Updated: Jul 27, 2022
I call it the Minimalist Method, or M² for short.
It's really just a fancy name for how I pack as efficiently as possible; I know it won't work for everyone, but I thought I'd share my process/methods in case others found it useful or insightful.
To start, I pack just 2-3 days worth of clothes, a small hiking backpack and a few "must-have" items.
Everything I pack fits into this 21L backpack - small, comfortable and light enough to hike with.
I've found "comfortable enough to hike with" to be the best determining factor for selecting a backpack; you can see what I've experimented with here.
What I Pack
To start, I pack just three sets of clothes (with some variations), one pair of generic hiking/trail-running shoes, one pair of barefoot sandals, and a few essential "must-have" items.
For clothes, I pack two pairs of convertible hiking pants, two pairs of pocketed, multi-use, gym/swim/lounge-wear shorts, four quick-dry t-shirts, five pairs of boxers and five pairs of socks.
If I expect to visit cooler climates, I'll add a pair of thermal underwear, a quick-drying, long-sleeve shirt (men's here, women's here) and a micro-puff jacket (men's here, women's here).
And, of course, I'm wearing some of these clothes at any given time - hopefully.
The essential items include a hanging toiletry bag, a universal travel adapter (or this), two portable wash bags (one small, one large), one waterproof dry-sack, a portable charger, a floating/waterproof phone case, a water-resistant, shoulder-strap sling bag, and my phone.
Lastly, if I'm traveling indefinitely (as I was prior to Covid), I'll bring my 13in laptop.
How I Pack
I use the same portable wash-bag to compress my clothes when packing, it's better than compression bags because it has an air/water release valve that allows you to push all the air out prior to packing.
How I Minimize
I wash one set of clothes every day, usually just a shirt and one or two pairs of socks and underwear.
Every morning when I shower, I fill up my portable wash bag and let my clothes soak for ~30 minutes (or longer, if you want) - when they're ready, rinse them in the sink and hang them up to dry.
It's an extremely quick process, taking less than 15 minutes a day, and for the benefit of a much smaller pack, definitely worth it.
I use two of them, the normal sized one shown above, and a Mini Ultra-Compact (below) for socks and underwear. While not completely necessary, you'll find it super helpful to have two options for washing clothes - and both bags pull quadruple-duty as wash-bags, dirty-clothes bags, compressions-packing bags or waterproof bags for your sensitive items.
When it's hot, you'll barely touch most of the clothes listed - hopefully you're strolling a beach somewhere without a care in the world.
When it's chilly, simply add layers; thermal underwear + short-sleeve(s) + long-sleeve + micro-puff jacket = more warmth than you might imagine; and if it's really chilly, you can find inexpensive hats, gloves, scarves, thick socks and just about anything you could possible want, wherever you are in the world.
I go into excruciating detail on washing clothes on the road in my post Laundry on the Road, if you're interesting in learning more.
I also recommend a SeaToSummit dry sack - dry sacks are thinner, lighter, more flexible and far more versatile, versus laptop specific cases like the AquaQuest Storm - although this is one of the best options on the market, if you go that route.
I prefer dry sacks because, as with the portable wash-bags, they can serve multiple purposes and give you the most flexibility for your buck.
What I Don't Pack
I don't pack a towel, they take up a lot of space and are almost always available for rent at the hostel, at the beach, or are provided freely if I'm pampering myself at a hotel. If you do decide to pack a towel, I'd actually steer clear of the ubiquitous, micro-fiber towels; despite their compact size, I find them very uncomfortable and not great at giving you that "dry" feeling after a shower.
I don't pack more than 3-4 days worth of clothes, for reasons listed above, and the fact that you can purchase anything you might need on the road, if it becomes necessary.
I don't pack a clothes line, or any variation of compact hanging lines; in all my travels, it's almost never been convenient to hang a line in the limited spaces provided by hostels; you're better off bringing a small bit of paracord in the rare cases you can use it.
Check out What Not to Bring for more thoughts and recommendations.
Check out What YOU Should Pack for a list of questions to ask yourself while packing, The Bare Essentials for my take on the absolute minimum necessary for minimalist travel, or Clothes and Gear for more space saving tools and products.
Please feel free to comment or share your own packing list, I'd love to hear what methods people are using to keep their pack small, and what items are considered essential for your travels!