Minimalist Packing for SE Asia – Adam’s Version

Embarrassingly, we’ve been on the road for two and a half months and I still haven’t written about one of the most amazing things about our trip: Adam’s impossibly tiny backpack. It’s only 15L, and weighs about 7.5lbs (3.4kg) depending on what he’s wearing at the time. This is smaller and lighter than the bag I used to carry back and forth to work every day.

Adam chose the small backpack size because, of course, that was what he already had available. What can I say, he’s a stoic minimalist who loves a challenge.

There are lots of benefits of having such a small bag. Aside from being a fantastic conversation starter with the locals, it’s convenient and safe to have a bag that never has to be out of your sight. Of course, figuring out the right set of things to bring took a big upfront time commitment, both in internet research and actual shopping at REI, Sierra Trading Company, and ExOfficio, but that’s paid for itself many times over with time and money we didn’t spend waiting for luggage and on checked bag fees. All the clothes have held up remarkably well over the past three months, too.

Pictured: All of Adam's clothes and shoes, except the undies. What kind of blog do you think this is?
Pictured: All of Adam’s clothes and shoes, except the undies. What kind of blog do you think this is?

Here are the entire contents of Adam’s small backpack, including every item that he brought for four months of travel in SE Asia.


  • Shirts: 3 wool t-shirts, one ExOfficio long sleeved collared shirt, one cheap Chang beer cotton t-shirt from Thailand
    • Shopping Note: Adam preferred 135 or 150 weight merino tees from Icebreaker or REI. The 180 weight was comparably too heavy. Buy them on sale or at Sierra Trading, when they go from the usual $80 down to $30-$50. Ladies, watch out though, my 150 weight wool shirt is a little see through. 
  • Bottoms: one pair of men’s khaki travel pants, one pair of gray everyday travel shorts, one pair of athletic shorts that doubles as a swimsuit, and two pairs of underwear (Why do all these singular clothing items come in pairs anyway?!)
    • Shopping Notes: For pants and shorts, Adam looked for lightweight fabrics that fit him, which can be tough when you’re 6’4″. For underwear, Adam specifically looked for odor resistant and quick drying so he could wash them in the sink. ExOfficio had the best reviews and were available on sale. 
  • Feet: Two pairs of lightweight wool socks, flip flops, and trail running shoes


Other Things

  • Electronics: Google chromebook and charger, kindle and charger, phone. We have one universal plug converter that we share when needed
  • Basic toiletries and sunscreen, one small bottle of all purpose soap for sink laundry
  • Passports (or copies of our passports, we keep those split up), and a few oversized ziplock bags to keep things separate

And ummm… that’s it! I have been slightly surprised to find that it’s worked pretty perfectly. There are two small changes Adam would make. First, he’d only bring one pair of socks. Second, he brought one heavier weight and slightly more fitted wool tshirt that he has worn less frequently because they others are slightly cooler (every little bit helps in the SE Asia heat). He’d either bring another light shirt since he would’ve been fine with just two tees, or swap that one out for a looser, lighter fit.

I’ve figured out four main reasons that Adam can get away with packing so lightly. (My bag is more than twice as big, though still only 33L, so this formula didn’t quite work for me.)

First and foremost, we are only really visiting one climate and we’re going as backpackers, so we don’t need much outfit variation, either in temperature or in fanciness. Shorts and flip flops are appropriate almost everywhere, with the notable exception of temples where everyone should cover their shoulders and knees.

Second, Adam did tons of research on fabric and made sure his clothes were odor-resistant, quick drying, and lightweight fabrics. Merino wool is his favorite. These clothes are more comfortable in the heat, pack small, and are easy to wash in the sink and hang dry overnight.

Third, Adam is comfortable or just refuses to admit discomfort in a wide variety of temperatures. He suffers through the heat like everyone else and never gets cold.

Finally, his Chromebook computer is exceptionally small and light.  It is a barebones machine but sufficient for anything web based, learning to code, and maybe writing a competing blog in the future. It was a steal at only $170. (This is one of the big weight and size differences between our two bags because my big old Dell laptop is huge and heavy.)

I’m sure Adam will keep looking for the next packing challenge now that the 15L system worked through SE Asia. If anyone wants specific details on Adam’s gear, get in touch with me and he will be happy to provide gory details. We’ll also keep experimenting as we roam around New Zealand. I’ve already supplemented my wardrobe with a thrift store hoodie. If anyone has minimalist packing tips for managing multiple climates, please let me know!  More to come soon on how my 33L backpack has worked out over our trip.

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