Finally, you’ve managed to zip up your bag and breathe a sigh of relief. Now to get it out to the street and to your destination. “Next time I’ll pack lighter,” you think to yourself.

Sound familiar? Our minimalist packing list will help you spend your vacation enjoying travel, not pulling a muscle on your luggage. If your bag is too big, that’s your first problem. You need our minimalist travel backpack suggestions.

I used to be the worst packer. I’m an indecisive person in general so couple that with lack of experience and large suitcases and you get a heavy bag. I also happen to be really good at packing. Tetris is one of my favourite games and I can make sure I use up every single available space.  I’ve never run out of space before hitting my weight limit.

As a teenager, my family’s first overseas trip was to Corfu, an incredible Greek Island, for two weeks. When we returned home I had worn a different outfit each day and night, and still hadn’t touched half my suitcase!

Man and woman in hiking gear with Pinnacle Rock behind in Galapagos Islands.

Our quick-dry, sweat-wicking hiking gear got lots of work in the Galapagos! These shirts {his and hers} and shorts {his and hers} are perfect.

 

 

Hand Luggage vs. Checked Bags

When we first moved to Mexico for two years, we loaded a minivan to the roof. Fast forward to moving to Trinidad and we each took two suitcases. However, when we decided to travel for a year choices had to be made. I love to travel hand luggage only for shorter trips. It saves time at the airports and eliminates the risk of lost luggage. I also love not having the stress of deciding what to wear each day – with less in my bag it’s already decided!

However, for long term travel, I prefer to check a bag. In part, it is to allow a little more room but also I prefer to pack full-size toiletries. I just can’t convince myself to waste more plastic packaging and create more garbage by using small travel size toiletries. As we hike a lot we also travel with a utility knife that has come in handy many, many times. Obviously, that can’t go in hand luggage.

 

How do you pack light?

Minimalist travel packing doesn’t look the same for everyone but the general idea is to pack light with only what you need to enjoy your travels.  One bag travel is very popular as it is quick and easy to move.  However, others prefer to have a smaller bag for day trips or to keep your important documents close.

The Bag

The first thing to consider is your bag.  There are a lot of good travel backpacks out there, but many are just too big to be comfortable.  If it’s big, you’ll find things to fill the empty space. Trust me, I’ve done it time and again and still do it. Take some time to consider the size and features you really need in a travel backpack. If you are taller or larger, a bigger bag might really be necessary. If you travel with specialist equipment you will need more room. Travel to hot climates will require less space.

The style of bag is something else to consider. Do you need specialized compartments? Will you be walking long distances with it?

The Contents

Minimalist packing for us is a little different. Our essentials list includes a few things that might not be found on others’ lists. You need to consider what you REALLY need to be safe, comfortable and enjoy your travels.

We work online so carry more electronics than most travellers. We hike a lot, participate in local sports and exercise regularly so we need appropriate clothing and shoes. Travelling long term means we have moved from sun-bathed beaches in Central America to snow-covered glaciers in Iceland all with the same backpack contents. Our clothes have to function in different environments.

Woman with large backpack on back and small on front waiting for a bus in Panama.

This looks bigger than it is with a yoga mat hiding under the backpack cover but I still wish I had the Osprey Farpoint 55L rather than this 70L.

 

Our Minimalist Travel Backpack Choices


Depending on where you travel, what activities you enjoy and personal preferences there are a few different backpacks that come highly recommended.  Consider what you will be doing not only on travel days but also while in a location.  We hike a lot (and go to the beach) and need a good quality, small daypack in addition to our travel backpacks.

So what is the best travel pack?  There are a lot of cheap travel backpacks out there but we consider this an important investment.  It holds all your belongings.  It will determine how sore your shoulders are after carrying it around bus stations and airports.  We’ll look at the best bags that serve slightly different functions.

 

The Best All-Round Travel Backpack:

Osprey Packs Farpoint 55L Backpack - Men's

Many backpackers agree that the best travel backpacks are Osprey.

For the past two years, I’ve been travelling with an Osprey Farpoint 55L Backpack (actually that’s a lie; I have the 70L but wish I had the smaller size). The best travel backpack for women is the Osprey Fairview 55L Backpack, basically the same as the Farpoint with just a few tweaks for comfort.

The two models are identical except for a little more space in the 70L main bag. There are a few things I would love to see added to the design but, for the most part, this backpack has been just what I needed. Each comes with a 15L detachable daypack which is included in the size descriptions.

Both bags have zips that can be locked, padded straps and mesh backs for comfort and Osprey’s amazing lifetime guarantee.  This is one of the most durable backpacks available.

Main Travel Bag

The backpack of the Farpoint 55 is actually only 40L without the removable daypack. This means it can be accepted as hand luggage by many airlines. If you do decide to check it, the backpack and waist straps zip away to prevent tearing and there are side and top handles. This is one of my favourite features.

The bag doesn’t have any bells or whistles. There is one mesh pocket covering the entire inside of the opening flap. I find it great for underwear, dirty clothes or any loose papers and cables. It’s great to have a large open space to pack in anyway you choose with compression straps to help hold everything in place.

On the outside, there are more straps and two smaller straps at the bottom for a sleeping bag, yoga mat or tent. It’s also a great place to strap your towel or jacket and save space inside. I do wish there was at least one easily accessible exterior pocket but there isn’t.

As we fly with our bags a lot, the integrated strap cover is a must-have for me to make it a suitable backpack for air travel.  The straps can be completely zipped out of the way so they don’t catch and rip on conveyor belts or by aggressive luggage handlers.  The detachable daypack allows me to keep my most valuable possessions and documents under the seat in front of, within easy reach.  Possibly the best backpack for flying.

Detachable Daypack

A great feature of this backpack is the 15L detachable daypack. With a laptop pocket, attached zipper pocket (perfect for laptop related paraphernalia), two exterior side pockets and a small easy access top compartment it is ideal to detach and use as my personal item when flying.

Regardless of extra space I always want a separate smaller bag. Whether it’s taking a towel, suncream and a book to the beach, or packing a water bottle, rain jacket and snacks for a hike, I want a smaller day pack than my travel backpack. I also hate putting all my hand luggage into the overhead compartments. Call me weird, but I want access to a pen when the customs forms are handed out, my eReader or headphones for entertainment and maybe even a snack without having to disturb everyone in my row. Having a detachable daypack is the perfect solution.

We hike a lot on our travels and the daypack is also perfect for daily use whether in the mountains, about town or even to the beach. It has a mesh back and padded straps for a decent level of comfort and is a great size for a towel, book and sunscreen or a rain jacket, first aid kit and snacks.

 

The Best Minimalist Travel Backpack:

If that’s still just a little too much bag for you, the Osprey Farpoint 40L Travel Backpack could be your best minimalist backpack choice (the women’s version is almost identical, Osprey Farview 40L Backpack). This is just a tad smaller than the main backpack of the 55L but without the detachable bag.

The Farpoint Osprey travel backpack is also a little more compact so it will be accepted as hand luggage, even on budget carriers.

Osprey Packs Farpoint 40L Backpack - Men's

With the lack of daypack, there is the addition of a front pocket with a laptop sleeve and a small compartment for extra organization. It has plenty of organization pockets for those that love to be organized. It’s still comfortable for walking distances.  The Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack is definitely one of the best carry on backpacks available.

 

The Best Backpack for Organization:

I haven’t seen this backpack in person but it has great reviews and the many organization features make my OCD heart happy. This is probably too much bag for the average vacationer, but for frequent flyers or digital nomads, this could be the perfect bag!

The Nomatic 40L Travel Bag looks amazing and those that have it, love it. As cool travel backpacks go, this is it!  There is a compartment for everything and it comes with a laundry bag. Customers can also buy a few other accessories to help them pack and organize their belongings. If you’re an expert minimalist packer, you might prefer the Nomatic 30L Travel Bag.  It just might be the best small travel backpack.

Aside from all those organized compartments, I also love that it is weather resistant. The backpack opens from the back side, as in where the shoulder straps are. While this may make it slightly less accessible, it’s also a pretty decent safety feature if you are walking with it through city streets.  As with the others, it can be taken as carry-on on most flights.

Aside from all those organized compartments, I also love that it is weather resistant. The backpack opens from the back side, as in where the shoulder straps are. While this may make it slightly less accessible, it’s also a pretty decent safety feature if you are walking with it through city streets. As with the others, it can be taken as carry-on on most flights.

 

Nomatic Life on the Move

 

The Best Security Backpack:

Pacsafe Venturesafe X30 Backpack

If your number one priority is keeping your property out of others’ hands, Pacsafe makes a range of backpacks that take security features to a new level.  Bag fabrics are laced with mesh, slash-proof straps, lockable zippers are just a few.  For a true minimalist travel bag, this is a great option.  Many people consider Pacsafe to make the best travel packs thanks to these forward-thinking safety features.

For the minimalist traveller, the Pacsafe Venturesafe X 30L is a great option with tons of storage compartments and a built-in raincover as well as a laptop sleeve.  Its smaller size makes it a great weekend travel backpack too.  The Pacsafe Venturesafe X40L is also worth checking out with a little more space and some slightly different features.

One major drawback for me is the top opening system.  I really prefer the bags that open right up like a suitcase.  It makes packing and finding your things that much easier although if you use ultralight packing cubes, this won’t be a big problem.

 

The Best Daypack for Travel:

Regardless of how well you pack, the chances are you’re going to want a smaller daypack to use once you’ve arrived at your destination.  Whether you are hiking in the mountains, relaxing on the beach or exploring a new city by foot you will need to carry some supplies.

As regular hikers, we love hydration packs such as the CamelBak Fourteener to allow us to carry plenty of water without needing a water bottle while still having space for snacks, towel, first aid kit and whatever else we need.

CamelBak� Fourteener 20 - Hiking Hydration Day Pack - 3 L Reservoir, 17 L Gear Storage - Charcoal/Rust Orange

Since my Osprey carry on backpack was stolen, we both carry hydration packs as our personal items when we travel.  I’m in need of an upgrade but Terry loves his CamelBak.  As far as we’re concerned, these are the best travel daypacks.

 

 

Minimalist Packing List


So, you’ve found the perfect bag. Now how do you decide what to pack?  A weekend trip packing list will, of course, look a lot different to South America backpacking packing list.

A minimalist travel packing list will also vary depending on where and when you are travelling.  Here is what I have in my bag for two years of travelling to both tropical surf towns and mountain glaciers (of course, for a vacation in a specific location I could eliminate the hot/cold weather clothes):

Tops:
  • 4 casual tank tops (like this one for women)
  • 1 activewear t-shirt {his and hers} for hiking
  • 1 active top (light tanks like this one for women are perfect) for workouts
  • Long sleeved top in performance fabric (we carry long-sleeved rash guards {his and hers} for sun protection at the beach AND extra warmth on cool evenings)
  • Light knit sweater
  • Thin hoodie (I found mine in a Spanish thrift store for €3 but this hoodie is a great option – I wear it travelling)
  • Light rain jacket {his and hers}
Man walking through a gate in a dry stone wall while hiking in Yorkshire Dales, England.

Our hiking pants {his and hers}, boots and long-sleeved shirts got put to use in England’s rainy Yorkshire Dales. The CamelBak doesn’t miss a day either!

Bottoms:
  • Jeans (I know, but I love jeans: super comfortable and easy to dress up or down – I wear them travelling)
  • Cool climates:  Versatile hiking pants {his and hers} or leggings (for her)
  • Warm climates:  Hiking shorts {his and hers}
  • Workout shorts
  • 1 casual cotton shorts
  • 1 skirt (perfect for beach or evening) – probably just girls…
  • Black Columbia dress (perfect for beach, town or a restaurant – mine is discontinued but try this cute alternative – I might even like it more….)
Underwear and Accessories:
  • 3 sports bras
  • 10 underwear (I like to make sure I won’t run out – I’m not wearing those twice!)
  • 2 ankle socks
  • Hiking socks (only if I’m packing my hiking boots)
  • 2 bathing suits (if we’re not at a beach, one is enough)
  • Thin knitted hat
  • Infinity scarf (doubles as a blanket, cardigan, hood… – I travel with this)
  • Running belt (excellent as a money belt for travel days)
  • Microfibre travel towel – we never travel without these!
Shoes:
  • Hiking boots – brown leather to double for travelling shoes.  Good for travel to mountainous, cooler climates where we’ll be doing some serious hiking      OR
  • Hiking/Water Sandals {his and hers} – perfect for light hiking, water activities and hot climates
  • Running shoes – we try to work out regularly wherever we are
  • Black flip flops – they take up no room and are perfect to throw on for the beach or a restaurant
Man walking among rusted metal pieces from a shipwreck on Djupalonssandur black sand beach, Iceland.

Layers are the key to dressing in Iceland. Wearing a sweater and rain jacket {his and hers} made up for no winter coats and our waterproof hiking boots were perfect substitutes for winter boots!

Toiletries:
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Mascara and eyeliner (the entirety of my make-up), Terry makes do with less
  • A small container of pain relievers (I get a lot of headaches otherwise I wouldn’t bother)
  • Shampoo
  • Bar of soap
  • Argan Oil (conditioner and body lotion)
  • Nail clippers (only for longer-term travel)
  • Tweezers (could also be part of first aid kit)
  • Razor with replaceable heads
Miscellaneous Backpacking Travel Essentials:
  • Dry bag
  • Raincover for backpack
  • Small first aid kit
  • Sunscreen – we use reef-safe if we’ll be snorkelling
  • Bug spray (if they didn’t love me so much I wouldn’t bother!)
  • Neck roller (chronic neck problems otherwise, again, I would save the space)
  • Sunglasses
  • Reusable water bottle and/or reservoir to fit my backpack
  • Yoga mat – we paid more for a lighter, thinner one and it makes all the difference
  • Resistance bands (take up no space and allows for better workouts)
  • Utility knife (regularly use while hiking as well as for emergencies)
  • Carabiner attached to the outside of a backpack
  • Small padlock, attached to the zipper of the backpack
  • Pen – you’ll regret forgetting this one!
  • Small canvas bag that is completely flat (used for grocery shopping while travelling)
  • Packing cubes to keep organized and compressed (I have two large and two small)
  • Headlamp we use for multi-day treks, dark streets and camping.
Electronics:
  • Laptop with charger (only for long term travel and online work)
  • Smartphone with charger
  • eReader (same charger and phone)
  • Travel adaptor with USB port
  • Extra battery pack
  • Small external hard drive (only for long term travel and online work)
  • GoPro camera with floating handle
  • We each have Garmin watches – {Fenix and Vivoactive}  They’re waterproof, GPS corrected time and also serve as our alarm clocks.

Travel Insurance:  One thing we always have room for in our bags is travel insurance.  We use World Nomads and have had great experiences with them.  Their prices are good, they cover a wide range of travel and medical problems, and the service was excellent when we had to make a claim last year.  Get a quick and easy quote now.

 

Phew! That seems like a really long list! But look closely and you’ll see that many of them are small items, I’ve just tried to be very specific.

 

Minimalist Packing Tips


As you can see, we have a number of things in our bags that might not be considered minimalist.  However, considering we are working online, travelling long term AND are going to a variety of climates, it’s a pretty small amount of things!  For a short trip to a specific climate, the list would be much shorter. For us, each item is necessary for our comfort and enjoyment.  Everything gets used.

Minimalist travel packing is a bit of an art form and certainly something that is improved with practice.  So how can you make sure you are packing just what you need? Here are some tips to help reduce unnecessary items and maximize the space you have.

Pack what you will NEED

  1. Don’t pack things just in case you need them (with one exception being a basic first aid kit). If you don’t KNOW you’ll use it leave it at home. You can always rent, borrow or buy any special items for that one activity.
  2. Don’t pack items that you’ll only use once. Whether it is that fancy dress, a suit or the high heels, if it’s only good for one situation it’s wasting space in your bag.
  3. You’ll be travelling, not going to work. Chance are you don’t have to dress quite as nice, can relax about your hair and make-up and will be fine with a backpack rather than a nice purse. Be comfortable with less stuff and you’ll save time getting out the door to enjoy your new environment too!

Buy clothes that mix and match

  1. Almost everything in my bag is black with just one top and one pair of shorts in complementary colours.
  2. Steer clear of patterns, they are much harder to pair. The only pattern I have is a black and white striped skirt (which goes perfectly with any of the black tops).
  3. Don’t pack whites. They will get dirty and need washing much more frequently.
  4. Find fabrics that can be worn more than once. Performance fabrics, Merino Wool and hypoallergenic materials can go longer between washes without getting stinky and will dry much quicker when you do wash them.
Woman leaning on stack of kayaks on the back of a boat looking at Lagos cliffs, Portugal.

Words can’t express how much I love this incredibly versatile Columbia dress. It’s waterproof, sweat-wicking, quick-drying and the hem can be adjusted. Did I mention it has pockets?? Just as perfect on a boat and kayak trip in Portugal as in a restaurant.

 

Pack multi-purpose thin clothes that can layer

  1. I don’t have anything thick in my bag and yet we survived 10 days in Iceland and hiking to a glacier in Peru. Instead of packing a bulky coat, I wore a tank top, a long sleeved t-shirt, a thin hoodie and rain jacket.
  2. If you’re travelling to a beach destination, take a rashguard that can double as a long-sleeved t-shirt
  3. Use your scarf as a cardigan on chilly evenings and a blanket on flights.

Use space wisely

  1. Roll most of your clothing. It saves space and reduces wrinkling.
  2. Put small items inside shoes.
  3. Use packing cubes to keep things organized and compress clothing. Combine this with rolling and you’d be surprised how much you can fit in one cube!
  4. Wear your thicker clothes on travel days. Many buses and planes are so cold you’ll be happy for the extra warmth anyway!

Do you have some tips to add? What’s your favourite travel backpack? What items are on your minimalist essentials?  Are there any must-have items I’ve forgotten about?

 

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Man walking on a beach wearing a backpack with text: Minimalist Packing, best backpacks, packing tips.

Man wearing a backpack looking at mountains with text: Best Travel Backpacks for Minimalist Travellers.

 

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Categories: Travel Planning

Claire

Welcome! I love to spend time planning travel and finding new adventures in cool destinations! Together with my husband, we've managed to spend 5 years finding adventures around the world without quitting our full-time teaching jobs in Canada. We have a not-so-strict low budget, we're willing to splurge on basic comfort and amazing experiences while cutting costs wherever we can.

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