Five Months of Stuff for Southeast Asia

I’ve been asked about what I’ve packed more than once, so I figure it might make a good blog post.  It’s also nice documentation for any future insurance claims (knock on wood). 😉

When one leaves their home for five months and decides to live out of a backpack (albeit a rather substantial one), what does one bring along?  Some advice I’ve heard more than once is to lay out everything you think you might need, only pack half of it and bring twice as much money.  With 50 liter packs we can bring a lot, but we can’t bring everything, and we already did a pretty good job (I think) of pairing down and making some choices ahead of time.


Let’s start with the basic stuff.  In terms of clothing I have brought with me:

  • 4x Icebreaker merino wool t-shirts
    • These wear multiple days without smelling, do well in warm or cool weather, and dry quickly after being washed
  • 2x convertible pants (legs zip off so they can be worn as shorts)
    • Also quick-drying, lightweight, and do well in warm or cool weather
  • 1x long sleeved, button + collar shirt
    • Lightweight, good for sun protection (SPF 50) and supposedly insect-repelling as well


Jean and I purchased a few of these small “Pack-it” cubes.  That little pile of clothing smushes down into a nice little package.



  • 4x Ex-Officio boxer briefs + 1x Ex-officio boxer short
    • Synthetic material, with all the benefits of merino wool but probably a little more durable
  • 5x merino wool socks of varying weight and length
    • Most of them are super-light (thin) socks — it’s hot most of the places we’re going
  • 1x merino wool leggings.  Wearing these under the lightweight pants can keep me very warm.  So far haven’t needed them, but they pack small.


These are packed in a two-sided pack-it cube.  I guess so you can keep clean and dirty separate?  I pack these in the waterproof (-looking) side and I put dirty items in the other side of the cube.



  • Merrell Chamelion 5 hiking shoes
    • Waterproof (-ish… like Gore Tex)
    • Lightweight
  • Flippy floppies… lots of time on the beach
  • Zoot Ultra Tempo 5.0
    • My usual triathlon shoe. Does well getting wet, very lightweight
    • I almost brought trail running shoes instead (Saucony), and in Sapa I wished that I had, but I think the Zoots were probably the better choice over the whole journey


Ever since trekking in Sapa street vendors keep offering to clean my shoes for me, but I think I did a pretty good job cleaning them up after all of that mud. 🙂

Since they’re the bulkiest shoes out of the three, I wear these on travel days, regardless of the weather.  They’re not too bad with the ultralight wool socks even in the heat, though they don’t breathe as well as non-waterproof shoes would.


Shoes pack kind of large.  I pack them in plastic, reverse stacked (tops together) on each other and tie them together tightly.  Then it goes in the bottom of my bag.  The flippy floppies go with them.



Though I’m (thankfully) not training for any races currently, I’d like to do a little bit of maintenance exercise along the way.  With that in mind, I brought:

  • Nike running shorts
    • Heavier than some others I have, but also has good pockets for the little things I might carry on a run
  • Speedo jammer shorts
  • Technical t-shirt
    • Wildflower long course — represent!
  • Sleeveless running shirt
    • Not pictured because it was drying off
  • Swim goggles
  • Headsweats visor
  • Garmin 910xT
    • Because if it isn’t on Strava it doesn’t count, right?
      • I forgot my ANT+ USB stick, though, so uploads will have to wait ’til I get home

All fits into one pack-it cube.


Hanging out at the beach and walking around town in the Speedo shorts is a little too Euro for me, so I’d planned to pick up a cheap pair of board shorts along the way.  These are super lightweight and not bad quality for a knock off (and for $6).  Apologies for the terrible choice of background in the photo.


Keeping Warm

No San Franciscan can be seen without their North Face jacket in tow, right?  I started the trip wearing it, and I needed it a couple of nights in Hanoi, and definitely needed it the first couple of nights in Sapa.  Since then it’s been rolled and tucked away safely in my backpack, but there are a couple of destinations on our itinerary where it might come out again.

This jacket is great.  Very thin and light, semi-wind & waterproof, warm, and most importantly it packs small.


Personal Care

I’m not going to list every toiletry item I’ve packed, but I’ll mention maybe some non-obvious stuff.  Also I forgot ibuprofen, but it’s pretty cheap in Vietnam (in 400mg pills).

  • Bar of olive oil soap
    • I love this stuff.  It works for hair, body, shaving… probably could use it for laundry if I wanted
    • Lasts a good while.  I don’t know how easy it’ll be to find more of it in SE Asia, but as it gets smaller I’ll keep an eye out
    • I also use hotel soaps and shampoos when available to draw out how long this will last
  • Loofah
    • A luxury item, I guess, but it packs small
    • I store it in a zip-lock bag with a rubber band around the whole thing
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
    • Have to keep the toothpaste under 3oz because of occasional flights, and 4oz is what terrorists use, apparently
  • Drain plug + woollite packets
    • Doing laundry in the sink
      • Jean has since purchased a plastic bucket that she carries around (getting more than a few strange looks — she says the bucket will get its own blog post) so the sink plug has been getting used less often
  • Electric razor
    • Last time I was here I brought a regular disposable razor because dammit that’s what real backpackers should do… well this time, screw that
    • Charge lasts more than a week of normal use, and I’m not shaving daily anyway (because why?)
    • There’s power pretty much everywhere we go… and if not we probably won’t be there a week, or I can look like a slob… whatever
  • Hair product
    • Because I’m worth it



  • 2x small packs of wet wipes
    • Some of our side trips don’t have showers, so this is nice for cleaning up stinky parts on the go
  • 4x deodorant
    • Sure, you can buy “deodorant” here, but since it’s not commonly used here and in many other parts of the world, the stuff that you find is, um, “interesting.”  So I’m bringing my own.  Because I can
    • I think this’ll last me the whole trip
  • 2x travel packs of tissues
    • Doubles as toilet paper as needed
      • Though usually I’ll grab a small roll from a hotel and keep it in my backpack just in case
    • Easy to find more



The majority of the pictures from this trip have been taken with our phones.  I got Jean a new iPhone 5S specifically with this trip in mind, and I’m pretty happy with the photos from my Nexus 5.  The fact that they’re always on us, are decent cameras, and have built-in fast HDR modes (great for those outdoor landscape shots) make them the default camera for most things.

But the phones don’t do so great in low light.  Or sometimes you just want to use a “real” camera.  I used a Canon G12 on this trip two years ago, and I’ve brought it with me again.  It’s got a great zoom lens, and is a lot smaller and lighter than a DSLR camera.  I also have a compact case for it with built-in rain cover.


For Christmas Jean bought me a GoPro Hero 3+.  I’ve been skydiving with a Hero 2 for a while, but we have some water activities planned on this trip.  The domed lens cover on the waterproof case causes some focusing issues with the Hero 2 (and 1) cameras underwater, so starting with the Hero 3 GoPro replaced it with a flat surface over the lens.  The 3+ also shoots better in lower-light conditions, and can do 60fps at 1080p.  I picked up a small, lightweight telescoping pole to enable some fun shots (I hope).

I left the Hero 3+ remote at home, though I’ve since wished I’d brought it.  I’ll live without it, but when paired with the pole mount it would be handy.  I can just use the Android app instead, if I can remember my GoPro’s wifi password. 🙂


Computer Crap

I’m continuing to work (though not full time) while traveling, and a computer is an essential part of my job.  To be honest I’d have probably brought the same things even if I wasn’t working, because (lucky me) a lot of the work-type things I do are also personal interests of mine.

  • Microsoft Surface Pro 2
    • 512 GB SSD; 8GB RAM
      • I run Hyper-V for some dev environments since I can’t count on consistent internet access to my cloud-hosted environments
    • Wacom digitizer
    • Surface Type Cover 1
      • I was holding out for the “Power Cover” so I kept my Type Cover from my Surface RT that I owned previously, though since seeing pictures of it I think I’m happy I don’t have the Power Cover; it’s pretty bulky
      • Might upgrade to Type Cover 2 if I have the opportunity, mostly for backlight on the keys
    • Manvex case
      • Love this case
    • Overall I like my Surface Pro 2, but if I did it over again I’d weigh it against an 11″ ultrabook with similar storage and RAM, if one exists
  • Asus VivoTab Note 8
    • Full Windows 8.1 (not RT) in an 8″ tablet with ~8h of battery life
    • Wacom digitizer
    • Been using the hell out of this and really happy with the purchase
      • Only wish I had a USB to micro adapter for it so I could plug in USB storage, though I think there might be power issues to consider
  • Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2nd gen)
    • Haven’t really be using it, but I go through phases of reading.  There’s been enough else to do that I haven’t started any new books, but maybe later.  It’s small enough that hauling it around is no problem
  • Anker USB Battery Pack
    • 13,000 mAh — enough to charge my phone 5 or 6 times
    • I use this a lot back home, and have continued using it a lot while traveling
  • Apricorn 1.5 TB AES-256 bit encrypted hard drive
    • Additional VM disk images, PC backups, etc.
    • 500 GB partitioned for Jean’s Mac to backup (time machine)


Other computer crap:

  • Surface accessories
    • Microsoft Arc mouse for Surface
    • HDMI adapter
    • VGA adapter
  • Ethernet cable
  • Compact router/AP/bridge/repeater (TP-Link)
  • USB 3.0 hub
    • The Surface only has one USB 3.0 port, which is usually sufficient
  • USB ethernet adapter
  • 2x USB 3.0 thumb drives (8gb)
  • Apricorn 4GB AES 256-bit encrypted thumb drive
    • I keep copies of personal files on here, pictures of the passports, some customer data



Ultra absorbent and fast-drying towel.  You know what Towelie says….


Sleeping bag liner.  Some places seem a little less clean than others.  We both used these a lot on our first stops and on overnight trains.


“Platypus” collapsible 0.5L water bottle.  I also picked up a little water bottle pouch from the H’mong ladies in Sapa to carry it around in.


A poncho, for keeping me and the pack dry.


  • Analog tablet, aka notebook + pencil
  • 3x power plug adapters
    • Almost every plug here takes US-style blades and round pins, but some don’t work so well. Overall I’d be fine without these but the three that I have don’t take much space.
    • Everything I brought accepts 220V power, so no transformer is needed
    • I have one China-style adapter (angled blades), just in case
  • SteriPen UV water “purifier”
    • Haven’t needed and hope I don’t, but another “just in case” item
  • Waterproof (-ish) case for my phone
    • When balancing between marsh-like rice fields
  • Nylon cord for clothesline
    • We use this a lot


Skydiving pull-up cords.  Versatile, small, and strong.



Jean picked up a PacSafe mesh thingy that can cover the bag, securing its contents and also tether to something else (like furniture).  I wasn’t going to get one, but it makes me feel a little better and isn’t too bulky nor heavy.  Will it work? I don’t want to find out.  But at least my bag is a little more difficult than the next bag.



Traveling Companion

No adventure of mine would be complete without little Pen Pen in tow.  He likes to have his picture taken in front of beautiful/interesting/famous places all around the world, and is probably more well-traveled than most Americans.  Not bad for a 17-year-old beanbag.


Putting It All Together

I can fit everything into the single 50L bag — that was important to me.  But most times I carry a smaller knock-off North Face backpack (purchased here in Vietnam 2 years ago) to keep my computer and whatever I want for the day close at hand.

Here it looks like a pretty snug fit, but I can fit more in here if I wanted to.  The three pack-it cubes and everything having a specific space makes it so I can unpack and repack in just a few minutes.

All told this comes in around 12KG (26 lbs).



Cutting Back

It might be interesting to see if I can travel so long on a 30L pack instead of a 50L pack.  Sure, I could go without four t-shirts, extra deodorant, and some other miscellaneous items.  But 50L is an easily-managed size, and much smaller than some of the 100+L packs I see other travelers wearing.

All told I think Jean and I are both happy with the choices that we’ve made.

Maybe Jean can do a post on her stuff, so she can talk about the girly crap she packed.  I made her leave the giant Hello Kitty at home. 😉

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