Traveling With One Bag: A Minimalist Helicopter Pilot

This blog is for helicopter pilots. Many helicopter pilot careers involve frequent travel: fire fighting, utility, and power line patrol to name a few. My last trip out-of-town was for two weeks of training, and I figured I’d show you how light I travel. In my life, I own less than 50 things, not to achieve that number as a goal, but to pay better attention to life itself. I will post an article about that later, but you’ll actually see much of what I own in this one photo.


The Pack

I have been using the Mystery Ranch ASAP, a 15L pack with a 3-zip opening system, as my primary backpack. This bag has been with me every day, in every state, for the past year. It has one main compartment with two internal dividers, and one accessory pocket with an internal zippered mesh pouch. I went with the military version over the civilian version (“Urban Assault”), because I specifically wanted the different internal divider style offered by the ASAP. I chose this size pack so that it would fit under the seats of an airliner or in the overhead compartment with ease: no lost checked baggage for me.

Everything you see pictured above and described below fits in this bag, though obviously I wear much of it. I keep two carabineers installed. The first one on the side acts as a handle, allows attaching misc. items to it, and acts as an attachment method to the seatbelt in the helicopter when traveling. The second one—kept on the top of the bag—is used to attach the bag to my vehicle’s headrest, keeping it from getting tossed about when driving. I also changed the zipper pulls to normal 550 cord, as the stock cord was overkill.

The Clothing

It was warm weather where I went for training, so I declined to bring my winter jacket. Instead I packed a grid-fleece pullover from Beyond Clothing in case I felt a chill. I then wore a Wool & Prince (100% merino wool) button-down shirt, a Tech Lite Short Sleeve Crewe (87% merino) shirt from Icebreaker, and one pair of Triple Aught Design Intercept PD Jeans (not shown) that I’ve worn every day since mid-2015 (when not in a flight suit). Underwear consisted of two pairs of Wool & Prince (100% merino) briefs, and two pairs of Darn Tough (64% merino) socks. I also carried a rain jacket just in case, this one being an Arc’teryx Alpha. I wear Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX Shoes daily, and an Ares Gear Aegis Belt keeps my pants up.

You’ll notice the presence of merino wool in many of my clothes. Merino wool dries quickly and doesn’t hold odor like traditional materials, meaning items can be worn over the course of many days before needing a wash. When you get stuck with a helicopter for a few days in the middle of nowhere, these features are appreciated. I do laundry in the hotel, either with their services or in the sink on my own. Merino washes and dries very quickly.

The Gear

The other miscellaneous items include:

  • Triple Aught Design Shemagh (great for sleeping on the plane or additional neck warmth)
  • Sunglasses (not shown)
  • Violent Little Machine Shop Kydex Shock Wallet
  • Apple MacBook Air 11” (for my writing and work-related stuff)
  • Apple iPad Mini (I read a lot)
  • Cellular phone (not shown)
  • Dual USB Charger w/ Cables
  • Bluetooth Earphones (not shown)
  • Rite-In-The-Rain 3”x5” Notepad
  • Rite-In-The-Rain Pen
  • Magpul DAKA Pouch for cables/batteries
  • Streamlight White/Red/Blue/IR Flashlight

That is it for two weeks. I don’t need multiple outfits. I can do laundry with ease. My bag stays as a carry-on. I get toiletries at the hotel or a local grocery store, and I don’t have any medication to worry about.

Later on I will have a long article on my life with less, but since travel is where I started to minimize my possessions first, I figured it would be worth showing my typical travel load for now.

Keep it simple,
Jack Stelter

One thought on “Traveling With One Bag: A Minimalist Helicopter Pilot

  1. I realize a lot of readers of this article are not helicopter pilots, but many of my blog posts are specific to helicopter pilot education. I am adding articles throughout the year discussing the careers I have held in this industry, and if you’re interested in reading about one that I published just last month that doesn’t require you to be a helicopter pilot to understand, check out my story about being a News Helicopter Pilot at

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