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  1. #1
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2013

    help me finding the ONE backpack (system) please (smart alec?)

    hey folks,

    i'm currently decluttering/minimalising my life.

    i want to fit all my belongings in one backpack and sell all backpacks, including my most used backpacks, a lowe 70 liter and a thule 25 liter crossover.
    i want to be able to use the backpack as my daypack, use it as carryon for flying w/o checking a bag, for hiking/adventuring, and to move all my stuff from a to b for a new place.

    i learned that i don't need much, the smart alec with 26 liters is my current favorite, but my testpack has shown me, that my thule 25 is way too small. the alec has one additional liter, but i'm not sure if that's enough.
    on the first photo is everything i now call essential minus my ordered vaio pro 13 and my nexus 4 and my earth runners sandals.

    can you help me, i'm not sure if the smart alec will work, i really want it to work, the size seems ideal. plus i'm not sure which addons i should get, to maximise my portability and to be able to remove needed items quick while still staying organized and not have a huge pile of stuff, when i'm at a place where i wanna unpack and repack stuff for the day out.
    the cache is a no brainer for the vaio pro, snake charmer looks useful too, not sure about the gate keeper straps, freudian slip, clear pouches.
    not sure if i should get the addon modular pockets, will i still be able to take it on the place with them?
    also is the smart alec waterproof/resistant?

    here's my list with all my deemed essential belongings, if you have some ideas about reducing it even further w/o spending too much, i'm always thankful for advice:

    jeantex sailing rain jacket
    camelbak 2 liters
    running shoes
    hiking shoes (waterproof, use them as winter shoes too)
    earth runners sandals (not pictured)
    2 pair short socks
    2 pair long socks
    1 pair wool socks
    3 boxers
    1 beanie
    1 scarf
    1 long pants
    1 short pants
    1 swimming pants
    2 t-shirts / 1 polo
    2 training/under shirts
    1 dress shirt
    1 super warm wool pullover
    1 cashmere pullover
    1 long warm underpants
    1 long warm undershirt
    small bag with toiletries
    nexus 4
    in-ear headphones
    nook reader
    vaio pro 13

    any help is really appreciated,


    help me finding the ONE backpack (system) please (smart alec?)-mgktbevl-jpg
    help me finding the ONE backpack (system) please (smart alec?)-4nlmyull-jpg
    Last edited by declutter; 10-14-2013 at 02:41 PM. Reason: forgot the camelback

  2. #2
    Volunteer Moderator Badger's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    U City
    Hi, and welcome to the Forum.

    You may find it helpful to search for round-the-world (RTW) trips here, since there are several threads in which people detailed their packing lists for long-term travel using the Smart Alec or Synapse 25. From your list and photos, it seems to me that on your travels you tend to pursue outdoor activities and that you run, so I'm not going to suggest that you ditch everything related to those activities. At the same time, I don't think that the Smart Alec will be able to accommodate everything you list. You might find the tips below helpful:

    1. I'm assuming that you are including amongst these items the clothes you will wear en route. You probably already know this, but you'll want to wear the heaviest and bulkiest items whenever possible to create space in your bag. If you do this, you can eliminate the hiking boots, one pair of boxers and socks, and 1-2 shirts from your packing list, since you'll be wearing them.

    2. Five pairs of socks is a LOT of socks. If you need the thick wool socks for some reason, I'd highly recommend replacing the other four pairs of socks with just two pairs of Smartwool Outdoor Ph.D. low-cut socks. They actually stretch over your ankles and can be worn more than once before needing a wash. I'm wearing a pair right this minute.

    3. Technically, you also possess five short-sleeved shirts. You have a polo, two Ts, and two "training shirts." Instead of 4 T-shirts, you might consider buying two lightweight technical T-shirts, preferably in merino wool, to use as both your T-shirts and exercise shirts. As with the socks, merino wool wicks sweat and resists odor. It is also highly compressible, and dries faster than cotton. Icebreaker is a favorite amongst members of this Forum.

    4. The heavy wool pullover looks pretty bulky. The trick to doing more with less is to layer, and to also bring highly compressible items. If you can swing it, I think that a synthetic down jacket (like Arc'Teryx, Patagonia, etc.) would likely be more useful. These can be packed into a stuff sack and can, if need be, be lashed onto the outside of the pack.

    5. You have a polo and a dress shirt, which seem to me like "going out in public" options for your upper half. Since both of the items in your pic appear to be cotton, these might not be the best choice for long-term travel (they're heavy, take forever to dry, and they will get rumpled fast). You could replace these items with just one lightweight long-sleeved shirt with a collar. Patagonia and Rohan make shirts from technical fabrics that don't scream "safari tourist."

    6. The tan-colored thing in both your photos—is that a CamelBak? You might be able to ditch that and carry just the bladder in one of the SA's side pockets; there may be a way to also secure it inside the main compartment so you can use the SA while running/hiking/exploring at your destination. There is a clip on one of the backpack straps that will keep the tube out of the way yet easily accessible. I suppose this isn't a big deal because it could count as your personal item on a flight if need be.

    In regards to your question about accessories: this is an area where you have to consider the benefits of organization vs. weight and bulk. In general, it's very handy to keep your clothing sequestered, whether in packing cubes, pouches, or sacks. I agree that the Cache is a good idea for the laptop. You don't seem to be carrying enough paper/files/office stuff to need a Freudian Slip. It looks like you have a computer charger, Nook charger, and phone charger, and it may be possible to get all of those in a Small size stuff sack, which would be less bulky than the Snake Charmer, which I think is bigger than you need. Definitely get something like a money belt or passport pouch to keep your vital documents and credit cards safely on your person.

    In terms of the modular attachments: you should be able to use them and get on a plane as long as your bag isn't over-packed. Whatever you choose to do in this department, definitely bring along the bungee cord that comes standard, since it is very useful for lashing things to the outside of the pack.

    Finally, I can understand about wanting to do this without breaking the bank. Some of my suggestions aren't cheap; they're just what I'd be likely to do if traveling long-term with a 26-L backpack was my goal. You can always make do with the items you have and, as they wear out, get the lighter-weight, travel-specific stuff. However, this option doesn't really help you get everything into just the Smart Alec. Perhaps you could leave some of your belongings behind with a friend or family member, along with enough money to ship you a smallish parcel a month or two into your trip.

    Hope this helps! Good luck.
    Last edited by Badger; 10-14-2013 at 11:56 AM. Reason: grammatical errata

  3. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2013
    wow, thanks for that really detailed response!

    this is not a packing list for a trip, but rather everything that i want to reduce myself to, hence my belongings. obviously i wouldn't take everything with me all the time, but i want to be able, to move to a new place and fit all my stuff into a backpack and move, board a plane...
    once i'm at a new "home" i will leave stuff there.
    this is my goal, to be free from too much possessions and reduce it to the minimum and in return gain the ability to move around, without any stress regarding packing, checking bags, renting a truck to move...

    1. yes, that's the plan.

    2. yes, i see that as a bit much myself. short socks are for summer, spring, but yeah, i usually wear sandals as much as possible during those seasons. long socks, for when it's colder, in warmer weather longer socks are just annoying. and one pair of woolsocks for freezing winter. i can throw one pair of long socks out easily.
    and i do plan to replace my clothes with higher quality, versions that are more suitable for this minimalist lifestyle over time.

    3. yes, i can drop some of those easily too. heard about merino wool, it's planned as well.

    4. this is currently my warmest pullover and quite useful for winter, but it is too heavy and bulky. my jacket, a sailing jacket is too bulky and heavy as well, it's just, this is my only truly weather proof jacket, my old good leather jacket isn't too useful with rain. this is where i need to invest, it's planned.

    5. they are cotton, thanks for the recommendation.

    6. yes, forgot to list it, that's my camelback 2L. i love it dearly, i hate bottles plus it's good for keeping stuff warm and cold and sports and for not having to carry a bag, just for something to drink and for smuggling water/wine to places where you're not supposed to. that's one thing i can't let go for flying, yeah, i could just wear it under my jacket.

    yes, that's what i though about, a solution to keep the clothes in sub bags for easy removal.
    i will be down to just one laptop charger and one micro usb charger (consisting of a power adapter and a usb cable), yay standards, also a travel adapter.

    i plan on replacing items with higher quality, lower weight as money permits, over time, yeah.

    i think i will just order the smart alec, with both modular pockets, i can leave them behind, at a new "home".
    this has to work
    as mentioned, it's not about a specific trip, it's to reduce my possessions and gain mobility and a free head, no more stressful packing, waiting, carrying.
    i already managed to live out of a backpack for the last couple of months. now i want to reduce to level where i need just one backpack for everything, i'm confident that tom bihn is a good choice for that, i'm ready for that change.

  4. #4
    Volunteer Moderator Badger's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    U City
    I forgot to mention in my earlier dissertation-length reply that "The Shopping Bag is your Friend." For now, it seems to me that you can fit almost, but not everything into a Smart Alec. You could just throw the excess into a plastic (or re-useable) shopping bag. Boom, instant personal item (and I like your stealthy way of thinking with the CamelBak-under-the-jacket move). As you minimize, you can gradually work your way down to just the Smart Alec. NB: if you want a re-useable bag, I'd probably suggest the Chico Bag or the Patagonia Carry Y'All Bag, and not the TB Shop Bag, simply because the former two are quite cheap and pack down to nothing. Others may disagree, but I will stand politely but firmly on this position.

    I noticed your jacket too, and agree that a non-bulky hard shell will become as good of a friend to you as the shopping bag.

    Stuff Sacks might work well alongside the Medium Tri-Star Packing Cube for clothing containment purposes. Since the SA is not rectilinear, Stuff Sacks will conform to the nooks and crannies and allow you to jam in as much as possible.

  5. #5
    Volunteer Moderator tpnl's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Toronto, Canada (GMT+5)
    Why not try a Brain Bag? Except for the Aeronaut, it has the most space of any of the TB bags - 36 litres or 2200 Cu In. That is even more than a Tri-Star (33 litres or 2000 Cu In.). I use it for anything and it has never failed me. It is great as a Carry-on. You can also hook things to the centre section (e.g. a Shopping Bag) or another bag.
    If I were to choose one bag to take everything, that would be the one.

    In comparison with the Smart Alec with add on pockets, the Brain Bag will hold more - the Smart Alec is 26 litres or 1600 Cu In. bare. With the Upper (2.5 litres or 150 Cu In.) and Lower (3.5 litres or 215 Cu In.) pockets, it brings the total volume to 32 litres or 1965 Cu In. However, the Brain Bag still has more capacity by 4 litres or 235 Cu In.

    Also, perhaps just splurge on an Aeronaut. This has backpack straps and is tops in capacity at 45 litres or 2700 Cu In. That will fit everything you have INSIDE the bag and it is very comfortable and easy to use.


  6. #6
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2013
    of course, the cheap cotton shopping bag, i'll use them frequently, but prefer backpacks, out of the way and they make you agile.

    just did some research, the cheap european airlines only allow one item for carry-on, the personal item works for regular airlines.

    as mentioned, i'm currently thinking of just ordering the smart alec plus the two modular addon pockets and hope that investment was worth it and i'll use them. plus i can just put the modular pockets in the alec and use them to organize, if i don't need the extra space.
    plus for clothes either the tri-star packing cube/backpack Packing Cube Backpack (Tri-Star/Western Flyer) - Use as an ultralight backpack or a travel packing cube - TOM BIHN or the aeronaut one Packing Cube Backpack (Aeronaut) - Travel Packing Cube converts to an ultralight backpack - TOM BIHN
    then the carry-on cosmetics bag 3D Clear Organizer Cube - 3-1-1 toiletries bag. Clear front and back. Made in USA. - TOM BIHN
    of course the cache for the laptop and the passport pouche RFID Blocking Passport Pouch - Passport holder that blocks RFID signals - TOM BIHN

    do you have any suggestions or corrections for this setup?
    i think that is a good starter configuration, i don't really want to overdo it - too many bags, cubes and stuff sacks are expensive and clutter - at the same time i have to be efficient, since shipping outside of the us is so expensive, plus import tax..

  7. #7
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Oct 2013
    tpnl: i considered and had a look at the brain bag. thing is, i really want one backpack, that i can use as daypack plus i wanna be (more) minimalistic and reduce my possessions.
    the brain is quite big, the alec kind of forces me to reduce.

    the aeronaut is way too big to be able to use as a normal daypack.

    as mentioned i want to reduce, declutter and i think the smaller volume of the smart alec (plus addon bags) will force me to think about what i really need/want to pack, which could help me quite a bit.

    thanks for the suggestions!

  8. #8
    Volunteer Moderator tpnl's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Toronto, Canada (GMT+5)

    I hear you. I thought similarly when I was deciding on an Empire Builder or Zephyr (smaller Empire Builder). I got the smaller Zephyr for my 15.6" laptop and gear and have never wanted the Empire Builder's extra space in an EDC. The trick for me was to plan where you would put everything to use all the available space well. I am happy to carry a slim, light Zephyr - not a thick heavy bag which I would end up doing if I got the Empire Builder.


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