Presenting the 12 products that outperformed all other travel gear on the road in 2018 including underwear, backpacks, shoes, speakers, straws, and more.
Top Travel Gear of 2018
Down here in South America, it seems like 80% of the packs we see are made by Osprey. That many hikers and travelers can’t be wrong, so when we decided to replace the daypacks we’d been using since our Journey started in 2006, we put Ospreys on our backs and immediately took them for a spin on the Inca Trail in Peru. Karen’s women’s Sirius 36 and Eric’s men’s Stratos 36 both fit great and while they’re on the big side for a traditional day pack, the size makes them flexible enough for treks lasting a few days as well. Loads are balanced, straps are comfy (including the hip belts), and we love the pole-stowing feature. The Osprey hydration system is also much easier to use than the Camelbak system we used in our old packs, including a much easier way to thread the drinking hose out and through your strap and an easy-to-use cover for the mouthpiece.
For more than 30 years Eric has carried his cameras around his neck or over his shoulder using the standard manufacturer’s strap which is neither comfortable or convenient, especially when hiking. Over the past few years, a number of alternative straps have become popular and Eric finally decided to try a Peak Design Slide camera strap. Now he’s wondering why he waited so long to make the switch. First and foremost, the padded strap is soooo comfortable. And it can be worn three ways: as a sling (cross-body) strap, as a neck strap, or as a shoulder strap. And it feels super secure thanks to durable materials and a thick construction. The strap also uses quick-release anchors so one strap can easily be swapped between different camera bodies. Quick adjuster buckles also make it instantly adjustable. And, for those rare times when Eric is carrying his 7 lb. (3 kilo) Canon 5D body and 100-400mm Zoom Lens (pictured above right), he can comfortably and easily do that do that with the Slide camera strap, an impossibility with a standard camera strap.
Turns out, the male editors at Outside magazine are right: Saxx underwear may be the very best unmentionables for men. Here’s why: they’re the most comfortable underwear Eric has ever worn thanks to the BallPark Pouch™ which supports the package and keeps the boys separated from the thighs which eliminates chafing. Saxx come in a number of styles and materials but Eric’s favorite (so far) is the Vibe boxer brief which is made from a super soft and breathable material with a very comfortable waistband. The Kinetic line is great for more active adventures. Eric hasn’t thrown out all of his cotton boxers just yet, but that may be on the horizon because Saxx undies are game changers.
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We’ve been wearing Costa del Mar sunglasses since 2008 and these hard to scratch, hard to break, hard to beat sunglasses have made it on to previous lists of our top travel gear. This year, Eric upgraded from the prescription Costa del Mar sunglasses that he’s been wearing for a few years now to a pair of progressive lens Costas and they’re just what the doctor ordered, particularly for driving when Eric needs to see near, far, and very up close (for reading maps, checking the phone etc).
We’ve been traveling with a drone for a few years now so that we can capture aerial photos and videos. However, our original DJI Phantom 3 Pro literally filled a decent sized backpack (pictured above right) which meant it wasn’t exactly travel-friendly or inconspicuous. This year we switched to the very travel-friendly Mavic Pro Platinum which fits in the palm of your hand. It’s so small that our compact new Peak Designs Everyday Sling 5L holds the Mavic and accessories (pictured above left) with no need for a bulky backpack. The Mavic also has a longer flight time and range and is much quieter than our Phantom. Newer Mavic 2 Pro models were released at the end of the year and normally this would be frustrating after purchasing the previous model just a few months earlier. However, we’re not sure we would have gone for the newer Mavic 2 with its higher-end camera, even if it had been available when we made the purchase since it costs 50% more.
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Music is important to us and not just while we’re driving. Our new Ultimate Ears Boom 3 wireless speaker lets us listen to music anywhere. It easily connects to a phone or computer wirelessly via Bluetooth. For their relatively small size (about the size and weight of a 16 oz./500 ml water bottle) the speaker also delivers fantastic sound. It’s also rechargeable (the battery lasts up to 15 hours) and it’s water, dust, and drop-proof with a IP67 water and dustproof rating. The speaker even floats and can be submerged in water for up to 30 minutes. We’re traveling in a truck, but if we were traveling with a suitcase or backpack we’d probably opt for the Wonderboom speaker that’s about half the size.
Like many women, Karen struggles to find hiking pants that fit properly and aren’t a hideous color. That’s why she’s been wearing the same pair of REI trekking pants for years. However, this year they finally became too worn out to put on again. Enter Karen’s Columbia Saturday Trail Stretch Pants. They fit in the waist and in the hips, they aren’t too flared or too straight-leg, they’re long enough to fit over her boots but not so long that they drag on the ground, they have just enough stretch to move comfortably and hold their shape (even during days of continuous wear on the trail), and the British tan color is low-key yet hides dirt. Of course, they dry fast and they’re lightweight too. She got two pairs.
Our truck was manufactured in 2007 when having a CD changer in your car stereo was cutting edge and long before car stereos had screens, or Android Auto, or USB inputs, or even an auxiliary RCA input for your iPod. For years we made do with cobbled-together stop-gap measures that sort of allowed us to play our iPods through the radio our truck came with. This year we committed to truly upgrading our truck sound system and we did it with a Kenwood DMX7705S Car Stereo. Now we can play our music collection via a USB stick, we can connect our phone through Android Auto to use maps and other apps directly through the car stereo screen, and we can stream music and podcasts through our phone when we have cheap broadband.
It’s certainly not the sexiest piece of gear we travel with, but our VIAIR 300p portable air compressor is essential for those times when we need to add air to our tires but we’re either not near a gas station with air service or the air services we’re near aren’t powerful enough to fill our tires (a common problem). We absolutely rely on our VIAIR when we need to deflate our tires a bit in order to travel better and avoid tire damage on rough roads, and this tends to happen in remote areas with no option for adding air back into our tires when the rough road ends. Our one complaint about the compressor we’ve had is that even though the coiled length of the hose was 30 feet (9 meters), the hose was so rigid that it was hard to get a 10-foot (3 meter) stretch out of so it. This made it very difficult to reach our back tires while connected to the batteries in the front of our very long truck. Then the rigid hose developed a kink and eventually sprung a leak rendering it useless. Our newly upgraded hose is made from a braided material which is both stronger and more pliable so we can reach all tires easily and the risk of kinks and leaks is greatly reduced. Bring on the bad roads.
We walk around a lot. Sometimes we’re walking around in cities where we don’t want to look like we just came off the trail. All of that pounding on city streets was creating pain in Eric’s heels, but finding a pair of walking shoes that feel good, look good, and wear well is not easy–or cheap, as it turns out. We’d read great reviews of Mephistos for years, but the price tag (way more than US$100 per pair) kept us away. Then Eric’s dad started raving about how comfortable and long-lasting his Mephistos are, so Eric broke down and got a pair on sale: no more ratty-looking sneakers, no more heel pain, and worth every penny.
Metal straws are a big thing in many parts of the world, but plastic straws (and single-use plastics of all kinds) are still routinely used in much of Latin America. We decided to do our part to change the tide by adding a set of metal straws and a teeny, tiny cleaning brush to our Journey. They live in the glove compartment of our truck (right next to the metal cutlery) and we now decline all plastic straws offered to us.
During one of our stints in La Paz, Bolivia we noticed a tailor shop with a vehicle parked out front sporting a well-made car cover. The tailor had branched out into custom car covers and he said he could make one for our truck for about US$40. The finished product fits well, is easy to put on and take off, and it came in its own built-in stuff sack so that we can pack it down to the smallest possible size (which is still about the same dimensions as a large sleeping bag). We’ve used it multiple times when our truck has been parked for extended periods and it’s the best forty bucks we spent all year.
Tiny but powerful travel gear for every year
We’re shocked by how many travelers use a credit card that charges a 2-3% foreign transaction fee on every purchase they make when traveling. That’s just like giving away your travel funds. But there are a few credit cards that do not charge foreign transaction fees, like the United Explorer Mileage Plus card. And it gets better: sign up for the United Explorer Mileage Plus card and earn 40,000 miles when you spend US$2,000 in the first 3 months. There’s no annual fee for the first year and you can cancel the card after the first year (before the fee kicks in) and keep all 40,000 bonus miles. If you ask us, a card like this is the most basic piece of top travel gear.