Tag Archives: backpacking

Breaking the Travel Bag Paradigm

This travel tip came to me from John Davison–an extensive world traveler. If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to read some of his thoughts on India.

Old nerdy joke from my high-school math club: a pessimist says the glass is half empty, the optimist says half full. The engineer says it’s twice as big as it needs to be. For whatever reason, the average traveler is forever doomed to the paradigm of taking much more than what’s needed for a bag– be it in terms of features, capacity or price.

As an Eagle Scout I can understand “Being Prepared,” as it is after all the Boy Scout motto, but I also argue that there’s a right tool for every task. If you’re traveling, and not backpacking–for a long distance that is, your best bang-for-your-buck, practical option is to pick up a Seal-Line Boundary Pack.

Boundary Packs - what you should be taking to Europe.

Boundary Packs - what you should be taking to Europe.

It’s water tight – as in, it floats. If you’re in a jam you could even use it as a buoy to float back to your ship (just ask John). A lot of packs are “water-proof” and made of water-proof materials but not made with “water-proof construction” and then there’s Gore-tex and eVent and…none of it is going to be as impenetrable as this bag. It’s made of thick vinyl and holds air like an opera singer, an especially fat one.

Weight wise, how does 2lb. 9oz. sound for a 70L bag? Yes, it’s only a single compartment, but how many times have you lost something because you forgot about it in your ultra-secret security pocket? What good are all of those pockets if you still can’t remember where you put things? One compartment is awesome for finding your stuff and just think of how fast security checkpoint will be when there’s only one space to open. If you’re that worried about organization, just get some Eagle Creek bags or Sea to Summit stuff sacks.

Maybe you’re leary about its practicality. Did you see the available colors? You could find your socks in the bottom of this bag in a black hole–that’s an insane yellow! Nighttime be damned! Sure it’s a little ostentatious, but I can almost guarantee that no one will mistake your bag for theirs at a baggage claim. It has a breathable shoulder harness, a waist belt and on the 70L and up models a harness that acts as a load-adjuster and grip if you’re just lugging it around. The face that it’s vinyl also means it’s not going to absorb your sweat all day while you schlep it around looking for the Hofbräuhaus. Should you need to check it on the plane, boat, etc. the harnesses come off and you’re left with a seamless, secure and water-tight bag.

John’s advice made a convert out of me so I picked one up for my upcoming trip to the Czech Republic (9 days). Packing my 35mm digital SLR, a few lenses, my clothes, shoes, books and toiletries, I know I’m going to have just enough space for my girlfriend’s things as well – and I bought the 35L. It’s also perfect carry-on size, so I won’t be waiting in any long lines once I hit the tarmac in Prague. I also won’t be rethinking the price. At $70 for a 35L, $80 for a 70L and $90 for a 115L bag, you’re still looking at one third to one quarter of what a full-fledged backpack can cost. My advice is to save the money on the pack, spend it on travel clothes (hence my two shirts for 9 days) and carry less overall.

As a caveat, it’s not a trekking bag and shouldn’t be used if you’re knocking out the Camino de Santiago or the Ho Chi Minh, but if you’re hostel hopping, island floating or just traveling around for only a few miles at a time, these bags are worth checking out.

Keep an eye out for my Prague recap in early September; I’ll let you know how the bag goes.

Retooling Your Drawers

With travel season in full-swing, people from all walks of life are gearing up for the summer’s adventures–be it to Kilimanjaro or Uncle Bob’s house in Michigan. Equipped with a ravenous desire for bigger bags and lighter, smaller gadgets many people are overlooking the most basic travel essential, the one your mother always made you take more of–the underwear. If you’re wondering “what’s so hard about packing a few pairs of tighty whities” well, things have come a long way, and I’ll expand it a bit further than just the unmentionables.

Imagine 2 shirts, 2 underwear for a 3-month trip.

Imagine 2 shirts, 2 underwear for a 3-month trip.

Leveraging my Guide position at Eastern Mountain Sports Soho I’ve learned not only a great deal about what’s out there in the travel apparel industry, but also seen how frequently people are more concerned with buying a bigger bag to hold all of their existing wardrobe than simply getting more practical clothing–and “practical” is just the tip of the iceberg (keep reading for pun).

In the mid-90’s two companies came into the scene that literally pulled the wool over the technical apparel industry. The first SmartWool may be known to many as a magnificent sock company, when in reality they have a full line of clothing, also magnificent, and fit for many activities and outings. The second, Icebreaker (hence the prior pun) is a New Zealand-based company, rising in fame stateside. Smart Wool leans towards a folky, more organic aesthetic while Icebreaker is well, sexy…make that, very sexy.

Smartwool/IceBreaker Undies

Smartwool/IceBreaker Undies

What they share in common is that they’ve both perfected Merino wool rendering and production to the point where now underwear, or even a teeshirt can be made to feel equal to or better than a cotton counterpart. It will also wick moisture away while in the vapor state, keeping you dry and preventing the age-old dilemma of “monkey butt” brought on by cotton.

Secondly, merino wool and wool in general is a temperature regulating material–and shouldn’t be seen as something to wear just in the cold. Considering its source, New Zealand wool, the sheep need their fleece both for the cold winter in the mountains and the hot summers in the sunny, valley pastures. Both companies make shirts in different weights, which do correspond to being lighter in the summer months but given its versatility, there’s no reason why your summer travel tee shirt can’t become your base layer for winter sports when the slopes open.

Continuing on its regulating attributes, wool insulates much better when wet as compared to cotton, which drops to approximately 20% of its insulation capability as compared to 70-80% with wool. You may not think this matters in the summer, but consider the fact that warmer areas often have higher instances of hypothermia than places known for frigidness–largely because of a lack of preparation in the visitors. Higher altitudes and coastal regions with evening winds also have volatile weather and rapid drops in temperature. Wool also dries faster if it does get wet; on my most recent hiking outing, laying my shirt on a sunny rock brought it back to just-cleaned feeling in 3-5 minutes.

Now the real beauty in wool garments is the fact that the pathogenic bacteria that make clothes stink cannot readily adhere to merino fibers, therefore you can wear the shirts time after time without washing them as often! That also means that you can take less clothes, thereby saving you weight and space–and ultimately money if you don’t have to splurge on a bigger bag for your trip! I myself have been wearing one of my merino tees at least ten times without a wash and have found no traces of odor in it. Icebreaker especially touts this and has reported a certain adventurer wearing the same shirt while sailing for 60 continuous days…but you can of course moderate your own behaviors…

But let’s not forget about style. Both companies offer fits for almost all body types–with Icebreaker being the more athletic of the two. They even make polos with and without pockets for the gents and cocktail dresses for the ladies, so your casual evening wear is covered. And did I mention how hard it is to wrinkle these things?

From the green standpoint, their sourced wool is a completely sustainable and humane industry. Icebreaker goes so far as offering a BAA code on every garment, allowing you to view the sheep that grew the fleece and to have a relative idea of its living conditions. Both companies openly disapprove of the barbaric practice of mulesing and have close relationships with their supplying farms.

Origins of my Icebreaker 150GT shirt

Origins of my Icebreaker 150GT shirt

So before you go out and spend an amount equal to your plane ticket on a massive travel duffel, consider the investment of wool underwear and clothes and see how much space, weight and money you could end up saving in the long-run.