Whether you pack for a two-week vacation or a year-long backpacking trip around the world, you don’t need more than carry-on luggage. How would I know? I have done it all – from giant suitcases and 70-litre backpacks to full-time carry-on travel for the past 7+ years. All my learnings are in this guide – from practical tips to travelling light to the ultimate carry-on packing list for men. Join me and experience the freedom of minimalist travel.
If you’re female, head over to our carry-on packing list for women, where Sandra shares her learnings from over 7+ years of carry-on only travel. And if you love to go for a run while travelling, we also have a running gear packing list for you.
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By the way, this article prepares you for travel in any season and any weather. If your trip takes you into the Tropics, you may not need a down vest or extra-warm hoodie. Likewise, if you go skiing in Canada, you may need a few extra layers (but may want to leave your sandals and swimwear at home). Use common sense, and check the weather at your destination if unsure.
Luggage and Organisation
If you don’t have carry-on luggage yet, check out our guide to find the carry-on travel pack that’s right for you. Below are the luggage and organisational items I currently carry with me, or – if an item is no longer manufactured and available for sale – what I would purchase if I had to replace it today.
Travel Pack / Packing Cubes
I started our minimalist journey with a Tortuga V2 travel pack which lasted almost seven years – fraying seams ended up being its demise. When it came to replacing it, I had a look at the new Tortuga models (materials and manufacturing of lightweight carry-on travel packs has improved significantly since my first travel pack was made), but in the end, the Matador GlobeRider45 Travel Backpack best met my needs.
To maximise the use of space in my travel pack, I purchased the packing cubes specifically designed to fit the Tortuga V2. They are still going strong and also fit into my Matador travel pack. However, if I had to replace them today I would go with the Matador packing cube set.
Sandra and I share a daypack, and we’ve always travelled with one that is ultralight and packable. We use it as a personal item on the plane, as a daypack on hikes and around the city, and to carry our technical gear when we work in a library or cafe. We even carry heavy groceries in it from time to time, supplementing our Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Shopping Bag (also shared).
We initially purchased a Tortuga daypack in 2016. It got a lot of use, but the seams needed to be stitched up over and over. A year later, we purchased the Matador Daylite 16 (no longer manufactured), which lasted about two years. This time, the main compartment zipper was the weak point. As we liked the ultra-lightweight, yet durable material, we stayed with Matador – purchasing the Matador Freerain24 (also no longer manufactured). Serving us well for four years, in the end, its mesh side pockets started to disintegrate.
You need something to store your cash and cards. I usually only carry notes, two cards (my driver’s licence and a credit card) and a few business cards (you never know who you’re bumping into). Sandra carries a coin purse, so I don’t need to worry about change. For that reason, my wallet doesn’t need to be huge.
My first minimalist wallet, the Dash RFID 4.0, lasted six years. Unfortunately, I have not been able to source a sustainability policy statement from the manufacturer of the Dash Wallet. So, when it came to replacing it, I looked for a completely different brand and ended up with the Corkor Minimalist Credit Card Wallet (Cards Sleeve). I’ve had it now for a year, and am very happy with it.
I only own three pairs of footwear, and the ones I’m not wearing go into my travel pack. Especially my running shoes get smelly, so I wanted to have a bag specifically for my shoes. I’m a US size 12, and all lightweight shoe bags I looked at were too small. I ended up buying a packing cube instead: the Osprey Ultralight Large Packing Cube, which fits my running shoes and sandals perfectly.
I use my waterproof stuff sack mostly to store dirty laundry, but also on occasion to (temporarily) store wet clothes and as extra protection for our valuables in pouring rain – just to be on the safe side.
Reviewing the manufacturers
Since 2019, I’ve not only reviewed the most suitable gear that meets our needs and stands the test of time, but I’ve also considered how eco-friendly and ethically a product was made. If I don’t replace an item with a more eco-friendly or ethically sourced one, I include the reason. I have also linked to organisations that have reviewed the sourcing practices of the manufacturers of our gear.
My clothes are predominantly made of merino wool. I’ve driven past the green fields in Australia and New Zealand where the sheep graze and the wool is grown, and I feel good about buying my items from companies that embrace sustainability.
Below are the clothes I currently wear on my travels (no matter the location or climate), or – if they are no longer manufactured and available for sale – what I plan to replace them with when they’ve reached their end of life.
How many pairs of underwear do you think you need? We travel with seven pairs each. This way, we only need to wash once a week.
- I wore ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs for the first 5 years of our minimalist journey. I had chosen ExOfficio based on overwhelmingly positive reviews on various travel forums, and I was very happy with them. While the ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer Briefs were very comfortable, when it came to replacing them, I was looking for a bit more support and my preferred material: merino.
- After trialling a pair of Unbound Merino Boxer Briefs in May 2021, I was hooked. These briefs are very supportive around the entire frame and down the legs, allowing movement while still keeping things in place (you can read my full review here). I’ve now worn Unbound Merino Boxer Briefs for several years and couldn’t be happier.
According to Men’s Health, 31% of Americans sleep fully clothed and 52% partially clothed. While I’m not American, I belong to the majority. I sleep in a pair of Mitch Dowd Mens Bamboo Sleep Short year-round.
Swimwear is like a jacket – the good ones last for years. I bought my Maki del Caribe boardshorts from a shop in the Dominican Republic in 2012, and they’ve still got a few years in them. I can’t find them online, so if I had to replace them today, I would purchase the Patagonia Hydropeak Boardshorts.
I only own three pairs of socks (not including my running socks). As I replace them annually, I’ve had the opportunity to test a lot of different brands and models, from Icebreaker and Macpac to Unbound Merino, Smartwool and now Fox River. Out of the bunch, I like the Smartwool and Fox River socks the most.
Layering (especially with merino garments) allows you to travel light in any season. My current layers are:
- T-Shirts: I travel with three t-shirts, all are Unbound Merino Crew Neck T-Shirts, which are 100% Merino. I can wear each of them three to four days in a row without smelling, even in tropical climate. No cotton or polyester shirt would last that long. I have worn Icebreaker, Macpac and even Allbirds over the years (yes, they don’t only make shoes), but Unbound Merino t-shirts (with merino wool sourced from Australia) are hands-down the best quality t-shirts I’ve come across to date.
- Hoodie: After years wearing merino hoddies and zipper jackets from Icebreaker and Macpac (and experiencing increasing prices but deteriorating quality), I purchased the Unbound Merino Compact Travel Hoodie. Given my pants are all black (more on that below), I chose Sahara as a colour.
- Down Vest: I used to travel with an Unbound Merino Men’s Merino Tank Top and an Unbound Merino Long Sleeve Crew Shirt (in addition to my t-shirts and hoodie/zipper jacket) but found that was too warm for me. So, now I wear an additional outler layer instead on cold days. My down vest is ultra-light and fits into a little sack not much larger than my hand.
- Rain Jacket: Given this was to be my only jacket, it had to be ultra-light, breathable, durable, come with adjustable cuffs and look stylish. After quite a bit of research, I settled on the Marmot Nano AS Jacket, which lasted over three years (though it did require treatment with waterproofing spray to maintain its water-repellent properties every now and then). For the past four years, I’ve worn a Marmot Eclipse Jacket. The jacket is no longer manufactured. If I had to replace it today, I would purchase the Patagonia Men’s Torrentshell 3L Rain Jacket. It has the same waterproofness as the Marmot Eclipse (20,000mm) and almost identical weight (400g).
Some people like to wear pants with zip half legs, I don’t. I travel with two long pants and two pairs of shorts – all black so that my wardrobe matches: black pants with a coloured top:
- Shorts: I have two pairs of black Columbia Silver Ridge Cargo Shorts, purchased in September 2017. I had used the same model in a lighter colour when I travelled around the Americas in our first year of full-time travel, but over time, they showed stains despite regular washing – hence the swap to black ones.
- Long Pants: I wear shorts as much as I can, but for colder days, I have two lightweight pairs of long pants. I wore the same two Columbia Mens Silver Ridge Utility Pants for six years. They are very durable yet look smart enough to wear on date nights and formal occasions (including weddings). That said, when it came to replacing them, I swapped to Patagonia Men’s Quandary Pants which look even better.
Head, Neck and Hand Protection
I’m not one to cover up my head unless it is really sunny or really cold. The two headgear items I have, cover all eventualities:
- Buff Merino Lightweight Neckwear during summer, especially when I’m out hiking. I also use it as a neck warmer in winter.
- Icebreaker Unisex Merino Pocket Beanie in winter and during my morning runs whenever it gets below 6 degrees Celsius. It keeps my head nice and toasty but lets the moisture out.
On really cold days, I also wear my Smartwool Liner Gloves.
A good pair of shoes can improve your quality of life, prevent injuries and support bone and muscle growth. So, don’t skimp on shoes (quality, that is, not quantity). I only own three pairs of shoes – hiking shoes, sandals and running shoes (which are included in my running gear packing list):
- Hiking shoes: The first few years of our life on the road, I wore Salomon X Ultra LTR GTX (three pairs in 4 years). In 2021, as I swapped to minimalist running, I also changed to minimalist hiking shoes (or boots to be more precise), the Xero Shoes Xcursion Fusion. I went with the boots as these were the only waterproof Xero Shoes at the time. As Xero Shoes added new waterproof models, and I prefer hiking shoes over boots, I replaced the Xcursion Fusion with the Xero Shoes Mesa Trail WP in 2023.
- Sandals: In addition to my shoes, I needed a pair of footwear for warmer climates (and the beach) and to protect my feet from athlete’s foot when using communal showers. I was looking for something lightweight yet durable and initially purchased the Xero Shoes Aqua Cloud sandals. They were minimalist, but I ended up constantly (re-)adjusting the straps. Still, I liked the concept of the Xero Shoes footwear and replaced the Aqua Cloud with Xero Shoes Z-Trek sandals in September 2017 – which I still wear today.
My technology list covers non-business items – items a normal traveller would carry on a longer trip. All of our technology items are best of breed for our purposes. If you’re after technology and tools we use and recommend for digital nomads, check out our resources for small (remote) businesses.
I wear my headphones (almost) every day, listening to podcasts and audio books on airplanes, trains and buses but also on my morning runs. My headphones are the Jabra Elite 7 Pro. They weren’t cheap but included several features I was looking for:
- Waterproof (including a warranty against sweat damage);
- Long-lasting battery (more than four hours of playtime, coupled with a portable charging case);
- Microphone (so that I can also use them on calls); and
- Fit my ears while I run (they come with 8 different-sized covers, ensuring a snug fit).
In our first year of full-time travel we carried a strong yet ultra-light flashlight. We sold it as we didn’t use it (often enough), only to realise that we actually did need a (hands-free) light (on multi-day hikes, in dimly lit caves, etc). Thus, each of us is now travelling with a Nitecore NU25 400L Headlamp.
Apart from a Coconut Matter Deodorant, I carry
- a Merkur 46C Travel Safety Razor and shaving soap (which I keep in my Matador Flatpak™ Soap Bar Case);
- a Groom Mate Platinum XL Plus Nose Hair Trimmer (which I also use to trim unruly eyebrows);
- a bamboo toothbrush (which is protected by a Matador Toothbrush Cap made from silicone) and toothpaste; as well as
I always stay within the 100ml allowance for carry-on (obviously), and use zero waste products where possible. I keep my toiletries in a small Sea To Summit Travelling Light Hanging Toiletry Bag.
Apart from our (shared) Klean Kanteen Wide Water Bottle, my Hammamas Towel, my Rudy Project Rydon Sunglasses and my UCO Titanium Spork, I also carry: our (shared) first aid kit, a travel clothes line, a reusable face mask and two Samsonite TSA 3-Dial Cable luggage locks (for the rare occasion I do need to check in my travel pack).
Minimalist Travel Wardrobe and Carry-On Packing List Summary
If that was a lot to take in, don’t worry, I’ve collated all of it into the list below. In addition to below, I also travel with
- my running gear for travellers – not everyone runs, so it was not appropriate to list them here; and
- technology gear I use as digital nomad – again, not everyone travels with a laptop or drone.
If you’re neither a runner nor a digital nomad, you’ve got even more space in your travel pack.
Do you travel with carry-on luggage only?
What would you include in a carry-on only packing list (that I didn't)? If you have any thoughts/suggestions, please feel free to contact me. If you found my packing list helpful, please share it with your friends and family via the Share buttons below. Even better, link to this post from your personal blog or social media platforms.