The Ultimate Carry-On Packing List For Male Backpackers And Nomads

In a related article, we laid out the 6 key principles that underlie smart, efficient packing. Knowing these principles and how to apply them will help you to pack everything you need for a great trip into a compact carry-on and avoid those nasty checked luggage fees and other problems that stem from travelling with too large a burden. 

In that article we didn't cover the exact items you should pack in a carry-on and the justification for carrying them, so we've created this ultimate packing list for male backpackers to fulfill that very purpose.

Even though we believe in travelling on a budget and always finding inexpensive food, transport and accommodation, you'll notice as you go through this packing list that we don't always apply the same mindset to our actual travel gear. Why?

Because we believe in buying high-quality gear that’s both durable, compact and ultralight, and such gear often comes with a higher price tag.

You might pay more initially for such gear, but it will last longer and could save you more money in the long run. Compact, lightweight gear will help spare your back too and is one of keys to packing everything you need into a small carry-on.

Before we begin, we want to remind you that this packing list will best cater to the needs of travellers who prioritize efficient packing and minimalist, carry-on travel. 

It is not for the traveller that is attached to material possessions to such a degree that he is willing to endure the burden of heavy backpack and spend hundreds of extra dollars in checked luggage fees.

The packing list is particularly well-suited to backpackers, digital nomads and other people travelling the world for extended periods. It should cover most of your needs while travelling in the majority of countries around the world. In countries with extreme climates, you may need to modify the list accordingly, particularly the clothing & footwear section.

You might think at first glance that all the items on this list could never fit inside a carry-on if you were to pack them all at once... and you'd be right! The list will cover you for a wide variety of travel situations around the world but for any given trip, you might only need to pack 50 - 75% of the items on the list, depending on the particulars. The idea is to pick and choose items from the list as you see fit.

Here it is then, the ultimate carry-on packing list for male backpackers and nomads.


Keeping all your stuff well organized is super important because it saves you having to rummage through a cluttered mess of items just to find the one item you currently need. In an organized backpack, you always know where items are and can access them quickly and easily. Good organization is all about putting items of similar function into their own discrete compartments or packages, keeping like with like. Preventing tangles or 'bird's nests' with unruly wires and charging cables is another important aspect of organization for travel.

Carry-on backpack

Before even considering what to pack, you need to choose the carry-on backpack you’re going to carry it all in.

You’ll get away with taking a 40-litre backpack onto many airlines but we think that 35 litres is just the right size for a carry-on traveller and backpacks of this capacity usually have dimensions that don’t exceed the limits for cabin baggage of the really strict airlines (like Ryanair).

There are many additional factors to consider when buying a carry-on backpack, like the material, compartments and pockets, zippers, durability, price and so on.

To make an informed decision, you can read our reviews of the 5 best carry-on backpacks for travel in this article. 

Packing cubes

While most carry-on backpacks do come with several compartments and pockets to help with organization, there aren’t nearly enough of them to keep your items in proper order.

No matter how neatly you pack your items at the start of a trip, without something to keep them corralled they are bound to migrate all over the place inside your pack, leaving you with a jumbled mess that makes any individual item impossible to find.


That’s where packing cubes come in. A set of these will allow you to put your clothing, accessories, electronics and other travel items into their own separate “drawers” inside your carry-on so that you can always easily find what you’re looking for.

Packing cubes can also offer your clothes and other items some protection against dirt and moisture and may even help you to save a little space.


They can compress your clothes a bit and their building-block shape means that they can be stacked and fitted together neatly in your backpack in a way that uses the available space very efficiently.


You want to get packing cubes with a mesh screen on top so that you can easily see what’s inside at a glance, as well as for ventilation. The cubes should be made from a reasonably stiff material so that they hold their shape when you pack them. Handles on the sides also make it easy to pull them out of your bag.


The rule for filling packing cubes is to put like with like. You can designate one cube for shirts, one for socks and underwear, another for toiletries and so on.

Clothing should be rolled rather than folded inside packing cubes, so that you can easily grab the exact item you’re looking for instead of having to root through a stack.

There are tons of different packing cubes out there and it can be hard to know which brand to go for. But as a carry-on traveller that’s packing light, you don’t need the really huge cubes or the ones with fancy features.

A set of smaller 11” x 6.75” x 3” cubes like this one from AmazonBasics will work great.

Electronics Case

An electronics pouch is needed for protecting and organizing your charging cables, wall chargers, external hard drives, Wi-Fi range extenders, USB sticks, card readers, memory cards and other small electronic items.

We use and recommend the AmazonBasics Universal Travel Case Organizer. It’s a 9.5” x 5.4” x 2” zippered pouch made from a fairly stiff material that offers the needed protection for your delicate electronics. Inside the pouch are two small zippered mesh pockets and a large open mesh pocket.

I'd like to point out that if you travel with a lot of electronics, this case probably won’t hold them all. We use the case for our hard drives and other delicate items and we carry another small pouch for our bulky chargers and cables.

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Clothing & Footwear

 Ultralight travel means that you have to leave the entire wardrobe behind. Why? Because clothing is really heavy (and bulky). You'll only have room for the bare essentials in a small carry-on. In fact, try not to think terms of 'packing' clothes at all. You should be wearing at least 50% of your total travel wardrobe as you board that plane. The only downside of this arrangement is that you'll have to do laundry more frequently. However, that's not a major problem and it won't cost you more money if you know about the handwashing method.


 Cotton T-Shirt (x2)

 Boxer shorts (x2)

General Purpose Shoes (x1)


 Long pants (x1)


 Cotton Socks (x2)

Thermal vest (x1)

Cotton t-shirt (x2)


Electronic devices like cameras, laptops and tablets can be pretty bulky and heavy. That's before you even add in the necessary chargers, adapters, cables and accessories for them. You therefore have to prioritize low weight, minimal size and multi-functionality in your electronic gadgets if you want to maintain an ultralight setup.


 Unlocked Smartphone (x1)

External Hard Drive (x1)


Ultrabook Laptop (x1)

Laptop charger (x1)


When it comes to toiletries, there's really no need to bring the entire bathroom cabinet. You just need the basic essentials for grooming, cleaning and general self-maintenance while you travel. Simplicity in this department can really set you free.


These are items that come in very useful when you're travelling. They aren't all totally essential items but they'll help protect you from theft, save you money and solve other travel-related problems that crop up from time to time. We use all of these items frequently enough to justify carrying them.

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