Packing For Extreme Cold Travel Part 1: The Regular Stuff

“Seriously, you’re going to the Yukon in February? Won’t it be dark all the time? Won’t you FREEZE? I mean, literally FREEZE? You can die if you’re left outside for, like three minutes, right?”

“Yes, seriously. I am going to the Yukon in February. I’m super curious about what it is like to be in a place that far north in the winter. And also, I will be wearing a giant parka. I’ll have loaner gear.”

Sometimes, adventure travel means getting off the grid and diving into the backcountry. Other times, it simply means going to a destination when most don’t. A place like the Yukon – or anywhere in the far northern climates in February is an adventure indeed, and it’s totally doable if you pack the right gear.

For starters, you’re going to have to check a bag.

This isn’t easy for me; I’m a pathologically light traveler. But when your kit requires things like big boots or snow pants, you need more space. Suck it up. Pay the checked bag fee and revel in the fact that you’re not dragging a wheelie bag around the airport for a change. You totally have a free hand for coffee now. Crazy, right?Now, what’s in that bag?

The aforementioned big boots. Okay, you can wear them on the plane, and if your destination isn’t that far away and you don’t mind the hassle of getting in and out of them at the TSA checkpoint, go ahead and do that. But I packed a pair of Bogs (rated to -40F) and they served me well for almost everything I did. (I got mine from a hardware store in Forks, Washington, but you can get them anywhere.)

Loads of serious socks. I’ve got a whole array of performance socks, including some from Dahlgren (in alpaca, they’re super fluffy), Darn Tough Vermont (indeed darn tough, I’ve worn mine for over a year and they are showing very little wear and tear), Fox River (lighter merino), and a mess of other brands. Go with natural fiber blends and drop a little cash. Plus, pack more than you’ll think you need. Changing out your socks mid-day is really helpful towards staying warm. Even in subzero temperatures, your feet can get damp inside your boots. If there’s room, pack two pairs for each day, or be prepared to do some guerilla laundry.

Pro-tip: the crazy, dry climate and overheated hotel rooms mean that your socks totally dry overnight when you wash them in the sink.

The best long underwear you can afford. I’m a devotee of SmartWool (as regular readers will know) but I also recommend Icebreaker, Bergan’s of Norway and Ibex. If you have super sensitive skin, you may want to go with silk instead of merino wool, but I’ve found that the merino works just fine. Silk can be really nice for under jeans because it’s so light, but the extra warmth from wool … oh, it can’t be beat. PolarTec makes some heavy blends, but I prefer as much natural fiber in my kit as possible.

Shopping tip: this stuff is expensive. Places like REI Outlet and Sierra Trading post often have it in their online clearance sections, so go hunting. And really, drop some cash. You won’t regret it. It lasts for a very long time.

A down jacket. That critical poof layer. Loft. Fill. Whatever. All that jargon means that more poof equals more warmth. Maybe you’ll get lucky and have a day or two when the temperatures pop up to a balmy 32F and you can shed the expedition parka (more on this later). Eddie Bauer makes an expedition line – First Ascent – that’s not too pricey, or you can drop some money on Patagonia. The nice thing about down is that it packs down to nearly nothing and you can always find room for it in your bag.

Outer layers that are water and wind proof. A jacket and pants, people. I kind of love my Outdoor Research pants; they’re super light and resist the weather – with long underwear they’re good for down to freezing temps. I have a very nice jacket from Westcomb, or hey, combine the down layer with the weather-proof layer and get a three in one – Columbia does a good job on these, but heads up, they run small.

A staggering amount of moisturizing products for your hair, lips and skin. In the extreme cold, it’s a little hard to stay hydrated for two reasons. The first: you’re just not aware of the dehydrating effects of the weather when it’s cold. You don’t sweat much, and you don’t get the kind of thirsty you get when you bake in the sun. The second: if you’re doing outdoor stuff, you really do not want to expose your more sensitive parts to the weather. You may end up thinking, “It’s okay, I’ll hydrate when we get back to the lodge. For now, I’ll pass on the water.” Your skin will pay. And once you get over the vanity of hat hair, what will really bug you is that your hair feels like straw. Drink up, and toss in the product. We already agreed that you’re checking a bag, so what’s the big deal?

Pro-tip: don’t be an idiot; throw in some sunscreen. You might not feel the sun cooking what little exposed skin you have, but it is, and it’s reflecting off the frozen everything.

A pair of sturdy, waterproof shoes: sometimes, you’re just going to eat in the hotel restaurant and you don’t want to go down there in your giant boots. I packed the admittedly kind of weird looking but totally appropriate Sole Exhale – they’re great on the plane, too.

Your usual travel clothing: odds are, in a place that requires an extreme cold weather kit, you’re going to do fine in jeans and a clean shirt. Throw in a nice sweater if you’ve got room. You’ll need a hat, gloves or mittens, and a scarf or neck gaiter in your pile of accessories. Err on the side of casual, and don’t overdo it; you’re probably going to spend most of your time geared up to the eyeballs in expedition gear.

Which we’ll talk about in Part II: “Packing for Extreme Cold Travel Part II: The Hardcore Stuff

[Photo: The Yukon River near Dawson City. Courtesy the author, Pam Mandel]

Travel Hacking: Best Holiday Gifts For Low-Tech Travelers

I’m an unapologetic Luddite. My colleagues at Gadling will attest to this. The fact that I write for AOL is both cosmic luck and hilarious irony given my initial reluctance to embrace the digital era.

I can’t help it; it’s hereditary. At least, that’s what I tell myself, whenever I watch my dad pecking away on my grandparent’s 1930s Smith-Corona (not a lie), or fumbling with the remote.

It’s unsurprising that when I travel, I try to keep things as low-tech as possible. It’s a matter of both practicality and part of my old school aesthetic that leads me to eschew costly devices and other gadgets. I’m also incapable of figuring out how to use them, so I look at it as less items to get stolen or malfunction.

I know I’m not alone, so I’ve compiled a list of holiday gifts for the die-hard travelers on your list who refuse to change their old-timey ways. Just remember, one of these days, us minimalists are going to be cutting-edge for being retro.

Gift card to an actual bookstore (preferably independently-owned), or travel store.
Yeah, books are heavier to lug than a Kindle or a Nook, but as a writer, I value the written word. So do a lot of people, and one of the joys of traveling for us is exchanging books with fellow vagabonds or trading in at a guesthouse or hostel.

Prepaid international phone card
Cheap, abundant, and a hell of a lot less of a hassle than dealing with Verizon overseas (in my experience). A prepaid international card is easy to purchase, although do note it’s usually less expensive for travelers to purchase cards at their destination. It’s the thought that counts.

Netbook or airbook
I may be tech-challenged, but I’m not crazy. I can’t earn a living if I don’t travel with a computer. My inexpensive little Acer has seen me through a lot of countries and fits neatly into my daypack, along with its accessories. Don’t forget a wireless mouse to go with it.
Waterproof journal
Many travelers keep journals, and some of us who travel occupationally still carry notebooks (I don’t even own a tape recorder). It’s a huge bummer, however, when the inevitable rain, beer, wine, or coffee renders covers soggy or writing illegible. An all-weather notebook is the solution.

Ibex undergarments
I used to work in a mountaineering/ski shop in Telluride, and I swear by Ibex. Their 100% merino wool, American-made boy shorts, long johns/long “janes,” cami’s, sports bras, and adorable, long-sleeve, stripey tops are the ultimate underlayers for cold weather adventures. I road-tested some items on a month-long backpacking trip through Ecuador, from the Amazon Basin to one of the highest active volcanoes on earth. I was able to do laundry exactly twice. Ibex: 1, Stench: 0. Men’s and women’s items available; they also make outerwear.

Travel scarf/shawl/blanket
Many women get cold on airplanes and long, AC-blasted bus rides. Since I backpack, I’ve found several different drapey items in my travels that pull triple duty. Depending upon what part of the world I’m in, I’ll use a soft, alpaca shawl to dress up outfits, as a lap blanket, or an impromptu pillow. In the Andes, I sub a llama wool poncho. In the tropics, it’s a pretty, airy sarong. When I get home, I have a wonderful souvenir.

If you’re buying for someone departing on a trip, any department store will have a wide assortment and price range of pashminas or scarves. Just be sure it’s a dark color, to hide dirt and stains, and that it’s made of soft, preferably natural-fibers, so it won’t absorb odors as readily. The item should be able to withstand sink-washing.

Multi-purpose beauty products
Regardless of gender, everyone loves multi-purpose travel products: more room for souvenirs! I like Josie Maran Argan Oil, which can be used as a lightweight, yet rich, face or body moisturizer, or to condition hair (use just a few drops for soft, gleaming strands). Rosebud salve comes in cute, vintagey tins, smells lovely, and soothes everything from dry lips and cracked heels to flyaways. Many top make-up brands produce multi-use products: I crave Korres Cheek Butter, which is also gorgeous on lips (all available at Sephora).

Lush makes luxe bar soaps that work on body and hair, but perhaps the kindest gift for the female adventure traveler? Inexpensive fragrance that does double duty as perfume and clothes/room freshener. I never leave home without Demeter’s Gin & Tonic Cologne Spray.

[Photo Credit: jurvetson]

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.

Travel health gift guide: what to get the incessant wanderer on your list

travel healthTravel junkies are a special breed. Only a very distinct personality type gets a rush from being on the road as much as possible, or relishes the discomforts and situations most people go to lengths to avoid. Homesickness is a foreign concept.

I know, because I too suffer from this malady. It started early, because I have a vivid memory of bursting into tears when I was six or seven, after we dropped a friend off at the airport.

“What’s wrong?” my dad asked. “I’m sad because we’re not getting on an airplane,” was my reply (ironic given my aviophobia, which had its onset about 12 years later).

A paralyzing fear of air travel hasn’t stopped me from roaming, however. So, whether you have a loved one who practically lives at Club Med or one actually enjoys sleeping on the ground or in janky Third World hostels rife with cockroaches…lucky you. You have a travel addict in the family or as a friend.

One experience incessant wanderers don’t go looking for? Illness or injury. While not inevitable, the more time you spend abroad, the greater the likelihood of suffering from anything from an infected bug bite or Bali Belly to…worse. But as I’ve always said, you can get hit by a bus crossing the street.

Of course travel isn’t inherently unsafe, but there are precautionary measures that minimize the odds of having health issues on the road. Below, my road-tested gift picks for frequent travelers (especially those who visit sub-tropical or tropical climes) and outdoor enthusiasts.

SteriPEN or LifeStraw portable water filter
Reasons why one of these is a worthwhile investment:

  • Saves money on purchasing bottled water in developing nations/places without potable water
  • Better for the environment (see above)
  • You can contract giardia or other nasties from improperly “bottled” water (trust me)
  • You don’t have to be out in the backcountry to have a potable water shortage; owning a filtration system is good insurance you stay hydrated and healthy, even in the city.

[Photo credit: Flickr user fauxrealphotos]travel healthTravel first aid kit
Even infrequent travelers should carry basic first-aid supplies: band-aids, gauze pads, Neosporin, OTC meds, etc.. Personalize your gift by tailoring a pre-purchased kit (REI is a great place to find different types and sizes) to suit the interests and needs of your recipient.

Wilderness first aid class
CPR or a general first aid class is a good idea for anyone, but if any of your loved ones live for backcountry pursuits or traveling off the beaten path, a WFA course can be a lifesaver–literally. Look one up in your area through the American Red Cross.

Controlled-release DEET and/or Insect Shield apparel
There was a time, several years ago, when I shunned DEET unless I was in a malarial region. Why, I asked myself, would I willingly douse myself in a pesticide? Why would I inflict said poison upon the environment?

That philosophy is all well and good until you get bitten by something harboring an infectious evil (in my case, it was sandflies carrying the Bartonella bacilliformis bacterium) that anti-malarials can’t prevent. Also note that malaria prophylaxis is not without considerable side-effects and may not protect you against certain strains of the disease. Be sure to talk to an infectious disease, tropical medicine, or travel physician experienced with actual working experience in these regions.

These days, I’m all about DEET if I’m traveling somewhere with potentially harmful biting insects, especially now that there are controlled-release versions on the market (there are various brands on the market; Sawyer Products is highly recommended). One application is good for up to 12 hours.

As for clothes, I love my Insect Shield long sleeve button-up shirt from ExOfficio. Good for up to 70 washings (after which you still have a good-looking, lightweight travel top), bug-repelling garments are treated with permethrin, EPA-registered, and free of toxic-smelling fumes.

Sun protective clothing
As you likely know, heat exhaustion or heat stroke can be serious; even fatal. In addition to a good sunblock, sunglasses, and a hat, sun protective clothing is a seriously smart idea for outdoor types. Once again, I recommend ExOfficio, or REI own brand, which will save you a few dollars.

Bear bell or spray
Google “2011 grizzly attacks.” ‘Nuff said.
travel health
SmartWool
socks
What they say in the military is true: you gotta take care of your feet. Once your dogs go, you’re SOL in the backcountry or tropics. Keeping feet clean and dry (and warm, if applicable) is of utmost importance (at the very least, fellow travelers will appreciate your hygiene efforts). These moisture-wicking, stench-resistant socks are invaluable even if you’re just planning an extended trip.

Ibex woolies
Getting chilled can quickly become serious or fatal, and hypothermia prevention in the form of extra layers is key. These 100% merino wool underlayers from Vermont-based outfitter Ibex are the bomb. Comfortable, warm, moisture-wicking, and seriously odor-proof (anything that remains fit to wear in public after a month-long backpacking trip from the Andes to the Amazon–sans laundry–is a product I heartily endorse). Plus, they come in cute stripey designs as well as solids.

[Photo credit: Band-aids, Flickr user m.gifford, feet, Flickr user Cin]

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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.