Gadling Gear Review: Alegria Clogs

There’s a certain chunky euro-style of shoe I’ve become fond of. They’re popular in the alpine nations and Germany, and sometimes in Holland. They’re a little orthopedic looking, but with some flair, the kind of thing you might see worn by someone who’s trying to spark up their hospital scrubs. Think Birkenstocks, the closed toe variety, or your classic Dutch clog. Here’s the thing – shoes like this were made for walking in, for spending hours on your feet in, and that makes them work well for travelers.

Alegria shoes have all those qualities; they make shoes that are designed to be worn all day while keeping your feet comfortable. They have a thick spongy but not too soft sole that’s got a little bit of a rock too it, similar to that used by the Masai balance shoes or Sketcher’s fitness shoe, but not as extreme. They have that slightly duck web shape to the footbed that’s mirrors the shape of your foot. And they come in a whole array of styles from very plain to somewhat outrageous.Shoes are my weakness – they’re my packing struggle every single time. I like versatility in my gear, but shoes, well, there are great mary-janes out there, but sometimes they’re too sporty for dress. There are little tiny fold-up shoes, but they’re not comfortable enough for me. And I still think about what shoes I’m going to wear to the airport and what I’ll want on the plane. I like shoes that are easy to get in and out of, not too heavy, and have some personal style.

Alegria clogs are great airplane shoes – they meet all my requirements. I think they’d be great shoes for cruisers too, and for the kinds of long drives when you kick off your shoes in the passenger seat but put them back on to go grab a diner breakfast. The clog and shoe lines are all built on the same basic footbed, so you get that comfortable walking shoe base with a wild variety of uppers.

The look isn’t going to be for everyone. They’re bulky and kind of blocky, you have to be into that kind of style. But if you do like the look, your feet will be quite comfortable for many, many, many hours. They run just a tiny bit small so if you think you’re going to wear them with big wooly socks, get a half size larger.

Alegria clogs are about $110; the closed toe styles are priced a little bit higher. Buy them online directly from Alegria.

[Image credit: Alegria]

Gadling Gear Review: This Year’s Favorite Gear

I’ve been reviewing gear for a few years now. I wrote for a snowshoeing magazine and a site focused on gear for travelers before I joined the Gadling crew. That means I’m kind of a tough sell when it comes to new outdoor and travel clothing, bags and accessories. And I test everything, I ride my bike in the rain to see if that jacket is really waterproof, I wrangle that roller bag into the overhead bin, I wear those noise-canceling headsets on a long-haul flight. I pay attention to what always makes it into the bag, to what gets used more than once, to what works. Here are six things that really worked from this year’s gear.

Birki’s Skipper Slides
: You could not have told me that a shoe from Birkenstock would become a (fair weather) travel favorite, but they’re great for long-haul flights, easy to get in and out of at the airport, they do double duty as slippers or flip-flops when you’re running down the hall to the ice machine and, though they may not suit your style – they’re very casual – I love these things and think they’re great if you’ve got room for a second pair of shoes in your bag.

Ozone Ultralight Roller from Osprey: Just about perfect as a weekender, at its smallest size, this super light bag holds everything you need for a three-day getaway. What’s causing it to miss the 100% mark? It needs a shoulder strap for when it’s not appropriate to roll it. That aside, this is an extremely well designed bag with lots of pockets in sensible places – there’s even a place for your netbook or tablet – and it looks cool.

Gregory’s Border Laptop Backpack
: Everyone’s got a system for getting you through the TSA checkpoint with your laptop pack; most of them are fine. They all seem to use the same open flat configuration, but that doesn’t mean they also make a great day pack. The Border pack is full of sensible pockets that are exactly the right size and shape for whatever it is you’re carrying. If you can’t find the right place for it in this pack, you don’t need to be carrying it. (Ok, one exception: it’s not built to carry a DSLR.) This is, hands down, the best laptop pack I’ve tested.Mophie Juice Pack Plus: Addicted to your phone for travel apps, podcasts, photography, etc.? Yeah, me too. Which means I’m always burning through the battery. The Mophie Juice Pack Plus doubles the life of your phone by wrapping it in a case with an integrated battery. Strategists can shut down some of those power sucking things like Wi-Fi or data to get even more time out of it. That’s a terrific extra for the mobile addict.

Panasonic Lumix: I’m a devoted photographer and at times I carry a big heavy DSLR with big heavy lenses. But I sprung for a new Lumix this year and I left my DSLR at home for two big trips. I’ve been so happy with what the Lumix offers me – excellent optics, works beautifully in low light, all kinds of customization settings for photo nerds, and it fits in my pocket. I love this thing. Love it.

SmartWool Anything: Lots of brands are making nice stuff out of merino wool these days and it’s good stuff. Icebreaker makes styling clothing and base layers, Nau makes cool pieces that pack well; it’s all great stuff. SmartWool has been around forever, though, and while they’re not the cheapest and don’t always have the edge on style, they’re stuff is consistently excellent and it lasts for a very long time. I have SmartWool gear that I purchased more than ten years ago and it’s still in great shape. Their gear fits, wears tough and lasts. Get whatever you like, but the midweight stuff that they came out with this year? Aces. It’s rare that I’ll endorse a specific brand so whole-heartedly, but I am never disappointed with their gear. Never.

[Image credit: Packing for NZ by herdingnerfs via Flickr – Creative Commons]

Gadling Gear Review: Shoes For Travel

Finding the perfect shoes for travel can be nearly as important as having the right luggage. A good pair of shoes can be the difference between an enjoyable trip and one that goes down in memory as one of the worst. Travel shoes should be comfortable, easy to pack, versatile and stylish. Here are two such options that would make good companions on your next excursion.

Birki’s Classic Skipper ($120)
Looking for a super comfortable shoe with a casual look capable of going with just about anything? Then look no further than the Classic Skipper from Birki’s. These shoes are 3/4 slip-ons that are easy to pull off and on as needed, yet remain securely on your feet even while staying active. That makes them a great option for everything from running errands around town to strolling the Champs Elysees.

Made with a canvas upper and a sole fashioned out of soft cork, the Skipper is surprisingly durable and rugged, especially considering they feel, and somewhat resemble, a comfortable pair of slippers. I was impressed with how well they weathered day-to-day usage without showing a hint of wear, which bodes well for their long term use while traveling. They are also easy to keep clean, which is always a big plus while on the road.

What I liked most about the Skippers is their solid cork footbed. They provide a surprising amount of support for both the heel and arch, which is much appreciated after a long day on your feet. Those same cork soles offer plenty of stability, even on wet, slick surfaces, which only strengthens the case for why these are such good shoes to have in your closet. Add in the fact that they are lightweight, easy to pack and are quick to slip off and on while in the security line of the airport, and you have a great pair of shoes for a multitude of travel adventures.Cushe Slipper ($50)
Cushe is a shoe company with a reputation for making comfortable footwear for a variety of activities and weather conditions. Their designs are stylish, affordable and fun to wear, earning them a loyal following amongst active travelers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. One of their more popular offerings is their Slipper, which lives up to its name by being a slip-on that feels like something you could shuffle around the house in, while being durable enough to wear just about anywhere.

This shoe is so lightweight that it is barely a step up from actually going barefoot. Its canvas mesh upper breathes well and provides plenty of ventilation while the molded, soft sole cradles the foot and offers more support than you would ever think possible for something that weighs so little. The interior of the Slipper is lined with a non-abrasive microfiber, which allows your feet to remain comfortable even while not wearing socks, which helps extend the feeling of wearing a slipper even further. The result is a travel shoe that is perfect to wear while in transit and is equally adept at walking through an open-air market as it is taking a stroll along the beach.

I found the Cushe Slipper to also be an excellent complementary shoe when on more active excursions. For instance, after a long day of hiking they make a wonderful pair of camp shoes for relaxing around the fire. After wearing a pair of heavy boots all day, there is nothing quite like slipping into these shoes to bring some instant relief to tired feet. They also score major points for being highly packable, taking up almost no room in your bag at all.

Perhaps best of all, Cushe has managed to make this shoe highly affordable. With a price tag of just $50, you’re probably going to want to buy them in multiple colors. For pure comfort and lightweight, these Slippers simply can’t be beat.

[Photo Credits: Birki’s and Cushe]

Packing Notes For Summer Travels

Did anyone else totally screw up their packing for TBEX, the recent travel blogger’s conference in Denver? I did, egregiously. Having deferred to the Rocky Mountain location at Keystone Resort, I completely overlooked the fact that it was in the 90s in Denver. I packed as though I were summering in Seattle – a raincoat, jeans, long underwear, and layers, you know. As a result, I ended up wearing the same skirt and rotating through my T-shirts for the entire trip. Oops.

I departed for a week in the south of France just two weeks later, determined not to make the same mistakes. My destination: Bordeaux for the wine festival – Le Fete de Vin. There were to be some fancy evening dinners, a fair amount of walking, two events on boats. The weather was forecast to be hot with some chance of thunderstorms. I might need to clean up – the cliche of French style is a cliche for a reason – but I would also need to cover some ground on my feet. Plus, there were the hours in transit, long-haul flights, lurking around airports.

I totally nailed it, with room to spare, and I still had long underwear and a raincoat.

On the plane

  • Phoebe dress by ScotteVest: While it’s not a particularly flattering cut on me (it’s too blocky, if that makes sense) it’s a nice piece for transit. I liked using the big pockets for my lip balm, passport, podcast-filled phone and wallet. I’d like a more fitted shape, but when you’re spending ten hours folded into an airplane seat, who cares?
  • Striped long underwear by Columbia: I have last season’s version and I wear them as leggings often – they’re totally cute. I get cold on the plane, and they’re a great layering piece.
  • Zip front hooded sweater from Triple Aught: One of my favorite sweaters. It’s warm, has a stylish cut, and has zippered pockets.
  • Cushe Wildrun shoes: Easy to get in and out of at TSA checkpoints, plus, they are great for walking.
  • Dahlgren alpaca socks: Big wooly ones. They’re for skiing and hiking, but also for napping on airplanes.
  • Pashmina scarf: Really? I need to tell you this? Right, I didn’t think so.

Everything else

  • Keen strappy sandals: They dress up beautifully, work for shorter walks and they absolutely make the transition to evening wear. Bonus, they don’t take much space in the bag.
  • Chaco Paradox shoes: I intentionally packed a second pair of walking shoes; my feet like it when I give them something else to live in. Also, they’re cute and a little unusual in style. They felt very appropriate when I was striding about vine-covered properties.
  • Five nice shirts: No particular brand – four of them white. Linen, muslin, silk, cotton. Lightweight – all of them.
  • Two pairs of shorts: Longish shorts. Yes, you can wear teeny tiny shorts while swanning about the south of France. Go right ahead. Mine are just above the knee. I’m a modest dresser, especially when traveling.
  • Two black dresses: One silk for evening wear, one Dharma dress from Aventura. The Dharma dress is a perfect travel piece, fine for summer dress weather in the day, but absolutely makes the transition to evening. I never wore the silk dress, but I was glad I had the option and it takes up almost zero space in my bag.
  • Footless lightweight stockings: Didn’t wear those either; it was way too hot, but I packed them in case I found I needed to go all out with the dress up.
  • ExOfficio rollup pants: Mine are a pale blue/gray, with a white shirt; they look like business. They’re very light, so great for heat or for when you need a little coverage from the wind or sun.
  • ScotteVest Lucy Cardigan: Also new from ScotteVest, this lightweight wrap works perfectly for evenings out and covering up a sleeveless dress. It feels soft, looks cute, and is very nice for summer evenings.
  • Rain shell from Westcomb: (You can take the girl out of Seattle but … ) I didn’t need it, but I always pack a raincoat – always. I can’t help it.
  • The other stuff: Socks and underwear (I wish I’d packed better socks), a swimsuit, an absurd amount of cables and electronica, product and meds.
  • Packing cubes: I’m not brand loyal when it comes to a system, but I actually am a convert to packing this way. My clothing stays cleaner, it’s easier to find things in my bag, and I end up packing more efficiently.

I could have easily traveled for a month or longer with this kit; for a week, it was perfect. The events turned out to be more casual than I’d expected but I wasn’t sorry I’d packed for more formal as the choices I made added little weight or bulk to my bag. I had exactly the right clothes for everything I did and had the weather gone south, I’d have had the pieces I needed to make the transition. And I had room in my carry-on sized bag to spare.

It’s rare I win so completely at the packing game. I’m hoping I’ve turned a corner and I’ll get it this right for all my future trips.

Image: Nancy Packs Her Suitcase via Flickr (Creative Commons). Awesome photo and SO not me.

Gadling Gear Review: Cushe Wildrun Shoes For Women

Aching dogs are my biggest complaint after a long day out exploring. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to have the right pair of shoes when you’re traveling. I will not (I don’t care what anyone says) sacrifice comfort for fashion when it comes to footwear — though really, with my personal, uh, style, that is not an issue.

Good shoes for travel matter a LOT and you should pick yours carefully and err on the side of comfort if you must choose. I’ve been wandering about in a pair of Wildrun shoes by Cushe and my dogs, they’re liking it. They’ve also passed the airport test and are cute enough that I wore them with nice trousers for an office appearance without getting the stink eye. (Caveat: It helps that I’m from Seattle. Everyone expects us to always look like we just got back from the summit of Mount Rainier.)

What do I mean by “the airport test?” I mean they’re easy to get in and out of at the security checkpoint. They’re lace-ups, but they’re a hybrid of a lace-up and a slip-on, meaning you don’t have to untie them to get in and out of them. There’s a quick release gripper on the ties so if you need to cinch them down you can. But the shoes are also stretchy so you can slip them on and off quite easily.

I spent a 24-hour trip to LA in these shoes and they stayed comfortable for the entire trip — which included a shocking amount of walking for LA. It’s because they’ve got a memory foam insole. It’s really spongy and soft. My feet felt great after roaming the sidewalks of Westwood (and I’ve been walking downtown Seattle in them, too).

The uppers are a combination of Neoprene (Cushe says it’s EVA) and leather. I can’t speak for their breathability; I’ve not been in hot places with them on my feet, but they’re great in foul weather. They’d make a good beachcombing shoe if you’re not worried about getting a little damp around the edges, and you can use them in a pinch as a hiker or a runner — the sturdy Vibram sole means they’re grippy and supportive.

And hey, bonus: I like them. They’re kinda cute. They come in a nice weathered brown; I got the black. They fall under what I call “good enough” for casual, cleaned-up wear, meaning I’d wear them with a skirt or a nice pair of pants and could probably get away with it — they don’t look like running shoes or sneakers.

Sorry, guys. I looked; Cushe has some other styles but I don’t see a direct analogy to this in the men’s line. Ladies, get a pair directly from Cushe, they’re $105. These plus a dressier pair of something strappy, and you are set for almost anything.