A good friend once told me, in relation to camping gear, “Buy the best you can afford, and take great care of it.”
In addition to being stellar advice about things in general, I’ve applied that to my gear purchases for this journey.
I chose to travel light, with just a 44 liter carry-on sized Kelty Redwing bag, at around 13 kilos / 25 lbs, and a smaller shoulder bag. For reference, many travelers go with 70+ liters and up to 18 kilos / 40 lbs! With such a small, tidy load, every single thing I choose to bring must have value. (I’ll do a full packing breakdown separately.)
Fortunately, so far, about 95% of it has worked out great. I’ve already ditched some of the rest. And here are my top performers:
Red Photon Light – When coming back to the hostel room late at night, a red light is way less disruptive to others’ sleep than a white flashlight. It’s also easier to hold than my phone (I click the Photon “on” and put it in my mouth), lighter to carry than a headlamp, and less likely to be stolen, as well.
Packing Cubes – Why more people don’t use packing cubes, I’ll never know. They keep all my clothes organized into groups, so I know just where to look to find what I need. I roll up my clothes, pack them by use case into each of my 4 cubes, stuff them into my pack the same way every time like a puzzle, and go. My pack is always organized and neat. I’ll never travel without them again.
Shacke Pack Set of 4 w/ Laundry Bag, $30US, Amazon
Timex Weekender Watch – I read a blog that said, “If you don’t wear a watch at home, don’t travel with one either.” In my experience, this is terrible advice.
When traveling, there are buses and planes to catch, rooms to check in and out of, and places you’ve spent money to be. Best to be on time. A watch is right there, at all moments. It’s also easier to check than a phone, helping me to be present, rather than reaching for a device. And when a conversation drags on a little long… well, you get the idea.
This Timex has a nylon cord band, so it doesn’t advertise wealth to would-be thieves, unlike reaching for a shiny iPhone. It’s got an easy-to-read face, a second hand that’s useful when exercising, and pressing the crown activates an Indiglo backlight, a bonus I didn’t discover until later! So it works great at night.
It surprisingly ticks a little loudly, but by covering the face, I can mask the sound.
prAna Gear – I confess, used to think that prAna was a more upscale Lululemon. “Lifestyle” clothing for Western yoga hipsters and people who want to look outdoorsy.
But I bought 4 pieces from them before I left (travel jeans, travel pants, a hoodie, and a thermal layer) and I’ve been impressed with the quality and durability of everything I bought. Every day, I wear at least one prAna item of clothing. I am now “that guy.”
I think my prAna Axiom Jeans are my favorite. They’re comfortable, stretchy with a good, slim fit, extremely lightweight, and they roll up very small for packing. Way better than Levis, and they give me the option to not look like a traveler if I don’t want to.
Because yes, Virginia, the rest of the world wears jeans too.
Google Translate – I don’t speak Spanish. The guy at the mobile phone counter doesn’t speak English. And yet we can have a conversation and work it all out and I can get my SIM card activated. Same with roommates, directions, shopping, etc.
I wish this app had an offline version, but it’s been incredibly useful and fun to use, more times than I can count.
Free, App Store
Smartwool Socks – I will never wear another pair of socks again.
SmartWool socks are made of Merino wool, which is lighter, more durable, and more breathable than cotton. They are very comfortable, don’t create blisters as easily, dry quickly, and don’t stink after heavy use… unlike too many other people’s socks, sadly.
I have 3 pairs: a medium weight for hiking, and 2 light weights for daily use, including one black pair for fancier nights out.
Each pair is around $20, but I’ll be surprised if they don’t last me the entire way.
Moroccan Shoulder Bag – This is the daypack. I bought it this summer at a leather shop in Morocco, where it was made. I searched for 20 minutes for it, through this gigantic showroom, and finally found what I was looking for.
It’s proven to be surprisingly versatile. The leather is water resistant, I’ve discovered I can use carabiners to clip things like water bottles and my jacket (in a stuff sack) to the metal buckles, and there are enough pockets for everything. I’ve used it to hold food, water, books, etc. The leather shoulder strap can also endure it all, and can’t be sliced off easily.
Plus, having a shoulder bag (even though it’s definitely a “man purse”) means I don’t have to have the dreaded and super-nerdy “front-pack” when I’m traveling. Added bonus.
Not to mention the fact that it just looks classy, classic, and awesome. It’s my touch of 1920’s adventurer, minus the fedora.
Sadly, this pack is one of a kind. But there are lots of great options on Amazon to fit any budget or style.