Carry on travel is all about packing light. No surprise there, right? Cool. Glad we agree on so much already. There’s only one problem with packing ultralight travel gear: It’s kind of a pain in the ass.
Smaller “travel-size” items (when they actually work) are often way more expensive than the full-size stuff, while still being inferior. I hate to say it, but size does matter, and even in the travel world, sometimes bigger is better.
A Macbook Pro, for example, is just a better computer than a Macbook Air. The Pro has more RAM, more storage capacity, and a processor than can edit 4K video in minutes not hours. Sure, it’s heavier and costs more, but there are always trade-offs. The trick is finding gear that works for you.
Ultralight gear is all about personalized utility.
When you live your life out of a carry on backpack, the first question about a new piece of gear should always be, “Am I going to use this?” If the answer is just a, “Maybe,” ditch it.
Luckily it’s 2016 (almost 2017!) and there is some amazing ultralight travel gear out there. So, to help ease your carry on packing anxiety, here’s a list of the Best Travel Gear Under 6 oz. (or close enough) from 2016.
You can have your cupcake and eat it too (Get it? Because cupcakes are small, but still delicious). Get excited.
Ultralight Travel Tech
Mogix 10400mAH Portable Battery Charger (6.6 oz) $23
I use my iPhone a lot when I travel. Booking travel and housing on it, managing my business, emailing, writing, using social media, and I shoot a lot of video with it. I’m a big fan of portable chargers.
The trouble with portable chargers is that they aren’t typically that portable, and don’t provide a ton of charge. However, portable chargers are getting better—and lighter.
Mogix sent me their dual USB port 10400mAH charger, and it’s a step up from my old Anker 6700mAH, not just in terms of charge capacity, but portability as well.
The flat shape is better for packing (I like to tuck my chargers away for a rainy day), and the ability to charge two things at once is a lifesaver, especially if you use two cameras like I do (I have a GoPro Session, but more on that in the camera section). It holds enough for four full iPhone 6 charges, which is more than you’ll need on almost any trip, even a music festival in Iceland.
If you’re an ultralight packing fanatic, shave off a few more ounces with their even lighter version—the 5000mAH portable Mogix charger ($17). It weighs in at only 3.8 ounces—or about the same as a bar of soap—and holds enough juice for two full charges on an iPhone 6.
Ultralight Portable Hard Drives
If you’re bringing along your laptop, you’ll want to back it up. Stuff happens on the road, and losing all your pictures, video, and data can be worse than losing the computer itself. Here are a few ways to make sure you’re all backed up without messing up your back (I nailed that one!)
Seagate Backup Plus Slim 2TB Portable External Hard Drive with Mobile Device Backup USB 3.0 (4.8 oz.) $79
2TB is an absurd amount of storage, even for heavy video users, and 4.8 oz is nothing compared to the peace of mind of redundant data. Ahhh….
You even get 200GB of free cloud storage for two years when you buy this. I wanted to review this against other drives, but you can’t get anything even close to 2TB at this weight for this price. No wonder it has over 9,000 positive reviews on Amazon.
Portable hard drives too bulky for you? Ok tough guy, how about these suped up thumbdrives (or zip drives if you’re old school). They each pack a surprising amount of storage space at a fraction of the weight of external hard drives:
- 256GB: SanDisk Ultra USB 3.0 ($55) — 100MB/sec read speed / 0.96 oz.
- 512GB: Patriot Supersonic Rage 2 USB 3.0 ($329) — 400MB/sec read speed / .3oz
- 1TB: Kingston DataTraveler HyperX Predator 1TB USB 3.0 Flash Drive ($550) — 250MB/sec read speed / 1.6 oz. (only for people with no space and LOTS of money to waste)
Kikkerland UL03-A Universal Travel Adapter (1.6 oz.) $10
Travel adaptors suck, but they’re a reality when traveling the world with your increasingly digital gear. Luckily, this little beauty from Kikkerland is light, works in over 150 countries, and folds insanely flat.
6-Inch USB Cord (0.8 oz.) $6
Leave the tangled, useless cables at home. Streamline your tech with short, functional cords.
Ultralight Travel Headphones
Practically all headphones (at least the earbuds) are under 6 oz., and there are hundreds of headphone reviews online. I’m not an audiophile, so I’m not going to speak to that. However, there’s some new headphone technology that has peaked my interest: smart earbuds.
I’ve operated a boom mic operator many times (you know, the guys awkwardly pointing those long poles with the big fuzzy shotgun microphone on the end), so I know the magic of being able to dial and focus my hearing to almost superhuman levels. With just a twist of the knob, I can hear hundreds of feet away, or listen to the grating sound of my feet scuffing the carpet in perfectly clear surround sound. It’s spooky.
That’s what Here One Earbuds are all about—custom, tailored sound.
Named one of Time Magazine’s “Best Inventions of 2015,” Here earbuds do so much more than sound cancelling. Features like “layered listening” control the amount of ambient sound (more ambient sound when you’re biking, less on an airplane). What’s more, the headphones learn what you like and what you don’t to create a personal listening profile over time.
And you can still connect wirelessly to stream songs, take calls, remove unwanted noise, interact with Siri, and even amplify sounds like nearby speech. You can create your own soundscape. It’s kind of amazing.
Ultralight Travel Camera Gear
As much as cameras have evolved in the past 20 years, good camera gear is still pretty heavy. Sacrificing weight will mean a drop in quality, but you can still take great photo and video without lugging around a separate heavy camera bag.
Canon PowerShot S120 12.1MP Digital Camera (6.6 oz) $549
This is the best lightweight camera around. No, it’s not a DSLR. No, it can’t shoot 4K video. No, it’s not the best camera ever. But the Canon Powershot fits in your pocket, weighs about as much as a thin stack of paper and it’s just plain better than your iPhone, especially in low light.
The 5x optical zoom (not that crappy digital zoom garbage), 1080p HD video (not too dang bad), and Wi-Fi enabled capability means you can upload pictures and videos to Instagram and Facebook without lugging around a laptop, SD card, SD card reader, portable hard drive. That’s a huge checkmark in the PRO column, especially on shorter trips.
As far as pocket portable cameras go, this little beauty is top shelf.
The Canon PowerShot G16 12.1MP digital camera is surprisingly similar and if you look hard enough, you might find some great deals.
iPhone 7 Plus (6.6oz) $769+
I know it’s weird to feature the larger of the two new iPhones in the ultralight packing list, but the dual lens on the iPhone 7 Plus allows for something that smartphone photographers have been dreaming of for years—depth of field.
That seductive background blur can only truly be achieved by creating a shallow depth of field, that the smaller single lens iPhone cameras of the past are simply incapable of creating on their own.
The lens duo also allows for actual optical zoom—not just crappy digital zoom—thanks to the telephoto lens (f/2.8 aperture). The difference between the two is massive. There are some software hacks and workarounds, but thanks to the new dual camera display on the Plus, you can take beautiful, rich photos with just a press of a shutter…er button.
Small, light, waterproof (to 33 ft)—the GoPro Session is the perfect travel camera—especially if you only have your iPhone.
The ability to beat the hell out of this camera, not to mention getting it wet, is what makes it my favorite ultralight travel camera. It’s Wi-Fi enabled, doesn’t need any extra housing or attachments, and fits in your pocket. Boom.
If you want to up your GoPro Session game, get a housing attachment and the clip mount. For $6 it works as a pivot stand for angled videos, a DIY tripod, and you can clip it to your backpack straps for awesome POV videos and hands free video of you walking through any destination.
Rain or shine, the GoPro Session just kicks ass. Download the GoPro app, Capture, and you can even use your phone as a viewfinder and remote, as well as editing your video on the fly and uploading it to Instagram, Facebook, and more.
No surprise here, the Gorillapod tripod from JOBY is the travel tripod industry leader for a reason—they work.
The carbon fiber construction and multiple configuration setup make this tripod versatile and portable. They’re only rated for cameras under 11.5 oz, so don’t expect this thing to hold your dad’s old video camera, but for your phone or lighter camera, this is all the tripod you need.
GPod Mini Magnetic Tripod (1.44 oz) $14.95
If you only need a little tripod, for handheld use, to secure your GoPro, mounted use on a bike or car, or tabletop use, the GPod Mini Magnetic is an even more compact tripod option. Featuring the same portability and flexibility as the original Gorillapod, the mini magnetic lets you attach your tripod to poles and uneven metal surfaces for some sweet angles.
I really like the way you can set these things up on the hood of your car without worrying about them falling off or being impossible to level. Perfect for capturing your next road trip.
Wiz Gear Cell Phone Tripod Adaptor (1.6 oz) $5.99
I’ve used this little clamp adaptor to attach my iPhone to mini tripods for about two years, and I’m still pleased with the results. The old adage, “the best camera is the one you’ve got” holds true time and time again, especially when that camera comes with a little tripod adaptor.
Attach this to any cheap mini tripod and you’re ready to shoot time lapse, smooth video, and long exposures in a heartbeat. The best travel photography gear can be as simple as a way to keep your phone steady.
The best part—it’s future proof. This adaptor adjusts to phones of all sizes, so you can upgrade your phone every year without fear.
Ultralight Camera Honorable Mention: Canon EOS Rebel SL1 (13 oz.) $499
At 13 oz, the Canon EOS Rebel SL1 is the only DSLR camera that even comes close to my arbitrary 6 oz limit, but it gets a mention anyway because it’s a great travel camera.
Yes, you’ll need a suite of lenses (which weigh more, thus not actually making the list), but this pocket DSLR really is a major step up in photographic quality that doesn’t add a lot of weight to your bag.
The Canon EOS Rebel line is particularly compact (perfect for one-handed photography), features a decent ISO range (100 – 12800), quick autofocus, one-touch video recording, a real viewfinder (a lot of travel cameras ditch this), built-in flash (which doubles as a remote port), and a touchscreen. The Canon is a do anything travel camera.
All for $499, including a few lenses to get you started. That’s epic.
Ultralight Travel Clothing
You are what you wear. Stay light on your feet with the best ultralight travel clothing.
Ultralight Travel Underwear
I just recently did the dirty work (gross) of personally reviewing the best travel underwear brands, and a winner emerged:
The fit was great, the material is top shelf, and they do all the things that travel underwear is supposed to to—dry quickly, wick…moisture, stretch, etc. However, the real reason these are the ultimate ultralight travel gear is because you don’t have to bring that many pairs. Stick with me here.
ExOfficio claims that you can wear this underwear for 6 straight weeks without ever changing them. Even if you cut that number in half and you’ve still got underwear that lasts for weeks. Pack two pairs of these bad boys and you’re all set.
Ultralight Travel Jacket
Outdoor Research Men’s Helium II Jacket (7.2 oz) $129+
I always knew jackets were heavy, but I didn’t realize how truly rare a high performance, ultralight travel jacket is until I went looking for a jacket under 6 oz. Even the lightest high-tech jackets usually weigh more than a pound, and if you’re want fleece lined or insulated, forget about it.
The Outdoor Research “Helium” jacket is as close to 6 ounces as you can realistically get, and it’s weird how light 6 ounces actually feels. It’s fully seam sealed, so it’s warm, cuts the wind, and is fully rain resistant. This jacket could work as an all-weather shell in the winter, or as your go-to jacket for the summer, spring, and fall.
Ultralight Travel Shoes
Tom’s Espadrilles (Classics) $10-$48
I love boat shoes, but sadly, they’re heavier than 6 oz. Tom’s shoes aren’t.
These espadrilles are lighter than air, can take a beating, and they’re stylish as heck. They don’t offer much support or shock absorption, but you can’t have everything in a shoe that packs flat, feels great, and costs about $10.
Ultralight Travel Shirt
Icebreaker Men’s Tech V-neck Merino Wool T-Shirt (5 oz.) $40+
Wool, especially merino wool, is a surprisingly light fabric, but more importantly it is borderline odor-proof. In ultralight packing terms, that means a single shirt will be wearable longer, meaning you can pack fewer of them. Fewer is good. Fewer is happiness.
Ultralight Backpacking & Camping Gear
Snow Peak LiteMax Stove Stoves (1.9 oz)
Snowpeak is the brand that many ultralight packers trust, and those guys are nuts. I could review gear for a century and not come close to their rabid ferocity. The LiteMax is the flagship ultralight camping stove ($59), but the GigaPower Steel Manual Stove costs a little less ($39) and is rated just as highly and only weighs a meager 3.5 oz. Your call.
LT4 Carbon Trekking Poles (4.6 oz each) — $103 (each)
Ok, so they technically add up to over 6 oz, but who cares? These are some of the lightest hiking poles you can find, thanks to the carbon fiber material, and while they’re more expensive than I typically recommend, I know the value of good lightweight trekking poles on a long hike. Oh, and did I mention that they float?
You better believe I’m taking these to Spain when I hike the Camino de Santiago (again) next year. My knees aren’t what they used to be.
I’m not a fan of headlamps (use a bike light instead), but this is one of the lightest pieces of gear you can carry—and it packs a wallop. Tiny (5cm), with excellent battery life (holds a charge for 10 years), it’s water resistant to 1m, and features an emergency beam visible for up to 300m.
The coolest part is the minimalist design features a wrist strap, if you hate wearing headlamps on your head (like I do). While it’s not the most powerful ultralight headlamp around, but it’s small, durable, and extremely affordable. The perfect flashlight for both your ultralight backpack and your post-apocalyptic bug out bag.
Miscellaneous Ultralight Travel Gear
Travel Towel Options
Microfiber towel, tech-towel, travel towel, whatever you call em, a reliable, fast-drying travel towel is worth…way more than its weight in gold (they’re light). Here are a few good options:
Sea to Summit Tek Towel (3.4 oz) $20 (S) $21.95 (M) $26.95 (L) $36.95 (XL)
I’ve been using a Sea to Summit Tek towel for so long, I’ve forgotten that all towels aren’t made this way. These things are fantastic. They dry quickly, pack small, and do the job. Nuff said.
Packtowl Ultralite Soft Travel Towel (3.1 oz.) $14.95 (S) $35 (M) $
Soft, light, and quick drying. A slightly more budget version of the Sea to Summit style travel towel.
Shandali Microfiber Light Weight Yoga Travel Towel (3.5 oz.) $6.95 (S) $12.95 (M)
This tek towel for yoga enthusiasts makes a great travel towel. They run a little smaller than other travel towels, so maybe not ideal for taller fellas or anyone worried about coverage, the sheer absorbency of a yoga towel (it holds 4x its weight in water) speaks volumes about its ability to dry you off.
Prospector Co. Compressed Towel Tablets — 6 pack (4 oz total) $5.95
Quirky? Yup. Useful? Maybe…
The idea of compressed towel tablets seems too good to be true, but these dishrag sized towels might be a perfect fit for long flights or short weekends. They’re not going to replace your main travel towel, but they’re a lightweight, interesting solution for quick use case scenarios that don’t justify lugging around an extra facial towel.
Field Notes Notebooks (3-pack) (4 oz) $10
Leave the ipad at home; it’s heavy, expensive, and you look like a jackass when you take pictures with it. Jot down your thoughts with a pencil and a notebook from Field Notes instead (they’re awesome btw).
“Why three notebooks instead of one?” I’m glad you asked.
Three small notebooks ultimately makes you more portable, not less. If you only have one bulky notepad, you’ll have to lug around all that unused pages (or already used pages). That sucks. By packing away unused notebooks deep in your bag, you keep your usable notebook handy and small. You know, pocket-sized.
Plus, if you’re gone for months, you can always mail your used notebooks home as little souvenirs for friends, family, or even yourself. Shipping a little notebook home is inexpensive, and you’ll love rediscovering it months later.
Lighter than a Moleskine, Field Notes, has a ton of notebook options, from sketchbooks to graph paper lined books, calendars, and lined notebooks. They even have a Flight Log notebook so you can track every detail of your travels.
Vapur Element Collapsible Water Bottle (3.2 oz.) $10
Water bottles, like Nalgene bottles, are amazing. But they take up a lot of space. Invest in a high quality water bottle that you can crumple into a tiny ball when you’re not using it. Seriously, there’s nothing like packing your water bottle flat when you’re done with it. It’s a huge space saver.
Godiva 2-in-1 Shampoo Bar (1.9 oz.) $12.95
I’ve written extensively about TSA approved lightweight toiletries before, but this little scrubbing bar deserves some attention.
The Godiva shampoo bar from LUSH is packed with moisturizing oils and shea butter to clean and condition your hair at the same time. What’s great is that it’s tiny, TSA approved, and according to travel superstar Jessie Fiesta, from Jessie on a Journey, “One bar…lasted for three months.” That’s a heck of a ultralight travel gear hack.
Dream Essentials Sweet Dreams Black Eye Mask (1.6 oz.) $10)
I close with the final, and most essential piece of lightweight gear in your bag: an eye mask.
Nothing is more vital to your trip than getting a good night’s sleep. Nothing. Sleep like a baby on crowded busses, bright hostels, busy flights, and just about anywhere with this contoured eye mask that seals out light while staying off your actual eyes (finally).
Tortuga writer, Jessie Beck, brought these to my attention in her recent “Essential Flight Gear Buyer’s Guide.” Check it out. It’s full of even more great (ultralight) travel gear for your next trip.
Ultralight carry on packing isn’t that hard. You just have to get the right gear.
Pack items under 6 ounces and you’ll be able to fit everything you need in one easy to carry backpack.
- Seagate’s 2TB external HD is amazing
- Field Notes notebooks make great postcards
- The best travel underwear is a pair that goes the distance
- Canon makes a mean point and shoot camera
- Ditch the laptop if you can
- A 10400mAH portable battery charger has more than enough charges
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