What was the best travel gear of the year? Which were the most interesting travel clothing items, shoes, gadgets, and bags?
We review a useful piece of travel gear or outdoor clothing each weekday. Taking out a few holidays here and there, that's close to 250 items in the course of a year. We keep on using a lot of them after we've posted the review, seeing how well they hold up and how useful they are in our frequent jaunts around the country and the globe. Here's what stood out for us in 2012, in the writers' own words.
I love my Able Planet Clear Harmony noise-reducing headphones. They are affordable, lightweight, and come in a great, sturdy carrying case with an airplane adapter. When used to plug into audio channels or for watching videos on an airplane or with my laptop, the sound quality is impeccable proving they were worth taking up the valuable space in my carry-on.
Dressing up and dressing down is often a challenge too, but my Bostonian travel shoes from Clarks make that task easy. The loafers are easy to slip on and off at security and on the plane, and pounding the big-city pavement in these shoes is very comfortable.
My Briggs & Riley carry-on bag expands when I overstuff it, but still fits easily into overhead bins of most planes (I still dread those regional jets as much as you). This Baseline suitcase is great for business travelers because it supports folded suits well while also providing easy-to-access pockets on the outside.
When I do get time off, the Sierra Designs Frequency jacket has surprisingly proven a sharp favorite because I can scrunch it up into a tight corner of my bag, wrap it around my waist, or wear it anytime I am in cool weather without it being too bulky. Plus, the stylish accent colors on the black, zip-up jacket are attractive in almost any setting.
The Osprey Aura-50 literally saved my neck on a four-day backpacking trek last July, earning it a place on my list of top travel gear for 2012. What sets the Aura-50 apart from other backpacks is its customization: with plenty of ways to adjust the pack and harness, it will fit you correctly, reducing neck and back pain as you hike with heavy loads.
I reach for the Aventura 2-in-1 dress more often than any other item of travel clothing. It's a halter dress and a skirt, and can be dressed up or down. Put it over a swimsuit or take it out on the town.
I use my Haiki Hobo 2 bag every single day, and it shows literally no wear. Plus, it's made of recycled materials, so I can feel good as well as look good.
Our whole family now wears Polarmax technical base layers. What I love: they're high quality without the high price. These base layers are no-frills goodness.
It's getting harder each year to find something truly unique and groundbreaking, so this Camelback All Clear stood out for solving a huge plastic bottle garbage problem in a unique way. Using a similar technology to the SteriPen (a perennial favorite), this water bottle purifies any tap water you put inside it. I've used it in five countries where you can't drink the water normally, and everything was "all clear" in the health of me and my family.
The item I probably used the most this year was a simple one: the Eagle Creek packable daypack. The company gave these away at the Adventure Travel Summit last year and every well-traveled delegate I've met since is still using it and raving about it. It packs down tiny in any bag, but is strong enough to be a functional daypack for sightseeing.
I was thrilled to see more companies putting out lightweight, easy-to-pack travel shoes this year. I liked all of them and have used the Teva Mush Frio ones the most, but these Timberland Camp Shoes that zip in half win the innovation prize. The only ones all year that made my 12-year-old say "That's so cool!" Honorable mention to Wolverine for their adjustable disk to customize rugged hiking shoes for different feet and situations.
It's been hard to avoid hearing about P^Cubed Pants if you're someone who reads travel blogs or magazines, or checks out the SkyMall catalog even. The Pick Pocket Proof Pants scream "backpacker" in the original style (fine for real adventures), but the business pants are nice enough to wear to meetings, while still making sure you won't get pickpocketed walking from one place to the next in Rome.
The gadget I loved at first use has been with me on every long trip since: the Innergie 3-in-1 PocketCell Travel Charger pictured at the top of this post. I know I can get on a flight across an ocean and still have power when I arrive for my Android cell phone or fast-draining iPod Touch. And the same cord works for both.
Last, a shout-out to Microsoft for finally creating a mobile interface that doesn't make people want to throw their devices across the room. Their tile system on Windows phones and the new Windows 8/RT operating system for tablets is terrific, making the home screen interactive and informative at a glance. And hey, you can surf Flash sites and use Windows Office programs to get real work done, meaning you don't have to carry a tablet and a laptop on business.
A lot of my travel this year has focused on outdoor adventures, and it’s not always easy for me to find clothing that I’d be happy to use on nearly every trip. But once I do, I’m a loyal girl. The ExOfficio Nomad Skirt is not only comfortable and stylish, it dries super quick—which is optimal when you pack so light that you rely on evening hotel room sink laundry sessions. Also, for those of us who abhor having to use an iron on a regular basis, it’s wrinkle resistant.
Similarly, the Isis Rim Rock Short is something that gets tossed in my bag almost every time. The shorts are lightweight, durable, wrinkle resistant, and rugged yet cute enough to wear on city streets without getting weird looks.
The Eddie Bauer BC-200 Hard Shell Jacket is my go-to storm jacket for my travels. It protects me from the wind and rain, but it doesn’t take up much of my valuable suitcase space.
I test wheeled, carry-on suitcases out all the time, and while I like many of them, I’ve used the Gregory Cache 22 Suitcase for most of my trips this year. The wide handle allows me to pack my clothing flat, and the oversize wheels help me manage a variety of terrain without the bag spinning out.
The item that’s made the cut into my everyday life is the LifeProof iPhone Case. Not just for travel, it keeps my phone dry and protected from falls without adding bulk. It’s great when I’m on the water, in the snow, in dusty places, and even when I’m around kids or other folks who spill a lot.
How about you? What did you pick up in the past year that you couldn't bear to part with now?
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