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Travel Light With One Carry-On Bag

You’ve planned your trip down to the T, yet you’re terrified your checked baggage will go missing. As per SITA’s 2019 report, approximately 5.7 bags per thousand are mishandled or go missing over the course of a year. To put that into perspective, 24.8 million pieces of luggage were mishandled or went missing in 2018. If you’re not a gambler and don’t want your luggage to be among those lost, then you’re probably looking into other options. I expect that’s why you’re here.

So, you’re going on an expedition – perhaps for photography, perhaps not – and are interested in traveling light, with one carry-on bag. There are many interesting websites on this subject, which you can spend hours researching, or you can save yourself time and check out what I have found to work. If photography is not your thing, you can just skip over the camera bag section.

As an Amazon Associate, I earn money from qualifying purchases when you click on one of my links. That said, even if Amazon does not sell the product, I will still give you a link to it, whether I can monetize it or not.

I first researched, compiled, and purchased quite a bit from this list in 2011, when I went on a five-week trip to Peru. I spent three weeks in the Amazon jungle and another two weeks exploring the rest of the country. Peru is such a diverse country, with so much to see. If you ever head there, plan on spending one week in the jungle (Iquitos area), and then allow yourself three weeks to tour the rest of the country. I didn’t have a professional camera system at the time, so I would love to go back and re-trace my steps.

Since this list was originally made in 2011, some of the original products I used are no longer available. However, I researched again what I used, and came up with what I consider their equivalents. I have also added additional choices that may suit you better.

Why so many links, you may ask? The first reason is that not every link will work for your country. If it is a product you desire, then copy it into Google and run a search which will help you find another way to go about purchasing it. Or, use some of the online retailers listed at the end of this post to see if the product you want is available from them. The second reason is that not everyone is built the same, nor does everyone have the same budget. I tried to include sizes for short, tall, and big, plus items for those on both limited and unlimited budgets.

The first and foremost thing on this list is the carry-on bag. To be more precise, when referring to ‘bags’, I am talking about backpacks/packsacks/rucksacks/packs or whatever you may call them, rather than suit-cases. This bag must not only fit into the FAA’s suggested guidelines (22” X 14” X 9” (45 linear inches)), but most importantly, into the guidelines set by the airlines whom you will be flying with. Since each airline has its own set of guidelines, you can check out the Upgraded Points website, which has a very easy to read chart on 58 major airlines. For a more comprehensive list, with 170+ airlines, go to the Travel Made Simple website.

Remember that your loaded bag is going to bulge out, which may take it past the airline’s maximum carry-on baggage dimensions, and possibly cause you to have to check the bag. A lot of manufacturers claim their bags are carry-on legal, yet the bags are already over the maximum size limit for the majority of airlines before they are even filled.

Small domestic airlines have even smaller overhead bins than do major carriers, and there’s nothing worse than the sinking feeling you get when you’re on the plane and you realize that your bag is not going to fit. Don’t panic, though, if this ever happens. You can usually just pull out something small, which you can carry on your lap, and you should then be able to shove your bag into the overhead bin.


Affordable military-style bags will also work, but I would not want to be carrying one around in a foreign country and attracting unnecessary attention toward myself. Such bags may be best for flights within your own country, unless you can get a model that blends in better.


The bags listed above are not for your camera gear, even though you should be able to slip in a few camera-related accessories. That said, you are usually allowed one additional personal item for carry-on, which can be a small camera bag that will fit one DSLR and three lenses. I will list such bags below. Personal item sizes vary greatly amongst airlines. Do your research with the two links I provided above.

A small waist pack such as the Pacsafe – Metrosafe LS120 Anti-Theft Hip Pack will also come in handy, if you are not planning to use a second carry-on bag for large camera equipment. Optionally, you can carry a waist pack in your main carry-on bag, and bring it out when you arrive at your destination. These work great for carrying your rain gear, water, snacks, toilet paper, and a small camera.

If you plan on bringing even more photography equipment, there are camera bags of every size out there, including carry-on sized camera bags (if you don’t mind checking in your other luggage). Don’t forget that fast lenses can be quite heavy, so even if the bag dimensionally fits into the airline regulations, it may end up weighing too much. If it weighs too much, you may be able to pay extra to keep it as a carry-on, but this has to be discussed with your airline ahead of time. You can also put your smaller lens in your jacket pocket when checking in at the airport, to help keep your smaller carry-on bag at a legal weight.


The third most important item in this list is a toiletry bag. I used to have a perfect one, the Eagle Creek – Pack-It Caddy Toiletry Bag, but alas, it was stolen, and this product is now discontinued. You can sometimes find the same product sold online through a country outside of North America. No other toiletry bags are made to very usable dimensions when it comes to fitting in a carry-on bag. If your electric razor is on the short side, you may be able to use the Maxpedition – Aftermath Compact Toiletries Bag. If all else fails, there is the AmazonBasics – Hanging Travel Toiletry Kit Bag.

Next, you’re going to need to find a way to compact your clothing so it all fits in your carry-on bag. This can be done with Sea to Summit eVac Compression Dry Sacks.  For the blue models, I used a 13-liter for pants and shirts, an 8-liter for socks and shorts, and a 3-liter for washcloth, towel, and swimsuit. For the grey models, I used an 8-liter for laundry and a 3-liter for underwear and headwear.


For carrying wet laundry that can by hung from outside of your pack, use a Sea to Summit – Ultra-Mesh Stuff Sack.

Now, on to what to pack in those compression sacks. Bring functional, durable, lightweight clothing that does not make you stand out. You want to be able to blend in with the locals and not look like someone who is going on a safari. You need to be able to compact this clothing to a very small size. Also, since you are bringing very little clothing, you will get into the habit of doing some laundry daily in the bathroom sink. This requires you to have clothing that dries overnight (no cotton).


Sorry ladies, but I haven’t been able to add any clothing choices for you. I will do my best to add some in the near future. In the meantime, with this list. you do have the names of many products, and usually these companies will make something equivalent for the ladies. This goes for children’s sizes also.


Let’s start with shirts. If you’re used to wearing T-shirts, you should still bring one long-sleeved shirt that can be used as a dress shirt, or worn for cool nights or on jungle expeditions if needed. Two short-sleeved T-shirts and one long-sleeved button front shirt are all you will need. This includes what you will be wearing when you leave your home.


Now, on to my list of suitable pants. You will only need two pairs, which includes the pair you’re wearing when you leave home.


You will need some shorts that can also be used as your trunks/swimsuit/bathing suit. These will need a pocket with a zipper so you have a place to put your room keys, etc. and not worry about anything falling out.


Pack three pairs of underwear (briefs/boxers/gitch/gotch), plus what you’re wearing. From everyone’s favourite travel clothing company Exofficio, there is the not too long, and not too short, men’s 3” brief.


You will also need to pack three pairs of socks, plus what you’re wearing. My favourite socks, which I can’t seem to get online, are the Redwing diabetic socks. You don’t have to be a diabetic to wear them, you just have to hate tight-fitting socks. I once decided to buy socks from every company that sells wool socks, and I found that Smartwool’s shrunk the least. I find if your feet are size 11, you should always order XL.


A lot of you will be coming from a cold country, and/or may encounter cold conditions at high altitudes during your travels. If that sounds like you, then bringing/wearing a lightweight pair of underwear/baselayer is a must.



So, to sum things up, all you need to carry in your pack is one pair of pants, two shirts, three sets of underwear, and three pairs of socks. Laundry can be done in a sink.

If you are coming from a cold country or will be experiencing cold temperatures, you will need a warm yet lightweight jacket that can be compacted when needed.


You will need breathable lightweight rain gear made from Gore-Tex Paclite or equivalent material. This rain gear can also be worn to keep the wind out, and can be compacted down to a very small size. I choose Gore-Tex Paclite because you can roll your jacket or pants down to the size of your fist.


With lightweight material, you will be lacking durability, so if you’re going to participate in some sort of harsh, active sport, or using your jacket while wearing a packsack, make sure you read the product details carefully. You may prefer a technical hardshell as an alternative. Weights are for size large, unless noted with an “M”.



Lightweight headwear is quite important. You may need something when leaving home, while out on the ocean, or at high altitude. Most watch caps and beanies compact quite nicely, yet keep your head toasty warm.


To keep the sun out of your eyes on sunny days, or while on the water, here are some choices for caps.


Footwear takes up lots of room. Instead of bringing a pair of lightweight running shoes and heavyweight hiking boots, I choose to only bring a pair of lightweight hiking boots. In the summer, I normally wear Thula Thula moccasins made by the Russell Moccasin Co. With flat bottoms, you have nothing to fall off of, so it’s pretty much impossible to twist your ankle. That said, I find moccasins to be unforgiving when walking on concrete, unless they have some sort of sole, or cushioned slipsole, which the Russell Moccasin Co. offers as options.


Boots are one thing you will have to go and try on in a store. Everyone’s feet are shaped differently, and it is very important to have perfectly-fitted footwear in order to avoid blisters. If nothing fits, you can get custom-made inserts made by Lathrop & Sons, Crary, or pick an insole from


For those filthy showers or for just puttering around a hostel with, you can buy a pair of Secure Slip Resistant Shower Shoes.

An unscented shampoo or dish-soap can be used for scrubbing your body, hair, dishes, and laundry. You can also carry along some non-scented powdered laundry detergent or shampoo, or a bar of laundry detergent or shampoo. This way, you’re not eating into the limited amount of liquids that are allowed in your carry-on. The only problem with soap bars is that they will probably be wet when you pack them so they must be put into Ziploc baggies.


For carry-on, you are only allowed a 1-liter/quart-sized resealable bag, with its contents limited to travel-sized containers that are 100ml/3.4oz. These must be easily accessible in order for you to be able to separate them from your main carry-on bag for the screening process.


Airports have lots of free 1- liter/quart resealable bags. I would highly recommend putting your main resealable bag inside of a larger resealable bag. Having liquids leak into your luggage is not fun.


Inside the 1-liter/quart bag, pack along four 100ml/3.4oz coloured bottles for your shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and moisturizer. You may need an additional bottle for sunscreen. And while we are at it, buy a box of Ben’s – 30 Tick & Insect Repellent Wipes instead of the liquid spray bottle.


Toilet paper is limited in some countries, so if needed, start saving your favourite toilet paper when the roll is down to one third its normal size. Store these partial rolls in Ziploc Sandwich Bags.


To dry your clothes, there’s the Sea to Summit Lite Line Clothesline and, if needed, the Travelon Set of 2 Inflatable Hangers. Don’t forget to bring a Sink Stopper since they don’t exist in many developing countries. I recommend the Lunatec – Self-Cleaning Travel Washcloth, a synthetic cloth that is quick-drying and odor-resistant. For lying on the beach, there is the Sea to Summit – Airlite Towel XL.


Scared of losing those expensive sunglasses? You can try some Pilotfish – No Tail Adjustable Eyewear Retainer, Luxe Performance – Palm Tree Cable Strap or Chums – Adjustable Orbiter Sunglass Keepers. If you’re going to be travelling on water, Chums – Floating neo Eyewear, Eyewear Retainer, or Luxe Performance – Floaters will keep your glasses from sinking.

To keep your cap from blowing away, I suggest the Chums – Hat Clip Retainer, or the  Bluecell World – Adjustable Hat Strap Clips, Cap Retainers.

For carrying something to drink, use the Vapur 1L Wide Mouth Anti-Bottle or Platypus – Hoser Reservoir, which can be rolled up into a tight bundle when not in use. To make sure your water is safe to drink, you can bring either a Katadyn - Pocket Water Filter , MSR – Hyperflow Microfilter , Survivor Filter – PRO, and/or a Katadyn – Steripen Ultralight UV Water Purifier. Chlorine dioxide water purification tablets such as the Potable Aqua – Water Purification Tablets, are also good to have along.

In case of emergencies, an Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight and Watertight .7 Medical Kit is a must to have along. The company also sells larger or smaller kits, with many options to go along with them in case you need to add something different. A Plastic Pack of Q-Tip Swabs comes in handy for personal hygiene, plus they work great for cleaning electronics. Don’t forget to bring your prescriptions, plus Cortisone 10 – Anti-Itch Cream (for dealing with mosquito bites), and Tylenol – Pain Relief Tablets, Polysporin – Plus Pain Relief Ear Drops, Polysporin – Ointment, Major – Chlorpheniramine Allergy Tablets, Curad – Petroleum Jelly, Dramamine – Motion Sickness Relief, Sovereign Silver – Colloidal Silver, Pepto Bismol Caplets for Nausea, Heartburn, indigestion, Upset Stomach, and Diarrhea, and Imodium Anti-Diarrheal Softgel meds. Pack whatever else you think you may have the slightest chance of needing.

To see what you’re doing at night, there’s the LRI – FMWC Photon Freedom LED Keychain Micro-Light with Covert Nose, White Beam. You have the option of buying this with different coloured lights and beam widths. Red is good for keeping your night vision. For a much brighter yet compact light, there’s the LRI – PPRO Proton Pro White/Red, 2-Colors-in-1 LED Flashlight, or the Nitecore – EA11 LED Flashlight. And for convenience while walking, there’s the Petzl E02 P4 e+LITE Emergency Headlamp. Don’t forget spare batteries.

To figure out where you are or how to get back, my favourite GPS is the Garmin – GPSMAP 66 Series. I’m usually using my GPS in the bush while wearing gloves, so I prefer a model with buttons. You can upgrade this model to the GARMIN – GPSMAP 66i, which has satellite communication abilities and can be used for SOS alerts. You can also download Guru Maps or GAIA GPD Maps onto your smartphone, along with maps of the area you’re going to, and it will allow your phone to work fine as a GPS even without cellphone service.


The problems with using a cellphone as opposed to a handheld GPS are battery life and durability. If you plan on using your cellphone where there is no way to charge it, bring along a portable battery pack.


Or, you could bring a portable solar battery pack.


If you’re not interested in a GPS but still want to communicate or be able to send out an emergency signal, here are your choices.


There is also the SPOT – TRACE, which can be used for tracking your belongings.

To keep all your electronics charged, you may need a Jasco 73611 GE Dual Watt Foreign Voltage Adaptor. Most electronics charger plug-ins usually say on them that they can be used with both 110-220 volts and 60-50 Hz, so you will probably not need a power converter, but you will need a plug-in converter. If you have lots of electronics that need charging, you can use a Monster Outlets To Go 300 for Laptops 3 Outlets, 2 USB.

After you’ve had a hard day of sightseeing and exploring, and it’s time for a snooze, you can crawl under a Sea to Summit Nano Mosquito Pyramid Net Shelter. Sea to Summit also makes sleeping bag liners such as the Thermolite Reactor Liner or Thermolite Reactor Compact Plus Liner, which will work as a very light-weight sleeping bag.

Everything I listed above is very durable, yet compact, and it should all fit into your carry-on bag.

Almost everyone has their favourite camera brand. Mine happens to be Canon, and I prefer the professional grade full frame DSLR. Depending on what you plan on shooting, three lenses should cover everything, unless you’re shooting macro or architecture.


If you’re not interested in a professional-grade camera system, yet want some quality images, go with a smaller Canon M6 Mark II with one lens.


Here are a few more places that sell the above products. If you have the time to wait, you can buy some of these products at a considerable discount when they clear out their seasonal wear, or have closeouts on discontinued products. Sometimes though, it is better to just buy everything from one retailer and get it done and over with.

Canadian retailers:

  American retailers:


This blog post is going to be an ongoing project. I would like to know how you would like to see it improved upon. Would you like to see it become its own website? Would you like to have individual buttons beside each product that are country-specific? Would you like me to cherry-pick products from each category? You can message me below, or contact me above, with your suggestions.

Please purchase products within 24 hrs. of adding them to your Amazon Shopping Basket. Thanks.

Happy travels.



How to travel light, with one carry-on bag.


List of Online Clipping Path Companies and how I rated their work.

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