eyes were opened to a whole new world, and I don’t want to go back.
Everyone knows that the place you lose the most heat from your body is your head. Quick fact: You lose the second most heat from your wrists. People typically leave this area exposed, which just isn’t good. After a lot of research, I finally found a company in Berlin called Fortschritt that makes merino wool wrist warmers. They have a lot of styles, and the one I got is from the MAK Modern Art Museum in Vienna.
I totally skimped out here. These are the free glove liners I got with a pair of snowboarding gloves years ago. I just wanted something small and thin to block some cold and breeze that still allowed me to handle objects freely. If I’m out in the cold for long periods, I have warm pockets.
I have a couple of bandanas that were given to me as gifts over the years, and they prove very useful on the road. They keep my hair out of my face on hot days and they mop up sweat when I’m doing something strenuous. They are cheap, don’t take up much space, and are more useful than you might think.
As Douglas Adams said, always know where your towel is. I’ve gotten out of the shower many times to discover the room had no towel or one that I didn’t want to touch. The MSR Ultralite Packtowl is super absorbent, dries quickly and folds up small. They come in many sizes, and I got the smallest one I could wrap around myself (which has also proven wise).
Polarized lenses stop glare and are much better for your eyes than simple dark plastic. Dillon Optics took this a step further and invented cross-polarized lenses. They stop internal glare, so you don’t get a lens flare effect. They also have a satin finish that is unlike any other lens I have seen, which is pretty cool. I definitely get a lot of comments on them. Bottom line, they look great, feel great, and you see the world very crisply and clearly.
Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to enter the exciting world of my bathroom. I know you can’t stand the tension.
While the TSA did quietly lift the ban on liquids over 3 ounces, they aren’t the best at communicating that to every airport in the US, and there are some other countries that still check. As such, I use the Humangear GoToob to carry around my shampoo and conditioner. Most of the time I just use ones that I find there, but every now and then I spend a night in an unexpected place during a layover and I’m glad I have a backup.
I also have a small bottle of the miracle fluid that is Dr. Bronner’s liquid soap. It’s shampoo, bodywash, detergent, in a pinch it’s even toothpaste. It’s called 18-in-1 for good reason. It’s completely natural, feels and smells great, and even has entertaining crazy writing all over the bottle. This is a staple for any traveler.
I used to be a loyalist to the Fuchs Travel Toothbrush, but it got more expensive and hard to find, so I tried a bunch of different clever travel toothbrushes, all of which were worthless. Now I use the standard travel toothbrushes you find at a grocery store. Fuchs is still a great toothbrush that I would recommend, but the difference wasn’t enough for me to spend the time or money hunting them down. I also started using a tongue cleaner some years ago when a dentist told me about all of the bacteria that sits there. The Pureline Oralcare Tongue Cleaner is the best one I’ve found. It’s durable, resilient, and effective. Use it.
Clearly the most pretentious part of my toiletries, I discovered this one day in Amsterdam when I found out I had left mine in a previous hotel. It was all the drugstore had, and it was so good I never want to go back. Nivea Dry Impact is effective and only has a faint fresh scent, unlike the ones in America that smell like Kool-Aid Man went swimming in the ocean. They never released this in America for some reason, so I pick it up when I’m in Europe or pay the charges to import it.
Nothing special here, this is a folding hairbrush that packs up small and leaves my hair smooth and silky. Aw yeah.
I’ve written about this before, but this is my Q-Tips Purse Pack. Don’t let the name fool you, it’s tough and keeps everything in place.
I haven’t shaved in over 3 years. Sensitive skin, ingrown hairs, nicks and cuts, blech. I keep everything trim with this beard trimmer I got over 10 years ago. It looks like this is the current equivalent, but mine uses 2 AA batteries, which is much more convenient when they die halfway through your face. I hunted around to find one smaller or better, but I couldn’t find one, so it came along for the ride.
I have sinus issues. Sexy, right? It doesn’t happen often, but every now and then I get a sinus infection that lays me out in bed for a week unless I flush it out with a neti pot. However, neti pots are cumbersome to carry, and there is a better solution. The Nasaline is like a neti pot on steroids, a car wash for the inside of your head. It’s also thin, which means it slides into the side of my backpack easily. If this affects you, it is a godsend. Otherwise, stop thinking about my snot.
Sleep on the road is essential, and these things help me get a full night of it so I can be ready to adventure the next day.
The Sea To Summit Silk Mummy Liner is roomy and comfortable, keeps you 10° warmer, and rolls up to the size of your fist. There have been nights when the temperature suddenly dropped enough to wake me up, and this kept me warm enough to sleep. It’s only 10 degrees, so it’s not a miracle fabric, but it sure helps and it feels luxurious. There have been many times where I’ve been extremely grateful to have this while crashing on a friend’s couch.
Eyemask and Earplugs
Years ago, a friend told me that she got much better sleep in complete darkness. I decided to try it out with a sleep mask, and the difference was huge. The next day I felt rested and energetic, and ever since I’ve always tried to sleep in darkness. When traveling, there are times you don’t have control over the light levels in the room, and the Dream Essentials Eyemask has saved my sleep each time. Honestly, there are many eyemasks that will work well, you just need to make sure they block out all light. This one does, and it folds up into a tiny pouch for travel, so you can keep it in your pocket when you travel. It even comes with free earplugs, which are a great bonus.
For the times I’ve had a middle seat and needed to sleep, I got the Samsonite Inflatable Neck Pillow. It folds up into a little pouch and keeps me from waking up drooling on my neighbor’s shoulder. I was very happy about this when I got it, but I’ve honestly only used it twice. I enjoyed it both times, but I don’t feel like it’s earning its keep. The only reason I still have it is because I keep it in a side mesh pocket, where it doesn’t take up any valuable space. I may ditch it soon.
I love games. They are fun, keep your mind sharp, and are a great ice breaker for meeting new people, especially on long train rides or nights in a new place. Card games are tiny and infinitely replayable. I’ve already written a full article about how awesome Monopoly Deal is, and I’ve played it countless times in the year since. It’s easy for anyone to understand, and fun to watch people develop their own strategies.
Honestly, games are just a reason for people to gather around and have fun while they get to know each other, so I also carry a pack of Bicycle cards. Most people have a game that they know and love, and it’s fun to learn these new games. The pack I have now was given to me by a magician friend who taught me that Bicycle makes the best quality cards by far, as they have the patent. After using them for a year now, I have to agree.
Alright all you gadget fiends, it’s time to dig into the the technology. I don’t have a ton, so what I do have is deemed essential.
I’ve already written an article about the Kindle, so I will keep this brief. You can keep an entire library of books in this little device that is smaller than a paperback. I have tons of books in mine and I haven’t come close to filling it. You get free high-speed internet anywhere in the world that gets a cel phone signal. Based on those two factors alone, this baby is cheap. I always carry it around in my jacket in case I want to sit down and read for a while. I’ve quickly checked my email lying in a hammock on the coast of Thailand before getting back into my book. This improves your quality of life so much that it’s a necessity.
I’m not going to battle PC vs Mac here. You know and love your operating system and should stick with it. I switched from Windows to Mac in ’92 when I was but a wee dorky lad and I’ve never looked back. I got this puppy on the day it became available 3 years ago. I’ve since upgraded to a 500GB Seagate Momentus XT Hybrid HD (the blazing speed of an SSD and the massive capacity of a disk!) and 5GB of RAM. I edit video and huge RAW photos regularly (and professionally) while surfing the net and this never skips a beat. It’s held up to some severe beatings by overzealous “security agents” while traveling, and acts like nothing happened. It even has a moustache (with a moustache). It’s okay if yours isn’t this manly.
They don’t make this version anymore, but you can still pick up the MacBook Air.
I wrote about the Olympus E-P1 over a year ago, and everything holds true. It is a professional quality DSLR packed into a pocket-size shell. I definitely recommend the Lumix 20mm f/1.7 lens. It gives you the coveted Leica look in a tiny little pancake lens (They bought Leica and use their glass). I’ve carried this camera with me everywhere, and every picture in my Flickr was taken with it. The metal case has saved me numerous times when I was running full speed and watched it fly out of my hands onto the pavement. There’s barely a scratch on it, and it still works like new. They have come out with many new models since this one, and the E-P3 was just announced. However, the E-P1 still outsells them all, and with good reason.
I also carry the charger and a spare battery, which has saved me a few times when my battery happened to run out in the middle of something I was taking a lot of photos or video of. It doesn’t take up any more space (it stays in the charger) and the peace of mind it provides is priceless.
In the year since I recommended this, I know a lot of people who have gotten this camera, and they have all been extremely happy with it. It’s nice knowing I can make such a good effect on the world. A great camera won’t make you a great photographer, but a bad camera can make you a worse photographer. Why not lean toward great?
Always keep a backup of your important information. Not everything can fit on my laptop’s drive, so this also works as a place to offload information I don’t use often. After a lot of research (due to a lot of experience with different manufacturers, there are very few companies I trust to make drives that don’t fail), the Western Digital Elements Portable 2TB came out on top. It is the smallest portable HD in physical size, and the largest in terms of capacity. Of all the drives I have had fail on me in the past, none have been WD. The only other company I can say this about is Seagate, which I also trust. Unfortunately, they aren’t as competitive in the portable market. The only downside of this drive is that it comes with custom software that is worthless and can’t be deleted from the drive. Just ignore the software, and don’t install it on your computer. Then everything is smooth and peachy.
Until computers can wirelessly talk to each other with ease, these are a necessity for sharing large files with friends. Why not do it with some personality? Mimobot makes lots of licensed characters, from Star Wars to Batman, and lots of originals. Cosmobot is the one that spoke to me, and I got the 8GB version. It has served me well both storing information and starting conversations with the person I’m sharing with.
I never was the kind of person to get speakers for my computer. I always wore headphones or dealt with the quiet tinny speakers they squeeze into laptops. Portable speakers were always bulky and never sounded much better. At the South by Southwest festival this year, someone brought a Jambox and it blew my mind. It is seriously loud, has great quality sound, and plenty of bass. It’s well-designed, small, and connects by bluetooth to be completely wireless. It fills large rooms with music, and I’ve even brought it out to the park with friends where all it takes to switch the DJ is syncing your iPhone or iPod directly to it, like magic.
I had considered portable speakers a lost cause and never thought I would recommend one, but these are gold. If you want great speakers in a small, beautiful package, get one of these now. I made room for it in my backpack and every time I want to watch a movie with friends, I’m happy everyone doesn’t have to huddle in close to listen.
iPhone / iPod
Yes, I like Apple products. They just work and slide into the background so I can focus on what I’m doing instead of trying to get them to work. I have an unlocked iPhone for all of my calls and I have a collection of SIM cards from around the world that I use in it. Having such a wealth of apps available, from converting currency to checking flights to learning new languages to playing games with friends, it is amazing. But honestly, I don’t need to tell you this. You either have one, want one, or would never consider switching based on some principle you hold dear. Mine has become an indispensable travel tool, and I can’t recommend it enough. The case on mine is a satin-finish red one I picked up for under a dollar in Malaysia.
So why the additional iPod Touch? It’s an older one that I got for next to nothing. It holds enough video and music to get me through a long flight without having to worry about having a charge in my phone when we land and I need to meet up with a friend. I turn off my phone during the flight and this becomes my entertainment center. It also has wifi, and can act as a secondary computer for a friend who doesn’t have theirs. This isn’t justifiable for everyone, but I happened upon it and it’s proven very valuable during my travels.
For the last few years I’ve used JVC HAFX headphones. They are cheap, comfortable, and have sound that rivals $100 headphones. Unfortunately, they only last about a year before the rubber starts falling apart. It takes a lot of $12 headphones to equal one pair of $100 headphones, though, so I kept buying them. Unfortunately my last pair died while I was in India, and I needed new headphones. I picked up these Dexim Stentor earbuds in the meantime. So far they seem like they have a great build quality, a cord that refuses to tangle, and bass levels that are ridiculous. I set my EQ to “Bass Reducer” and went on my way.
What I look for in headphones (aside from sound quality) is how well it blocks outside sound. I want a specific level, quiet enough that I can sleep without hearing the drone of the airplane, but loud enough that I can hear someone yelling at me on the street while I’m wearing them. You know, because I am about to run into traffic or an open pit.
Universal Plug Adapter
This little piece of electronics is one of the coolest things I’ve seen. The APC INPA acts like a transformer, assembling a few different ways to convert literally any plug into any other plug. I have yet to find a combination this does not convert between. On top of that, it is the smallest adapter on the market. There have been so many times I was glad to have this when I had an unexpected layover in a random country and was the only person who could use the outlets.
Unfortunately, it’s been discontinued. Fortunately, however, another company has started making something almost identical, and it’s much less expensive. The Kikkerland UL03-A is basically the same thing in brighter colors at half the price. Highly recommended.
For the grand finale, this is the tiny backpack everything goes in, the Deuter Futura 32. In fact, this is a picture of the backpack full of everything listed above, and sometimes I even forget when I’m wearing it this full, thanks to the shape that keeps the weight in the right places. It comes to ever so slightly above my shoulders and just looks like a normal daypack. There are lots of pockets and places to store things so they are easy to access (note the top and bottom entry), and you can even open the inside up into one big compartment to fit large things. It has a sleeve for your laptop, side mesh pockets for easy access, and it even has a built-in rain cover to keep it safe and dry.
The best thing about the Futura line is the frame. It’s small and gives a slight curve to the inside of the bag so a mesh rests against your back, not the bag. When you are carrying everything through the heat, this keeps you cool and makes sure you don’t arrive with a sweaty back. Brilliant, and I haven’t seen anything like it elsewhere.
For the last year, this is all I’ve owned. Some things have been added and others have been discarded, but this is what made the cut. I put stuff through pretty rough torture while I own it, thanks to constantly throwing myself into new situations. I put a lot of stock into this stuff, and I’m happy to recommend all of it.