How low can you go??

A recent email exchange with reader David E. in which we compared the pros and cons of the Bihn Aeronaut vs. the Red Oxx Air Boss included brief references (on both our parts) to trying to trim extra weight from our carry-ons’ contents wherever possible.

That got me thinking about some of the things I’ve done to lighten the load, and a prime example is my liquids bag.  I’ve tried to pare things back to the point that I have what I need and nothing more.  For basic 1-3 day trips, this is what my “3-1-1” bag looks like:

Liquids bag

Here are the contents; you may wonder why a contact lens case is in my liquids bag (above, center right) so I’ll turn it over in the next picture:

3-1-1 bag contents

First things first:  the contact case has Curel moisturizer in one side, and Bacitracin in the other.  Immediately above it is a sample size cologne bottle that I periodically fill from a full size bottle.  The two small bottles with the yellow and orange caps contain contact lens solution; the one with the dark red cap contains laundry detergent.   The bottle all the way on the left is Shave  Secret – shaving oil that works just as well as a can of shave cream.  An extra pair of contacts, a travel size tube of toothpaste (you can refill this from a full size tube, by the way) and a strip of wetting drops (dry eye; don’t ask!) round things out.

In total, including the Ziploc bag, everything weighs 4.37 oz. or 124g.  A quart Ziploc bag, incidentally, weighs only .24 oz. or 7g.

If I’m going to be on the road for a week, I’ll bring extra contact solution; that’s about the only adjustment.  Those little bottles are good for about a day and a half each.

If you’re curious, my dry/hardware kit is a bit more elaborate and unfortunately, heavier:

Dry stuff

Most of this stuff ought to be recognizable.  The deodorant is a brand I don’t normally use; if I can remember, I’ll save a nearly empty full size stick of Arrid and use it for travel.  The red capped tube contains a styptic pencil.  The heaviest item in the kit is beneath the eyeglass case – it’s a Ziploc with several sheets of antibacterial wipes (germaphobe, what can I say?).  I didn’t weigh it for this post, but this kit weighs somewhere around 7 ounces.  Ditch the wipes, the styptic pencil and use a plastic razor and you could probably shed a couple of ounces.

In any event, this is how I approach things.  What have you tried to lighten your carry-on?  Please share by commenting…

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21 Comments on Packing Light: A peek at my 3-1-1 liquids bag

  1. Hunter says:

    What is the trick to refilling the toothpaste container?


    Kevin Reply:

    Hunter: There’s really no trick per se; just remove the caps from both tubes (regular and travel sized), hold the two open ends together – carefully – and squeeze the larger tube. Toothpaste will fill the travel sized tube.

    I discovered this a couple of months ago when I was packing for a trip and discovered that my travel toothpaste tube was almost empty. I’ve done it a few times now and it works like a charm.



  2. Michael W. says:

    Do you follow the tricks that ultralight, long distance hikers use (as chronicled at the paid subscription website

    Because I’ve never seen this degree of efficiency before in the tourism/business travel dept.

    The litany of my “failings” might be instructive to other readers:

    1. Although I have gotten by with just a BIC shaver before (using soap not shaving cream or oil as a facial lubricant), I much prefer to take along a battery powered traveler’s electric shaver by Braun (I used lithium AA batteries from Energizer which are lighter than alkaline, but also make it run faster, and last much longer).

    2. Deodorant is an annoyance in terms of cutting weight. For as long as I can remember I have been hypersensitive to the chemicals used in widely available commercial deodorants (and the antiperspirants are even worse!) so I can’t use the “travelers sizes” on sale at Target. Luckily Trader Joes makes a very mild, natural, alternative stick (much better than Tom’s, another one I can tolerate but don’t like) but it’s full size, so I try to carry one that’s mostly worn down. Still leaves me stuck with the weight of the container it comes in….

    3. My eyes will only tolerate “high oxygen transfer” contacts and it is only recently some disposables fit the bill. Now all I need is a few packs and some “pure saline”; before I used to have to carry a whole non-chemical disinfect system (AOSept peroxide solution).

    While my current 3-1-1 kit occupies as much volume as all my underwear and socks put together, at least it’s not old-style “Dopp kit” fat.

    BTW is a good source for small refillable bottles (they sell to non-subscribers) and REI for 2 ounce, 3 ounce Nalgene bottles.

    The tip about the contact case as a gel container is VERY cool and I’m going to try that out. It also looks like a clever way to carry a minimal amount of hand lotion or sunscreen in a destination bag – previously I’ve been carrying around one of the freebie 3 ounce hand lotion bottles that the nicer hotels have at their sinks….


  3. Kevin says:

    Michael –

    I own a rechargeable Panasonic shaver, but it weighs 6.8 oz. and I refuse to travel with it. It’s just too heavy.

    And yes, I do frequent – very helpful and interesting in general.



  4. Till says:

    On Shaving:

    On traveling liquid free:

    The contact lens container is a great idea and I had also just thought of that when I wanted to repack some hair gel/wax.

    I also use humangear gotoobs and nalgene bottles for repacking.

    Just like you I’ve foregone the heavy toiletry bags in favor of ziplocs. I am stylish enough in other ways. ;)

    I am looking to get another military style hairbrush (less bulk and weight). I got one already but it is a nice one and I don’t want to lose it. So I take my normal hairbrush which is bulkier.

    I also got a nice pocket comb from Kent. Very good quality. Has fine and broad teeth.

    The Schick Quattro Titanium Razor with Trimmer is what I use for shaving. See link. The trimmer allows me to keep sideburns in shape without taking an electric razor. Too heavy. One blade is good for around 30 (!) shaves for me. I’ve never had that. So I only need a single blade even for long trips.

    I don’t take shampoo, soap, moisturizer or conditioner but use whatever I find when I get there.

    However, I have a full complement of supplies stashed away at my GF’s place and at my home in Germany. So when I go there, I basically don’t need to bring anything.


    Michael W. Reply:

    I saw the gotoobs at REI and they are super cool (look & feel) but I’m not sure they are weight or cost efficient – anyone with any experience with them?


    Kevin Reply:

    Agree as far as the look and feel, but I haven’t use them… perhaps Till can comment on his experiences with them.


  5. Scott says:

    My 3-1-1 pack looks lighter than yours for short trips of a day or two. Had lasik so don’t need a complement of eye gear, though I usually carry small eye drops — but not the tubes you do. Might try that. Beyond that, I include deodorant (Tom’s) and toothpaste. That’s it. Three things. On short trips of 1-2 nights, I don’t do laundry, so wouldn’t carry the detergent.

    My short trip dry bag is a comb, razor, toothbrush, and floss. If I’m feeling like a cold or sinus thing is coming on, I add a nasal irrigator and saline packets.

    This works because I am OK with hotel amenities and I’m OK with shaving with bar soap.

    Minimalism was my thing until recently when I started messing around with watercolor paints. Now I have to include 5-7 small tubes of paint in my 3-1-1 bag, which has made TSA stop, but not confiscate. It’s still not very much weight. And my watercolor kit (brushes, plastic palette, moleskine, pencil) isn’t very heavy. Don’t know if I’ll keep doing the watercolors, but for now, it fits nicely in my Air Boss.


  6. Till says:

    Here is the blog entry and the link to the post I made about it:

    Design works great. Totally spillproof and very clean to squeeze out. Easy to fill. Moderately easy to clean; need to use fingers but that’s ok by me.

    Suction cup won’t stick forever; see link.

    Color coding and the collar id ring are genius. I use mine everyday at home so I don’t have big bottles of product cluttering my counter space. Cost efficient? For me, yes. It’s like $5-7 per toob. I think bought three. Have one at GF’s place, use small one daily, got one more as a spare.

    Weight efficient? You bet. When you can fill your products into a 1.25 ounce tube, a size smaller than most travel size products, and can use your very own stuff, it’s just really convenient.

    It would also be cost efficient because travel sizes are generally more expensive. Of course, one can just get travel size products once and then refill them with one’s own products but that’s gonna be more hassle and save you grams not ounces.

    I don’t use them for toothpaste. My travel toothpaste is actually an even smaller size; 0.75oz.


    Michael W. Reply:

    Using gotoobs for a cleaner look around the sink is actually a very appealing use…but I think my days of minimalist bachelorhood have been displaced by three perpetually moving rug rats and any idea of Zen minimalist is gone, gone, gone.

    As usual you make some compelling arguments Till.


    Till Reply:

    Yes, no rug rats yet here. :) I can see myself giving up the sole ownership of a bathroom gladly for some of those, though. I any case, I like these things (the gotoobs) and think they are really clever. I am always analyzing cultural differences and in America there are a ton of clever inventions that only Americans could think of, e.g. power windows or cup holders. But then again there are also inventions like electric can openers that I find utterly useless. By the way, I use a very clever can opener from Zyliss of Switzerland. Great design and functionality.

    Side question: Why does the character counter not run? It worked when the limit was first installed.


    Kevin Reply:


    I never actually saw the character counter work… I’ve frankly given up on it and am seeking outside help. If I’m unable to find someone who’s adept with XHTML coding and who’s willing to help, I’ll try again this weekend.

  7. Till says:

    I swear I saw it work on that very first comment I gave after you said you’d limit the word count. I wondered about it because you had said that that should be a feature in the future, but it was already working at that point. Anyways, not so important. As you see, I can pace myself without it, too. ;)


  8. Kieran says:

    Most airlines give out a disposable toothbrush and small tube of toothpaste on longhaul. Throw the brush, but the toothpaste is the perfect size to fit tightly inside the end of a standard-size tube to refill. You can actually overfill it, so it’s good for a long weekend trip easily (I’ve stretched it to a week – or, hey, bring two for a fortnight!). And it’s so small I usually don’t even declare it for a liquids search and, as I don’t carry any other liquids, that’s one less hassle at the airport. I shave with bar soap (the trick is to wait five minutes after applying before shaving) and use hotel shampoo for myself and my clothes if needed – wash them in the shower. (Iron while wet before hanging to speed up drying.) On a short trip that’s good enough to freshen them up. Deodorant and after shave? Use the hotel moisturizer – it’s usually scented – and shower morning and evening before going out. And lightly spray the inside of your suitcase/carry-on before leaving home with your favourite scent – it will permeate your clothes. Razor, floss, toothbrush and toothpaste in a Ziploc – that’s my washbag. My hair is buzz-cut – no comb or brush required. I travel about once every two weeks.


  9. Kieran says:

    I forgot one other thing (because it doesn’t go in my toiletries bag) – a tiny pair of nail clippers. I use cable ties instead of a padlock to close my bag and carry a small number (for the return trip) in an outside pocket of my bag along with the nail clippers – essential for cutting the tie when I get to my destination. The clippers are good for other things, too, like getting into plastic packaging on memory cards or CDs. They also clip nails. ;)
    And no need to buy Ziplocs by the way – many airports are handing them out free at the liquids check area.


    Till Reply:

    Kieran, your idea about spraying the inside of the suitcase with your fave cologne is GREAT! I love it. On this trip, I forgot my cologne sample bottles that I normally take. But your method would work great. Really brilliant.

    On the nail clipper, you do know that little scissors under four inch, even pointy ones, are now allowed in handluggage? I take my normal nail scissors. Clippers are more weight efficient because one doesn’t need a sheath. But that’s just some grams and the scissors do give a better result. I often use zip ties, too.


    Kieran Reply:

    Thanks for the praise – always welcome, even (or especially) if undeserved!
    I take the clippers because I prefer them to scissors for my nails and having sharps makes me nervous at security – some airports might allow them, others not. Heathrow, for example, does NOT allow scissors:


    Kevin Reply:


    Great ideas… thanks for commenting. I sometimes use zip ties on my golf travel bag, and throw extras in the inside pocket for the return journey. I have a Utili-key on my keyring, and use it for cutting the ties when I arrive. If TSA wants to look at the clubs, of course, they cut the ties. No biggie.



    Kieran Reply:

    Apologies for going off topic but worth pointing out that I use ties in preference to padlock because I’ll know if anyone has interfered with my bag after I have to check it in or leave it unattended eg in overhead locker. (Padlocks are easily broken or picked, so are pretty useless anyway.) Then I can check it before any authorities do. Not to get too paranoid but there are a few people in foreign prisons who claim they had contraband put into their baggage, Australian Schapelle Corby being a famous example. Smuggling dope INTO Bali – that’s, er, a tad unusual I gather.


  10. Till says:

    Exact same reason for which I prefer zip ties, too. Keep in mind two tips I read on FT. First use colored zip ties. The TSA has standard black on hand to replace, so you won’t notice any interference. Second, don’t put the zip ties for the return trip in the checked bag. They can just use one of your own zip ties to replace and again you won’t be the wiser.

    You can also use TSA locks with Search Alert feature. They throw a colored indicator switch when they have been opened with a key. I got two of those (Brookstone in nice neon orange, great bag identifier, too). They work great.

    More on topic, I just got my American Crew Fiber hair gel, KoS Alpha oil and lip balm tube through security without a problem, meaning I didn’t have them in a 311 bag and didn’t present them in any other form. However, they did examine my lighter.


  11. Till says:

    The above link leeds to my results for traveling liquid free. Thanks to Kieran for the great suitcase spray tip and to Kevin for the idea with the contact lens containers.

    I found some great ones at Target. Screw top with magnifying glass built in. Come in different color versions if you have more than one product to pack this way. $3 or so.


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