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The Ultralight Travel Packing List for Men

By packing lightweight and quality gear with multiple uses, you can greatly reduce the weight and volume of your travel backpack. The end goal in switching to an ultralight style of travel is to pack all of your clothing and gear into a carry-on-size bag without sacrificing anything in terms of functionality, comfort, fashion, or preparedness. One thing I want to clear up is the fact that traveling ultralight isn’t about doing without. It’s about packing in a smart and strategic manner. This ultralight travel packing list is designed to help you achieve that.

Over the past 12 years, I’ve spent about 1/3 of my life on the road. During that time, I’ve developed an efficient and ultralight packing system. In this guide, I will share my experience.

In this guide, I outline every piece of gear that you need to pack and its uses. I will indicate which items are optional and which you’ll want to pack. I’ll talk about some of the best materials and types of clothing to pack. This guide also contains info on camping gear.

My travel backpack
My travel backpack and all of my travel clothing
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Table of Contents

What Does Ultralight Packing Mean for Travelers?

For hikers, ultralight traditionally means keeping your base weight below 10 pounds (about 4.5 kilos). For travel, we generally need a bit more gear. Mostly clothing. Most airlines allow up to a 22 pound (10 kilos) bags as a carry-on. The bag must measure less than 45 linear inches (115 centimeters). Our goal is to fit within those limits.

Benefits of Ultralight Travel

  • No checked bag fees- You save $20-$50 per flight by carrying your bag on rather than checking it.
  • Lower likelihood of losing your luggage- Airlines lose checked bags all the time. Air Canada lost my backpack on my first solo trip abroad. I learned my lesson. Now I only pack a carry-on (and I will never fly Air Canada again.)
  • Lower likelihood of theft- You can carry your backpack where you can see it at all times. For example, on your lap, above your seat, or at your feet on the flight, bus, or train. You don’t have to store it in a luggage compartment where the risk of theft increases.
  • Damage to your belongings is less likely- Baggage handlers are notoriously hard on bags. I cringed while watching African baggage handlers roughly lash my large backpack on top of buses. Now that I travel ultralight, I’m the only one to touch my bag.
  • Reduced transit times- You don’t need to arrive at the airport as early to check your bag. There is no need to wait around the baggage claim after your flight. You can get on the bus early and score a good seat rather than waiting for the baggage handler to load your pack.
  • You can walk further- I like to walk between the bus or train station and my hotel or hostel. Mainly to save money. Walking is a lot easier and more pleasant with a 20 pound backpack than with a 40 pound backpack.
  • You blend in more- With a small backpack, you might be able to blend in with the locals. You don’t automatically look like a tourist. This lowers your likelihood of being targeted by scammers and criminals.
  • It’s healthier- Heavy backpacks put a lot of stress on your back, knees, shoulders, and neck. Keep your joints healthy by carrying less weight. Your body will thank you for it in the long run.

Packing Clothes for Ultralight Travel

In this section, I outline each item of travel clothing that you’ll want to pack for lightweight travel and its use. I also provide style and fabric suggestions. I’ll also suggest a few optional items and give some tips to further cut down on weight. Exactly which items you pack depends on the climate of your destination and the types of activities that you plan to participate in.

When selecting the clothes that you want to wear during your trip, look for items with the following characteristics:

  • Comfortable- This is the most important factor. Choose travel clothes that allow you to make a full range of motion and feel nice against your skin.
  • Quick-drying- Because you’ll be packing so few travel clothes, you’ll have to wash them often. Chances are, you’ll also be sweating a lot. You want items that dry quickly. I recommend avoiding cotton. I generally prefer synthetics like polyester. Merino wool is another good quick-drying fabric if you prefer natural fibers.
  • Multi-use- Make sure you can wear all of your shirts and pants mixed together. Try not to pack one shirt that only goes with a specific pair of pants, for example. Choose clothes that can be worn in a variety of social situations and weather conditions. Avoid anything too formal or casual.
  • High-tech fabrics- These are generally used for athletic and outdoor clothing. They are durable, pack down small, and dry quickly. Nylon and polyester are good choices.
  • Reasonably fashionable- This is a personal preference. I feel like I’m treated better when I’m dressed reasonably well than when I look like a dirtbag traveler. Some people don’t care how they look.


Even if you’re traveling in a hot climate, you need to pack at least one pair of long pants. They protect your legs from the sun during the day and mosquitoes during the evening. You also need long pants for sightseeing in some countries. For example, many religious sites like temples and mosques require that you cover your legs. Many bars and restaurants also require that you wear long pants. In some countries, you should wear long pants at all times out of respect for the local culture.

You’ll also want to pack shorts. Even while traveling in a cold climate. Shorts are great for lounging around in. When choosing a pair of shorts, the most important thing is to make sure they have pockets. You want to be able to carry cash, your phone, and hotel room key with you.

I recommend you look for a pair with a pocket that zips closed. This prevents your phone or wallet from falling out during physical activities and helps to stop pickpockets.

Man walking in pants
Travel pants

The pants you should pack for minimalist travel include:

1 Pair of Jeans

A nice dark pair of jeans is extremely versatile. You can wear them for sightseeing. They can also work for your going-out pants. They are accepted pretty much everywhere in the world outside of formal occasions. Jeans are also pretty warm which comes in handy if you’re traveling during a cold season.

Some ultralight travelers will disagree with packing a pair of jeans because they are very heavy and bulky. They also take forever to dry. Personally, I always miss having my jeans if I don’t pack them. This is one luxury item that I bring.

1 Pair of Long Pants: Hiking Pants or Travel Pants

These are your daily wear pants. Hiking or travel pants are durable, lightweight, comfortable, and quick-drying. They also allow for a good range of motion. Choose a pair that is made of a synthetic material such as ripstop nylon. You’ll be wearing these a lot so you want them to last.

I like the prAna Stretch Zion Pant. I have been traveling with a pair of these for the past year and they are holding up really well. They still look new.

Space saving tip: To save more space, consider choosing a pair of convertible hiking or travel pants that zips off into shorts. If you really want to travel ultralight, you can just pack one pair of pants and use them as shorts as well. Personally, I don’t like convertible pants because I think they look a bit goofy but they are convenient.

1 Pair of Shorts

Choose whatever style you like. I pack a pair of hiking shorts. They are durable and dry quickly if they get wet. They also allow for a good range of motion.

Some travelers prefer cargo shorts. These are handy because they have large pockets. Basketball shorts are another option. They dry quickly but don’t have secure pockets.

1 Pair of Swimming Shorts

Try to choose a pair that can pass off as regular shorts as well. That way, you can wear them around while sightseeing as well as to the beach and pool. While traveling in tropical or beach destinations, I end up wearing my swim shorts more than my regular shorts.

Tip: If you don’t plan to swim often, don’t pack swim shorts. You can always swim in your regular shorts or underwear. Alternatively, you could just pack swimming shorts and use them as your daily wear shorts. Of course, you could also buy a cheap pair of swimming shorts at your destination if you need them.

2-4 Pair of Underwear

You can get by just fine with 2 pair if you’re serious about going ultralight. Wash one and let it dry while wearing the other.

I like to pack 4 pair so I don’t have to wash as often. I wash my underwear in the sink and then hang them somewhere to dry.

The nice thing about underwear is that you can buy them anywhere in the world. When they wear out, just throw them out and buy some fresh pairs.

Pack whatever style you prefer. I like boxer briefs. They provide more support than boxers and don’t look goofy like briefs. Remember, people will probably see you in your underwear if you’re staying in hostels. You’ll be changing your clothes in the dorm and sleeping. Choose a style that you won’t be embarrassed to be seen in.

When it comes to material, avoid cotton. It’s soft and comfortable but takes forever to dry. Go with Merino wool or synthetic underwear instead. After you wash them, they’ll be dry in just a few hours.


Shirts are kind of a personal preference thing. Some guys prefer shirts with collars. Some prefer long sleeves. Others only wear t-shirts. I recommend you pack 2-4 shirts in total. Make sure at least one shirt has long sleeves and one has a collar.

1-3 T-Shirts

These are lightweight, easy to pack, and go with everything. They’re also so cheap that they’re practically disposable.

I like to pack 2 T-shirts and buy a couple at my destination. They make excellent souvenirs. When they wear out, I just throw them away and buy another one.

Polyester athletic t-shirts work great due to their sweat-wicking capabilities and quick-drying properties. They are also very durable.

Merino wool T-shirts also work well. You can wear them multiple times thanks to their odor-resistance qualities. They are also sweat-wicking and quick-drying. In addition, they also stay cool in the summer and provide warmth in the winter.

I recommend you try to avoid cotton T-shirts for travel. They take too long to dry and get smelly quickly if they’re not washed often.

1 or 2 Long-Sleeved Shirts

Your long sleeve shirt will come in handy often. For example, you’ll need it while sightseeing in some conservative countries where you’re expected to cover up your arms. You will also want to wear it to keep the sun off during the day and the mosquitoes off during the evening. It will also work well for going out. A long sleeve shirt can also keep you warmer on a cool morning.

I recommend you carry one collared hiking or travel shirt. These are durable, comfortable, and don’t wrinkle too much. They also look pretty nice. I wear my travel shirt for going out sometimes. I have the ATG by Wrangler.

Also, consider packing a base layer shirt. These are great for adding warmth. They can also protect you from the bugs or sun. Merino wool is a great material for this type of shirt.

Sweaters and Jackets

No matter where you’re traveling, you need to pack some type of jacket to keep you warm. Even in hot countries, the weather can get cool. You’ll also need a waterproof jacket to protect you from the rain. The 3 best types of jackets to pack for travel include:

1 Sweater or Hoodie

You need a sweater or hoodie to throw on whenever you’re chilly. You’ll wear this on cold airplanes and buses when the AC is blasting. You’ll also need it in the mornings and evenings when the weather is cool.

You can go with whatever style and material you prefer. Some people like pullovers while others prefer zip-ups. Some like a sweater with a hood while others prefer hoodless. It’s up to you.

When it comes to material, I recommend you go with fleece. Fleece is ideal for travel in wet or humid climates because they dry quickly when wet. The biggest drawback to fleece is the fact that it doesn’t pack down very small. Wool is another good option. A Merino wool sweater wicks sweat and dries quickly. It is also odor resistant. You should avoid cotton hoodies because they take forever to dry when they get wet.

1 Down Jacket

A down jacket is a versatile piece of clothing. Down jackets pack down incredibly small, occupying less than a liter of space in your pack. They are also lightweight. Most weigh around 10 ounces. You won’t even notice it’s in your pack. Down also provides a good amount of warmth so they work well for travel in cold climates.

The main drawback is the fact that down doesn’t work when it gets wet. This means down isn’t ideal for wet or humid destinations. You have to keep it dry. If you’re traveling in a wet region, consider a jacket with synthetic fill instead.

For more info, check out my down vs fleece vs wool pros and cons list. 

You don’t need both a sweater and a jacket for every trip. If you’re traveling to a hot region, you can get away with just packing a sweatshirt. For travel in a particularly cold climate, you’ll want to pack both a down jacket and fleece. When paired together with a long sleeve base layer, you can stay warm in temperatures well below freezing.

1 Rain Jacket or Poncho

You need to pack some type of protection while traveling. Even while visiting a sunny climate. You never know when it’s going to rain. You don’t want to miss out on a day of sightseeing just because it’s drizzling. The style that you chose is really a personal preference. You can choose either a rain jacket or a poncho.

A rain jacket can keep you relatively dry in even the heaviest storm. A rain jacket can also act as a windbreaker. If it’s cold or snowy, you can wear your rain jacket over your sweater or down jacket.

A poncho is a great choice if you want to save some space. Ponchos can keep your whole body dry including your legs. You can also use the poncho to cover your backpack to keep your belongings dry. This allows you to get away without a pack cover. Some ponchos can also double as a tarp that you can use for shelter or for a ground cover if you want to sit down on the ground. Ponchos are also affordable. You can buy a disposable poncho for $1 and keep it in your pack just in case.

I prefer packing a poncho over a rain jacket in most cases. They offer better protection and have multiple uses. The main drawback is the fact that they aren’t as fashionable. A rain jacket fits in better in the city

To help you decide which is best for your trip, check out my rain jacket vs poncho pros and cons list.

Footwear for Travel: Shoes and Sandals

While traveling, you will spend a lot of time on your feet. You walk around museums, temples, and historic sites. You may walk between your hostel and the train station. On average, I’d estimate that I walk 5-10 miles per day while traveling. Because of this, it’s important that you pack some comfortable, durable footwear.

Footwear is one area of your travel wardrobe where you shouldn’t cheap out. You can buy cheap shirts and pants anywhere on Earth. Finding quality footwear can be a challenge in some parts of the world. Particularly if you have big feet as I do. Sometimes large sizes aren’t available. Sometimes finding genuine name-brand shoes can be a problem. There are a lot of cheap knock-offs out there. I recommend you buy a new pair of shoes before your trip. Here are the shoes and socks that you should pack:

1 Pair of Shoes

Shoes are bulky and heavy. Try to limit yourself to one pair. While shopping for a pair of travel shoes, choose a pair that can do it all. Ideally, you want to be able to wear the same shoes for sightseeing in the city and doing some light hiking. Your shoes need to be supportive and comfortable. Fashion is another consideration. It’s nice to be able to wear your shoes to a bar or restaurant in the evening and not look too out of place.

I like trail running shoes for travel. They offer excellent durability because they are built for use on hiking trails. They are also comfortable because they are designed for walking long distances. Another nice feature is the tread. It could save you from slipping or falling down on a wet floor or icy road. In addition, they look like regular sneakers. They arent big clunky boots. Try to find a pair with a simple, low-key design.

If you don’t plan to do any hiking, regular running shoes also work well. In the past, I always traveled with Converse Chuck Taylors because they are fashionable. I found that I just couldn’t put in the miles that I wanted to. My feet always hurt at the end of the day. I would get blisters as well. I ended up switching to running shoes or trail runners. Now I can walk as far as I like without any foot pain.

1 Pair of Sandals

Regardless of the climate of your destination, you should always pack a pair of sandals. They have many uses. Sandals are great for wearing around your hotel or for short trips to the store. You can also wear them in the shower. Sandals can protect your feet from bacteria. You can also wear them to the pool or beach. They protect your feet from hot sand or cuts from debris. They are quick to put on and comfortable for lounging around in. The style you choose is up to you.

Many travelers wear flip flops. You can buy a pair for just a couple of dollars anywhere in the world. They pack down small and last quite a while.

I used to do this, but I have since changed my ways. The problem with flip flops is that they aren’t good for walking long distances. The flat soles don’t provide support. They can also rub your feet wrong and start hurting after a few miles. They can also slip off causing injury.

These days, I prefer to pack a quality pair of hiking sandals with straps. I wear them almost as much as my shoes so I need a comfortable, supportive pair. I wear Chacos Z2 Classic Sport Sandals. They have thick, supportive soles and they stay on your feet well. The only drawback is that they are a bit bulkier and heavier than flip flops.

Tip: Switch off between your shoes and sandals to give your feet a break. This helps to prevent blisters and allows your feet to air out which prevents athletes foot. Take care of your feet while traveling.

3-5 Pair of Socks

I like to pack 4 pairs so I don’t have to do laundry too often. You can get away with just 2 pair if you are serious about going ultralight. Wash one pair and let it dry while wearing the other.

You can wear whatever style and length you prefer. I like to pack a mix of sock heights. I pack a couple of pairs of no-show socks to wear with shorts. In addition, I also pack a pair of standard white mid-calf-length sweat socks. I also pack a pair of hiking socks.

The nice thing about socks is that you can buy them anywhere in the world. When they wear out, just throw them away and buy some fresh ones.

If you are traveling in a cold climate or plan to do any hiking, I recommend you pack a nice thick pair of wool socks. They wick away sweat to help keep your feet cool and dry in the summer. They also keep your feet warm in the winter.

Additional Travel Clothing and Accessories

After packing your basic day-to-day clothes, consider anything else you like to wear. Most of the following items are optional.


Hats come in handy often. They protect your skin from the sun. They keep your head warm in the winter. Hats keep the rain off your face. They also prevent your hair from blowing around in the wind.

You can pack whichever style of hat you prefer. If I’m traveling to a warm destination, I pack a baseball cap. If you want more protection from the sun, you can pack a large sun hat. In cold destinations, I pack a warm knit cap.

Hats also make for excellent souvenirs. Consider waiting until you reach your destination to buy one. Hats are available everywhere and they’re cheap.


If you don’t like wearing rain jackets or ponchos, you could simply pack an umbrella. It won’t keep you as dry but it works just fine.

Umbrellas are great for traveling in cities. Rain jackets are better for hiking and other outdoor activities. The weight is more or less the same. If I have space, I pack a small travel umbrella with me.

Rain Pants

If you’re traveling to a destination with a rainy climate, you may want to bring some rain pants to pair with your rain jacket. Alternatively, you could just wear some quick-drying pants when it rains. Or, you could pack a poncho which acts as a ring jacket and pants.

Clothes and Accessories for Going Out

Everyone wants to look good while going out on the town. Unfortunately, packing a set of nice dress clothes just for going out doesn’t fit the ultralight packing philosophy. Packing ultralight requires that you pack items that have multiple uses. There isn’t really room for a suit.

Luckily, there is a solution. By packing strategically, you can bring a decent pair of clothes to go out in. Pack one collared long-sleeve travel shirt in a solid color. Gray or blue work well. This can pass as a dress shirt if you choose the right style. Also, pack a nice pair of dark blue or black jeans or travel pants. Choose shoes that look more casual than athletic. Try to go with solid black shoes.

You won’t be the most stylish person there but this outfit will look reasonable in almost every bar, club, and restaurant. The idea is to pack multi-use items. All of these items can also be worn day-to-day. If you pack smart, you can dress well enough to get into most clubs and attend most non-formal events.

If you need to pack formal clothing, it will be difficult to pack light. It’s possible to pack dress shoes and a suit as well as all of your normal clothes in a carry-on bag but you will need to leave some other things behind.

A Note About Jewelry

Jewelry is a target for theft. I recommend you leave your diamonds and gold at home with the exception of one item. A watch is a nice piece of travel gear to pack. Look for a cheap one that shows the date and includes an alarm.

I like the Casio Sport Watch. It’s inexpensive, durable, and includes a lot of useful functions for travelers. You can read my full review of the watch here.

Packing for Ultralight Travel in a Cold Climate

snowy city street during the winter
Make sure you’re prepared if you expect to encounter cold weather during your trip

If you’re traveling during the winter or visiting a cold destination, you need to be prepared. In addition to the above gear, you’ll need to pack a few extra items to keep you warm. Some items can be swapped out with their hot weather counterparts to cut down on weight. Luckily, with high tech, modern fabrics it is possible to pack ultralight for four-season travel and still stick to a carry-on bag.

The best way to achieve this is to layer your clothes to stay warm. Traditionally, you want to wear three layers. A base layer wicks sweat to help you stay warm. A middle layer traps heat. The outer layer protects you from the elements. Here’s what you should pack:

Base Layer

Thermal underwear or long underwear make for an ideal cold-weather base layer. They wick sweat away from your body and trap heat to help keep you warm in cold climates. Thermal underwear also pack down small and weigh very little.

If you only expect mildly chilly temperatures, you can get away with a base layer shirt only. If you expect extreme cold, you’ll want bottoms as well.

Several materials are available. Many travelers like merino wool. Some prefer synthetics. There are benefits and drawbacks of each in terms of durability, comfort, and odor control.

Middle Layer

You’ll wear your mid layer between your base layer and outer layer. A sweatshirt, fleece jacket, or wool sweater works great as a middle layer.

Alternatively, you can also use your puffy jacket as a middle layer. For more warmth, you can pair a puffy jacket with a hoodie or sweater.

Outer Layer

This layer protects you from the wind and rain. Which outer layer you pack really depends on the climate of your destination.

For extremely cold climates, you’ll want to pack a parka to wear for your outer layer. These are waterproof, windproof, and extremely warm. Unfortunately, they are also heavy and bulky. If you’re traveling ultralight, you’ll probably have to carry your parka as your personal item while flying.

For cold but dry climates you can use your puffy down jacket as an outer layer in addition to a sweatshirt or fleece middle layer. This helps you save weight because the only additional piece of gear you need to pack is a warm middle layer.

For cold but wet climates, you can wear your rain jacket as an outer layer over your puffer jacket or fleece. This will keep you dry on rainy or snowy days.

Footwear for Cold Weather

You need to keep your feet warm and dry while traveling in a cold climate. There are a few ways to achieve this.

Most importantly, you should wear warm socks. Pack a thick pair of wool socks or wear two pairs of socks to keep your toes warm. This is the most ultralight solution.

If you plan to spend a lot of time walking in the snow, you’ll probably want some sort of waterproof boots. Unfortunately, these are heavy. Choose a pair that you can use as your only pair of shoes to help cut down on weight.

Gaiters can also help keep your feet warm. These seal the top of your footwear to prevent snow and water from entering. Gaiters are a lightweight solution. The only drawback is the fact that you need to pair them with waterproof shoes or your feet will get wet as snow melts around them.

Accessories: Hat, Gloves, Scarf, etc.

For travel in a cold climate, exchange your baseball cap for a warm knit hat. Also, pack a warm pair of gloves or mittens. I like neoprene gloves because they are lightweight, waterproof, and pack down pretty small. Knit gloves work well if you don’t expect wet conditions.

If you expect extreme cold, you might also consider packing a scarf to keep your neck warm. Also, consider packing a balaclava or ski mask to keep your face warm.

All of this stuff can get pretty bulky. If you’re unsure if you’ll need a particularly accessory, wait until you arrive at your destination and buy it there.

How to Keep Your Lower Body Warm

To keep your legs warm, use the same layering method used to keep your upper body warm. For example:

  • Base layer- Thermal underwear. These trap your body heat and wick sweat.
  • Middle layer- Jeans or travel pants. These trap heat to keep you warm.
  • Outer layer- Rain pants. These keep you dry and protect you from the wind.

If you are traveling to an extremely cold destination, consider packing some down pants. These pack down small, weigh very little, and provide a lot of warmth.

If you’re planning to spend a lot of time in the snow, pack a pair of snow pants. These are bulky but they will keep you warm and dry.

Packing Ultralight While Being Prepared for Cold Weather

It’s difficult to stay ultralight when you need to pack for cold weather. There are a few ways to avoid overpacking and still stay warm.

Layering is key. Choose pieces that can be worn together for added warmth, but also work well on their own in different temperatures. Down is perfect for packing light. It’s warm, lightweight, and packs down compactly. Remember, down doesn’t perform well when it gets wet. It’s also important to have a waterproof layer.

Also, remove any warm weather items that you won’t need in a cold climate- You don’t need warm weather clothing for a ski trip. For example, you could eliminate your shorts and swimsuit. Leave out the T-shirts to make room for warmer shirts. This saves you some space in your pack for warmer gear.

Remember, if you’re not warm enough, you can always buy more clothes at your destination. The people who live there need to keep warm too. Any cold weather gear that you may need is available locally. Sometimes this is cheaper.

If you save $100 on checked bag fees by traveling with a carry-on, use part of that money to buy yourself a hat and gloves at your destination. You can give them away or donate them to someone before you leave or keep them as souvenirs.

A Note about Fashion While Traveling Ultralight

Everyone wants to look good. While selecting clothing to pack for your trip, put some thought into how you’ll look. Pack neutral colored items that all match each other. You don’t want to pack a shirt that you can only wear with one pair of pants, for example.

Also, try to pack one outfit that you can go out in. You’re not going to get into any high-end nightclubs in your ultralight travel clothes. You do, however, want to be able to get into a nice bar that has a basic dress code. This means, always pack at least one pair of long pants, closed-toe shoes, and a shirt with a collar.

Even if you couldn’t care less about fashion, it is still something to consider while packing. You don’t want to miss out on an experience just because you didn’t pack the right clothes. For example, while visiting Bangkok, I went to a sky bar with a couple of friends from the hostel. Their dress code required that you wear long pants. Any long pants were acceptable. One of my buddies didn’t pack any. He ended up waiting in the lobby and missing out on the spectacular view because he hadn’t packed properly.

Choosing a Backpack or Suitcase for Ultralight Travel

small travel backpack
A minimalist travel backpack

Your backpack or suitcase is one of your most important pieces of travel gear. It needs to be comfortable, lightweight, and the proper size for carry-on use. In this section, I’ll outline exactly what you should look for in an ultralight travel backpack or suitcase.

Luggage Size

Your backpack or suitcase needs to fit within the airline’s carry-on size requirements. These vary from one airline to another.

The most common size limit for a carry-on is 19 inches x 14 inches x 22 inches. In most cases, your carry on must be smaller than 45 linear inches (115 centimeters). If it’s any larger, it may not fit in the overhead bin on smaller planes. The length is the most important measurement. If your bag is too long, it won’t fit. For backpacks, 40-45 liters is a good size. Most fit within the carry-on limits. Some airlines have stricter limits than others.

In my experience, check-in agents won’t measure your backpack unless it’s obviously too large. In fact, I’ve only had my backpack measured once. It was packed completely full and just looked massive. I was asked to place my bag in one of those metal cages to measure. It measured a few inches too long. Luckily, they let it slide as the flight wasn’t full.

Luggage Weight

While shopping for a travel backpack or suitcase, look for a model that is lightweight. That generally means less than 2 pounds (around 1 kilo).

You need a lightweight piece of luggage because the total weight of your bag is limited by the airline carry-on allowance. Most airlines only allow you to carry on 22 pounds (around 10 kg). Some airlines only allow you to carry-on 18 pounds (8 kg). You don’t want to use a 5 pound backpack that takes up ¼ of your entire luggage allowance by itself.

Before your trip, check the airline’s carry-on weight allowance and weigh your luggage so you don’t go over the limit. Some airlines don’t weigh carry-on bags but most do these days.

Luggage Storage Capacity

The ideal storage capacity depends on what you plan to pack and where you are traveling. If you pack camping gear, you’ll need a larger piece of luggage. If you’re traveling to a cold destination, you’ll need more space to accommodate cold weather clothing. Digital nomads who need to pack lots of electrons such as laptops and photography equipment also need a larger backpack. If you’re traveling to a warm destination for a few nights, you can get away with a smaller bag. Travel backpacks come in a wide range of sizes. A few common sizes for ultralight travel include:

  • 30-40 liters- This is the ideal size for a true ultralight traveler. This size is great for a traveler who is traveling in a warm climate, not camping, and not packing many electronics. This size fits within the carry-on allowance of almost every airline and bus company.
  • 40-50 liters- This is the ideal size for most lightweight travelers. This size allows you to pack ultralight camping gear, small electronics, and be prepared for 3 season weather if you pack smart and strategically. This size fits within the carry-on requirements of most airlines. You’ll probably have to check your bag on occasion. You’ll also have to be careful not to go overweight.
  • 50-60 liters- Sometimes you need more storage capacity. This size pack allows you to carry full camping gear, some larger electronics, and cold weather gear if you pack carefully. With this size backpack, you’ll have to check it some of the time. Sometimes you can carry-on. It will depend on the flight and the check-in agent. This isn’t really traveling ultralight.
Carry-on sized travel backpacks
Carry-on sized travel backpacks

Travel Backpack Features

Backpacks come in a wide range of designs. When shopping for an ultralight travel backpack, try to choose a bag with the following features:

  • Comfortable- This is the most important. You’ll be walking a lot while traveling. Make sure the backpack fits your torso properly. Also, make sure it offers enough breathability so you don’t get too hot and sweaty. It’s important to make sure it’s supportive enough to hold the weight of your gear. Most outdoor stores have weights you can put in backpacks to test them out. Test the bag extensively before purchasing. You need to be comfortable.
  • Compression straps- If your backpack is a bit oversized, you can use the straps to make it smaller. When my 44 liter backpack is fully loaded, it’s too big for. The straps allow me to compress it small enough to use as a carry-on.
  • Waist belt- You’ll want this for any backpack over 30 liters. A waist strap helps tremendously with supporting the bag. It moves much of the weight from your shoulders to your hips. This makes the bag much more comfortable when walking long distances. If I’m walking for more than 15 minutes or so, I’ll buckle my waste belt.
  • Internal frame- Most travel backpacks have an internal farme. An internal frame can give your backpack some structure. It also increases support. For more info, check out my guide to frame Vs frameless backpacks.
  • Exterior straps- These come in handy for attaching bulky items to your bag. For example, maybe you get cold so you buy a blanket. You can strap it to the outside. Maybe you want to carry some snacks. You can attach your jacket to the outside to make space inside.

My Travel Backpack

I currently use the Osprey Talon 44 Hiking Backpack. I have found this to be pretty much the ideal size for travel. The bag itself is pretty light at only 2.45 pounds (about 1.1 kilos). It’s large enough to accommodate my ultralight camping gear and a small laptop alongside all of my travel clothing and gear. It’s small enough that I can carry it on most flights. I can also carry it on my lap or by my feet in most buses if I wish. The compression straps allow me to make the bag appear much smaller if I’m not carrying a lot of gear. For more info, check out my full review of the Talon 44 here.

My travel backpack
My travel backpack with my tent strapped outside

Some travelers prefer to use a suitcase. If you’re undecided, check out my guide, Backpack Vs. Suitcase for Travel: Pros and Cons.

Toiletries and Grooming for Ultralight Travel

This is one area that’s pretty personal. Everyone’s toiletry and grooming kit looks a bit different. Exactly what you pack depends on where you’re traveling, your medical conditions, and your personal preference.

One important thing to remember is that everything you pack needs to be carry-on friendly. That means all liquids need to be in bottles smaller than 3.4 ounces or 100 millimeters. You’ll also want to eliminate any grooming tools with sharp edges from your kit as these may not be carry-on friendly with some airlines. For example, you can’t carry scissors or razor blades.

Toiletries to Pack for Travel

  • Toothbrush- Pack any style you like. I use an electric toothbrush.
  • Toothpaste- Pack a travel size of less than 100 ml in volume.
  • Floss- Pack a roll of your favorite dental floss.
  • Body soap and shampoo- Pack travel sizes that measure less than 100 ml in volume. To save space, consider packing one do-it-all soap. You can use this biodegradable soap as shampoo, body soap, laundry detergent, dish soap, shaving soap, hand soap, etc.
  • Deodorant- So you don’t stink. Pack a stick-style deodorant. Make sure it’s less than 100 ml. You can’t carry-on aerosol spray deodorants on some flights.
  • Sunblock- It’s important to protect your skin. Wear it whenever you go outside.
  • Lotion- If you get dry skin, consider packing a travel sized bottle. I like to wear a lotion with some SPF. 
  • Lip balm- This is particularly important for travel in cold, dry climates where chapped lips are common.
  • Insect repellent- Protect yourself from mosquitoes and ticks.
  • Q-tips- Pack a small travel sized bag. You can always buy more when you run out.
  • Mouthwash, mints, or gum- To keep your breath smelling fresh.
  • Condoms
A travel toiletries kit
A small toiletries kit

Grooming Gear to Pack

  • Mini hair clippers- Consider packing a small pair of electric hair clippers for grooming. You can use them to cut your hair or trim your body hair, facial hair, ear hair, nose hair, etc. As a bald guy, I have to keep my hair trimmed short. I also use my clippers to trim my beard. When picking out a pair of clippers, make sure they are comparable with 110-240v power. This way they can be used anywhere in the world. For more info, check out my guide Getting a Haircut While Traveling: A Men’s Guide.
  • Razors- Pack a couple of disposables. You can buy more anywhere in the world. I recommend you don’t pack a razor with replaceable cartridges because you may not be able to find the replacements that you need.
  • Nail clippers- Make sure they don’t have a sharp file or airport security may confiscate them.
  • A small mirror- This comes in handy while shaving or cutting your hair.

First Aid

  • First aid kit- You need to be able to patch yourself up in the event of an accident. This also comes in handy for helping out fellow travelers who came unprepared.
  • Pain reliever- Pack something mild for headaches and minor aches and pains. I like ibuprofen.
  • Malaria prophylaxis- If you’re traveling to a high-risk malaria zone like, sub-Saharan Africa, be sure to pack the proper tablets. Consult with a travel clinic to help you choose the correct medication.
  • Bandages- To cover minor cuts and scratches. These should be included in your first aid kit.
  • Antibiotic ointment- This stuff comes in handy when you get a minor cut or scrape. It can save you from getting an infection.
  • Anti-diarrhea tablets- If you travel long enough, sooner or later you’ll eat or drink something bad and end up with food poisoning or traveler’s diarrhea. This stuff can help you recover faster.


  • Sunglasses- You need to protect your eyes from harmful rays. Consider purchasing a pair of prescription sunglasses if you wear corrective lenses.
  • Glasses- If you wear glasses, I recommend you pack two pair so you have a backup in case one gets broken or lost. Also, pack your prescription. If you lose or break your glasses, you can get a new pair made. For more info, check out my guide: Tips for Travel with Glasses and Contacts.
  • Glasses cleaning cloth- Pack a microfiber cleaning cloth and cleaning solution to keep your glasses clean.
  • Glasses case- Pack a hard case. This will protect your glasses if your luggage gets thrown around.
  • Contact lenses- Be sure to pack a few extras in case some get lost or contaminated.
  • Contact lens solution- Make sure your bottle is less than 100 ml. You can always buy more at your destination when you run out.

Space Saving Tip: I know the above list looks like a lot of stuff to pack. Luckily each item is pretty small. To save space, take all items out of their original packaging. If something comes packed in a hard case, repack it in a soft bag so it takes up less room. Only carry the amount you need. If you’re on a long trip, carry a one month supply and re-stock as you run out. For example, if you’re traveling for a year, you don’t need to pack a years supply of sunblock from home. Just pack a small tube. Most of these items can be purchased wherever in the world you are traveling. All of your toiletries, first aid gear, and grooming equipment should only take up around 1-2 liters of space in your pack.

For more help, check out my guide: How to Pack Toiletries into a Carry-On Friendly Bag.

Electronics to Pack for Ultralight Travel

Even though electronics don’t take up much space in your pack, they are heavy. This is one area where you can easily push your pack overweight if you’re not careful. While traveling, you need to:

  • Taking travel photos and videos- This one’s obvious. Everyone likes to take photos and videos to remember their travels. Most of us also like to share travel photos and videos with friends and family on social media. You need a camera and some camera gear.
  • Navigation- GPS comes in handy when trying to find your way from the bus or train station to your hotel or hostel when you reach a new city. It’s also useful for sightseeing. You can walk around freely in a new city without worrying about getting lost. You need a phone to help you navigate.
  • Research and bookings- You need to research your destinations to find things you want to do. You also need some way of making reservations for hotels, hostels, flights, buses, trains, tours, etc. You need a phone or laptop to accomplish this.
  • Entertainment- This isn’t necessary but it’s nice to listen to music or a podcast to pass the time. Occasionally, you’ll find yourself on a 20 hour bus journey. Sitting by yourself in silence gets boring after so many hours. A phone, laptop, or eReader is a great way to pass the time.
  • Work- If you work while you travel, you need to pack the devices you need for your job.

In the following sections, I’ll outline a few devices you may need to pack.


For shorter trips, a smartphone is the only piece of electronic gear that you should pack. It does everything that you need to do and takes up almost no space in your pack. This is the ultralight option.

Your smartphone is one of your most important pieces of travel gear. You’ll use your phone for communicating with friends and family, navigation, taking photos and videos, entertainment, research, making bookings, budgeting, and more. Pack a quality phone with a decent camera and good battery life. Make sure your phone is SIM unlocked so you can use a local SIM card. Consider buying a phone with eSim functionality. Also, be sure to protect your phone with a case.

These days, it’s also a good idea to consider carrying a backup phone. This could be an old phone or a cheap phone. This way, you’ll still have access to important accounts and 2FA codes if one phone is lost or stolen. You can also bring your secondary phone when going out or when walking through sketchy parts of town. If it gets stolen, it’s not a big deal.

Smartphones are somewhat limited. They are kind of a ‘jack of all trades, master of none.’ The small screens make some tasks difficult. The cameras are good but some people prefer having a dedicated camera with interchangeable lenses.

Travel Camera

When visiting those once in lifetime destinations, you want to pack a decent camera so you can take the best possible photos and videos. These days, smartphone cameras are good enough. Ultralight travelers don’t need to pack a dedicated camera. It just takes up space unnecessarily.

That said, smartphone cameras still can’t match the image quality of a camera with a larger sensor. Cameras also offer better zoom and more settings and features, in general, to help you take better photos.

While traveling ultralight, you’ll want to stay away from DSLR cameras. They’re just too heavy and bulky. They also require that you pack multiple lenses which take up more space in your pack. A modern fixed lens point-and-shoot camera or an action camera offers great picture quality in a pocket friendly size.

An action camera is also a great choice for a travel camera. It allows you to take photos and videos in rugged and wet environments where you can’t take your phone.

In addition, you might have to pack some camera gear such as a tripod, extra battery, extra memory card, a case, etc.

Laptop or Tablet for Travel

For longer trips, it’s nice to carry a proper computer. A full keyboard and larger screen make getting work done much more efficient and pleasant. For example, I pretty much have to carry some sort of laptop to maintain this blog. A smartphone just doesn’t cut it for some tasks.

Unfortunately, laptops are heavy. Even lightweight ultrabooks weigh nearly 4 pounds and take up a significant amount of space in your pack. To stay ultralight, I recommend you limit yourself to a tablet or 2 in one style computer. These small devices usually have a screen that is around 13″ and weigh less than 2 pounds.


This is an optional piece of gear. Most travelers don’t need a standalone GPS. Your smartphone will work just fine. If you spend a lot of time hiking in the backcountry or visiting rural areas while you travel, you may want to consider carrying a stand-alone GPS. These don’t take up much space and give you a backup in case your phone fails. Most run off of an internal battery and AA batteries.


If you like to read like I do, consider packing an eReader. This is a great ultralight piece of gear for entertainment. You can also download travel guidebooks to it. It weighs less than one book at only 6.8 ounces (182 grams) and can store thousands. The e-ink screen is easier on the eyes. The battery life on this thing is incredible. I read quite a bit and only have to charge it once every couple of weeks. This is an optional piece of gear. You can also read on your phone or laptop.

Electronics Accessories

  • External battery- These allow you to charge up your phone or camera when you’re not near an outlet. Sometimes, while staying in hostels, I just charge my phone off the battery so I don’t have to leave my phone unattended. If my battery is stolen, I’m only out $20-$30. If my phone gets stolen I’m out a few hundred dollars at least. 10,000 mAh is a good size.
  • Bluetooth keyboard and mouse- If you don’t pack a laptop, you can pair a small Bluetooth keyboard to your phone or tablet to type faster and easier. You can also use a mouse.
  • Hard drive- It’s a good idea to back up your photos. I recommend using an SSD because it’s smaller and lighter. Alternatively, you could back up to the cloud to save more weight.
  • Headphones- So you can enjoy your music and shows without disturbing the people around you. Don’t be that annoying guy in the hostel or on the bus who blasts his music from his phone speakers. Pack a pair of Bluetooth headphones such as EarPods.
  • Outlet converters- So you can charge all of your electronic gear.

When I first started traveling in 2011, my electronics took up much less space in my pack. In fact, on my first trip, the only electronic item I packed was a point-and-shoot camera. Even though smartphones and tablets existed, I didn’t travel with one due to the cost. Nowadays, it seems like every traveler carries a laptop, camera, phone, and various accessories.

When packing light, try to stick to just bringing a good smart phone. A high-end smartphone does everything you need. It’s just not as pleasant to use due to the touch interface and small screen. Smartphone cameras are sufficient for most travelers these days. If you’re traveling longer term, consider packing a laptop and a few accessories.

Ultralight Camping Gear to Pack for Travel

Camping under the stars

Whether or not you need to pack camping gear depends on your destination and style of travel. If you’re only traveling through large cities or developed areas, you can probably do without camping gear. In this case, you can get away with a smaller backpack in the 30-40 liter range.

If you plan to visit any remote areas or participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, you should probably be prepared to sleep outside. Accommodation is available pretty much everywhere but there are some acceptions. You’ll also end up saving money if you have your own camping equipment.

The drawback of packing camping gear is the fact that you’ll have to use a slightly larger backpack. Probably in the 60 liter range. It’s difficult to pack camping gear in a carry-on bag.

Most travelers don’t pack camping gear. I think this is a mistake. To read my reasons why, check out my article Travel With a Tent: Why Every Backpacker Should Check Out of the Hostel and Camp.

If you decide that you need to pack camping gear for your trip, I recommend you go with ultralight gear. A full ultralight camping setup can weigh as little as 5 pounds and takes up just a few liters of space in your pack.

While selecting camping gear for ultralight travel, you also need to make sure that it is carry-on acceptable. Some camping gear isn’t allowed in the cabin of an airplane for security reasons. For example, some airlines don’t allow tent stakes and poles. Trekking poles also aren’t allowed on the plane in most cases.

If you’re careful with your gear selection, you can pack a full set of camping gear and stick to a carry-on size bag. The three main items you’ll need to camp while you travel include a shelter, a sleeping bag, and a sleeping pad. In the following sections, I’ll outline each.

Ultralight Camping Shelter Options for Travel

While sleeping outside, you need some sort of shelter to protect yourself from the elements. You may encounter rain, wind, cold weather, or critters. I recommend you choose the lightest and smallest shelter that will suit your needs. You will need one of the following:

  • Tent- This is the classic camping shelter option. Tents are the heaviest and bulkiest shelter, but also the most protective. Tents include bug netting to keep the critters away and a rain fly to keep you dry. They also offer the most privacy. If you plan to camp in campgrounds often, a tent is your best option. I have the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 1. It weighs 33 ounces. Check out my full review here.
  • Bivy Sack- This minimalist shelter option is the smallest and lightest. A bivy is basically just a cover for your sleeping bag. These work great for travelers who want to wild camp because they are very low profile. Several variations of bivy exist. Some work as standalone shelters with bug and water protection. Bug bivys only offer protection from bugs and require a tarp to keep you dry. Some bivys leave the face open. For more info on bivys as well as a few recommendations, check out my guide Bivy Sack Vs. Tent: My Pros and Cons List.
  • Tarp- This is an incomplete shelter option that can be used on its own for some destinations. A lightweight tarp can keep you dry and protected from the wind. Because it’s open on the sides and bottom, you’ll need a bivy or bug netting to keep bugs and critters away. For more info on tarps as well as a few recommendations, check out my guide Tarp Vs. Tent: My Pros and Cons list.
  • Hammock- These work great for warm or dry destinations. Hammocks aren’t really a complete shelter on their own. You’ll at least want to carry a tarp to protect you from the rain while hammock camping. Possibly a bug net as well. If you only plan to camp in warm or dry destinations, a hammock works well on its own. Of course, in order to set up a hammock, you need something to mount it to like trees, for example. For more info about hammocks as well as a few recommendations, check out my article Hammock Vs. Tent: My Pros and Cons List.
  • Bug net- This is a great ultralight camping option for buggy environments. Bug nets work great when paired with a small tarp. They can also be used as a mosquito net in hotel rooms. 

For complete protection from rain, wind, and bugs, you may need to combine several of the above. After quite a bit of experimenting, I have found that an ultralight tarp and bug net is the lightest and most compact shelter available. This is my current shelter setup. Standalone waterproof bivy shelters are equally lightweight.

hammock camping
If you’re traveling in a warm climate, a hammock makes for a great ultralight travel camping shelter.

Ultralight Sleeping Bag or Quilt for Travel

Your sleeping bag or quilt is probably the most important piece of your ultralight camping setup. It keeps you warm so you don’t freeze during the night. A quality sleeping bag or quilt allows you to camp in cold weather and stay warm and comfortable. You can choose either a sleeping bag or a quilt.

Sleeping bags are the most common option. They are warm and easy to use. They do take up a bit more space in your pack because they have full zippers, hoods, and more material in general.

A quilt is a more ultralight option. Camping quilts save weight by eliminating unnecessary material that sleeping bags have. Quilts are open where your body touches your sleeping pad. This is done because the part of the bag under your body doesn’t provide insulation while it is compressed under your body weight. Quilts also eliminate the hood and zipper. The weight and space savings make quilts perfect for ultralight travelers.

To help you decide which is right for you, check out my guide: Quilt Vs Sleeping Bag: My Pros and Cons List.

Temperature Rating

When selecting a sleeping bag or quilt, you must consider the climate of your destination. Check the average weather for the dates that you plan to travel to help you gauge which type of bag you need. Common temperature ratings include.

  • Summer sleeping bag- These have a temperature rating of 32° Fahrenheit or 0° Celsius and higher. A summer sleeping bag is sufficient for camping in warmer climates or low elevations where you know temperatures will never fall below freezing. A good ultralight summer bag weighs around a pound and will keep you comfortable down to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a good option for travelers visiting tropical destinations or traveling during the summer.
  • 3 season sleeping bag- These have a temperature rating from 20° to 32° Fahrenheit or around -7° to 0° Celsius. 3 Season bags are designed for use in the spring, summer, and fall. A 3 season bag will keep you warm in temperatures down to around freezing. An ultralight 3 season bag weighs around 25 ounces (about 680 grams). This is probably the most versatile option. It allows you to camp in a good range of different climates.
  • Cold weather sleeping bag- These have a temperature rating lower than 20° Fahrenheit or -7° Celsius. They are designed to keep you warm in below freezing weather for camping at elevation or during the winter. A good cold weather sleeping bag weighs about 2.5 pounds. This is probably overkill for most travelers.
An ultralight sleeping bag in its stuff sack
Ultralight down bags compress down surprisingly small

Insulation Material

When it comes to choosing insulation material, there are two options: down and synthetic.

Down insulation is lightweight. It compresses very well, making it ideal for ultralight travel. For example, my summer quilt measures 6” by 8” when compressed and weighs only 1 pound. Down is also pretty durable. A good down sleeping bag will last you many years if you take care of it. Down comes in two varieties: Goose and duck. 

Synthetic insulation generally doesn’t compress as well as down. It does perform better in wet weather. The main drawback to synthetic bags is the fact that they don’t last as long as down. The material just breaks down faster and loses warmth.

For more info, check out my down vs synthetic insulation pros and cons list.

Unfortunately, ultralight bags are pretty expensive. Your sleeping bag is one of the more expensive pieces of travel gear that you’ll carry. Warm weather bags start around $120. 20 degree bags start around $200. Quality cold weather bags start around $300. 

Ultralight Sleeping Pad for Travel

This is the final piece of your ultralight camping setup. When it comes to choosing a sleeping pad, you have 2 options: inflatable and foam

Inflatable sleeping pads are pads that you simply blow it up with your mouth. These lightweight pads pack down small. The main drawback is the fact that they can get punctured. Inflatable pads are also more expensive.

Foam sleeping pads (CCF) are popular among travelers because they are cheap and durable. The main benefit of these pads is the fact that they don’t suffer from punctures. They are simply a piece of durable solid foam. The main drawback is the volume of space that they take. A small pad takes up around 10 liters of space. Because of this, you’ll need to strap your foam pad to the outside of your backpack.

The other thing to consider when choosing an ultralight sleeping pad is the R-value. This is a measure of the warmth of the pad. Sleeping pads with a higher R-value keep you warmer. For summer camping, an R-value of 1 is fine. For cooler weather, you’ll want a pad with an R-value of 3 or higher.

To help you decide, check out my guide Inflatable vs Foam Sleeping Pad: My Pros and Cons List.

I prefer a foam pad for travel even though it takes up more space. If you decide to use a foam pad, consider waiting until you reach your destination to purchase it. This reduces the bulk of your pack considerably. Foam pads cost around the same everywhere (around $10-$15) and are pretty easily available in most decent sized cities.

Additional Ultralight Camping Gear to Pack for Travel

  • Camping cook pot- For longer trips, I like to carry a small titanium camping pot. This allows me to prepare myself a hot meal or drink while camping. I strap my camping pot to the outside of my pack to save space inside.
  • Camping Stove- The most ultralight option that I have found is a simple alcohol stove. I made my own out of a tuna fish can. Sometimes I use my camping stove and pot to cook in a hotel room.
  • Trekking poles- If you plan to do a lot of hiking during your travels, consider carrying a trekking pole or two. These can also be used to pitch a camping tarp. The drawback to packing trekking poles is that you’ll have to check your bag.

If you really want to travel ultralight, skip the camping gear. You’ll save a considerable amount of space in your pack. Having said that, a tarp, summer sleeping bag, and sleeping pad weigh less than 3 pounds and open up a lot of options in terms of where you can travel. I travel with camping gear most of the time but not always.

A Note About Flying With Camping Gear

Some airlines and airport security organizations don’t allow tent stakes, tent poles, or trekking poles in carry-on bags. This is problematic if you want to travel with camping gear in your carry-on. After all, the whole reason we’re packing light is to avoid checking our bags.

The best solution to this problem is to pack a shelter without poles or stakes. For example, a bivy, tarp, or hammock is carry-on friendly.

Alternatively, you can leave your tent stakes at home and buy new ones at your destination. Pretty much every decent sized city has an outdoor or sporting goods store where you can buy stakes for around a dollar or two a piece. When you need to catch another flight, you can just give the stakes away or leave them at a campground for someone else to use.

You will also have to do without trekking poles as they are not allowed in the cabin of airplanes. You can buy or rent a walking stick at your destination if you choose.

Additional Ultralight Travel Gear to Consider Packing

  • Headlight- If you plan to hike or camp while traveling, a headlight comes in handy. You can use it to read or cook while you’re at camp. If you plan to only stay in hostels or hotels, you can do without one of these. Your phone flashlight works fine for navigating a dorm at night. A headlight is nice to have if the power goes out.
  • Day pack- While you’re out sightseeing or on a day trip, you may want a smaller backpack to carry some snacks, water, sunblock, your camera, etc. Your travel backpack is just too big to carry around day-to-day. Look for a packable day pack of around 20-30 liters. If you can’t fit everything into your large backpack, you can carry a regular day pack as your personal item. Store it under the seat in front of you on flights.
  • Chargers and cables- Make sure you have the proper chargers and cables for all of your electronic devices. These days, most devices use USB type C. There are some exceptions. You might have some devices that use USB type A or micro USB.
  • Padlock- You’ll need a padlock to lock up your luggage or valuables in hostel lockers if you stay in a dorm. I recommend you go with a combination lock so you don’t have to worry about losing a key.
  • Luggage lock- It’s nice to have the ability to lock your backpack or suitcase when you have to leave it unattended in a hostel dorm or luggage storage. Luggage locks aren’t very secure but they may deter thieves.
  • A pen- Pack a pen with blue or black ink. Keep it handy when crossing borders. You’ll need it to fill out entry and exit forms. You can also use it for taking notes or journaling.
  • Money belt- This is one of my favorite pieces of travel gear. A money belt is a hidden pocket that you secure around your waist or around your neck, under your clothes. You can hide your cash, passport, credit cards, and other important documents in it. Wearing a money belt will reduce the risk of falling victim to a mugger or pickpocket. I use the Eagle Creek Silk Undercover money belt. Check out my full review here.
my money belt with cards, my passport, and cash
My money belt

Travel Documents to Pack

While traveling, you want to carry your original documents as well as 2 sets of backups. One set of backups should be in physical form and the other set of backups should be in digital form. Documents you should carry include:

  • Original Passport- Make sure it will have at least six months of validity remaining when you return home from your trip. Also, make sure it is not damaged. You should also bring at least 2 copies of your passport. Color copies are best. Carry these in separate places in your luggage. You want a copy to show to your embassy in case your passport gets lost or stolen.
  • Visas- Research the entry requirements before you leave on your trip. Some visas must be obtained in advance from the embassy in your home country. Some can be obtained online. Many visas are available on arrival.
  • Copy of e-visas- Some countries that use eVisas require that you bring a printed copy of the document to present to the immigration officials when entering. It’s a good idea to print your e-visa out if you can.
  • Passport photos- Some countries require 1 or 2 passport sized photos to go along with the visa application. Check entry requirements before you leave on your trip. Make sure you have the appropriate sizes. The photos should be in color. They also need to be recent. Print out a few before your trip so you have them just in case. Money saving tip: Take your own passport photos for free.
  • Yellow fever vaccine certificate- This is an entry requirement for many countries in Africa as well as some countries in South America. It may also be required if you have been in a country where Yellow Fever is present. Check entry requirements before your trip. Also, carry one copy of your yellow fever vaccine certificate in case the original is lost or stolen.
  • Driver’s license- In case you want to rent a car or scooter. In some cases, you may need an international driver’s license. If you plan to drive, check the requirements before you travel. Make a copy of your driver’s license to carry in case you lose the original.
  • Credit and Debit Cards- You’ll need a debit card to withdraw cash from ATMs. It’s still necessary to carry cash in many countries. I recommend you at least pack 2 debit cards so you have a back in case one is lost or stolen. It’s also a good idea to carry a credit card or two.
  • Travel insurance policy- Some countries require that you have insurance. They may ask for proof of insurance before they allow you to enter. It’s a good idea to print out your travel insurance policy so you can show proof of insurance. For travelers insurance, I use SafetyWing travel insurance. They offer a range of policies at reasonable prices.
  • Bank statement- Some countries require proof of funds before they allow you to enter. They want to see that you have enough cash in your bank account to support yourself for the duration of your stay. Check the entry requirements of the countries you plan to visit before you travel to see if this is required. Print out your last bank statement and bring it with you.
  • Proof of onward travel- Many countries require you to show that you have a ticket booked out of the country before they allow you to enter. This is usually in the form of a flight ticket. For more info, check out my guide to proof of onward travel.

Digital Copies You Should Carry

I recommend you take photos or scan all of your important documents and store them on your phone, in the cloud, and email them to yourself. That way, if everything is lost or stolen, you can still print out your documents and have a copy as long as you have access to your phone or a computer. This can come in handy in the event of a catastrophic accident. Documents you should back up include:

  • Passport- To show your embassy if you lose the original and your copies.
  • Any visas that you obtained before travel- To prove that you’re in the country legally if your passport gets stolen. When you obtain a new visa, take a photo of it so you have evidence of your visa in case your passport is lost or stolen.
  • Passport photos– So you can just print more if you run out instead of getting a new photo taken.
  • Yellow fever vaccine certificate- To prove that you’ve been vaccinated if you lose the original and copies.
  • Driver’s license- If everything is lost, it may come in handy to have a second form of ID.
  • You’re travelers insurance policy- To prove that you’re insured if you’re involved in an accident.
  • Your glasses or contact lens prescription- In case yours are lost or broken and you need to buy a new pair.
  • Proof of onward travel- Save your e-ticket to your phone so you can show it at the check-in counter at the airport or immigration.
A laptop and phone
Back up all of your documents so you can access them if the originals get lost

Items to Leave at Home

While packing for your trip, you may feel tempted to throw in some additional items if you have room in your luggage. When considering adding an item to my pack, I ask myself if I will use the item at least once per week. If the answer is no, I leave it at home. Some items that you probably shouldn’t pack include:

  • Anything you know you won’t use- For example, if you’re not a hat guy, don’t pack a hat. If you’re not sure if you’ll go camping, don’t pack camping gear.
  • Paper notebook- If you like to journal about your trip, you can save space and weight by just writing on your phone or computer.
  • Jewelry- Wearing jewelry makes you a target for theft. Even if it’s not valuable, muggers don’t know that. Leave it at home.
  • GuidebooksI’m personally not a fan but I do recognize that many travelers find value in them. If you want to bring a guidebook, consider purchasing the e-book version and read it on your phone, laptop, eReader, or tablet. The paper versions are just too heavy and bulky.
  • Anything with sentimental value- While packing, pretend that you will lose everything that you put in your backpack. It’s a real possibility. Theft is a risk while traveling. Don’t pack anything that you can’t easily replace. Leave irreplaceable photos and family heirlooms at home.
  • Large sums of cash- It’s a good idea to pack a few hundred dollars to a thousand dollars in cash for emergencies and visas. Anything beyond that is just too risky. It’s better to just use your credit or debit card when you need to make a purchase or withdraw cash.
  • Additional travel clothing- You may be tempted to pack some extra t-shirts or pair of shorts if yo have space in your luggage. You really don’t need more than 3 tops and 3 bottoms at the absolute most. Remember, you can always buy clothes at your destination. They make for great, useful souvenirs.
  • Water bottle- It just takes up valuable space. You can’t drink the tap water in most places anyway. It’s easier to just refill plastic disposable water bottles if you have the opportunity.
  • Playing cards or games- Someone always has a deck of cards or something to play. If you need a deck of cards, you can buy one for $1 at your destination.
  • Weapons- Carrying a weapon is illegal in most countries. If you attempt to fight off a mugger, you’ll either get yourself killed if you lose or spend the rest of your life in prison if you win. It’s a lose-lose situation. Leave any weapons at home. You don’t need them.
  • Musical instruments- They’re large and heavy. Definitely not ultralight. They also annoy everyone within earshot unless you’re some kind of musical prodigy.
  • Keys- Leave your house and car keys with a friend or family member if possible. You don’t want to risk losing them. They are a hassle to replace.
  • Gifts for locals- For whatever reason, some travelers feel the need to give away small trinkets or candy to local people as a gift. This usually ends up doing more harm than good. If you do want to give someone a gift, buy it at your destination.
  • Voltage converter- These are heavy and bulky. Only pack electronics that are compatible with 110V-240V power. This way, you never have to worry about voltage.

My Experience With Ultralight Travel

After my first solo trip, I started packing light. These days, I only travel with a carry-on. For most trips, I carry a 40 liter backpack with a 15 liter daypack. I carry my clothes and toiletries in the large backpack. I pack my laptop, camera, and other electronics in the day pack. The larger backpack fits in the overhead bin. I store my day pack under the seat in front of me. This system works perfectly for me. Once in a while, I have to check my larger backpack. Over the past year, I’ve flown over a dozen times. I have only had to check my larger backpack one time.

When I pack camping gear, I use a larger 60 liter backpack. I have to check that pack in most cases. Sometimes, I am allowed to carry it on. In the future, I plan to upgrade some of my camping gear to so I can fit everything into a smaller pack.

It took me some time to learn how to pack light. On every trip, I become more efficient.

Final Thoughts About Ultralight Travel

As you can see, there are a lot of little bits and pieces to pack. Fitting them all into an ultralight carry-on-sized backpack is kind of like piecing together a puzzle. To make everything fit, keep packing and re-packing to find the most efficient use of space. You can pack light and still pack everything you need. You don’t need to do without.

In order to travel ultralight, you’ll need to pack items that are multi-use, lightweight, high-tech, and durable. Consider both the volume and weight of each item. Remember that you are limited to around 22 pounds (10 kilos) and 45 linear inches (115 cm) to stay within the carry-on range. If you can’t fit it in your carry-on luggage, leave it at home if possible.

Consider packing one week before the start of your trip and live out of your backpack. Anything that you didn’t touch during that week, leave it at home. You can live without it.

Do you travel ultralight? Share your packing tips in the comments below!

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Saturday 13th of January 2024

One of the best articles on this topic I have seen. I hike and also like to travel light. In my region, most budget airlines limit carry on to 7kg! My solution is a 18-20L backpack. I get stuff into it by vacuum packing almost everything compressible into 2 (30x50cm) vacuum bags. One for clean stuff & another for dirty stuff (including my sandals). Plus a small notebook/tablet briefcase sling bag for my electronics. If I need a day pack, I bring my old 5L UD trail runner day pack (300gm empty).

Zachary Friedman

Friday 26th of January 2024

I know, the 7kg limit is ridiculous. Sounds like you have a good system though

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