Posts Tagged packing aids
If there’s one thing I can say I’ve packed on every trip the past decade and a half, it’s a hanging toiletry kit. In the past it’s usually been one from Eagle Creek or Sea to Summit—the size determined by whether I’m checking a bag or carrying on. But on this last trip I took to Ecuador and one I’m on right now in the Riviera Maya, I tried out this new Lavatio Modular Toiletries Kit from Innate.
Innate is best known for its water bottles and vacuum mugs, but over the years they’ve branched out into other travel products. This kit is well-designed and functional, with thoughtful touches that make it work well in hotels where you don’t have a lot of counter space.
It has a good mix of pouches that enable you to separate your items with other similar things. The gooey and liquid cosmetics have a waterproof pouch in case something explodes or leaks on a pressurized flight. There’s a mesh pocket for things that may need to keep drying in transit—like a toothbrush. And a couple flatter pockets for other items. There are four in all.
Once it is packed, the Innate kit rolls up and instead of being zipped like the others I’ve used, it has an elastic cord with a hook on the end that secures it tightly. So the shape is more like a rolled-up t-shirt than a flat toiletry kit—unless you don’t carry very much. Then it looks like this:
At your destination, you unhook it and hang it up with that same hook. You then have everything at your disposal, even at a cheap hotel with no counter space. Or you can remove the waterproof one if you have some room. When it’s time to go, it just takes a minute to pack up and you’re on your way.
And hey, it comes in recyclable packaging, which is a nice break from the perilous throw-away plastic I encounter way too often in my shipments. The kit itself has some eco-cred as well: recycled PU in the clear waterproof part and recycled fabrics in the other.
At $46 list this Innate Lavatio Modular Toiletries Kit is not the cheapest option around. But it is very well-made and feels like it will hold up for another hundred trips. You can find it at many retail outlets or buy it online from Amazon.
The beauty of the Thule Force cargo box is in its simplicity. Yes, I’m waxing lyrical about a car storage box, but trust me, the amount I’ve wrestled with oversized luggage and outdoors gear, it’s merited. What makes my Thule so great? Three things: 1. ease of use, 2. ergonomic design, and 3. convenience.
I’ve used soft-sided roof rack storage containers in the past, and while economical, these bags pose a number of inconveniences: they’re hard to load, hard to secure (any thief can cut them open), and time-consuming to attach.
Right out of the box, the Thule Force is easy to install on the roof rack of your vehicle. Four adjustable clamps open to accommodate your car’s rack, and tighten once they’ve secured the box. After that, all there is left to do is unlock the storage box, load it, re-lock it, and go.
How did it perform on the road? Our first test of the Thule was a mid-winter trip from Southern Oregon to BC, Canada and back. The car and box were left out in sub-zero temperatures more than once, and we never had trouble opening the Thule (it didn’t freeze). While driving, we forgot it was even there: it didn’t affect our car’s performance at all.
We were concerned that having the Thule on the roof would be a hassle when we utilized valet parking, but this was never a problem: every valet we encountered had a designated area for vehicles with storage boxes.
Features that made us fall in love with our Thule:
1. We could leave it in parking lots or otherwise unattended and not worry about theft. The Thule locks, and the key fits conveniently on our key ring.
2. We could get things in and out without fiddling with zippers, bungee cords, or tie-downs.
3. We could remove the entire Thule from the car with one person (that person being my husband who is strong and manly, but still).
4. We could store more than you’d think inside! During our winter trip, our single Thule fit five pairs of skis, five sets of poles, two sets of snowshoes, and an assortment of other odds and ends we couldn’t fit in the car.
Do we ever think longingly about our soft-sided storage bag? Occasionally. After all, it has its place: it’s easier to fit odd-shaped items into a soft-sided bag, as it can flex with its load, and it can better fit bulky items such as multiple sleeping bags or large parcels. But 9 times out of 10, our Thule can do the job, and do it easier.
Bringing back some wine or spirits from your travels? Get a VinniBag so you can be sure it will survive the journey.
As the makeshift bars sitting next to the international security lines at TSA checkpoints will attest, every day some suckers have to give up those bottles of booze or wine they bought because they neglected to pack them in their checked luggage. Now 10 years on from 9/11/01, some travelers still haven’t gotten the message. (I did get to watch one guy chug 1/3 of a bottle of Jack Daniels once though before heading into the terminal. That lightened up the mood in the security line. Hopefully he didn’t go puke in the bathroom.)
We’ve reviewed a few different carriers over the years, from a Wine Diaper to a soft and stretchy Built NY Wine Carrier. This VinniBag tops those in several respects. For one thing, I feel totally confident with this around a bottle of wine or booze that no matter how badly the luggage crew mishandles my suitcase or backpack, the glass won’t break. with the two-membrane construction and air in the middle, the contents are isolated from the outside. I tried this with both a rum bottle and a wine bottle, dropping it six feet onto the ground with no damage.
It’s also more flexible in its usage than most. It’s not just for wine: you can also slide in multiple spirits bottles or even a perfume bottle if you wish. Blow it up and the walls will conform to the object size. Or two objects in the same bag even.
The way it works is, you insert your item in the center of the bag and start blowing it up partially. Then you flatten the seal on the corners, then roll up and buckle the bottom. You then finish inflating the bag and your glass-enclosed liquid is safe.
So what’s the downside? You could argue that it’s a little pricey at $28 for one, a tad less for two. But considering the bottle you put inside just once could easily cost that much, it’s not a bad price if you use it multiple times. The main problem is that it takes up a lot of room. It’s the trade-off for having more cushioning. If you’re a light packer that hasn’t filled up your whole suitcase with shoes and “just in case” outfits, no problem. But if you’re the type that has to sit on your suitcase to get it closed and routinely gets dinged for excess weight fees, you’ll have a problem finding room for this. When I blew one of these up with a wine bottle inside, it was as big as my thigh. And I’ve been working out…
I guess the ideal thing would be if you’re bringing a gift to a business colleague far away. You cart the cult wine or single barrel bourbon in your bag, give your gift, then let the air out for coming home. Or if you’re going by train or on an airline that let’s you check two bags: Southwest.
If you manage to wear your VinniBag out, it’s recyclable PVC plastic. If you’ve got curbside recycling that takes numbers 1-6, just toss it in your curbside bin.
The Eagle Creek line of Pack-it cubes and folders has been a runaway success, to the point where one person from the company told me a couple years ago that they make more profit from these little pieces of fabric with a zipper than they do from the feature-rich products that got them started so long ago: backpacks.
I’ve got mixed feelings about these packing accessories, as outlined in one of our perennially most popular posts, The Pros and Cons of Packing Cubes. But people who love to be organized and get giddy over a shopping trip to the Container Store think these packing cubes are the greatest thing ever. One of those people is my wife, so whether I pack them in my bag or not, they get a lot of use.
I like these new Specter ones from Eagle Creek more than past iterations because they take up no extra room whatsoever. They’re super-thin and wispy light, to the point where the extra millimeter or two of thickness they add is going to have zero impact on your packing space. This translucent material is the same type of refined nylon used in lightweight tents and is amazingly strong. It weighs next to nothing though: the 14-inch-long cube, for example, only weighs one ounce.
They come in a variety of sizes you can buy individually (list price $12 to $24) or you can buy a set of three for $35 to $38. The general idea is that these pouches keep your clothes organized so you can pack and unpack with ease. This is especially useful if you’re going to be changing hotels several times in one trip. They also give you a place to put dirty laundry as you use up your clothes, keeping dirty things separated from clean ones. One thing I do use one of these for regularly is packing shoes. If they get dirty, no worries.
There’s nothing complicated about these products—just rectangles or pouches with a zipper—but if you’ve got a set of these there’s guidance on how to effectively pack a suitcase, should you need help with that.
A little more complicated but quite useful for business travelers is the Pack-It Specter Folder for shirts. I’ve used an older, thicker version of this whenever I’ve had to pack some dress shirts to look presentable. This folder, which comes with a handy hard plastic sheet to help you fold your shirts to fit, keeps your nice shirts/blouses relatively wrinkle-free and protected from the other items in your bag. This Specter version is much lighter and thinner than the one I’ve been using, but just as strong. It costs a bit more, at $32 for the 18-inch version, but if you travel a lot on business it’s well worth it.
These items come in multiple color combinations, though the packing cubes are generally ghostly white with colored trim. See more details at the Eagle Creek site, where you can buy direct. You can shop for the cube sets online at Zappos, or eBags. Get the shirt folder at Backcountry, Amazon, or Summit Hut.
As editor of the family travel site Pit Stops for Kids, we road trip a lot. We travel in everything from a mini-van to a Prius, for trips ranging from camping to beach vacations to city tours to ski trips. Sometimes, we tackle a selection of the above in a single trip: packing for a backpacking trek and a city stay for five people in the same vacation can be complicated to say the least. When I saw what Mountainsmith had devised with their Modular Hauler systems, I just had to try one.
The Mountainsmith Modular Hauler 3 System is comprised of four components: one main ‘hauler’ packing compartment, which is designed like an open-topped, cubed duffel. It’s soft-sided (but free-standing…more on this later), made of tough ballistic nylon, and has reinforced, padded side-access handles. Inside the hauler are three ‘cubes’: the cubes are 15″x25″x15″, top-loading with strong wrap-around zippers and see-through laminated mesh top panels (with pockets). The cubes also have reinforced handles and stitching, and their rip-stop nylon interiors and exteriors are easy to clean and weather resistant. Imagine having three deep, sturdy tote bags which store upright in an equally sturdy duffel, and you’ve got the Modular Hauler idea.
I’ve seen packing cubes of course, and I’m no stranger to the use of plastic bins and totes for car travel packing, but what makes the Modular Hauler so much better is its portability. Each cube (which I’d really rather call a tote…that’s what they are) is easy to extract from the hauler, so travelers only need to grab the tote they need. On road trips, we typically pack one tote with our picnic lunch, one with extra jackets or rain boots (or beach shoes in summer), and one with toys, games, and the like. When we reach a pit stop, all we need to do is grab the appropriate tote: no hauling out an entire bag to find what we’re looking for. For instance, we just got back from a six day California Highway 1 tour. We picnicked en route almost every day, and it was so easy to ask one of the kids to ‘grab the lime green tote’ or ‘grab the yellow tote’, depending on what foods we needed.
We’ve used it on ski trips too, for which we pack one tote with lunch, one with everyone’s gloves, googles, and helmets, and one with extra under garments. We unzip the glove/google tote right at the car and get everyone equipped, then take the lunch tote with us to the lodge. I’m looking forward to putting the system to use during car camping trips this summer: one tote will hold camp kitchen gear, one food, and one extra clothing. The totes are not insulated, so you’d still need a cooler for perishables, but because the hauler is soft-sided, you could potentially replace one tote with a soft-sided, cubed cooler and still have the other two totes fit. Also useful: the totes are three different colors (cinnamon, lime, and yellow), so it’s easy to remember what you packed where. And for poor weather ski days, it’s awesome that they zip fully closed at the top.
My only complaint: for most practical uses of the system, I wish the main outer bag was hard-sided, not soft-sided like the totes, or at least stiff. It can be a pain to get the three (full) totes back into it with one hand because the sides collapse. Maybe this is a design issue that will be remedied in the future.
Bottom line: If you do a lot of car travel, either for overnight camping, backpacking, or family road tripping, you’ll get a lot of use out of this system. The Modular Hauler 3 is $79.95, and a four-tote version is $99.95. There’s a two-tote option as well, but I don’t know if it’d be quite big enough to be truly useful. You can buy individual cubes (totes) for $19.95, which is very nice. Pick up a system at Mountainsmith, Overstock.com, Department of Goods, or Amazon.