Maxwell Strength & Conditioning Blog

Enjoy a peek at the world through Steve's eyes as he delivers sermons on everything from training to peace of mind.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What's My Bag?

This is the house
That was full of the stuff
Much-loved by the spouse
Where I felt like a louse
Until I walked away from it all... and got a brand new bag.
To keep the house
With all the stuff
I needed the green
To keep it serene
Which caused the stress
Keeping me from my best... until I got a brand new bag.

When I realized I'd be on the road more or less full-time, I flew to London with a 95-liter duffel-style roller bag. One plane, three trains, and an automobile transfer later, I realized, "Wow... this is no way to get around."

A few days later, dragging that thing the down a cobblestone street in Munich, I knew I was no true-minimalist at all: while a long way from owning a 4-story house and garage full of stuff -- and a 2-story gym packed with equipment -- I could see there are DEGREES to minimalism.

I arrived to the hotel, laid all my stuff out on the bed, and weeded down -- by about 60% -- and bought a new bag later that same day -- a 65-liter Osprey. No more dragging a bumpity-bump roller bag for me: from hereon I'd be quick, agile, and carry my possessions on my back.

Well, it only took overshooting a Moscow train station by three stops -- and a 5-mile walk back -- to realize I still had too much stuff. The Osprey was a hybrid bag, and as a backpack it was uncomfortable; the straps dug into my shoulders, making it painfully obvious I was carrying too much.

I liked the portability of Osprey, especially how the straps tucked away for stowage. My next bag, I scaled down by 20-liters, but still, it seemed like I was still packing more than I needed.

Less is Best

You hear this bit of cliched travel advice all the time:

Take less than you think you need.

But really it's as simple as that -- even profoundly so.

These days, I wear pretty much the same shorts and a t-shirt (or pants and a hoodie) all the time, just like I did when I was a little kid. I remember as a child having three school outfits: three shirts, three pants, and one church outfit, plus a couple pair of socks and underpants. In the winter we had one winter coat. In those days my brother and I each had three pairs of shoes: one pair for church; one for school; and one pair of shoes for the gym, which were black canvas PF Flyers -- the white ones only lasted a day before getting covered with grass stains.

Our school clothes doubled as play clothes; my mom preemptively sewed patches to cover the knees of our pants. In those days, kids went outside for school recess and wrestled and tumbled around in the grass. My brother and I could wear the knees out of a new pair of trousers within three days. I think we actually tried to mess them up. I remember going outdoors in a new outfit and just rolling around in the grass like a little dog or something, then standing up and looking myself over and going... "awww," and feeling pretty bad about what I'd done.

Despite these simple beginnings, later on, during the late seventies and nineties, I acquired a shopping habit and collected every kind of sneaker, workout clothing, and casual clothes. I'm embarrassed to admit I had thirty pairs of pants at one time. Still, even with a literal closet full of clothes, I'd wear the same outfit for days on end. I didn't need all that stuff; I was just bored.

When I first began traveling full-time, I checked my baggage, so I could bring stuff I'd never get away carrying aboard, like a good knife or multi-tool with a blade.

Later, I decided to improve my mobility and go 100% carry-on. I got Global Entry and CLEAR passes to expedite airport transitions; omitting the tedium of reclaiming of luggage resulted in a great feeling of freedom and lightness. To support this, I had to pare down even more to the essentials.

The Anatomy of a Bag

The first step was getting the very best bag; I looked at a bunch and read all the reviews. When making a significant purchase, reading the cogent report of a satisfied, or dissatisfied customer can help me figure things out.

I looked at the Patagonia MLC, the Minaal, and a few models by Tom Bihn. I considered the straightforward North Face Base Camp duffel with shoulder straps, and the Patagonia Black Hole duffel, which I'd tried before. While these duffels are constructed well-enough, everything flops to the bottom -- bulletproof, but unsuitable for my purpose.

I settled on the 45-liter Aeronaut by Tom Bihn and that was that. I've been using it for two years now and I'm really happy with it. The backpack straps zip away, and there's an over-the-shoulder strap if I want to carry it like that. It's incredibly well-thought out and very, very tough. Even when stuffed full, it fits easily into the overhead. While not designed for serious backpacking, I can hump my stuff around on my back without any shoulder discomfort.

What's in the Bag?

So... what's in the bag? Let's start with what's not: nothing bulky, nothing cotton... even wool is too heavy. I only wear synthetics and my favorite fabric is polyamide aka nylon canvas. The clothes I buy always contain a certain percentage of elastane, or lycra. Even if a pant is made from stretch fabric, I prefer a gusset, which is a piece of triangular cloth sewn into the crotch, the same as you find in martial arts pants, providing greater range of movement.

As for for t-shirts, I look for either stretch polyester or elastane on the label. Most of the modern polyesters are soft -- they feel like cotton but without any of the negative qualities of cotton, i.e., odor and lengthy drying times.

While most of the places I stay provide laundry service, some do not, like the hotel where I stay in Ikaria each year. For this reason, I choose clothes that can be hand-washed in a tub or sink, and air dried within a couple of hours. If there's any direct sunlight, some items will dry within one hour.

Right now I'm traveling with:

  • Three pairs of long trousers -- one of which is super-lightweight
  • Three pairs of shorts
  • One pair of knickers, or manpris which are popular in most parts of the world except the US

Because I'm more or less a snow bird -- traveling in warm-to-cool climates -- I don't require especially warm clothes. I carry a compressible, synthetic-down jacket which keeps me warm in mildly freezing temperatures. I have three standard t-shirts, and one long-sleeve t-shirt. I have three hoodies -- which is one too many. These are lightweight hoodies, one to cover up in the sun; the other is a mid-layer to wear under the down jacket, in case it's really cold, or as a stand-alone garment. I carry a super-lightweight rain shell.

I have four pair of underpants, which I also wear for swimming, since they look like Euro-style bathers.

I carry a half-dozen various socks:

  • Three lightweight, no-show, because my feet sweat and I don't like going sockless.
  • Two medium-weight socks for hiking, and
  • One heavyweight in case I run into some cold weather

I have a little watch cap which covers my ears and I can wear under a hoodie, and a lightweight ball-cap to cover my head and shade my face in sunny weather.

Footwear is the biggest bugaboo and takes up a lot space in my luggage.

Because I stay in mostly warm climates my primary shoe is a huarache-style running sandal. These are a minimalist design popularized by runners, serving as flip-flops, running, and water shoes. I also carry a ruggedly-minimal pair of hiking sandals which cover my toes, for rugged terrain, but still light enough to roll-up in my hand.

I like the company Vivobarefoot and I'm wearing their Stealth and Camino models.

My cold weather shoes are made by a German company called Senmotic and they have awesome leather shoes.

Another thing: I like to carry a lightweight pair of bedroom slippers. To avoid tracking in dirt and sand, I leave my shoes at the door and wear slippers inside. The hotel room stays cleaner and the slippers are nice on tiled bathroom floors. Slippers come free with upgraded flights and hotel rooms or buy picked up at a local drugstore or Amazon.

I want to emphasize that my shoes are very minimal. Because I've built up my feet and ankles over the years, I need little support from my footwear. Although I've listed five types of shoes and they all roll up, taking little space in my bag.

If you're into conventional footwear, I recommend:

  • a pair of business-casual shoes
  • a lightweight pair of athletic trainers
  • a pair of flip-flops

I've never cared for flip-flops myself, but my girlfriend lives in hers. My huarache sandals are more versatile -- in fact, except for colder weather, I don't really need any other shoe.

As far as toiletries, I carry the standards, except scaled down to a tiny kit. I don't need much besides nail clipper, tongue scraper, and toothbrush. I carry a natural bristle dry brush, which is a habit I picked up as a kid and has served me well; despite rarely wearing sunscreen my skin is in good shape.

I pack some assorted training equipment -- I used to carry a jiu jitsu gi, but now only my black belt, which doubles as an isometrics strap.

I have a homemade suspension device made from nylon climbing cord; the handles are made of PVC. I used to carry a commercial suspension device, but I found they are too heavy and awkward for my needs, and in truth, don't work nearly as well as my homemade version. You can make your own similar version with this e-book. Another solid option is the new monkii bars 2.

Of course I carry a jump rope. I've been skipping rope since I was twelve years old and I just like it. Skipping rope is a do-anywhere kind of cardio; I like the rhythm and the way it makes me feel.

I have a small carry-on bag made by Tom Bihn which is called the Co-Pilot. On a plane I place it beneath the seat in front of me. It's a Euro-style man purse and highly practical: I wear it at the same time I wear my main travel-bag-as-a-backpack. Inside I keep: my passport, cash, ID cards and personal papers; iPad and cables, and a spare battery pack in case the plane doesn't have power at the seat.

There's also room for any stuff I might need while I'm on the plane, e.g., pens, food, or an extra pair of underwear so I won't need to dig through my backpack.

All of my clothes are versatile enough that they double as street clothes and workout clothes.

While walking around town and I can stop somewhere and get a workout -- just like when I was a kid; I don't need a separate set of play clothes.

Anything I need, I buy or borrow, and leave behind.

How Do I Pack All This???

On the nomad and travel sites, there are many recommended packing methods; I use packing cubes, because I like everything stowed and neat.

For packing my rain shell, synthetic down jacket, and mid-weight hoodie, I use airtight compression bags, which are like a giant ziploks with one-way air valves. I put my clothing inside, roll up tight and squeeze all the air out, leaving a former pile of clothes flatter than a pancake.

Since I don't take vitamins or supplements and this saves a lot of space.

I don't like airline food, so I'll bring along some dense, portable foods.

Other unnecessary things I carry which make life easier:

  • portable water-filter straw
  • titanium mini-spork multi-tool I can use to, say, turn a screw
  • polycarbonate spork, handy for eating a snack on the move
  • standard backpacking compass, so I know where I'm at

One useful item I like very much is a portable daypack that packs away into its own pocket. There are many different versions on Amazon. the one I really like is made by Homdox, expands to 28-liters, and zips in-and-out of its own pocket. In the daypack I'll carry a bottle of water, my next meal, jump rope, suspension device, rain shell or windbreaker -- did I mention I have a light windbreaker that folds into its own pocket? Maybe I'll carry a pair of underpants in case I of an accident -- hey, I train hard! -- and I'm getting old!

The daypack is all about the movies -- for sneaking in food and a windbreaker for frigid theaters. Unless I'm at the airport, I don't particularly like carrying that man-purse.

This sounds like a lot of stuff, and I suppose it is. I'm not ready to go knife-blanket-and-loin cloth... but I've been reading up on primitive living skills and you never know.