Lightweight Travel Tips

written by Adam Trahan

It has been some years now since I’ve learned about tenkara, an efficient form of mountain stream fishing. Through my experiences using this simple, old style of fishing, I have found that I can apply principles of minimalism to nearly everything I do. I’ve learned about efficiency and different ways of looking at everyday challenges. In applying these concepts, I have come up with a formula that works for me. It can be summed up with the following quote from Yvon Chouinard.

The more you know, the less you need.

I promote an efficient travel kit from this concept.

I have realized that nothing is better than experience to realize just what you need. Packing for a trip shouldn’t be difficult. There is some homework involved if you are new to traveling light but as you reduce the contents of your pack, you will realize that each component of your travel kit becomes more important on its own and as an integrated system.

Key to the concept is to check the weather where you are going and make a pack list for up to a week. If you can get through a week with your packing list, you can easily live for two weeks or a month or longer. Packing for one week, I have a comfortable pack size and I am able to be prepared for just about any activity. Hiking, fishing, going out to dinner, hot springs or lounging with friends or distant family. At the end of the week, I’m going to do some laundry whether it be washing my clothes in washer or in the shower, bucket or near a stream and hanging them to dry but I’m ready for another week.

In 2013 I packed for a two week fishing and sightseeing trip to Japan. I took two backpacks, a 46 liter travel pack and a daypack to carry all of my gear. I carried my clothes, shoes, fishing boots and gear, computer, cords and toiletries. My packs were loaded tight and looking back on that trip, I was grossly over packed. I brought a lot of stuff I didn’t use.

Traveling light is a work in progress.

I took notes while I was on my trip. What I used over and over, what I didn’t use and more importantly, what I wanted to have along the next time.

In 2016 I packed for another two week trip to Japan, an adventure that included my multi-use backpack for a hiking and camping trip far up a river valley. I packed much more efficiently this time but again, it took two backpacks, the same 46 liter travel pack that doubled as a camping backpack and another duffle bag/backpack. Looking back on that trip, I carried just a little more than I needed but for what I did, carrying a sleeping bag and a camping list, rain jacket and specialized boots and clothes, I did pack well.

Often I travel for a week out of one small pack. I carry fishing gear and all that I need for travel. I move about comfortably and at no time do I feel that I am running out of clothes or in need of something. At the end of a seven night stay, I look back at what I use and what I didn’t. I note I was uncomfortable in a cotton shirt. I realized that I would have been more comfortable in shirts made of different materials, the cotton shirts that I took did not wear well in the slight humidity and I felt that I could not wear them more than one day.

Taking note of what works and what doesn't helps me to build my travel kit.

I often travel to the Hawaiian Islands and to the eastern portion of the USA. I have amassed a lot of good experiences while moving through airports, staying at hotels, hiking and camping. I used the gear that I took with me and I’m learning to leave things home that I don’t use. Through my experiences, I will detail the process that I use to create a pack list for travel where you are staying in a home, hotel or inn with daily outdoor activities.

Check the temperature, layering is key.

I've learned about performance layering from the Yvon Chouinard and his different business in creating clothing for mountaineering. Chouinard's company, Patagonia has introduced many new types of cloths, innovative crafting of clothing and base layers that are cool when it's hot and warm when its cold. Patagonia clothing is recognized around the world by mountaineers and has revolutionized the outdoor clothing industry. Patagonia catalogs contain great information on how to efficiently layer for a wide range of temperatures and weather. Much of my knowledge was sparked by content in these catalogs and quite a bit of my kit contains clothing by Patagonia. If you are new to lightweight travel, I suggest a look into a Patagonia catalog or their web site.

The layer next to your skin is important to consider. I’ve learned over the years that wicking fabrics or, a fabric that will pick up perspiration and vapor from your skin and “move” it outward towards the outer layer of the fabric is best. I’ve been using base layers by Patagonia for 20 years. It’s a fabric that is cool when it’s warm, warm when its cool and comfortable for exertion. Polyester type fabrics are extremely versatile and adaptable to many different environments and exertion levels, perfect for variable temperatures and minimal pack lists.

As it gets colder, a mid-layer or outer shell can be added. Thicker versions of the same fabric can be utilized for layering or as a warmer base layer in combination with a thin outer shell. The thicker base layer is typically for cooler temperatures but still can be worn as outerwear. The wide temperature range of each layer can be combined for cooler expected temperatures.

For outerwear, I use a light windbreaker that can be stuffed very small. This simple yet lightweight jacket can extend the temperature range of a thin base layer or serve as a light rain jacket. These jackets are so lightweight, they can be compacted into a small pocket of a daypack or in purse or clipped to a belt loop they are so small.

The lightweight insulated “puffy” jackets can be brought along for temperatures cooler temperatures down to below freezing. Utilizing the layering system, base, mid, puffy jacket and thin outer shell, you can regulate the comfort you want moving the sweat and moisture outward to evaporate for all temperatures found from the desert to the high mountain cold environments.

The pants that I choose are super important. Again, I use a couple of different thickness and both are made of basically the same type of polyester material that insulates yet breathes to move sweat away from my body. Again, this type of clothing is easy to compress, wears well and is easily adaptable to a wide range of temperatures. I can wet wade in the morning and by lunch time, I am completely dry and by dinner, I still look (and smell) presentable.

A favorite hat and gloves of performance fabrics is invaluable in colder climates. Worthy of the space in your pack, these items are typically very personal and taking them on the road from wearing them at home is comforting during travel.

Utilizing a layering system that is configurable for a wide range of climates is how I choose my packing list. Packing just one thin and thick base layer as well as a compactable puffy jacket and a thin windbreaker style jacket can give you a range of temperatures all the way down to freezing temps and all the way up to triple digit temperatures. Using the thin base layer can serve as sun protection and is comfortable even in the hot temperatures of the desert. This layering technique combined with the type of fabric chosen, all packs small yet provides a wide range of comfort.

Accessories for travel

There are a few accessories I carry that have really found their way into my pack list for being so valuable to my experience. Because these accessories have evolved to be made of compact and compressible materials, even if they are not utilized, it is a non-event to not use them but if they are utilized, their worth becomes evident.

Inside my travel pack, I carry a compact day pack. I use this for travel from my hotel, tent or couch wherever I am staying. I do not want to carry my 25lb carry on with all my stuff as it is full but I do want to carry the few things I will need for day trips. This small sailcloth daypack is comfortable using every single day of my travel. Able to carry a layer of clothes, a water bottle, jacket, lunch, fishing gear or anything else that I want to carry with me.

I choose a compact umbrella. My umbrella packs down to about the size of a large candy bar and is swallowed by the long pocket in my carry on pack. When I get to my destination, depending on my travel, I may transfer it to a compact daypack or just keep it out in my car or within reach during my excursions. An umbrella is worthy of travel even if it is sunny as I have often opened mine when waiting on transportation and or walking from one area to another to shield myself from the sun or rain.

I have found that a travel pillow is worth its weight and size. Mine is an inflatable that compacts down to a size of cards. Multiple hours of travel on a plane or in a car, I always take a nap. The travel pillow makes this needed rest possible and comfortable. With the travel pillow I carry a sleep mask too. It is so small and lightweight, it disappears in my bag. If I am on a long flight, I like to wear the mask when I sleep, it really helps to relax during the downtime of travel.

I also carry an inflatable sit pad. This item has literally saved my butt from long trips on a train and on a day hike. I put it in my daypack to pad the contents of my pack against the thin layer of cloth next to my back.

A light compact spread is something I have found that works in many situations. The one I use is aluminized on one side for heat retention or reflection. It’s soft and comfortable to use as a spread on grass, sand or snow or in the cabin of a plane or train. I have also used mine to keep warm on a long plane trip and in the car. It fits in a small stuff sack and disappears in my day pack or travel bag until I need it.

I often swim or take in a hot spring so I carry a small micro-fiber towel. This is a multi-use item that can make cleaning and drying yourself comfortable. If you are at an inn and the towels or laundry is questionable, you have your own. You can use it to sit on or dry yourself off. In a pinch, it can be used to clean up a spill.

For day to day cleaning, I use a small zippered case for my toothbrush, medicines and a minor first aid kit.

Invaluable when washing your clothes, I have a small dedicated clothes line. It was designed for this purpose and does not need clothes pins to fix drying clothes on it. You can clean your clothes in the shower or from the stream and hang them to dry.

Worthy of it’s weight and size is a tiny 500 lumen flashlight. Travelling to areas that are new to me, I often find myself in dark places devoid of any light. There are many small but powerful flashlights that will light up a very large area, you will be able to see very quickly, dark places become friendly with knowing what you are getting yourself into. These flashlights also power down to last a long time on one battery.

Smartphone as a multi use device.

The more I travel, the less I am carrying my laptop. My smart phone has a “talk to text” function that works very well for taking notes and writing. My phone also contains a great camera so a dedicated camera is not needed. I load movies and media on my phone so it’s important to remember headphones, a long charge cord and plug in adapter. For convenience, I carry a 6’ extension cord. I have also learned that I need a backup battery to charge my phone when power is not available. For international travel, I use a “wi-fi device” that takes the place of having a phone plan. All the communication functions that I need are Internet based and a phone plan just isn’t needed. I use Google maps and select the mode of transportation tab and it will bring up the data I need that is near by. 

For navigating, I use a GPS application that I can research and plan on my laptop at home and transfer the research notes, maps and routes to my phone. I've used this GPS application many times in the jungle, in the forest and it really helps me to keep my kit to a minimum.

Tenkara fishing equipment

My tenkara method is quite simple. I depend on what I know more than carrying variety of equipment. I have trimmed my kit quite small. I’ve made some changes to what I carry over the years but my kit can still be described as, “rod, line and fly.” If I’m on a trip to Japan, I carry dedicated wading gear. Specialized boots, wading spats, a net and my fishing bag as well as a couple of travel rods inside of my bag. I’m still looking for shoes that can double for wading and street wear. So I still carry my boots with me and at the end of the trip, when I’m ready to fly home, I will wrap them in plastic and stuff them in my bag. Typically, if I am carrying wading gear, I bring two bags, one a personal bag and one carry on, both fit easily into the overhead bin.

Bullet points for lightweight travel
  1. Research the climate where you are going.
  2. Pack for a week
  3. Take notes for your next trip
My packing list

Hat, Buff and sun gloves
Polarized Sunglasses
Lightweight long sleeve top (base layer)
Mid weight long sleeve top (mid layer)
Long sleeve button up shirt x 2
Boxers x 4
Performance fabric T-shirt
Performance lightweight stuffable wind jacket
OPTIONAL – Packable puffy vest or jacket
OPTIONAL – Rain shell
Performance fabric convertible pants
Track pants
Lightweight amphibious shorts
Performance Socks x 3
Cheap Flip Flops

Accessories for travel
Sleeping mask and foam ear plugs
Inflatable travel pillow
Lightweight travel sheet
Compact umbrella
Lightweight stuffable day pack
Inflatable sit pad
Micro fiber towel
Travel clothes line
Small lightweight zippered toiletry case
Small travel size baby wipes

Smart phone
Cigarette USB charger
Plug in charger
Long USB charging cord
6’ extension cord
An extra USB battery back up
A small 500 lumen flashlight

Other miscellaneous tips for travel include using a wi-fi device for travel. Often you need the internet and wi-fi is available but it is not free. Using a wi-fi device and plan for accessing the wi-fi is invaluable. It is much cheaper and more efficient than using a cell phone sim card. I found that using the sim card, I used a lot of data and there were times where cell coverage was not available or dropped and wi-fi was available. I highly suggest a wi-fi device coverage for traveling.

Google Maps is also excellent for travel. Pull up the app and select the tab for the type of travel you are doing. If you are walking, select the pedestrian tab and it will take you by foot, the transit tab will show you where the nearest train station is and when the next train arrives and where it is going. The bus tab does the same. The Google Maps app is the #1 used smartphone application that I use besides using the Airline app that I am traveling on for having your boarding documents inside your phone.

There are a couple of other resources available, one is the internet for help in designing a packing list. I find the one below a great help. I also use books and have used a lot of good information from the following book.

I find the below sites helpful for ideas, information and equipment for ultralight travel.


I hope you find the article useful. It is basically what I use when I travel. How I look at the destination and what I use while I am traveling. Travel is a highly personal adventure that is filled with choices in how comfortable you want to be. What you want to travel with and what you are willing to do without. The equipment here is what I personally choose. There is a world of choices out there for you to decide what works for you. The point of this article is not to sell you anything, it's about my experiences and how they may help you.

Cheers and take care.

* This article was originally written for Tenkara USA on November 17, 2017


  1. A post worth bookmarking. I'm terribly inefficient with my packing.

  2. Useful post: have delved into ultralight/lightweight hiking myself. Just local 2/3 nights, but it’s liberating all the same.
    Have made my own stuff if the real thing is expensive. A fold-up alcho cooker, made from an aluminium printing transfer. Not as pretty but works a dream and a lot of satisfaction!
    Found fast drying clothes invaluable! Great also for short breaks away in hostels. Great post, thanks! ��