Tuesday, December 21, 2010

My Favorite Travel Gear (part 2)

Picking up where I left off last post, let me share a few recommendations for great travel clothing. One of the most important principles in packing for travel is to get as much versatility in as little space and as little weight as possible. For this reason, I have become a huge fan of all things synthetic. Clothing made from polyester, nylon or any synthetic blend of fibers will weigh less and often be less bulky than cotton pieces. Synthetic clothing also offers protection from cold without being as thick and stuffy as wool; it allows your skin to breath while keeping you comfortable. Finally, synthetic apparel dries much quicker than cotton or wool items, making it possible to do laundry in the sink or shower, thereby needing to pack less clothing. Trust me, synthetic is super!

Now, here are a few items that I find especially useful in my international travels. If you have some last-minute Christmas shopping to do, let me offer these suggestions.

1. Convertible Pants. I can't say enough how much I love these. Never again will you struggle with figuring out your pants-to-shorts ratio. These pants allow you the ultimate versatility. I have worn the same pair of pants in 40F mist in Scotland and 90F sunshine in southern Italy, and they kept me comfortable in both places. They are especially helpful in places where shorts are not considered appropriate, like when visiting religious sites or conservative regions. Personally, I often have to wear the leg coverings while in villages, but then I'm able to zip them off whenever I get into the cab or bus (frequenty NOT air conditioned).  Sometimes little tricks like this make a big difference in surviving and thriving in the travel experience. Fortunately, you don't have to spend too much to get a good pair of convertibles. Academy will often have them for as little as $20, but if you want to invest a little more, check out these from Ex Officio. They are insect repellant through 70 washings!

2. Light shirts. Even when I'm traveling in a little cooler area, I like to have a few light mesh shirts for layering. I'll use these as a base layer under a good fleece or light jacket. For instance, Adidas makes a nice, light mesh tee that is comfortable and affordable. For something a little more versatile, I like this shirt from Ex Officio. It carries the convertible idea over to a long sleeve shirt that has sleeve-shortening buttons and air vents. If you want a less expensive approach to the same idea, check out the Magellan brand at Academy. 

3. Fleece. If you will be in a cooler area, I definitely recommend you check out some fleeces. Now, this is one place I recommend you don't pinch pennies. There is a noticable difference in quality between some of the lesser brands. If you will be frequently travelling to cool climates, it will be to your advantage to check out these options from Mountain Hardwear. First, check out this pullover fleece. It's light enough to pack for those occasionally cool nights in the Meditteranean, but it will keep you comfortable on moderate fall days. I also love this fleece as an under-layer for icy mornings in the duck blind.  For something a little heavier, I really recommend this light jacket. It's just a bit heavier than the fleece, and can be worn over light mesh shirts or combined with a heavier outside coat for ultimate warmth. I wore this when hiking through a brisk rain in the Scottish Highlands, and it kept me warm despite the weather.

4. Footwear. Here's one place where we could look at a whole lot of options, depending on the trip. Of course, the idea is to pack as lightly as possible, so how do we accomplish that? Well, my starting point on any trip is a sturdy pair of sandals like these from Teva. These are comfortable enough for the beach, tough enough for hiking ancient sites, and small enough to fit in the bottom of a backpack. I don't go anywhere without these sandals. Something like this is especially helpful in cultures where you take off your shoes at the door. If you know you'll be doing quite a lot of hiking, I would point you to anything made by Merrell. While not the cheapest option, these shoes and boots are renowned for comfort and quality.  For our trip to Europe, we knew we'd be hiking some decent "day trails", including one 9 miler. I also wanted to buy a boot that I could "grow into" as I take on more hiking and backpacking trips. For this reason, I decided to spring for the Chameleon3 Mid tops. I couldn't be more pleased! I wore these for about 15-18 miles of hiking trails in 3 days, then I followed by wearing them all around Rome and Pompeii for several more miles. My feet, though tired, did not blister at all, and the boots proved to be quite versatile. In short, I'll be buying another pair IF these ever wear out (they have shown little wear in 9 months). While your trip will determine your footwear needs, these two options would be useful in most settings.

So, that's the basics for clothing. Let me know if you have any other recommendations for travel apparel.

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