Pack Like a Minimalist: Tom Bihn Synapse 25

After two years of research and planning, I’m delighted to finally be writing a minimalist packing post. For me, travel packing is a complex and enjoyable optimization challenge. Volume, weight, material, functionality, and style are all taken into account when I plan a domestic or international adventure. To this end, I’ve complied my packing list and thought process below for my latest trip.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I value packing light and simply. But I do want to elaborate on some of the advantages of packing in this manner. First, living out of one backpack makes me quite mobile. I can hop on a bus, plane, or taxi with little hesitation. I’m never dragging anything behind me and there’s little hassle in loading and unloading gear or rustling through my bag for something small.

Second, I enjoy blending in. Of course, in some countries there are physical differences which are impossible to curb, but I value a more casual appearance than your average backpacker. I believe there’s benefit in integrating with the locals as best I can.

Third, packing this light forces me to choose more functional, breathable, and odor-resistant materials. Despite the ubiquitous nature of cotton in most wardrobes, it doesn’t make for good travel fabric. Not only is it heavy, but cotton also holds more moisture (and for longer periods of time) than synthetic gear. Because of this, I avoid traveling with cotton as much as possible. By doing so, the clothing I invest in (and wear when not traveling) breathes nicely and dries quickly. Best of all, I’ve been able to find items that actually look good on me.

Backpack

When I envision simple travel, I think of the Tom Bihn Synapse 25. Frequently touted as a minimalist dream bag, I had high expectations for this product. So far, I haven’t been disappointed. For me, a great pack serves three important functions: 1) the bag should pass as carry-on baggage, 2) it should exhibit smart organization, and 3) it should be a high-quality, guaranteed product. This bag fits the bill.

Here is my Synapse 25 in all its glory.

If you haven’t guessed, the Synapse 25 provides you with 25 Liters of volume. When fully-packed, it’s a backpack on the outside and suitcase on the inside. I’m consistently impressed by how much I can fit into this thing. Thanks to its thoughtful interior, the Synapse allows me to pack for international adventures complete with some photography gear

Admittedly, I’ve yet to travel internationally with my Synapse, however a 6-day trip to Salt Lake City served as an excellent first-run at what this bag can carry. The main compartment has plenty of space for two packing cubes worth of clothing, photography gear, toiletries, and electronics. The front bottom pouch is a logical place for an additional pair of shoes or other bulky item. The side pouches house my rain gear, and other quick access items. Last, there are two pockets near the top of the Synapse–one is a deep, narrow compartment and the other a shallow pocket of teh same width. The former is where I keep my collapsible anti-bottle, and the latter houses my headphones, hand sanitizer, lock, wallet, and other small items in which get lost easily.

In addition to the stellar reviews, the Tom Bihn stamp of quality is just icing on the cake. The fabric, zippers, and stiching looks and feels very sturdy. I was blown away by how robust this bag feels and performs. If I only travel with one bag, I’m going to make sure it has one helluva build quality behind. And like most stand-out companies, they offer a lifetime craftsmanship guarantee.

Clothing

Whether three days or three months, my clothing list looks just about the same.

Given the plethora of peoples’ travel styles and trip activities, this list is by no mean comprehensive. Even I (slightly) tailor my clothing list depending on the type of trip. An urban runaround across Europe versus a backcountry adventure through New Zealand merit different gear. Because my latest trip has me in Asia during the wet season, I’ve added some pertinent rain items to my standard packing list.

  • 1 buff
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 pair pants
  • 3 boxers
  • 3 pair socks
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 pair trail runners
  • 1 pair shorts
  • 1 pair sandals
  • 1 athletic shorts
  • 1 baseball cap

To most, this list looks deceivingly small. But recall, if you invest in synthetic materials, you’ll see longer wear periods than typical cotton clothing. Because of this, I can easily go three to four days without doing laundry.

Electronics

As a blogger and photographer, I carefully select my weapons of choice for adventuring. This is where weight and volume begin to play a large factor.

My electronic gear changes with each trip. This time around, I’ve prioritized using my keyboard and phone to write meaning I can leave the laptop at home. Supporting my photography also plays a role in my electronics.
  • Bluetooth keyboard
  • Camera battaries + charger
  • SD cards
  • Electrical outlet adapters
  • External battery pack
  • Nexus 6 cell phone + charger
  • USB cables
  • Basic head phones
  • Headlamp

I also carry a basic Casio watch for simple time telling (still exists!). I decided not to include too much about my photography body and lenses as I intend to write about minimalist travel photography at some point in the near future. Just know that keeping a simple and functional wardrobe allows me to make space for the photography gear I so deeply love.

Miscellaneous

As with all trips, there are plent of things that don’t fall into any of the previous categories. Here are some essentials and perhaps non-essentials that I’m taking on my trip to the Philippines. The dry bag and rain cover are pretty trip-specific, but the rest are staples of most of my adventures.

Miscellaneous gear makes the trip go round. I use all of this this quite frequently and am glad to have them!
  • Passport (also mentioned in Documents below)
  • Wallet
  • Dry bag
  • Collapsible water bottle
  • Snacks (courtesy of mom!)
  • Sunglasses
  • Compactable day pack
  • TSA lock
  • Pen
  • Backpack rain cover

Toiletries

I won’t go into a ton of detail about my toiletries, but I use and enjoy the Eagle Creek toiletries organizer quite a bit. Everyone has their own personal hygenic needs, so nobody needs me to share my opinons. I’ve seen others opt for open-face, unfolding kit which you can hang off a shower hook. That seems like a nice perk, but I haven’t had any issues in over three years of use. I’ll make a shameless plug for GoToobs and their excellent ability to hold liquids. I would opt for the 2 ounce (over the 3oz) as I found most daily-use products will last around a month at his size.

My Eagle Creek toiletries bag, sanitation supplies, and microfiber towel.

Documents

As annoying as it can be to carry these around, all of the documents I take (physical or digital) can save a lot of headache in unfortunate circumstances. I bring all the necessary physical documents and save a digital copy to my Google Drive when applicable. I also carry a paper copy of my passport in the event I lose the original.

      • Passport
      • U.S. ID Card
      • Health Insurance Card
      • Debit Card
      • Credit Card
      • Google Drive copies of above documents

After hours of planning and organizing, I fit everything in my Synapse with room to spare. I think people really underesetimate the importance of smart packing–think of it like Tetris. Proper packing takes into account item grouping, accessibility, and being willing to take everything out and start over. After a few pack and re-packs, you get a hang for which items should go where and how to optimize your pack for easy travel. Again, let’s give credit where credit is due. Tom and his team did a great job designing this bag with the ultralight traveler in mind.

All packed up and ready to go! Here is a fully packed Synapse 25 alongside my in-transit attire.
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