A Nearly Perfect Mid-Layer: Patagonia’s Ultralight Down Shirt

My travels take me to places with unpredictable weather, alpine regions where the temperature drops 20 degrees when a cloud crosses the sun, or coastal zones where the wind comes of the water and it’s not as warm as I’d like it to be. I’m big on the standard platitude of dressing in layers for travel — but I’ve become increasingly exacting over what, exactly, those layers are.

Patagonia’s Ultralight Down Shirt
is an almost perfect middle layer if you’re going to be someplace where the temps can drop or change. For starters, it’s super lightweight and packs down — in its own stuff bag — to about the size of a coffee cup. Or a grapefruit, a big one. You can find room for this in your bag. The shirt is warm, windproof, and water repellent — you will need a hard shell in heavy rain, but a little drizzle or heavy fog won’t soak you. It’s cute, with waffle-y stitching and detailing at the cuffs, collar, and waist. And it comes in good colors — fog (gray), cerise (a pink/red), black, and prickly pear (a springy green). Patagonia makes a down shirt for guys, too — they get a dark blue instead of the cherry pink, and the stitching is in a checkerboard pattern rather than the zigzag pattern on the women’s model.

It wears like a sweatshirt — it’s got a half zip so you pull it on over your head. The fit is good, the sizing seems fairly accurate (a big problem with a lot of outdoor wear, I’ve found). With a good base layer (I like merino wool) and a rain shell, you’re set for a very broad range of conditions, and you’re still packing very light.The only flaw worth mentioning is the lack of pockets. I’d have liked a kangaroo pocket in front or slash pockets in the side or… something, anything, a place to stash a few dollars, the car keys, or to tuck my hands when they’re a little cold. A pocket could do double duty as the stuff sack, as well.
This is an expensive piece of clothing — 250 USD — so it’s not for those prone to sticker shock. I have Downlight Sweater with a full zip down and pockets from First Ascent that retails for almost 100 USD less than Patagonia’s down shirt. It doesn’t have the style that the Patagonia piece has, but for space, the difference is negotiable. Given a choice between the two, I’d go with the full zip with pockets. If Patagonia’s version had pockets, it would be a much tougher call.

Regardless of what style you decide to go with, some kind of lightweight down layer is a useful addition to your travel wardrobe. Get one that works best for you.

Try the ‘traveler’s washing machine’ – Packing tip

Here’s how to make a “traveler’s washing machine” —

  1. Pack a large, thick plastic bag and a small bottle of laundry soap.
  2. When it’s time for laundry, fill the bag with about a gallon of water and add a scoop of detergent.
  3. A few sloshes of the bag renders the water soapy.
  4. Drop in the clothes, and shake the bag some more.
  5. Leave the clothes to soak for at least 5 minutes.
  6. Dump the water out and fill with fresh water to rinse.
  7. Shake.
  8. Dump out this water and squeeze any excess water from the clothes.
  9. Hang the clothes on anything convenient to dry.

This saves a trip to the laundromat — and money.

[Photo: Flickr | Alexik]

Buy clothes there – Packing tip

Depending on where you’re headed, it may be cheaper to pack fewer clothes and purchase new outfits upon arrival.

Destinations such as Bangkok, Thailand, for example, sell quality, fashionable clothes for low prices. For destinations such as these, pack about three outfits and plan to shop soon after you get there. This may not be advisable, however, for travel destinations such as London or Tokyo. In order to make the right decision, research your destination’s clothes prices before departure.

Further, shopping abroad gives you the opportunity to explore local cultures — and maybe even purchase some cool, wearable souvenirs.

Bonus: Saving space in your luggage may, in turn, result in less luggage — and fewer baggage charges!

Eco-friendly packing – and how you can do it too

I’ve long been a supporter of eco-tourism and have tried (and many times failed) to be a fully-aware eco-traveler myself. In this world of technology and modern equipment, it’s sometimes hard to find your way back to the basics and just enjoy travel for what it is rather than enjoy it alongside all of the gadgets and gizmos that we’re buried under in this 21st century.

It’s time to rethink how we approach eco-travel, and that begins with our attitude and what we take with us. In many ways, what I’m providing for you here is my own wish list of eco-friendly travel gear that I’d like in my own eco-friendly travel pack. But more than that, it’s a reflection of how I’d like to see travelers shift their outlook on travel — from the self to the world.

So, let’s get packing, shall we?

When you’re eco-packing, you have to think about the materials. You want to avoid materials like vinyl and polyester (unless it’s recycled). Nowadays, lots of gear is made from organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and recycled plastic. Consider also how or if the fabric was dyed. Fabric dyes can be toxic and contain bad (BAD) chemicals like mercury, lead or heavy metals like cadmium or arsenic. Make sure your soaps and toiletries are small, made from the earth (all-natural), and biodegradeable. The chemicals in products can not only be hazardous to you but also contaminating for the environment! Throw it away, and it goes to a landfill, and then into the groundwater.

The first essential item is the luggage itself — a good, sturdy, eco-friendly suitcase or backpack. This technical hiking backpack from Lafuma is a keeper. It is made from hemp (65 percent) and recycled polyester (35 percent) and has a TPE coating that provides waterproofing without heavy metals. only the hemp fabric is dyed, avoiding another processing stage and reducing dyeing chemicals by 35 percent. If you prefer something with wheels, then this MLC wheelie from Patagonia is it. It’s made of 100% recycled polyester, and even has backpack straps just in case.

I’m a huge fan of the ultalight travel movement. That’s why I not only minimize the clothes I pack, but the lightness of those items. GoLite is my recent clothing company of choice. The company’s environmental focus is shifting 100% of its materials to identified Environmentally Preferred Materials (EPMs). Its current 2010 product line has over 50% EPMs by mass, and the goal is to use 100% EPMs by 2015.

I’ve also been a fan of Patagonia through the years. When you shop online, you can read about what each product was made from. You can even follow it’s eco-conscious blog, The Cleanest Line.

Okay, I admit it: I can’t travel without some electronics and eco-unfriendly accessories. BUT, even travel gadget carriers like myself can be slightly more environmentally responsible now by powering electronics using a solar charger. I recently purchased a Solio solar charger from Radio Shack, and I intend to carry it with me on my next trip to power all of my electronics. BONUS: If you buy a Solio charger with free gift-wrapping online, Solio will donate a Solio-powered LED light to a family in the world that lives on less than $1 a day.

For battery-operated electronics, consider using rechargeable batteries from USBCell. The batteries last for years and charge via any USB port!

There’s only one company I’ve come to trust when buying toiletries, and that’s Tom’s of Maine. All you really need is some toothpaste and soap — oh, and I guess the ladies should consider getting organic feminine products from Natracare.

So there you have it, guys: Gadling’s guide to eco-friendly packing. The great thing about the products I’ve mentioned is that they don’t break your bank, which proves you can travel green without spending a fortune. When you’re all packed and you set off on your next trip, don’t forget how to travel green. Think low environmental impact, and have a great eco-trip!

Hikers on new trail in Germany may see more “nature” than they want

Apparently, nudity is big in Germany. The German Nudist Association organizes outings for naturalists to nude beaches and campgrounds and now, there’s even a special path for naked hikers. Yeah, I said naked hikers.

The 11-mile long trail will run from Dankerode to the Wippertal dam and officially opens in May. The trail will be marked with signs warning hikers that nudists are in the area. “If you don’t want to see people with nothing on then you should refrain from moving on!” one says. While Germans anxious to hike au naturel have been trying out the unfinished trail, not everyone is excited to encounter naked hikers. The nearby town of Appenzell has banned nude hikers – anyone caught hiking in the buff, an act town officials have called “shameless behavior”, faces fines of up to £120.

I can kind of see the appeal of nude beaches – I’m no fan of tan lines – but nude hiking makes no sense to me. Poison oak and mosquito bites in uncomfortable places and sore, um, jiggly bits? No thanks. But I’m glad that those with a passion for hiking in their birthday suits now have a place to go. And I’ll echo the sentiments of the Deputy Director at the German National Tourist Office: “To the locals I would say: hike and let hike. To the nude hikers, I would say: Mind the brambles and high thistles.” Ouch!

[via Daily Mail]