Tortuga’s Setout Laptop Backpack: The Perfect Minimalist Travel Bag For Nomads?

As someone that exclusively travels with a single carry-on, I’m always on the lookout for the perfect “one bag” solution that can fit everything for a trip with no set end date.

I’ll cut to the chase: the Setout Laptop Backpack from Tortuga is pretty much perfect for my needs. And if you’re looking for an ultralight nomad travel solution, it might work for you, too.

Read on, and I’ll explain why.

(Note: this is about the Setout Laptop Backpack, not the Setout Divide or Setout Backpack)

“Is it the right size and weight?”

First of all, please note that this bag is not specifically designed for minimalist “one bag” types like me. Instead, it’s described as a “versatile secondary bag” on Tortuga’s website, to accompany a duffle bag or rolling luggage.

Indeed, Tortuga has an assortment of proper Travel Backpacks to choose from for those that need the space (~35-45L) and additional features (e.g. hip belts). And for the vast majority of travelers, one of those would be the most sensible choice.

If you’re into minimalist travel, however, the Setout Laptop Backpack is just the right size. Here are the basic stats:

  • Volume: 25 Liters
  • Dimensions: 18.5” x 12” x 6.75” (47 x 30 x 17 cm)
  • Weight: 2.8 lbs (1.3 kg)

Bottom line: the bag is compact (well within most airline carry-on size restrictions), lightweight, and spacious. Even though “25 Liters” doesn’t sound like much, I find that I can fit quite a lot into the pack. I also like to keep my total loadout under 8kg, and this backpack makes it easy to do so.

Overview of pockets and compartments

First of all, I recommend watching Tortuga’s intro video to the bag:

Right away, it’s obvious that a lot of thought went into the bag’s design.

Some of the features that immediately stand out:

  • The “quick access” pocket on the very front of the bag. Perfect for stashing headphones, boarding passes, or even dumping everything from your pockets into right before you go through airport security. About the height of a regular-sized Kindle.
  • The handy water bottle pocket on the side. While it’s great for holding my 1L Nalgene, I can see others potentially using it for something like a compact umbrella or small tripod. If not needed, it zips flat and doesn’t protrude from the bag (very sleek!)
  • Hideaway straps: while I don’t foresee myself making use of this feature very often, it’s nice to know that it’s there for unforeseen circumstances. As a bonus, the space reserved for hiding the straps could be used a separate area for stashing a light jacket or sweater (bonus: more cushion for your back!)
  • Strong, lockable zippers. Tortuga didn’t skimp on the zippers (yes, they are YKK!) Zippers are usually the first point of failure, and I’m confident that these ones will last. All three of the compartments are lockable, something that’s practically unheard of on a daypack.
  • Bright interior lining. Helpful for finding stuff quickly inside the bag.

There are three primary compartments:

  1. Front “organization” section: contains many small pockets for pens, gadgets, business cards, and the like. Also contains a key clip and a zipped compartment (great place to put passport/ID).
  2. Main compartment: opens flat to reveal a cavernous main area. I had no trouble fitting in 5 t-shirts, 4 pairs of boxers, 4 pairs of socks, a pair of shorts, merino leggings/longsleeve/gloves, sunglasses case, and a compact camera wrapped up in its own case. On the opposite side, there are two large mesh pockets (I use these for my portable backup hard drive and random cables/adapters).
  3. Back laptop/tablet compartment: the raised laptop sleeve is a great fit for my 2015 15” Macbook Pro, while the mesh zipped pocket works well as a catch-all for chargers, dongles, and a small wireless mouse. There’s also space for a 9.7” tablet in a separate pocket.

As you can tell, there are a lot of separate pockets and compartments. Aside from a couple small packing cubes for my clothing, I find that I can leave any other small cases or organizers at home.

Clockwise from top left: (1) the back of the bag, (2) laptop pocket, (3) strap attachment hook, (4) outside stash pocket, (5) inside the cavernous front organization compartment, (6) 1L Nalgene in bottle pocket

Pros and Cons for Minimalist Travel

Here’s a quick rundown of everything I really like about the bag:

  • It’s comfortable. While I don’t like to dwell too long on comfort and fit (everyone is going to feel differently about the bag and you gotta try it on before coming to any conclusions), the bag feels great on me fully loaded. The straps are padded and comfortable, contoured nicely to the body. As a bonus, there’s a small chest strap that to redistribute the weight for longer walks.
  • It looks cool. Aside from a small turtle shell logo on the front, there’s no visible branding or lettering. The color is a dark grey and hides dust/scratches very well. Most importantly, the bag doesn’t stand out as a “travel bag”—instead of a backpacker, I simply look like a style conscious local hipster commuting to work (and that’s a good thing).
  • It fits all my stuff (with room to spare). The main compartment has enough space for all the clothing and toiletries I may need for a week of travel (which to me is the same as for a year of travel, as I typically do laundry every 7-10 days on the road). Could I go even smaller? Possibly. But I do enjoy and value the available space, and my advice is always to have 10-15% empty in case you need it.
  • The laptop compartment. Nothing much to add really—it’s perfectly executed. My Macbook Pro fits in nicely, and is elevated by an inch or so off the ground at all times. Access is quick, and the laptop thankfully does not come into contact with the metal zippers as I pull it out (you’ll be surprised how often that’s the case these days).
  • There’s no hip belt. I’m glad this was left out, as there is simply no need for a waist belt on a bag of this size.
  • It’s solidly built. More than anything, the bag feels like a quality product. There’s no loose stitching, and all the handles are very sturdy. If anything, the bag is over-engineered—I don’t see how it’s going to fail (will update this review if anything does happen).

And possible changes/improvements:

  • Removal of the “hideaway strap” and “luggage handle pass through sleeve” features (OK, I’m really nitpicking here). From a selfish point of view, I don’t see myself using these features often, if ever. Most minimalist traveler would have no need for a roller bag, and there’s no way I’m ever trusting anyone to gate-check this bag (a situation that would call for stowing the straps). For me, these features simply add to the complexity (and weight) of the bag. And if you’re the kind of person that palpitates at the sight of an airline employee wielding a portable luggage scale, you know that every gram counts.
  • Some kind of solution to the “TSA liquids” problem. Getting into bag nerd territory here. OK, so if you have a bunch of liquids (e.g. shampoo, sunscreen) you almost always have to remove them from the bag during airport security. Naturally, you don’t want to keep the liquids in the main compartment, because that would be really annoying to open every time. My workaround is to stash them all at the bottom of the front organizer pocket—which actually holds much more than expected. It’s not elegant, but it does the job. If there’s a better way, I trust the boffins at Tortuga to figure it out!
All packed up (left). Inside the main compartment (right). Total weight: 7.4 kg!

Final Thoughts

Even though this bag wasn’t specifically made for one bag travel, it’s the one that stands out most to me in Tortuga’s lineup. I’m glad they carried over their design ethos and features from the larger bags into this one—you get all the benefits of modern travel bag design without the weight and bulk.

A great bag, and as of 2019 it’s my travel bag of choice. It’s available for $125 through Tortuga’s website.

Well done, Tortuga!

Highly Recommended 

(Note: Tortuga Backpacks sent me this bag as a sample to try out)

A Distilled One-Bag Travel Gear List: The Best Products for Indefinite International Travel

It’s 2019.

There has never been an easier time to travel internationally with just one or two bags — a variety of products and services are available to make the experience as smooth as possible.

At the same time, we are now completely overwhelmed with choices for clothing, electronics, and accessories. There are many great companies out there, each routinely pumping out new, enticing stuff to buy. Lighter backpacks. Softer merino. Faster smartphones. Sharper lenses. For anyone researching this stuff for the first time, it can be overwhelming.

The goal of this post is to help you make smart purchasing decisions as you put together your own one-bag packing list. It will be updated on a regular basis.

Rules for all products that will appear on this page:

  • The product must be available today (no pre-release stuff, no discontinued inventory).
  • It must be available for purchase online.
  • The cost must be within reason (i.e. $300 backpacks are OK, but $9000 diamond-plated smartphones are not).

For most product categories, both premium and budget alternatives will be presented. Where possible, there will be direct product links (either to Amazon or to the manufacturer’s website). All prices in US Dollars.

It’s worth noting that this is not a full shopping list for one-bag travel, but rather a list of options — so please don’t go crazy and buy everything on here!

Ladies! My apologies, as this list is very light (heh) on women’s clothing. I’m working on amending this — in the meantime, if you have gear suggestions, send them my way. A couple brands to check out in the meantime: Pivotte and The Willary.


Backpacks

Disclaimer: this is going to be a controversial category no matter what — people can get quite emotional about their choice of pack! The idea here (and for all the other categories) is to present the most sensible choices that have no major weaknesses. This category is divided into sections based on carrying capacity.

If you’d like a personal recommendation based on your unique needs and packing requirements, I recommend asking over at /r/onebag

Maximum carry-on size (i.e. roller bag replacement, 30 Liters or more):

All-purpose: Minaal Carry On 2.0 Bag ($299) or Aer Travel Pack ($220)

Photography: F-Stop Loka UL ($209)

Outdoors/hiking: Kelty Redwing 44 ($106) or anything from a reputable outdoor backpack brand (e.g. Osprey, Deuter) that fits you well — if you’re going to carry it long distances, try it before buying!

* * *

Typical One-bag travel load-outs (approximately 20 to 30 Liters):

All-purpose: Tom Bihn Synapse 25 ($200) or Thule Subterra 23L ($120)

Minimal travel: Tortuga Setout Backpack ($125, read our review)

Outdoors/hiking: Deuter Futura 28 ($175)

* * *

Light load-outs (approximately 15 to 20 Liters):

All purpose: Tom Bihn Synapse 19 ($200) or Tom Bihn Daylight Backpack ($85)

* * *

Ultralight load-outs (smaller than 15 Liters):

If you have managed to get your travel gear down to this level, you probably already know what works best for you.

You could even travel with a small dry bag. Or a grocery bag. Or a hydration pack from Osprey, like this Raptor 10 ($130). 


Daypacks

Ideally, these are as packable as possible (so you can store them in the larger bag on your big travel days).

Best all-rounder: REI Flash 18 ($40)

Lightest possible (not recommended for heavy loads): Matador Freerain 24 ($60, waterproof main compartment) or Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil ($32)

For photography: Think Tank Photo Mirrorless Mover 25i ($45) or Mirrorless Mover 20 ($55)


Clothing: Tops

Button-downs (linen for hot climates): Wool & Prince Button-Down Oxford ($128) or Uniqlo Premium Linen Long Sleeve Shirt ($30)

Button-downs (cotton for less wrinkling): Gitman Brothers Oxfords ($165) or Lands’ End Hyde Park Oxford ($50). For more versatile combinations, I recommend traveling with either blue or white button-downs.

Merino Wool Tees: Outlier Ultrafine Merino T-Shirt ($110) or Woolly Short Sleeve Tee ($40-60)

Cotton Tees: American Apparel 50/50 Crewneck ($18), Fruit of the Loom Short Sleeve Tee ($5), or Next Level Apparel Fitted Tee ($2)

Sweater: Uniqlo Extra Fine Merino Sweater ($40)

Blazer: Bluffworks Blazer ($295) or Haggar InMotion Blazer ($175)


Clothing: Bottoms

Versatile trousers: Bluffworks Tailored Chinos ($125) or Outlier Slim Dungarees ($198).

Active pants: Prana Brion Pant ($75)

Shorts (can double as swim trunks): Outlier New Way Shorts ($125) or Myles Apparel Everyday Short ($58)

Board shorts: Patagonia Men’s Stretch All-Wear Hybrid Shorts ($69)


Clothing: Outerwear

Packable down jackets: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer ($325, 800-fill), Montbell Plasma 1000 ($269, 1000-fill) or Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket ($70, 640-fill)

Down jacket for even colder weather: Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down ($379, 1000-fill)

Rain jacket: Outdoor Research Men’s Helium II ($159), Marmot PreCip Jacket ($100), or Frogg Toggs Ultra Light Rain Jacket ($14+)


Clothing: Basics

Undershirts: Icebreaker Men’s Anatomica Crewe ($70) or Uniqlo Airism Mesh Crewneck ($10)

Leggings: Icebreaker Anatomica Leggings ($80)

Boxers: Icebreaker Anatomica Boxers ($25-50) or Uniqlo Airism Men’s Boxer Briefs ($10)

Socks: Darn Tough Hiker socks ($20 — look for sales on these)


Travel Footwear

All-purpose (versatility for both urban and wilderness): Vivobarefoot Gobi II Desert Boot ($150)

Mostly urban: Men’s and Women’s Allbirds Wool Runners ($95) or the sneakers you already have (free)

(Trail) running: New Balance Minimus 10v1 Trail ($140) or Merrell Trail Glove 4 ($100)

Sandals: Xeroshoes Cloud Barefoot Sandal ($50, Women’s version also available)

Flip-flops: Havaianas ($18+, women’s version available too)


Electronics

Laptop: Apple Macbook Air 13 Retina ($1200) or or Dell XPS 13 ($900)

Netbook: Samsung Chromebook ($200)

e-Reader: Amazon Kindle Paperwhite waterproof version ($150)

Smartphone (must be water resistant, quad-band and carrier unlocked):

  • iPhone: any of them are fine, from iPhone 6S and SE onwards
  • Android: almost any phone is OK. Motorola Moto G offers great value, while Google’s Pixel line has amazing computational photography features.
  • The smartphone you already have (free)

Battery pack (for recharging electronics): Anker PowerCore 26800 ($130) or Anker Astro E1 ($25, ultraportable)

Earphones: Logitech Ultimate Ears 600vi ($60) or Bose QuietComfort 20 ($250)

Universal Adapter: something cheap on Amazon ($10-15)

Action camera: GoPro HERO7 Silver ($300) or YI 4K Action Camera ($105, with waterproof case)

Drone: DJI Mavic Pro 2 ($1400, shoots 4K) or DJI Spark ($400, max 1080p but more portable)

Highly rated compact cameras (that easily out-resolve any smartphone):

For budget versions, check used gear and previous generations of the above cameras.


Popular Travel Accessories

Headlamp: Black Diamond Storm ($50, weather-proof)

Water Bottle: Hydro Flask ($40, preserves temperature) or Vapur Element ($14, collapsible)

Luggage locks: Abus 64TI/30 ($8, uses key) or Master Lock 647D ($6, combination)

Ear plugs: Hearos High Fidelity Ear Plugs ($14)

Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Folding Wayfarers ($150), or buy them at the beach ($5)

Travel towel: make your own linen towel or get it custom-made on Etsy ($10+). For non-linen, the Personal Packtowl ($6+, Polyester/Nylon mix) does the job.


Everything Else (Nice-to-haves)

Playing cards: KOVOT waterproof playing cards ($9)

Multi-function headwear: Merino Wool Buff ($28)

Travel friendly Multi-tool: Nite Ize DoohicKey ($5)

Spork: Light My Fire LMF Titanium Spork ($15)

Umbrella: Repel Windproof Travel Umbrella ($28) or buy a cheap one at your destination and leave it there ($5)

Packing cubes: Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes ($10+, many sizes and combinations available)


Am I missing anything? Is there something that should be taken off?

This list is always open to review and modification. If you feel that a certain product belongs in place of an existing one, leave a comment below and we can all discuss it.

Also: this post on LighterPack goes into detail about real ultralight travel (includes info on camping gear, tents, etc)

All recommendations on this page are either based on personal experience, second-hand accounts, and/or hundreds of hours spent perusing travel gear blogs and watching video reviews. Last updated: April 2019

Traveling The World With a 30L Backpack: A Review of the SLICKS System As A One-Bag Travel Solution

Some context: I’m currently 15 months into a round-the-world adventure. Having already explored 15 countries across four continents, I feel it’s about time to do a review of the gear I carry with me. Many have asked me to review individual pieces of gear, and this post is designed to do just that. Let’s do this!

The short version: Everything I travel with fits into one backpack — a 30-Liter SLICKS TRIP (Black) backpack, pictured above and below. I also carry a 13-Liter Osprey Daylite daypack, which fits neatly inside the SLICKS pack when I’m moving long distances. The total weight is 9.5kg (21 lbs), give or take a few grams. I have used this gear to traverse both urban and (very) remote environments, and the clothing I carry is sufficient for temperatures as low as -10C (14F in Freedom Units). With the way I travel, I do laundry every week or so.

Here’s the SLICKS backpack and everything that fits into it (click on the image to see a larger version):

2017 Loadout for One Bag Travel
The SLICKS 30L backpack (center) and everything I manage to stuff into it

The long version: below is a brief review of the SLICKS pack itself and a quick breakdown of everything that I pack inside it.

The pack itself

If you’ve read/seen other reviews of the SLICKS backpack, you probably already know that it isn’t designed for year-long journeys. In fact, it was designed for 1-2 day business trips — and the included accessories (hanging toiletry kit, dress shirt cover, and “Tripcover” organizational pouch) serve as a constant reminder of that.

Needless to say, I have pushed this bag far and beyond what it is expected to do — and have crammed more much into it than the bag designers intended.

What I liked about using this backpack for full time travel:

  • There’s a lot of built-in organization in the SLICKS pack, so much so that it renders “packing cubes” pointless. The “Tripcover” itself — an insert with two medium-size compartments — serves as a sufficient organizational pouch for most of what I carry. Given the sheer amount of pockets and compartments, I opted to leave behind the SLICKS toiletry kit and shirt protector (both have their uses, but would have taken up too much space).
  • The pack is built of solid, sturdy materials. It has held up very well, despite being straight up abused on the trip. This bag has been manhandled by baggage handlers (I’ve had to check it in a couple times on low cost airlines), thrown on top of a jeep in the desert for days at a time, and has been carried long distances across cities. The zippers still look (and feel) like new, and the only damage to the pack is a tiny adjustment strap (which tore from the main backpack strap it was connected to). More on this below.
  • It has a compact, sleek footprint. It fits easily (with room to spare) in any aircraft compartment, and (with some finagling) can be stuffed into overhead shelves on long-distance buses.
  • It’s comfortable to carry. The straps (and back) are padded, and there are built-in waist and hip straps to help you balance the load. I’m almost exactly 6 feet tall, and this pack fits perfectly on my back. Although I haven’t needed to, I’d be OK with carrying this backpack — fully loaded — for 20km or more.
  • There are many well though-out features. The small and lightweight laundry bag, for example, has been supremely useful for storing dirty (and smelly) clothing until the next wash-and-fold laundry stop. At the front of the bag, there’s a cavernous compartment which is great for throwing larger items that may need to be accessed quickly (e.g. a zip loc bag of liquids, flip-flops, sunglasses). Finally, there’s a quick access pocket on the side for frequently-used smaller objects — pens, small notebooks, earphones, earplugs, and the like. On the inside of the bag, there are a multitude of discreet pockets that are ideal for storing cash, passports, and other valuables — this is perfect for paranoid types like me.
  • Finally, the bag is has a clamshell design — it opens flat, briefcase style (this makes it easier to organize and put in/remove stuff). Whoever designed the bag has clearly traveled extensively.

What could be better:

  • The bag is heavy. Lifted straight from the official site: pack 1,390 grams, Tripcover 285 g, Shirtcover 216 g, Laundrybag 18 g, Washbag 133 g, Raincover 94 g. Put all that together and we’re already at 2.14 kg (4.7 lbs) for the bag alone. Even by ditching the Washbag and Shirtcover, I’m still at 1.8 kg. This makes things tricky if your goal is to hit the magic 7 kg mark, which is the point at which I think you go from merely minimalist to ultralight.  At 7 kilograms (15.5 lbs), you’ll be impressing all but the most grumpy of airline check-in staff.
  • Part of the bulkiness of this bag comes from the multitude of straps, clicks, and compartments. As other reviewers have noted, there may simply be too much compartmentalization. Case in point: to get to my camera — located in one of the compartments of the Tripcover — I have to first unclip both of the bag’s compression straps, unzip the bag to open it up, unclip the compression strap on the bottom Tripcover pocket, and then unzip the pocket itself. Is all that really necessary for a theoretical pack weight of at most 10 kilos? I’d argue it isn’t. I mentioned above that there was a small adjustment strap that tore — and it had precisely zero effect on my usage (in fact, it makes me want to cut the other one off for symmetry’s sake). With all the bits, bobs, and layers of material, you’d think I was transporting goods from the House of Fabergé.
  • When the bag is full, it becomes hard to remove items from it for quick access. At full capacity, the laptop compartment gets quite tight — and I feel bad for the Macbook that needs to be violently stuffed into it following a baggage scan at the airport. Note: this is really no one’s fault but my own, as I am (admittedly) “overclocking” this backpack.

Other observations about the pack:

  • There’s a rain-cover built into the bag. It’s pretty slick (heh), and fits neatly into its own dedicated pocket. In 15 months of travel, I have never used it. The pocket it’s in, however, is a really cool one — it’s disguised well, and could hypothetically be used to hide a decent amount of cash (or a thumb drive containing plans for world domination). I call it the KGB pocket.
  • There’s a hip strap built in, which neatly hides away into the sides of the bag. Just as well, as I have never used it. The waist strap is also of questionable utility, although I clip it in sometimes just because it’s there. Unless you’re literally smuggling gold bullion, it would be difficult to stuff enough mass into this thing to justify much in load distribution. I’ve never carried it on my back for more than 10 km a day, however, so I guess these features make sense. Now that I think about it, the waist strap could be useful for balance (if you’re turning sharp corners on the getaway motorbike).
  • I have gotten a few comments on the bag — people find that it looks cool and/or unique. It certainly stands out in a sea of typical “backpacker” packs. When I pass through the “nothing to declare” corridor of Arrivals in a new country carrying only the SLICKS bag and a stern expression, I get curious looks from Customs. “Is that really everything?” is a question I’ve already heard a few times.
  • It’s not a cheap bag. At the regular price of 329 Francs, the bag comes to almost $350 USD. These days, that amount of money goes a long way in the travel pack department — anyone planning a long trip would be spoiled for choice with a backpack budget like that. Right off the top of my head, I can think of a few packs that could may well work better than this one for the purposes of one-bag travel (although I haven’t personally tested them).Full disclosure: I was sent this bag by SLICKS to try out in exchange for an honest opinion (although there was never any expectation about using it for 15+ months as a RTW solution).

TL;DR: I have managed to use a 30L backpack designed for 2 day business trips for a trip going on 15 months. Could it have been easier with another bag? Probably. But things worked out just fine, and the SLICKS bag has held up admirably.

2.) What goes in the pack

  • An Osprey Daylite (13L) daypack. This is a great little pack for walking around town — or much more. There’s plenty of space and organization for your daily items, and a handy outside compartment at the back that fits a hydration bladder (or two bottles of wine, in a pinch).When I need to get work done at a cafe or coworking space, the pack easily fits a 13” laptop, camera, mini tripod, sweater — with plenty of room to spare for a pack lunch or surprise grocery purchases on the way back home.It’s worth noting that I have well and truly abused this thing — and it’s holding up well after 4+ years of use. Kudos to Osprey for this level of build quality.
    The lowdown: this is a great daypack, but I think there are better options out there. For one, the side pockets aren’t deep or sturdy enough to reliably carry water bottles. Additionally, the backpack straps are connected at the top — and this bit has a habit of digging into my neck when the pack sits high on the back. With all that said, I’ll continue to use the pack until it finally gives up (or until I meet someone that could use it as a donation).[OK, so I guess the presence of a daypack means that this isn’t technically a one-bag travel solution. In my defence, however, the daypack goes inside the main bag on “travel” (e.g. flight) days. When I’m relocating, I’m still just carrying one bag.] 
  • Macbook Air 13” laptop (mid-2011 model). While the laptop debate continues to rage on in the traveler and remote worker communities, I have found the Macbook Air (mostly) sufficient for everything I need to get done.While this is an older model (ancient, in “computer” years), it can still handle basic computing tasks — as well as editing RAW files in Photoshop and full-stack web development. I have gotten a ridiculous amount of mileage out of it, and I expect it to keep trucking along.
    The lowdown: while the Macbook Air 13” was arguably the ultimate travel companion as of 2012 or so, there are undeniably better choices out there. My machine is certainly showing its age. Once this thing dies (or I offload it to someone else), I plan to upgrade to either a Macbook 12” Retina 2017 (m3) or Macbook Pro 13” Retina (also 2017). An argument could be made for either — and the choice isn’t easy for someone that does a lot of traveling while simultaneously shooting RAW and dabbling in video editing.Accessories I bring with the laptop: standard Apple charger, extension cord (rarely used), and a basic Logitech USB mouse.
  • A Ricoh GR camera (first edition). This is a fixed lens (28mm equivalent) compact with a 16 megapixel APS-C sized sensor.
    While this camera is somewhat of a legend among street photographers, it has also found a place in many travelers’ packs — and for good reason. The lens, although fixed at 28mm, is one of the sharpest out there. The ergonomics of the camera, refined over multiple generations in the film photography era, are nothing short of genius — the Ricoh GR can be effectively used one-handed. It features a full set of manual controls, a built-in ND filter, and a host of other features that make it a photographer’s camera (as pretentious as that sounds).
    The lowdown: I have been more than satisfied with the shots I have taken with the GR, and it has done wonders for my progress as a student of photography. With that said, I increasingly feel limited by the lack of reach — as well as with the sub-par low light performance. On top of these minor frustrations, my Ricoh GR has unfortunately attracted some sensor dust (despite being handled with care and stored 100% of the time in a camera pouch). If you’re shooting street scenes, the GR (now on the 2nd iteration) perhaps still offers the best price:performance ratio of fixed lens compacts. For the traveler, however, there are better options. I’m investigating a few options as a replacement/upgrade, and the most likely candidate is now the Panasonic GX85 with 12-32mm kit lens.
    While I hate traveling with DSLRs, I do miss the possibilities they afford (a dream setup would probably consist of a Nikon D750 with 24-120 f/4, Rokinon 14mm, and a 50mm 1.8g). 
    Accessories I bring with the camera: small Lowepro camera pouch, and a tiny Manfrotto Table-top tripod. A few words on the tripod: it does the job, although I would hesitate to put anything heavier than a compact on it. Range of motion somewhat limited (don’t try to do astrophotography or portrait-orientation shots with this thing).
  • Universal USB Travel Adapter. This is probably the most used item in my bag — it simply fits every plug I’ve come across. Mine is by Tumi (I got it as a gift), but there are plenty of affordable options out there. Whatever you do, make sure you have one of these. One USB port is great, two or more would be even better. A great feature of my adapter is a small LED light to indicate presence of electricity — useful for identifying the one outlet in your budget hotel room that actually supplies current.
  • Sunglasses and prescription glasses, in separate cases. In my case, both are by Oliver Peoples (complete overkill, from my hipster days).
  • Two smartphones: Apple iPhone 5 and Motorola Moto G (as a backup), both unlocked. These do the job, although having two phones is probably overkill. The iPhone 5’s camera now feels outdated, and I plan to upgrade to a 6 or newer model. Silver lining: once the iPhone 5 comes out, no one wants to mug me.As an accessory for the phones, I have one of those cheap transparent plastic neck pouches. While this is useful for surviving festivals such as Thailand’s Songkran, it’s not really necessary and I’ll give it away at the first opportunity.
  • Two manila folders of… important papers. (Shout out to Chase Reeves: business papers, man). Also, a couple of notebooks and a pen. Always carry a pen.
  • A passport wallet for my passports, ID cards, vaccination cards, scuba certification card, etc. I use a basic one that I got for free from Black’s photography years ago, and it has held up pretty well. Goes on the inside front pocket of the SLICKS bag (but don’t tell anyone that!) There are probably better/fancier ones out there with carbon fiber materials and RFID protectors or whatever, but I don’t think they are necessary.
  • Toiletries, most of which go in a small REI shower bag (orange in the pic). Liquids go in a separate Ziploc bag for quickly placating baggage inspectors.
  • A small pouch that contains random bits and bobs such as earphones, earplugs, USB drives.
  • Wallet
  • Wristwatch 
  • Tiny REI microfiber towel. Takes up almost no space, but has proven itself useful on impromptu snorkeling expeditions and the like. While everyone is waiting to dry off in the sun, I deploy this thing and dry myself in seconds. The towel itself dries in just 15 minutes. This was a purchase from the days when I gave way too much thought to gear — but one that I don’t regret.
  • Clothes
    Let’s get this out of the way immediately: I travel with only the bare necessities: five cotton t-shirts, one Uniqlo airism tee (started with 3, lost one and ripped the other one), one pair of Outlier New Way shorts (that double as swimming trunks), a pair of Levi’s jeans, a cheap “mid-layer” fleece, and a Montbell windbreaker. As far as basics go, I have four pairs of socks and seven pairs of Uniqlo airism underwear. That’s it (really).
    Story time: I once went to Tokyo (’twas my first time in Japan), and thought it necessary to bring some fancy threads to fit in. I packed my classy Alden lace-ups, tailored slacks and dress shirts. This ended up being counter-productive, as I didn’t actually out-dress anyone there and was thus mistaken for an English Teacher (nothing against you guys, really). That was the last straw, and also the point at which I truly ran out of fucks.I realized there’s no point half-assing the formalwear: either go full James Bond, or leave the fancy stuff at home. Now, I’ll brazenly enter clubs with my beat-up Nike trainers, jeans, and a cotton tee. No ties, no collars, and certainly no cuff-links.
    Here’s the thing: you don’t need expensive clothing to travel with. You could very well spend $200 on fancy “merino wool” shirts — spun from the wool of a baby llama — only to find that they’ve developed rips a month into the trip (or worse, got mistakenly swapped for some dude’s Gap tee at a $1/kilo wash and fold in Saigon). My advice is to try traveling with what you have already — save your cash for bungee jumps and scuba dives.Clothing that I picked up along the way, and will readily give away if presented the chance: wool gloves, thermal socks, and a sun hat.
  • Flip-flops. Picked these up in Bali for a few dollars, and have kept them around since. Great for beach days, or for navigating surfaces of questionable hygiene. Travel long enough, and you’ll discover how useful these (or sandals) are.

And that’s everything! Here’s a picture of everything packed up and ready to go (only my shoes, a pair of Nike trainers, are missing):

One Bag Full Loadout

Concluding thoughts (and advice):

Traveling with only a 30 Liter size carry-on backpack has been immensely liberating, and I’m glad I made the decision to do so. Aside from the obvious benefits (both hands free, not having to check the bag for air travel), this setup lets me focus on what’s most important: seeing the places I want to see, in the manner that I’d like and unburdened by stuff. At this point, all that remains is shedding the emotional baggage…

If you haven’t tried this style of “minimalist” one-bag travel, I urge you to give it a shot. Some advice for those just getting started:

  • The first step is to shed the classic suitcase (roller). At this point, your first instinct may be to go with a backpack featuring the “maximum allowed” carry-on dimensions (typically at 45 Liters of capacity). Please try to resist this urge, as large backpacks only beg to be stuffed with things you won’t actually use.
  • For the vast majority of travelers, I would suggest aiming for a total backpack load-out of 25 to 30 Liters (not a typo). This gives you plenty of room for anything you might need, as well for specialty items that are unique to your interests/needs. Aim for a weight under 10kg, and go down from there.
  • If you’re only traveling to tropical climates, you really don’t need much. In fact, I plan to spend extensive time in South East Asia next year with only a 18L backpack. While it can be done with even less than that, I still plan to bring all my electronics. If/when I pull this off, I’ll make sure to write about it.
  • Don’t spend money on fancy travel stuff until you have proven it’s usefulness. As a general rule, no individual piece of clothing should cost more than $100 (I would personally draw the line at $50).
  • By and large, traveling these days is easy. It’s actually a challenge to get off the beaten path. Most travel equipment more than suffices, and there’s no need to chase after the last 10% in performance (unless the money is really burning a hole in your pocket).
  • As cheesy as it sounds, the most useful thing you could bring is simply more money. Also — and it’s worth saying again — bring backup debit and credit cards (you don’t want to be stranded without cash in a faraway land). If you need to buy clothing, you can do that just about anywhere.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to comment on this post (or send me an email directly: contact at sologuides dot com).

Buen viaje!