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Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter On Board Toiletry Kit

hanging toiletry kitYes, that name in the title is kind of a mouthful for something that holds your toothpaste and face lotion when you travel, but the utility of it is easy to understand. This latest Eagle Creek toiletry kit holds all you need and then some and hangs on a hook for easy access.

I’ve been a fan of these hanging kits since I first went backpacking around the world two decades ago and then used the same one on three more trips around the globe after that. It still wasn’t dead, so I used it a couple more years on vacations. Eventually I upgraded to a new one that weighed half as much. This one weighs half as much again.

I should mention that except when I’m packing in a tight carry-on or am testing another brand, it’s been an Eagle Creek toiletry kit most of the time. My wife carries one too, just as she did way back when we took off with backpacks and flew to Southeast Asia. We’re both older now, so it’s safe to say we’re probably packing more cosmetics—especially my wife. It’s only a matter of time before this Pack-It Specter On Board one disappears from my closet and ends up in her hands. It’s roomier than I need, but she’ll certainly find a way to fill it up.

A Cosmetic Case For Taking Half Your Medicine Cabinet

There’s a lot of organizational space with this kit, having seven organizer pockets and two zippered ones. The latter are especially great for putting lotions into because many bottles have a tendency to leak (or even explode) from air pressure and temperature changes when flying. It’s like a quarantine: at least the rest of the items are protected.

There are narrow pockets to hold a toothbrush or razor, wider ones to hold something like solid deodorant. Overall I like this design, but for me the big open section at the bottom is overkill. I guess it’s meant to serve two purposes: to hold something large like a hairbrush, and to make this toiletry kit roughly the same size as some of their packing cubes. It’s got to be a team player with the larger system.

Eagle Creek toiletries

I ended up just cramming it in my bag as usual though, but it held up great in the smashing. The ripstop nylon fabric is so light that the toiletry kit would probably blow away in a gust of wind. All told it weights 5.6 ounces, including the big swiveling hook. But it’s made well and will probably last for a decade like my others did.

“It better for that price,” you might say after looking at the tag: $45 is what it lists for. But hey, the edges are padded, the zippers have pull tabs, and there are no shortcuts in the construction that I could find. This in an investment in keeping your mobile bathroom organized.

Get the Pack-It Specter On Board Toiletry Kit direct from Eagle Creek or shop at Amazon,, REI, or Moosejaw. It comes in three colors to match the rest of the Specter cubes line: green, tangerine, and white.

See more Eagle Creek reviews on Practical Travel Gear.

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Pack More in Less Space with Eagle Creek Compression Pack-it Cubes

pack-it specter compressionThere are plenty of packing cubes, pouches, and folders out there to get you organized in your packing, but these Specter Pack-it Compression Cubes from Eagle Creek take the concept a big step forward. Instead of just giving you something to stuff your clothes into, they actually help you carry more in the same space.

It’s not a radical concept: we’ve long had Space Bags and other compression systems (Eagle Creek makes their own version too) to reduce sweaters and bulky coats down. You know, those clear plastic things that are shot if they get a tiny hole in them. But those are better for a one-time move than regular use. These cubes, on the other hand, are easy to work with, super-lightweight, and not dependent on having an airtight seal.pack-it specter compressed

Basically these are made like the regular Eagle Creek Specter super-light cubes, but with a key twist. You can use them normally, but then after you zip your things inside, you activate another zipper to compress the bag tighter. The fabric may be light but it’s super-strong, so the cube holds everything in well. Like a diet ad, the top photo is before it’s zipped up, the bottom photo is the after.

I was going to create a video to show this more clearly, but hey, Eagle Creek already did that:

These are stain and water-resistant, plus there’s a handle on top to pull them out and toss them in a hotel drawer. I’ve been taking one of these on trips for months now and while I often leave the other cubes behind, this one has become a regular on my list. I use mine a lot for dirty laundry because who wants that taking up a lot of room? You can cram a lot of socks, underwear, and t-shirts in here, then you zip it up and reduce the bulk in half.

These come in two sizes and are generally sold as a set for $38. You can get them in green, orange, or white with one of those as an accent. Get the zip-up Specter Compression Cubes direct from Eagle Creek or check online at Backcountry, Moosejaw, or Zappos.

See more of our Eagle Creek travel gear reviews.

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Osprey Cyber Port Daypack for Travel

It’s hard to go wrong with an Osprey pack. If I had to pick–absolutely had to–I think I’d rate Osprey as my overall favorite backcountry adventure and ski pack choice. That said, until introduced the the Portal Series, I’d never considered using an Osprey pack as a carry-on backpack or laptop bag.  The Osprey Cyber Port backpack is tough yet streamlined, and stylish while still classic.

Osprey-Cyber-PortWith its sleek panel-loading design, I understood right away that the Cyber Port’s function is ease-of-access to electronic devices, not maximum load capacity or even multiple attachment options like other Ospreys. There are three compartments: one main compartment, one small top compartment for keys or a phone (like many Osprey bags offer) and one outside ‘port window’ panel. This last compartment is really two, but since the inner and outer both work in tandem to create a space for a tablet, I’m counting it as one.

After wrapping my mind around the fact that this Osprey performs an entirely different function than its outdoorsy cousins, my next question was: as a travel carry-on and laptop pack, does it deliver? Why use it instead of my trusty messenger bag? The answer I came up with: because it’s an Osprey. The bag is exceptionally well-made, and I know it’s not going to fall apart on me. The brushed poly fabric is gorgeous, and like all Ospreys, the design is super smart. While other Osprey bags focus on usability in the backcountry, the Cyber Port focuses on usability while commuting, and does it well. Inside the main compartment, you get a fully lined and padded laptop sleeve, plus a great organizer panel with an interior zippered pocket, mesh pockets, a key fob, and plenty of small envelopes for zip drives, memory cards, and small cameras.

The small top pocket is the perfect size for my small wallet, or could fit a cell phone, keys, or a point-and-shoot camera. The outer panel zips all the way down to reveal a tablet pocket with an transparent sleeve, allowing travelers to use the iPad or other tablet without needing to remove it from the sleeve (by use of a port). This is the only design element that’s kind of a stretch for me: after using the backpack on several plane trips, I never felt the need to use this. It was all too easy to store my iPad in the sleeve, and simply retrieve it when I wanted it. Perhaps travelers would use this feature if they needed to access their tablet in a hurry in train stations or airports while checking directions or websites, and yes, I might play a movie for my kids while leaving the tablet in the sleeve, but for what it’s worth, this feature has not been crucial for me yet.

It helps to see the Cyber Port in action: check out this video by Osprey for a closer look. Perhaps the people in this video are simply more hip than me, and you’ll find more use for the tablet port than I do.

The backpack straps are padded, and while the pack isn’t ventilated with a mesh panel, I haven’t found I miss this feature. There’s a sternum strap, and all the zippers include handy pull tabs. I do wish a water bottle pocket had been designed on one side of the pack. The Cyber Port is 18 x 12 x 8, and the laptop sleeve measures 13.5 x 6 x 1. If you’re looking for a daily commuter bag or a travel carry-on daypack, you’ve found it. Pick one up at Amazon for $99. You can also find it at Backcountry or REI. It comes in black pepper, chestnut brown, pinot red, and grey herringbone.

See reviews of other travel daypacks here. Keep up on the latest practical travel gear by following this blog on Facebook, Twitter, or RSS. 

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Innate Modular Hanging Toiletry Kit

travel toiletry kitIf 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:

hanging toiletry kit

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.

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Thule Force Hard-Shell Car Storage Box

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.

Thule Force

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.

Check out our video review of installing the Thule Force on our car.

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.

Thule Force

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.

Thule Force car storage boxes are pricier than their soft-sided counterparts at $386 on Amazon, but are worth the investment. Some styles are also available at Backcountry.com.

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