Indefinite Backpack Travel

Updated October 2023

In 2015 I got rid of everything I owned that didn’t fit in a laptop backpack, and I’ve been living at this level of minimalism ever since. The core idea is to only own what I need, which allows me to travel spontaneously, spend less, focus more, and simplify my life.

I update this post yearly and retain the same URL. Previous updates are archived on the Wayback Machine: 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017. I also include some affiliate links, but due to increased minimalism and fewer links this page now makes a fraction of what it did a few years ago. If you enjoy these posts you can buy me a coffee on ko-fi! ☕️

As to why this level of minimalism, I’ve never really owned much stuff, so once I started traveling this seemed like the natural evolution of my lifestyle. Because it’s so ordinary to me, it always seems strange to take photos of my stuff like I’m some sort of travel influencer, so I now use the images in this post as an excuse to draw on my iPad.

This post isn’t supposed to be a guide, but whenever it’s shared without exposition a lot of the responses online tend to be the same dozen questions and misunderstandings. So here’s the bare minimum to address those.

Onebag travel is the best way to travel since it removes most of the pain points involved. No rushing to the airport early to check bags, no searching for an overhead compartment, no bag fees or worrying about stuff getting lost, and no adjusting plans to drop off luggage before an adventure. I’ve flown hundreds of flights and never had a bad one. r/onebag is a community built around this and a good place to learn more.

Because I only own a few things, I’ve taken the time to research and optimize each thing to be the best possible: carrying a 4oz jacket instead of a 1lb jacket can improve a trip. However, it’s worth mentioning I don’t take part in the consumerist side of the travel/hiking communities, which focuses more on expensive brand names than practicality. Buy only what you need; a $100 setup is nearly as good as a $10,000 setup. Sometimes spending more will get better quality or versatility, but it’s never worth obsessing over. Remember, the perfect travel bag doesn’t exist (relevant XKCD).

In terms of the nomad lifestyle, while I prefer fast-paced nonstop travel, it’s not great for productivity, finances, and making friends, so I now stay several months per city. This allows me to maintain social relationships and really explore every part of the city. It has also given me the opportunity to explore “zero-bag” trips, in which I travel with just the contents of my pockets. In the long term, while I’m sure minimalist travel will be something I still do when I’m old, living out of a bag will end whenever I settle down and build a homebase. Hopefully not anytime soon though.


Packing

  • Aer Slim Pack. In 2020 I made a custom 10L bag, but it wasn’t very durable so for the moment I’m back to tech bags (MYOG bag v2 coming soon). At 9L this bag has the perfect storage capacity for all my stuff minus hiking gear, and falls well within the ‘personal item’ size requirements of even the most strict budget airline. I permanently keep an Airtag inside and attached some Nite Ize S-biners to the zipper pulls to lock the bag from casual theft.
  • Rains Pencil Case. This is the closest thing I have found to the perfect dopp kit. I use it primarily for toiletries, but also for storing first aid and random small things. It’s the perfect size as long as I only buy the “travel size” version of things, which I do anyways. Seems to be permanently out of stock now as Rains updated their product lineup to more prominently display their logo.

Tech

  • Macbook 12″. The best portable laptop ever made. When used alongside my portable battery I can go almost a week without having to connect anything to a wall outlet. It struggles with Chrome though so an upgrade is on the horizon; hopefully it will last until the M3 Macbook Air is released.

    Installed apps: Chrome, Pixelmator Pro.
    Extensions: Adblock, 1Password, Privacy, SponsorBlock, Smile Always.
    Services: Namecheap, WordPress, Carrd, Notion, iCloud, Google Drive.
  • iPad Pro 11″. Great for reading, drawing, painting, note-taking, 3D-modeling, etc. I use it with an Apple Pencil and a textured screen protector that simulates the feel of drawing on paper.

    I use a Twelve South Compass stand to mount the iPad alongside my laptop for a dual-screen setup, or prop it up for drawing. If it didn’t weigh half a pound and raise flags at every airport it would be perfect, but it’s not so I’m still on the search for a better stand.

    Installed apps: Procreate, Shapr3D.
  • iPhone 15 Pro. 256GB in black titanium. A great-looking phone with a fantastic camera, but you’d think a phone this new and expensive would be able to get past noon without the battery dying. Still better than my previous 12 Mini that would be dead by 8am.

    I keep the phone case-less since AppleCare for $10/mo is worth having a less bulky phone. I also keep my trusty ‘modular’ iPhone 7 in my backpack for whenever I need a backup or a phone with a physical SIM.

    Installed apps: Instagram, Spotify, Uber, Airbnb, Gaia GPS,
    Services: MyRadar Pro, Google Auth, AdBlock VPN, Vinegar, Arc,
    Banking: Wells Fargo, Chase, Revolut, Future, Cash App,
  • Apple Watch. I use my Apple Watch very passively, relying on it for things like sleep tracking and tapping my wrist when getting a call, but rarely actually looking at it. I break my watch frequently, so my current one is an S4 I grabbed off eBay for $150; I’ll upgrade to current gen whenever there’s actually a redesign. Worn with a woven nylon band.

    I’d love to switch to the Ultra, since a lot of the features seem purpose-built for my adventures, but it’s too bulky for my wrist. That Alpine band with the G-hook looks tempting though.
  • Airpods. 3rd generation. Switched to these from Airpods Pro since I don’t like how silicone headphones isolate me from the world – it’s too easy to not hear someone talking to me or a car coming, even with transparency mode.
  • Anker PowerCore. Minimalist, matte black, lightweight, and small enough to fit in my pocket if I need to go without my bag. At 20,000 mAh it carries one full Macbook charge and can charge all my stuff via USB-C at 30W, as fast as a wall outlet. No longer sold though.
  • SanDisk Extreme 2TB SSD. Pocket-sized and indestructible, contains a backup of my digital files so I don’t need to rely on the cloud. Also contains a folder with hundreds of my favorite movies, shows and audiobooks.

Chargers

  • 2x Apple USB-C Cable. One 1-meter braided USB-C to USB-C cable, and one 2-meter standard cable. They interchangably charge my iPhone, Macbook, iPad and battery – everything except my Airpods and watch. I don’t do data transfer so the normal cables works fine for me; no way am I buying Apple’s USB 3 cable unless I actually need to…
  • Apple Lightning Cable. 1 meter, USB-C to Lightning. For charging my iPhone and Airpods. I can’t wait for the day I can get rid of this cable.
  • Maco Go Charger. For charging my Apple Watch. Though my 2019 custom charger was great, the Maco Go is much smaller, lighter, and better-looking. It does charge a bit slow though, so I will definitely upgrade to their Go 2 whenever it comes out.

Clothing

  • Montbell Plasma 1000. The Japanese version, which comes with pockets. Objectively the world’s best down jacket by weight-to-warmth ratio. Literally weighs less than my phone and can fit in my pocket. It’s unreal. When layered with a hoodie I feel comfortable in any weather.
  • Amazon Essentials Hoodie. I’ve tested dozens of hoodies, including recently a custom-tailored one. But they always get destroyed on hikes so I’m now back to the cheap Amazon brands.
  • 6x American Apparel 50/50 Shirts. Five in the “heather black” color and one white (can’t be a ninja every day). I now prefer 50/50’s over triblends, since they’re more durable. I’m not a fan of merino due to durability and price – frequent outdoor adventures mean I rip my shirts often.

    I pack my shirts by rolling them around my socks and underwear into compact ‘day rolls’, which prevents wrinkling, eliminates decision-making involved with getting dressed, and makes packing as simple as tossing the rolls into my bag.
  • Darn Tough Socks. Five pairs. Darn Tough merino socks are so indestructible that if they rip the manufacturer will ship you a brand new pair. I’ve literally walked over 2,000 miles with each pair I own and they still look brand new.
  • Uniqlo Airism Boxer Briefs. Five pairs. Rated as one of the best pairs of travel boxers for good reason. Hard to find Uniqlo stores these days to replace them, however…
  • Western Rise AT Pants. For the past decade I’ve traveled, hiked, and even run with Levi’s jeans, since I prefer heavy-duty jeans over “travel” pants. So when WR’s founder asked if I wanted to try their gear I figured it would be more gifted gear to pass on to friends. However, I ended up loving their AT pants style, which uses a heavier and less-stretchy material, and now after several trips the fabric is still holding up incredibly. I wear them with a minimalist Grip6 belt.
  • Italic Latitude Joggers. For running, sleeping, doing laundry, or any scenario that I’m not wearing my jeans – which really isn’t very often. These joggers from Italic are very much my vibe: black, minimalist, and practically-designed with well-placed pockets.
  • Nike React Pegasus Trail 4 GTX running shoes. I’m back to Nike after briefly switching to Adidas for their logo. Nike makes the best versatile running shoes, especially their line of Gore-Tex shoes, and I can often get 5,000 miles out of a pair – Adidas could barely reach 500. I’m still tired of their yearly release shtick that discontinues every design after a year though.
  • Merino Buff. Near-limitless uses while traveling. I mostly use it as a face mask for cold weather and as a sleep mask for planes and buses, but I’ve also used it as a scarf, bandana, pillowcase, and more. Definitely one of the best pieces of travel gear I own.

Miscellaneous

  • RE:FORM RE:01 wallet. A super-thin minimalist wallet with a magnetic pouch for an Airtag. Much thinner than my previous wallet, which was custom-built. The material RE:FORM uses is insanely durable, I’ve been using it for the past year and it still looks brand new. Disclaimer: the founder sent me this wallet.
    • Amazon Prime credit card. A decent card that gets 5% back on some stuff and 1-2% on the rest. The fact that it’s a metal card with a minimalist design and no annual fee was a big selling point for me, and it saves me a lot of money at Whole Foods.
    • Revolut debit card. Free ATM withdrawals while traveling. Most other cards have pivoted to add fees for international ATMs, Revolut is the only one I’ve used that hasn’t (though I’m sure they will eventually). ATM map link since the app’s map is rarely accurate.
    • Cash card. I use this card for the boosts, which have saved me thousands of dollars. Recently the app changed its demographic to gen z brands that I don’t buy, but it’s still great to get 10% off fast food and it frequently has Uber/Lyft promos.
    • Airtag. I’ve never lost my wallet before but Airtags are great for peace of mind.
    • Plus my ID, health insurance, bank cards (Chase/Wells Fargo), library card and some cash.
  • Ray-Ban Stories. Wayfarer style, stored in a small custom microfiber pouch from a defunct eyewear startup I used to run. I rarely wear sunglasses but they’re still good to have on hand for long-term eye health.

    I used camera glasses frequently in 2016-2019, and frequently find myself browsing through my old ‘memories’ like I’m living in a Black Mirror episode, so I had to check out Facebook’s attempt. It’s nothing special.
  • True Utility Keytool. Probably the world’s most compact bottle opener and multitool. Bought it over a decade ago and it’s been on me every day since. Not much else to say, except that over a thousand people have bought it from this Amazon affiliate link.
  • A.Brolly Umbrella. Weighs less than 90g and disappears in my bag. It’s a bit harder to deploy than a normal travel umbrella but the weight savings make it worth it, it feels like you’re holding air. It’s also obviously not the most durable umbrella.
  • Matador Nanodry Shower Towel. Small enough to fit in my fist but also large enough to work as a beach towel. Dries incredibly quick and lasts years. Rarely used though, as I typically stay in places with towels.
  • Dopp Kit. As minimalist as a toiletry kit gets. Most items get cycled out every month or two. All stored in the Rains pencil case, along with first aid and other small items.
    • Marvis toothbrush. Or a regular toothbrush when inconvenient to replace.
    • Marvis jasmine toothpaste. Or regular toothpaste when inconvenient to replace.
    • Generic floss
    • Generic razor
    • Generic deodorant
    • Generic tweezers
  • First Aid Kit. My FAK has reduced in size over the years and now contains just the bare necessities. Everything is stuffed in a repurposed Altoids tin, which does get annoying to restock, so I may go back to prepackaged Coleman kits next time I run low.
    • Advil
    • Bandaids
    • Antiseptic and alcohol wipes
    • Condoms
  • Miscellaneous small things. Crammed in my FAK or in random pockets around my bag.
    • Atoms Mask. A black Atoms mask, with the logo removed for a brand-less aesthetic.
    • Plastic ballpoint pen. Very useful on planes when they hand out immigration forms.
    • Tech kit. SIM card remover, iPhone teardown tools, Apple Pencil tips, Airtag batteries.
    • Also my passports and various papers

Outdoor gear

The stuff I toss in my backpack for lengthy hiking trips, like parts of the PCT or mountains around the US and Mexico. I haven’t done any trips outside of weekend hikes recently so most of this gear needs to be upgraded to be more ultralight.

The most difficult part about traveling with backpacking gear is keeping it airport-friendly. Knives, fuel, tent stakes, and tent/trekking poles aren’t allowed in carry-on, and while carbon fiber stakes and poles can usually sneak through, it’s not reliable.

This setup weighs 4.4lbs/2kg and should drop to 3.5lbs/1.5kg with the mentioned upgrades. When optimized for volume, a full UL backpacking setup can use less than 10L of bag space.

  • 3F UL Gear tent. The best affordable ultralight tent ($70 when I bought it). I eventually want to replace it, but my commitment to staying compact in addition to ultralight rules out most UL tents as they’re typically made out of bulky DCF. The Lofoten 2 is appealing but I’m hoping eventually I’ll find the time and resources to build my own.
  • Sleeping bag. Unknown brand. Technically a liner but it works well enough for me. If I ever plan a trip to somewhere really cold I’ll replace it with something better.
  • Thermarest NeoAir Uberlite. An ultralight sleeping pad that weighs less than my phone. Size small, which doesn’t cover my lower legs but is worth it for the volume and weight savings.
  • Nitecore NU25 UL. An ultralight headlamp that weighs virtually nothing, fits in my pocket and is charged via USB-C. Although it is objectively the best headlamp, it feels like cheap plastic.
  • Portable kitchen. Everything but the fuel fits within the mug, which is also the perfect size to cook a packet of ramen. May switch to an alcohol stove eventually.
  • Sawyer Mini water filter. Probably the most important thing on this list and arguably the only thing I couldn’t survive without. Useful to have on hand even when not hiking, you never know when the water will be sketchy.
  • Smartwater 1L bottle. Two, one carries sanitized water with a sports cap to backflush the water filter while the other carries raw water with the filter on top.

Gear to add

Gear I’m considering adding to my kit, just haven’t gotten around to it yet.

  • Insta360 X3. 360 cameras are amazing for unique POV and third person shots.
  • DJI Mini 3 Pro. I love flying DJI drones. Never traveled with one due to size. This solves that.
  • FLIR ONE Pro. Thermal camera. Useful for very specific tasks.

I may start writing more about onebag travel and other interests, so sign up here if that interests you! I also occasionally post my adventures to IG stories @jeremymaluf 📷