A Guide To Travel Gear
‘All the gear and no idea.’
We’ve all heard the expression, and many of us have seen victims of it firsthand – shiny new equipment and not a clue how to use it.
But there is worse – none of the gear and no idea! Not a pretty sight.
Having the right gear for the right job and knowing how to use it is so important. And we’re not just talking about reinforced and weatherproof rucksacks for months-long expeditions either. Getting yourself properly ready for a two-week holiday in the sun is just as important.
Ultimately, it pays to be prepared. While this is true for your holiday generally (check out our Ultimate Guide to Travelling), one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of travel is luggage and packing. So let’s take a closer look at the best ways to pack right for that flight…
- Travel clothing.
- Gear for flying.
- Travel gadgets.
- Assorted extras.
Looking after your clothes, equipment and assorted extras is important – damage can be devastating, so it’s essential you buy the gear that best suits your needs and keeps your stowed items safe. The range is vast, from simple duffels that keep the dust off to reinforced bags that could withstand a blow from a sledgehammer. The type of luggage you decide to use will naturally depend on both the destination you’re visiting and, ultimately, the type of person you are. Be realistic about how much stuff you tend to take with you. Let’s look at the options.
If you struggle to leave much at home, then look to buy a large and sturdy wheelie, such as the Briggs & Riley Sympatico, which will allow you stash a sizeable amount of clothes and assorted extras into one main space. The ability to pack plenty and have important bits (such as cameras) protected by a sturdy exterior makes this style of luggage ideal for two-week holidaymakers who require the lion’s share of their wardrobe to travel with them.
All that stuff means weight though, so don’t forget to pay for extra luggage allowance if you need it.
For the more discerning packer, there’s no need to go so big. Ultimately, the less stuff we take with us when we go abroad, the better. We live in an age of speedy travel, not camel caravans, so there’s often no need to load up. Many people now forgo the hassle and expense of hold luggage and opt for cabin only – a fantastic idea if you have the packing discipline. Things like protection, wheels and handles are still important though, so make sure you use something like the Samsonite Silhouette Sphere 2. While most airlines have similar cabin luggage allowances, do check size and weight restrictions before you fly.
While rucksacks don’t offer the same sturdy exterior that most suitcases offer, they still provide excellent all-round protection. Naturally, those using this form of luggage tend to be headed on more rugged, adventurous types of holidays where their bag essentially becomes their home – travelling tortoises, if you will. Protection is still king, but rather than wheels and handles, things such as padding, accessibility and range of pockets fill out the decision making process. Something like the Vango Sherpa offers 65 liters of space, supreme comfort and decent external pockets for accessing day-to-day items such as your phone, wallet or sunscreen.
Unlike small suitcases, these aren’t suited to disciplined packers, rather long-weekenders. Weekends away can quite often be filled with intense amounts of discovery – walking ancient city centers, hiking trails etc – so it’s important you’re mobile. Small rucksacks have all the accessible and comfortable features of their larger cousins, just on a more manageable scale. With enough room for few changes of clothes and the important bits (such as smart phone, kindle etc), it’s perfect for weekending ninjas! Something like the Berghaus Arrow is ideal.
Men’s travel bag.
Of course, sometimes it’s not always about effectiveness and efficiency. For many travelers out there it’s about style. For those on business trips or fancy weekends away, it’s important to look the part, and in these instances suitcases and rucksacks just won’t do. There are some stunning travel bags out there, with the purchasing decision largely based on personal style alone. Bags such as the S-Zone Duffel Bag offer simple elegance, but do always make sure it fits your needs – size and comfort are still important.
While most of us now travel with default cameras on our smart phones – and, let’s be honest, they’re pretty good – many travelers still like to pack their compact or DSLR cameras. There are two options here: a well designed camera bag with enough room around the camera to be used as a general cabin bag too, such as the Lowepro Flipside, or you leave your camera in the sling-strap case you likely bought it in and carry it alongside your cabin bag – no airline staffer will pull you aside for carrying a ‘second bag’.
Once you’ve purchased your luggage, it’s time to pack. Again check out our Ultimate Guide to Travelling for further help on how and what to pack. While we won’t look into the specifics of what to take with you here, let’s assess how best to stow it. Making space for all your essentials can be tough, as can finding particular items once you’ve landed at your destination. Here are a few things that can help…
An incredibly simple idea that can prevent an awful lot of stress. Packing cubes help travelers organize and compartmentalize their bag, reducing those ‘I’m sure I packed those pink socks’ moments as you rifle through a mound of clothes. Packing cubes, such as Bagos, come in various sizes and allow you to pack in sections: socks and pants, t-shirts, shorts and vests, etc. So simple and so effective.
Another form of modular packing, compression sacks work on the same principal as packing cubes but with the added bonus of being able to compress the contents, thus saving on space – perfect for those struggling for room in their suitcase. The range is extensive and varied, from the pretty standard Uarter sack to Granite Gears 13-liter Ultralight Waterproof Compression Bag.
With airlines becoming increasingly officious with regards to luggage weight, why not save yourself the check-in nerves and weigh your gear ahead of departure? Handheld luggage scales are easy to use and could ultimately save you money – being just a few kilos over at check-in can cost you. So if you always take it to the limit, why not make sure? On the budget end of the spectrum are the battery-free designs, though the more-accurate digital options don’t cost much more and are easier and more comfortable to use.
Travel gear extends beyond your luggage. The clothes you fill your bag with are just as important as that which protects them – ultimately, being appropriately dressed for a trip can make or break your time away. Naturally, choices are largely based on climate – there’s no point taking a jacket on a beach holiday – but it’s worth having a serious think about your threads before you set off…
If you’re hitting the beach, swimming trunks, a hat and a selection of t-shirts should do the trick alongside your flip-flops. Anything more arduous and it’s worth considering things such as breathability, weight and comfort in the heat, and insulation, weight and comfort in the cold. There is a big selection of travel clothing for men worth considering some examples worth considering for warm and hot climates are cargo pants, shorts and wide-brimmed hats. For really cold environments, it’s worth considering investing in a fleece and jacket.
Just like their male counterparts, women need to consider environmental factors and kit themselves out accordingly. While there’s plenty of overlap with gear such as trousers, shorts and jackets (though different cuts, naturally), there are a few additional options such as travel dresses and skirts.
Check out our top 5 dresses for travel!
Yep, we’ve dedicated a whole section to underwear. Why? Because it’s arguably the most important thing in your clothing arsenal. Particularly on adventures like trekking holidays and expeditions, a decent set of underpants can make a huge difference. And they’re getting pretty technical too. These by diving manufacturer Fourth Element (available in men’s too) are ideal for anyone traveling in a sweaty environment.
Shoes and socks.
We’ve done it again… but shoes and socks are just as important as underpants! Again, this is more relevant to the adventurous types heading off on weeks-long hikes through jungles rather than beach goers… Ask most intrepid travelers what their most prized thing is when on long walks, and they’ll likely agree: dry feet. From both a comfort and health perspective, keeping your feet dry is critical, so the right kind of socks (as well as spare pairs) and the right type of shoe/boot are of paramount importance. The type of shoe/boot you’ll need will depend on how long your trip is – days, weeks, months, etc –and the terrain you’ll be tackling. Check out these socks by Darn Tough.
Travel hygiene goes a little further than packing a toothbrush, especially if you’re away for a lengthy period of time. Staying clean (or as clean as possible!) and looking after yourself can make a trip that much more enjoyable, so here are a couple of things to consider.
If you’re heading off on a remote trip think carefully about what you might not have access to. Even if you’re not venturing off the beaten track, consider if the hotel you’ve booked looks like the sort of place that will provide things like shampoo and soap – many don’t. If you’re not sure, pack it – better safe than grubby! And with plenty of purpose-designed travel toiletries available now, you needn’t waste space packing normal sized bottles. Girls should think about access to tampons too.
If you’re not hotel-based and therefore won’t have access to an endless supply of freshly-laundered towels, it’s worth investing in a quick-dry microfiber towel, which air dry fast, generally have useful loops for hanging and also pack down much smaller than their beach equivalents. And, best of all, they smell less.
First Aid and sewing kits.
Don’t be caught out when you most need it. Always travel with a small Travel First Aid Pouch for patching yourself up when you don’t have access to medical help. A travel sewing kit is also useful in patching up clothes that are keeping you clean and dry and, if you’re in a really tight spot, yourself.
It’s worth investing in a small dry bag to keep a few essential worst-case-scenario things clean and dry. You’ll be glad of it after that river-crossing-gone-wrong. As well as the two kits mentioned above, a clean pair of socks, underwear, t-shirt, long-johns and a towel should do the trick.
Gear for flying.
So you’ve got your main luggage packed and ready. But what about the journey? Despite the wonder of modern air travel, it can still take a long time to reach certain destinations, especially if flying is only a portion of the journey. Visiting remote Indonesia from the US, for example, will include a lengthy flight and, depending on where you’re headed, a drive and quite possibly a boat ride too. So make sure your hand luggage has the following:
If you’re travel time is lengthy enough to include a night cycle, a neck pillow is a must. Even on longer flights where you don’t envisage sleeping, take one for comfort. The J-Pillow Travel Pillow is one of the best on the market and not only supports your neck but it also supports your chin and head.
Yes, airlines supply their own, but they’re often not that thick and rather short too. Most long-haul flights get pretty cold so it’s worth taking your own travel blanket if you have the space – that extra layer can make all the difference. These, along with your neck pillow, are also hugely welcome on those rare occasions when flights are severely delayed.
Noise-cancelling headphones and/or earplugs.
Some kids don’t like flying and they let us know about it. Fair enough. Rather than let it disturb your sleep, invest in some decent earplugs to block the noise out. Noise-cancelling headphones are also a much better option than the in-flight buds supplied for movies and, again, are pretty good at blocking out unwanted disturbances while you enjoy your in-flight entertainment.
We live in a world of gadgets, and the vast majority of us don’t want to leave them behind when we venture abroad. And there’s no need too – most of them are transportable and many of them have the capacity to add to any trip’s enjoyment. From sharing photos with loved ones back home to reading your favorite novel, technology has you covered.
Most people would struggle without their phone these days. Social media is a big part of travel now, with holidaymakers sharing photos via platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. They also double-up as most people’s source of music, and paired-up with those noice-cancelling earphones will help make any long journey fly by. We recommend you get a budget smart phone that is unlocked, so you can use any sim card.
Tablet and/or e-reader.
Whether it’s for reading downloaded copies of National Geographic or playing Angry Birds, tablets can help pass the time during those inevitable ‘hanging around’ moments that all trips contain. If you’re in the market for a tablet before your next trip, check out this article by Techradar. If you just want easy access to some decent books and an epic battery life, then nothing beats the Kindle.
Some can’t wait to leave it behind, others need to stay connected. For most, this decision depends largely on work. Photographers, for example, will need to process photos. If you just need access to emails, leave the laptop at home and sync your mailbox to your phone. Ultimately, if you don’t need it, leave it! If you’re off on a longer adventure and are looking for a new, travel-friendly laptop, check out this travel laptop voted the best in 2016.
If access to electricity is going to be an issue (that’s you, jungle folks!), then take some with you. Portable battery packs are becoming increasingly popular and are ideal for those heading off the beaten track. Even if you’re only away from civilization for a day or two, it’s worth considering getting hold of one – beyond being a useful tool that can help keep you connected for longer, it could end up saving your life if you find yourself in a tight spot with a 1% battery warning. The pack you’ll need will depend on what you’re charging, but the RavPower portable battery charger is a very good option if you can’t decide what to get.
So that’s the most important bits covered. You’ve packed your perfect bag perfectly, comfortably fitting comfortable clothes into the available space with the help of compression sacks. Your electronics have bee stowed away sensibly along with your toiletries and emergency gear, and your in-flight necessities are accessible and ready for use. But what about the extras? Those pieces of non-essential gear than can have a big impact.
Here are a few ideas…
Foldable water bottle.
It’s worth taking a water bottle with you on trips. The impact is mainly environmental, as you’ll buy fewer plastic bottles, but it’s also usability. Compared to their steel counterparts, this collapsing bottle are space-savers when not in use. These are ideal if your trip is likely to include some light trekking.
Have a look at our post on the best travel water bottle for more information.
One of those simple ideas that works fantastically well. If your headed somewhere that won’t have a guaranteed source of clean water, pack a SteriPEN. Naturally, you’ll be using your collapsible water bottle rather than buying bottled stuff from shops, so make sure you’re drinking clean by cleaning it yourself!
What’s travel without music? There are plenty of portable stereo options out there, but few beat the UE Boom for usability, aesthetics and sound. With epic battery life and a waterproof design, it can handle life away from the comfort of the indoors and power sockets.
A genius and simple idea – a comfortable headband with speakers inside that allows you to listen to music as you drift off to sleep. Great for in-flight use if you’re not a fan of the earbuds listed earlier, or in your hotel room/tent/treehouse once you’ve landed at your destination and are grappling with jetlag.
Are you fed up of packing the wrong adaptor and finding out the hard way? Worldwide travel adaptors are a one-stop shop to giving you the socket you need wherever you are, and this one even has a couple of USB slots for good measure.
So, we’ve set you on your way to a well-organized trip with plenty of ideas on how best to pack and travel. But the choices you make – the type of bag, shoes and neck pillow, for example – are entirely up to you. We’ve pointed you in the right direction, but the decisions are yours. Exciting, huh? A little daunting too? Sure. Here are a few supporting articles that might be useful in fine-tuning the decision-making process you’re about to embark upon… Happy traveling!