When I first booked my round the world ticket, I had no idea what I was going to bring. I only knew I never wanted to have to check my bag and I wanted to be able to relatively easily carry my bag a mile or two from a train station to a hotel.
For most airlines, carry-on size means a 40-45L backpack. Weight limitations vary significantly – as high as 40 lbs for many US airlines, but as low as 15 pounds for many Asian ones – but will be easier to push.
REI Lookout 40L, mens
My pack of choice is a 40L hiking pack from REI. Thus far I’ve used the pack for a 3 day hike and a week long vacation, and have been quite pleased with it. There are numerous traveler specific packs (as opposed to repurposed hiking gear) from companies both large (Ospery) or small (Minaal), each with their own selling points. I went with the REI pack mostly because it gets the job done and is relatively cheap (particularly so, as it was on sale).
So whatever I bring, it has to fit in that pack. Luckily, most of the places we’re traveling will be pretty warm. Even Buenos Aires, which we will hit in the middle of winter, will have highs in the high 50’s and lows in the low 40’s. Having spent most my life in Minnesota and Michigan, pants, long sleeves and a light jacket should suffice.
- Warm weather tops: 2 T-shirts, 1 short sleeve button up
- Warm weather bottoms: 2 pairs of shorts, 1 pair of running shorts, 1 pair of swim trunks
- Cold weather tops: 1 sweater, 2 long sleeve shirts
- Cold weather bottoms: 2 pairs of pants
- Outer layers: 1 rain jacket, 1 down jacket, running gloves
- Underwear: 7 pairs of boxer briefs, 3 pairs of socks
- Shoes: 1 pair of leather shoes, 1 pair of flip flops, 1 pair of Vibrams
I’m probably bringing more tops than I really need, and the Vibrams are an extravagance – how often am I really going to go running? But they will be useful for any serious day hiking. Also – for making sure I can still fit in all my clothing by the end of the trip.
Fabrics and Brands
It’s all about the fabrics. I’ll be wearing these clothes over and over so they need to be comfortable and durable. When I get rained on, I want to be dry in an hour. I don’t want to stink too much, and when I do I want to wash my clothes in the shower or sink and hang dry them overnight. I want to be able to wear the same clothes hiking through Laos or to dinner in Vienna.
So the target is something that is made of performance fabrics (polyester, nylon, merino wool, etc.), and cut to look like regular clothing. There are a hand full of established brands that directly target travelers, but I wasn’t a huge fan of their styles and they certainly weren’t cheap. As a result, I cobbled my wardrobe together from an intersection of hiking and athletic/lifestyle gear, balancing some combination of cost, comfort and style.
There are some newer smaller brands making good looking clothes with performance fabrics. Most are targeted at commuter cyclists or extensions of yoga brands. Unfortunately, they tend to be pretty expensive. Most athletic brands would be comfortable and relatively cheaper, but they splash logos everywhere. There is some great outdoor/hiking clothing available that is both comfortable and not excessively pricey, but it is clearly outdoor gear. Thus a bit of compromise is required.
The brands from which I’ve drawn my wardrobe include Smartwool, Patagonia, Marmot, Outlier, Lululemon, Prana, REI, Hurley, and Uniqlo. Some of the clothes I already owned and some I bought new. As rule, I typically refuse to pay full retail for anything and that was the case here (with only a few exceptions).
What I didn’t already own was bought from the individual clothing companies, REI, Backcountry, or Amazon (which owns Zappos). It should go without saying, but it really pays to check Black Friday / after Christmas / semi-annual clearance sales or to Google the article of clothing you’re interested in and price shop. If you’re patient, you can probably get whatever you need for 30-50% off.
The importance of loosely sticking to a color scheme should not be ignored: 6 tops and 4 bottoms = 24 outfits.
Clothes by category
Warm weather clothing: Marmot nylon button up, Patagonia Capeline 1 T-shirt, Lululemon tech T-shirt (mine is no longer available, but this one is similar), Prana Stretch Zion shorts, Hurley Dri-Fit chino short, Lululemon running shorts (this is similar), Swim trunks from I’m not sure where
I’ll also be bringing some electronics: Asus netbook, Nexus phone, (old) Kindle, (very old) digital camera, and assorted chargers
Toiletries will be limited to the basics, including anti-malaria medication
Passport and vaccination card – can’t forget these!
A couple clear must haves that you won’t see above include a basic first aid kit, a universal converter, and a PacSafe backpack lock. I will also bring my Google smartphone with T-mobile’s simple choice plan. While T-mobile may not have the fastest or broadest network in the US, they do include unlimited international text and data with calls at 20 cents per minute. At the very least, I’ll be able to check email, text people to let them know I’m alive, and check Google maps as we wander foreign cities. Finally, I used a pair of stuff sacks to organized my pack.
So there it is – 7 months in 40L, weighing in a little under 20 lbs. Worst case, I’ll buy an extra shirt or a pair of pants in South East Asia – most of my clothing came from there anyway. I still can’t believe it all fits – well – sort of fits!