Every day we rely on a wide range of gear, gadgets, technology, and general stuff to make our little road trip through the Americas possible. Here are 9 pieces of top travel gear, from coffee to clothing to camera accessories, that proved particularly invaluable in 2019.
Top Travel Gear of the Year 2019
Followers of our Trans-Americas Journey know that we’re willing to give up a lot on the road, but good coffee is non-negotiable. Since day one of our little road trip we’ve had our trusty Bonjour stainless steel insulated French press by our side. But Karen dropped it recently and broke the spout (it was an accident!) and the screen that filters out coffee grounds was starting to wear out so we needed a replacement. Bonjour no longer makes the model we loved, so we started looking around for alternatives. That’s when we came across the Coffee Gator insulated stainless steel French press. The coffee maker and the company were both created by Phil Williams, a fellow traveler who fell in love with coffee in Colombia (home to some of the best beans in the world) and the rest is history. After eight months of use on the road, we’re still loving our Coffee Gator. The sturdy double screen really keeps grounds out. This is key because out here on the road we often have to buy pre-ground coffee that is extremely fine. We tested our Gator with some extremely finely-ground coffee from Brazil and the screens absolutely kept the grounds out of the coffee. The Coffee Gator French press is also easy to clean (but if you don’t want to deal with fingerprints or water spots go for one of the colorful Gator models, not the pure stainless steel model we have). And the lid has a smart lip so you can swivel the lid to seal off the spout to hold in maximum heat when you’re not pouring.
Those early pre-high-tech-fabrics explorers were onto something. It started with our Point 6 wool socks (which we’ve been wearing since 2008 and we still swear by them), but we now go for wool in as much clothing as possible. It’s warm, durable, resists odors, and lasts a long time. We both recently added a few Smart Wool tops to our arsenal including a a crew neck style for Eric and a zip-front style for Karen. They’re great as a warm layer when we’re sitting around working in a chilly room or as a temperature-regulating layer when we’re out for a hard hike in the cold. They even stand up to the often not-so-gentle laundromat washers and dryers down here.
You don’t always need or want to carry around a bulky fully-equipped backpack. For short hikes, city exploration, and other jaunts that require the carrying of just a few essentials, our Sea To Summit Travelling Light Daypack is the thin, light (just 2.5 ounces/70 grams), no-frills option we rely on. And when we’re not using it, this 20 liter pack easily rolls up into a tiny built-in pouch that fits in the palm of your hand.
Eric has loved his Peak Design Capture Clip, which clips his camera onto his backpack strap for easy access and easier carrying while hiking, since the day he got it. Lately, we’ve been putting the thing through its paces during more than 150 miles (240 km) of hiking in the Patagonia region of Argentina and Chile, so now he loves it even more. It’s easy to use, secure, comfortable, hands-free, and sure beats hiking up and down mountains with a camera strap slung awkwardly over your shoulder or having your camera stowed away inside your pack. The clip easily attaches to any strap up to 2.5 inches (6.4 cm.) wide, and the optional Peak Design Pro Pad allows you to attach the Capture Clip to your belt if you prefer. Note, the clip works best without a strap attached to the camera, so it pairs perfectly with the Peak Design Slide Camera Strap which made our Travel Gear of Year 2018 list.
Another winner is the Peak Design Shell Camera Cover, which is like having a wetsuit for your camera to protect it from rain and in dusty conditions. It’s easy to put on and take off, easy to shoot with, it’s lightweight, and it’s designed for comfortable use with the clip, above.
We’ve raved about our UV Skinz suns shirts before and Karen (who is dedicated to being extra sun smart after a skin cancer scare in 2015) finally wore hers out. She looked around at other rash guard or sun shirt options on the market but came back to UV Skinz because of the relaxed but not too loose fit that keeps the shirt in place in a flattering (not cloying) way that leaves enough room to swim, SUP, snorkel, or whatever else you want to do under the sun.
The MPOWERD Luci Outdoor 2.0 collapsible inflatable solar light is made for camping, but it also comes in handy when the power goes out in hotel rooms. The waterproof clear plastic lantern weighs next to nothing (4.o ounces), is easy to inflate and deflate, takes up the same space as a saucer when collapsed, charges quickly (just place it in full sun for 7 hours), has a battery life of up to 24 hours, and puts out 75 lumens, enough light to really illuminate a tent (hang it from the ceiling) or even light a small room by placing it on a table (the flat and rigid bottom means it sits securely). The light also has a small handle on the top so you can carry it around like a flashlight too. Since we purchased ours, there is a new MPOWERD Luci Pro Series that puts out more lumens, double battery life, and has a USB port so you can charge your phone off of it and weighs just one ounce more.
Top Travel Tech of the Year 2019
If you’re trying to take photos that involve the sun, moon, and sky, it’s crucial to be able to predict where those celestial bodies will be at any given moment. Enter the PhotoPills app. Eric relied on it to find just the right spot for shooting the July 2019 total solar eclipse and the December 2020 total solar eclipse because the app could tell him exactly what time each phase of the eclipse would begin and end to the second and where the sun would be in the sky. The app’s augmented reality also let him line up a shot so that he could catch the partially-eclipsed sun setting directly behind an Andean peak. The PhotoPills website also has useful tutorials about shooting the sky, milky way, eclipses, and more.
The Aves de Argentina app includes detailed information (calls, photos, geographic ranges, wingspan, behavior, etc.) about birds throughout Argentina. It’s easily searchable by region or type of bird or season and it weighs a heck of a lot less than the bird guide books the same organization is famous for. Even better? The app is free. Spanish only.