Wouldn’t it be nice if you bought a travel gear item for your adventures and no matter how hard you tried, you couldn’t wear it out? After being on the road for a few decades now, including some non-stop trips of months to a year, I can say with authority which luggage brands and travel clothing brands are going to hold up well over time. Some of them I just couldn’t kill no matter what.
That photo above is from a multi-day hiking trip in Peru in 2015 and I am still using every single item I have on there except the logo baseball hat from a hotel. I even still have the underwear I think and probably the socks too. More detail on all the brands in a minute, but in case you’re curious, the ones in this photo are Exofficio (jacket and underwear), Icebreaker (sweater and base layer), Sierra Designs (hiking pants), Wolverine (hiking shoes), and Darn Tough Vermont (socks).
Not in the photo is my camera case from Mountainsmith. A shot from the next day in front of Ollaytantambo has a shirt from Mountain Hardwear that is on my body as I type this and a packable backpack from Eagle Creek that is with me on my current four-month trip in Europe.
I’ve got travel pants and shirts I hiked the Salkantay Trail with even earlier than that and they still make it into my suitcase. They still look great too. This is the travel gear I couldn’t kill.
Years ago I sold the Practical Travel Gear site I had been running for six years. so I no longer have a UPS man showing up at my door every few days with something to try out and review. That means the gear items I’m using are getting regular wear, my favorite travel clothing brands packed over and over again, with an international trip every month or so. A few items have crashed and burned, but a lot of them are like a pristine car with 150,000 miles on it.
If you buy well-known travel gear and travel clothing brands, there aren’t a lot of clunkers around anymore. The competition is just too stiff. So if you buy a quality backpack, suitcase, jacket, or pair of hiking shoes or pants, what you spent your hard-earned money on is probably going to last at least a few seasons. That’s good for all of us because the used clothing market is not what it used to be.
Some items go way beyond that though, living on like The Terminator, unable to be killed. Here are some travel gear brands 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. The specific models and clothing lines keep changing, but the brand reputations are usually ongoing. 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 and 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.
I’ve only had to take advantage of this warranty once and Eagle Creek has been one of my favorite luggage brands since I was a backpacker in the mid-90s. I’m about to take advantage of the Osprey Packs lifetime guarantee after one of my backpack straps broke, but I have been using that pack for more than a decade. My rolling suitcase from them has taken a lot of abuse in a dozen countries and counting now and is still going strong.
Eagle Creek has sometimes backed off their backpack business to focus on regular luggage and packing cubes, but Osprey Packs never did. You’ll see plenty of their packs on backs as you make your way around the world. These two brands are your best bet for rolling suitcases that will last a lifetime too.
If 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.
The Redwing one pictured here goes for less than $200 for the 50-liter version or 44-liter women’s version. You’ll often find older years’ models on the virtual clearance rack for less and they’ll work just fine. The changes are usually in color or design, not function.
Kelty is an easy brand to find in stores and online and they do a good job of putting out quality items that aren’t outrageously priced.
My STM Laptop Bag
I only have one product from STM, but that’s because the one I have has never needed replacing. I have a laptop bag from STM that I first took on a travel trip back in 2014 if I remember right and I’m still using the same bag today. How many places have I been with this bag? I can’t even begin to count them up, but the thing has been to at least a couple of dozen countries, plus a whole slew of U.S. and Mexican states. It’s the only bag I’ve put my laptop in for nine years running and it’s with me right now on this four-month trip through Europe.
The problem is, you can’t buy it. STM still makes a bag called Drifter but it’s not the same quality as the one I have. The materials aren’t as strong and the current one doesn’t have a built-in rain cover hidden in a bottom pocket like this one does. But the more useful advice from this part is this: If someone you know is well-traveled, location-independent, and has been using the same laptop bag for years, ask them what brand and/or model it is. If they love it and it is still holding up, it’s probably a good one worth buying.
By the way, the one I used before this was from Kelty (see above) and I never wore that one out either. I just liked the shape of this one better because while it holds my laptop, super-zoom camera, Kindle Fire, and gadgets, it fits easily under any airplane seat.
Exofficio Then, Craghoppers Now
I’ve had many a traveler tell me it’s not worth it to buy dedicated 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, I used to tell you to shop for ExOfficio. 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 15 years ago or more.
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 wash them, which any light packer knows is the key to carrying less.
Unfortunately, this brand has gone down the tubes faster than dirty water in a sink wash thanks to being part of giant conglomerate Newell-Rubbermaid. Now all you’ll find on their site is quick-dry travel underwear. The underwear is worth buying and I usually pack a pair or two, but it’s sad that this flagship travel clothing brand has withered down to undies.
I’m not thrilled by the idea that this brand is part of a giant conglomerate that also makes Sharpie pens, Crockpots, and Elmer’s glue, plus my repeated attempts to get the company to explain what’s going on went nowhere. So let’s move on to the best replacement for current times: Craghoppers.
In Europe, Craghoppers has long been the favored tough travel clothing brand and it has the same built-to-last expectations Americans used to have for ExOfficio. They are favorites of adventure travelers who demand high performance.
Some complain they’re more focused on fashion than they were in the rugged adventure beginning, but if you pick the right items you can still find shirts and pants where they 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. I’ve got some items of theirs I’ve been wearing for more than ten years now, though be advised they’re sized for skinny Europeans: go up a size if you’re not super-fit or you’re a male gym rat with lots of muscles.
prAna Travel Clothing
This is a more recent entry for me, but I’ve been filling half my suitcase with prAna travel clothing for about four years now and I’ve had their pants on every place I’ve been since 2019. I wear them more because of how they look on me (I’ve spoken at conferences on stage decked out in their clothing) and their sustainability practices, but a nice byproduct has been how well they hold up and keep looking good.
A couple pairs of pants I have look exactly like they did when they arrived at my door, years later after at least 30 washings. None of the shirts or jackets have crapped out on me and so far the only adjustment I’ve needed to make on anything was sewing an unseen hole that opened up in one of my jeans pockets. My wife is very into athleisure so she has been wearing a lot of their items too, with the same experience in how everything is holding up.
See my full review of prAana travel clothing here.
Pickpocket Proof Pants From Clothing Arts
I’m not going to go into a long explanation on these because you can see the full review here, but this is another clothing brand that is built to last. Developed by a guy who had backpacked around the world and wanted something more secure than what was on the market, these pants are made to hold up to whatever you throw at them.
I actually got to try the very first version that came off the assembly line and have packed a few other iterations since. The worst thing I’ve had happen is the zipper pull broke on one of my back pockets. But since every pocket has two or more lines of defense to keep prying fingers away, it’s a minor inconvenience.
They have some great testimonials on their website from customers who have foiled pickpocketing attempts, so look at Clothing Arts items as an insurance purchase as well.
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 benefit Pacsafe introduced a decade ago 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. You can find most Pacsafe items at REI.
Ecco, Wolverine, and Oboz 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 savvier about online media or they just enjoy some really fat profit margins. Maybe both. So when I ran Practical Travel Gear there were times when I had more shoes in my closet than my wife.
This brand list is not definitive because I also really like Sanuk, New Balance, and Lowa. And I think Hi-Tec shoes are a good value if your budget is tight. A lot of my old favorites got swallowed up by a bigger brand or killed off altogether though, like Cushe (rest in peace) and Ahnu.
But the three brands in the subhead there have proved to me time and time again that they’re built to last. I finally managed to wear out my Ecco Biom Grip shoes that I said were pricey when I reviewed them, but it took 12 years and thousands of miles of walking before they fell apart in my mother-in-law’s hot Florida garage. You can see them in that video of the post at that link above, where I review a pair of shoes and pair of sandals that are going strong and probably will for many years.
I’ve got one pair of Oboz shoes I’ve been wearing since 2011. I did replace the insole, but they’re still holding up fine and are still waterproof. Again, I’ve put thousands of miles on them walking around the hills of Guanajuato and places I have traveled to.
Most of the time I have had good luck with Keen shoes, but their reputation took a hit with me when a pair of their hiking boots literally fell apart on a 5-day trek I was doing in Nepal. I had to use super glue to keep them together until I finished.
It has been a while since I’ve gotten a new pair of Wolverine shoes as my two current pairs of hiking boots (Oboz and Hi-tec) are in good shape. I’ll have them on my short list though when it’s time to get something new for hiking.
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. (Like in that prAa shot earlier in this post.) Again, they’re pricey, but they come with a lifetime guarantee. If you manage to wear your hat 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. If you live in Canada, they have a clothing line you can buy in retail stores as well.
I recently experienced what the new return policy is like at Tilley (they changed owners a few years ago) and you can read all about it in this full article about Tilley hats. Long story short, they sent me a brand new hat after I proved that the old one had eventually crapped out on me. It took quite a while though to wear it out.
Eagle Creek Travel Wallets
This is a small thing, but if you don’t want to be worried about pickpockets, a travel wallet that goes under your clothing is cheap insurance. 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 talk up the SteriPen so much I should be getting paid as a brand ambassador. I’ve used three different versions of a SteriPen and only wore out one that they have since taken off the market. I think it suffered from battery issues.
These water purifiers easily pay for themselves in money you’re not spending on bottled water and you’re keeping plastic out of the rivers and oceans. I’ve never gotten sick from the water when using one of these purifiers—anywhere. Neither has my daughter or my wife. I’m talking 25 or 30 countries probably at this point.
Unfortunately, this brand had a lot more models when they were an independent company. Katadyn swallowed them up and then neglected the brand after that, so I’m only seeing one version available these days. One alternative with the same technology that is more active is Crazy Cap and in some ways it’s easier to pack since it’s just a cap for a water bottle.
That’s my list of the travel gear I couldn’t kill. Any gear or clothing you’ve been using for a decade or more and haven’t managed to wear out?
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