Gadling Gear Review: Pelican Elite Tablet Backpack

When you see the baggage handlers hurling your suitcase on the car or you watch a fellow passenger trying to crush their carry-on to the already packed overhead bin, you start to ask yourself: is it time to switch to hard-sided luggage? Pelican makes super rugged packs that are something of a compromise. Your heart won’t lurch in your throat as you remember that you left your tablet in your pack at the same moment that the bus driver hurls it up on to the luggage rack, but there are some tradeoffs.

The U140 Urban Elite Tablet backpack is built around hauling your tablet from A to B and getting in there in one piece. It’s got a hard-shell, a plastic case built right in. There’s a divider to keep it separate from your keyboard, if you’ve got one – it’s removable or you can keep it as a little extra padding. The compartment clamps shut – it is not going to fall open, but you could add a cable tie or a padlock, if you’re feeling extra security conscious. Your iPad or netbook will be well secured; that’s for sure.

The rest of the pack has your typical daypack features. The front pocket has lots of compartments and sleeves for your phone, your business cards, the kind of stuff we all carry around. There’s a sleeve-like middle pocket where you could stow any paperwork or a sweater, but it’s a little shallow – you’re not going to get a lot of bulky stuff in there. If you pack carefully, you might be able to stow a change of clothes, but it’s going to be tight and you’ll have to be a master folder. You can strap your jacket (or beach towel) on to the bottom of the pack and there are lash hooks on the side that do not feature a water-bottle pocket.When you flip the pack over, there’s another compartment at the back. You could absolutely stow a minimal photography kit in here. There are no dividers provided, so you’ll have to figure out your own system, but I was able to get my DSLR with the 300 lens in there, no problem. You will have to take off the pack to access that pocket, but it’s a great place for things you’d like to secure and don’t need ready access too.

The back of the pack (where that lumbar pocket is) and the straps all have comfortable padding on them. Everything is adjustable for fit. There’s a chest strap, but no waist strap – I’m a little surprised by that given that you could be carrying quite a bit of weight.

The weight is the thing you’ll sacrifice on with the Tablet Elite pack. It’s heavy. The built-in case, the plastic handles and grips … it weighs just short of seven pounds. There are scenarios where it’s worth making the trade off around weight. Any traveler who’s mentally inventoried the contents of their pack while watching it sail off a roof or hearing it slide around in the bus hold or… let’s just say it’s not a good feeling. I watched the backpack holding my camera drop to the floor from a coat hook once. There was a sickening crunch and later, I unpacked a shattered telephoto. That would not have happened with a hard side extreme conditions pack.

The pack retails for about $250, though I’ve seen it for about $100 less, so shop around. When you add up the potential replacement value of the gear inside it, you may find that spending the money on the pack gives you peace of mind. The gist? Pricey. Heavy. Your sanity could be worth it.

Related – I rather liked the Gregory Border day pack, gear guy Kraig Becker had favorable things to say about ECBC’s Javelin day pack.

[Images courtesy of Pelican]

Gadling Gear Review: This Year’s Favorite Gear

I’ve been reviewing gear for a few years now. I wrote for a snowshoeing magazine and a site focused on gear for travelers before I joined the Gadling crew. That means I’m kind of a tough sell when it comes to new outdoor and travel clothing, bags and accessories. And I test everything, I ride my bike in the rain to see if that jacket is really waterproof, I wrangle that roller bag into the overhead bin, I wear those noise-canceling headsets on a long-haul flight. I pay attention to what always makes it into the bag, to what gets used more than once, to what works. Here are six things that really worked from this year’s gear.

Birki’s Skipper Slides
: You could not have told me that a shoe from Birkenstock would become a (fair weather) travel favorite, but they’re great for long-haul flights, easy to get in and out of at the airport, they do double duty as slippers or flip-flops when you’re running down the hall to the ice machine and, though they may not suit your style – they’re very casual – I love these things and think they’re great if you’ve got room for a second pair of shoes in your bag.

Ozone Ultralight Roller from Osprey: Just about perfect as a weekender, at its smallest size, this super light bag holds everything you need for a three-day getaway. What’s causing it to miss the 100% mark? It needs a shoulder strap for when it’s not appropriate to roll it. That aside, this is an extremely well designed bag with lots of pockets in sensible places – there’s even a place for your netbook or tablet – and it looks cool.

Gregory’s Border Laptop Backpack
: Everyone’s got a system for getting you through the TSA checkpoint with your laptop pack; most of them are fine. They all seem to use the same open flat configuration, but that doesn’t mean they also make a great day pack. The Border pack is full of sensible pockets that are exactly the right size and shape for whatever it is you’re carrying. If you can’t find the right place for it in this pack, you don’t need to be carrying it. (Ok, one exception: it’s not built to carry a DSLR.) This is, hands down, the best laptop pack I’ve tested.Mophie Juice Pack Plus: Addicted to your phone for travel apps, podcasts, photography, etc.? Yeah, me too. Which means I’m always burning through the battery. The Mophie Juice Pack Plus doubles the life of your phone by wrapping it in a case with an integrated battery. Strategists can shut down some of those power sucking things like Wi-Fi or data to get even more time out of it. That’s a terrific extra for the mobile addict.

Panasonic Lumix: I’m a devoted photographer and at times I carry a big heavy DSLR with big heavy lenses. But I sprung for a new Lumix this year and I left my DSLR at home for two big trips. I’ve been so happy with what the Lumix offers me – excellent optics, works beautifully in low light, all kinds of customization settings for photo nerds, and it fits in my pocket. I love this thing. Love it.

SmartWool Anything: Lots of brands are making nice stuff out of merino wool these days and it’s good stuff. Icebreaker makes styling clothing and base layers, Nau makes cool pieces that pack well; it’s all great stuff. SmartWool has been around forever, though, and while they’re not the cheapest and don’t always have the edge on style, they’re stuff is consistently excellent and it lasts for a very long time. I have SmartWool gear that I purchased more than ten years ago and it’s still in great shape. Their gear fits, wears tough and lasts. Get whatever you like, but the midweight stuff that they came out with this year? Aces. It’s rare that I’ll endorse a specific brand so whole-heartedly, but I am never disappointed with their gear. Never.

[Image credit: Packing for NZ by herdingnerfs via Flickr – Creative Commons]

Eagle Creek Traverse Pro Roller Bag

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve made the full jump to the roller bag. It’s what I pack now, unless I’m traveling super light, and then I just take a little day pack. The perfect bag remains just out of reach, though I’ve noticed some real improvements since I got my Costco standard sized carry on a few years back. Luggage is lighter and more versatile these days, and generally more thoughtfully designed.

The Traverse Pro is a combination bag — a day pack and suitcase in one. There’s a TSA friendly zip-off backpack and a standard roller bag. The bag is overhead bin sized even with the day pack on it, though if you’ve really stuffed it tight and you’re on a smaller plane, you may find you can’t stow the whole thing in the bin. To test the bag, I packed for a short weekend away, I flew to my destination –that’s how I know about the overhead bin issue.

I wasn’t thrilled with packing the Traverse, though it’s easier to manage with the auxiliary backpack zipped off. The bag zips most of the way open with a large flap; I wanted it it to open all the way and to lay flat and it doesn’t quite do that. It’s not a dealbreaker, it’s just a minor detail that could be improved.

The bag has your standard “keep your stuff in place” straps and the inside of the lid is a full zippered pocket for your lose items. There are two outside pockets on the front, one big sleeve, one smaller. You have to keep in mind that they’re not easy to get to if you’ve got the day pack zipped on, so don’t put your boarding pass in there.

The bag was easy to wheel around — I liked the locking handle and the maneuverability of the wheels — those things can be clunky sometimes, the handle sticks or the wheels just aren’t smooth. This bag has nice base hardware and is easy to move around. Plus, it’s light compared to anything else I’ve tested in this category. The zipper pulls are nice — they have those round, finger tip shaped things that make the bag easy to open and close, but the zippers themselves were a little resistant when going around the corners on the bag.The day pack is handy, and it’s a nice one, it’s got padded straps and a sleeve for your laptop. It’s got some nice organizer pockets sized right to hold your phone or your pocket camera. There’s a key hook which is great if you’re me and you’re always digging in the depths or your bag to find your house key while you’re on the front porch in the rain. It doesn’t have external water bottle pockets, something I always want on a pack and something that seems to be often left off a luggage system. (See also, this review of the Airporter pack.)

Top and side grips make the bag easy to deal with when you’re hefting it in and out of the rental car trunk, or again, up into that overhead bin. There’s a nice little luggage tag sleeve on the side that tucks out of the way — a small detail that I’m seeing on newer bags and really appreciating. I’ve had airlines lose my bags repeatedly and knowing that there’s ID on them helps. (Sidebar: I have also always had my bags find me. Up to five days later, but still, they find me.)

Eagle Creek pairs this bag with a recommended, optional packing system which I also tried out. It includes a couple of packing cubes and a folder. I’m coming around to the idea of packing cubes for things like socks and underwear, the smaller bits that go wandering around the inside of your bag. Eagle Creek makes their own, but candidly, I’m not brand loyal and hey, I used to just use plastic shopping bags. I still do for dirty laundry.

Eagle Creek suggests you include their Pack-It Folder. It’s the exact size of the base of the bag — you fold your stuff up inside it, cinch it down, and it stays nice and flat. There’s even a folding guide for the folding challenged. Thing is, I can fold like no one’s business. While it’s tempting to stuff my clothes into a great wrinkly wad, I don’t. I don’t need a folding system. You might. If you’re packing challenged and just can’t make yourself fold your shirts properly, this is going to help you out a lot. And if you’re traveling for business or need to look pulled together, a folding system is worth checking out as a crutch. My shirts did stay nice and neat, I didn’t have to iron.

Get the bag and the packing system directly from Eagle Creek — the bag retails for just over 300USD. Bits and pieces in the packing system go from 15-40 USD.

Gadling Gear Review: Quiksilver Shutter Speed Camera Pack

In 2011, I had the spectacular good fortune to go on two trips that fit the “once in a lifetime” category. One was to Antarctica, the other to Tanzania. Both were the kind of trips where you want to take your best photo gear, weight be damned, because, dude, how likely are you to be twice in Penguinistan or Elephantlandia? So schlep my gear I did, my heavy Nikon, the big telephoto, a video camera, a pocket camera, a zillion miles of cable, pockets full of camera memory and spare batters and oh, yeah the laptop for additional storage and backup.

Hauling that much electronica across the planet and back has its challenges — before I had a decent camera pack, I used a standard day pack which plunged, before my very eyes, from a hook on the back of a door in Bangkok to a hard tile floor. The result? An irreparable 200 lens and a somewhat depressed traveler. Thankfully, it was the end of the trip.

I now use a pack especially designed for camera gear. I’m partial to my Kata Digital Backpack. I tried the Timbuk2 messenger bag — it’s nice but it doesn’t really fit my geometry. Quiksilver — yeah, that surf brand — now makes the Shutter Speed pack, a bag designed to get your gear from the top to the the bottom of the planet in safety. The short wrap? This is a great bag for transit, but I’m not sure it makes the cut for regular use.

To find out if this is the bag for me, I gathered my usual kit and stowed it in the Shutter Speed. There are loads of pockets, internal, external, zippered, mesh, I had no trouble getting my complete kit, flash included, into the bag. And it was all very well organized. I moved the Velcro secured pads around so they held my gear in place and zipped the bag shut. Nice. My stuff didn’t rattle around, it was very secure. I didn’t drop test it, I’m just too traumatized by the last time that happened, but I feel like the camera would survive the fall.

I also put in a binder, a laptop, a water bottle, and a few other odds and ends. Everything was beautifully organized. There’s a security pocket at the small of the back for your stealables (I mean beyond your equipment stealables) — you’re not going to have your wallet or passport lifted if you stow them there. There’s a stowable rain cover, some lashing straps on the outside for your coat, and did I mention the zillions of pockets? All good.I also really like what I’m going to call the chassis on this pack. It’s got fat padded straps and a padded waist belt. It’s all very adjustable and once you’ve got it cinched to fit, the pack feels secure and close to your body — it’s just not going anywhere. You can race for a bus with this thing on and it’s not going to be swinging around. You could take your gear on a long hike and the weight would be where you want it to be. All good.

But I’m not crazy about how you get your gear in and out of the Shutter Speed. You have to place the pack on its front — think suitcase with straps attached to the top. The back opens up to reveal all your gear. You can’t have your pal pull the camera out of the pack while you’re in it, you will have to take the pack off and then open it up.

Some of the Velcro pads are sewn into place, making the gear bucket a little less customizable than I’d like it to be. I wanted to place my camera, with the big lens mounted to it, at the bottom of the pack. No go. It needs to sit in the center because I can’t move the pads to accommodate the camera body. Furthermore, there’s no obvious place to lash on a tripod. This seems like a big oversight. You can use the straps on the front, but I couldn’t figure out a really efficient way to do this. It could be just a matter of trying a few different things, but for a pro gear pack, it seems like this should be more intuitive.

My final issue is that the bag is, for my kind of use, a little too specialized. There’s no great place to stow my lunch, the front pockets are just too small and flat for much more than a power bar or two. I travel with a roller bag and a day pack, and when I’m in transit, the day pack carries my camera, snacks, my travel documents, a clean shirt, a toothbrush… the kind of stuff you need should your trip go wrong or should you be compelled to check your bag. I imagined what a hassle it would be to have to extract stuff from the main body of the pack on a crowded airplane. That scenario didn’t go well.

I’m not dissing the pack at all. As I said, it seems like a great way to haul all that gear from point A to point B and to have the gear be secure in transit. But you need to think about what you’re doing with your gear at your destination. If you think you’re going to be continually packing and unpacking it as you shoot your way across the Serengeti or the ice, well, I’d want a day use bag, too. Your mileage may vary.

The Shutter Speed pack retails for 175.00 directly from Quiksilver. Expensive, but not as expensive as replacing that telephoto that got sacrificed to gravity in Bangkok.

Holiday gift guide for campers

gadling eureka sunrise camping gift guideWhile most campers take the winter off to pursue other outdoor adventures, the holidays are still a great time to spoil the camper in your family with some fresh new gear. And, some of the heartier folks out there camp all year long, so they’ll appreciate gifts that they can play with immediately. Here at Gadling, we’re geeks for camping gear and love to get outside. With the holidays approaching and wish lists being compiled, we’re here to help you treat your favorite campers to some goodies that will keep them safe, comfortable and happy when they venture out into the wilderness. From stocking stuffers to big ticket items, every camper will love these gifts.Eureka Sunrise 9 Tent

Who says you have to rough it when you go camping? This three-season, five-person tent features plenty of pocket space for organizing and storing your gear, a mirror and water bottle holders. Don’t be fooled by the amenities, though. This is a durable tent that can withstand strong winds, wet weather and just about anything else that your environs throw at it. Priced at only $179.26 on Amazon, it’s a steal for a five-person tent.

If you’re looking for something smaller, our own Kraig Becker recommends Eureka’s Apex 2XT tent.

Snow Peak Iron Grill Table Set 3

If you want to turn your car camping trip into a culinary wonderland, upgrade from a simple camping stove to Snow Peak’s full-on camp kitchen setup. It includes a BBQ box for charcoal grilling, a single burner stove, stainless steel inserts for preparing your food and bamboo table extensions for extra space to prep and eat. At 26″ tall, it’s the perfect height for sitting but not too low for when you’re cooking. It conveniently folds up neatly into a canvas storage bag for easy storage at home. It’s pricy ($699.95), but Snow Peak gear is durable, so it will last for years. If you or someone you know camps (or tailgates or just needs a portable cooking space for trips to the park or beach), then this is the ultimate piece of cooking gear.

gadling snow peak snowminer headlamp camping gear guideSnow Peak SnowMiner Headlamp

This is without a doubt the cleverest piece of camping gear that we discovered this year. It’s both a headlamp and a lantern without sacrificing in either category. Sure, you can hang any headlamp from your tent ceiling and call it a lantern, but the SnowMiner allows you to adjust its lens to focus a beam of light (for use as a headlamp) or diffuse the light 180-degrees (to become a lantern). You can adjust the brightness in both modes. The headband even includes a hook so that you can easily hang it in your tent. At $49.95, it’s an affordable and creative gift.

Black Diamond Icon Headlamp

Need a slightly more hardcore headlamp? The Black Diamond Icon is the brightest of the climbing brand’s line, lights your way, offers red light for better night vision and is powered by three AA batteries. That power allows it to last up to 145 hours and illuminate an area over 300 feet ahead of you. Perfect for finding your camp after dark, whether you’re leading a night hike or simply returning from a trip to the bathroom. Not too shabby for less than $60.

gadling osprey waypoint 65 camping gear guideOsprey Waypoint 65

The last thing you want on any camping trip is too many things to carry. Anytime that you can consolidate items and find multiple purposes for your gear, you’re making your life easier. That’s why we love Osprey’s two-in-one travel pack and daypack combo, the Waypoint 65. Pack your clothes and extra layers in the 50L main pack and your gear for daytime activities in the 15L daypack. The packs zip and clip together for easy transport and detach when the time is right. Like most Osprey packs, the Waypoint 65 is gender specific, so the female camper in your life can get a pack made for women. As a bonus, the Waypoint 65 is perfect for travel, as well, so it’s not just for camping. Available in multiple sizes to fit any torso, the Waypoint 65 starts at $231, which is a great deal two packs, one of which works as a piece of luggage.

Gerber Camp Axe

Perfect for cutting firewood or clearing out a campsite, the Gerber Camp Axe is also lightweight enough to carry along with you on long hikes. That’s thanks to a fiberglass handle, which means the axe is durable while only weighing 2.5 pounds. The plastic sheath securely clips over the stainless steel blade, so it’s safe to carry. For under $40, it’s an affordable and powerful piece of hardware.

gadling camping gift guide eddie bauer first ascent downlight vestEddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Vest

As noted above, we appreciate multipurpose camping gear. That’s why we love this down vest that packs into itself and becomes a microfleece pillow. The vest is perfect for cool mornings and evenings and it folds right into its own pocket to create a perfect, compact camping pillow. It’s also water resistant and wind repellent. It’s a great vest and a portable pillow. Two pieces of gear in one for $129 (and also available for women).

Kelty LumaPivot Lantern
It’s multi-directional. It’s powerful (110 lumens). It lasts up to 12 hours. It’s the perfect lantern for lighting up your entire camp while cooking dinner. And, at less than one pound, you’ll barely know it’s there when you pack it up with your gear. That’s a lot of positives for only $39.99.

Big Agnes Yampa Sleeping Bag

This 650 down fill bag will keep you toasty until the temperature reaches 45 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s a great three-season bag with a built-in pad sleeve so that you never have to worry about rolling off of your sleeping pad. It comes in regular (72″ long) and long (78″ long), so it will fit most any camper. When stuffed into its compression sack, it can pack down to a 7.5″x6″, easy-to-carry bundle. Starting at $159, it’s a terrific sleeping bag for a great price.

gadling camping gift guide pizza sleeping bagPizza Sleeping Bag

Who says that all of your camping gear needs to be utilitarian? Each one of these delicious sleeping bags is handmade by the artist and requires a $100 deposit. The vegetable pillows will have you sleeping comfortably, as will the satin lining. Worth $300? We think so! But only five feet long? We prefer an extra large pizza, and possibly a meat lovers. It requires some time to make, so you might need to arrange for a rush order in order to get it in time for Christmas.