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.
As we whittled down the list of stuff we’d need, though, it started to seem more and more possible.
As many of you know, Todd and I are obsessive about purchasing things online. We research every last item and figure out what the absolute best is. I’m not kidding either… from our socks to flashlights to clotheslines, we have the lightest and best stuff available.
So, without further ado, here is our final packing list.
The tiny backpack we settled on is the Deuter Futura 28.
I can’t possibly say enough good things about this backpack. First of all, it’s TINY. It’s 28 liters (1700 cubic inches). To put that in perspective, the ubiquitous L.L. Bean backpack that EVERYONE in the northeast uses at school is 2250 cubic inches.
The pack uses a compact lightweight spring steel suspension to keep it off your back so that you can carry it around and not get all sweaty. It also makes it so that the weight rests at your hips, where it should rest. Fully laden it’s not a big deal to carry this pack around everywhere we go.
The pack has an integrated rainfly that unzips from the bottom. Last year we got stuck in the rain in Japan and EVERYTHING got soaked. A lot of our purchases, as you’ll notice, were influenced by that experience. We’re now totally rainproof.
The pack has openings at the bottom and top and a zipper inside that can divide the main compartment into two. This is very convenient because you can store weather gear (jackets and rain gear) in the bottom part but not mess up all of your packing.
Or, at least, it makes the pack max-versatile.
The pack also has an area to put a water reservoir, but I use it to hold my laptop, which fits perfectly.
What happens when we want to sleep on a train but don’t want our stuff stolen? Or what if we’re at a beach and want to lock up our clothes and shoes?
The Pacsafe 55 Exomesh weighs only a pound and folds up small enough to fit in one of the mesh side pockets of the pack.
When deployed, it covers the whole pack with a steel cable mesh that makes it impossible to cut the bag to get items out, and makes it impossible to get large items through (although smaller things like phones could go through).
For locks we decided on Pelilocks, the locks made by the manufacturers of Pelican cases. We use them to lock the zippers shut so that even small items can’t be stolen.
(Ok… we actually didn’t order them in time, so we have to use crappy locks for now, but when we hit LA we will get these in)
The Pelilocks are four digits, which means that if we go swimming for half an hour, someone can’t just try all of the combinations. They don’t use keys, which are just one more thing to keep track of.
We prefer the non TSA approved ones because 1) we never check our luggage and 2) if the TSA can get in, who else can get in? Thieves!
For underwear we went with Ex Officio underwear (credit to Doug and Tim Ferriss). We went with briefs because they’re smaller and the boxers seem to have really long legs.
These bad boys are awesome. We only brought two pair each, so we wear the used pair into the shower, wash them with shampoo or soap, and then wear the clean pair afterwards.
I should take a moment and just clarify – we do not shower together. We love the ladies. Also, Todd insists that I mention that he got the grey ones with the black waistband, which he claims look like batman’s underwear.
For socks, you can’t beat Smartwool Adrenaline Micro socks. They are extremely comfy, totally breathable, and keep you warm in the cold. Like all wool products, they can absorb 1/3 of their weight in water and still feel dry. In other words, when you put them on after swimming, they’re not gross like cotton socks.
I brought two pairs of these, and Todd brought four. I wear sandals a lot.
I bought Rainbow double stack hemp sandals. Hemp doesn’t start to smell bad like leather or rubber and is very durable. Rainbow is well known for making the best quality sandals in the world.
Having XCR in your shoes is important because you can walk all day in the rain and through puddles and still be comfortable. In fact, I can stand in three inches of water and not feel a drop.
The Salomons are trail running shoes, so they’re appropriate for hiking trails as well as running for crossfit on the streets. They’re very comfortable and come with great orthopedic inserts.
I brought a few different shirts, none of which are made out of cotton. Cotton is soft, but is inferior in every other way to other textiles.
My absolute FAVORITE shirt is a black t-shirt made by icebreaker. It’s 100% merino wool, which sounds hot and scratchy, but isn’t at all. It wicks sweat when I’m warm, insulates when I’m cold and… NEVER SMELLS AT ALL.
You can see me wearing it in the crossfit video. After the workout I smelled TERRIBLE. I had taken a shower the night before because I knew I wouldn’t have the chance to take one in the morning.
Todd finished the workout first so I had to wait for him to take his shower while my shirt marinated in sweat.
I put it on the counter in the bathroom and took my shower. Afterwards I gave the shirt a VERY thorough smell test. Not a single trace of odor. It’s amazing. My capilene shirt, on the other hand, smells terrible after one workout and stays that way until I wash it.
For those interested, the shirt is made from the 150 weight fabric. I plan on getting two more icebreakers in LA and getting rid of my capilene shirt.
I brought only ONE pair of pants! They’re the Cloudveil Cool Convertible pants in dark grey.
They’re very comfortable and have a perfect fit. Slim enough to look decent, but roomy enough to be active.
They can be zipped off above the knee to turn into very good looking shorts (probably the best looking shorts I’ve ever owned).
On the thigh are low profile pockets with tiny squares of velcro to hold them closed (this is important because large swaths of velcro would be loud to open). The pockets are sized perfectly to hold a passport, and I usually use one to hold keys so that they don’t scratch my gear.
They’re made of brushed nylon, which looks a bit like finely woven canvas. They don’t look like those nylon track pants people wear. Like the rest of the gear they dry very quickly, so they can also be used as a bathing suit. Perfect.
I’ve heard stories of people falling off motorcycles and not ripping the pants. They’re incredibly durable.
Todd’s pants, which are similar but have different pockets (LAME pockets, if you ask me) are called North Face Paramount convertible pants.
Oh, and of course I brought my hat. Not fuctional at all, but I love it.
I also brought an Arc’teryx wool hat. I love wool so much that I bought enough stuff to cover myself head to toe in it for when it’s cold.
That includes wool long underwear. I bought Terramar, but the fit isn’t very good on them. Todd bought some by Smartwool midweight bottoms and he says they’re excellent.
We both brought fleece jackets. I have an Arc’teryx Delta SV, which uses the thickest fleece available. It’s VERY warm, but not stifling if it’s only moderately cold out. This is by far the biggest item I have in my pack, but we’ll be climbing Mount Fuji in the off season so I’ll need it.
I also brought a Smartwool zip T, but I’m not convinced it’s worth the extra space. The fleece is warm enough, so I may ditch this in LA.
For the rain I have Mountain Hardwear Typhoon pants and a Mountain Hardwear Aguille hard shell. Both are made of Gore Tex Paclite (the thinnest, lightest, and most breathable Gore Tex available) and reinforced with XCR in the knees and elbows.
Todd lost his Aiguille so he got the GoLite Phantom. It isn’t reinforced with XCR so it weights less (13oz vs 16oz) but still has all of the important features.
The rain gear is also windproof and folds down very small. Wearing my rain gear and shoes, I could easily stand outside for an hour and be perfectly dry when I took off the stuff.
I have Sealskinz gloves, but I’m not totally happy with them. They don’t insulate much and it appears that SOME water still gets in. Still, if it rains and is chilly, I’ll wear them.
Todd brought his signature Ray-Ban glasses and I bought some Maui Jim Titanium Sport glasses. I was very much against Maui Jim at first because they have a terrible name and a terrible logo.
However, reason won out. They use spring steel instead of hinges, so I don’t have to worry about breaking them or the screws loosening. The glasses are so light that I just now realized I’ve had mine in my thigh pocket all day. Probably under an ounce.
They’re polarized, which I initially thought was a gimmick, but later realized is very effective at cutting down glare.
Let’s talk toiletries.
I use Dr. Bronners Miracle soap. It works for shampoo as well as soap, and does a great job washing clothes. Because of draconian TSA rules, I took only three ounces. Todd uses Neutrogena Rain Bath which I used to use on his recommendation also. It’s excellent, but can’t double as shampoo.
We brought little packets of Woolite to wash clothes in the sink and a flexoline clothes line to dry them. It’s made of braided surgical tubing so you can tuck socks into the braids and thus avoid clothespins.
I have an Eagle Creek dopp kit. It’s a bit big, but it gets the job done perfectly. I may consider getting a smaller one. Todd has a mammoth one that he’s ditching for a smaller one.
Ok, on to the technology.
Todd and I both have Lenovo X61 tablet laptops. This is probably the most versatile small laptop available today. I won’t bore you with all of the specs, but they have very high resolution screens (1400×1050) for their size, which makes working on them a pleasure.
They only weigh four pounds each with extra capacity batteries.
The screen is a tablet screen, so I can use the stylus that stores beneath the keyboard to sign faxes or fill out forms. This makes it totally unnecessary for me to ever print and scan things.
Because they’re thinkpads they’re very durable (I’ve dropped mine several times), and they are one of the few remaining laptops to have eraser point pointing devices. I like these SO much more than those terrible touchpads.
For phones, we both got Nokias. They work in pretty much every country, and can also make calls over Wifi for free using VOIP.
I got the Nokia E90 which has a huge screen inside for web browsing and a built in GPS. Todd got the Nokia E61i which is smaller and has much better battery life, but doesn’t have GPS or a big screen.
There’s a lot of great software for the phone including maps of the entire world, dictionaries for different languages, e-mail clients, and games for the plane ride.
We got Creative ZEN media players. I personally hate iPods, particularly those insipid touch wheels, so they weren’t options (although the new screens are excellent).
The ZEN is very small, comes in capacities up to 32gb (I didn’t realize that and bought the 16gb), and has great battery life. I can get over 24 hours of CONSTANT playback on a single charge. They come with tiny USB chargers that take up no space, and are also used to copy files over.
They also have SD card slots which makes it very convenient to expand their capacity.
I loaded mine up with gangsta rap, classical music, teaching company lectures, and language tapes.
To listen to the music we both use Etymotic headphones. Forget that gimmicky Bose noise cancelling nonsense. Etymotics block out significantly more noise and don’t need batteries. I have the ER-4S, but would recommend buying the ER-4P model instead.
I brought a headphone amp called the SuperMacro IV, built by a rocket scientist named Xin Feng (www.fixup.net). I was going to leave it at home, but I had the extra space. It makes everything sound much better and is particularly useful to produce enough sound to split headphones.
Our watches are also noteworthy. We got Suunto X9mi watches, which are the military versions of the Suunto X9i.
The key feature is an integrated GPS, which is useful for finding our way home or for tracking how far we’re running during a workout. Beats being stuck on a track.
The watch also has a compass, thermometer, barometer, altimeter, dual time, stopwatch, and everything else you’d expect. I’ve used each of the features several times and have found the compass to be invaluable.
Even our flashlights are amazing. We purchased Arc-AAA Premium flashlights which are blindingly bright, tiny, and run off of a single AAA battery. This is important because most high end flashlights use expensive and hard to find (in foreign countries) lithium batteries. A single AAA gives around 5 hours of intensely bright light and a few hours of dim light.
For comparison, they’re probably around the same size as a AAA maglight, but at least 8-10 times as bright.
Did I mention that they’re waterproof enough to SCUBA dive with?!
The crown jewel of my technological treasure chest is my camera, an Epson R-D1s Digital Rangefinder.
Obviously I wanted to take pictures on the trip, but I wasn’t content to settle for a point and shoot. I’ll be visiting a lot of places for the first time and seeing a lot of amazing things.
Still, SLR cameras are too big, heavy, and conspicuous to carry everywhere.
Finally I found the solution, a digital rangefinder camera. I won’t get into technical details, but it uses the same sensor as high end SLR cameras (that’s what determines picture quality), it uses real pro lenses, but the focusing mechanism is much smaller than an SLR.
The result? A camera much smaller than any digital SLR camera, but the same amazing quality.
There are only two digital rangefinders, the Leica M8 and the Epson R-D1s. Both are very well respected and used by professional photographers. The Leica produces higher megapixel images but it costs twice as much.
One really cool thing about the Epson is that it looks like a manual camera. It even has a winding lever to cock the shutter. The screen flips around to conceal it self. Very inconspicuous.
Todd bought a killer video camera, the JVC GZ-HD7. It’s very small and weighs about the same as my camera. It produces a jaw dropping full 1080i HD picture.
Unlike most comparable cameras, it has 3 CCDs, so it has excellent color reproduction. Video is stored on an internal 60gb drive which makes it simple to transfer to the laptop for editing.
We still haven’t figure out how we’re going to save all of our footage, but at the end of the year we’ll make a full HD movie about our trip. Until then, it’s youtube clips all the way.
Other than a few miscellaneous chargers, I think that pretty much covers our equipment. We didn’t need it for Panama, but once we got LA we’ll buy the APC INPA plug adapter. It’s super compact and works in every country – head and shoulders above the competitors.
I really can’t stress enough how totally awesome all of this stuff is. We’ve been researching it fanatically for months now, and if it made the cut you can bet that it’s the best in the land…