In 2020, my wife and I decluttered 10 carloads of stuff from our home. Since then, we’ve vowed not to devote our lives to things. We want to focus on travelling more, spending less and generally have more freedom.
This ethos of “less” carried over into our travel setup as well. And we’ve now done a few trips with this setup, learning a lot on the way.
It’s hard to describe a “eureka” moment of “ultralight” travel because it happens in such small ways, from being able to breeze through checkout to not getting caught on cobbled European streets with a giant carry-on case or worrying that you’re over the weight limit for a flight.
This post is not a guide or filled with affiliate links; it’s merely a collection of the stuff I use and like. Because there are only a few things here, extensive research was conducted before buying them. Also, everything was purchased gradually over time due to the cost of some items.
But you don’t need fancy gear to pack ultralight. Most of the items you probably have in your wardrobe already.
I decided to include and exclude certain items from my bag based on my requirements; yours might be different.
- North face surge 2. My go to pack for daily tasks and a workhorse when travelling. It has 3 main compartments for separation of items and 3 mini pockets for little bits like pens, passports and keys. It has chest and hip straps to make it easier to hike with and has handy pockets and cables to attach things to. It’s easily the best backpack I’ve tried and shows no signs of falling apart.
MacBook Pro 14” 2021. Brought after I spilled an entire litre of water on my old laptop (yes really - and no, rice didn’t help). It allows me to do my work and that’s it. I could have used some more RAM occasionally for running VM’s and such but it’s great 99% of the time. I generally limit software or OS upgrades because I find stuff just break after upgrading.
iPhone 14 Pro Max. Upgraded a few months ago and it’s made a massive difference to the speed that I can accomplish tasks with. When travelling, it’s my constant companion, for everything from maps, music, ride sharing, and travel guide.
- Apps installed
- Reading: Kindle, Feedly
- Travel: Uber, Alltrails, Flighty
- Journaling: Day One, Notes
- Utilities: 1Password, Notion
- Entertainment: Spotify, Pocket casts
- Apps installed
Airpods Pro. Used for music and calls. Due to the noise cancelling, I use them to get silence when on a flight.
Anker powerbrick. Mine is so old and battered you can’t buy it anymore. These things are bomb proof and are great for providing power on the go. Because it weighs about 500g, I generally only bring it when I really think I’ll need it.
Universal plug. The amazon page has disappeared but search for any generic worldwide travel adapter and you’ll get something decent. I chose something light and that can deliver fast charging. This plug means I don’t need to carry USB plugs as it has the ports integrated itself.
Apple Watch. Used passively for tracking walks, sleep and, occasionally, telling the time.
2x USB-C to Lightning Cable
- Patagonia torrent 3L. Only had this for a little bit. It was a replacement for my previous rainshell that had lost its waterproofing after 10 years. This jacket seems pretty robust and is minimal in design.
- Rab microlight alpine. Another new comer to my gear list! This jacket is a proven warm midlayer that will keep me toasty.
- Adidas ultraboosts black. The only shoes I ever bring abroad. I walked 200km in Italy over 2 weeks and my feet were as fresh as the first day. They are incredibly light and dry quickly. Because they are black it means double as shoes for getting into a club or bar.
- Merino wool socks. I must admit I was a little skeptical of the hype around merino. But after giving them a try I’m a total convert. Because they keep you dry, they also keep you warm. It’s an odd mental model to think of, but moisture (read, sweat) can either cool (and therefore cool your body) or warm up (and make you uncomfortable). Merino solves this problem by being highly wicking. I got a pair as a gift and now plan to replace all my current socks with them.
- Jeans. A pair of Levi’s. Usually I wear these on flights. Jeans go with everything so are a good item to have.
- 5x Uniqlo T-shirts. 2 white, 3 black. I don’t always bring 5, but 5 is my maximum. If I’m away for more than that, then I just wash the clothes. Black and white mean that dressing to match is super easy.
- Shorts. A simple navy pair. Sometimes add another pair of shorts here depending on the type of trip we are taking.
- Underwear. 5 pairs. All black. From Amazon so they are easy to replace.
- Swim trunks. For swimming…
- North face fleece. As this is largely worn to and from the airport in rainy and cold England, the goal of this item was to be light and packable. This fleece fits both those criteria.
- Patagonia beanie. Not the warmest hat in the world so may swap this out, but keeps me pretty warm.
- 2 credit cards
- 1 debit card
- Driving license
- Some cash
Tote bag. Used as a beach bag and for groceries. Because it’s so compressible and weighs nearly nothing, it’s a must have for me now.
SIM card tool. Kept in a little pocket in my bag. Useful for international travel when I need to swap SIMs.
Washing powder (optional). Although I’ve heard some horror stories of it being confused for drugs, we’ve not been pulled asides for this in an airport so far! Usually washing powder is sold in large boxes so we carry a small ziplock bag of it. We take powder because we found tablets exploded constantly. So for the extra weight, it’s worth it. It’s marked as optional as we don’t always take trips that require washing clothes.
Sharpie or pen. The pen is mightier than the sword as they say! You never know you need this, until you need it. And when you need it, it seems impossible to find a pen unless you have one yourself. For the microscopic weight that a pen has, it’s worth packing even if I don’t use it all the time.
Sunglasses. I always break/lose sunglasses so I just got the cheapest UV400 pair I could find. UV400 means way more light is filtered and protects your eyes. If you’re squinting on a beach whilst wearing sunglasses then you probably don’t have UV400.
This is the stuff I add for hiking trips. So far, I haven’t taken my hiking stuff through an airport so just watch out for that! Currently, I’m in the middle of picking a tent and quilt - I will update this list when I get them.
- Soto Amicus. A powerful and lightweight stove. Resilient against wind and has saved me a few times. Able to boil a litre of water in around 5 minutes (depending on altitude).
- Befree 1L. Probably my best hiking purchase. This bladder bottle is collapsible and can filter any water you find on a trail. Although I generally look for clean water to gather, this removes any nasty stuff.
- Stanley Pots. Normally used to boil water for instant meals. Although a little bulky, it covers stuff for 2 people.
But what about X?
In all likelihood, I don’t take it. But if you feel you need it, pack it. After you have travelled, see if you used that thing or not and go from there. Continue to cut the fat.
For activity related gear like snorkels and goggles, you can usually rent this or borrow it. Just make sure to clean it first - I got a nasty cold in Turkey from a snorkel 🤮
Again, to save time, I try to carry no liquid toiletries. Most airbnbs have shower stuff and small toothpaste is generally brought wherever I go.
How much does this all weigh?
Generally speaking the pack weights 8kg or less. 6kg without a laptop.
Thanks for reading!