See our latest carry on packing list here.
The secret of travelling light is to regularly assess everything in your bag. Do you still use it enough to justify carrying it around?
We’ve been travelling for nearly five years with just a carry-on backpack each, and we do a major assessment of our gear each summer. We get rid of anything we no longer use, replace shabby clothes, and perhaps update our technology.
While visiting the UK and US this summer and autumn these are the changes we made to our carry-on packing list.
We replaced our backpacks because my Vango Transit 30 got a hole, and Simon’s North Face Overhaul 40 didn’t have a hip belt and Simon was feeling the strain on his back.
Read our detailed review of both bags here.
iPhone 6 and Kindle Paperwhite
We bought an iPhone 6 (I’ll be keeping our old iPhone 5 to replace my dying iPod Touch), and I replaced my four year old Kindle keyboard with a Kindle Paperwhite. Simon got rid of his Kindle as he uses his iPhone and iPad mini for reading.
See our new technology post for more details.
Finding the right trousers for travel is tough—most travel trousers are ugly, while normal pairs can be too heavy. We both travel with one pair of jeans and another pair of lightweight trousers that we wear for hiking and in hotter weather. I have loose linen trousers, and in the past Simon has gone for technical travel trousers from companies like North Face and REI. They are functional but not exactly attractive.
Then Bluff Works sent Simon a pair of their Bluffs to try out. Founder Stefan Loble ran a Kickstarter to create his dream trousers—smart enough for the office but practical enough for hiking, no ironing required, and can be worn multiple days without washing. They sounded perfect for travel, combining the performance of technical travel clothing with a smart look.
Simon has had his Bluffs for a year now and he soon got rid of his REI travel trousers—the Bluffs have most of their benefits but look better. They are lightweight, comfortable, mostly wrinkle-free, and have hidden zippered pockets. Simon has worn them on long bus journeys, horse riding, hiking, city sightseeing, to fancy restaurants, and even to a wedding. They’ve worked well for every occasion and still look as good as new.
Simon struggles to find trousers that fit his skinny waist, but Bluffs come in a 28-inch waist and in increasing one-inch increments, so he could get his perfect fit.
The only downside to Bluffs is the slightly rough fabric; when Simon wore them in extreme heat—36ºC with high humidity in Kuala Lumpur—they felt itchy and hot. This was the only time he had an issue, even wearing them in 30ºC temperatures was fine, and when it gets really hot he usually wears shorts anyway.
Bluffs are the most versatile travel trousers we’ve found. If you want to travel with just one pair of trousers, or if you’re looking for a smarter alternative to travel trousers, Bluffs are ideal. If only they created trousers for women…
Pick up a pair of Bluffs at Bluffworks.com. Simon has the originals.
Update: Read our detailed Bluffs review after three years of travelling with them.
Tieks Ballet Flats
Update 2017: I’ve now been travelling with Tieks for four years and have written a detailed review of why I think they’re the most comfortable flats to travel with.
In last year’s packing update I wrote that Tieks are the best ballet flats for travellers as they are comfortable and fold up small. I loved my purple leather Tieks, but the toes scuffed and got worse over time. I emailed Tieks to see if there was any way to repair them and they offered to replace them instead.
They recommended the patent leather Tieks which are less likely to scuff, but I decided on the vegan Tieks that I originally wanted. My new beige Brentwood Tieks are made from fabric rather than leather and I love them. I went up a size as my last pair were a little tight. I had zero breaking in time—they were ultra comfortable straight away. I’m glad I made the change as I prefer to avoid leather as a vegetarian, and the vegan Tieks are lighter and cooler in hot weather.
I wore my new Tieks all the time when exploring San Francisco and San Diego, and they even endured the biggest test of all—eight hours of wandering around Disneyland (and getting soaked on water rides)—without aching feet or blisters.
Choose from a huge selection of ballet flats at Tieks.com.
New Gear from Blacks and Millets
When we’re back in the UK and need new travel gear, Blacks and Millets are two of the outdoor stores we always visit. They offer a wide range of technical travel clothing, hiking shoes, and other useful items for travellers, and often have discounts on brand name items. This year they kindly offered to send us some new gear to review.
Lifeventure Ultralite Wash Holdall
We’d been using the same plastic cube for our toiletries for over five years and it was a little worse for wear. We replaced it with a proper toiletries case—the Lifeventure Ultralite Wash Holdall—which turns out to have some real advantages. It’s lightweight, has a pocket for small items, a built-in mirror, and a hook for when there’s nowhere to put it.
Simon: Scarpa Margarita GTX Walking Shoes
Simon has the envious ability to buy the first pair of shoes he tries on, and that’s what he did when we visited Blacks in Manchester. He only travels with one pair of shoes (and one pair of sandals), so he needs something versatile that can be worn hiking and out to dinner. The Scarpa Margaritas are the smartest travel shoes he’s owned so far. They have a simple design in neutral brown, but with rugged Vibram soles and a waterproof GORE-TEX lining for outdoor activities.
Simon: Bridgedale Coolmax Liner Socks
Simon usually travels with regular cotton socks but they take ages to dry, so he picked up these liner socks. Although they’re meant to be worn under thicker hiking socks, they’re ideal for hot climates. The Bridgedale Coolmax Liner Socks are lightweight, quick drying, and moisture wicking—a definite improvement on the thick cotton socks.
Simon: Craghopper’s Kiwi Long Shorts
Simon’s requirements for shorts are that they’re lightweight, knee length, quick drying, and have hidden zippered pockets. The Craghoppers meet all of these and come with seven pockets including two hidden zipped pockets. The fabric is nice and soft and seems durable.
Erin: Merrell Enoki Convertible Sandals
I usually travel with sturdy hiking sandals but this year I went for something more attractive. The Merrell Enokis have a solid, grippy sole that has withstood the rocky trails here at Lake Atilan, although the straps are thinner and less supportive than my previous sandals. They are very comfortable and I think they’ll meet all my needs, from city exploring to light hiking.
Buy the Merrell Enoki Convertible Sandals from Amazon.
Erin: Bridgedale CoolFusion™ RUN Qw-ik Running Socks
As I trained for my first half marathon I needed running socks that would wick moisture and prevent blisters. The Bridgedale Run Qw-ik socks did that, and were comfortable and cushioned, but they were thicker than I expected and too hot for the climates I run in.
I’ve now replaced them with Nike Elite Lightweight No-Show running socks. They are very small and light, with no cushioning, but they got me through 13.1 miles with no problems.
Erin: Merrell Road Glove Dash 2 Minimalist Running Shoes
I wanted to replace my heavy Merrell hiking shoes/trail runners with something lighter and better for running. After reading Born to Run, and as I often run barefoot on the beach, I decided that minimalist running shoes with a thin, flat sole were the way to go. I love how light the Merrell Road Gloves are and they flatten down to take up hardly any space in my bag. They are comfortable with a roomy toe box, and can be worn without socks—ideal for hot climates.
For light hikes the Road Gloves have been great and I haven’t missed my robust hiking shoes. The challenge was running—I underestimated how slow the transition to minimalist shoes would be.
To run barefoot style I need to land on my forefoot rather than my heel. I believe this is a more natural way to run that puts less pressure on your joints, but it’s difficult to get used to. The first time I ran three miles in the Road Gloves I suffered calf pain for a week afterwards. My mistake was to run entirely on my forefeet and never let my heel touch the ground—quite a workout for the calves!
I’ve now accepted that I need to transition slowly to the new shoes. I bought a cheap pair of trainers from Target for running my first half marathon, and I still wear these for most of my runs. After a run I change into the minimalist shoes and head back out for another mile or so. I’ve had no aches running that distance and am gradually getting used to the new way of running. I’ll continue to increase the mileage until I can run in them all the time and get rid of the Target shoes.
In theory I think minimalist running shoes are ideal for travellers as they are so light. It’s not something to rush into though; the transition takes patience. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.
Update: minimalist shoes didn’t work for me in the end. Read about my minimalism experiment here.
Simon: Sprayway Morph Fleece
This does what you want from a fleece—it’s warm and cosy, yet lightweight. As a bonus it has humungous zipped pockets .
Buy the Morph Fleece from Sprayway.
Simon: Sinner Prime Sunglasses
Simon loves the look of these and they seem durable—he’s worn them for three months without breaking them which is unusual for him!
Buy the Sinner Prime Sunglasses from Millets.
Running & Yoga Clothes
In my guide to running while travelling I said you don’t need special gear and you should wear anything comfortable you have. I did that for nearly two years, but as I trained for my half marathon and was running 10+ miles each weekend, I discovered the need for moisture wicking fabrics. I treated myself to some new clothes for the race.
Athleta Chi Tank Top
The Chi tank is super soft, lightweight, moisture wicking, and is made with Unstinkable technology so the fabric never smells. It really works and is perfect for travellers. I like that it’s fitted but not too tight, and is longer at the back.
Athleta have a fantastic guarantee—you can return clothes if you don’t like them, even after wearing them on a workout.
Buy the Chi Tank Top from Athleta.
Athleta Be Free Knicker
These just below the knee capris are also made from Unstinkable fabric. They are soft, comfortable, and have three pockets. I wear these for yoga most of the time and for running in cooler climates.
Buy the Be Free Knicker from Athleta.
Brooks Sherpa 6” Shorts
It was difficult to find shorts that weren’t tiny; these are longer than most. I wasn’t sure about the inner lining, but it makes them really comfortable. They have a back pocket that fits my iPhone 5 and a small inner pocket for keys.
Buy the Brooks Sherpa 6” Shorts from Amazon.
Victoria Secret Incredible Sports Bra
The first two sports bras I tried rubbed during long runs; so far the Incredible is the perfect fit. I never would have thought of going to Victoria Secret for a sports bar, but my friend swears by them. It’s a bit bulky for travel but the padding means it’s supportive and comfortable, and the wicking lining keeps me dry.
Buy the Incredible Sports Bra from Victoria Secret.
We got a lot of new gear this year, all of it replacing old items we were already carrying. When you travel with only a few outfits things get worn quickly, which is why we think it’s worth spending more on quality items—especially for backpacks and shoes. Each year we get closer to the perfect packing list, and this time we’ve found some lightweight, versatile items that combine functionality and style—just what the carry-on traveller needs.
See our packing list for everything we’re carrying.
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Are you looking for Christmas gift ideas? See our guide to the 50 Best Gifts for Travelers. They are ideal for travel lovers who want to pack light and include something for every budget.