With 20+ years of experience backpacking light around the world this is what I carry with me, and what I recommend for you to.
A packing light guide for a minimalist lifestyle.
It should be said straight away that this post is about ‘backpacking’ in the term used for travel, not hiking. I know those two get mixed up a lot so if you’re after a hiking gear post this isn’t it.
But if you want advice on backpacking light in the sense of travel then this post is for you.
I got into minimalist packing a long time ago and wished I had known about it when I first started travelling.
Back in 1997 when first starting backpacking around the world I made the mistake most travellers make and packed way too much stuff. I realised this on my 3rd day. I then proceeded to give half of it away to homeless people on the streets.
Over the years I perfected what items to carry for worldwide travel and have given a lot of advice to other travellers since.
In this post I will show you exactly what I travel with. If I’m not 100% sure on the kind of adventure I will have then this is what I will take.
I have a general philosophy in life that –
“The less you have, the less you have to worry about”.
That is true for backpacking light.
You’re traveling for adventure so do yourself a favour and make life easier. Ever watched movies like Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark?
You don’t see Indiana running around with a heavy pack. I know it’s just a movie, but you can easily put that into real life.
This is what I recommend to pack for lightweight travel anywhere in the world.
Disclaimer time! The links in this post to the items I recommend are affiliate links which means if you purchase anything through them I get a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps me keep this site running. Everything I have linked to are things I have personally used myself.
Backpacking Light Packing Guide
The Backpack For Backpacking Light
The size of your backpack is important. The smaller it is the easier your life will be, either from the ease of carrying it, being able to take it as a carry on when flying, simply being able to stuff it in tiny lockers, and more.
I currently use a 36 litre pack that I find to be the perfect size, and really you don’t need anymore than that.
If you need a little more room then stretch to a 40 litre pack, but no more.
Don’t buy a wheeled bag or suitcase, they are totally not appropriate for travelling in many places.
For any kind of real adventure they are a bad idea. Can you imagine heading into the desert with a wheeled bag? That’s just one example of many. Yeah it’s a stupid idea.
A backpack is easy to carry anywhere.
When looking for a backpack look for decent side pockets to store things and two compartments or more is better for organising.
Also make sure the material is reasonably strong for durability.
Another good thing about buying a smaller pack is that it will generally be cheaper than getting a large one.
Having said that don’t get the cheapest bag as it won’t be as comfortable compared with a more expensive bag.
It’s best to get one designed for hiking as it will be very comfortable for carrying.
Having the smaller pack will allow you to take it on as hand luggage saving you money on budget airlines where you have to pay extra for hold luggage.
Also if you show up somewhere and have a few hours to kill before moving on, but want to have a look around, it’s easy to do that with a small pack, whereas having a larger pack will be heavy and uncomfortable.
The backpack I like is is the Talon 33 litre from Osprey.
It’s very comfortable as it was designed as a 1-2 days hiking pack. It makes for a great minimalists travel bag.
There are lots of backpacks to choose from, but as I said before I am only recommending products I have used.
I have used this other backpack and it’s also very good:
The North Face Recon has a 30 litre capacity, zip enclosures, stretchy pockets, 2 compartments with organising pockets, laptop/water bladder sleeve, and is comfortable and durable.
This is my second choice for minimalist travel packing after the Mountain Hardwear Rainshadow 36, mainly because the Rainshadow is more comfortable for longer hikes and more space.
The small daypack:
Taking a smaller daypack and storing it inside the main bag, or carry it on the outside is something new I have been doing.
This came about due to the Rainshadow not having a laptop sleeve. The small daypack has one and I use it as storage for my laptop when travelling between places for protection.
I then use it for day trips as a small ultralight pack for carrying day supplies, or taking my laptop to a coffeehouse to work online.
As it is small enough and light it packs down easily into the main backpack without taking much space.
The one I use right now is the Berghaus Twentyfourseven 20 litre backpack.
In fact I know people who use just a 20 litre backpack for travel.
There are plenty more small daypack options out there for you apart from this one though.
This is generally all the clothing I carry for minimalist packing. It varies but this is what I would normally have.
I pack so that I can get down to temperatures around freezing point as this is a good overall average to aim for.
If I end up in colder climates I will buy a cheap pullover and leggings for the time that I am there, and then give them away to a homeless person when leaving to a warmer climate.
It saves you lugging around extra cold weather gear when you may only need it for a short part of your trip.
For example I went from hot Thailand to the freezing Himalayas in the middle of winter and picked up a warm pullover for only $3 when there.
Even in expensive countries you can find very cheap clothing in the cheaper clothing stores.
I pack very minimally as you can easily wash your clothes in the evening, leave them overnight to dry, and have all of them clean the next day. It only takes a few minutes of your time every few days.
No-one likes washing their clothes but it’s better than lugging around extra smelly clothing in your bag for days until you do a bulk wash.
I only recommend the clothing that I have tried and know are good. There are women’s versions of the same gear but (being a guy) I haven’t tried them (no s**t).
However they also get good reviews and are the same gear in a woman’s fit so should be great.
Use what I have mentioned before as a guide, such as having zips or button closure pockets on trousers.
Clothing is obviously a personal thing. What will work for someone obviously might not be as good for another.
Some of the clothing items are unisex.
Cold Weather Clothes
This is a selection of down and synthetic insulated jackets.
These will easily cover you down to 0 degrees (32 fahrenheit) especially when added with a lightweight fleece top like the North Face Glacier.
Down is more expensive than synthetic but is warmer for the weight and more packable. Naturally if you will only be heading to warmer places then you will not need a jacket like these, a simple lightweight fleece would.
But if you plan to visit some colder regions then these jackets would be perfect. I recommend getting a jacket with a hood for more coziness and warmth.
I’ve always loved the brand Arc’teryx (from Canada). They’re worth the money for the performance you get and they consistently get high reviews from outdoor experts.
My current favourite down jacket is the Montane Featherlite Down Jacket.
Wearing the Montane Featherlite Down Jacket in the Afghanistan Pamir Mountains:
As for synthetics the Arc’Teryx Atom LT Hoodie is my top pick.
Rain Gear For Packing Light
Rain gear is always a good idea as it’s easy to get caught out when in the mountains for instance and rain will make you cold very quick.
I have been in North Thailand where it was nice and warm in the city but when hiking in the mountains the rain came in and things got cold very fast.
They are excellent value for money and will do the job.
However my current favourite rain jacket for backpacking light is the StormLine Stretch Rain Shell by Black Diamond.
It’s very lightweight and offers good rain protection. Perfect.
With the Stormline Stretch Rain Jacket on:
Pants and Shorts For Packing light
I take only one pair of pants with me, one pair of casual shorts. and one pair of running shorts.
Make sure they are reasonably lightweight as you will need that comfort for hot places, and synthetic cotton/blend is better for easy drying and comfort.
The shorts (or maybe a dress instead for women) are obviously for a warmer climate.
But try to get the shorts (or dress) cover the knees, as in some cultures this is more respectable, especially for visiting religious sites.
Also try to have at least one zipper pocket for storing money or your phone safely.
I know people who fell asleep on a bus and their phone slipped out of the none zipped pocket, and they lost it without realising in their tired state that it had fallen out.
Every pocket in my pants and shorts has a zippered or buttoned pocket.
As for underwear that’s up to you!
I really like the brand prAna for clothing. They are always very comfortable!
As for running shorts the Brooks Sherpa do the job just fine.
My friend also uses prAna and she recommends these women’s pants and shorts by them – prAna Living Halle Pant and prAna Halle Shorts
Ultralight Footwear For Minimalist Backpacking
The footwear I have are a simple pair of trail running shoes and flip-flops.
You should not take hiking boots unless your trip is mostly based around hiking and even then I have been 4000 metres high in the mountains in winter and was fine with trail running shoes.
Unless your whole trip will be based in cold weather conditions boots will be a waste of space and weight.
That being said I do have a pair of Solomon boots that I would take with me if I know I will be in very cold conditions like when I was in the Arctic.
Flip flops are always handy. If somewhere hot they are comfortable for wearing outside and even in cold places can be used for walking around inside a hostel/hotel, or for giving your feet a breather after a day of hiking.
I like these ones: Teva Men’s Mush II Flip Flop
For shoes I have been using the U.K. based brand Inov8 for over 10 years now and at the moment really like their unisex Inov-8 X-Talon Runner.
I kid you not I have never had a blister in any of their shoes and they fit like slippers straight away.
Darn Tough are my favourite socks. Comfy and long lasting.
One of the best things you can travel with is a Sarong . I use it as a towel, for relaxing around somewhere hot, as a sheet, for a screen when staying in a bottom bunk in a dormitory.
It’s a multiple use item that is perfect for travelling.
I carry a pair of running gloves that keep my hands warm enough.
A BUFF UV Headwear can be used for head warmth and also as a mask, which is especially useful if travelling in desert or dusty environments.
If going somewhere hot make sure you have a hat to protect you from the sun.
Accessories are for what your personal requirements are.
I keep things simple, as that is the principle of minimalist travel.
In the past I wouldn’t carry a mosquito net as they are bulky and in places that you really need them, like malarial zones, the hotel or hostel would normally have a mosquito net on the bed.
Nowadays though you can get a double sized mosquito net (like the Sea To Summit Mosquito Net) that packs down very small.
I have found that it has come in handy in non-malarial zones to keep out insects in cheaper places, and also dengue fever mosquitoes.
It’s not a must carry, but I enjoy the peace of mind of keeping the creepy crawlies away. Only take one if it packs small though.
Take a headlamp like the Petzl Tikka as it will come in useful when camping/hiking or for reading a book on the bus at night. A head-torch is more convenient than a hand held one.
I carry a SteriPEN Adventurer UV Water Purifier for water purifying. This is not essential if traveling in places where you can safely drink tap water.
But if you’re going into parts of the world where you can’t drink tap water and need to buy bottled water, then the Steripen will be a good investment.
The Steripen is not cheap to buy in the beginning, but calculate how much money you will save in the long run when you don’t have to buy plastic bottle drinking water.
Also not buying plastic bottles will help the environment. Take a Wide Mouth Water Bottle for the water purifier for purifying.
Take a padlock with you so you can lock the zips on your backpack (if they have zips) and for when using lockers in hostels. Make sure it is a key code one and not with a key, as losing the key would be bad.
Another item that is highly recommended depending on where you are is a compact umbrella. It’s very good to have in rainy places like South-East-Asia.
A minimalist travel packing essential, I would even say.
Get a decent enough wind resistant umbrella (like the one above I linked to) as they will last longer.
I have a wash kit bag that holds the bare essentials- toothbrush and toothpaste, shower gel or soap bar, beard trimmer, ear-plugs (essential for noisy sleeping environments) and my medication that I take.
Naturally it will all depend on what your personal needs are.
You may also want to take some packing cubes to help organise your things.
Electronics For Minimalist Travel
Electronics will depend on what you do.
I recommend not taking a laptop with you unless you need it for professional work, or are seriously into photography and want a laptop for photo editing.
If I wasn’t blogging and doing photography work I would just travel with my smartphone and iPad.
This will be enough to keep in touch with friends, search the internet, and watch the occasional movie/tv show.
You can even use your smartphone as your main camera if you don’t care about taking very high quality photos as smartphone cameras are good these days.
I currently use a Motorola G6 Smartphone. It’s not that expensive and does everything I need, and has a decent enough camera.
If you are looking to get a new smartphone, especially for travelling, don’t worry about getting a more expensive one unless you want a higher quality camera etc.
Make sure it’s unlocked so you can add foreign sim cards.
When it comes to my laptop and camera I don’t go for the really expensive options, but I don’t get the cheapest either as I am making my living from blogging and photography, so I want decent enough gear for that.
I have been using Macs for years now and wouldn’t change at this point.I have the Apple Macbook Pro 13 which is a good size and weight for minimalist travel.
It’s also fast enough to do my photo editing within Lightroom, and I don’t need it for anything heavier than that.
As far as cameras go I’m only recommending Sony cameras (I swear I don’t work with them) because they are the brand I have been using for several years now.
Plus I said I’m only recommending items I have personal experience with and would buy myself.
A point and shoot will do most people for traveling. If I was going to get a smaller camera as a “always with me” camera I would get the – Sony DSC-RX100
If you want to take your photography a bit more seriously then I recommend a compact system camera mirrorless setup.
They are not so big to carry and you still have interchangeable lens to expand the system, and the quality is good.
The first TWO years of photos on my blog were taken on a compact system camera.Unless you’re really into photography don’t bother with a large and heavy dslr setup.
The camera I use is a Sony Alpha a7II which to me is the perfect pro travel camera as it’s full frame, great quality, and not that big and heavy.
You will have to do research on additional lens for whatever camera you may buy as there are so many.
These are both prime lenses (no zoom) and perfect for portraits, landscape, and street photography. I like prime lenses more than zooms as it makes me think more about the composition of the picture and the image quality can often be much better.
If you are serious about photography then a good lens setup is the way to go. If you cant afford it in the beginning then start cheap and work your way up.
Be aware: if you are going to invest in a changeable lens camera do your research for what brand you want to go with as you will be buying into their lens system as well.
The Lowepro Event Messenger 100 Camera Bag fits my camera and the two prime lenses. It’s a small and compact bag and the entire setup is ideal for traveling with quality gear taking up little space.
These are two other mirrorless cameras that I would recommend.
The Sony Alpha a6000 is an older model but still good quality and excellent value for money and the Sony Alpha a6500.
Another option if you are planning on doing some adventurous activities is to take a GoPro.
The GoPro isn’t that expensive and is very popular with travellers around the world, for it’s durability, good quality, and waterproofness.
This is a good selection of goPro accessories for adventure.
The Minimalist Backpacking Light Lifestyle
So that gives you an insight into the kind of things I pack for minimalist travel anywhere in the world.
You can use this for advice on what to bring if you want to know how to pack light for two weeks, or how to travel light for years.
It will work for you. Trust me. And all this gear fits into a 30-40 litre backpack.
Although it would squeeze in as well, I tend to carry the camera bag on my shoulder so I have fast access to my camera if a photo opportunity comes along.
This system has worked for me for over 20+ years covering most places you could go.
Safe and light travels, and a happy minimalist life!
These are some of the adventures I have had with this gear to give you an idea how this guide for what to pack for backpacking light can work anywhere for minimalist travel.
A website I used a lot in the past when looking for gear advice myself is the backpacking light forums.
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