Gadling Travelers On Their Favorite Gear

Gadling contributors are, by occupation, a well traveled lot and they’re hard on their kit. They want stuff that works – stuff that lasts, stuff that’s genuinely useful, stuff they’re never sorry they packed. While you’re hunting little extras to gift your favorite traveler, consider this list of favorites from some of the most traveled people on the Internet.

McLean Robbins: As a traveler who can’t manage to ever get comfortable on an airplane or with hotel pillows, I can’t leave home without this Brookstone accessory. I purchased it on a whim before a long-haul European flight where I thought I’d be stuck in a middle coach seat, and have used it on even short domestic flights ever since. The pillow is great in its U-shaped form, but I place it under those flimsy hotel pillows for extra support too. Best of all? It compacts nicely into my carry-on bag as well.

Jessica Marati
: Melatonin. This natural sleep aid is the best way to get rest on redeye flights and combat jet lag. I don’t travel without it.

Chris Owen: I usually pack specifically for each trip but one thing that always makes it is my bag full of cords, plugs, power converters and backup battery power. It’s called a Flex Pack and made by Victorinox.

Dave Seminara: I travel with a Princeton Tec headlamp so I can read in hotel rooms (or tents) after my sons go to bed! [Note: There’s always a headlamp in my pack too. And if you get one that’s got a red light mode, you can dig around in your bag or find your way to your bunk in the hostel without waking and/or blinding your roomies.Kyle Ellison: The two things I never travel without are duct tape and nylon cord, both available at your local hardware store. With the tape you can fix a rip in your backpack, seal a cut on your foot, create a waterproof barrier on anything, make labels, bookmarks, a lid for your food … anything really. With the cord you can make a clothesline, tie a tent down, fix a backpack, make a tourniquet, a belt, shoelaces … again, it’s a life saver.

Mix these in with a Leatherman multi-tool (opening cans, getting out splinters, cutting your tape and cord, opening wine bottles, sawing through wood, unscrewing air ducts in hotels, which are vibrating, fixing your glasses, hammering in tent stakes, etc.) Unfortunately, your multi-tool can only travel with you via land travel or checked baggage.

Laurel Miller: This small, rip-stop compact folding duffel bag. It has zippered side pockets so you can stuff it into itself, and it compacts to the size of a sandwich. I keep it in the bottom of my backpack and use it to bring home the inevitable souvenirs or press materials that accumulate on my travels. It also makes a great overnight bag, especially if I’m on a big trip that has some side trips where I can leave my backpack behind.

Meg Nesterov: I love the TotSeat portable high chair. It fits in a purse/bag, weighs almost nothing, and is handy anytime I want to put my baby in a regular chair and have her stay there. It is way superior to the other “travel” high chairs that are as big as phone books (if that reference even makes sense anymore), though it is essentially like tying your child to a chair!

Alex Robertson Textor: It’s super un-techy but I don’t like to travel without my Moleskine Classic Large Ruled Notebook. Notes feel more substantial in a paper notebook.

What do you want to add to your travel kit this year? What are you giving your favorite traveler?

[Images courtesy of Brookstone and Leatherman]

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)]

A Headlamp is a Travel Essential

Scenario 1: Sure, there’s a campfire, but it’s not enough to let you see what’s on your plate. You’re alternating between a fork and a flashlight. That’s no way to enjoy your ramen.

Scenario 2: Digging through your bag for your earplugs when your tent mate has shattered your sleep with her snoring takes both hands.

Scenario 3: That budget hotel is on generator power, and that goes off at 10am. It’s 3am, it’s as dark as the inside of an elephant, and you have to pee.

You need a headlamp. I’ve tested a few of these and I’ve settled on a favorite, Petzl’s Zipka Plus 2. Here’s what I like about it.

The Zipka has a spring-loaded retractable cord rather than a typical elasticized webbing headband. It’s super compact right from the get-go because the design has cleverly eliminated the strap. I like that you can strap it to your hand or your arm or whatever – tent pole, beer can… if it’s the circumference of your melon, you can put the lamp around it and it will stay put. Win.

Next up? There’s a red light mode. That snoring camp buddy? You don’t have to paste her with high wattage while you’re rooting around in your bag. You’re not a jerk. This is a really nice feature I didn’t know I wanted, and now, I think it should be standard. The red light is just, well, it’s more polite, so it’s great for dorm rooms, too, or any situation where low light is a better choice.

There’s a blinky mode, too, so if you’re striving to be seen (say you’re using it as a bike light), you can set the blinker to go off in either red or white light. It’s really bright when it’s blinking in the full power white light mode, if they’re within visible range (a maximum of 35 meters, according to Petzl) your crew will find you. When it’s blinking in red light mode, it’s not as bright, but it’s still useful for making yourself seen by those around you.

You can use the white light in two modes — full and “economy”. In economy mode,the light is plenty bright for reading and, according to the specs, the light will last for up to 140 hours. That’s a good long time.

Finally, if you’d like to attach the light to something, Petzl has an adapter kit that allows you to mount the light in bunch of different scenarios, including to a standard elasticized headband.

As I mentioned, I have a few headlamps (including the Irix, that Gadling Gear Guy Kraig Becker reviewed here) but this one is my favorite. It’s tiny, it’s bright, it has more features than I thought a headlamp could possibly need — and I like all of them. Mine lives in my travel bag now, I don’t head out on a trip without it.

Holiday gift guide for campers

While 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.

Snow 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.

Osprey 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.

Eddie 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.

Pizza 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.

Gadling gear review: Icon Irix II headlamp

As we’ve mentioned before, a good headlamp is one of the most useful travel accessories that you can take with you on the road. Whether you’re navigating a dark trail at night or simply reading a book in your tent after sunset, you’ll find a multitude of uses for a headlamp. Despite the fact that the concept of strapping a light to your head seems like a simple and obvious one however, not all headlamps are created equal. Sure, there are a number of companies who release serviceable lights that will do in a pinch, but some are actually designing lights that are unique and innovative, delivering options that make them even more useful beyond providing simple illumination.

Take for example Icon Lights, who offer a whole line of rugged and well built flashlights and headlamps that incorporate design elements not found in similar products. Icon works from the philosophy that technology and design should come together to deliver a great product to the consumer or that product doesn’t go out the door. This approach is more than evident in the Irix II headlamp, which includes several very welcome features that I haven’t seen in similar products.

Featuring five very bright LED lights, the Irix II has no problems providing plenty of illumination no matter where you need it. But it isn’t unusual for a headlamp to incorporate multiple lights, although most change their level of brightness based on how many of those lights are turned on at any given time. Not so with the Irix, which uses all five LED’s at all times, but incorporates a knob that directly controls the level of brightness in each light as needed. As a result, the user can dial up the exact level of illumination necessary in a quick and simple fashion. The feature is so handy, you’ll wonder why it hasn’t been used in other lights before.

The unique design elements of the Irix II extends to the included headband as well, or rather the plastic housing that holds the lamp in place. That specially designed bracket makes it simple to adjust the angle of the light, as you would expect, but it also allows you to completely detach the headlamp itself. This feature not only makes it simple to change the battery, but adds a level of versatility to the use of the light that isn’t found in other headlamps. The detachable light makes it very easy to illuminate hard to reach places.

The Irix II is powered by a single AA battery, which has a run time of up to 100 hours, depending on the brightness levels used. That’s excellent battery life out of any headlamp, and because it uses such a common battery type, you’ll never have to worry about finding spares while traveling on extended trips. Even better, the battery housing is easy to open, even while wearing gloves, making it a snap to replace a dead cell in cold or inclement weather. When closed, that housing is also tightly sealed with an O-ring, which helps to keep moisture out, protecting the Irix from rain or accidental immersion in water.

Somehow Icon managed to blend all of these options and design elements into one great package and still deliver it at an affordable price. The Irix II sells for just $29.95, which makes it far more affordable than the last headlamp we reviewed, and a great option for travelers. It is a sturdy, lightweight, and comfortable headlamp that will see you through a multitude of adventures and prove useful in a variety of situations.