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I would have forgotten about my promise to post this in November if it wasn't for, well, everyone else very tactfully reminding me that I said I'd do it. The timing works, though. My bag is packed for a two month trip that will bring me to thirteen countries by plane, train, car, ship, and even bicycle. I'll be traveling with friends and solo, and will be staying with friends, in hotels, and in AirBnbs. Weather will range from warm and sunny to snowy. In other words-- I'm packed for everything.
Despite being ready for whatever, my bag is extremely light. I keep flirting with my arbitrary ten pound goal, but never quite make it. Last time I checked I was at ten pounds and four ounces. Having such a small and light bag is what enables me to move quickly with minimal preparation. It's critical that I can comfortably carry everything with me in any situation. Even if I have a full day in a city with no hotel, I shouldn't be limited in activity.
If you're new to my gear post, every year I post a full inventory of the items I carry on the road. I've been doing this consistently for eight years and have influenced most other nomads who post gear posts. I'm always trying to strike the perfect balance between agility, preparedness, and adaptability. It's not enough to have everything and to be able to carry it, my gear must be able to span short trips, long trips, formal trips, casual trips, cold trips, and warm trips.
This year I am going to talk a little bit more about how I make gear decisions and provide some alternate choices where they make sense. As I've traveled more and seen investments in expensive gear pay off, I'm more willing to spend lots of money on gear I know will last. However, if you're on a budget or just don't travel as much, you might not get as much utility from the gear as I do. I'm also making an effort to use gear than anyone can buy (unlike the mythical Versace Wool Jeans of years past that are impossible to find). I believe that there is only one item this year that is impossible to get, and one more that requires a trip to Japan.
For those of you who were linked here, or who are new to my blog this year, every year I write a gear post which contains every single item I travel with. Despite being minimal, the set of gear is fully functional, allowing me to be comfortable and productive everywhere from the tropical beaches of the Caribbean to the ski mountains of Tahoe.
This year I thought I'd start off by sharing some of the principles behind my gear selection. You can use these principles to guide your own gear search, or simply to evaluate whether my choices match your own needs.
The overriding priority in my search is functionality. I will always choose function over form, even if the difference in form is large and the difference in function is minor. I've simply found that my productivity is not improved when a device I use is prettier, and that my enjoyment of travel is not affected by the style of my clothing. This is why my clothes tend not to be from mainstream brands and why Apple products very rarely make it to my gear list.
Functionality may be my overriding priority, but size and weight are close. Unlike fashion, I have found that having a lighter pack allows me more flexibility and enjoyment. There's a huge difference between having to check in to a hotel to drop off luggage and being able to go straight from a train to a mountain to climb. I also really like stretching out layovers to be a half or full day instead of two hours, so having a light pack allows me to do whatever I want without having to find somewhere to leave my luggage.
Our original gear list has changed. We've added a few gems and have also dumped some poor performing or no longer useful stuff.
Stuff that hit the trash can.
This year's gear post isn't all that different from last year's (can you guess why?) but there are enough new cool things that I think it's worth doing one. Hopefully travel becomes a little more normal in 2021 and I have the opportunity to test out some more gear.
Wool and Prince Button Down
I've talked about this button down for who knows how many years now, and I still love it just as much. I still haven't replaced the shirt that I bought two years ago, though a lack of travel this year definitely contributed to not needing to replace it.
Merry Christmas! As seems to be my pattern lately I keep pushing the gear post later and later. Sorry about that! It happens because I get excited about gear and always end up testing a bunch of things right near the end.
One thing I'm very excited about this year is that I was able to merge several items and have fewer overall. My shorts and bathing suit are now one and the same, and several items got merged into one.
Without further ado:
Wool and Prince Button Down
At last! I'm going to start this gear post with a promise, since everyone's been so patient: the 2016 Gear Post will be out on or before the Monday following Thanksgiving of 2015.
The bad news is that I fear my gear posts are going to slowly become more boring over time. While my main goal is to have the very best gear to travel with, my secondary goal is to have as little of it as possible. At this point my backpack is half empty, and a handful of items are being eyed for removal for next year.
But that's the great thing about great gear. It fulfills a need so wholly that nothing else is needed to share the burden. And, in some cases, like clothing, the gear is of such quality that spares aren't necessary.
So, without further ado, the 2015 Gear Post. As usual, many of these links are affiliate links, as this is one of very few posts that I make money on. Some products are given to me for free. While I do try more gear because of this, I never list anything that I don't think is necessary and the best in its category.
I'm going to do something a little bit different with the gear post this year. Usually I go over every single item in a small amount of detail. This year has only a few changes but they are really exciting changes, so I'm going to highlight only the differences.
Once you finish reading this post, you can go back to the 2017 Gear Post to see the things that didn't change. Next year I'll do a full writeup again, as it would be annoying to have to keep going through back posts.
Wool Wool Wool
I have to start the gear post off by talking about wool, even though I'm sort of sick of writing an ode to wool every year. The bottom line is that it is essentially impossible to travel light without wool clothing. Everything I wear is wool, and that's the secret to being able to wear the same clothes every day, and thus not have a huge backpack full of stuff.
Okay, okay, okay... I'll write the gear post before the year's over! One of the things that keeps me from writing all year is that it never really feels like the stuff in my pack has changed all that much. I switch one item at a time, never thinking I have much to write about. Then the end of the year comes, the citizenry demands a post, and I'm always surprised to see just how much has changed.
I called last year's gear post the Style Edition because although it was 100% functional, I also made a few choices to have slightly better looking clothing. That trend has continued a little bit this year, but I'm calling this one the Zen Edition because my already minimal packing list has become even shorter.
When I first started traveling, the minimalism aspect of it was pure coincidence. I had intended on buying a normal backpack, but Todd convinced me to go smaller. Our first 28L Deuter Futura backpacks seemed impossibly small at first, but after a year of learning what is and isn't necessary, space gradually opened up. My response was to fill it with new gadgets-- eventually I had a portable kettlebell, a full cot with silk sheets, and who knows what else.
As the years went on, Todd continued to get smaller backpacks, which influenced me to get smaller backpacks as well. I would always pack them completely full until recently. Last year I had some empty space, and now my pack is less than halfway full. If I could find a well organized and designed 12 liter pack, I would use it.
Part of the reason I have less stuff now is because technology keeps getting better. My laptop is tiny and light. The camera I have now couldn't exist five years ago when I started all this. Everything charges with the same cable. The other reason I've continued to reduce what I travel with, though, is because carry unnecessary items makes your trip worse. They weigh your pack down, clutter it up, and make it take longer to pack and unpack. The less I travel with, the better my experience is. At this point my pack weighs 10.7 pounds, which makes it trivial to carry it all day, even when climbing through the mountains.
And now it's time for the one post per year about which people bug me for months: the 2017 gear post.
I realized that a lot of non-subscribers read this post every year, so I thought I'd drop a little background for context.
I've been more or less a nomad since 2008, and was one of the very first to really travel in a minimalist (one small backpack) way. I'm sure others came before me (and my friend Todd), but none I'm aware of who were writing about it.
I still travel for half to two-thirds of the year, exclusively with the gear I'll outline below. And even though I obviously have more items at home (cooking stuff, gym shoes), I don't have any additional clothes or warm-weather gear. In any given year I go to warm places in the summer as well as cold places in the winter. I work full time from my laptop both programming and writing. In other words— this is all of the gear I have, and I use it to do a lot of stuff.
To say that we packed light is an understatement. We packed super light. Someone recently told me a saying that stuck in my mind.
"No one ever wishes they packed heavier."
So true. With fewer baggage comes more freedom, and that's exactly what we're after. Still, when Todd suggested that we take only a small backpack each, I thought he was crazy.