I’ve always been a bit of a minimalist. I rarely buy new equipment if I am able make do with what I have for ethical as well as economic reasons. But, the more I travel, the more important my travel gear becomes to me.
Over the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to have started receiving gear for review from companies — often things that I could never afford. I’ve also become much more calculated in my purchases and have gradually refined my travel kit, swapping out second-rate pieces of gear for top-notch ones. It’s had an enormous effect on the quality of my travels.
Packing is not easy for me. I carry a portable office wherever I go because I spend a lot of my time on the road working. I also often need to carry clothing that’s appropriate for a wide variety of circumstances, from navigating the humid busy alleyways of Bangkok, to speaking in front of travel industry at trade shows, so searching for elephants in Borneo, to snowboarding in the Canadian Rockies. That’s a tall order to fit in one suitcase.
The gear I take with me has made my travels easier, more comfortable, and enabled me to maintain a standard of living that would have been impossible without it. So, in honor of the gear that has made my life easier this year (and the geniuses who designed it), here are my favorite pieces of travel gear from 2014.
Eagle Creek Morphus and Gear Trunk*
I have two Eagle Creek bags; a Gear Trunk and a Morphus. I first saw these beauties at Outdoor Retailer and thought the design was amazing. I rarely request review products; I only do so when I think the product is sensational. I was super stoked when the folks at Eagle Creek agreed to ship me a set to review.
I normally only travel with one of these bags depending on my trip. The Morphus is a carry-on sized bag that makes excellent use of space. It also has an organizing compartment with a laptop sleeve and pockets for other business stuff. I always take it if I can fit everything I need in it. The Gear Trunk is much bigger, and I will carry that on longer trips and when I need a lot of extra gear — such as dress pants & shoes for conferences.
Anyone can make a big sturdy bag, but what really makes these two stand out is their portability. The Morphus has built-in duffle and backpack straps, which makes it super easy to carry in a variety of situations. It also zips out into two separate bags — one roller and one dufflebag/backpack — in case you need an extra bag on the road.
Wheels are usually the achilles heel of rolling luggage, but both of the bags have insanely strong wheels. I’ve drug both of these fully loaded over cobblestone streets in Mexico and through the back alleys of Bangkok with no problems. They’ve taken all the abuse I was able to put them through, and believe me, I didn’t hold back.
What I really love about the Morphus is that the handle is long enough that I can stack my extra-heavy camera bag (see below) on top of it, essentially doubling the size and weight of the load. The handle is super sturdy and holds the extra weight well. Over the past year it’s developed a bit of a rattle, but that shouldn’t be surprising since I nearly always have a 30kg bag stacked against it while I’m rolling it over curbs and even use it to lift the double-bag combo up stairs and over large curbs.
These are two tough bags and, when I’ve finally done them in, I will definitely consider getting another set.
LowPro Flipside Sport 20L AW Backpack*
I’ve done a lot of outdoors photography in various conditions. I’m personally not a big fan of backpacks for photography. They’re cumbersome and you normally have to take them off and set them on the ground to get to your gear, which is a problem if you are snowboarding, in a soaking wet jungle, or in the middle of a riot trying to change lenses while the police line advances toward you (that really happened, true story).
Because of that, I usually prefer to carry a sling bag. But, when when I’m trying to keep my baggage to a minimum and need a carry-on bag that will fit all of my camera gear, a sling isn’t an option. So, I carry my LowePro Flipside Sport 20L AW.
This is the best compromise between a sling and full-sized backpack that I’ve found — especially for outdoors photography — because you can secure the waistband around your waist, remove the straps from your shoulders, and then rotate the bag around in front of you, and the waist straps will hang the bag (which opens from the back) from your hips like a table on which you can change your lenses and fiddle with your gear. It’s not as easy or fast as a sling, but you can carry way more gear in it and it’s very safe for changing lenses in messy conditions, like snow or wet foliage.
STM Trust Shoulder Bag*
As with the other bags I’ve mentioned, my love of my STM Trust shoulder bag stems from sturdiness and attention to detail in the design. This bag carries most of my portable office everywhere I go, on planes, in coffee shops, and at conferences. Often — especially at conferences — it ends up being packed to the limit with press information, marketing booklets, and my own notebooks and cameras.
I seriously put this bag through it’s paces. Not one seam has yet come undone, which is, to me, amazing. This is a very strong bag. It is also intuitively made, with pockets designed for my laptop, tablet, e-reader, charging cords, cellphone, notebooks, pens, business cards, passports, and more. It is also causal enough for day-to-day use, yet professional enough for business meetings. It’s the best all-round day bag I’ve owned.
Clothing & Accessories
A few years ago Scottevest handed out free travel vests to all TBEX attendees. I thought it looked like a ridiculous product — until I tried it. They’re actually wonderful. Scottevests have more pockets that you can count that are designed to look good, even when stuffed full of crap. They also have nice design touches, such as inside pockets with sunglass clothes inside, pockets with attached keychains so you can’t lose your keys, a pocket for a tablet in the small of your back, and a transparent inside pocket that you can operate your smartphone through.
I rarely wear my Scottevest except for when I’m traveling, but it is excellent for the road. You can carry everything you need in one garment — which would be otherwise impossible — and which is great at in the airport because you only have to take one garment off to go through security.
GoLite Running Jacket
There isn’t anything too special to say about my GoLite Running Jacket, except I love it. Every traveler needs a good lightweight, windproof, water-resistant jacket, and this one is perfect. The fact that it’s a running jacket means that it’s super comfortable and functional in outdoorsy situations, such as hiking, but the fact that it’s plain black means it’s also nice enough to wear out on fancy occasions as well. Unfortunately, since GoLite closed up shop this year, these are probably hard to find.
Clothing Arts Pick-Pocket Proof Pants*
Clothing Arts specializes in pick pocket proof pants. So, they have hidden pockets and the visible pockets can be fixed shut with a combination of zippers and buttons. They would be extremely hard for a thief to get into.
I’ve never worried much about pickpockets. I have my own methods for making sure my money and valuables are safe. But, I’ve still found these pants to be awesome for travel in ways similar to the ScotteVest. The pants are very well-made, comfortable, and good looking. I also like the large number of pockets because I’m often loaded up with gadgets while on the road, and I love the fact that I can zip up my pockets to prevent my phone, passports, and other valuables from falling out when I sleep on the plane or bus or in the airport, which always worries me.
HiTec Water Shoes*
Unfortunately, I cannot find these shoes on the HiTec website, and I have already run them into the ground and thrown them away, so I don’t have a photo of my own pair and had to find this one on the web. I loved these shoes though. They were super minimal, just nylon with a thin sole, but that’s what made them so good. They packed smaller than a pair of flip flops and were good for the gym, running, light hiking, and on boats. They were super versatile, and so easy to carry.
** To any shoe brand reps that may be reading, I am currently entertaining replacements, if you carry something similar 😉
Resistance Band Set
I try pretty hard to stay fit while I travel. It’s not always easy, but I’ve learned that with a pair of running shoes and a set of resistance bands, I can get a great workout anywhere. If there’s a park nearby even better. If that park has a chin up bar and a bench or picnic table, then I have everything I could possibly need.
The resistance band set is key. As soon as you have a tree, post, or chin-up bar to wrap it around you can a modified form of nearly any exercise you can do at the gym. And they roll up into a nylon bag smaller than my toiletries kit.
Jawbone Big Jambox
I first stumbled across this speaker at Outdoor Retailer. The rep had two of them running on battery power (which lasts for hours) and it sounded like a full-on home stereo. Then, as they blasted hip-hop, he poured a cup of water on each. The water bounced off in time with the bass. I was sold.
The Jawbone Big Jambox is not cheap, but it’s a wonderful bluetooth travel speaker. I’ve carried mine across three continents and it’s gotten totally beat up in my bag, but still sounds great and, after a year, I can still listen to music for at least a couple of hours on battery (I’m not even sure how long, because the battery has never died while I was using it). This is a wonderful little travel luxury.
There’s not much I can tell you about my Kindle that you don’t already know. I just want to carry a lot of books in a small package that’s easy on the eyes, and that’s exactly what this wonderful little bundle of literature does. And it fits in the inside pocket of my ScotteVest or jacket on plane and bus rides.
Traveling with my Chromecast has enabled me to enjoy the series’ I love (I’m looking at you Game of Thrones) in the comfort of hotel rooms everywhere. Even budget hotels these days usually have flat screen TV’s and free WIFI. When you’re in a budget hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka, for example, as I was a couple of months ago, the cable selection can be less than ideal. But, as long as your TV has an HDMI port and you have a WIFI connection, you can stream anything you can find online to your hotel room TV with this wonderful little device, which is about the size of a lighter. Entertainment on the road has never been so portable.