Why I Buy Travel Gear From REI: You Can Return Old Underwear

exofficio underwearThere are a million and one places to buy travel gear, but I think there’s only one that will take back year-old pairs of used underwear: REI. This might read like a paid endorsement, but it isn’t. I almost never write about products or stores that I like but I’ve got to give props to REI, my one-stop shop for travel.

Over the years, I’ve had a number of positive experiences buying, and sometimes returning, travel gear – luggage, camping equipment, clothing and the like, from REI, but a recent experience I had at one of their stores in Virginia absolutely floored me.

More than a year ago, I purchased three pairs of $20 ExOfficio briefs before going on a trip and immediately hated them. Twenty dollars is expensive for a pair of underwear, but when you’re traveling with only a handful of pairs, high quality underwear is worth its weight in gold. Without going into much detail here, let’s just say that these pairs of underwear were constantly riding up on me, leaving body parts exposed.I found myself constantly having to make adjustments, and doing that in public makes one look like a pervert or worse. I resolved to send the underwear back to the manufacturer with a nasty note but never got around to it. But then one day a few weeks ago when I was forced to wear a pair of the horrible underwear because everything else was dirty, I resolved to go back to the REI where I bought them and make a complaint.

I had no expectation that they would actually take the things back, but I wanted to vent my frustration. Perhaps this seems ridiculous to you, dear reader, but I grew in a household where returning things was par for the course. My dad is an expert returner. He’ll eat half a meal at a restaurant and decide he doesn’t like it, so he can send it back and get something else. And there is no product or store that he won’t try to return something at, no matter how long ago he bought the product or whether he has a receipt. The man is unstoppable, and, amazingly, no one ever questions him.

When I was about 12 year old, I smashed my tennis racket in a rage after losing a match. It was one of those black, wooden Bjorn Borg Donnay models, and after my fit, the entire top of it was warped so the head looked oblong rather than round. Undeterred, my dad marched us to K-Mart, warped racket in hand, and managed to return it, claiming the thing was defective.

To my horror, the store employee put the darn thing right back up on the shelf, even though my name was written in magic marker on the cover. At that age, no one wants their name advertised at K-Mart.

All of this is to say that in returning items, I’ve learned from the best, though I am not nearly as brazen as my father. Still, I have expected the customer service person at REI to grab the pile of used underwear I unfurled onto the desk and throw it back at me. But he didn’t.

“Do you want to return these?” he asked, after listening sympathetically to my complaint.

“Can I?” I asked, a bit in shock.

“Absolutely,” he said. “All of our products are guaranteed for as long you have them and if you’re not satisfied you can return them.”

“You don’t have a receipt do you?” he asked.

“Nope,” I said. “But I am an REI member.”

He tapped my name into the computer and found my membership.

“Ok,” he said. “I see that you bought two pairs of these a little over a year ago, does that sound right?”

“Um, yeah,” I said sheepishly.

The young man couldn’t find a record of the third pair but gave me a store credit anyway. He was ready to give me my money back for the two pairs he did find in the system, but I felt too guilty to take it. They were horrible underwear, but I had purchased them more than a year ago!

You might think that this was just one fluky experience but I don’t think it was. A few years ago, I bought a pair of hiking shoes that turned out to be very poorly constructed and I returned those too – no questions asked – a good six months after purchase.

The truth is that I buy a lot of gear from REI and I love most of it, so there is usually no need to return items. But it’s awfully nice to know you can bring things back – even old underwear – if you need to. And unlike K-Mart, I’m pretty sure they didn’t put my used underwear right back on the shelf.

[Photo by Seansie on Flickr]

Pack a Sports Bra, Already

If you’re looking for something slightly saucy, sorry, there’s nothing sexy about what I’m about to write here. It’s just a bunch of practical advice for traveling women with a bit of, uh, bounce. See, I did some off road travel recently and the one item I regretted not throwing in the overnight bag? A sports bra.

Runners know the value of a good sports bra, most outdoor adventurers know this, hell, I know this, and yet… Clearly, I’m not getting enough high impact excercise if I’ve forgotten. Note to self: Amp up the calorie burning and pack a freaking sports bra.

I keep two brands in my wardrobe; Champion and Moving Comfort. I’ve come to prefer the Champion 360 Max Support model because I find it the most comfortable. I’ve got a whole bunch of these that — oh, I’ll just admit it — I bought in three packs at Costco. They fit well, they’re comfortable enough to wear on long haul flights, and they do the job of keeping everything contained. You can get them in cute colors, so if you’re the type that strips down to a sports bra and shorts (I most decidedly am NOT) you will not look completely ridiculous. The 360 is good in heat, it’s got that wicking technology that keeps moves moisture away from your body. It will set you back about $35.00, though hey, you might get lucky and find the sale pack at Costco.

Moving Comfort is a well-established brand in sports bras and every now and I try another style from them, but candidly, they’re still not quite working out for me. I’ve tried three — the Alexis, the Aurora, and the Grace, all around $40.00. The Alexis I liked just fine, it’s made of a stretchy, wicking material similar to that of the Champion bras I’ve got, but has a much lighter profile, making it even better for hot weather or exertion.

The other two I’m not crazy about. They offer a lot of support, but this is where shopping for bras is tricky. It’s all about fit, and when I’m wearing one of these I feel more compressed than anything else, not a great feeling. Half sizes, ladies, can I get a witness? I’m good for a trail hike in the Aurora, but the Grace has never been quite right, and with both of them, I can’t wait to get out of them and into something that has a lot more flexibility. Even though I want to blame the product, I can’t quite get there, as if I’d tried them in a store rather than getting them online, I’d either not own them or I’d have a proper fit.

I suppose there’s two lessons here. The first one is, as I mentioned, pack a sports bra, already. Not only does it do double duty as a swimsuit top, should you find yourself in that situation, but it will save you from hours of discomfort on bad roads. The other — which you already know, though is a reminder to me — is that you should go try on a bra before you buy it. Go ahead, shop online, that’s where the deals are, but first, head to the lingerie department.

Photo: Mike Baird via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Gadling gear review: Polarmax AYG (All Year Gear)

Polarmax AYG performance underwearWhen packing for an active trip, we often put a lot of consideration into the clothes we bring along with us. If we’re headed to a cold weather destination for example, we bring quality base layers, fleeces, and of course a good shell. If we’re setting out for a hot climate, its lightweight, breathable apparel that we put in our bags. One piece of clothing that we don’t always put much thought into however, is what goes under all of that other stuff.

That’s right, our underwear, skivvies, bloomers – whatever you want to call them – play a big role in our enjoyment of our vacation, even if we don’t always realize it. Like any other piece of clothing we take with us however, our underwear needs to perform as well as possible, which is where the Polarmax AYG line of clothing comes in handy.

Polarmax is a company that has made high performance base layers for more than 25 years. Their clothing has been used by mountaineers, arctic explorers, and athletes, and the company has focused all of that experience into creating a line of underwear that can be worn around town as easily as on a long hike. The result is AYG, which stands for “All Year Gear.”

AYG underwear uses a blend of high-tech fabrics, including TransDRY cottons, to be soft and breathable. Those fabrics are also designed to wick moisture away from the body, helping to keep you fresh and dry, no matter what climate or activity you’re exploring. All of that marketing speak means that AYG has been created to keep us comfortable in both the heat or cold, whether we’re on the trail or relaxing in the lodge.
Polarmax AYG performance underwearI’ve had the opportunity to use AYG for the past couple of months, putting it through its paces in the extreme heat of Austin, Texas on a daily basis, as well as taking it with me when I traveled to a variety of destinations, both foreign and domestic. I’ve found that it is not only very comfortable to wear, but more than lives up to the performance promises from Polarmax. I’ve worn All Year Gear on long hikes, mountain climbing, and even mountain biking, and it has always exceeded my expectations. No matter what the activity, my AYG boxer briefs kept me dry without restricting motion in any way.

Because AYG underwear is so versatile, it is an excellent option for travelers looking to save room in their packs and travel a bit lighter too. AYG fabrics are designed to be fast-drying, as well as anti-microbial, which helps to keep them smelling fresh on extended trips. That means you only need to pack two or three pairs when heading out for your next adventure. Simply wear the underwear all day, then wash it in your hotel sink or camp stream at night, hang it up to dry, and throw it back in your pack the next day. Repeat throughout your trip, and you’ll always have a fresh pair ready for use.

Polarmax AYG is available for both men and women and comes in a variety of styles and colors. You’ll find not only briefs, but shirts as well and the line will soon expand to include more colors and prints. No matter which options you go with however, you’ll be glad you have them with you on your next trip.

Top 5 reasons Icebreaker underwear are my favorite pieces of travel gear

Icebreaker ram underwear underpants boxersGadling has sung the praises of New Zealand-based Icebreaker clothing before. We love it. However, on a recent trip to Indonesia, I learned just how fantastic the merino wool garments actually are when put to the test. While you may think that wool clothing would be far too hot for the humid Balinese climate, you’ll be surprised to learn just how critical a role Icebreaker played in keeping me comfortable. I brought several pairs of Icebreaker Beast 150 boxer briefs with me to Bali and, if I hadn’t, I can honestly say that I would have been miserably uncomfortable. Are a few pairs of underwear really that critical?

I so enjoyed Icebreaker’s boxer briefs that they have become my favorite piece of travel gear. With each passing day of the trip, as temperatures approached 90°F and humidity constantly hovered at around 98%, I was increasingly more thankful that the most intimate parts of my body were enrobed in Icebreaker. Why the glowing praise? Here are the top five reasons:

5. Style

Plenty of performance garments fulfill their promise to keep you comfortable. Many, however, do so in a hideous fashion (literally). While it’s fine to look rugged while you’re out for a hike or exploring some ruins, you still want your gear to allow you to dress up nicely. Considering that my girlfriend was with me in Bali, it was nice that Icebreaker’s underwear showed that I hadn’t given up on romance.

4. Packing

No underwear should take up much space in your luggage, but Icebreaker boxer briefs are so thin – yet durable – that they fold up neatly and compactly. And, since you don’t need to pack too many pairs, they really help lighten your load. Speaking of not having to pack too many pairs…

3. Quick Dry

Rather than pack 14 pairs of underwear for a two week trip, I rotated three pairs of Icebreaker boxer briefs. When they needed a wash, I’d rinse them in the sink with some Dr. Bronner’s and hang them to dry. In just a few hours (overnight was more than enough time), they were bone dry and ready to be worn again. However, I didn’t have to wash them too often because…

2. Odorless

Icebreaker gear doesn’t absorb odor. You can wear their gear for days – and I did – without washing it and the people around you are none the wiser. No matter how much I sweat in Bali (read: a lot), my underwear still seemed fresh at the end of the day. Not having to do laundry daily allowed me to make the most of my time in Indonesia. Which was easy considering…

1. Breathable

Perhaps my underwear stayed so fresh because I never felt that hot in my crotch. Unlike traditional cotton underwear (which I wore for one day and refused to use for the rest of the trip), Icebreaker boxer briefs allowed air to flow. As such, I stayed dry where it was most important. Lest you make a joke about groin discomfort, jock itch (aka tinea cruris) is no laughing matter. Having a rash in your crotch and inner thighs from sweat is uncomfortable and takes days to clear up. Icebreaker boxer briefs made sure that I avoided that travel nightmare.

Icebreaker Beast 150 boxer briefs are available on the company’s website, at their stores in Portland and New York and at various outdoor gear suppliers. They retail for $43 per pair.

Photo of the Day (11.29.10)

takraw Photo of the Day

Whenever I pack for a trip, I am always incredibly worried that I will forget to pack underwear. Rather than face several weeks in one pair of underpants (or having to begrudgingly purchase several new pairs on the road), I always pack underwear first. Then it’s simply a matter of remembering to put on underwear every morning before setting out for the day.

Heading out sans underwear could lead to an unfortunate penis slip. You simply do not want that to happen when you’re in Thailand focusing on your takraw moves like the man in this photo by Flickr user Mark Fischer. Do yourself (and everyone who might see you) a favor and holster your gun with a solid pair of underpants.

Taken any great photos of underwear athletes on your travels? Why not add them to our Gadling group on Flickr? We might just pick one of yours as our Photo of the Day.