Making the case for onebag

Making the case for onebag

Tearing it up at Tiananmen Square, Beijing [2002]

After having a fisheye lens fall apart in a roller luggage from the bumpy cobblestones of Oxford, I wanted to drastically rethink how I carried things on trips. That's when the Internet introduced me to the concept of onebag.

index - onebag
r/onebag: This is a minimalist urban travel community devoted to the idea of lugging around less crap; onebag travel. Fewer items, packed into a …

What is onebag?

Aside from the obvious, onebag is a conscious decision to examine and adjust the priorities of your trip.

This means that instead of the convenience of bringing half of your wardrobe around in a wheeled box, you’ll have to cut down. While there are certainly concessions to be made in only having 2 or 3 shirts to choose from instead of 6, the selection process itself will make more clear what is necessary and what isn’t.

Of course there’s a practical purpose you gain in return for all of this sacrifice. What you lose in fashion flexibility (we don't want to wear the same things in all the Instagram photos right?), you gain the flexibility of movement. Your bag can go wherever you do and stow away in compartments and lockers of all sorts. You’ll be immune to airlines losing luggage and you can head straight for city transit while others are standing in a circle around a conveyor belt trying to pick out which bag is theirs- somehow in baggage claim lighting they all look the same.

What bag should I get?

Every person and trip is different. Just like some nights call for flip flops and others call for heels there's probably a time and place for everything to shine. Bring the right tool for the job!
When contemplating a purchase try to think in systems rather than individual pieces. How will all of these things work together?

This means that we want to spend a little time considering what we already have, what lacking needs to address, and how the new thing fits in. I have additional thoughts on the concept of systems thinking, but for now let's get back to packs.

If I had to pick one bag for travel, it unquestionably would be a backpack.

This is because when it comes to on-body carry, the backpack is hard top in both capacity and ergonomics. While slings, messengers, and briefcases certainly have their place, I find them to be less versatile than the backpack because they carry less volume and less securely. For navigating airport terminals, crowded buses, city streets, and backcountry trails I love the ability to have everything confidently moving at my pace.

Browse the /r/onebag subreddit and you'll find people who can go for months out of a JanSport. While I certainly appreciate that, I'm not able to quite make that work for me. I find a good balance for me is to add a smaller second bag (blasphemous, I know, given the title) and either packing it into the main bag or carrying it externally as an airline "personal item". This second bag often functions as a "daypack" that you can use during the trip. The good news is that most people already do some degree of this (say pairing a backpack with roller luggage).

How do I pack?

You have another choice to make: use packing cubes or not?

Packing cubes are an additonal expense and add a little weight while taking up space themselves. However I find they help keep things organized by grouping similar items together and making it easy to grab and move in and out of dressers. You can even use one to separate the dirty clothes from the clean.

In addition to a few packing cubes for clothes, I like to have a dedicated holder for chargers, cables, and other small tech things, and a toiletry bag. Store the laptop (if one is necessary) into the laptop compartment and I'm good to go.

How about shoes?

I admit shoes are tough. I prefer to just have one pair that does it all but this isn't always possible. There isn't really a secret here- just try to wear the more bulky pair in transit while packing away the smaller, more flexible pair.

How can I get started?

Try packing yourself a bag at home and live a week out of it. This is a great way to simulate and get the gears turning about what is necessary and what can be cut out.

Let's summarize

Main pack

This is the heavy hitter and ideally during your trip you will only need to carry this when changing cities or countries. Once at your destination it can stay at your accommodations.

I look for capacities in the 30-45L range: 30L is easier to get into overhead compartments and under airplane seats while the 45L is flirting with airline carry-on restrictions. Many models are often tough enough to be checked in if necessary as well if you get unlucky with overhead space.

I don’t typically consider backcountry camping or hiking options for this category as those are often larger and have more hardware focused for longer-term carry. Unless of course the trip is outdoors focused.

Packable daypack

The other key half of the setup. Exploring is easier with less stuff on your back, but having space to carry essentials and souvenirs is crucial. Thus the solution is to bring a smaller, packable bag, which can be a backpack, messenger, tote, briefcase, etc. When in transit, store things in here to make the airport security process easier- it's popular to make this a "tech bag" and to hold things that will make the flight more comfortable like headphones, jacket, and water bottle.

For me this ends up being the most used bag in terms of time spent carried.

Packing cubes and other in-bag organization

Bundle things together inside the bag to make it easier to find and move around. While it may be convenient to just create a pile in your pack, the more you need to retrieve an exact item, the more the organization will pay off.

I like to have separate packing cubes for underwear, outerwear, and loungewear. Having a dedicated toiletry kit and cable pouch go a long way as well.

Vincent Lee

Vincent Lee

Too many words, even more thoughts.