travel hats

Posts Tagged cheap and light

Pakems Packable Boots

In my quest for the perfect apres ski boot and all-round, packable outdoor travel shoe, I gave Pakems a trial run. This brand new product designed by a single mom is marketed as a lightweight, compressible shoe designed for use after a ski day. Pakems come in two styles (for both men and women): a high top for winter use and a low top for summer. Both are made from water-resistant ripstop fabric with an insulated, DWR-coated upper, and EVA midsole, and a rubber outsole. Both tighten with a very simple single-pull lace system.


The shoes are undeniably simple, but that’s the point. They’re meant to get you from Point A to Point B in comfort, after changing out of your technical footwear (ski boots in winter, hiking boots in summer). The sole is quite flat, and you don’t get a terribly secure fit, which for me means I won’t be walking in them too far. However, they’re comfortable, and after a day of exercise, they’re certainly a relief to slip on.

How small do they pack down? My size 8 Pakems measure about 10 inches long by 2.5 inches wide by 2 inches thick. They weigh about 13 ounces (a size 10 weighs 15). They come with a small compression bag, but I ditched that pretty quickly in favor of simply squishing my Pakems down into my backpack or bag. If you do use the compression bag, it comes with a strap designed to attach to a backpack or even your waist…I found this overkill, but the strap does also work as a ski boot carrying device when you’re wearing your Pakems, which I’ll admit is pretty nifty.

In most cases, I have room in my ski boot bag for a standard pair of snow boots to change into, but for the days I don’t want to (or cannot) secure a ski locker and opt to carry a small backpack all day, the Pakems fit nicely. They’re also nice to keep in the car to slip your feet into for the drive home (from winter sport days or summer hikes). I’d also bring mine along for river rafting days in the early summer or late fall, when my feet get cold after being wet.

Pakems boots

My Pakems are comfortable, but not very breathable…again, these are not designed for long-term wear or long distances. They’ll easily get you from the ski lodge to the parking lot or village, and look decent on your feet while grabbing that apres ski drink, but aren’t meant to go the distance. The low top version is ideal for backpackers who like to bring an extra pair of comfortable shoes for evenings around the campfire; I now favor them over my sandals for this purpose, as they keep my feet dry and clean in addition to giving them a much-needed hug after a day of hiking. Think of them as slippers for the backcountry.

The only difference between the high top version and the low top version: the high top covers to just above the ankle, whereas the low top is cut below. You’ll want the high top for winter wear. At the time of my review, Pakems came in only black, but they have now come out with a variety of fun patterns and colors. Pick up a pair at the Pakems website for $70 (high top) or $60 (low top) or Amazon for as low as $47 for the high top. They’re also available at

, , , , , , , , ,

No Comments

Free Country Plaid Softshell Jacket

If you’re looking to snag a mid-winter ski jacket deal, I’d look no further than Free Country. Always a solid pick on a budget, Free Country’s softshell jackets, including the women’s Plaid Softshell, are nearly half off this month. But let’s take a step back: why a softshell in the first place? If your ski or winter travel ensemble already includes an outer waterproof shell option, a fleece or two for layering, and perhaps a down jacket, a softshell jacket is a great addition for those late winter/early spring ski days.

free-country-plaid-softshellFree Country’s Plaid Softshell is water and wind resistant as well as lined, making it a one-piece option for days that fall in the mid-range on the chill scale. You get all the features you’d expect in a high-end jacket, including oversized hood, chin protector, and adjustable cuffs to fit over gloves, without the high-end price. Will your Free Country softshell be the absolute cutting edge of ski jackets? No, but it doesn’t need to be. Instead, I bet it’ll be your ‘reach for it most often’ jacket that simply gets the job done, as it does for me.

It’ll look good doing it, too. The women’s softshell comes in a variety of colors in the solid Saunter softshell version, and in two women’s plaid patterns in the Plaid softshell version. There’s also a floral option. All versions include a flattering women’s tailored cut (though I do wish more movement was allowed in the shoulders and arms), and all include two side zippered pockets. The plaid comes in either black or white, and the pattern is subtle.

Pick up a softshell for $55 (marked down from $100) from Free Country, or pick up a solid color at Amazon for only $40. Grabbing a softshell this winter will definitely carry over through the spring season and into next year.

, , , , , , , ,

No Comments

Eagle Creek 2-in-1 Backpack Duffel

I love packable travel backpacks. The new Eagle Creek 2-in-1 duffel may be the best I’ve seen to-date. It meets my non-negotiable criteria for an overnight carry-on: it’s lightweight, packable (stuffs into its own pocket), and offers many of the bells and whistles of a full-scale (non-stuffable) backpack.

eagle-creek-2-in-1-duffelI’m usually less of a fan of convertible bags. Maybe it’s just me, but on a given trip, I either need a duffle or a backpack, but rarely both. However, with the Eagle Creek 2-in-1, you don’t lose as much valuable space when switching between styles as you do with many convertibles, making this a non-issue for me.

The 2-in-1 is made of ripstop nylon and carry-on sized at 11 x 22.5 x 7.5. It has a 33 L capacity (28 as a backpack).

What I love about the 2-in-1: when used in backpack mode, the pack can be accessed by top-load panel or side panel zippers, and offers two roomy water bottle pockets, a deep top zippered pocket, and a deep interior zippered pocket.  The zippers are lockable, and you also get side and bottom compression straps with external lash points for stowing more gear.  The bag is reflective and very lightweight. Converting the pack to a duffel is pleasantly simple (see photos below) and when you do convert, the duffel version gives you 15% more space (though a little bit is lost to shoulder strap storage).

What I don’t love so much: I really wish the shoulder straps slightly more significant (I’m willing to add some weight for this feature) and more adjustable. They do adjust at a basic level, but I was unable to fit the straps to my nine-year-old. I know, the 2-in-1 has never been touted as a child’s pack, but because of the size and weight, it’s the ideal carry-on bag for a kid. We love using the top zippered pocket for my son’s iPod, ear buds, and Kindle (all the possessions he could possibly want on a trip) and the main compartment for the rest of his gear.

How it converts: Converting from a backpack to a duffel is easy, as illustrated below. Eagle Creek is nice enough to color-code the straps and clips for us (all are gray), making it even simpler. Step 1: unhook the shoulder straps from the bottom of the pack. Step 2: stuff them into the zippered back panel. Step 3: Unzip the bottom circular compartment. Step 4: Pull out the duffel straps. Step 5: Attach the duffel straps to the coordinating clips.


Pick up a 2-in-1 duffel from Eagle Creek for $80, or find it at Amazon, Sunny Sports, or Moosejaw for the same price. Colors include black, flame orange, or mantis green. While you’re shopping, take a look at additional Eagle Creek gear we’ve reviewed.

, , , , , , , , ,

No Comments

Field Notes Notebooks for Your Road Scribblings

Field Notes

Maybe you’re a budding Jack Keroac or a Hunter Thompson; a travel writer or songwriter; a botanist or a biologist; a documentary film maker or an entrepreneur. Chances are many of you reading this gear blog have a reason to write things down when you’re in the great outdoors. And do you really want another reason to peck at your smartphone screen?

These Field Notes notebooks are not as fancy as some other certain brand some people get fanatical about, but I find them a lot more useful. They’re a good size to fit in a pocket and since they’re thin, you can even stick one in your back pocket and sit on it. They open completely flat, so I can walk and write at the same time—a big deal for a travel writer who makes a living at it. Since these come out to less than $4 each in a three-pack, I don’t have to worry about dribbling coffee on them and I can scribble where my notes are from on the front without feeling like I’m defacing some piece of high design.

Field Notes colorThese are the kind of notebooks meant for utility, in other words. You can picture a reporter whipping one out during a quick interview or a director jotting notes as he surveys the possible shooting location. They come with lined paper, graph paper, or blank pages great for doodles.

If you want to go beyond the brown covers and plain paper pages though, you can get color editions that change from year to year. Or if you’re a true adventurer, go for the Expedition series. These are tough notebooks that have waterproof “paper” inside that you can write on in the rain if you are sloshing through the Amazon. They’re flame-resistant too if you get too close to the campfire.

Field Notes are made in the USA, including the Expedition notebooks derived from polypropylene pellets. And none of them ever need to be recharged.

You can order them direct from the Field Notes website or online at Amazon.

Keep up on the latest Practical Travel Gear: follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or by RSS/e-mail.

, , , , ,

1 Comment

Tough Watertight Capsul Case Wallet

Capsul walletThe weather doesn’t always cooperate when we’re traveling or in the middle of outdoor activities and a regular wallet can end up getting wet. This Capsul Case will keep your things dry in a drizzle and it’s tough enough to last for years.

Many years ago I got a similar plastic case called Jimi that Ramsey reviewed on this blog. I’ve used it off an on for years now, from beach trips to kayaking to biking. It works well as a wallet for the essentials.

plastic walletI like this Capsul Case even better though because it’s smooth and rounded, a little more stylish, and comes with a three-year warranty. It’s made in Canada so it’s not being shipped 10,000 miles either.

It’s a little bigger than a credit card, with enough space for a few of those and a wad of cash. It also works well as a business card holder, with about 30 of those fitting in comfortably in my tests. You could also use it as an earbud holder and if you have an iPod Shuffle or Nano, that and the earbuds will fit together. It’s roomy enough to hold USB sticks or a pile of memory cards too.

Each Capsul is made with one piece of virgin polypropylene plastic that’s been tested to withstand daily unsnapping and snapping for five years. Afterwards you can recycle it and the cardboard sleeve packaging is minimal. It’s not waterproof, so don’t go swimming with it, but it is watertight enough that your stuff will stay dry during rain or sea mist.

For travelers who want to keep small things organized in their bag or carry a wallet that’s built for more than padding around between the office and the car, this is a good durable solution that’s cheap and light.

The cases come in six colors and sell direct from Capsul for $12 each or 3 for $24. Here’s their retail locator and you can find them at Amazon for a tad less.

Keep up on the latest Practical Travel Gear: follow us on Facebook, Twitter, or by RSS/e-mail.

, , , ,

No Comments