How To Turn Your Daypack Into A Traveling Office

No one is ever going to accuse me of being a tech junkie. But as a journalist, I’ve had to temper my Luddite proclivities so that I can earn a living while on the road.

Compounding the issue is my essential frugality and innate dirtbag tendencies. I only travel with a backpack, using a daypack in lieu of a purse. For low-maintenance or business/pleasure-combo travelers such as myself (although I recognize that not everyone has the luxury of ditching business attire and trappings; I’ve been known to stuff a nice computer bag and dress-to-impress items into my backpack), a daypack easily transforms into a portable office.

Because I also keep my passport, money, credit cards, camera, cellphone, adaptor, and other essential documents and items on my person at all times, it also means my netbook is never left behind. This serves the dual function of ensuring I have access to a computer should I need to edit a story or file a deadline, as well as alleviates theft concerns due to entrusting my valuables to my room or hotel safe. If you’re a budget traveler, I firmly believe it’s better to risk carrying anything of value on your person than entrusting them to the vagaries of youth hostels, dodgy guesthouses, or cheap hotels.

The key to creating a user-friendly portable office lies in choosing the right daypack. I’ve written before about my preference for using hydration packs, because if you remove the bladder, it creates a space to safely store documents. I’m 5’2′, so I also require a woman’s pack, and because most of my trips include some form of outdoor activity, I like having a hip belt (the zip pockets of which double as holders for my mouse and cellphone cord), and multiple exterior and interior pockets.

I highly recommend the hydration daypacks made by Osprey and Gregory. They’re incredibly durable, and have useful bells and whistles. I’m not a fan of CamelBak, as I’ve found they don’t hold up well. The brand and style are up to you, but do check to see if the pack you’re contemplating comes with a raincover. If not, it’s a wise investment, and will spare you the anguish of waterlogged gear and devices.

[Photo credit: Flickr user incase]

Gift Guide for Warm Weather Adventurers

As December approaches and the holiday season draws near, those warm summer days that we enjoyed just a few months back are already a distant memory. But no matter what the calendar says, I guarantee the adventurer on your shopping list is already plotting his or her next warm weather escape. Considering summer really is just a short plane ride away, here are some suggestions for what to buy them for their next adventure.

Keen Voyageur Hiking Boots
A good pair of shoes are essential for any adventure and the Keen Voyageur hiking boots are a great option for any summer escape. Both comfortable and durable, these shoes are well ventilated, keeping your feet cool and dry, while also preventing unwanted moisture from getting in. Amazon has them starting at $87.21, making them a bargain for trail shoes of this quality.

Gadling Gear Girl Pam Mandel is a fan of Keen shoes too, recommending the McKenzie as a versatile warm weather shoe for a variety of activities. ($85)

ExOfficio Sol Tech Tee
Staying cool and dry is one of the most important aspects of enjoying any outdoor activity in warmer weather. The ExOfficio Sol tech tee not only wicks moisture away from the body, it is also highly breathable, and provides UPF 50+ sun protection as well. All of that is marketing speak for “it’s comfortable to wear when it’s warm outside.” Available in a variety of colors, the Sol is perfect for hiking a local trail or traveling to the far side of the planet, and is a perfect addition to any adventurers closet. ($25)

Pam also recommends the BugsAway line of shirts from ExOfficio as well. The shirts earned high marks in her review of a variety of mosquito repelling gear. ($40)

Columbia Silver Ridge Cargo Shorts
A good pair of cargo shorts are a necessity for any warm weather adventure, and Columbia delivers a comfortable, durable product with the Silver Ridge. Super lightweight and breathable, these shorts are quick drying and include large pockets, as well as an adjustable waistband. With a UPF rating of 30, they also provide solid protection from the sun, and look as good around town as they do on the trail. ($20)Marmot PreClip Safari Hat
Staying protected from the suns rays is an important aspect of any warm weather adventure and a good hat helps considerably. I’m a big fan of Marmot’s PreClip Safari Hat, as it has a wide brim, is comfortable and cool to wear, and is highly packable. It is also waterproof and so lightweight that it actually floats. I’ve carried mine with me on six different continents and it remains one of my favorite pieces of gear. ($35)

Sierra Designs Meteor Light 2 Tent
The summer months are tailor made for camping and a good tent is an essential part of enjoying evenings in the backcountry. The Meteor Light 2 from Sierra Designs is a perfect 3-Season option that stays warm on cooler nights, but provides plenty of ventilation when it gets warm. It sets up in just minutes and sleeps two comfortably. ($210)

Kelty Cosmic Down 20º Sleeping Bag
While a tent is important for any camping trip, when it comes to getting a good nights sleep, it is only part of the equation. A good sleeping bag is essential as well, and the Cosmic Down 20º is a great choice for warm weather outings. Kelty has managed to make a comfortable, lightweight, down sleeping bag that won’t break the bank. ($75)

Osprey Stratos 24 Backpack
Nothing inspires adventure like a good backpack and Osprey makes some of the best. Their Stratos 24 daypack provides plenty of storage for a long day (or even overnight) on the trail. Its size makes it perfect for peak bagging or other short, yet gear intensive, adventures. The Stratos’ integrated suspension system helps you to stay cool on the move and the pack is hydration ready, keeping water close at hand at all times. ($89)

If you’re looking for something a bit smaller, Gadling gear reviewer Mike Barish recommends the Raptor 14, also from Osprey. He found it to be the perfect options for day hikes in warm weather destinations such as Zion Natoinal Park. Read his review here. ($81)

Polar Bottle Insulated Water Bottle
Staying hydrated on our warm weather adventures is vitally important, but that doesn’t mean we have to settle for drinking warm water while on the trail. The Polar Bottle uses an insulating foil to reflect back the heat of the sun, keeping the liquids inside cooler for a lot longer. These bottles make fantastic and affordable gifts for the hiker, trail runner, or cyclist on your list this year. ($11.25)

Five uses for carabiners (besides climbing)

I’m a big multi-tasker. I’m also tiny, cheap, and a “lite” traveler. Even when I’m going on the road for a couple of months, I somehow manage to cram it all in my backpack. I use a daypack for carrying my essentials (passport, credit cards, cash, documents, sunblock, sunglasses, water, etc..), but it’s only so big. At 5’2″ I don’t like to haul around something the size of a parasitic twin.

This is why I love carabiners. These oval, pear-, or D-shaped metal clips–of the style used by rock and mountain climbers–are handy and versatile, and come in a variety of sizes, gauges, and prices. I never use professional carabiners, which are more weighty and costly than my intended uses (they also have screw, auto-, or triple-locks, rather than straight gates, which I find more handy for light use). I do, however, purchase heavier, stainless carabiners of the sort found at REI or other outdoor stores.

I seem to find a new use on every trip, and admittedly, I sometimes resemble either a pack mule or a bag lady after a day of exploring, shopping, or hiking. But who cares? It’s better than wrecking my back by using a bigger pack or traveling with shoulder bags that don’t don’t compress well (I do, however, keep a canvas tote rolled into the bottom of my big backpack so I can haul souvenirs home).

So what exactly can you do with ‘biners? Read on.

1. Carry your baseball hat or shoes on your backpack
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done this, both on my daypack and large pack. Sometimes I don’t have enough room to pack my running shoes, Chaco’s, or hiking boots, or maybe I need a spare pair of shoes for a day trip (apologies to former seatmates who have endured the stench of my sweaty shoes during flights). I also wear a baseball hat for sun protection if I’m doing any kind of outdoor recreational activity, but once I’m done with it, snap.

2. Clip on some shopping bags
I travel with a nylon shopping bag in a stuff sack (I recommend ChicoBags) so I can cut down on plastic if my daypack is full. But it’s a pain to carry multiple shopping bags, regardless of material–especially if, like me, you’re easily distracted and tend to leave them behind at every stop. Clip ’em on to your day bag and they’ll make it back to your accommodation. I also carry my travel coffee mug this way (obviously, you want to purchase one with a full handle, which can be tough to find for some reason).

[Photo credit: Flickr user chriscom]3. Air-dry your bathing suit
Knot the straps or, if you’re a guy, use that little waistband tie (many boardshorts also have key rings in their pockets). Um, don’t forget a change of clothes.

4. Key ring
I love travel-size tubes of sunblock that come with carabiners on them. Not only does it provide me with an accessible way to reapply when I’m paddling, hiking, riding, or skiing, but I get a free key ring out of it once I’ve refilled the tube to death. When I’m traveling, I snap my hotel keys (card keys are few and far between on the budget traveler trail) to a carabiner, and attach them to my body or within my daypack. Some people prefer to leave keys at the front desk, but the control freak in me likes to hang on to them.

5. Makeshift/emergency zipper
I discovered this one last week when I acquired a few too many ponchos and woolen hats in Chile. My tote bag was overflowing, so I snapped a large ‘biner onto the handles. It helped contain the alpaca within, and kept my souvenirs from scattering throughout the overhead bin on the plane. The same concept applies if you have a zipper break on a bag. It won’t solve things if it’s an item that requires checking, but at least it will help keep your belongings together until you find a replacement.

Got any cool travel uses for carabiners? We want to hear about them!

Outdoor Retailer gear expo begins today

Today is the start of the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market, held bi-annually in Salt Lake City, Utah. The OR show is a gathering of outdoor and travel gear manufacturers who come together to show off their latest tents, backpacks, clothing, and other products to industry buyers, as well as the media. Over the next four days, companies like The North Face and Patagonia will unveil new products that will be hitting stores over the next few months and eventually find their way into our suitcases and gear closets.

Two of Gadling’s intrepid reporters will be on hand at Outdoor Retailer, and they’ll be sharing updates from the show floor via Twitter. If you’re a gear junkie, you won’t want to miss their tweets from the event, which will offer a glimpse of where the gear industry is headed in the near future. Follow Pam Mandel at @nerdseyeview and Kraig Becker at @kungfujedi for the latest gear news directly from the show, and be sure to tweet back if you have questions or want more information on a product.

Both Pam and Kraig write gear reviews for Gadling as well, and much of what they see over the next few days will be appearing on the site in the months ahead. We’ll be letting you know which items deserve a place in your travel collection and which items are best left on the store shelf.

The empty bladder: why hydration packs make great travel companions

I’ve never been into purses. Even at home, I find them loathsomely girly, and they completely jack up my bad back. When I began zipping all over the globe as a food and travel writer, a day pack was the only thing that made sense for my carry-on/on-the-road essentials (my clothes and other gear go in my beloved Dana Designs Bomb Pack).

While I travel pretty light, there are things I require be within close proximity to my body: passport, copies of passport and medical insurance, emergency contact info., cash, credit and ATM cards (always carry a back-up for when, say, the machine in Portugal decides to eat yours), camera, flash drive, water bottle, water purification tablets or filtration system (I’ve finally learned my lesson on why these are non-negotiable), pocketknife (don’t forget to check it before you fly), notepad, hand sanitizer, tampons (Ladies, do not trust foreign countries to have ’em), Kleenex-aka-TP, Imodium and ibuprofen, sunblock, sunglasses, snacks, language guide, reading material, itinerary, sarong for freezing bus and plane rides. These are the items I am utterly screwed without; should everything else get stolen, life will suck, but I’ll be fine.

Due to my somewhat misanthropic tendencies, I choose never to rely upon the hotel safe or front desk for stowage of my valuables.That, my friends, is why I consider my daypack to be an extension of my body when I travel. I remove it to shower, and to sleep (I’ve also kept it hooked upon my arm while sleeping, when I end up in some shit-hole with a malfunctioning door lock). My day pack goes out drinking with me; it goes dancing, fords rivers, rides horses, and climbs mountains.

It’s a bit of a pain (literally and figuratively) at times, but at least I know I’m in charge of my travel essentials. And yes, I look like a total dork, trudging from destination to destination with my big pack on my back, and my daypack worn across my chest, marsupial-style. But it’s convenient, and it doesn’t throw me off-balance the way a messenger bag or purse would.

I don’t do money belts or fanny packs. I find them too small to be of use, inconvenient, and uncomfortable in hot weather. They scream “tourist.” You’re not fooling those gypsy kids in the piazza — they know you’re packing under your Ex Officio shirt. If I’m in a sketchy area or crowded place like a market, I’ll wear my daypack across my chest, because it’s less likely to be vandalized or cut off my body. Sometimes, I’ll also use travel locks on the zippers (which is why having double zips on your pack’s stowage compartments is key). You’re probably thinking, “Paranoid, much?” but put it this way: I’ve never had a theft, and I’d much rather look lame than spend a few days stranded somewhere, waiting for the Embassy to process my new passport.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with a wide variety of brands and sizes, and I’ve learned that hydration packs, like those made by Camelbak, Burton, DaKine, and Osprey’s new Hydraulics line (coming to a store near you this week), make great travel companions. I always remove the bladder, and leave it at home. The zippered bladder compartment makes the ultimate passport/plane ticket/itinerary holder. It’s flush against your back, so it’s theft-proof while you’re wearing it. Documents are also more likely to stay dry in this padded compartment, when you’re inevitably caught in a downpour or if fording that river doesn’t go as planned.

Everyone has different needs, and I’m not loyal to any particular brand because by the time one of my packs bites the dust, there’s something better on the market (don’t forget to check the company’s warranty policy before you purchase). Because I’m petite- 5’2″, and 100 lbs., I’ve come to rely upon women’s lines to give me the right fit. It really does make a difference, and your body will thank you. I could wear a kid’s pack, but they just don’t offer the tech-details and bells and whistles of adult versions. They also tend to be made in obnoxious colors. Come to think of it, it would be nice if all those great-fitting women’s packs weren’t always pastel or adorned with foofy graphics.

I also require elasticized side pockets, a hip belt and sternum strap for serious day-treks, deep stowage pockets with zips, an interior key chain for keeping hotel keys handy, and a reinforced bottom layer that can withstand dragging, maximum weight load, and pointy objects. Top-loading packs, and designs with zips that splay the pack in two are just begging to be pick-pocketed. Also, if your zipper breaks, you’re SOL. I’ll say it again: Look for multi-zip compartments that don’t go all the way down on either side.

Purchase a couple of mid-weight carabiners to clip onto your pack’s front loop (make sure it has one, or the equivalent). They’re invaluable for toting items like travel mugs, wet bathing suits, a pair of shoes (knot the laces together), or small grocery sacks.

Now, go forth and travel. Hold your bladder until you get home.

Before you go, be sure to check out Gadling’s Travel Talk TV! This week, the guys are in VEGAS!