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Travel Tripod Review: 3 Legged Thing

Cell phone selfies aside, many people also want to take actual pictures of something other than their chins when they travel. Sometimes travel photography requires using a tripod. The perfect travel tripod should be lightweight, compact, multi-functional and sturdy. We hauled around a heavy and bulky tripod for years before we got our hands on a carbon fiber 3 Legged Thing tripod. After more than nine months of use on the road in South America–over the Andes, to the Galapagos Islands, through the deserts of Peru and into the Amazon–here’s what we think of our 3 Legged Thing.

Three Legged Thing carbon fiber tripod on beach in Peru

Eric and our Evolution 3 Brian tripod from 3 Legged Thing on the beach in Northern Peru.

What is a 3 Legged Thing?

When we started doing our research about carbon fiber travel tripods with a ball head, we looked into the usual suspects. The Gitzo Traveler is awesome, but at US$1,099 it’s way too expensive for many. The Manfrotto BeFree (US$350) was a possibility, but the ball head that comes with this model seemed a little too wimpy to support a DSLR with a heavy telephoto like my amazing Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens (Buy on Amazon) which weighs nearly 4 lbs. The Benro Travel Angel tripods (US$440) aren’t compact enough.

In the end it came down to two models that seemed pretty similar based on their specs: the MeFOTO Globetrotter (US$399) and the 3 Legged Thing Evolution 3 Brian (US$399, Buy on Amazon – note that this is the newer updated model, Albert).

Why did we wind up choosing the 3 Legged Thing? One word: ATTITUDE.

Three Legged Thing, the travel tripods with ‘tude

The British company that makes 3 Legged Thing tripods wanted to “bring more personality to the tripod market.” That started with the company’s name (3LT for short) and it extends to the names of their individual tripod models.

Three Legged Thing 3LT Brian

Unboxing our Brian tripod.

Instead of giving their tripod models a series of mind-numbing numbers for names, they named their original models after famous guitarists. “Who’s going to go into a store and remember a series of numbers?” a 3 Legged Thing spokesperson said to us. Plus, guitarists are cool. We have a Brian, named after Queen lead guitarist (and astrophysicist ??!??!) Brian May. We love Queen!

The company has since introduced new tripod models named after pioneers like Albert Einstein (the Albert replaced our Brian) and Leonardo Di Vinci and they’re about to introduce brand new models in their Punks line of less expensive aluminum tripods.

Just as attitude filled are the names of the replaceable feet for the tripod. Called “footwear,” these feet are sold as accessories for the tripod to be used in a variety of conditions. The standard rubber feet that come with the tripod are called Boots. Pointy metal feet are called Heels and they are perfect for rock and concrete. Longer, javellen-like feet are called Stilettos. And when you need extra grip you’re going to want to put on the Claws.

Three Legged Thing tripod footwear

Cool accessories for our Evolution 3 Brian tripod from 3 Legged Thing. As the company says, “you can’t beat decent footwear.”

Three Legged Thing tripods with attitude

 

Even the packaging has attitude. The 3 Legged Thing boxes are slathered with ramblings, like the cleverness to the right. The main shipping box was also sealed with tape that said “Punks Never mind the Ballheads” in a typeface that, to our minds, riffed on the ransom-note typeface used on the cover of the Sex Pistols album “Never Mind the Bullocks”.

Using the Three Legged Thing Tripos in a canopy Tower in the Amazon

Eric up for daybreak with his Brian on a canopy-top observation tower in the Amazon in Southern Peru.

Why we really love our 3 Legged Thing travel tripod

Okay, cheeky British “taking the piss” attitude may be the first plus about 3 Legged Thing tripods, but a clever name and some cool tape isn’t going to help your travel tripod perform better.  Here are a few more pluses (and a few minuses) about our 3 Legged Thing travel tripod.

  • It’s made of carbon fiber so it’s VERY light – just 4 lbs. 1oz. (1.8 kg).
  • It’s also VERY compact. The legs fold back on themselves and it folds down to a mere 15.75″ (40 cm) which easily fits into luggage or a day pack and it’s also easy to carry attached to a camera bag. 
Three Legged Thing carbon fiber Brian evolution 3 tripod

We have some beef with the carrying case (top image), but we love the compactness of our 3 Legged Thing tripod (bottom image).

  • Its adjustability makes it really versatile. Each leg has five sections. The center column has three sections and it can be removed completely or turned upside-down for a very low camera angle. Each leg can lock in at three different angles (23°, 55° and 80°). What does all this mean? The height of the tripod can vary from a ridiculously low 4.5″ (12 cm)  to a maximum of  72.5″ (1.85 meters).  
  • It has a load capacity of 66 lbs. (30 kg) at the standard 23° leg angle which can securely support my heaviest camera body and lens combination which weighs nearly 6 lbs. (2.7 kg)

Three Legged Thing carbon fiber Brian evolution 3 tripod

  • The Airhed 3 Ball Head is practically a work of art (above). It’s a solid yet lightweight head that is easily adjustable and has an easy to use locking knob and 360° panning capability. It has a small built-in bubble level, but, unfortunately, this can easily be covered by the camera when mounted on the head, but there is a second bubble level built into the center column support. As for the mounting plate, it uses the popular Arca Swiss/Peak Design compatible Release Plates. 
  • Sometimes you don’t need a whole tripod but you want a little extra stability. Then there are times when a tripod is just too awkward to use or even prohibited. In about 20 seconds you can transform the Brian tripod into a monopod. Just screw off one of the legs, unscrew the ballhead from the center column and screw it onto the leg that you just removed. Voila! 

3LT Brian tripod details

  • Because 3 Legged Thing tripods are not made of aluminum, like our last tripod was, we don’t have to worry so much about damage after the tripod gets wet. If an aluminum tripod is exposed to seawater, for example, you have to clean and dry it immediately or the metal gets pitted. Our carbon fiber 3 Legged Thing just needs to be wiped off after you’re done shooting. We’ve also used our Brian tripod in sandy and gritty conditions and the legs and leg locks rinse easily without any lingering crunch. 
img_0732

Eric and our 3 Legged Thing tripod at the annual re-building of the only surviving Incan bridge in Peru.

There are a few minuses…

  • The leg and column locks are secure and easy to use. However, several times we have been surprised that the center column was not locked down causing the camera to turn freely.
  • The tripod is stable and well made, but like any light-weight tripod there is a trade-off to stability which can be evident in windy conditions. However, the center column comes with a ballast hook and carabiner which allows you to easily attach a weight, like the tripod bag filled with a few rock, to increase stability in windy conditions.
  • There are a lot of little parts that can come loose and regularly need tightening. For example, the leg and column locks are topped by a screw-in sleeves that are constantly coming loose. Not a big deal and it doesn’t impact functionality, but…
  • The included carry case could be sturdier and slightly roomier. It’s so form fitted that the tripod doesn’t slide in easily. I also like to carry a few accessories with the tripod like my cable release, so its lack of a usable zippered pocket is frustrating. The beige canvas case is also not nearly as durable as the tripod. It would be nice if it were made from a more durable nylon. And why is the case white??!?!

Bottom Line: the 3LT Brian is a light-weight, versatile and easy to use travel tripod. It’s not groundbreaking, since it incorporates nearly all the same features shared by all of the quality carbon fiber travel tripods, but it is extremely well made with nice design and plenty of attitude. 

Three Legged Thing tripod in Peru

Eric and our 3 Legged Thing tripod in Northern Peru.

 

3 Legged Thing thing gave us a Brian tripod to use and review during our Trans-Americas Journey.

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Top Travel Gear of the Year 2015

This post is part 4 of 4 in the series Best of 2015

We’re still using (and loving) the travel gear we’ve told you about in previous Travel Gear of the Year posts and Product Reviews, including our Hydro Flask insulated stainless steel water bottles, Karen’s Dell laptop and, of course, One Drop. Now it’s time to present our travel gear of the year 2015 including our hardcore coffee savior, Eric’s favorite pants, and our Phantom 3 Pro drone. All road tested. All road approved.

Here’s what earned the right to be called…

Travel Gear of the Year 2015

Top travel clothing of 2015

 prAna Stretch Zion pants

 

Karen has to practically pry Eric out of his prAna Stretch Zion pants. They’re good looking, tough, comfortable and easily transition from trail to town. Eric loves the slight stretch and his only complaint is that the front pockets are a bit small. Also, we have no idea what the crotch vents are all about…
– Buy them on Amazon

 

 

Colombia Sun Goddess II Long Sleeve shirt

After having a melanoma removed in 2015, Karen got even MORE serious about sun protection. A new tool in her no-more-melanoma tool box is a Columbia Sun Goddess II Long Sleeve shirt with SPF 40 protection. It’s cool (in both senses of the word) and easy to put on alone or over a tee for an instant boost in UV protection.
– Buy it on Amazon

 

 

Lowa Tempest Hiking shoesEric has been wearing New Balance sneakers for years. In 2015, lured by a seemingly endless stream of glowing reviews, he got his first pair of Lowa Tempest low hikers. He’s never looked back. These shoes bridge the gap between trail running sneakers and hiking boots, look good enough for city wear and they last way longer than his New Balance sneakers ever did (which makes the heftier price tag worth it).
– Buy them on Amazon

 

Kaikuna Hoodie

Hoodies have become a ubiquitous wardrobe staple and that includes your travel wardrobe. There are hundreds of hoodies on the market but only one that’s made from sustainable fabrics and designed by experienced travelers (we know because we traveled with founders Alan and Julie years ago in Nepal – that’s Karen and Julie, above, reuniting in their hoodies in California recently). That would be Kaikuna. The Kaikuna hoodie for women (sorry guys, you’re gonna have to wait for yours) fits slim but doesn’t ride up on your hips, has cool thumb loops to keep sleeves in place no matter how active you are and plenty of hidden pockets and other features to accommodate cell phones and audio gear right in the jacket. The bamboo/cotton mix fabric is way kinder to the planet than cotton or poly and it’s so soft that you’ll want to use your hoodie as a pillow on long bus rides.

 

Mahabis fireplace

What do you think of when you think of slippers? Forget all that. Our wool Mahabis slippers keep our feet warm without making us feel like we’re shuffling around a nursing home. Plus they can be squished into our luggage without doing any permanent damage. Find out more in our full review of our Mahabis slippers.
– Shop the Mahabis collection and get 10% off if you sign up for their newsletter.

 

We don’t advocate packing jeans on a normal backpacking trip. They’re too heavy and they take too long to dry. But we’re not on a normal backpacking trip and jeans play an important part in our road trip wardrobe. When Eric’s not wearing his prAna Zion pants (see above), he’s probably in his Cool Vantage Wranglers. They fit just like his regular cowboy cut Wranglers (slim and comfy), but these jeans are made with a combination of cotton and polyester that allows them to breathe which keeps Eric cool and dry in warmer climates.
Buy them on Amazon

 

Costa del Mar sunglassesWe’ve worn Costa del Mar sunglasses from day one of our Trans-Americas Journey because they’re well-made and have lenses with 100% polarization that protect our eyes from the full spectrum of UV rays. Also, Eric’s Costas now have prescription lenses (which made our list of top travel gear in 2014). However, we don’t always want to look like we’re about to head out into the jungle so Karen was delighted when Costa del Mar added a line of more fashionable frames for women. Same great construction, same protective and scratch resistant lenses and same great warranty, just a lot cuter.

 

Top travel gear of 2015

 InCase ICON laptop BackpackOur Trans-Americas Journey is a working road trip which means that along with the usual clothing and toiletries we also lug laptops, power cords, external drives and research materials with us into and out of hotel rooms. Finding a computer bag that’s roomy, protective and easy to carry is a challenge. Karen’s new InCase ICON Backpack is all of that plus the construction of the bag means it stays compact and trim, not bulgey and sloppy, even when fully loaded. It also has a fleece pocket for my Dell XPS 13 Touch laptop and lots of doo-dad pockets for pens, files, etc and the straps are very comfortable. Karen also loves the bright red color.
Buy the InCase ICON laptop backpack on Amazon

 

BonJour insulated French Press We felt a little ridiculous packing our Bonjour Insulated French Press coffee maker (right) when we left New York City and embarked on our Trans-Americas Journey back in 2006, but, well, coffee.  It’s turned out to be a prized possession. The non-glass construction is very durable and it’s served us well in campsites and during house sits or rentals where no coffee maker (or a crappy coffee maker) is provided. The model we have is not in production anymore and for some reason, the Bonjour website only shows glass models. However, Bonjour does still make a fancy stainless steel insulated French Press  and you can buy it here.

 

 Renee Rouleau Daily Protection Moisturizer SPF 30 with zincWe’ve been wearing KINeSYS SPF 30 sunscreen products for years and we will continue to do so. But after Karen’s melanoma removal in 2015 we decided to add some heavier hitters to our arsenal to use when we’re at altitude (and, hence, closer to the sun and more prone to damage), on the water or in any other high UV situation. Lucky for us, KINeSYS recently debuted a new SPF 50 spray and it’s fantastic: non-greasy, fast-absorbing, non-stinging, water-resistant and long-lasting. Zinc is one of the best ingredients for ultimate sun protection but it can be goopey to use and can leave a weird white patina on your skin. Not so with our Renee Rouleau Daily Protection Moisturizer SPF 30 with zinc. It’s a bit thick, but it does fully absorb and does not leave a white film behind. Plus, Colombian actress Sofia Vergara swears by it…

 

Top travel tech of 2015

Steiner binoculars at Cotopaxi National Park Ecuador

What’s the point of traveling to wildlife rich areas of the world if you don’t have the gear to see what’s out there? In 2015 we upgraded to Steiner Optics Navigator Pro 7X30 binoculars and, so far, these waterproof, high-powered babies have helped us see all sorts of creatures in places like the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador and the Amazon in Peru. To get smart about getting your own quality binoculars check out our post about how to buy the best binoculars for travel.
Buy them on Amazon

 


2015 was the year that the Trans-Americas Journey got airborne with the addition of a DJI Phantom 3 Pro. So far, Eric’s flown 56 flights totaling more than nine hours of flying time covering a distance of more than 52 miles (84 km). He’s captured aerial footage of gorgeous locations including Guatape in Colombia, the massive San Rafael Waterfall in Ecuador (watch that drone footage, above) and the Ceiba Tops Canopy Walkway. Coming soon: a full post about all the tips and tricks we’ve learned about traveling and filming with a drone.
Buy your Phantom from the DJI store
Buy this from Amazon

Uber logoDuring our recent extended stay in Bogotá, Colombia we finally got hooked on Uber like the rest of the world. We used Uber to get around the city (it’s impossible to park our big truck in big cities like Bogota) and the service was convenient, prompt and often cheaper than regular taxis. The Uber cars were always cleaner than taxis and though crime is down and safety is up across Colombia, it’s still a good idea to avoid flagging down a random taxi and hopping inside. Using Uber was reliable and provided the extra security of a verified driver and a record of our ride at a great price. Rides varied in price from around US$1.50 to a whopping US$3.75 for a 7.5 mile (12km) 30 minute ride that took us clear across the city. If you’re the last person on earth without an Uber account, sign up. You’ll get a bonus and we’ll get a bonus for referring you

 

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Travel Gear of the Year 2014

This post is part 4 of 4 in the series Best of 2014

We’re still using (and loving) the travel gear we’ve told you about in previous Travel Gear of the Year posts and Product Reviews, from KINeSYS sunscreen to Chaco flip flops to Seagate external hard drives to Rare Parts tie rods. Now it’s time to present our travel gear of the year 2014 including a taxi app we love (and it’s NOT Uber), a genius (and cheap) way to keep mosquito coils from breaking, a laptop surprise for Karen, two retro gadgets that will keep you warm at night, Eric’s new favorite (small) camera, prescription sunglasses that look badass not bifocal, the perfect smartphone for travelers and more. All road tested. All road approved.

Here’s what earned the right to be called…

Travel Gear of the Year 2014

Travel tech

There are many times during our Trans-Americas Journey when we need to take high quality photos but it’s just not safe or cool to carry around Eric’s big, flashy Canon SLR camera and lenses. In 2010 he added a Canon Powershot S95, about the size of a pack of cards, to his arsenal and it quickly became his go-to camera in dodgy cities, when it was important to take pictures discretely and when he just didn’t want to haul around his heavy camera bag full of tricks. In 2014, after four years of pretty extreme use, the S95 no longer focused properly when it was zoomed in so Eric started researching all of the high quality compact cameras that were high quality, but not quite SLR replacements. The problem is that most of them aren’t exactly pocket-sized or affordable or high quality enough, so his search lead him straight back to Canon. He now uses a Canon Powershot S120 (below) which is the updated version of the S95. Like its predecessor, it can shoot fully manual and RAW images and has a sharp and fast lens covering a solid zoom range. It’s also very ruggedly built but still lightweight and truly pocket-sized all for under $400. Eric loves the new touch screen on the S120 and the camera’s ability to change focus while shooting video. In October Canon came out with a pricey but even better pocket-sized camera option too. It’s called the G7X. Maybe next year…

Canon Powershot S120

 

We see a lot of wild animals. We also see a lot of wild animals that we can’t identify. Enter Project Noah, a deliciously geeky website where people way smarter than us (biologists, ornithologists, entomologists, etc) can help us id what we see. Just post a photo of the critter in question and other site users can weigh in about what they think you’ve seen.

 

We are fans of Dell computers not only because their high-quality products are usually substantially less expensive than an equivalent Mac product but also because of their international warranty service that has allowed us to have computers fixed right in our hotel rooms by authorized Dell technicians in Mexico and Nicaragua. In 2014 Eric got an updated version of his 17 inch Inspiron and Karen changed from the heavy ruggedized Dells she’s had in the past to a Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 Ultrabook (below). It weighs just over three pounds (1.3 kilos) and is a drop smaller than the 13 inch MacBook Air. It’s got a sleek aluminum and carbon fiber shell and the 12.5 inch high-definition touch screen is stellar, the 256 GB flash hard drive is fast and reliable and with eight GB of memory Karen’s computer no longer crawls along when asked to do more than two things at once. It also has a flip screen that allows the laptop to be used like a tablet, that’s where the “2-in-1” comes in. The XPS 12 specs are nearly identical to the MacBook Air except that the Dell has a much better screen and can be used as a tablet. Most crucially, Apple’s “global” warranty (its version of what Dell has offered for years) still has many gaping geographical wastelands where the warranty does not cover you — ie, many of the places you want to go. Also, Apple’s global coverage is only available for two years and Dell’s is available for up to four years.

 Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 Ultrabook

 

In many parts of the world, including many Latin American cities, hailing a taxi on the street is not recommended since taxi crimes (usually involving being driving around town to ATMs against your will until you bank account is empty) can happen. Therefore, it’s a good idea to call for a taxi because then there is a record of the name of the driver who was sent to pick you up. However, this requires a phone, an often lengthy wait on hold and the ability to understand the mumbling dispatcher who finally picks up the line. Easy Taxi, a free app for iOS or Android, solves all of those problems. You request a ride using the app which transmits your exact location. A drivers near your location claims the job and usually arrives at your location within minutes. You are sent the driver’s name, plate number, phone number and a photo so you have multiple ways of verifying that the person in the taxi is, indeed, your driver. You can also track the driver’s journey to you via a map on the app which is updated in real time. It’s wonderfully simple and safe and, unlike some other taxi apps, you pay the driver directly so there are no additional fees. Like most taxi apps, Easy Taxi only works in select cities primarily in South America, Mexico, the Middle East and Asia.

Easy Taxi App

 

The Nexus 5 by Google (below) is the perfect smartphone for travelers. Every Nexus is unlocked so you can travel anywhere in the world with it and have a local telephone just by dropping a local SIM chip in. Plus, the Nexus is a fraction of the price (US$349 with 16GB  of storage) of similar high-end phones from Samsung, LG, Motorola and Apple whose smartphones cost well more than US$600 for an unlocked, contract-free model. Our Nexus also has a large, bright display screen and one of the best processors around so nothing slows it down. **Not to mention we’re fans of Android over iOS as an operating system and the new Android upgrade, 5.0 (Lollipop) has some fantastic new features. Our only complaint is the less than stellar battery life of our Nexus 5 (a complaint many users have). Sadly, the new Nexus 6 costs a more typical US$649. However, frugal travelers like us can still find a more moderately priced new Nexus 5 on Amazon and eBay.

Google Nexus 5 phone

 

Travel accessories

2014 was the year we finally ditched plastic bottles made with increasingly suspect BPAs and moved to insulated stainless steel Hydro Flask bottles (pictured below in our truck). Here’s why we loved our Hydro Flask bottles when we first got them and all of this still holds true many months down the road.

hydro-flask-in-the-truck

 

Prescription sunglasses. Shudder. But it was no longer possible for Eric to deny that he needed a prescription lenses in all of his glasses, not just his reading glasses. Luckily, he didn’t have to ditch the Costa del Mar sunglasses that we’ve worn and loved since the very beginning of our Trans-Americas Journey because a wide range of Costa frame styles are available with prescription lenses. Now Eric can see what’s out there while still looking like a badass, not a grandpa in bifocals (he wears Zane frames, by the way).

Costa prescription sun glasses

 

Mosquito coils are a smart thing to pack for travel to many parts of the world. Not so smart is just tossing a box of coils into your backpack or luggage, unless you enjoy the challenge of making bits and pieces of broken coils stay in the coil holder long enough to burn. It took us a few years to figure it out, but you can keep mosquito coils from breaking by putting them inside a hard, reusable plastic sandwich container (below). Bonus: these tightly sealed container keeps coils from getting damp too and there’s room inside for the little metal stand and some matches.

Mosquito coil protection

 

After years of pretty much being hot all day every day while we traveled through Central America, our Trans-Americas Journey has now entered South America where the presence of things like mountains (hello Andes!) means we can go from sweltering hot at sea level to freezing cold at well over 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) within the same day. That’s why we now travel with an enamel cup and an electric hot water coil. This allows us to crank out gallons of tea right from our room and this has gotten us through many a cold night. We recommend a 24 ounce (700 ml) enamel cup, like this one, because you can make a lot of tea (or instant noodle soup or hot chocolate or whatever) in it but it’s still light and durable. We bought an electric immersion coil at a hardware store but there’s also this cool dual voltage coil (120 and 240) with a pouch that would be perfect for travel. Tip: The metal handle of enamel cups can get hot so you might want to wrap it in handlebar tape.

 

One-DropEric’s brother’s girlfriend, Lisa, gave us our first bottle of One Drop. We’re not sure if it was a hint or what, but we love the stuff because it magically covers up even the most egregious bathroom atrocities which comes in handy if we get traveler’s tummy or find ourselves sharing bathrooms in hostels, etc. In Colombia we found a local version, called Oseaan Goticas Aroma, in the toilet paper aisle for US$4 but the label suggested four drops, not just one, and we didn’t think it worked as well as One Drop.

 

Road trip gear of the year

When the “check engine” light on the dashboard suddenly goes on it’s impossible to know what the problem might be and whether it’s minor or urgent without taking your vehicle into the dealer and paying the mechanics to read the engine error code which set off the “check engine” light in the first place. That’s usually not an option when you’re driving through countries where dealerships are few and far between. Plus, who wants to pay a mechanic when you can check engine error codes yourself. Yep.  OBD  or “on-board diagnostics” is a standardized port that every vehicle has. The trick is reading it. We’ve had an OBD reader with us since Day 1 of our Trans-Americas Journey and in 2014 we upgraded to an OBDLink MX, which has enhanced information for GM and Ford models (the LX model covers all other makes). It not only reads our Silverado’s diagnostic codes but turns our Nexus 5 smartphone into the ultimate performance monitoring tool, providing all sorts of information about our truck like instant mpg, torque, mass air flow and dozens of other things we don’t really understand. And, yes, it will read that engine error code and tell you what the problem is so you know if you need to “check engine” immediately or not.

OBDLink MX

 

 

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Travel Gear Review: Hydro Flask Insulated Water Bottles & FREE Giveaway

As loyal readers know, we do everything in our power to avoid buying bottled water as we travel through the Americas. Since the beginning of our little road trip we’ve poured water into re-useable plastic vessels (CamelBak bottles or Nalgene bottles) and used our SteriPEN to purify the contents. This saves us money and has meant we’ve avoided leaving tens of thousands of empty plastic bottles in our wake as we travel. But as the health news about plastic bottles goes from bad to worse we’ve finally ditched the plastic and shifted to stainless steel Hydro Flask insulated bottles – and we’ve got 10 of their new 32 oz. bottles to give away to you too.

Hydro Flask

The growing line up of BPA and BPS free stainless steel Hydro Flask insulated water bottles. Want one? Keep reading for details about our exclusive Hydro Flask water bottle giveaway.

Ditching our reusable plastic water bottles (finally)

A few years ago warnings emerged about bisphenol A (aka BPA) which is a chemical that’s been used to manufacture all sorts of plastic products since the 1960s. New research showed that BPA can seep into food or beverages stored in containers made with BPA. Once in your body, some studies have shown that BPA can lead to cancer, miscarriages and other medical problems.

The plastic-making industry, including makers of water bottles like the type we’ve used for years, shifted to a new formula with no BPA. However, the chemical that replaced the BPA, something confusingly called BPS, has been shown to disrupt hormones and wreak health havoc as well.

We drink out of our water bottles every day so, yeah, clearly it was time for us to ditch our reusable plastic water bottles once and for all. Plenty of stainless steel and glass water bottles are now on the market, in part as a response to fears about BPA and BPS. We chose Hydro Flask after reading this piece from Outside magazine which convinced us that these things were tough enough for our Journey.

Hydro Flask in the truck

Our Hydro Flask 18 ounce wide mouth stainless steel insulated bottles with sipping tops keep us hydrated while driving and they don’t spill no matter how rough the road is.

But we need our water bottles to be more than just tough. We need to be able to drink out of them in the truck while we’re driving without ending up with water spilled all over us.  They need to be portable and leak proof so we can take them on the trail. And they need to accommodate our beloved SteriPEN.

We chose two different sizes of wide mouth Hydro Flask stainless steel water bottles so our SteriPEN would fit inside them. Here’s how they’ve stacked up.

Hydro Flask stainless steel insulated water bottle PROS

No BPA or BPS. Duh. And, incredibly, that includes the plastic lids and straws. That’s because BPAs and BPSs are used in polycarbonates and epoxy resins, neither of which are used in the manufacture of Hydro Flask lids or straws.

The lids are dishwasher safe on the top shelf, but the bottles must be hand washed.

Because stainless steel doesn’t get dinged up allowing germs and gunk to grow inside the bottle our Hydro Flasks always seems perfectly clean.

The wide mouth bottles are large enough to take in regular-size ice cubes.

Three lid styles are available which turn each bottle into a regular screw-top bottle, a straw-style sipper (which is what we use in the truck) or a slide-top hot beverage sipper and anything that does triple duty is a great thing when traveling.

Hydro Flask’s happy guy water droplet splash logo makes us smile.Hydro Flask Happy Guy water droplet splash logo

The double-walled, vacuum-insulated construction really keeps contents cold or hot which means we can fill our Hydro Flasks with cold water and it’s still cool even after leaving the full bottles inside our hot truck for days. No more forcing down hot water from a funky plastic bottle left inside the sauna-like cab.

Hydro-Flask-Insulated-Bottle-Hot-Cold

Hot or cold, Hydro Flask insulated bottles can take it and keep it that way for hours.

We love the matte, tactile look and feel of the bottles and the old-school, canteen-like clanking sound they make.

It was super easy to cut the straw for the cold beverage sipper top to fit our bottles perfectly.

The bottles do not sweat so there are no more puddles in the cup holders in our truck.

The ring which holds the standard Hydro Flask lid onto the bottle is secure, but easy to remove if you want to switch to one of the two other lid types.

The straw-style sipping top and straw is super easy to drink from without the need to bite down on a mouth piece.

The lids are totally leak proof except for the slide-top hot beverage sipper top.

Dirinking from Hydro Flask

Working on our truck is dirty, sweaty work and it’s important to stay hydrated.

Every Hydro Flask bottle comes with a lifetime warranty.

Five percent of the purchase price of every Hydro Flask bottle goes to your choice from a long list of charities including the Surfrider Foundation, WWF, Special Olympics and many more.

Hydro Flask stainless steel insulated water bottle CONS

The 32 ounce bottle was too fat for the cup holders in our truck because the insulated construction adds girth. As of this writing there is no 24 or 21 ounce wide mouth Hydro Flask bottle so that left us with 18 ounce wide mouth bottles to use while we’re driving. These bottles are a bit too small for the cup holders so they wobble around a bit as we drive. Also, 18 ounces isn’t a lot of water.

Hydro Flask bottles are a bit pricey. For example, a 32 ounce Hydro Flask bottle (like the ones we are giving away – details are below) is US$31.99 while a 32 ounce plastic Nalgene bottle is US$10.99.

Hydro Flask bottles are a bit heavier than the plastic bottles we’d been using.

The bottles are not dishwasher safe or freezer safe, but that’s not much of a con since we don’t have a dishwasher or a freezer anyway.

Hydro Flask water bottle giveaway

We’re giving away 10 – 32 oz. Hydro Flask stainless steel insulated wide mouth bottles (a US$31.99 value each). This bottle is the latest addition to the Hydro Flask lineup and we’re using one on our Journey. Want one? Input your email in the entry form below so we can notify you if you win. To get earn multiple entries, like our Facebook page, like Hydro Flask and send a Tweet about the giveaway with a just a few clicks in the entry form. Some entries can be repeated every day, so come back for more.

One entry option is a special favor for us: vote for us as in the USA Today 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards as your Favorite Couples Travel Bloggers. Simply follow the link in the entry form and select us ( “Trans-Americas Journey – Karen & Eric”) from the list of bloggers, then click VOTE. You’re allowed to vote once per day.

The contest ends on Friday August 8, 2014 at 5:00 pm eastern time and 10 winners will be chosen at random. Winners will be notified via email shortly after that. The entries of winners (liking pages, tweets, etc.)  will be confirmed before prizes are awarded.

NOTE: Anyone can enter, but bottles can ONLY be shipped to addresses within the continental USA (sorry Alaska and Hawaii).

 

 

Hydro Flask supplied us with water bottles to use and review on the road.

 

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Putting the Briggs & Riley Warranty to the Test

We’re on the road every single day and so is our travel luggage. Since 2010 that luggage has been a Briggs & Riley Travelware BRX 22″ Explore upright rolling bag. Over the past 1,300+ days of full-time travel through every country in Central America plus Colombia and Ecuador in South America our bag has been packed, unpacked and overpacked, tossed in the truck, dragged out of the truck, wheeled through gravel and mud, banged up and down stairs, left alone in dingy hostels, nestled into five-star hotel rooms, dumped into water taxis and left out in the rain and the blazing sun.

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Our beloved Briggs & Riley luggage on a boat on its way to visit the Kuna people and Yandup Island Lodge in Panama.

One of the things that attracted us to Briggs & Riley in the first place (besides the fact that the company claims to have invented the concept of rolling luggage) is their simple as that® lifetime guarantee which states that “If your Briggs & Riley bag is ever broken or damaged, even if it was caused by an airline, we will repair it free of charge.”

Putting the Briggs & Riley Lifetime Warranty to the test

After faithfully hauling our stuff through 11 countries, the handle on our Briggs & Riley no longer collapsed all the way, a zipper was getting stubborn and the casing that covers the extendable handle on the bottom of the bag was cracked. So, during a recent brief visit back to the US, we put the Briggs & Riley Lifetime Warranty to the test.

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There goes our Briggs & Riley bag, on its way to adventure at Ian Anderson’s Caves Branch in Belize.

You can send your Briggs & Riley bag to any one of the authorized repair centers listed in the directory on the Briggs & Riley website (there are centers across the US, Asia/Pacific region, Europe and Canada). However, the company suggests that if major work is needed the bag should be returned to the factory, which is what we did.

First, we got a repair code off the Briggs & Riley website after filling out a short and easy form. Then we put our luggage and our repair code information into a box and sent it to the repair center. Shipping, which the owner pays, was about US$20. Less than two weeks later our bag was shipped back to us with a totally brand new handle system and cooperative zippers plus a note from Kevin, the repairman who worked on our bag.

And they’ll keep repairing our Briggs & Riley bag like that for life. In other words, there should be no reason to ever need to buy another piece of luggage ever again unless, of course, someone steals your awesome Briggs & Riley bag.

Interested? Buy this Trans-Americas Journey tested and approved luggage on Amazon.

 

In 2010 Briggs & Riley supplied a 22″ BRX Explore upright rolling bag for us to use and review out here on the road.

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Travel Gear of the Year 2013

This post is part 1 of 4 in the series Best of 2013

We’re still using (and loving) the travel gear we focused on in our previous Travel Gear of the Year posts and Product Reviews, from WiFi extenders to sunscreen to flashlights to travel pillows to flip flops. Now it’s time to present our travel gear of the year 2013 including a data backup solution, really clean teeth on the road and one tough and versatile travel skirt. Here’s what earned the right to be called…

Travel gear of the year 2013

Travel tech

Crashplan backupLike most digital nomads one of our biggest logistical issues is how to keep all of our data backed up. Because we travel in a truck we have the option of carrying a small flotilla of Seagate hard drives, but in 2013 we added cloud backup to our backup plan via Crashplan. In the past we had used both Mozy and Carbonite as a cloud backup solution but, shockingly, both of these services lost some of our valuable data and the customer support we received after the fact ranged from poor to appalling. The hurdle in adopting a new cloud back up service is getting the initial chunk of data (think terabytes of images) into the cloud. With often limited bandwidth on the road this could take months. Luckily one of the things that sets Crashplan apart is their seeded drive option. The company sends customers a 1TB drive which you load up directly from your computer and ship back to Crashplan. Viola! A terabyte of data is added to your backup without actually having to upload it. Why is this so great for travelers you ask? At the average upload bandwidth we generally have available while traveling in Central and South America, that terabyte would have taken at least 200 days of 24/7 uploading to get into the cloud.

 

Logitech m525 mouse

 

We love our Logitech M525 wireless mice (mice? mouse? never mind) because they work on nearly any surface, the battery lasts (nearly) forever and they save our wrists from the aches and pains of using trackpads while we work in contorted positions in yet another deskless room.

 

 

In our Travel Gear of the Year 2011 post we raved about our Targus Chill Mats which provide a laptop perch for our computers and help keep them (and our laps) cool and comfortable on our laps. However, they have one big drawback: the USB power cord which powers the internal fan is poorly constructed and eventually breaks rendering the fan useless. Enter the Targus Space Saving Chill Mat which not only solves the power cord vulnerability problem with an improved design but collapses down flat when not in use so it takes up less space.

Targus Laptop Chill Mat travel

2013 was the year we decided to finally get a smart phone (we know, we know). The Google Nexus 5 is as good as anything out there but at a fraction of the price at US$350 for an unlocked contract-free phone. Spending less on your smart phone means you can spend more on travel. Our only complaint is the lack of an external memory card slot.

Google Nexus 5 phone

Travel health

Oscillo cold & flu reliefGetting sick while traveling sucks. We’re generally pretty healthy on the road but whenever we feel a twinge of aches, fatigue or chills we pop open a tiny, lightweight single-dose tube of Oscillo homeopathic flu fighter and pour the yummy-tasting pellets under our tongue. No need for water, just let the pellets dissolve. Oscillo isn’t a liquid so it can’t leak which means we keep the stuff in our packs and in the glove compartment of our truck so it’s always handy. The all-natural ingredients are non-drowsy (so it’s safe to take while driving) and won’t interact with other medicines. Did we mention that it doesn’t taste like medicine either?

 

waterpik-traveler-water-flosserBasic dental health maintenance while traveling can be tricky. We’ve been lucky over the years, finding affordable, high-quality dentists for annual check ups but in 2013 we added another tool to our dental health care kit: a Waterpik Traveler Water Flosser which is a mini, packable version of the Waterpik Karen used as a teenager with braces. When packed up in its zippered case it’s just over 5 inches square and weighs less than two pounds.  It’s easy to assemble and disassemble, totally adjustable and comes with various cleaning and flossing heads. Just remember to fill it with purified water in areas where the tap water is not safe to drink and give it ample time to dry out before packing it up again.

Karen’s battle with the injury in her right leg and hip continued in 2013, aided by the addition of Arnicare to her routine. This stuff is full of arnica, a natural topical pain reliever, and can be rubbed into any aches and pains. It comes in a cream, ointment and a gel but the gel seems to absorb faster and there’s no old-lady smell. Eric has been caught using it as well, particularly after horseback riding or working on the truck in awkward positions.

Travel road trip gear

Fellow road trippers George and Teresa of Road Adventure turned us on to Maps with Me in Colombia after it saved our butts as we navigated through a maze of tracks in the desert at night on our way to Cabo de la Vela. We’ve been using it ever since. So far in Coolmbia and Ecuador Maps with Me has a number of back roads that don’t even exist on Google Maps and, most importantly, Maps with Me works totally offline so there’s no need for an internet connection. This is definitely our APP of the Year.

Steering is important. When ours started going (too many rough roads, potholes and killer speed bumps) we upgraded our factory steering components to heavy duty tie rods from Rare Parts. These things are no joke and neither are the roads ahead of us.

For years our transmission has been heating up during climbs. In 2013 we did something about it by installing a Performance Transmission Cooler made by Pacific Performance Engineering (PPE). This thing was easy to install and keeps our transmission about 30 degrees farenheit cooler simply by increasing air flow. Bring on the Andes!

Travel accessories

Platypus PlatyPreserve travel wine preserverGlass bottles are heavy. PlatyPreserve bags are a lightweight solution when you want to carry booze with you on a hike or in circumstances when you have luggage weight limits (like taking small planes to remote locations like the Galapagos Islands). Though they’re marketed for carrying wine (and they’ll hold an entire wine bottle), we got multiple PlatyPreserve bags and use some for wine and some for rum or other liquors. They never leak, never puncture, they’re easy to clean (though they take ages to dry) and they take up about the same amount of space as a sheet of paper when they’re empty. We’re not sure we buy claims that PlatyPreserve “eliminates exposure to air” thus preserving wine but the bags have come in handy while traveling as an alternative to heavy bottles.

Karen’s ExOfficio Nomad travel skirt provides UV protection, is stain resistant and quick-drying, has secure zippered pockets, a comfy fleece-line waistband and it’s cute. That’s why it’s become her go-to warm weather wardrobe staple. When ordering bear in mind that this skirt runs a bit small so you may need to go up a size.

 

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