A Travel Essential For Women: The Little Black Dress

Even though the seasons are shifting to spring, I’m still dressing in wool. I’ve said before that I’m crazy for the newer merinos; they’re not just for long underwear anymore. And because they’re made of natural fibers, they breath well making them surprisingly versatile for those transitional seasons. It’s a little counter-intuitive to think that wool is okay in warmer temps, but the lighter fabrics work well for winter, spring and fall, and I’ve worn my merino skirt in summer, too, because it’s got so little weight to it.

For my spring travels, I’m packing the M2 dress by Nau. It’s a drape-y, flattering boat neck, three quarter sleeve piece that shakes out nicely after it’s been crumpled up in your bag. You can dress it up with whatever shiny extras your packing – a pashmina (because you always have one with you, right?), or some sparkly flats, or a pair of cute tights, or just wear it with sandals and go casual. A pleat at the hip gives it a little bit of swish, so even though it’s “just” a black dress, it’s got a bit of style.

The M2 is the medium weight merino so it provides some warmth if you’re wearing it in chillier places (or overly air-conditioned restaurants. I throw all my merino in the washing machine, have done for years, and it’s washed up just fine – but it’s best to keep it out of the dryer, it lasts longer that way and has less risk of shrinking.

I’m a lazy dresser and I don’t like to pack single use only items. I’m also a sucker for anything that makes me look stylish but feels like something I could wear on a long-haul flight. You might be thinking it’s a little late in the season for buying wool, but depending on where your travels take you, it might not be, plus, off-season pricing applies to clothing, too. Get your little black three-season dress directly from Nau; it’s on sale as I type this.

[Photo: Nau]

Three Unsung Travel Gear Items

I registered for the Summer Outdoor Retailer Show, a gear extravaganza that takes place twice a year in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, “day job” stuff got turned on its head such that I can’t attend, though fellow Gadling Gear Guy Kraig Becker will be representing and will have his eyes open for new, cool stuff. Because I’m listed to attend, I’ve got an inbox full of press releases and invitations to check out the newest, latest, coolest … and a surprising number of those releases are for gear that’s really hard to say anything about. It’s critical stuff, don’t get me wrong, you need these things. But how much can you say about these items?

  1. Socks: Merino socks, toe socks, performance socks, recycled fiber socks, socks, socks, socks. I know, when you were a kid and you got socks as a gift, you thought, “Really? SOCKS?” but as a grown up, I appreciate nice socks. But what can you say about socks that the laundry basket and your sock drawer and time do not tell you? The bad ones are at the bottom of the drawer, the good ones are in the wash. I struggle when presented with a pitch for socks because, really, socks? And also, yes. They matter. Good socks are a travel essential; they should be seasonally appropriate and wear well. You can’t have too many SmartWool socks, I’ve become a fan of Darn Tough Vermont socks (hey, American made, if you care about that) and Dahlgren’s winter alpaca socks are super cuddly. So, yeah, socks.
  2. Water Bottles: One that doesn’t spill when I knock it over, thank you. One that doesn’t weigh a ton. One that seals up properly and doesn’t leak when it’s in the bottom of my backpack or knocked sideways on the luggage rack over my seat on the bus. But any water bottle is better than none, and I don’t know about you, but I pick these things up as swag almost everywhere. So maybe there are those with standout qualities, but like your camera, the best water bottle is the one you have with you.
  3. Flashlights: Portable lighting switched to LEDs a while back. That was a huge improvement in brightness, but once you’ve got a new LED light, you’ve got a new LED light and you’re done. Sure, they come with bells and whistles – flashing modes for emergency, multiple brightness settings, waterproofing, maybe a beam that you can focus – but before you go all crazy, think about what you need your light for. I keep a Petzl headlamp in my bag; it works well for reading in the tent or finding my way back to my cabin at the luxury off-the-grid resort (funny how these two things share that low light quality). And I have a little hand held flashlight from Icon – it’s super bright and great for picking out the eyes on hyenas in your safari bush camp, but I have a hard time imagining you ending up with a flashlight that you really hate. Remarkable shifts between brands? Uh, I’ll let you know when I see that. But essential? Absolutely.

Other stuff – tents and related camping gear, (we’re big car campers at our house), great luggage, clothes that travel well, shoes? That stuff keeps evolving. Fashion and new materials and interesting leaps in design, style, and tech toys? That stuff I find I have things to say about. But these three basic additions to your travel kit? I’m not seeing great leaps in the technology, but you need this stuff, regardless. My advice? Get some. Don’t cheap out. Nothing here is glam, but it’s stuff I pack for every single trip.

[Image: Pattern-aholic by Capture Queen via Flickr (Creative Commons)]

Gadling Gear Review: Icebreaker LS Tech T Lite

The Icebreaker LS Tech T LiteTravelers who prefer to pack light are always on the lookout for ways that they can shed weight without sacrificing comfort or functionality. Occasionally that happens when they discover new gear that is lighter and more versatile than something that was previously available. Other times it is the result of simply finding something new that allows them to carry less in their bags. That happens to be the case with the new LS Tech T Lite from Icebreaker, a shirt that promises, “2 weeks, 1 shirt, no stink.”

Icebreaker is a company that offers a wide line of clothing for active travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. Their apparel is made from soft and lightweight merino wool, which has the unique ability to keep the wearer cool in warm environments and warm in cold ones. This versatility can come in handy on extended trips and means that one piece of clothing can be used for a variety of destinations.

The Tech T Lite certainly meets that description. Soft against the skin and incredibly light, the shirt works well on its own but makes a great base layer too. Not only does it breathe well in warm weather, it also serves as good insulation in the cold, which will no doubt make it a popular option for travelers of all types.Merino wool has another quality that makes it particularly well suited for travel apparel. Fabrics made from the wool also happen to be incredibly resistant to odors as well. That means you can carry one or two of these shirts on an extended trip and really not need to pack any others. That can save room and weight in your luggage or backpack and make packing a lot easier too, as you won’t need nearly as many shirts on longer trips.

After putting the Tech T Lite through its paces, in both warm and cool climes, I can honestly say that it more than lives up to its billing. Whether you’re wearing it while lounging around the lodge or out hiking a demanding trail, it remains remarkably comfortable to wear without inhibiting motion in any way. It also happens to be easy to keep clean, quick drying and more durable than it first appears. All of those qualities have already made it one of my favorite pieces of travel clothing and earned it a spot in my pack on just about any trip I take in the future.

The Tech T Lite LS is the long sleeve version of this shirt and carries a price tag of $80. Icebreaker also makes it with short sleeves, which runs just $65. No matter which version you select you’ll be getting a very high quality piece of gear that will prove to be a great travel companion for years to come.

Gift Guide for Cold Weather Adventurers

Tis the season to give (and okay, get) good gear. And in the northern hemisphere, tis this season to not give up on playing outside, on traveling even though it’s cold and rainy or cold and snowy or just plain cold. Help the cold weather adventurer on your gift list by giving gear that extends the season. Here are a few picks, all field tested by Gadling gear heads, that make adventures easier when temperatures drop.

Vacuum mug: You’ve got dozens of these kicking around the house too, but how many of them keep your drink hot for four hours, or more? Stanley’s vacuum mug is the bomb. Not only does it keep your coffee at tongue burning temps, it’s nearly impossible to spill, it’s designed to fit in the water bottle cage on your bike, it’s got a grit guard for street spray, it’s top notch. Bike commuter, cross country skier on your list? Get them this. About $26.00.

Warming insoles: Warm feet go a long way towards having a great day out in the cold. No matter how great my shoes, how excellent my socks, I still get cold feet. I really dislike those throwaway single use chemical warmers. There’s an alternative. Thermasoles heated insoles are rechargeable and last for about eight hours, a full day of playing outside. Your giftee might think they’re dorky at first, but one use in wet and cold and oh, it’s all gratitude. About $99.00.

Merino wool underwear: My all purpose packing list includes merino wool long underwear, regardless of climate and destination, great outdoors or urban winter. There are a bunch of brands, SmartWool, Ibex, Icebreaker… I’m not brand loyal, but I am materials loyal. Get merino for your beloved (or yourself) and you’ll have a base layer that lasts for many years. Between $75.00-$100.00 per piece and totally worth it.Snowshoes: Your hiking friend gets cranky when snow curtails the season? Put them back at the trail-head with a pair of snowshoes. There are dozens of brands — look for bindings that are easy to work in gloves and cleats that won’t get choked with snow and ice. I like MSR’s Lightning line and the recreational snowshoes from Crescent Moon. Up to about $200.00.

Down sweater: When you add a down sweater to a rain proof shell, you get to extend your temperature range to “Man, it’s cold out!” Eddie Bauer’s First Ascent line is a great choice and not too shockingly priced. Patagonia makes a pullover version that packs into a tiny stuff bag, that’s a bit pricier. A great gift for travelers in transitioning seasons, a down sweater takes up very little room in the pack. From $85.00-200.00, depending on the brand.

Great winter boots: I’m crazy for my Bogs, they’re great for stomping around in the snow or on cold beaches, they keep my feet warm and dry. Teva makes super cute insulated boots that are great for city wear in cold or wet places. If your giftee is more of the back country kind, try Keen’s Summit Country, recommended and field tested by fellow Gadling gearhead Kraig Becker. Up to $200.00

Four season sleeping bag: If the adventurer in your life doesn’t quit camping when the seasons turn to snow, a good winter bag is something they want — need, really, so they sleep warm when they’re sleeping out. GoLite’s Adrenaline Four Season Mummy was also field tested by Kraig (on Everest, no less) and he swears by it. $475.00

Photo: Snowshoeing in Altaussee, Austria. Courtesy of Nerd’s Eye View

Comfortable and Stylish on the Airplane? Ladies, It’s Possible

I’ve been told I can’t wear my jammies on the plane. I’ve done so anyway, though with certain limitations. I wear the penguin flannel pants and a long sleeved t-shirt; I don’t go for the full on two piece set with the pink elephants. I change on the plane — and I change back into my street clothes before we land. I wear jammies on long haul flights only. I bring slippers, too; I toss my shoes up into the overhead bin right when I board. I fly coach, mostly, and it’s damned uncomfortable. Changing in to my jammies helps me relax and enjoy the flight as much as I possibly can given the situation.

But the jammies, they’re still considered a nonstarter by folks who have opinions about what to wear where. A person should dress presentably for flying, “they” say. I fail to see where the sweats with a word on the butt fit in to this scheme, and yes, people are still wearing those, I see them nearly every time I fly. I don’t understand why I can’t wear my jammies, yet the high school tennis team can wear track suits and flip flops. Whatever.

Still, in a play to dress like a grown-up (and to support my failed attempts to charm way into frequent flyer lounges and upgrades), I’ve been on the hunt for clothes that look nice but feel like pajamas. Here are a few items that totally make the cut for looking cute and dressed like an adult but are still perfectly comfortable for slouching in your coach seat while wondering where the hell is transporter travel, already, and what is WITH coach seats, anyway? A-hem.

Horny Toad Traipse Trousers: I want, like, nine pairs of these pants. They’re cut like something between a pair of jeans and a pair of cargo pants without the bulky side pockets. But they’re made out of a cotton knit that’s soft and a little stretchy and feels like your favorite sweats. You totally look like you’re wearing Actual Trousers but ho-ho, you feel like you’re wearing yoga pants. The zip front and snap fly hide the drawstring waist and they’ve got the same five pockets that your jeans have. They’re $95.00 from Horny Toad, they come in two colors, and I wear mine all the damn time now, including on planes.Nau Randygoat Hoody: Yeah, I’m still a sucker for merino, while I’m hearing that alpaca is the Next Big Thing. This hoody from Nau, once you get past the slightly weird name, is a fine substitute for that worn out sweatshirt you’re wearing. It’s got a big shawl collar that doubles as a hood. It’s big and drape-y and soft without being overly bulky. You can absolutely curl up and take a nap in this thing, it’s somewhere between a wooly blanket and that old soft t-shirt, but it doesn’t look like you pulled it off the top of the laundry basket before pulling it on. It’s pricey at $180, but you’ll have it for a good long while. And yes, it washes up just fine, just don’t put it in the dryer.

Icebreaker Maya Skirt: I’m still freaked out by the sight of that guy in boxers wearing a ram’s head at the Icebreaker booth at the Outdoor Retailer show. But not so freaked out that I am prepared to break up with their clothing. The Maya skirt, which I can’t find on their website (but is still available on Amazon) has a wide, flat, waist band and is made from a super fine merino (again with the merino) knit. It’s the one skirt I own that competes with my penguin jammies for comfort and because it’s made from a beautiful material, it looks great. It’s been through the wash lots — again, don’t put it in the dryer — and it’s still got a nice shape. Amazon lists it at up to $75.00, but there are some great clearance prices to be had if you shop around.