For those of you who were linked here, or who are new to my blog this year, every year I write a gear post which contains every single item I travel with. Despite being minimal, the set of gear is fully functional, allowing me to be comfortable and productive everywhere from the tropical beaches of the Caribbean to the ski mountains of Tahoe.
This year I thought I'd start off by sharing some of the principles behind my gear selection. You can use these principles to guide your own gear search, or simply to evaluate whether my choices match your own needs.
The overriding priority in my search is functionality. I will always choose function over form, even if the difference in form is large and the difference in function is minor. I've simply found that my productivity is not improved when a device I use is prettier, and that my enjoyment of travel is not affected by the style of my clothing. This is why my clothes tend not to be from mainstream brands and why Apple products very rarely make it to my gear list.
Functionality may be my overriding priority, but size and weight are close. Unlike fashion, I have found that having a lighter pack allows me more flexibility and enjoyment. There's a huge difference between having to check in to a hotel to drop off luggage and being able to go straight from a train to a mountain to climb. I also really like stretching out layovers to be a half or full day instead of two hours, so having a light pack allows me to do whatever I want without having to find somewhere to leave my luggage.
Many of my items are fairly expensive. I'm willing to spend large amounts of money on gear when I believe that it will either retain its value very well, or if I believe that it will last for a very long time. My earphones cost around $500, but I expect that they'll last more than ten years, for example. The first camera to ever make my gear list, the Epson RD-1s digital rangefinder, cost me $1700 plus another $500 or so for the lens. That sounds like a lot of money, but I ended up selling it at a small profit a couple years later. In other words, the price tag on the item is a lot less important to me than its cost, amortized over its lifespan, making allowances for what I'll sell it for when I don't need it anymore.
If you're a connoisseur of the gear list genre, you'll probably notice that my gear list has little in common with others, unless they've copied me (which is totally fine). The primary reason for that is because I search almost exclusively outside of the travel gear category. With few exceptions, I think the travel gear industry is way behind in terms of what a modern lightweight traveler actually needs. Instead they cater to the "gap year" crowd who pack huge bags and generally do one big trip. So my laptop is primarily marketed towards Japanese businessmen, my earphones are generally worn by performing artists, and my playing cards were made in the 1940s for soldiers. By searching across all different markets, I'm able to come up with a very short list of gear that performs excellently and allows me to focus on the important parts of traveling: the people, the experiences, and the places.
In years past I've tried to keep the blurbs on each piece of gear roughly the same size. This year I'm going to gloss over simple items and things I've talked about before, and go more into depth on some of the more interesting pieces.
Laptop: NEC LaVie Z LZ750
Never heard of the NEC LaVie? Didn't realize that NEC makes laptops? That's because they don't in the United States. NEC makes laptops for the domestic market in Japan, and frankly, they're amazing. The NEC LaVie Z LZ750 is a quantum leap better than any other laptop available right now.
The most shocking attribute of the LaVie is its weight. It weighs only 1.75 pounds, which makes it the lightest thirteen inch laptop by far. The 13" MacBook Air, which isn't the second lightest, but is familiar to most, weighs a whopping 70% more. In fact, even the eleven inch MacBook Air weighs over 35% more. The LaVie is so light that when you pick it up, it's hard to imagine that it's real. I knew its specs, but when I picked mine up, I assumed that the battery must not be installed. It feels as though it's hollow.
That doesn't mean that it's not strong. NEC used a custom lithium-magnesium composite to build the shell, which is plenty rigid and strong. The fit and finish of the machine is excellent, and the design is honest and simple.
The LaVie has an incredible screen with a resolution of 2560x1440. Screen resolution is one of very few specs that actually translates into better productivity, so I'm always willing to pay for it. The LaVie is so high resolution that it's almost like having dual monitors. On my last laptop, which was 1920x1080, I would have one window per screen, and switch back and forth. Now when I travel I keep my code on the left side and a web browser on the right side. Each looks completely normal and is pleasant to use.
As you'd imagine, images and text are incredibly crisp, and video looks great. You can even edit 1080p video at full size and still have room for your controls. The resolution gives me 75% more screen real estate than my old 1080p screen, and a hilarious 285% more than the 13" MacBook Air. Up until now I've always wanted more resolution. I'm still curious to see a 3200x1800 screen (as is found in the Samsung Ativ 9 Plus), but at this point I feel like it's ﬁnally enough. Any higher and I'd probably have to scale things to be able to read comfortably.
Battery life on the LaVie is decent, but not as good as the MacBook Airs. I get an honest ﬁve hours in Linux, and apparently it's possible to get up to nine hours in Windows. My guess is that it would actually be closer to six or seven hours under real use. I'd love to have even longer battery life, but given how infrequently I actually need that much compared to how often I carry my laptop around, five hours for such a low weight seems like a fair balance.
My one annoyance with the computer is that the RAM maxes out at 4 gigs. I'd gladly pay the extra cost in both weight and dollars to bump that up to 8 or more. The processor is one of the latest Haswell i7 chips, which is fast. In reality any Haswell chip is going to be plenty for most people, including me.
The laptop has two USB ports, both of which are on the same side and charge when the laptop is off. This is a big deal because it means that I can use my laptop as a battery bank. Most modern laptops do this, but it's the sort of thing that no one advertises, so you never really know until you get the computer. It also has a full sized HDMI cable, which makes it very easy to connect to TVs, and an SD card reader, which I missed on my last computer.
I've written about this in detail before, but I always buy Japanese versions of laptops because they have more keys. I remap those keys, which saves me tons of time. The best keys you get on a Japanese keyboard are the little ones to the left and right of the miniaturized spacebar. I map those to home and end so that I can jump around lines of code or text, and at this point I can't imagine having to go without them.
You might think that importing a laptop from Japan would be expensive, but it's actually not. Order through White Rabbit, which will come in at hundreds of dollars cheaper than the better-known Dynamism. They have great service and their shipping rates have dropped significantly. My last laptop through them cost almost $200 to ship, but this one was only $67.
Buy through White Rabbit. Tell them you want the same computer as me and they will know what you mean.
Camera: Sony RX100 (II)
Just like last year, I'm using the Sony RX100. This is another example, like the laptop, of a product that is just leagues better than everything else on the market. Every other camera that's even close in size to the RX100 uses a sensor that's, at best, half the size. Most are more like a fourth or a tenth the size. In digital photography, the number one factor for image quality is the sensor size.
Sony updated the RX100 this year with a new version, the RX100 II. I didn't upgrade because the price differential plus the friction of selling and then buying a new camera was just slightly too much for me. However, if I was buying today, I would get the RX100 II. The key features it introduces are a sensor that handles low-light situations even better than the original, NFC/Wiﬁ connectivity, and a flip up screen. Low light performance is really the only area the RX100 could use improvement, I love the idea of transferring a ﬁle directly to my phone with NFC, and I used the flip up screen constantly on my old Sony NEX that had it.
No matter which version you get, you will be able to take photos that, for all intents and purposes, are indistinguishable from photos taken from a DSLR. DSLRs are a lot more flexible and do have better image quality, but the RX100 is "good enough" in a way that camera phones just aren't yet. I have yet to ﬁnd a shot that just can't be done with the RX100, whereas my phone's camera becomes worthless right around the time the sun sets.
Phone: Samsung Galaxy Note 3
I started using the monster-sized Galaxy Note 2 last year, and was surprised at how much I loved it. There's something signiﬁcant about the jump from a 4 inch, or even 5 inch screen to one that's 5.5 or 5.7 inches. It sounds minor, but having a screen that size made me actually enjoy using the phone for things like web browsing and reading emails.
The resolution of the Note 2 was already an excellent 1280x720 (roughly the same as the 11 inch Macbook Air), but the Note 3 bumped it up to 1920x1080, which is the same as my old laptop. This resolution bump feels less signiﬁcant as previous ones, but I have to admit that reading text at such a crisp resolution is a great experience.
All that said, a lot of phones are really good for traveling these days, so if you're happy with yours, I wouldn't be in a hurry to switch.
Earphones: 1964 Ears Quad Driver Customs
I've actually only had three pairs of earphones in the past thirteen years. The first two were high end in ear monitors, the Etymotic Research ER-4S and Shure SE530. Even as I wore those, I always wondered about custom in-ear monitors.
Most gear I buy on a whim and just return or resell it if I don't like it. I'm pretty good at knowing what I'll like at this point, but having that safety net allows me to experiment. The thing about custom in-ear monitors (IEMs) is that they're molded directly for your ear. You can resell them for only a fraction of their cost, as the new owner has to have them completely reshelled.
For that reason, it's taken me forever to try IEMs. Would they be worth it? How would the isolation be? Is there really more bass than regular universal IEMs? After about five years of wanting to buy them every year, I finally bit the bullet and bought a pair.
Part of what sealed the deal was the reasonable prices at 1964 Ears, coupled with universally good reviews. The two major manufacturers of custom IEMs (JH Audio and Ultimate Ears) charge around 60% more for similarly equipped IEMs. I couldn't convince myself to buy $800 earphones, but I talked myself into $500 ones.
So how are they?
The sound quality is completely insane. I thought the fidelity of my older universal IEMs was great, but these custom ones really are a big jump up. The thing is-- I don't really care that much. The other ones sounded great to me, and these only really sound much better when I compare them side by side.
However, the bass on the Quads is incredible. It's hard to describe exactly, especially for someone like me who's not a true audiophile, but the bass impacts you in the same way bass from loudspeakers does. Even though it's only in your ears, you feel it in a way you don't with regular earphones. Most custom IEMs do not have good bass, so even with their reputation for having excellent bass, I was worried that the Quads wouldn't stack up. I was wrong, though-- they have tons of bass, and it's full, rich, and hits you. I love listening to music through them.
The isolation on the Quads is slightly worse than standard IEMs, which I found surprising. I thought that because they were custom molded, they would block out more sound. I think that because they're hard shelled rather than soft rubber, some sound still gets through. The difference is minor, and they're still in the same league, but I was secretly hoping they'd block even more sound, and they definitely don't.
The comfort of the Quads is really interesting. For the first ten minutes or so, I find them to be less comfortable than regular rubbery IEMs. It's hard to articulate exactly why, but I notice their presence more and it's a little bit distracting. However, they are much more comfortable for long term wear than regular universal IEMs. I found that I could only wear my Shures for 1-3 hours before I felt like I just had to take them out, but the 1964 Ears Quads seem to disappear after a while and I frequently will leave them in for a whole international flight.
Overall the improved bass makes these really fun, but it's the long duration comfort that has me glad I bought them. Some people say that they could never go back to universal IEMs after going custom. I wouldn't say that my experience is so much better that I could never go back, but it is certainly an upgrade worth paying for if you fly a lot. I just leave them in whether I'm listening to music or not, and the plane noise becomes a non-issue.
Kikkerland Universal Plug Adapter
Not much to say here that I haven't said before-- it's the best universal plug adapter out there, and I never leave the country without it. It's small and adapts to every single socket you can imagine.
Silicon Micro Display Cables thin HDMI
I had to switch to the cable with the full-sized connectors because that's what my new laptop supports, but I still love SMD cables. For a very reasonable cost you can buy an HDMI cable that disappears in your backpack and makes you a hero when someone wants to watch video on a big screen. More and more hotels have flat panels now, so this cable just keeps becoming more useful.
A quick tip, by the way-- if you plug into a hotel TV and you can't get your computer on the screen, unplug all the other garbage that they have plugged in. Sometimes the hotel cable system won't allow auxiliary inputs while it's plugged in.
ZioTek Dual Connector 1 Foot USB Cable
It's maddeningly difficult to find a good USB cable. Most of them are too thick and bulky. I happened to get a good one for free with a wireless charging thing I bought for my phone, but if I had to buy one elsewhere, I'd buy this one from ZioTek.
I used to try to get the shortest cable possible, but too many times I'd want to charge my phone while using my computer, and the only option was to have it dangle from the side. Or I'd want to charge my phone from my laptop in my backpack, and again I'd have no good options for positioning.
A one foot cable is a good compromise of taking up very little space, but also giving some options for positioning the thing you're charging. This one has a micro and a mini connector, which is pretty handy, although I don't have anything that uses mini anymore.
Kindle 3G Keyboard
Even though I have a paperwhite that I use at home, I still travel with the Kindle 3G Keyboard because it has a web browser that works for free over the 3G Kindle network. You can now use the browser on the paperwhite through a loophole, but it's not as easy as the 3G.
I have to admit that I'm not sure the Kindle will make it through next year. It's becoming easier and easier to get data sims in most countries, and the reading experience on a phone like the Note 3 is pretty good. I always love when I can get rid of one more item, so the Kindle is in jeopardy. However, if Amazon opened up the browser on the newest Paperwhite, I'd probably be hooked back in.
This thing is now discontinued, but can still be purchased used through Amazon. Newer versions do not have a browser that works over 3G.
Griffin PowerJolt Micro
I just realized that even though I've had this for over a year, I forgot to write about it last year. The PowerJolt Micro is the smallest car to USB charger you could possibly have. It seems like the kind of item that you'd use so infrequently that it wouldn't be worth carrying, but GPS burns more battery than anything else on a phone, so it seems like every time I really need power desperately, I'm in a car. In other words, I might only use this 4-5 times per year, but it's a lifesaver every time.
Wool and Prince Better Button-Down Shirt
For the first time in roughly seven years, I'm wearing something other than a T-shirt. Wool and Prince launched on Kickstarter with the promise of durable wool shirts that rarely need to be washed. Even though I somehow missed their Kickstarter, I emailed them as soon as I heard about them and they graciously sent me a shirt. I'm glad they did, because I haven't worn a different one since I got it.
I've gone on and on about wool in the past, but a quick recap: it keeps you cool when it's hot, warm when it's cool, it's extremely odor resistant, it dries fast, it feels warm when it's wet, and it doesn't wrinkle like cotton. In other words, it's perfect.
The trick is getting wool clothing that uses the finest fibers, so that it's not bulky like a sweater. Wool and Prince had custom fabric woven for them that is incredible. Even though I've worn wool exclusively for seven years and am really into it, I doubt I'd be able to identify this fabric as wool if I didn't already know about it. It's thin and crisp feeling, just like cotton.
The build quality on the shirt is excellent and the cut is excellent. Truly, it's a perfect shirt. I have the orange and blue plaid one, which looks pretty good. Ideally I'd like some less traditional patterns to choose from, but if I was a small shirt company, I'd focus on a few basics at first, too.
Icebreaker Anatomica V Shirt
I have two shirts, just like usual. One is the Wool and Prince button-down, and the other is my trusty icebreaker V neck that I've been wearing for over a year now. Even being worn for half of the days over the past year and a half, it's still holding up strong.
I have worn this shirt in every situation you can imagine, from working out to formal dinners, often without washing it in between, and it hasn't let me down yet. It looks good enough, fits perfectly, and has all of those magical wool properties.
Icebreaker Anatomica Briefs
Maybe it's because of the more-frequent washing, but these briefs don't last quite as long as the T-shirts. Having only two pair, I generally have to replace them every 6-8 months. Still, that's a lot of mileage out of just two pair of underwear.
In a pinch they work okay as a bathing suit, and because they're wool, they dry quickly and aren't miserable to wear while wet.
Versace Wool Jeans
Would someone please make some good wool blend travel jeans? I search ebay constantly for another pair of these as a backup, and no more have popped up online. They are the best pants I've ever had, and I have no idea what I'll do when they finally wear out.
The key is the fabric. It's 80% wool, 18% nylon, and 2% elastene. This combination has proven to be incredibly durable, odor resistant, and comfortable. I literally have only one pair of pants, and I've been wearing them every day for the past year. They fray a little bit at the bottom, so I worry that they won't make it another year. Hopefully there will be something to replace them.
People always suggest synthetic pants to me as a replacement, but I am not willing to switch back. Synthetics are worse in every single way, despite the claims of those who market them.
I wish I could give you a good recommendation for pants to buy, but I can't. Other than these, which aren't available anywhere, I haven't tried any pants I can recommend.
If you know of a source of the fabric I describe above, please get in touch. I will make the pants happen.
Earth Runners Ultralight Sandals
Almost two years later, and I'm still wearing the same sandals. I do have a pair of Vibram Fivefinger leather boots that I use when riding my motorcycle, but unless I'm traveling somewhere very snowy, my only footwear is a pair of these Earth Runners. On my left heel I've worn a hole through that you could pass a silver dollar through, but it doesn't really bother me so I just keep wearing them.
I like the Earth Runners because they have zero drop, are as thin as they get, have a simple and reliable lacing system, and they look great. I actually get compliments on them and get asked where I got them more than any other item of clothing that I wear.
Even though I'm highly skeptical of any benefits of the copper inserts, I would still order a new pair with the inserts for the simple reason that they prevent static shocks. Plus the copper looks really cool.
Mont Bell Plasma Down Jacket
I've been raving about my Mont Bell Ex-Light down jacket for years. I've had it so long now that I don't even remember when I bought it, and it's held up perfectly. That's almost a shame, because Mont Bell has come up with a new jacket that's even better, but not quite better enough to justify selling and rebuying.
The Plasma weighs only 4.8 ounces, compared to the 5.6 ounces of the Ex-Light. It packs down a little bit smaller, too. It uses less down, but higher fillpower, so it's roughly the same warmth, even though it's smaller.
I'm a sucker for smaller stuff, so if I were buying today, I'd buy the plasma. If you want to save a little bit of money, or if you already have an Ex-Light, it's still a perfectly amazing jacket.
Either one packs up tiny, weighs next to nothing, and can keep you warm even when skiing.
This is the only warm article of clothing I have now, since I'm trying to acclimatize myself to cold weather. My hair is long enough that I don't need a hat, and I've given up on gloves and scarves and stuff like that.
Marmot Mica OR Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Shell
I'm still wearing the Marmot Mica rain shell, but it's since been discontinued and the replacement, the Super Mica, is a little bit heavier. If I were buying again today, I'd get the Outdoor Research Helium II jacket, which weighs 10% less than the Mica, despite being very similar. I've owned Outdoor Research products in the past and found them to be excellent.
I very rarely wear a rain shell, but when I do it's because not having one would be miserable. I had twenty-four hours in Amsterdam a few months ago, and it rained so much that without a decent shell I would have stayed in my hotel all day. Since I don't wear it often, it's got to pack down tiny, which both of these do.
Ray-Ban Polarized Foldable Wayfarers
I'm still loving the sunglasses and I take them everywhere I go. They block a good amount of sun, are polarized (which cuts out most glare), look good, and fold down to a nice compact size. Not much room for improvement here.
If you don't care about polarization, they have a bunch of cool color options, but I'd rather have black on black with polarization. I actually gold-leafed the temples on mine, but it wore out and looked bad pretty quickly.
Tom Bihn Synapse Backpack (for now...)
I'm still a huge fan of the Tom Bihn Synapse Backpack. Everything I said about it last year holds up: it's a great size, has excellent organization, top build quality, etc. If you're looking for a backpack in the 19-25 liter range, go with this one. It's 19 liters, but due to the excellent organization, it can hold a lot more than you think.
They also started making a 25 liter version of the pack this year. I haven't tried it personally, but it looks similar enough to the 19 liter that I imagine it's excellent. If you really can't fit into the 19L (you probably can), I'd go with this.
Despite the recommendation, I'm not using the Synapse 19 anymore. Why? Because I'm working on a custom "Life Nomadic" backpack with Brent Thacker. As you can see, my gear list has gotten shorter every year. When I travel with the Synapse, I have a ton of empty space. That can be handy, but whenever I can travel with less, I want to do so.
So we're building a 15 liter backpack designed specifically for minimalist travelers who use the pack both for travel and day-use. I've been using the first prototype for about two months now, and the second version is almost done. The pack has several features I came up with that have never been done in a backpack before, and which make it a real pleasure to use while traveling. Even though the first prototype needs work, I already love it and wouldn't want to give it up.
Once we settle on a final design we'll sell al limited run of 50 packs or so exclusively to my readers, and then maybe do a kickstarter run or something like that.
Vapur Element Bottle
I have this ongoing fantasy that I'm going to brew tea as I travel and keep it warm, but in reality that doesn't happen, even when I have the proper equipment. Instead I just need a bottle to drink water from when working out, hiking, or taking a long flight or train ride.
The Vapur Element fits the bill perfectly. It weighs next to nothing, rolls up into a tiny little package, but holds .7 liters of water.
1980s Reissue Miniature Kem Cards
These are the only high quality miniature cards. They're made by Kem, who make all the cards for poker rooms across the world.
I know that you guys liked this recommendation last year, because I've been battling all of you on ebay to try to buy another deck. These cards were made briefly during World War II, and then again briefly in the 80s. You can tell when yours were made by looking at the three digit code on the ace of spades. The leather case of the 1940s one is awesome, but the newer decks tend to be in better condition. I use a 1987 deck with an old leather case.
These are only available on ebay. They used to go for around $25 per deck, but since I wrote about them it's more like $75-100. I only see 2-4 hit ebay per year, so get after it if you want a deck.
I use three GoToobs, one for Dr. Bronner's soap, one for shampoo, and another for toothpaste. In an ideal world I'd prefer squared off containers for more efficient packing, but barring that, these are pretty good. They don't leak, have good caps, and area easy to refill. I also bought one of their small pill containers for my vitamin D pills, but it's nothing special.
Oral-B Pulsonic Electric Toothbrush
Finally an electric toothbrush that you can travel with! I've wanted something like this forever, but all of the Sonicare ones were so big that it wasn't worth it. The Oral-B Pulsonic is small enough that it can fit wherever a regular toothbrush fits, especially if you remove the head for travel. The batteries only last for two weeks, but its small size makes it passable as a regular toothbrush when the battery finally gives.
If it was chargeable by USB, that would make it perfect. I was going to try to modify it, but it's hard to access any of the electronics inside, and I really have no idea what I'm doing, so I gave up.
Bucky 40 Blinks Sleep Mask
For those of you who have been reading my gear posts for a while, you might remember that I bought one of these on a lark many years ago, and got the pink and purple stripey one because it was a dollar less. I finally determined this year that it was worn out, and bought another one, spending the extra dollar to get a plain black one.
And... I lost it on the first trip and have gone back to my worn out pink one. I didn't like the new one as much as I liked the worn out one, so I guess they get better with age, as the foam breaks down a little bit. If you want to be able to manage your sleep schedule across time zones, having a good sleep mask like this is essential.
Hearos Xtreme Protection Ear Plugs
These may be cheap and tiny, but they make all the difference sometimes. On a recent cruise I went on I was fortunate enough to get the room directly over the blaringly-loud disco. I was driven half-mad by the noise, but would have gone fully insane if I didn't have the Hearos to cut out most of the noise. Soft and comfortable, these plugs block more sound than any other earplug.
Carbon Fiber Designs Koolstof Money Clip
The Koolstof money clip is the ultimate minimalist traveler's wallet. I load it up with whatever few cards I need and some cash, and then forget it's in my pocket. Because it's a money clip and not a wallet, any size currency fits in it.
This money clip is a classic example of minimalist perfection-- there's just not that much to say about it because it does everything you'd hope for, and nothing more. It's non-metallic, so you can waltz right through metal detectors with it.
I don't think this thing is actually available for sale anywhere, but I'm showing it just in case you see one somewhere (Japan) and want to grab one. It adds two power outlets to any AC adapter, which is incredibly useful when combined with a universal adapter like the Kikkerland.
Icebreaker Tracer Running Shorts
I have an older but very similar version of these. They're great for working out and running, or just having something to wear when you're washing your single pair of pants. I do wish they had at least one real pocket for keys and gym card, but going without isn't so tough.
Hilarious Bathing Suit by Pistol Pete
My favorite belted bathing suit from Speedo became discontinued, so I was forced to wade through all sorts of horrifying web sites to find another similarly funny bathing suit. For reasons I can't explain, besides being small and packable, my criteria for a bathing suit is that it's as hilarious as possible. They aren't available anymore, but the pair I have is faux denim with a pink belt. It makes me look like a never-nude (Arrested Development reference...).
Here's a similar pair on Amazon in a lovely plaid pattern.
I finally got my pack down to under ten pounds total. The exact weight isn't important, but having something that light makes it very easy and efficient to travel all over the place on any timetable by any method available.
Travel gear continues to get better every year, thanks to technology improving and smaller companies filling in the gaps using platforms like Kickstarter. The one big thing we need now are good 80%+ wool jeans. Icebreaker has some pants that look more like sweatpants, and there are all sorts of synthetic options, but nothing compares to these impossible-to-find Versace jeans I'm wearing.
I'll keep you updated on the new backpack we're working on. I'm very excited for people to use it, but with awesome bags like the Synapse available, we really have to make it excellent before we can release it.
Many of the links here are affiliate links, including the Amazon ones. Buying gear through those links helps support this site, and specifically, makes me more likely to buy more gear to test for the next gear post.
I also sometimes get free or discounted products from companies. Sometimes they offer me a discount, and sometimes I ask for a discount. I turn down free products if I wouldn't have bought them with my own money.
Neither the links nor discounts I might get affect my reviews or recommendations, but some people won't believe that, so I'd rather be up front about it.
Also, I'm calling this the 2014 gear post instead of 2013, because it's intended for purchases in 2014. Plus it makes me seem like I'm early rather than late :)