As someone who travels frequently for projects, sometimes living out of backpacks for six months at a time (no, I don’t travel using suitcases and I’ll explain why in another post), I often have friends and family ask me what my favorite gear is. This can vary widely depending on the trip, but there’s always a few things that manage to make it into my bag regardless of where I’m going. So, I’m writing everything down in an effort to share the hard learned lessons I’ve gathered from countless mistakes so you can, hopefully, avoid the pain and reap the enjoyment that comes with the wisdom of a well packed kit.
Going forward, I’ll try to cover a range of topics, including how-to’s, hacks, tips and tricks, as well as the gear I love using. Ultimately, my goal is to make your travel experience better, and knowing what and how to pack can take away a lot of pain and anxiety. If you are just beginning to explore this BAMF world we live in, then my goal is to help keep that excitement churning until your next trip.
Now, you’re probably asking “Why don’t I just go read the gear reviews on a website that specializes in reviews?” The short answer is: you should. I love Wirecutter, Outside Magazine, TheVerge, and a bunch of other fantastic sites. But — there’s always a but, right? — I have four major issues with a lot of reviews that you see out there:
This is the number one issue that I have with a majority of reviews. We have become obsessed with the best possible thing, and gear reviews are the worst offenders. Why? Well, when you are forced to write 500 words on a screen protector for a tech blog, then you end up looking for any little difference that can set this screen protector apart from that screen protector. You dissect it from every angle, assigning values and scores to every facet, and eventually use this magical number to somehow justify an astronomical price. Why spend five times as much for something that is going to do the same job?
For me, gear is cost:quality ratio. The better the quality and lower the cost, the more excited I am about the gear. Like the giant corporation’s namesake, my mantra is GE: Good Enough. Sure, that tent is one pound lighter, but it is also $300 dollars more, so I’ll stick with my five pound tent and I’ll hope that the extra weight will help make my ass look that much better as I haul it up a mountain. There are a lot of hurdles that keep people from getting out there, traveling, and experiencing the world. Cost of gear shouldn’t be another barrier. Anything I recommend will always take price into consideration. I can guarantee this because a) I’ll be reviewing gear that I own and have used, and b) I hate spending a penny more than I have to.
If you want recommendations for the top-of-the-line gear that the wealthiest 1% would buy, then you should go check out one of the websites that focuses on the very best (don’t say I never warned you that you’re wasting money though).
INDUSTRY TUNNEL VISION
I wasn’t exactly sure how to explain this issue, but essentially it’s when a reviewer goes down a rabbit hole of details that, frankly, just don’t apply to the average person in order to justify the price of the product (or the paid advertising). I get it, you write for a tech/photography/film/travel/outdoors site and it’s cool to list off all 500 features in a backpack/camera/pillow/underwear, but what are we adding? Sure, there is probably some extreme kayaking, cliff diving, fire eating photographer out there, somewhere, who might be dying to know every feature in great detail, but I’m more interested in how this thing performs in real life situations and whether it is a good deal (can you tell I like good deals yet?). I get that you have to create content, and discussing the minute details between two products gives you more content; but if both products are overkill, what’s the point? Maybe the issue is that products are being engineered to extremely specific uses in order to cater to niche markets, but I think there should be a giant disclaimer at the front of the review that says “This will be an enormous waste of time for nearly everyone who reads this review. If you want to spend a fuck-ton amount of money on a very specific piece of gear that can be used for one thing only, then go ahead and continue reading.”
This goes hand-in-hand with the tunnel vision. In a race to provide content, websites review lots of products from companies who pay them money to review said products. I don’t have an issue with a company essentially buying ad space, per say. I take issue with this trend because, from my personal experience reading sponsored reviews, I never really get a sense of whether it is worth my money. A writer is sent a piece of gear, sometimes a really nice piece of gear, and they take it out for a couple weekends and write about how nice it was to use it. Of course it was nice to use, it was a top of the line piece of gear that is the equivalent of half a paycheck in price! The problem is that the reviewers have no skin in the game. They didn’t spend the money on it, so they frequently ignore the the value of the item. Is it worth the cost? Sure, they will frequently pay lip service to value, saying something like “Cost: It’s not the cheapest tent/camera lens/hiking socks/jacket out there, but it’s $50 less than this other expensive brand, and did I mention it’s really good.” Now, if they had to spend their own money on that gear, it might read, “This is a really nice (whatever), but save your money, because the incremental niceness you get by spending $200 more just isn’t worth it. Buy something cheap because this isn’t going to make your life that much better, and use the savings to buy other stuff…or even a plane ticket so you can go someplace cool and experience life.” But you really can’t say that about a product you’re paid to review.
Many reviewers that review gear aren’t living with it. They tend to do an intense trial run with whatever product was sent to them, and then try to extrapolate its quality based on that short experience and project how it will continue to perform into the future. This is helpful to a degree, but knowing how the gear performs day in and day out in real life situations when someone’s livelihood depends on the success of the gear makes a big difference. I can’t say that everything I post about will have years of use, but I can promise that everything I write about will be things that I’ve used and know work in the field when it really counts. Honestly, I hate spending money when I don’t need to. This includes replacing items that crapped out before they should have because of shoddy build quality.
In conclusion, if you want tips on traveling, what gear to buy that won’t break the bank, and how to make it all work, then feel free to follow along. Honestly, it’s just a little easier to send people a link than explain things over and over like an Amazon comments version of Groundhog Day.
Happy travels, and feel free to leave a comment with any desired topics to cover!
There are two philosophies when it come to packing down jackets: stuff it loosely to retain loft or pack it tight and don't worry about it. If you are like me, and view packing as an elaborate game of Tetris where everything has it's rightful spot to maximize every centimeter of space to avoid checked bag fees, then you'll probably want to go with the latter. If you are hiking in the back country and using the jacket frequently, then it's not really worth packing it down; just loosely stuff it along the sides or to fill space to keep other items from shifting. This will keep the down well lofted and ready for wear...or pack it as tight as you want and give it a few good shakes when you pull it out to fluff it up. Any decent jacket should be able to handle the compression easily.
Below is a step by step guide on how I pack my jacket. I frequently travel with only carry-on baggage for most of my trips, so I put a premium on space.
1. Lay the jacket out flat.
2. Place a bend in the shoulders of the jacket and fold the arms along the outside edge of the jacket.
3. Fold both arms over on themselves until they meet in the middle. You have reduced the width of the jacket by half now.
4. Fold the hood down in the gap created between the shoulders.
5. Fold the entire package in half, using the zipper as a center line.
6. Roll the jacket from top to bottom, starting with the hood. Make sure to compress air out of the jacket as you roll.
7. Place the final rolled jacket in the stuff sack or secure with a rubber-band, velcro strap, or whatever tie you want to keep it from expanding in your luggage or pack.