Elliot Lynde

Traveling Ultralight

January 2013
Three-week trip around India in fall 2011 carrying only a school backpack.

Weighed down

In my opinion, a large part of the fun in international travel is the feeling of exploration in navigating my way around. Though this exploration can be fun, walking around a city for an hour trying to find a hostel with vacancy or the bus station that isn’t on the map can get tiring and really put a damper on your trip, even with a good backpacking pack.

Costa Rica 2008 (pre-ultralight and pre-UV water sterilizer):

“You should just bring a backpack”

The trip to India was pretty last-minute. Basically, work asked if anyone wanted to go with about a week and a half notice. A couple of nights before I left, my team was out for dinner and they started asking me about the trip. I told them I always feel like I have too much stuff while traveling and that I wanted to pack lighter this time around. One of my coworkers said out of the blue “you should just bring a backpack.” I thought that was pretty crazy but he was insistent that it was a good idea so I gave it a try.


I dropped all assumptions and questioned every item I packed. It’s easy to justify any item by asking “would this come in handy?” (most things could). The question to ask is what would happen if I forgot this? and then only pack the items that you would be screwed without.

Everything I packed (not including the shirt, pants, boxers, socks I had on while taking the photo):

Notable inclusions:

ExOfficio Give-N-Go boxers

These lightweight, breathable underwear are simply amazing and a must-have for any ultralight traveller. Their Aegis® Microbe Shield™ allows you to wear them for days without washing them. Their slogan is actually “17 countries. 6 weeks. One pair of award-winning underwear. (Ok, maybe two.)”. That’s stretching it a bit in my opinion. I washed them in a hotel sink every couple of days.

Running shorts

A pair of long-ish running shorts are really versatile. Other than using them for running, yoga, hiking or other exercise they can be used as a swimsuit since they are basically the same thing (shorts with a liner).

MSR Packtowel

Small but incredibly absorbent towel that dries scary quick. Also, hotels or hostels often will lend you a towel. Using that is advantageous because you don’t have to worry about packing it wet if you leave soon after using it.

Smartwool Socks

At this point, these are the only socks I wear. My feet feel cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather. You can wear them for days without them smelling bad. They are easy to wash in a hotel sink.

Steripen UV Water Purifier

Drinking the tap water in India is inadvisable for foreigners. Not only are plastic bottles terrible for the environment (even when recycled), you also have to watch out for scams where bottled water is just tap water. I opt to just carry around this small UV light which allows me to fill up with tap water and sterilize it in 90 seconds. This is especially useful in remote areas where you might not have access to bottled water.

REI Adventure Pants

Lightweight, breathable and quick-drying. I brought two pairs so I could wear one while the other was airing out or drying after a wash. You really don’t need more than that.

REI Sahara Shirt

Same idea as the pants.

Noteable exclusions:

Lonely Planet India

This book is 1,200 pages. Even the South India & Kerala book (where I traveled mostly) is over 500. Though it was definitely worse for maps and just general browsing, I used the Kindle edition. It was worth the trade-off to save weight.

Shoes other than hiking boots

I only wore hiking boots which was fine because the SmartWool socks helped me stay cool. Shoes are just too heavy and voluminous.


Didn’t hit much rain. Plan was to just buy a cheap one if I needed it and then donate it. This is the perfect example of something that could easily be justified as useful but you wouldn’t be screwed without.


Myspace shot of the final result:

Traveling ultralight was quite a liberating experience. Whether I was running to catch a bus or making an impromptu beach trip, being able to easily carry everything on my back helped me have a trip that was simultaneously more adventurous and less stressful.