People who travel light are hard to shop for. If, say, someone is about to go on a round-the-world trip with a small backpack, they should be very particular about what they bring. However, even though they’re picky, most of the light packers I’ve met genuinely love the few things they do own, so – with a little good research – you might hit a home run. I’m personally on a big kick of buying things really carefully, so I would advocate for just asking this person what they want, so that your gift doesn’t end up in the closet or the landfill. I realize this is not necessarily in the gift-giving spirit though, so here are a few ideas if you want to surprise that minimalist someone in your life.
I’ll give you the actual brands and some links in case it’s helpful but, once again, these aren’t paid links or promotions or anything. It’s all based on my research from last year about packing light.
All the onebaggers I know are constantly in the process of upgrading their wardrobe, so you might hit the sweet spot with the right tee shirt or pair of pants. Merino wool is the community favorite here (with some principled departures) because merino is lightweight, stays dry and resists odor.
For brands, I’d recommend Patagonia, Icebreaker, Outlier and Uniqlo. Merino is expensive and Uniqlo is the cheapest alternative among these four.
If you’re just looking to spend twenty or thirty dollars, Darn Tough socks are a huge favorite. According to the research that I did last year, about half of all socks packed by light travelers are Darn Tough. Thirty dollars is a lot of money for a pair of socks but Darn Tough gives a lifetime guarantee. They’re also generally merino blended with some space age fabric: durable, comfortable and convenient.
Most backpackers carry with them a “day bag”, a lightweight bag that they can use around town without lugging their whole backpack around. Any old bag will do but I’ve recently discovered the joy of having an actual made-to-purpose one. I have the Osprey Ultralight Stuff Pack and it’s excellent. Matador Freefly is also popular in the community.
Backpack shopping is confusing, so make sure you don’t accidentally buy just a regular lightweight backpack, rather than a day bag. The day bag should fold up into itself so that you can put it into the pocket of your jeans. If you buy it on the internet, there should be a picture of it folded up.
Matador soap bar case / Dr Bronners soap
This highly technical combination will really establish your packing bona fides with your favorite traveler. Matador does a line of bathroom hygiene items which are totally fine but this little soap bar case is particularly good. Bar soap is better than liquid soap because it comes in cardboard (not plastic) packaging and, in addition, a little bit of bar soap goes a long way. The problem is that bar soap is a mess to carry. This little bag solves that problem because it dries your soap without leaving a mess. The bag also rolls up really small – as small as your soap bar.
And Dr Bronners soap is another big favorite with the onebag crowd: a high quality product made by a company that has a good reputation for ethics.
Heroclip is just a carabiner and a hook that lets you hang up your towel or whatever in your hostel room. This is not something that all the backpackers bring – just three or four in a hundred or so – but the people who have one seem to love it. It’s so light and functional that I think most travelers could find a use for it.
Probably any pen will do for traveling light but the Fisher Bullet Space Pen is a personal favorite. It folds up small and tightly lidded, so it won’t leak all over your clothes. It also writes underwater and in zero gravity. I’ve been using it for many years and this has never come up but you never know.
Once you have a few packing cubes that you like, you don’t really need a lot more, so I wouldn’t bother with these unless this person has specifically asked for them. In any case, the preferred brands are Eagle Creek Specter and Peak Design.
A great gift for a world traveler would be a Google Fi account, which will give them data, text and phone coverage at reasonable rates in a huge list of countries. Its super-convenient and surely less expensive than forever buying SIM cards and setting up local accounts. The big drawback is that it only works really well with Google’s own phones; it’s more hassle than it’s worth if you have an iPhone.
On the same lines, good travel insurance for an uninsured traveler is a better gift than anything else on this page. Travel insurance is generally pretty affordable and worth the peace of mind.
If you’re looking for the big ticket items like backpacks, jackets, earphones, phones, etc., then I recommend the onebag subreddit and the many review sites out there. Friend-of-the-blog One Bag Travel in particular is excellent for backpacks. If you really want to get into the weeds of the popular brands, here is my pure data of how many male and female light packers brought which brand for all the top level items that light packers pack.