Pack Like a Nerd

Optimizing underwear

I travel a lot. I travel light. I don’t like checking bags. I don’t like to do laundry.

I have spent more time trying to derive the optimal number of pair of socks and underwear to bring than anyone ever should.

Last time, I graphed it. It worked out well. (Graph is specific to a 17 day trip.)

My friend Carrie, founder of the illustrious Burning Man Charcade, does stats. She generalized this solution into something actually useful:

Credit: Carrie Smith
  1. Pick the number of days you’ll be away from the top.
  2. Follow that column down until you get a good compromise between how many pairs to bring (number at side) and how many times you’ll have to do wash (number in table).


  • You will be wearing underwear when you do wash.
  • You will always do wash when you’re wearing your last pair of underwear.


  • Gold numbers indicate a perfect run: You will arrive home with no extra clean underwear. (Beware closed laundromats and “accidents”.)
  • The number of underwear shown includes the pair you’re wearing when you leave. (So 5 pairs means 1 on your body plus 4 in your luggage.)

The next chart shows your safety margin. A bigger number in the table gives more room for error, but is less efficient:

Credit: Carrie Smith