Minimalist packing list for normal people

Minimalist Packing For Normal People


How is it that some people can barely fit everything into an 80L bag while others have room to spare in a 30L one?

Do these two travelers really need drastically different stuff? Probably not. They just think that they do.

Many travelers profess to want to embrace minimalism but find it impractical. Read on to find out how to pack to make minimalism work for you.

Extreme Minimalism: The No Baggage Challenge

To understand how to apply the principles of minimalism to our travels, let’s first take a look at an extreme case: the No-Baggage Challenge.

Travel writer Rolf Potts spent six weeks traveling around the world with only the clothes on his back and what he could fit in his pockets. While he wasn’t really cheating, I should point out that he was dressed entirely in Scottevest clothes, which come equipped with tons of extra storage space compared to most jackets, shirts, and pants.

While the challenge certainly proved its point, the average person will never travel like this. I know I won’t.

Being away from home can be tough, so why make it harder on yourself? The purpose of a pared down packing list should be to make your trip easier and less worrisome, not gross and uncomfortable.

Let’s apply the lessons of the No Baggage Challenge to a more reasonable packing list. First, where can we begin to lighten our load?

Where To Simplify Your Packing List

In the quest to minimize our packing list, we’ll have to make some sacrifices. Where to begin?

Clothing Options

First up is a change in strategy from bringing anything that you might wear to bringing only what you absolutely need.

Instead of a variety of outfit combinations, we’ll be bringing two of everything: one to wear until it’s dirty and another to change into. That’s it. One in use. One on standby.

Just make sure to bring neutral-colored clothes that look okay in any combination. Zebra stripes and 80s fluorescents can be left at home.


You only need enough toiletries to stay (relatively) clean. You don’t need to be “camera-ready” in the jungles of Vietnam. As long as you don’t stink, you’re okay.

This restriction means leaving behind the gizmos and elixirs you normally use. You’ll have to rely on your natural beauty and charming wit to seduce the locals.

The only hardware we’re allowing on this list is a toothbrush. As for liquids, you might not like my suggestion. We’ll get to that in the next section.


Obviously, you can’t include a computer on a super-minimalist packing list. For your computing needs, you can rent time at your hostel or an internet cafe instead of carrying your own computer or tablet.

You can also pick up a cheap phone and local SIM card at your destination. The card will need to be switched out as you travel between countries, so there’s no need to bring everything from home.

The one gadget worth making space for is an iPod Touch or unlocked iPhone. These electronic multi-tools can be used as mini computers whenever you have access to a WiFi network. You can even use the Skype app to connect with friends and family back home. Either Apple product can also replace most point and shoot cameras, notebooks, maps, books, and standalone mp3 players.

An iPod Touch or iPhone may be an indulgence on a minimalist packing list, but their usefulness and versatility vastly outweigh the additional baggage.

The Practical Minimalist Packing List

Ok, now it’s time for the easy-to-understand, if hard-to-implement, minimalist packing list. This isn’t extreme minimalism, but you’ll get 80% of the results with only 20% of the sacrifices.


  • 2 short sleeve shirts
  • 2 long sleeve shirts [optional for cooler climates]
  • 1 jacket [optional for cooler climates]
  • 1 pair of convertible pants [even though I hate them]
  • 1 pair of shorts or pants [depending on the climate]
  • 1 pair of shoes [boots, sneakers, or sandals depending on personal preference]
  • 2 pairs of underwear [ExOfficio is the best brand]
  • 2 pairs of socks [if wearing boots or shoes, Smartwool is the best brand]
  • 1 belt


Done! Short, right?

At first glance, this list may look impossible. Keep in mind that you’ll still be clean, have clean clothes to wear, and have more than a week’s worth of outfit combinations. Plus, your bag will only contain (at the most) three shirts, a pair of pants, a pair of underwear, a pair of socks, and a small toiletry bag.

Damn, that’s light!

What If I Need Something Else?

You’ll inevitably need other things along the way, but they can be borrowed or purchased locally, often for much less than you would pay at home.

Consider these occasional shopping trips an opportunity for exploration and adventure.

Minimalist Packing: The Perfect Bag

Newsflash: If you’re a minimalist packer, you don’t need a maximum sized carry on bag. Even if you are a minimalist packer on only some of your trips, there’s no sense in putting your tiny bit of stuff into a bag that’s too big. What you need is a well designed minimalist bag to go with your light packing style.

The Duffle

The Outbreaker duffle is the perfect minimalist bag for light packing or shorter trips. Small enough to be considered a personal items on even the most exacting airlines, it’s big enough to hold everything in the list above. If you love to stay organized as well as pack light, add the packing cubes to turn your duffle into a compartmentalized travel dresser that slides under the seat in front of you.

The Daypack

If you prefer the solid and balanced feel of a backpack instead of an over the shoulder duffle, the Outbreaker daypack is perfect for minimalist packing. The padded shoulder straps keep the load from digging into your shoulders and the squared off design means you can slide your laptop in with your clothing and you’re ready to go, from home to office on the go.

Think you can get by on this list? Have you gotten by on even less? Tell your story in the comments.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Bowes September 20, 2014 at 9:32 pm

Very helpful. I personally prefer the Uniqlo boxers to the ExOfficio boxers, but to each his own.


Dean September 25, 2014 at 7:52 am

You mean the uniqlo AIRism line?


Jon Bowes September 25, 2014 at 9:34 am

Those are the ones. They’re more compact, and I find them more comfortable.


Dean September 25, 2014 at 9:38 am

I hadn’t heard of them, only knew about the ex officio, but thanks to your comment I went out and bought a pair and they’re damn comfortable, I’ll see how they hold up in the long run. I notice it says they’re made with Lycra, I had at tshirt made of Lycra that stretched out really bad. Have you noticed and wear?


Jon Bowes September 25, 2014 at 11:06 am

Wow. I had an impact on the world with my opinion! Thanks for making me feel important. I haven’t noticed any wear or year, but I haven’t had them for too long either. I’m about to go to Peru for three months, and I’m only bringing a few pairs of those boxers along so I’ll keep you updated.

Fred Perrotta September 26, 2014 at 7:50 am

I’ve been testing out a pair recently. Might replace ExOfficio in the recommendations soon. Our most up-to-date gear recs are here:


Ben November 1, 2014 at 9:44 am

I always get puzzled looks when friends or travellers I meet see my luggage.

i think you just have to find a balance between these 2 evils: “How much weight do you want to carry around?” and “How frequently do you want to be washing your clothes?”… If you’re moving around a lot and are hitchhiking, the first evil is the biggest one to avoid

I traveled a month through Eastern Europe during the winter (always city travel, staying in hostels) with a +/- 25l backpack (don’t know exactly but it is a small, schoolbag-sized rucksack).

By the way… the reason i took such a small backpack was because that was the only one I had… since than I became a fan of light travel.

I brought:

– 1 jeans
– 1 sweatshirt
– 1 T-shirts and 1 formal shirt
– 1 Short pants (=swimming shorts)
– 5 pais of socks
– 5 pairs of boxer shorts
– 1 PackTowl UltraLite (I could have left this one at home but they are so cool)
(+ a bag to separate my dirty clothes from the rest)

(I was wearing: socks, boxer short, jeans, T-short, sweatshirt, winter boots and a jacket … because it was winter, the jacket never needed to go in my bag – which it wouldn’t fit into… so in changing climates I would have needed a somewhat bigger bag)


– toothbrush +toothpaste
– liquid for lenses + lenses holder
– deo
(shower gell they had in hostels)

– phone charger
– 13” laptop + charger

Along the way I picked up a small container to keep washing powder for clothes in, some liquid that you rub in your backpack to keep it smelling fresh and a hand-washing gel

I might be forgetting something, but nothing major in any case


Dean September 25, 2014 at 11:23 am

Awesome, I might buy another pair and test then myself too I’m currently on the road in China


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