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How It Feels to Pack Ultralight

Update: See my new section dedicated to gear for updates.

I’m three weeks into living out of my 26 liter backpack. A number of people have asked how it’s going, so here’s a update.

Packing light

Packing light has been incredible. Most people think I’m just carrying a daypack and no one I’ve met on the road has anywhere near as little gear as I do.

Many times on this trip I’ve arrived in a new city and wandered all day with my pack on my back without worrying about it at all. It’s probably 15 pounds now but easy enough to carry all day without strain.

The freedom to not have to drop the pack at a hotel or in a train station storage locker is great. I’ve heard lots of people strategizing how to coordinate their travels around needing to move a large pack. I met one guy who slipped a disc in his back getting off a train and has been hobbling around with a cane for a week. I’m glad that’s not me.

My pack compared to the average pack in the hostel:

I don’t regret going light at all. Three or four times on this trip I decided to just get off the train and see what a new city looked like for an afternoon. I’d never do that with a 50 pound pack. The things that aren’t in my pack aren’t really missed and the things I do have are treasured deeply.


Japan is cold right now. It’s down to about 45 degrees Fahrenheit at night. My pants, thick wool socks, hoodie and down jacket kept me very warm. Most of the time I just wore the hoodie and an undershirt outside.

Will I be OK in colder weather? I can still add my rain jacket and long underwear for even more warmth if the temperatures drop and I can buy extra clothes on the road if I expect to be in very low temperatures. I doubt that I’ll need to do any of that.


Most days I wear my Applatch V-Neck. I’ve worn it probably 75% of the days I’ve been on the road, washed it every 5 days, and it doesn’t smell at all. Wool clothing is incredible at not smelling.

The downside of wool clothing is that it lacks structure. When it gets warm it droops and conforms to my body more than cotton. It’s not the best looking outfit but it’s highly functional.

Pants: There are a lot of coins in use here. I am very glad that my pants have a zippered pocket in the front to keep all the coins secure. I’ve thought about getting a coin purse but will hold off for now.

Gear changes

  1. Sent my yellow Ice Breaker shirt and my black Ice Breaker shorts home. I really liked having them but as expected don’t miss them. This leaves me with three tops (two t-shirts, one hoodie), a pair of pants, a pair of shorts, a swimsuit, and two jackets (rain shell and down shell)
  2. Trashed my universal plug adapter in favor of a Japanese power adapter that plugs into 2-3 different kinds of sockets and outputs USB and 2 American-style power outlets. It’s functionally identical to this but better designed.
  3. Swapped my X100S for a Leica M-E1 and a 50mm lens (my lens is from 1980, picked up used in Kyoto). This is an enormous upgrade to my photography capabilities and it’s a much more fun camera to use. For me the Leica means I spend much less time thinking about the camera and messing with menus and much more time just shooting. It’s also letting me see errors in my shots that I never noticed before. The thought of buying such an expensive camera made me nauseous so I got it insured and am thinking of it as an investment.

Things I haven’t used at all

I count these:

  1. Swimsuit
  2. Sandals
  3. Headlamp
  4. Emergency medications
  5. Muji notebook
  6. Sleeping sheet

This is good coverage. It means that most of my gear is being put to use.


The T-Mobile worldwide plan is a lifesaver abroad. I’ve gotten out of renting a Japanese MiFi and confirmed 3G coverage in Malaysia and Japan so far. It’s really nice being the only person around with a phone plan when you need to navigate. At $50/month it’s probably going to work out a lot cheaper than buying a new SIM card in every country I visit. You can check which countries have data available before you travel.

The Moto G is still an awesome phone. It generally lasts more than a day unless I’m doing a lot of navigation. I generally have an extra battery and very short USB cable always on me in case it needs to be topped up. Almost everyone else in Japan seems to carry a battery in their pocket as well.

The Moto G takes very bad photos. I really wish it had an iPhone quality camera, but I’m holding off on buying a point and shoot.


As a final note it’s amazing to me how all of these products are becoming so important to me. When you have a lot of stuff you can have one thing for each purpose. When you have only a few things you become intimately familiar with their capabilities, remove duplicated functionality from your pack, and end up really appreciating everything that you have. My pack is my home.