Sometimes you find yourself staring into an abyss and something, a quiet voice inside, whispers at you, encouraging you to jump in and see how far you can go. I was standing over my bed, frozen for a moment as I lost myself looking deep into a tiny green bag. I had just pulled it out of its mushy brown mailing envelope. The nylon seemed tough and light and crinkled slightly in my hands. I opened it up and held it there, peering into the darkness. It seemed vast. Slowly the thought formed. What if… What if instead of having this be a tiny crushable day bag that fits into my pack… what if it was my pack? What if, for my entire trip to Thailand, I risked carrying only what would fit inside a bag that was supposed to roll up inside of a “normal” bag?
I’ve already done quite a bit to squeeze my life into a little book bag. All I had to do was trim back a little bit more and still have enough to survive. Of course, if I was just going to Thailand plenty of people survive with a pair of shorts. But nothing is ever that easy. On the way back, I had a ten hour layover in Korea in the middle of winter. This bag was going to have to carry enough gear to travel all through Thailand and survive temperatures down to 14 degrees F.
First things first: the backpack I started with was an REI “Stuff” Travel Daypack. It’s a great little bag, but as I considered it holding everything I thought about not just the size, but also the weight. I grabbed the nearly identical REI Flash 22, which has a waist belt. I figured that it might save my aching shoulders if I found myself hiking for hours (I spend a lot of time lost) and had managed to somehow make this thing super heavy. You never know what kind of alluringly beautiful river stones you might find along the trail.
(Side note: sadly, it looks like they stopped selling this thing in this parrot green color. It was perfect for Thailand!)
What Changed To Make This Possible
The collection inside wasn’t that different from my older kit, but the changes were significant.
First is the discovery, since then, of this incredible change to my life: Wool: Edible Ultralight Clothes. (My blogged page of praise not unlike what you’ll find slathered all over the internets.) It’s pretty much all I wear now in “normal” life and served me perfectly over a wide range of temperatures there too. I even broke out the little beanie in the mountains and, in fact, I’m wearing it right now as I look out over chilly, rainy San Francisco. OK, I need to stop typing or I’ll write another entire giddy page about this stuff.
These have been with me quite a while, but really proved themselves again: Ultralight Sandals. I wore these things through much of Thailand when I wasn’t literally barefoot. They slipped thinly into a pocket of the Parrot Bag.
(Long time readers will also now realize why I kept writing gear posts over the last week – they were all in support of this one! I promise the next will be more personal.)
The Big One: No Laptop
This was the biggest change and, yeah, a tough call. As a scribbler I really like being able to write longer things. But I went with a moleskin and an iPhone instead and for 2.5 weeks, it worked out fine. The iPhone is basically a little pocket computer, capable of almost anything I needed. (I should note that it’s unlocked: I payed a premium up front but as a traveler I want to be able to grab a $10 sim card anywhere in the world and run with it.) If I go any longer in the future, I’ve considered picking up a folding bluetooth keyboard. Since I’m primarily just wanting a keyboard for writing, this may actually carry me pretty far in travel mode and it’s $30 instead of $2000 for a laptop. That’s a big difference if it gets destroyed. If I camp out on a beach somewhere to finish one of my book projects, though, I’ll definitely want my Mac Air. It would add weight, but would also just squeeze into the back of this bag. (The power supply weight would actually be the bigger issue.)
I brought along some of these really cool Eagle Creek compression sacks. These are basically giant ziplock bags with valves at one end. Lay clothes inside, zip, roll out the air with a little ppphhhhhhttt and they stay ultra compressed. I loved these things and they worked great but, in the end, I probably didn’t need the extra space they gave me. I really was amazed at how much room I had in this 22L bag.
How Freakin Heavy Was It?
It turns out the whole thing, stuffed with food, was a little over 12 lbs. That’s it. Most of the time I wore one strap over my shoulder, sometime two, and never once did I use the hip belt. I should point out that the hip belt is removable, so if I wanted to I could have ditched it at any time.
No shame gloating in the customs lines every time a guard asked, “is that it?”
It turns out that the Parrot Bag had so much room left, I was able to pack another crushable day pack in for recursion points: the Chico packable day pack
. (Here is a good overview of packable day packs by another ultralight guy.) It wasn’t necessary, but certainly nice to be able to throw my water bottle, jacket and Nook into the “day” bag as I headed out without having to empty the main bag. With a day bag I love being able to take layers on and off, knowing I’ll be comfortable no matter what comes, without worrying about where to put them. I’m also a bit hypoglycemic and vegan so I like to have food and water with me at all times. Nothing worse than wandering around realizing I’m hours from food I can eat and so cranky and bent up from low blood sugar that I can’t find a way back.
Yep. No problem. From the picture of all the gear you can see that I have made the switch to carrying both the Montbell Jacket and vest and no warm long-sleeved shirt. I could pop through any combination and hang in any range of temperatures, and with the North Face jacket over the top I could evade rain and snow too! This combination was amazing, and I didn’t miss the long sleeved Patagonia at all. I am really happy with this set up. Always comfortable. Note: I also went snowboarding in this same outfit in -7F a while back.
Backup battery! This flashlight/iphone battery backup was awesome and works as a flashlight as well! Great when I started using the iPhone as my camera and map.
I didn’t link to everything, like the harmonica I now carry or the moleskine, but here’s the rest of the pile with links. For questions about what’s worked out after 3 years of living ultralight, check out the post (yet to come) on 3 Years in the Same Pants. (Yeah, the pants, for one.)