Ultra Light Packing List (Freezing Cold Weather Edition)

It's not easy breathing water. :)

As you know I’m in Chicago right now. It’s Winter. And it’s very cold. So my ultra light packing list needed a bit of a revamp. Since I pack so little as it is my backpack is usually only 70-80% full. For Winter I think it’s nearing 100% full. That’s perfectly OK. A 32L backpack doesn’t allow for many frivolous things.

Actually, Nick from BecomingBold.com asked me last month if I had a tip for packing ultra light and I said something along the lines of: “You already have a tiny backpack, feel free to fill it all up.” :) (Nick and his girlfriend are each traveling with 28L backpacks!) You can’t exactly go overboard when you fit all your possessions in a backpack smaller than most children take to school.

Before we move on, if you haven’t already seen my previous packing lists here they are:

Travel Light, Travel Anywhere: The Ultimate Light Packing List

Updated Light Packing List (Or I’m No Longer An Ultra Light Traveler!)

Instead of listing every single item I’m traveling with assume that anything listed in the above lists I still have with me, unless it has been replaced. :)

13″ MacBook Air

13" MacBook Air

I went all out and fully upgraded my Air. Including AppleCare the total cost was about $2k. I’m still unconvinced the Air is worth the $1,000 premium over a Windows computer. Maybe it’s just the learning curve, but I don’t feel like it’s an exceptional computer. It’s good and it gets the job done, but I haven’t been converted to the fanboy cult. Honestly, the only things that are measurably better are the bootup/shutdown which are blazingly fast.

Air O Swiss Ultrasonic Travel Humidifier

Air O Swiss Travel Humidifier

Winter air is dry. Especially when you factor in heating. My skin is incredibly dry as it is. Dry air compounds the problem. I had thought about getting a small humidifier and just then I read 4 Hour Body which mentions this Air O Swiss travel humidifier. I got it and I like it. Here’s my issue with humidifiers (in general, not just this one): I have no way to test how well they’re working. Obviously I’m putting water into the air. I can see it happening. But how much does it really affect the air quality? If you have any idea how I can test this I would love to hear it.

NeilMed NasaFlo Neti Pot

NeilMed NasaFlo Neti Pot

You already know how much I love the neti pot. I finally decided I need to travel with one. Good thing too because I seem to have developed a sinus condition over the past couple of days. :(

If you’ve never used a neti pot they are amazing. Even if you don’t have allergies or don’t have a sinus issue, once you breathe after using a neti you will feel like you were teleported into another world. For just $15 I can’t recommend one of these highly enough.

Thermos Nissan 12-Ounce Tea Tumbler with Infuser

12 Ounce Thermos with Tea Infuser

I love tea. One of the luxuries I miss most when I’m traveling is drinking loose leaf tea. I can live without it, of course, but when I saw that Thermos made a container with a tea infuser I knew it would be mine. I planned on getting a small Thermos anyway because when you’re walking around in below freezing temperatures it’s nice to have a warm beverage. :)

I’d never owned a Thermos before and I’m quite impressed. It keeps beverages warm for a full day. In the morning what I do is brew a container of tea using this Thermos, then pour it into a cup. I brew another container and close it up. I drink the tea in the cup and when I leave the house I take my Thermos with me. I’ve got a hot beverage to accompany me on my “explore until your face feels like it’s frost bitten” walks.

Note: In an attempt to hydrate I have not been drinking caffeinated tea. Caffeine is a diuretic and may dry you out. I’ve been drinking lots of rooibos.

Bamboo Shirt

Bamboo Shirt

In an attempt to replace the travel shirts I’ve had to throw away (because they got worn out) I decided to try a bamboo shirt. It sounds sexy, no? Bamboo is a fairly easily renewable resource and supposedly does not hold odors. Sign me up.

Unfortunately, the shirt doesn’t deliver and I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s difficult to see in the photo, but the collar is stretched out which makes the shirt look like crap. That happened after the first washing. I don’t ring shirts out in the neck so as not to stretch out the collar, but it got stretched out anyway.

As for odor resistance? It’s pretty good in that regard.

Bamboo Shirt Tag

Hemp Shirt

Hemp Shirt

The hemp shirt faired a little bit better than the bamboo shirt as far as looking OK, but it’s only 55% hemp and 45% cotton. Which means it takes a long time to dry (it’s thicker) and it’s not as odor resistent as other travel shirts since cotton is the worst possible travel clothing material imaginable.

Hemp Tag

Old Winter Coat

Old Winter Coat

Wait, wait, wait. Not old … vintage, right? :) I wouldn’t be surprised if this coat is over 20 years old. I “stole” it from my Dad when I was in Michigan last month. I will most likely donate it on my way out of Chicago.

injinji Mini Crew Toesocks

injinji Toe Socks

I bought these to use with my Vibram Five Fingers because using Vibrams without socks stinks them up pretty quickly. I love how they feel and they fit perfectly with the Vibrams. Definitely recommended if you’re a Vibrams wearer. I also wear them with my normal shoes since I’m not using Vibrams in the Winter. :)

Not Pictured

I also stole a scarf from my Parents house. It’s just a scarf and I didn’t think it was worth photographing. :)

Travel Clothesline Comparison

When I was in Austin I created this video comparing 2 different travel clotheslines. As you will see I’m a fan of the Sea To Summit Clothesline, but the Rick Steves Clothesline has its place as well.

[If you’re reading via e-mail click here to watch the video.]

If you don’t remember, this is how I wash my clothes by hand anywhere in the world.

If you have any additional cold weather packing tips or questions about my packing list leave them below …


While we’re on the subject of travel, Chris is opening up the Travel Hacking Cartel tomorrow. You get your first 14 days for $1 so it’s worth a look if you plan on doing any air travel within the next year. If you’ve read my Frequent Flyer Master Review you know I’ve learned a lot from Chris as far as travel hacking is concerned. I’ll see you on the inside


  1. Your posts are so timely. I recently downsized my entire closet to fit into a carry-on. On our upcoming trip we plan to bring only backpacks (huge step for us, you should have heard my family’s reaction of disbelief that it is possible!). The weather will be warm, but I appreciated the links to your videos on washing clothes by hand/clotheslines. The Thermos is cool too since I drink tea whether it’s warm or cold outside. Hope you are enjoying Chicago–one of my favorite cities in the US!

  2. Yay! More light travel tips. These are some of my favorite posts, Karol. Gotta say I am surprised by the humidifier. Two questions: Is it easy to pack and does it work effectively? Oh, one more… how hard is it to get into the Vibrams with the toe socks?

    • It’s not tiny, but it fits in my backpack along with everything else and that’s what matters. As for effectiveness: I will have to test humidity levels using the tips left in the comments below. :)

      Vibrams and toe socks work perfectly. No issues.

  3. Hey Karol, I met you at the Borders here in Dallas during the AONC book tour. I wanted to let you know about some experimentation I have been trying after reading an article on Boing Boing. This guy who also had skin issues decided to try going soap-free.
    I haven’t used soap for about a month and I can honestly say that I don’t stink as much as I thought I would! ;) But really, I don’t smell bad and I think there is a small improvement in my dry skin. I still use lotion although I don’t think I need as much. I didn’t dare try no shampoo. I have had some disastrous results when experimenting with Dr. Bronner’s on the hair so I am a chicken in that respect now.
    Maybe this is something you want to try out for yourself. Viva la self-experimentation! :)
    Original article: http://goo.gl/X02KH

    • Hey Stephanie!

      I haven’t used shampoo in about 2 years, but have not considered going soapless. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy and guys smell. Soap helps with that. Going to check out the article though, thanks! :)

      • I have really sensitive skin that is also dry. Lately when I travel I’ve tried to just use soap on the “stinky” areas and rinse off the rest which seem to get irritated the easiest. It seems to be working better.

  4. I have to agree with you Karol about the Air. I have been using my 11″ Air for 2 months now, but when I doubt the premium I paid over a windows machine all I have to do is pick it up. Lighter than most netbooks and has a full size keyboard. The aluminum uni-body construction gives it such a solid, permanent feel. I would have bought a windows machine if any of them had the lightness, compactness and solid construction.

      • I do mostly agree with you, the Air isn’t an exceptional computer, but it is a well-built product. I probably would have been less happy with a 13″. I have a netbook, but hated the smaller keyboard. If there had been a Windows machine of the quality manufacturing, size and weight of the 11″ Air I would have bought it. Even the new Samsung Series 9 is bigger and mostly plastic. However, had it existed when I was making my buying decision, I may have ended up with it. It is still in the same price range as the Air.

        Why did you get the 13″ instead of the 11″ since you travel so much?

        • I went with 13″ because it’s still great for travel and I didn’t like the smaller screen. And for a project I’m working on this summer I will be doing a lot of video. Small screen + video = ehh. :)

  5. The biggest advantage of the MacBook over a Windows laptop is simply that it’s running Mac OS X and not Windows. It might take a little while, but I suspect over time you’ll agree (though I could be wrong).

    Anyway, I also bought the 11 inch MacBook Air before leaving Toronto and it’s been amazing for travelling as it takes up next to no space in my backpack.

      • I’ll have to take your word for it. After Windows XP and then Vista ruined Windows for me (2000 was the last version of Windows I actually liked), I haven’t really been able to bring myself to try Windows 7. Since Mac OS X does everything I want, I haven’t really needed to anyway. :)

        • I’ve already had to take my 11″ Air back to factory because the operating system wouldn’t boot properly. Thankfully, I had backed up my machine the day before. Even with all the “problems” of Windows, I’ve never had to do that to get it work.

      • For my situation, yes. I run it in a 10’x10’x8′ room that is heated to ~66F by baseboard radiators. Keeping the door shut much of the time and running the unit 24/7 (uses about 2 bottle of water a day) I keep the humidity reading just above 40%. Without the unit it gets down to 30% or less.

        I have acoustic instruments in the room, in whose cases I also keep humidifiers (piece of sponge in a perforated film canister), and I have to refill those much less while running the room humidifier outside.

        • Fantastic. Thanks Betty! :) I’m using mine in a room that’s about 3 times larger than yours (~300 sq ft studio apartment). I’m looking forward to seeing the results I get.

  6. I took a little look to see if there is any way to test a humidifier and I found for about $20 you can pick up a humidity sensor that will take the temperature and show you the humidity levels in the room. ((http://www.amazon.com/Oregon-Scientific-THGR122NX-Wireless-Temperature/dp/B000WOG90E))

    i’ve never used a humidifier but I wonder if it might be beneficial to me. I think I might borrow one from a friend and try it out for a week. I am also going to look into that thermos! If it keeps the temperature like you say it does I’m gonna be in heaven!



  7. I have the same Neti Pot and I take it with me when I’m away from home. I really like it a lot, although Wal Mart has it around here for about $8 and I think it’s worth it. At the very least it’s easier to manage on the go than a big bag full of various allergy prescriptions. And it’s rather humorous, my kids need a cheer up they just watch me pour water out my nose!

  8. Dude this is awesome. Reminds me of Colombia. My mom use to hang up the clothes on the “terraza” or terrace I think that’s what it means in English.

    I think the rope think is awesome, but we can all be more simple and just use a simple rope I think, that’s my personal opinion you know.

    I enjoyed the whole post though, I think this helps me prepare for the future when I start traveling.


  9. Karol,

    To be quite honest, you’re paying an extra one grand for the operating system and the customer service. That’s about it (if you compare other laptops with similar hardware, as Apple is known for selling overpriced hardware).

    I’m surprised that the socks you purchased weren’t from Zappos. Do they keep you warm during the winter (not sure if you’re bold enough to wear them outside in Chicago)?


    • Even if it were just the OS we’re paying extra for, I’d happily pay it to not have to use Windows (and I honestly love Mac OS X at this point, after many years of hating it back in the PowerPC days). :) That said, is there actually similar hardware to the MacBook Air (particularly the 11 inch model)?

    • I don’t understand the Zappos comment at all.

      Yes, they keep warm. I don’t wear the Five Fingers outside in the Winter, but as stated, I wear the toe socks with normal shoes.

  10. Great post. I love that you carry a Neti pot. I was wondering if it was worth bringing since it is a bit bulky…but you have convinced me.

    It is really cold in Chicago right now…I hope you have a hat and gloves too. Stay warm!

  11. I’m glad to hear that you’re coping with our Chicago winter. Unfortunately you’ve come down with the ubiquitous January cold of death. :( I just shook mine a few days back.

    I’m so impressed you’re managing without boots!

    • It seems everybody I know (not just in Chicago) has a cold right now. Weird.

      I haven’t owned boots since I was probably 15. It’s not so difficult. Just gotta watch for the slush. :)

  12. Dude — you’re spooky… You always seem to know exactly what I want to read, when I want to read it. :)

    This was a great post, and I absolutely LOVE the Thermos Tumbler with Tea Infuser! I’ve been wanting to get away from drinking so much coffee, and tea seems to be a great substitution. However, my idea of tea has always been that it comes in a tea bag and you just add hot water. An Asian friend/co-worker recently told me I could not be more wrong! I need to learn more about “real” tea and how to make it correctly using an infuser. Any suggestions for a newbie? There are a couple tea shops here in Toledo, so I will be visiting them soon. If they don’t carry the Thermos tumbler, or something similar, I will be ordering a couple from Amazon.

    I have the same Neti pot and I really love the feeling I get from using it. Hadn’t thought about taking it with me on the road before, but I really should.

    Also, my experience with bamboo shirts has been the same as yours. My wife got me two polos recently, but after wearing them a couple times, I experienced the same issues with them getting all out of whack and looking bad.

    So, here’s a new tip I’ll share… Crystal Deodorant Stones. You can pick them up in health food stores, or online. They are really small and apparently last a LONG time (ie. 4.25oz stone last for a year!). I just got one that I’ve only been using for a month, but so far I cannot see any evidence that it has shrunk at all. You just wet the stone and rub it on wherever you want to control odor. I only use it on the ol’ pits, but I’ve read people use it on their feet, and other unmentionable areas. :) The best part, of course, is that it REALLY works at controlling odor, and there are no chemicals.

    Do a search on Amazon for “Thai Deodorant Stick” – the first one that comes up should be the 4.25oz stick for around $5.71.

    • Dave! You got me. I forgot to include my Deodorant Crystal in this packing list. I was going to include it in this Saturday’s update instead. I’ve been using it since early October and it is great.

      As for tea: going to a tea shop staffed by someone knowledgeable will do wonders. All you really need to know is that green/white teas shouldn’t be steeped in boiling water. Boil then let it sit for about 5 minutes before steeping. Steeping times: green = less than 3 minutes; white = 3-5 minutes; black (using boiling water) = 3-5 minutes; most herbal teas you can steep for longer. If you’ve ever heard anybody say they don’t like green tea it’s most likely because they scorched it with boiling water, and it does taste like crap when that happens. Other than that just follow your nose/taste buds!

      Alternately: Adagio.com used to send a great book about tea with new orders over $25, but I don’t know if they still do that. I haven’t shopped with them in years since I haven’t really been able to, but they’re a great site. What I used to do is buy dozens of different samples of various teas. A sample ($3-5 usually) yields about 10 cups. They used to have a thing where customers could send potential new customers free $5 gift certificates and I’ll look into that for you if you’d like.

      • Thanks for the tea tips Karol! Found out tonight my wife has been holding out on me… Showed her the Thermos and she proceeds to show me a tea pot with infuser that has been hiding under the cupboard for 3+ years! I need to check the dark corners more often. :)

    • Hey, that’s really cool. I’ve been looking for something different that I’m possibly not allergic to. Been kind of worried for the future of my arm pits and possibly my dating life. :)

  13. Hey Karol!
    What are your experiences so far with the macbook air so far? I’m a big mac fan since birth :P

    Also, just wanted to mention, I am following the no shampoo experiment. I just started a couple of days ago and I’m getting some dandruff? Any tips?

    I’m considering FINALLY getting some vibrams, selling a lot of my stuff, and working my butt off this summer to save up some money to travel – thanks to the inspiration of you and other travel blogs

    Speaking of working butts off, this inspirational clip showing overcoming ANY obstacle is something I look at daily. Thought I’d share.

    • Hey Steven! I’m not sure what more to say about the MBA than I’ve already said here.

      No shampoo: gotta keep it up for a while. Your body needs to regulate. Also, if the air is really dry you might just have dry skin, not dandruff. Right now in Chicago pretty much my whole body is flaking off. haha

      Vibrams are not the end all and be all. They’re not necessary, but I do like them. There are better things to spend your money on though.

      Thanks for the youtube clip. :)

  14. Thank you Karol,
    However their all-hemp T-shirts are $20. They look and feel like the Icebreaker.

    This is for everyone.
    I’m planning a trip from New York to Germany in 3 months from this weekend and it will be 1-2 months. Like Tim F. of 4-Hour WW, I have plans and I plan to wing it.
    I have a Word Press blog and if you have one, you know, that you log in and there is the space to type. Above it are buttons/icons for video, image, photo, etc.

    I ask for I’m planning on NOT taking a laptop with me, just iPhone and/or iPad.
    I noticed playing with an iPad, that the buttons for the video and pictures are not there.

    I figure the answer is, that one can use someone else’s computer, load pictures from an iPhone or Flip and upload to a blog or website and then delete.

    Is that correct? Thanks for any help.

  15. Thank you Karol,
    An oversight on my part; the Hempest Tshirts are not all hemp; they’re 55/45 hemp/cotton. Just the button down shirts are all hemp.

    Where I am venturing to, I’ll have access to one or more computers to publish. I may have a new career in the works.

  16. Your cold weather clothing isn’t really ultralight… A fantastic combination that I use is a double-sided fleece from EDZ, and a windproof shell over it, also from EDZ. (Not sure if links are allowed here, but you’ll find them on Google. And no, I don’t work for them!) The fleece is incredibly warm for its weight, and has thumb loops and a high collar and an extended rear to cover your rear extension. But it lets the slightest breeze through. The windproof shell obviously takes care of that, the unusual thing about this one is, it weighs 100g and it’s so tiny in the stuff sac that I carry it in my pocket without it bulging. (BTW you’ll need one size larger than the fleece size, to use together). It’s also reasonably water resistant – I’ve used it hiking, it started to leak after an hour of pouring rain, but only where my bag was rubbing. Sadly it doesn’t have a hood. But I’m a hat-wearing person anyway.

    Other ultra-light cold-weather clothing is anything made of merino wool. Merino stuff is very thin but holds much more warmth than you’d expect. It’s also naturally anti-bacterial (read: odour-resistant), wicks sweat and dries fast. Merino beanie hat, gloves, neck warmer (better and much lighter than a scarf – pull it up over your nose when the air is so cold that it hurts to breathe). Wear a merino t-shirt or long-sleeved “baselayer” top under your regular shirt, merino leggings under your regular trousers – perfect if you’re travelling between warm and cold climates.

    Oh yeah, guys – if you’re stuck somewhere cold and you didn’t bring the male-branded merino leggings – wear your gf’s tights. They’ll fit (they stretch LOADS), they’ll keep you warm, and you won’t turn into a girl until you wear them for at least a month.

    • I guess you didn’t read my first packing list about merino wool. :)

      By ultralight I mean I can fit all my stuff in my 32L backpack + on my person. So I’m sure there are people who pack lighter than me, but it’s pretty light anyway. ;)

  17. I assume you’ve also got a few pairs of underwear right?
    I’m going to try the bamboo shirt… I have a quick-dry shirt and once I used natural deodorant and now the armpits smell permanently.

  18. This post is AWESOME! I’m living in Japan and am really stoked to start exploring the surrounding countries/world in general (I just graduated from university so this is a new thing for me). I feel so peaceful and happy when I have a smaller amount of things with me—with this post I can make everything count as much as possible. Thanks!

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