The Ultimate Minimalist Travel Gear List

Alright, “The Ultimate” Minimalist Travel Gear is relative. Even my gear list and Franklin’s gear list are different. My pack is not as small or light as some people’s. But this is my “ultimate” list. For now. I call it…

The Ultimate Digital Nomad Graphic Designer on the Run From The Law Gear List.

This post has been long overdue. We’re nerds about minimalist travel gear and haven’t chimed in much since our highly lauded Gear Post of 2013. Our travel gear needs and preferences have evolved since then, but we’ve held on to the core philosophy: the lighter the better.

My gear list is not exactly optimized toward the lightest, smallest possible scenario, as I’ve made some compromises to suit my needs more ideally. Also, it should be admitted, right up front, here and now, that neither of us are still at the 20 Liter Life level, our bags are closer to 25 (Franklin’s) and 30 (mine). There it is, it’s out in the open: we’re hypocrites. Hopefully the movement will persist.

electronic-gear-1.1

ELECTRONIC GEAR

MacBook Pro: For various reasons I switched from my Acer Aspire netbook to a MBP a while ago. Computers aren’t even worth delving into here; what you and I need is probably totally different. But as far as minimalist travel needs go, the Lenovo Lavi is looking pretty awesome. Solid machine that is apparently freakishly light. The only real concern is battery life, which doesn’t seem to be so bad as to be a deal breaker. I’ve definitely been tempted. If you’re looking to minimize weight, it’s definitely worth checking out.

ASUS MB168B+ External Portable Monitor: This is kind of an absurd thing for a “minimalist” traveler to carry. For a few reasons, this thing was a sweet find for me. As an (aspiring) graphic designer, this is really helpful for a lot of the work and training courses that I take. As most designers can relate to, I’m accustomed to a spacious amount of screen real estate on my home set up, so it actually is a pretty restricting change to try to do all of my work on a laptop screen. This monitor is as thin as my iPhone, weighs very little, and runs off one USB port. Not much of a burden in order to more than double my screen real estate on the road. Design nerds rejoice.

Sony RX100 Cybershot Camera: This bad boy has remained trusty over the last few years. It takes remarkably better pictures than even the best smartphones are taking these days. If you want to take more professional looking photos (better depth of field, much better performance in low light situations, really brilliant color range, and almost all the custom settings of a DSLR), and you’re trying to travel light, I still think this camera is a great call. The Mark III is out now and it’s gotten a bit better with each model. However, in the spirit of minimalism, smartphone cameras are getting pretty damn good and if photos are more just for memories sake, there’s no reason to carry an extra camera anymore.

Kindle Keyboard 3G: For obvious reasons, a kindle is a no-brainer for minimalist travel (if you’re planning on reading, which I am… Voraciously). There’s no sense in bringing physical books. Additionally, I got this particular version of the kindle because it’s the only one that comes with free 3G anywhere in the world (where there is 3G connection). This has become less important now that we pretty much always have a local SIM, but it’s nice to have as a backup. Some people read on their phones, but I can’t get into it.

Kindle Case: I got this a while ago and I don’t think it’s even on Amazon anymore. My first kindle’s screen cracked while inside the standard-issue leather Kindle case, so I got this, more protective one. I’m not thrilled about how big it is, but I don’t want another broken kindle.

Electronics Accessories Case: This actually came with my headphones, and it ended up being a nice size to carry a few knick-knacks. I throw my camera batteries, USB drive (see next), and SD cards in here.

SanDisk Ultra Fit 128GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive: Data storage is getting cheaper and cheaper, and I’m pretty excited about this change to my gear list from a few years ago. I’m kind of OCD about my data organization, and I carried a 1TB external hard drive with me last time around. I realized that I didn’t need that much storage and was surprised to find tiny USB drives for just over $30 on Amazon. This is such a negligible amount of space and allows me to back up my photos, video, and work stuff. Cloud storage is obviously the most minimal and probably safest solution, but I haven’t found a plan that works quite right for my situation yet. It can also be tough to sync big loads of data while traveling in countries with shitty internet.

iPhone 6S: Although I will have the cellular receiver turned off, it’s nice to have my “back-home” phone with me to use iMessage and other apps that I’m accustomed to having in my life. It’s a bit excessive for me to have two phones, but since they’re always in my pockets and not in my backpack, I figure I’m not damning my pack for no reason.

LG G3: Shout out to Jack for donating his old, unlocked phone to the cause. Whether your main phone is unlocked or you have dual SIM, having a LOCAL phone while traveling has become easy, cheap, and totally worth the effort. Even in the last few years local SIMs with great data packages have become cheaper and easier to set up. The era is here where we can travel the world and remain connected. No more seeking out shitty wifi at cafes that you don’t really want to go to… Although… Did you say air con? Okay, I’m in.

Brainwavz Delta IEM Earphones: I had some nicer headphones (these) that were recommended by my audiophile friend Barry, and they were great, but I lost them in London and couldn’t bring myself to spend $100 on new ones. I did some quick research and found these very highly rated, really cheap headphones. They’re fine for me and won’t be a big loss if I lose them. See Franklin’s list for better in-ear monitors.

Logitec Mouse: Unnecessary for almost everyone, but if you’re a designer, filmmaker, photographer, etc. having a mouse can be really helpful for work. I brought my drawing tablet with me to Peru, but couldn’t justify continuing to travel with it.

Kikkerland Universal Power Adapter: This little thing claims to adapt virtually every power source to every power outlet. Most devices accept a range of voltage, so conversion isn’t necessary. Been using this for years and wouldn’t go anywhere without it.

Anker Portable Charger: This strikes me as something that will be old and funny when all of our electronics are charged by invisible robots and satellites, but in the meanwhile, it’s nice to have an extra charge on the road. We’re both happy with the quality of these Anker units. I almost went for the bigger one, but I figured as long as I’m responsible about keeping it charged, I’m almost never going to need a bigger recharge than this one.
Cables: Nothing special. iPhone lightning cable and Micro USB cable.

minimalist travel gear clothing merino wool

CLOTHING

Marmot Windbreaker: I don’t know what the exact model is, but I got this light jacket at Adventure 16 in Los Angeles three years ago and it’s been great. I’m mostly traveling in warm climates, but this jacket protects really well against wind and holds up pretty decently against rain. It was all I needed in February in Armenia which dipped down into the 30’s F / Near-Zero C. It has a fleece lining on the inside, so it provides more insulation than most minimal windbreakers/rain shells. Also, It packs up into a packing cube that’s the same size as my toiletries bag. Franklin is way better prepared to face rain than I am, but I haven’t found myself at much of a loss thus far.

Ice Breaker T-Shirts: Merino Wool is the sacred fabric of minimalist travelers the world over. If you’re into this stuff at all, you’re probably already covered head-to-toe in overpriced, superiority-inducing, ultra-outdoor-performance clothing. So are we. But the shit is magic, for real. We’ve been using Icebreaker and Smartwool T-shirts for a while, and the anti-microbial, non-smelling, sweat-wicking, fast-drying, stuff of legend actually holds up. If you’re traveling with only a few items of clothing, this stuff is the way to go.

Wool & Prince Shirt: Yes, we’re obsessed with wool, I know. But seriously, it’s the only way to go. I’m really impressed with the quality and performance attributes of this shirt. I wore it out to a club in Peru, sweat through it thoroughly, and the next day it hardly smelled at all. It never seems to get or stay wrinkled. I find it a tiny bit itchy at times, but not enough to bother me. These shirts aren’t cheap, but when you have one shirt it’s worth it to get a high quality one.

ExOfficio Give-and-Go Boxer Briefs: Although Merino wool is the sacred fabric of minimalist travelers, these are not merino, but they purport to accomplish the same thing and I can attest that they do. ExOfficio is a good travel-clothing brand, and these are half the price of Ice Breaker underwear, so I decided to give them a shot alongside the woolies, and ended up liking them better, both in fit and performance.

Icebreaker Socks: Same wool, different body part. Fantastic. Comfortable, durable, anti-microbial, insulated, fast-drying. All around the ultimate sock, even if you aren’t traveling.

ExOfficio Insect Shield Bandana: I wanted a bandana because… Bandanas are awesome? This one has insect repellent in the fabric, which, in parts of the world where insects are bothersome, can be helpful. Also nice for motorbike rides and bank heists.

ExOfficio Nomad Shorts: I have one pair of shorts, so they need to be functional (lightweight, quick dry, good pockets) but not completely dorky or prohibitively bulky. You’d be surprised how hard that is to find, but ExOfficio nailed it with these. Two zipper pockets (five total pockets), pretty not-dorky looking, and functional material. Great find. I’ve been wearing these for years and have not considered switching. They’re in great shape after 3 years of hard wear.

H&M Slacks: Nothing about these is particularly special. They are plain, cheap, dark blue pants that I’ve had for a while. I figured I’d want something to wear if I didn’t want to look like a total dork Indiana jones wannabe. They pack pretty small, but I usually wear them when I travel from place to place.

Casio Illuminator Watch: Cause you need to have a sick retro gold watch when you travel and then get it stolen by some evil airport security woman in Yerevan… Anyway. Watches are nice to have and the Casio Illuminator is the best one on earth.

The North Face Adventure Hat: This hat is not North Face. I bought it for $5 in Ollantaytambo, Peru when the sun was annihilating me. We think it looks pretty hilarious, and it keeps me from getting skin cancer (maybe?), so… welcome to the team knockoff North Face.

Lems Primal 2: These shoes are great. One of my goals this year has been to go on runs a few times a week, so I needed to have some shoes that I felt comfortable running in, but that pack small. Lems Primal 2’s are minimalist (no rise, no arch, etc.) and they pack down really small when I crush/sandwich them together. They are great all-around shoes for walking, running, and hiking; really comfortable and seem to show very little wear after using them heartily for several months. I will definitely get another pair of these down the line. Their customer service has also been really awesome.

Vivobarefoot Prontos: I can’t tell you how much I’ve searched for decent looking, minimalist shoes. I wanted to have something a little more formal than sneakers, but that I could also wear everyday out and about. Something durable and rugged, but still fashionable. So far I really like these Prontos. They’re pretty expensive (about $300 regularly), but I found them on-sale through Vivobarefoot for $150 and decided to snatch them up. I’m really pleased so far. I’ll do a review after some months to see how they’ve held up.

So yeah, two pairs of shoes. That’s definitely a bit of a compromise to my minimalism. But for my lifestyle purposes, I deemed both of them necessary, and I made it work. I always travel with the Pronto’s, and crush down the Lem’s into my backpack.

Minimalist travel pack list

MISCELLANEOUS TRAVEL GEAR

Eagle Creek Toiletries Bag: This Eagle Creek case is actually just a 1/4 packing cube, but I use it as a toiletries case. Nothing too interesting inside, except…

Wahl Compact Travel Trimmer: Learned about this from Tynan and felt dumb for not having researched it myself. I don’t like shaving with razors and have become accustomed to using a beard-trimmer at home. This thing is tiny and has been working great for me on the road. It’s like $10 on Amazon and takes a single AA battery. Done deal.

FIXR Multi-tool: These guys sent me one of these to try out and it’s pretty damn cool. It’s attracted the eye of a couple airport security check-points, but never to any serious degree and it has made it’s way through every time. It claims to have 20 tools in one: Quick Release Clip, Bottle Opener, Nail Cleaner, Large Flat Screwdriver, Medium Flat Screwdriver, Small Flat Eyeglass Screwdriver, Medium Phillips Screwdriver, Small Phillips Screwdriver, 14mm Spanner/Wrench, 12mm Spanner/Wrench, 10mm Spanner/Wrench, 8mm Spanner/Wrench, 6mm Spanner/Wrench, Bicycle Spoke Wrench, Razor Sharp Cutting Blade, Wire Stripper, Measuring Ruler, Box Opener, Pry Bar, and File. To be honest, I rarely use it, but it’s one of the MacGyver things that are just great to have when you do need it.

Luggage Lock: I used to have a big-ass padlock (for hostel lockers or whatever), but honestly it was unnecessary. I carry this small one just cause it’s tiny, doesn’t get in the way, and comes in handy every now and then. I could take it or leave it.

Bucky 40 Ultralight Eyemask: For planes, trains, and hostels, a sleep mask is a damn fine item to bring on the road. I use this all the time and it’s lasted for years. I also got some…

Hearos Extreme Protection ear plugs for the same reasons. Both cheap on Amazon and take up relatively no space.

PackTowl Travel Towel (Large): Another no-brainer. It’s either one of these or no towel at all. These towels absorb tons more water than their own weight and dry impressively quickly. I got the Large so it could double as a towel to sit on at the beach, but you could go smaller to save space.

Passport: You need one of these to do this type of stuff.

Travel Tea Set: (Tynan fanboy alert.) This thing is both really awesome and really superfluous. I love tea and enjoy the process of brewing high quality stuff myself, so I brought this along with some loose leaf Genmaicha green tea. It’s been cool on airplanes and in apartments where we have the ability to boil water. In a place like India, though, it’s just sat in my bag taking up space. Not sure I can recommend this to any sane minimalist traveler, but if you can’t go without tea, this is for you.

Vapur Element .7L Water Bottle: It folds/rolls up to fit just about anywhere when it’s empty. Some places we travel don’t have drinkable faucet water so it’ll be good to be able to carry some extra drinkable water wherever we go.

Black Diamond Headlamp: This was an unintentionally perfect Christmas gift from my grandfather. For flashlight snobs this might not be powerful enough, but it’s plenty bright for me and it straps around your head, which is useful. A flashlight is a must, so this just happened to work out perfectly.

Muji Notebooks: In true minimalism spirit, all writing can be done on the computer. But I have a bizarre productivity and habit-tracking matrix that I’ve grown addicted to, and I also like to journal by hand. I really love the size and quality of these Muji notebooks that I found on Amazon.

Eagle Creek Wallet: This thing has held up perfectly over three years of daily use. It’s basic, water resistant, durable, and ladies love it.

Incase EO 17 Travel Backpack: I bought this on a lark after checking out my friend’s at work last year. The main feature that was appealing to me was that the computer pocket in the back could easily fit my computer as well as my portable monitor, which most backpacks couldn’t. I was also impressed by the suitcase-style, fold open main compartment. Overall, it’s not perfect. Organizationally it doesn’t compare to my previous bag, the Tom Bihn Synapse 25. The big front pocket is a little bit of a bottomless pit. The suitcase style main compartment isn’t that big, unless you unzip the expandable zipper, which makes the back too big and unwieldy for my taste. But it seems to be of relatively sturdy quality, doesn’t look stupid, and has suited my technological needs quite nicely. I’ll review this more thoroughly at a later time.

Minimalist Backpack Incase EO 17

Not pictured/not mentioned minimal travel gear: Camera Batteries, camera case, belt, Invisalign case and retainers (sup ladies?), laptop charger, pens.

7 Reactions

  1. Stephen

    Great gear post, Vince! Thanks for taking the time to share your new setup.

    If you absolutely need a second monitor, I have a suggestion that I highly recommend and have found handy in the past. You can use an iPad and an app called Duet Display to accomplish the same thing. There are many benefits to this:

    1. You will have a backup device/computer should something happen to your MacBook.
    2. Your external monitor will not only function as a panel but as a second fully functioning computer.
    3. You will have additional space for file storage (with the help of 3rd party Mac software) or could even replace your SanDisk flash drive.
    4. If you value less clutter and are okay not traveling with an electrophoretic display, you could nix the Kindle and use the iPad as your e-reader. This should shave weight and would be one less item to carry around.

    I’m not sure how much you paid for the monitor, but you can find a used iPad for cheaper than a new MB168B+. Hell, I suppose you could also find a used travel monitor to bring that price point down as well.

    Best of luck to you and Franklin on your continued travels!

    • Vince

      Hey Stephen,

      Thanks for the insights. I’ll probably not travel with an additional monitor much in the future, but you make some great points. This was more of a nerd experiment.

      If you do some traveling with that setup, send some pics!

      Vince

  2. Nathan

    Really awe inspiring,

    I can only imagine how freeing it must be for being so light on your feet. Anything you wish you had that you don’t or would’ve done differently with this list?

    • Vince

      Hi Nathan, thanks for the comment.

      I can’t really think of anything I wish I had that I didn’t. There some things that I could eliminate (see response to Marcus’s snarky comment below).

      I probably won’t travel with the external monitor anymore. But overall, this gear list treated me pretty well over the course of 10 months, 5 continents, and a lot of running around.

      Vince

  3. Marcus

    Hi, can you please explain how carrying a point and shoot camera in this day in age in addition to TWO smart phones with good cameras in addition to a Kindle when you can get the Kindle app on both smart phones in addition to a mouse when you have a track pad – is minimalist? This is of course ignoring the MONITOR you carry. Minimalist how? How minimalist? Please explain. Cheers, Marcus

    • Vince

      Hi Marcus, thanks for the comment. I would say that, to me, the minimalism spectrum is relative. How can I justify bringing TWO shirts when I COULD survive with one? Well, we make concessions with respects to comfort, convenience, and utility. I try to make decisions based on the tradeoff between utility and added weight/volume. But as I said in this post: “My gear list is not exactly optimized toward the lightest, smallest possible scenario, as I’ve made some compromises to suit my needs more ideally.”

      To address your specific gear points:

      I’m the first to admit that two smart phones is not optimal. But they account for such a small amount of weight and volume, that it’s not a very big swing either way with respects to “minimalism.” The LG was given to me for free and it makes for a good SIM-switching local phone (my iPhone is not unlocked). The iPhone is my permanent phone in Los Angeles so there are certain things I’ve become accustomed to using it for that are convenient. It’s also a good backup camera (the LG’s camera is awful).

      The camera – The Sony RX100 takes significantly better photos and video than either of the smartphones. I bought this camera a few years ago, when the difference between its photos and my camera phone were even greater, but the quality difference is still big enough to warrant its use over a camera phone. This blog wouldn’t have the same level of photography if I hadn’t used this camera. And it’s pretty damn small for what it brings to the table. The new iPhone 7 takes really great photos, so i think we’re getting to a place where carrying anything besides your smart phone won’t be necessary unless you’re really shooting high-level shit.

      But bottom line: two phones AND a camera sounds crazy, but they can all fit in my pockets. So it’s not like I’m dragging around a Pelican case full of camera gear.

      The Kindle – I lost my Kindle for a while and was using the Kindle app on my LG and it was fine. But the reading experience is noticeably better on the kindle for me. Also the Kindle Keyboard 3G is a nice emergency internet backup if you don’t have a local SIM. Pretty small and light.

      The mouse – I’m a graphic designer so my work efficiency plummets if I’m using the trackpad. It also gives me repetitive stress injury. So I need the mouse. Let me have the damn mouse.

      The Monitor – Obviously this is fucking overkill. Not sure if you read my post, but I even said: “This is kind of an absurd thing for a ‘minimalist’ traveler to carry.” But I decided to experiment with traveling with this because I much prefer working with more screen real estate. I also do some online classes that basically require a dual monitor setup. I wouldn’t have been able to do those without this. I’ll probably leave it at home for my next trip, but it was nice to have at times. It’s literally the same width as an iPhone and weighs very little.

      So how is this all minimalist? Well, I traveled for 10 months out of a backpack that fits under the seat in front of me on an airplane. I never checked a bag. I can pack in 10 minutes. I had a lot of the conveniences and gear of a home working setup, so I was able to work on the road. I would say – relative to most people – that’s fairly minimalist.

      Hope that helps clear up your questions.

      Safe travels,

      Vince

  4. John from LifetimeTrek.com

    Hey great list and pictures! I travel everywhere with just a small backpack like you guys. I’ll never go back, the benefits are just too great. Especially with technology today, you can carry so little.

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