Backpacking Series Merino in a Backpack

Merino in a Backpack: A Compelling Travel Hack!

As counterintuitive as it seems, using woolen clothing in hot, tropical weather can not only keep you cooler but also save you precious pounds. A sheep from Down Under has the answer to every backpacker’s holy grail of lightweight travel – be it in the Caribbean or Iceland. Guest contributor Thomas Carney shares how all-weather woolen wear has helped him cut down from a 50L backpack to less than half.

Guadeloupe, Caribbean

Packing too much?

It all started when spending a winter surfing in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. I still have the packing list I wrote out in preparation for that trip: 2 t-shirts, 3 polo-neck shirts, 4 pairs of pants… Suffice to say, it’s a long list.

All told, the list filled my 50L backpack to the gills. And it was heavy to carry, especially in the hot, tropical heat of Guadeloupe. Getting onto a bus was a constant battle between squeezing past people and making sure not to hit anyone with the backpack when I turned.

Share Your Story or Review Our Book!

Quickly, I realized that not only was my backpack enormous, it was also packed with items I barely used. Sure, it was great to have 5 different shirts, but I spent most of the time lugging around 4 dirty ones while waiting for the next opportunity to wash them all. And most of the stuff went entirely unused. For example, out of a sense of caution, I packed two phones with two different chargers.

My girlfriend was barely less paranoid than I was, and she ended up looking like she was ready to hike into the wilderness.

The Turning Point

It was time to downsize my baggage to something more minimalist. The pivotal moment that propelled me to embark on becoming an ultra-minimalist traveler was in a surf camp near Saint Anne in Guadeloupe. I met a Swiss guy who, despite the heat, was a wearing a t-shirt made of merino wool of all things. He told me that he’d been wearing it for weeks without washing it.

I was curious, albeit a little grossed out by the idea of not washing a t-shirt for weeks.

What was this merino wool? Wasn’t wool something that your grandma used to knit an itchy, uncomfortable Christmas top? I want to dig into why I found that merino wool is perfect for ultra-minimalist travelers who want to downsize their luggage.

What’s So Great About Merino Wool?

Merino wool comes from merino sheep, a breed that originated from Spain, but now is widely raised in New Zealand and Australia. It’s exceptional, because the wool is very soft and fine, so it isn’t itchy.

It’s also a very high-performance fabric. It will keep you warm when it’s cold and it will keep you cool in hot weather, thanks to its insulating properties. Wool naturally contains a wax called lanolin that has antibacterial properties. This means that merino wool remains odor-free for a remarkably long period, even if you sweat in it, unlike other fabrics such as cotton.

Wool is also highly water resistant thanks to the lanolin, and even if your merino wool t-shirt gets drenched, it will still keep you warm when wet. For this reason, many adventurers swear by merino wool in extreme conditions, whereas they consider cotton to be a liability.

What Role Does Merino Wool Play in Ultralight Traveling?

So, merino wool certainly has properties that make it a high-performance fabric. When you are traveling, you want to carry the minimum amount of gear that will let you do the maximum amount of activities while on the road.

Therefore, when rationalizing my gear, I wanted to strip down to the bare essentials. Merino wool let me go from 5 sets of socks, shirts, and underwear to two of each. Having only two of each item meant that I have to wash one while wearing one, which I find easier than trying to washing a bunch of clothes once a week. That meant I could go from my bulky 50L backpack down to a 19L backpack.

My personal tip if you are starting out is to try out a pair of merino wool socks. After that, try getting a t-shirt and see how much you can reduce your existing travel wardrobe.

What Does Ultra Minimalist Packing Let You Do?

Once I’d stripped down my backpack to the essential, I found that traveling was transformed from an exhausting process to a liberating one.

Before, going through an airport was a struggle comprised of waiting for my oversized backpack to arrive on the baggage carousel, hoping that it hadn’t taken a wrong turn and ended up on the other side of the globe. Now, I could grab my backpack from the overhead locker and walk past the baggage carousel straight to the exit.

When I arrived at my destination, I don’t have to beg a hostel to keep my luggage for the day, hoping that nothing will get stolen. I can just go for a hike with my entire possessions comfortably on my back. It’s an incredible feeling of independence to not be weighed down.


Are you a minimalist backpacker? How do you cut the weight in your backpack? We would love to hear from you (please scroll below to leave a comment).

 Pin this for later! 

Get new stories in your inbox


Disclaimers: (1) Maps, wherever used on this site, serve a representational purpose only. Backpacking Series does not endorse or accept the boundaries shown, names, or designations used by map providers. (2) This story / article is based on personal opinions of the author. Backpacking Series is not responsible for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity and it does not assume any responsibility or liability arising out of use of any information provided herein.

48 thoughts on “Merino in a Backpack: A Compelling Travel Hack!

  1. We try to travel with handluggage only whenever possible. Us too are casualties of overpacking but by limitk g it to handluggage, we’rd making smarter choices ?

    Marlo & Kristof

  2. Interesting! I’m good about packing minimally for work travel, but still struggle for personal trips and vacations.

  3. Holy Backpack! I had no idea Merino wool was the way to reduce weight and excess when traveling. I am a carry on only kinda girl, so I’ll have to experiment with this. I also love the skateboard strapped to luggage. Dual purpose, rolling luggage and transporation when you get there. genius!

  4. I can never go minimal backpacking when I have kids. I have to pack my stuff in a minimum to pack everything for my kids.

  5. As a flight attendant I always pack way too much! Literally have 3 bags with me for this 2 day trip. I am always looking for tips to help minimize my pack. Thank you for sharing your tips!

  6. Over the years, luggage companies keep on innovating to solve traveler’s woes ,still problems persists……until your hacks came along……. Thanks…

  7. That’s so impressive! I have been known to overpack. It’s hard with 3 kids too. I love your minimalism and can’t wait to read about more of your adventures. My adventures are limited these days!

    1. Traveling with kids is a different experience and as mothers, we have to take care of so many things. May be try some of these tips next time you travel! Thank you for stopping by.

  8. Once you switched to Merino wool did you find any truth in the needs less washes tip? I’d like to think I’m pretty good at packing by now but these are some useful tips.

    1. Yup, I’ve heard of people going up to a month without washing a merino wool t-shirt (not that I recommend it), but it’s handy if you are hiking in very isolated areas.

  9. Nice travel. I don’t have experience when regards to travel outside country If ever this tips could help me a lot!

  10. That’s a really good idea out there. I always carry some bulky jackets considering it will keep me more and more warm but this is a deal breaker for all of it

  11. This is great! The hardest thing to do when traveling is packing my things. I make sure I only bring the necessary and important things.

    1. Yes, that is a struggle for many of us! And Merino in a backpack can certainly help with a few things for light travels! Thank you 🙂

  12. This is a compelling travel hack indeed. Who knew it could help you cut down on luggage weight and provide a high performance fabric and keep you cooler in hot weather. Thanks for sharing this tip.

  13. Some great tips here. I am a heavy packer since we travel with a toddler. However this post comes in at the right time, just before our backpacking trip.

    1. Great Pujarini! Now you have the tips to reduce some of the weight by trying these tips for the upcoming backpacking trip! Happy travels.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses spam protection software. Learn how your comment data is processed.