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Top Travel Gear of the Year 2016

This post is part 4 of 4 in the series Best of 2016

We’ve come to love and rely on a lot of tried and tested travel gear over the years–from Karen’s Kaikuna hoodie to Eric’s prescription Costa del Mar sunglasses to this nifty thing that lets us take booze in a backpack. Now we present our short but sweet list of top travel gear of the year 2016 including a game-changing lens, a really cool cool bag and hiking boots that were perfect straight out of the box.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM Lens

Top Travel Gear of the Year 2016

Canon-100-400mm-zoom-animals

There’s no question that the most valued new piece of travel gear in 2016 was Eric’s Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens. He got a tease with this lens in the Galapagos when another passenger on our M/V Origin cruise let him use his lens. The difference in the quality of the wildlife shots was stunning, so we scraped together our pennies (more than 200,000 of them) and got one. This lens has helped Eric get great shots all year-long (a few of his favorites are above) and though it’s big and heavy and pricey it’s already proven its value time and again.  

Buy on B&H Photo  |  Buy on Amazon

 

Three Legged Thing carbon fiber Brian evolution 3 tripod

It’s hard to find a good travel tripod which combines durability and versatility in a compact and lightweight package. After years of looking, we found one. Don’t let the goofy name of 3 Legged Thing tripods fool you. They really do rock (in more ways than one). See why in our full review of our 3 Legged Thing Evolution 3  Brian tripod.

BUY ON B&H PHOTO  |  BUY ON AMAZON

 

colombia-thermal-tote

Sometimes we need to keep snacks and leftovers cold, for example, when we have a long day on the road with no chance of a lunch stop. Enter our Columbia insulated cold bag. It stays cold, doesn’t leak or sweat, holds more than you’d think, is easy to clean, dries out fast after use, and folds up small and compact when not in use. The only bummer is that the Velcro, which holds the bag snugly folded up when it’s empty, is located on the bottom, so if you fill the tote and then put it down on the ground the Velcro picks up grit. It looks like the specific model we have has been discontinued and only the bigger and beefier Columbia PFG Perfect Cast 45L Thermal Tote is available now.

Buy on Amazon

 

Brinno TLC200 Pro drivelapse timelapse camera

Time-lapse video is great, unless you’re the one who has to shoot and edit it. For years Eric spent hours every month piecing together then speeding up images taken by a GoPro mounted to the dash of our truck so that we could show readers a month’s worth of driving in just a few minutes. It was such a time-consuming pain the neck that we stopped making the videos altogether and then stopped publishing our end-of-the-month driving posts. Then we heard about Brinno cameras which automatically take time-lapse footage. It was a bit tricky mounting the camera on our dashboard (you can see our workaround, above), but ever since Eric figured that out this camera has made making time-lapse video so easy that we started publishing our end of the month Where We’ve Been driving posts again, complete with Brinno footage.

Buy on Amazon

 

merrill

There’s a cardinal rule about hiking boots. It goes like this: ALWAYS break them in on the trail before you really, really need them. Karen ignored that rule. She had a new pair of boots from a maker she’d worn before. They seemed like good boots. They felt fine on her feet when she tried them on. She settled. Then she wore them on one simple short hike and her feet were in agony. Luckily, there are some fairly well-stocked outdoor gear stores in Cusco, Peru so we were able to find a pair of Merrell Capra Mid Sport Gore-Tex hiking boots at the same price we would have paid in the US. Karen loved them straight out of the box and they proved comfortable and rugged during the multi-day Andean treks we did in 2016.

Buy on Amazon

 

Curaprox 5460 Ultrasoft toothbrush

Even the lightest packers need to bring a toothbrush. In 2016 a dentist in Sao Paulo recommended that we try toothbrushes made by a Swiss company called Curaprox. She raved about how gentle yet efficient they were, so we splurged, paying about US$7 per toothbrush in Brazil. We were immediately hooked. So soft! So easy to use! So effective! So many great colors! We’ve now stocked up just in case we don’t find Curaprox in other countries. Also, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t get good medical care when traveling. These toothbrushes have been around for years but this Brazilian dentist was the first to tell us about them.

Buy on Amazon

 

Rubber boots El Altar Ecuador

Sometimes the most humble piece of equipment ends up being key. This was the case with our ordinary rubber boots which got us through the muddy, muddy trail to El Altar volcano in Ecuador which would have made short work of regular hiking boots.

Buy on Amazon

 

 

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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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What We’ve Learned About Traveling with a Drone

In July of 2015 we got a DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone (aka UAV or quadcopter if the word “drone” sounds too military for you). So far we’ve used it to shoot nearly 12 hours of aerial footage during 82 flights covering 66.8 miles (108 km) in four countries. Our skills are being honed so that we can enhance more travel blog posts with drone footage and so we can offer aerial photography services to hotels, tour operators etc (if you’re interested in that, visit our Hire Us page and get in touch). After a year on the road with our Phantom 3, here’s what we’ve learned about traveling with a drone.

Lares-trek-drone

Eric manning the controls of our drone at Lake Ipsaycocah at 14, 212 feet in the Andes of Peru as local women and other trekkers look on.

Drone travel tips

Never drone alone. Always drone with someone who can help keep their eyes on the aircraft and use their hands as human landing pads to catch the drone if the terrain is uneven. If you land the drone on uneven ground it can easily tip over and break a propeller (been there).

DJI Phantom 3 Professional

Our DJI Phantom 3 drone kit.

GPS is key. Unless you are a VERY skilled pilot avoid flying without GPS, which can happen if you’re flying in an area where satellites are hard to secure such as a steep canyon or around tall buildings, especially if there’s any wind. When hovering with a GPS lock, the drone stays pretty much locked in place even in a strong wind. Lose the GPS and the drone doesn’t know where it is so it can’t hold position. This lack of control in flight is terrifying.

Practice, practice, practice. If you want to hone your skills a cheap practice drone like this under $50 SYMA X5C is a great tool. It’s cheap, so losing or crashing it isn’t a crushing blow to your ego or your wallet, and since this cheapo model doesn’t have the brains and GPS of the DJI Phantom it takes real skill to fly it.

Buy spare propellers. Then buy more. They’re easier to break than you think.  Luckily they’re also the cheapest drone accessory. You’ll find fancy carbon fiber propellers out there, but they’re more expensive and, most importantly, more dangerous. Drone propellers can rotate at more than 7,000 rpm and at that speed even the standard plastic props can do some damage. The carbon fiber props can easily take off a finger.

Buy spare intelligent flight batteries. We have three. In the Phantom 3, DJI states a flight time of approximately 23 minutes per fully charged battery (the new Phantom 4, with it’s slightly bigger batteries, has an approximate flight time of 28 minutes). However, we rarely get a flight time of more than 18 minutes since running the batteries too low can cause the aircraft to crash so we usually return with at least 25% of the battery life left. After the flight the battery must then be allowed to cool down before recharging which takes about 45 minutes with the 100W charger that comes with the Professional model. No one wants to wait around for a battery to recharge before flying again and if you’re shooting in a remote area, as we often are, you won’t have any electricity anyway.  So extra batteries are vital.

Safety first. Though the DJI batteries are generally safe, Li-Po batteries must be handled with care. There are many videos on YouTube which show how mishandling these batteries can cause them to explode or burn up violently. To be on the safe side, we keep ours in LiPo battery fireproof bags. Also note that according to the TSA and the IATA, you cannot put these batteries in checked luggage when you board a plane.

Manfrotto DJI drone bag

Our drone bag.

Bags matter. There are many drone bags out there. Some are soft sided. Some are hard sided. We chose the Manfrotto Pro-Light 3N1-35 Camera Backpack since it’s the very same backpack that DJI sold with their name on it (and a few drone specific modifications) for $100 more. The drone is held securely in the main compartment along with the remote controller, tablet, propellers, charger and other accessories. In the upper compartment there’s enough space for my SLR camera with a large lens attached. The backpack is comfortable enough to wear while hiking and it has a laptop compartment which I use to hold my Camekback water bladder while hiking. Manfrotto now makes a new tailor-made drone bag called the Manfrotto MB BP-D1 DJI Drone Backpack and it’s the bag I’d purchase now.

Wind is a killer. According to DJI, the Phantom 3 Professional can fly in wind up to 22 mph. We’ve seen videos of people putting their drones up in even crazier winds. Personally, we like to be conservative as we’re not eager to lose this flying machine. Remember that wind speed a few hundred feet up can be double the speed on the ground. Also keep in mind which direction the wind is traveling. Though the remote control gives an accurate real-time status of how much flying time you have left and, therefore, when you need to return, it doesn’t account for headwind which could make the return trip longer and more energy intensive. Crashing your drone because the battery ran out due to a stiff head-wind would be pretty foolish.

Invest in a good tablet. You can use an android or iOS phone as the display screen on your remote control, but you’re going to want a much bigger screen. We took the money-saving route and bought a $150 Samsung Galaxy Tab 4. Though perfectly functional, the screen is not the same quality as the screens found on more expensive tablets and it can be difficult to see the screen in sunny conditions. Next time around, I’d go for either the Nexus 9, Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, or an iPad. Oh, and you’re going to want a sunshade no matter which tablet you buy.

Neutral density (ND) filters are a must and here’s why. While there’s no problem using fast shutter speeds when taking still photos, when shooting video a fast shutter speed from a moving camera can cause a “jello” effect. This can be particularly problematic when shooting bright scenes such as around water, beaches and snow. ND filters darken the scene allowing you to shoot video using a slower shutter speed. We’ve been happy with the PolarPro ND filters made specifically for the Phantom 3.

Yaw is tricky. The yaw (rotation) of the camera can be very difficult to control smoothly when you’re trying to capture a panning shot. This simple plastic and rubber-band contraption gives the resistance that’s needed to have more control over fine stick movements that control camera rotation.

Don’t forget memory cards. High definition video makes for large files. When shooting in 4K mode we can shoot 7GB of video in one flight. The Phantom 3 Professional accepts  micro-SD cards up to 64GB  and they need either a Class 10 or UHS-1 rating. We’re partial to these Lexar Professional Micro SDXC cards because we really like the USB-3 adapter that comes with them which allows for easy transfer of videos to your computer.

Know the local laws. A drone registration law went into effect in the US in December of 2015 which means all drones in the US must receive a registration number from the National Drone Register. Note that even if you are just passing through a US airport you must register your drone with the National Drone Register or customs can confiscate it.

Drone regulations are less organized in other parts of the world. In October of 2015 we were told about a photographer who arrived in Peru via plane and had his drone confiscated at the airport and held until special governmental permission was received. Once inside Peru, drones are banned at all archaeological sites (not just Machu Picchu). Chile was the first country in South America to formalize drone regulations and requirements in that country include registration of the drone and licensing of the operator with civil aviation authorities, insurance, no flights over 425 feet (130 meters) and, most absurd of all, a parachute. In India drones are illegal everywhere until they figure out their own regulations (in February of 2016 a tourist was arrested in India for flying a drone). It’s illegal to enter Nicaragua with a drone or fly it inside the country.

Clearly drone laws in many countries are still evolving. Sites including UAVCoach.com, TheDroneInfo.com and UAVSystemsInternational.com list drone laws by country but we encourage you to independently verify the regulations in the country you’re headed to.

Which DJI Phantom to buy?

There are three models in the Phantom 3 line ranging from $499-$999, along with the newer Phantom 4 which costs $1,399. We have the Phantom 3 Professional. If you’re interested in the Phantom 3, you’re in luck since prices have dropped by about $300 since we bought ours following the introduction of the Phantom 4.

Unless your budget is very limited I wouldn’t recommend the Phantom 3 Standard ($499). As compared to the Phantom 3 Advanced ($799) and Professional ($999), its camera is inferior, it doesn’t have the same GPS capabilities and its range is a fraction of the other models. The Advanced and Professional models are identical in many ways, however, the Professional can take 4K video while the Advanced is limited to 2.7K. The Advanced comes with a faster charger so the batteries more quickly.

We haven’t flown the newer Phantom 4, but its primary advantage is its collision avoidance system. The Phantom 4 is also a little faster, has a longer range and has a larger battery that allows for slightly longer flight times.

NOTE: DJI is currently offering $200 off the Phantom 4. Click the banner below for details.

If you think all of this sounds like serious business, check out the intersection of taxidermy and drones for a drone-driven laugh.

Drone shopping List

DJI Phantom 3 Professional  –  Buy on Amazon, or the  DJI Store

DJI Phantom 3 Advanced  –  Buy on Amazon, or the DJI Store

DJI Phantom 4  –  Buy on Amazon, or the DJI Store

Manfrotto MB BP-D1 DJI Drone Backpack

Lexar Professional Micro SDXC cards

Yaw control plastic thingamajig

LiPo battery fireproof bags

Tablet – Nexus 9, Samsung Galaxy Tab S2, or an iPad.

Sunshade

Practice drone – under $50 SYMA X5C

Note, The following accessories are for the Phantom 3 model only

Phantom 3 intelligent flight battery – Amazon & DJI Store

Spare Propellers

PolarPro ND filters

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Travel Gear Review: prAna Clothing

We are not in our 20s (or 30s, or, heck, even our 40s) anymore, so looking at the prAna catalog was a bit daunting. So many colors! So many patterns! On the other hand, we’re not dead prudes either. So, even though some of the prAna styles were not exactly our style, we did find two outfits we loved. After more than six months of use on the road, here’s what we think of our prAna clothing.

Travel Gear Review: prAna clothing

Increasingly you can find prAna clothing in select stores and in a growing number of prAna stores, especially after the brand was bought by Columbia Sportswear in 2014. We were not near any of these retail outlets so in order to have access to the full line we ordered our clothes off the prAna website which was easy to use and supplied all of the information and specs we needed to make selections.

Zoe henley shirt Ecuador

Karen in her prAna Zoe henley shirt at the El Crater Hotel in Ecuador which is located on the edge of the dormant Pululahua crater, one of only a handful of inhabited volcanic craters in the world.

We used the online sizing chart and Karen’s Zoe henley shirt fit perfectly (buy on Amazon). It’s a slim cut (like a lot of prAna clothes), but it’s not cloying around the hips. The slimness does mean that this shirt doesn’t look great if pulled over pants with a bulky waistline (jeans with a belt, for example). It looks best over slim-fitting pants and skirts.

 Prana cotton Rhia skirt Peru beach

Karen in her prAna Rhia skirt on the Las Pocitas beach in front of Hotelier Arte y Cocina near Mancora, Peru.

Speaking of skirts, the light, cotton Rhia skirt also fit perfectly and it’s fun to wear over a bikini at the beach because its got a flattering low-slung fit (buy on Amazon). Karen doesn’t usually like a handkerchief hem (vs. a straight hem), but this one is flippy and fun. Because it has a slim, flat waistband this skirt looks great with the Zoe henley too.

Eric’s short sleeve, button front Torres shirt fit perfectly and the pale blue and brown print means it looks great with jeans or chinos. PrAna no longer makes the Torres, but you can buy it on Amazon. All of the prAna button shirts fit is slim but you don’t have to be slim as a male model to wear them.

Prana Zion stretch Pants, Torres shirt Trujillo, Peru

Eric wearing his prAna Torres shirt and Stretch Zion pants in Trujillo, Peru.

Eric also got a pair of Stretch Zion pants (buy on Amazon). Based on the online sizing chart we asked for a size large but they were way too big so we had to return them and get a medium. Be warned that sizes (in this pair of pants, anyway) can run big.

When the size medium pants arrived they were instant winners (so much so that we put them in our exclusive Top Travel Gear of the Year 2015 post). They’re snazzy enough to wear in cities without looking like we just emerged from a tent and the stretch in the fabric makes them comfortable during outdoor activities and long driving days. They’ve also stood up to many, many washings very, very well. Eric’s only complaint is that the pockets are a bit too small to securely carry very much.

Beyond clothing: prAna does good

We feel good about how we look in our prAna clothes, but we also feel good about how they’re made. The company, whose slogan is “Live fully, play long, and travel well”, uses recycled wool and recycled down as often as possible. Any new down is sourced from facilities the company has vetted for humane animal practices. Polyester comes from re-purposed plastic bottles. In recent years the company has also reduced their use of plastic polybags in garment packaging and shipping by nearly 75%. Your new prAna clothes now come in bags made of 100% recycled paper.

prAna gave us each one outfit to wear and review for you.

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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 Review – Mahabis, Adventure Ready Un-Slippers

People often think that we’re constantly enjoying warm temperatures here in Latin America because we’re near the equator. Not true. Ever heard of the Andes? It gets seriously cold up in those snow and ice-covered mountains at high altitudes, equator be damned. For the past six months we’ve been traveling around Colombia, Ecuador and Peru with two pairs of Mahabis Classic slippers. Designed in London and made in Europe, we like to call them the un-slippers. We wore ours for the first time at our friend’s house in Bogota, a city at 8,400 feet (2,560 meters) where most homes have tile floors and no heating. It was love at first slip.

Mahabis unboxing

What we love about our Mahabis

  • They look great, not granny
  • The wool blend upper and 100% wool lining are durable

Mahabis hammock

  • The fleecy wool inside the slippers and a built-in support system make them super comfy and wool is a great temperature moderator – our feet never get sweaty inside
  • You can easily step into and out of the slippers

Mahabis slippers

  • The neoprene heel flap can be flipped up over your heel for extra warmth in really cold situations, or left down under your heel allowing a bit more ventilation in balmier temps
  • They come with cool removable rubber soles that are available in fun colors, are easy to snap on and off and turn your slippers into grippy, rugged, indoor/outdoor shoes perfectly capable of walking down the drive to get the paper or venturing onto the patio to enjoy a cup of coffee with the sunrise

Mahabis

  • Even without the removable rubber soles, the slippers themselves have a sturdy built in sole that prevents slipping
  • We’ve been told that there’s a story behind the name Mahabis, but it’s “top secret” and we love a good mystery

Mahabis fireplace

Two not so lovable things

  • You can’t really wash Mahabis except by wiping them down with a damp cloth – luckily, even after months of use, the wool blend uppers are naturally dirt resistnat and the wool inners are naturally smell resistant
  • They tend to run a bit small  (Eric’s are too snug to wear comfortably with the neoprene heel flap up), so choose a size slightly above your normal shoe size when ordering, especially if you might want to wear your Mahabis with socks on

Why Mahabis slippers are great for travel

  • Leave the rubber soles at home and they become super light
  • They pack very flat and don’t mind being crushed in luggage or backpacks – they just spring back to life when you slip your feet into them
  • Headed to a hot climate? Mahabis recently introduced Mahabis Summer slippers which are made from cool, breathable mesh and come in lighter colors too

Shop the Mahabis collection and get 10% off if you sign up for their newsletter.

 

Mahabis dog

 

Mahabis gave us two pairs of slippers and soles to use and review.

 

 

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