We review a new item each weekday here on Practical Travel Gear, which means 200+ items a year we collectively try out in foreign lands, in airports, in the car, or in the great outdoors. Most of the stuff we think we’ll hate we don’t bother to even accept. Some items make us scratch our head or make us think the concept could be better executed. What’s really great is when our jaded selves put something through its paces and then go, “Wow—that’s really cool!” or “How did I ever get by without this?”
Kara Williams, who sadly is saying goodbye after more than 2.5 years, already provided a rundown on her favorite gear from the past two years. The items that stood out for her in 2011 were the REI Sunblock that was silky-smooth and only $6.50, the simple $12 Energizer Dual USB charger for the car, and at the other end of the budget scale the GoPro HD Hero waterproof helmet camera.
Pam Mandel stopped by for eight months before getting too bogged down with other gigs. Here’s what she loved from the items she traveled with in 2011.
She says this Digital Photography Rucksack from Kata “goes everywhere” with her. It holds a laptop, SLR, extra lenses, and more.
Pam also likes the super-bright flashlights and headlamps from Icon.
Speaking of light, Kelty’s Lumapivot Lantern wins the prize for the most interesting looking item we reviewed in 2011. See a photo of it at the top of this post. Pam says, “This cute, versatile little light could have been designed in an almost answer to my camp light wish list.” The “almost” part of that quote is for the inexplicable design decision to make the thing run on six AA batteries. Really, you couldn’t make that rechargeable like 2/3 of the other gadgets we reviewed?
We all try out a lot of footwear for this blog. The shoes that Pam kept coming back to were the Keen Voyageur hiking boots. She’d waterproof them if she were you, but otherwise great for hitting the trail.
Ramsey Qubein reviews most of the business travel gear and gadgets we feature on Practical Travel Gear. Here’s what impressed him this past year.
Ramsey likes this Solid Line iPad case because it solves the biggest problem with trying to replace your laptop with an iPad when traveling: with this case you can actually type at a semi-normal speed. It also protects the pad and serves as a stand for movie watching, so he says it “has lightened my carry-on bag by several pounds.”
Since he’s carrying that iPad on long flights across oceans, one of his other favorites has been the PressReader app, which allows you to download actual newspapers (not web versions) from all over the world, to be read without an internet connection.
When it is time to take the laptop, he says he keeps going back to the Jack Spade computer case from Bonobos. “It is neither the largest nor the most practical for lots of exterior pockets. However, it has a beautiful cotton fabric exterior and has yielded more compliments in the two months I have had it than any other bag.”
I’m Tim Leffel and I edit this thing, as well as reviewing two items a week for much of the year. That’s a whole heap of travel gear, so there are more than a few items that keep making my packing list.
I’ve worn (and in some cases given away after) a crazy number of different travel shoes this year. Three pairs are still in heavy rotation in both my home life and my travels: the Cushe Surf-slipper Loafers, the Ecco Tahoe shoes, and the casual comfy Sanuk Donny Primo loafers. Hey, I lived in (and traveled around a lot in) Mexico and Florida this year, so I guess I was in a kick-back beach mood.
I got a sneak peek at a prototype of the SteriPEN Freedom USB-rechargeable purifier almost a year ago and knew then and there it would make my list. If you’re traveling to countries where the water is questionable to drink, you need to buy one of these. End of discussion.
Probably one of the most expensive things I’ve reviewed since this site launched was also one that got used a lot—and will keep getting used a lot. The inflatable (but very high quality) kayak from Advanced Elements. It’s the size of a suitcase when packed, so you can take it anywhere you can drive—even if you have a BMW Mini.
It’s pretty hard to get excited about a water bottle, but I tried out two exciting ones this year. The Dominate water bottle resulting from a partnership between Under Armour and Thermos really does dominate, keeping liquids cold for an unbelievably long time, even in 100-degree weather. I also used the Camelbak filter one a lot for traveling around the U.S.
Since this is Practical Travel Gear, I have to give a shout-out to the best values I encountered: the unbelievably good for the price Roaring River jacket I reviewed from Hi-Tec and the whole range of Ryder Eyewear sunglasses that routinely come in at a fraction of the list price of their rivals.
We’ll continue to bring you reviews of great gear at fair prices in the coming year. Get our RSS feed so you’ll have them all on tap. Happy new year!