Browsing Posts in Travel gear

best travel gear  rugged travel gear

Wouldn’t it be nice if you bought something for your travels and no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t wear it out?

I’ve reviewed hundreds of items over at Practical Travel Gear, last decade on a Blogger site I was doing by myself, then from 2009 on with a team of men and women putting things through their paces. We have been able to screen out most of the duds, but still have run into a few now and then.

Overall though, like the evolution of automobiles, there aren’t a lot of clunkers around anymore. Competition is too stiff. So if you buy a name brand backpack, suitcase, jacket, or pair of hiking shoes, what you spent your hard-earned money on is probably going to last at least a few seasons.

Some items go way beyond that though, living on like The Terminator, unable to be killed. Here are some travel gear items I’ve used so much they should have fallen apart years ago. They’re still around though, still coming with me on a plane. Pay attention to the brands more than the specific items. For the ones I’ve recommended, I haven’t just used one or two things that have held up well. Usually it’s in the double digits.

Eagle Creek Suitcases/Osprey Backpacks

If you’re going to buy a wheelie backpack (not my recommendation, but if you must…) or a suitcase for vacation/biz travel, skip the bargain aisle at Costco or Burlington Coat Factory and buy something good from Eagle Creek. Yes, it’s going to cost you a bit, but you’ll still be using it a decade from now and if by chance something goes wrong because of a defect or maybe even a nasty baggage handler, they’ll replace it for you.

Ditto for Osprey, which also has a terrific guarantee on their suitcases and backpacks. Eagle Creeks seems to have backed off their backpack business to focus on luggage and packing cubes, but Osprey is still going strong and you’ll see plenty of their packs as you make your way around the world. I have never had to take advantage of the warranty for either of these companies. I keep abusing their luggage and packs, they keep on taking it.

ExOfficio Shirts and Pants

I’ve had many a traveler tell me it’s not worth it to buy travel clothing because you can just replace things as you go along. So okay, if a disposable wardrobe is how you like to roll, never mind the quality. If you would like to return from a round-the-world trip thought with pants and shirts you can still pack for the next trip, then head to I have shirts of theirs I have tried my best to wear out but they still look pretty much like they did when I took them out of the package. I’ve got pants of theirs I’ve packed for at least 20 countries and they’re still in peak condition. It’s uncanny. Oh, and they dry in a flash when you sink wash them, which any light packer knows is the key to carrying less.

Craghoppers Shirts and Pants

Take everything I said above and substitute Craghoppers for ExOfficio. These guys even use thin strips of fabric to hold buttons to the clothing instead of thread, so you’re never going to have to replace a button. Fantastic clothing and easier to find on the European side of the Atlantic.

Kelty Backpacks

Kelty backpackIf you’re on a budget and the prices for Eagle Creek and Osprey are scaring you off, go for a Kelty pack and you’ll probably be just fine. Ounce for ounce and feature for feature, these are the best values in the store. I’m still using this one I rode across Missouri with years ago and my family has several daypacks from them we use regularly for travel and also mundane things like going to the market for fresh produce.

Pacsafe Daypacks

How worried are you about security? If that’s high on your list when you’re traveling, you only need to know two brand names: Clothing Arts (makers of Pickpocket Proof Pants) and Pacsafe. These guys are incredibly dedicated to keeping your valuables safe and each year they’re innovating to find better ways to do so. The big change recently is zippers that you can’t jam open with a knife or pen like most of them out there. Their products have an exo-skeleton built in to be slash-proof and lots of cool features that make it next to impossible to get inside your bag.

Ecco, Keen, Wolverine, and GoLite shoes

I think at this point I’ve tried out at least 50 pairs of travel shoes because for whatever reason, footwear companies are very aggressive about getting the word out on their new styles. Either they’re more savvy about online media or they just enjoy some really fat profit margins. Maybe both.

Wolverine hiking shoes

This brand list is not definitive because I really like Cushe, Sanuk, New Balance, and Oboz. And I think Hi-Tec ones are a good value if your budget is tight. But the four brands in the subhead there have proved to me time and time again that they’re built to last. I’ve got some Ecco Biom Grip shoes that I said were pricey when I reviewed them, but a year and a half and 16 trips with lots of walking later, I still pack them a lot. I have a really hard time getting rid of any of the Keens I’ve gotten because they still feel good after lots of wear. My Wolverine hiking shoes were the first ones that didn’t have one single thing I could complain about. And GoLite Footwear makes some really interesting, long-lasting shoes that don’t look like everyone else’s.

Tilley mash-up hat

Tilley Hats

I’ve been challenged in the hair department for a long time and a travel hat is essential when I’m outside in the sun. I’ve been through a lot of hats over the years, but 90% of the time I’m wearing one from Tilley. Again, they’re pricey, but they come with a lifetime guarantee. If you manage to wear it out, they’ll replace it. They’ll probably ask for your story to go along with it. Just be advised that people will automatically think you’re a Canuck when you have one on. In addition to a maple leaf backpack patch and a Roots clothing item, this is one of the essential items a Canadian must pack before going abroad.

Eagle Creek Travel Wallets

This is a small thing, but if you don’t want to be I could be wrong because I have a few of these, but I’m pretty sure one of the Eagle Creek Travel Pouch wallets I loop around my belt is the same one that I was using on my third round-the-world trip in the late 1990s. You only have to cough up $13.50 to keep your valuables safe. No mugger is going to tell you to take off your pants…


I’ve used three different versions of a SteriPen and have never worn one out. I’ve also never gotten sick from the water—anywhere. Neither has my daughter or my wife. And we’ve kept hundreds of plastic bottles out of streams and oceans. You don’t travel with one of these because…?

Any gear you’ve been using for a decade or more and haven’t managed to kill?


Would you like to pay 30-60% less than retail every time you buy travel clothing or a new bag? Or get your shoes for half price? Buy $18 hiking socks for $7? It’s not very hard.

travel clothing discounts

A while back on this cheap travel blog I did a post on how to play the retail buying cycle on clothing and gear. You see, every year I go to this huge trade show called the Outdoor Retailers Market. There the manufacturers like North Face, Columbia, Outdoor Research, Teva, and a few thousand others are showing off their new stuff to buyers. What they’re showing to buyers will not be on your local store shelf for another 9-12 months though. That’s how far ahead retail buyers are making decisions on what they think you’re going to purchase for your adventures.

These decisions are never more than an estimated guess, of course. Sometimes the fashionista designers say, “Orange is going to be hot next year!” and instead everyone wants plaid. A charismatic trends guru manages to get everyone to believe that there’s some pent-up demand for retro backpacks. A year later, it turns out they’re wrong. (They didn’t ask me…)

The result is an inherently inefficient system whereby lots of outdoor apparel, travel clothing, luggage, and gear has a short time in the spotlight. Then it is then cast aside. By “cast aside” I mean marked down to get it out the door. Sometimes those markdowns are drastic, below the point of anyone making a profit. That’s where you step in and find a deal.

Since I’m editor at Practical Travel Gear, I get e-mails every week from online retailers I have affiliate programs with begging me to talk up their new half-off sale so they can move the old inventory out the door. Sometimes this is seasonal: you can find an incredible deal right now on a snowboard, set of skis, or down jacket. When the heat is highest in August, bathing suits and shorts go on sale.

Often though, you can get exactly what you need for your upcoming trip, just in last year’s model instead of this year’s. At this point in the innovation cycle where it’s hard to make fundamental breakthroughs in technology, there’s not much to be gained by buying the 2014 model over the 2013 one. It’s probably just a different color or maybe a pocket moved.

travel gear markdowns

Hunting around at 10 different online retailers every time you are in the market for new travel gear can get tedious though. Lucky for you, there’s one simple e-mail newsletter you can get that will put all the sales, deals, and coupon codes in one place. It comes out an average of one time a month, whenever the timing is best with loads of markdowns happening at once. You can sign up for free here and you’ll also receive a report on “10 Travel Gear Gifts for $20 or Less.” (And maybe you need those gifts yourself.) Sign up here:

Insider Gear Deals List


best-travel-writertravel writing award

I won some more travel writing awards this month, thus the badges to kick this off, but I’ll save the braggadocio for last. First here are some articles I’ve written in other places.

When’s the last time you read a travel article about Guadalajara? If you answered zero or one, I think you’re pretty normal. I’ve done a few over the years though and this is one of the most useful ones you’ll find if I may say so myself. My latest on the Viator travel blog: From Tequila to Tlaquepaque in Guadalajara. (With some fun photos.)

One of my other semi-regular gigs is to dish out value travel advice on the personal finance blog of H&R Block. Here’s my latest for them: Going on Vacation Without Breaking the Bank.

I didn’t write this piece for, but I got quoted in it a lot and the article is useful, so go check it out: Affordable Tips for Your Travel Bucket List.

I wrote about New Orleans restaurants for the Trivago blog.

Leffel in Nicaragua

Of course I’m reviewing travel gear each week. Like Field Notes, a new sun hat I’m digging, and something everyone who wants to pack light should have: ExOfficio travel underwear.

I just set up a pretty portfolio on this site called Contently if you want to check out some of my life outside this blog: Tim Leffel portfolio. .

So about those awards. Perceptive Travel won a Silver from the North American Travel Journalists Association for “best online travel magazine.” Two of my individual stories won prizes too, ones on Miami and Portugal.

Next time we return to our regularly scheduled programming.


Over at the Practical Travel Gear Blog, each weekday we’re reviewing something worth packing or wearing in your travels, in a wide range of price ranges. But if you’re reading this particular blog you’re probably most interested in what’s cheap and useful. So here are some bargain items to put on your own wish list or to pick up for a fellow traveler.

traveler gifts

Gerber GDC Key Tools

I just reviewed two of these today after traveling with them the past couple months. They’re small, relatively light, and functional. The flashlight one does double duty as a bottle opener even. They list for $12 and are less than $10 at Amazon.

Screwpop Screwpop bottle opener screwdriver

Every time I pull one of these handy little Screwpop tools out, someone says, “That is so cool!” This is another sub-$10 little tool that fixes things and pops open your beer as well. Get it at Amazon.

Sea to Summit Pocket Toiletries Tabs

These watertight little plastic cases contain 50 dehydrated tabs that look like thin sheets of paper. When you expose one to water, it turns into whatever the package indicates: shampoo, soap, shaving cream, or laundry wash. With one of these cases you can always have soap in your daypack or can pack super-light while avoiding liquids altogether . These are great stocking stuffers since they retail for just $4 or $5 each. See the full review for a video demo and where to buy them online.

Jolt USB Charged Flashlight USB light

Three people that have seen me using this have gone out and bought one afterwards, so it’s safe to say this will be an appreciated gift. That Gerber key light at the top will probably last you years, but if you want to go rechargeable and never have to replace batteries, this Jolt flashlight will just plug into any USB port and have 100% juice again. Pick up one for around $12 at Amazon, sometimes less if you buy it at your local retail store.

Eagle Creek Pack-it Cubes

If you or your gift recipient is a neat freak who thinks The Container Store is retail heaven, then these packing cubes from Eagle Creek are a great gift. The smaller ones for socks, underwear, or t-shirts are $10 or less at eBags or Zappos, spend a few dollars more at the same sites and get the lighter Specter versions.

portable coffee drip

GSI Collapsible Silicone Java Drip

If there’s a coffee lover on your list, this Java Drip from GSI is an easy-to-pack item that will deliver fresh coffee to any mug or cup. Great for campers or nomadic types who work from the road, this expands from a flat disc to a regular coffee filter size. Yes, you do also have to carry the filters, and coffee not included… Get this from Amazon for $12 and it’s a free shipping eligible item.

The World’s Cheapest Destinations

If you or yours is going on an extended trip abroad, The World’s Cheapest Destinations book could result in shaving a few grand off the budget—enough to completely gear up for the trip. Get the paperback for under $15, the Kindle version for under $10, or the excerpt for just one part of the world for $4.

Get in on the best travel gear deals

At this time of year you’re likely getting deluged with marketing messages from online retailers. If you’re interesting in having all the best travel gear discounts, promotions, and coupons though, you can get them all in one place. Just sign up for the Insider Gear Deals newsletter. Do that and you’ll get a free report: “10 Travel Gear Deals for $20 or Less.” There are quite a few on there not featured in this blog post.

Here’s a peek at what the Insider Travel Gear Deals newsletter looked like for the past Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend, with coupons and deep discounts gathered in one place. Instead of sifting through a dozen e-mails and visiting sites looking for promotional deals, you can get this one dispatch and be all set.


Krabu leather daypackCould you use a daypack upgrade? How about a nice waxed leather one for…$10?

If you put in a $10 bid at Passports with Purpose, you could do some good in the world and also receive this Krabu backpack from Oliberté, retail value $240. It’s a fitting prize since this bag is made in Ethiopia and Oliberté is (so far) the world’s only Fair Trade certified footwear maker. (Check out their shoes here.)

This is how it works: you go to the Passports with Purpose site and bid on whatever you’d like to win at $10 an entry. One hundred percent of that money goes to charity, for a specific project. This year we bloggers and sponsors are collectively going to raise $115,000 for buildOn to construct three schools and fund three adult literacy programs in the Sikasso region of southern Mali, Africa. Here’s more info on the specifics. I’ve participated every year but the first as a blogger and in the past the organization has built wells in Haiti, a funded school in Cambodia, libraries in Zambia, and a whole village in India.

Oliberte leather backpackMy thanks to Oliberté for donating this $240 Krabu leather daypack to the cause. You can see it’s a quality, hand-made bag and the winner will have a choice of colors. They will ship to the USA or Europe, so if you live in either of those regions, you’re all set. There’s an outside pocket, an inside pocket, adjustable leather straps, and an always-useful carrying strap on the top. Since it’s waxed leather, your stuff won’t get wet if you get caught in a drizzle.

There’s plenty more to pull out your credit card for at the Passports with Purpose site though, including the Briggs & Riley rolling backpack we’re giving away over at Practical Travel Gear. Besides gear, you’ll also find hotel stays, villas, exciting vacation packages, and more. Some of these are from sponsors who put in some up-front cash as well. Big thanks to Expedia, DK Eyewitness Guides, Rough GuidesTBEX; HomeAway, HostelBookersGo With Oh, and Eating London.

Donate and win! (Bidding starts at midnight on Nov. 25 and goes through December 9.)