When it comes to sailing across an ocean, Quantum Pacific’s Will Paxton says less is more.

With some 20 Pacific crossings under his belt, Quantum Pacific’s Will Paxton knows a little something about what to take—and what not to take—when packing your bag for an ocean race. And, Paxton says it can all fit into one carry on bag.

“It’s eat, sleep, sail. You’ll find out pretty quick there’s not much time for anything else,” he says. “I brought a book with me the first couple times to Hawaii, and I never opened it once.”

This picture contains just about everything you need to race to Hawaii. And it all fits inside that 50L Helly Hansen bag.Paxton says a good pair of padded shorts is the most important thing to bring, and make sure you invest in a fancy pair of thick, breathable socks. You’ll spend most of your time either sitting on a hard surface or standing and you’ve got to protect your feet.

You get two pairs of footwear: boots and deck shoes. Leave the flip-flops at home. “If it gets light and warm, you can go barefoot, but I’ve seen a lot of foot injuries over the years. Keeping your feet in your shoes, that’s tradecraft,” says Paxton.

A digital watch with a light is also a must—“What time is it?” is a popular question when life revolves around a three-hour shift schedule. You should also bring two pairs of sunglasses, especially if you wear prescription. “If you only bring one and you lose it, you’re handicapped the rest of the race.”

On most boats, you’ll be hot bunking, and often, but not always, the boat will provide the sleeping gear. Check in with your boat as to whether you should pack a sleeping bag. Other things like toothpaste and sunscreen can also be shared and may be provided.

An eye mask can be helpful for sleeping, especially during the day, but earplugs are a no-no. “An iPod is okay, because usually after you fall asleep your playlist will usually run out. You need to be able to hear what’s happening on deck, if someone is calling for help or if there’s an all-hands call, you don’t to be the last one up,” says Paxton.

Of course, every race is different. Know your course—a North Atlantic crossing will require more cold-weather gear than racing the Pacific Cup or Transpac to Hawaii. And, know yourself. If there’s something you need, like a second set of underwear, bring it. You’ll race better if you’re comfortable and feeling good. But if you can live without it, leave it at home.

Will Paxton’s Packing List:

  • Carry-on size, water-tight bag
  • 1 pair padded shorts
  • 1 set fleece underlayer
  • 1-2 pairs thick, breathable socks or seal socks
  • Boots
  • Deck shoes
  • Watch hat
  • Hoodie
  • 1 long sleeve technical t-shirt (white)
  • 1 short sleeve technical t-shirt (white)
  • Mid-layer sailing jacket
  • Off-shore foul weather jacket
  • Off-shore foul weather bibs
  • 1 pair breathable underwear
  • Wide brimmed sun hat or visor
  • Knee pads
  • 2 pairs sunglasses
  • Digital watch
  • Eye mask
  • Headlamp with red light
  • iPod and headphones
  • 3 tubes Chapstick, one for every pocket
  • Inflatable PFD with tether and leg straps
  • AIS beacon
  • Knife*
  • Small water-tight box for personal electronics and chargers
  • Razor—you might get a bucket shower and a shave half way there

*Pro tip: Buy an inexpensive but sharp knife with a serrated edge that you can give away before you fly home.

While this packing list may be more minimal than that of the average pro-am racer, it’s a good place to start!

Photo above: This picture contains just about everything you need to race to Hawaii. And it all fits inside that 50L Helly Hansen bag.

Will Paxton, Quantum Sails Pacific