And now it's time for the one post per year about which people bug me for months: the 2017 gear post.
I realized that a lot of non-subscribers read this post every year, so I thought I'd drop a little background for context.
I've been more or less a nomad since 2008, and was one of the very first to really travel in a minimalist (one small backpack) way. I'm sure others came before me (and my friend Todd), but none I'm aware of who were writing about it.
I still travel for half to two-thirds of the year, exclusively with the gear I'll outline below. And even though I obviously have more items at home (cooking stuff, gym shoes), I don't have any additional clothes or warm-weather gear. In any given year I go to warm places in the summer as well as cold places in the winter. I work full time from my laptop both programming and writing. In other words— this is all of the gear I have, and I use it to do a lot of stuff.
While I am very value-conscious, I'm not very price conscious. As I have relatively few things and use them all the time, it's worth it to me to pay for the best. If you want the very best, my list is probably correct for you. If you travel less and don't care so much about having the best, you might look for alternatives. In a few cases I'll offer alternatives that I think are good.
I get an affiliate commission on some of these items and received some of them for free. I'm sure this sways me a little bit, but I'm pretty obsessed with getting the best gear. I'd rather pay for the best than get second best for free.
Also, you might like my five-star-rated book called Around The World in Fifteen Friends. It's a short collection of my best travel stories involving fifteen people I met around the world.
Wool and Prince Button-Down Shirt
I don't know how many more good things I can say about Wool and Prince. Every year their button-down shirt gets a little bit better (I think it's longer now) and has more patterns and colors available.
It's 100% wool, but everyone thinks that it's cotton. If you haven't experienced the glory of wool, get this shirt. I wear it every day for at least two to three weeks before washing it, stains magically disappear (I've already spilled chocolate on this one, haven't washed it yet, and there's no sign), doesn't ever smell bad, dries quickly, etc. Honestly, wearing cotton strikes me as a bit barbaric.
One of these shirts lasts me almost exactly a year with daily wear. Even then, the only thing that stops me from wearing them longer is that after that much time the color fades by ~20% or so. I still have my very first one on the island and I wear it as a work shirt.
Wool and Prince V-Neck T-Shirt
While the button down is light years ahead of anything else, the t-shirt is an incremental improvement. I switched from an icebreaker t-shirt and found the feel and fit to be slightly better with Wool and Prince. I really should have ironed or worn this before taking the photo.
Makers and Riders Washable Wool Pant
So far this is the only wool pant that has had any sort of longevity. It's blended with nylon, which makes it last a solid year. As far as I can tell, this is the only good-looking and functional wool pant that is actually available anywhere.
I think that the Makers and Riders pant strikes the functionality-form balance perfectly. They look like dress pants, but you can run in them, work out with them, hike with them, etc. And because they're wool like the Wool and Prince stuff, they don't need to be washed frequently, dry quickly, etc.
This year the pockets are deeper, which I've really come to appreciate, though I still wish the back pockets were passport-depth. I figure if I mention this enough they'll eventually cave and make deeper pockets.
Icebreaker Anatomica Brief Underwear
These are good looking briefs that have all of the benefits of wool. I go a few days without washing them, which seems like a strangely intimated detail to be sharing on my blog. Most of the time I just wash one pair in the shower and let it dry while I wear the other pair. When I wash my pants and shirt in the washing machine I throw them in as well.
Usually I keep shorts around for workouts and laundry day, but I don't have any good recommendations right now. I really want a wool short that's relatively short but has at least one pocket. I prefer an athletic material so that I can use them for working out. For a long time I wore the now-discontinued shorts from Wool and Prince, which were okay, but I made the mistake of redoing my floors with them and now they're decimated.
Open to suggestions that meet those criteria (short, wool, one or more pockets).
Montbell Plasma 1000
I still love this jacket. Don't fall for the competitors which are much heavier and use less down. It's an expensive jacket, but it's priced that way for a reason.
This thing packs down to the size of a grapefruit and weighs less than a third of a pound, but is warm enough to keep you comfortable in sub-freezing temperatures. I've gone skiing many times with it as my only source of warmth.
Without something to block wind over it, it will be moderately warm. Perfect for non-windy spring or fall. Put a shell on top to trap heat and negate wind loss, and you'll be warm enough for anything.
Obviously this isn't going to keep you as warm as a 2+ pound down jacket, but I find it keeps me comfortable enough in any situation. If you're going to be traveling with a jacket all year round, it's critical that it not be huge (or it could take up your whole pack).
If you must get something warmer, get the new Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka. It has a hood as well as more down throughout the body. It weighs 8.4oz instead of 4.8oz, but is significantly warmer.
If you're going to Japan, buy it there. They have pockets on their version! And if you buy it in the mall in Ikebukuro you can get your tax back.
Patagonia Alpine Houdini Jacket
This is one of the lightest (2nd or 3rd, I think) breathable fully waterproof jackets, but is the only ultralight that has good features. I love that it's long enough to cover pockets, has a good hood with a brim, and has drawcord hem. I also think it looks pretty good compared to most other ultralight jackets.
One of its absolute best features is that it packs into its own pocket and is a VERY tight fit. No wasted space! It looks super wrinkly when you unpack it, but after a half a day or so all of the creases disappear.
This jacket pairs perfectly with the Montbell.
A buff is just a tube of fabric, wool in this case. I primarily use it as a hat, a function it serves perfectly, or sometimes as a neck warmer. I've also used it as a pillowcase, a balaclava for skiing, a towel, and a placemat on which to make tea. Sometimes you're just glad to have a decent-sized tube of wool.
As I've continued to use this backpack over this past year, I've come to appreciate it even more. The build quality and quality of materials is really top notch, and the function is great, too.
I really like that the zippers go all the way to the bottom, which makes it very easy to pack and unpack, and even easier to live out of. Before I'd sort of rummage through my bag and leave stuff in a pile around the bag. Now I lay the bag flat and unzipped and just lift the flap to get at stuff.
Maybe the best thing about this bag is that it just looks great. You don't feel ridiculous carrying it while wearing a button-down shirt, and can handle it as a briefcase as well. It also continues to surprise me with how much it can hold, as it looks very small for its capacity. Once in a while I'll have to haul groceries or gifts or something, and everything just seems to magically fit.
All that said— I designed a prototype of a bag a few years ago that's just begging to be produced with Minaal quality. We talk about it from time to time and they're open to the idea. I've designed a really cool flexible system that organizes everything and makes it all accessible from the outside, but still retains the ability to carry large objects.
Bug them here and tell them you want to see the Tynan bag produced.
Buy it from Minaal (they also have a big one if you don't want to be hardcore)
LG V20 Phone
Wow, I love this phone. I had my LG G4 up until a month ago, but the looming gear post pushed me over the edge towards getting a new phone. And I'm glad I did.
The LG V20 has a two key features for travelers, which I'll go over in detail.
1. Dual rear cameras. There's a standard high-end rear camera with all the bells and whistles like OIS, f/1.8 aperture, etc., but there's also a camera with a wide angle lens on it. I love the versatility of being able to take wide shots and have found I actually use that camera more than the regular one. The camera app is excellent and includes full manual controls as well as switching between lenses.
The video recording is also incredible. It has granular control over which of the three microphones to use, and manual controls over ISO, WB, etc.
2. Removable battery. Sometime last year I realized that I was only carrying around a spare battery pack to charge my phone, and that it was never convenient to do so. I'd end up in ridiculous situations where one of my pockets would contain my phone, the charger, and a cable. And I'd wait hours and hours for it to charge up.
Why not just have an extra battery meant for my phone so that I can swap it out instantly for a full charge? The extra battery and charger are smaller than the battery pack I was carrying, and the battery is way smaller. If I know I won't be home to charge for a while, I slip it in my pocket and forget about it.
This has been a big game changer for me. I no longer think about battery use or consider carrying a bulky charger. Plus it's more efficient. I don't lose 10% of the battery pack's power in transmission, nor do I wait hours to transfer energy where I need it.
Besides those two features, the phone has a 5.7" screen as well as a small always-on screen up top to show notifications. It also has a quad DAC audio amp built in. I expected this to be marketing fluff, but the audio quality on this phone is shockingly good. It reminds me of when I got a headphone amp back in the day and was similarly surprised that it made a substantial improvement. You've almost certainly not heard audio quality this good from any portable device.
If you're an Android user, this is the phone to beat in my opinion (Pixel apparently has a better camera, but I'd rather have two lenses), especially if you're a traveler.
If it's too expensive (I got a crazy deal on Craigslist), you could get the LG V10 which has some similar features, or the LG G5. Even my old G4 is totally usable still (and for sale).
Lenovo LaVie 360
Totally ignored by just about everyone, and now discontinued, the Lenovo LaVie 360 is the most amazing ultralight laptop ever. It totally baffles me that more people aren't obsessed with this laptop, as it's easily the best option for travelers.
It has an i7 processor, 8gb RAM, and can be upgraded easily to a 500gb+ SSD. The screen is a 13.3" 2560x1440 touchscreen, which is pretty phenomenal. It can be folded backwards to act as a tablet (which 99% of the time means that flight attendants won't make you turn it off during takeoff and landing). It has two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, and an SD card reader. And, one of my favorite features, the keyboard is actually a relabeled Japanese keyboard so it has a bunch of extra keys that you can remap.
All that would be great on its own, but it's also the lightest convertible laptop out there. Just a hair over 2 pounds.
For comparison, the new Macbook weighs the same amount, but has a much slower processor, 10% smaller screen, has only one port and no SD card reader, can't be used as a tablet, and costs twice as much.
I run Ubuntu with Gnome on mine and love it, but you can also run Windows. Even though this computer is over a year old, it's still the best one out there and the one I'd buy today. It's also a great deal now.
I oscillate between carrying a portable speaker and not. I love having it for playing classical music while I work and for listening to language tapes. The one major pitfall with the LaVie is that it has possibly the worst laptop speakers I've ever seen, so even for watching movies it's nice to have a bluetooth speaker.
But you may have noticed that a speaker doesn't always make it to the list because they're pretty big and heavy.
If you haven't heard of SoundMatters, that's sort of a shame. They're the ones who invented the technology that suddenly made portable speakers (like the much more popular Jawbone Jambox) sound good. But their first offering wasn't nearly as stylish as the Jambox, even though it sounded much better, so it didn't take off to the same level.
This new speaker doesn't have the same problem. It looks and feels better than any other speaker I've seen. Great materials, great design, solid feel. On top of that it's 40% smaller than the Jambox Mini.
The bass isn't as good as bigger ones, which is to be expected. But it's substantial enough that listening to rap music is enjoyable. Overall the sound quality is as excellent as it can be given the size and lack of AptX or direct 3.5mm cable.
I like that the back of the Moment is soft, so you can set it on its back and let it fill the room with classical music. It seems to be a fairly omnidirectional output. It also has a magnet in the back, which I've found surprisingly useful.
Asus WL-330NUL Router
This is a device that (among other things) will let you share a wired or wireless connection between multiple devices. I use it on airplanes and hotels where they try to limit you to one device per login.
It's also good if you use a Chromecast, because then you don't have to set up the network on it every time you use a new connection.
I love how compact this device is and that it's made by a competent company like Asus. Unfortunately they're becoming harder and harder to find.
LG 360 Camera
I bought this camera mainly because I'm planning on selling my RV, and it seemed like the best way to photograph the interior of it. But since I had it around, I decided to bring it on a couple trips with me.
Now I love it. One click on the camera or the phone and it takes a full 360 degree photo using its two 180 degree lenses. It even crops itself out for the most part. It can also take videos, which are pretty cool.
The resolution isn't great, nor is the overall quality, but it's good enough to convey what it's like to be somewhere, and that's what I like it for. It's also cool that you don't have to focus or even aim, as it captures everything.
Even the operation of the camera is really slick. The slipover case doubles as a small stand, the phone can wake it up using Bluetooth LE, and you can browse photos directly on it using the phone.
I have an older Chromecast which, for my purposes, is about the same as the new one. I don't use it often, but when I do it's generally to watch UFC fights on hotel TVs. If it were bigger or heavier I might get rid of it, but it's so small that I forget it's in my bag until I need it.
1964 Ears Qi Custom IEMs
A few years ago I had these custom in-ear monitors made. The company has now discontinued them, so I'm not sure what to recommend now. I haven't tried their new technology and the IEMs they make now are pretty expensive. Back when I had mine made they had carved out a niche making top quality IEMs at lower margins.
The benefit of Custom IEMs is that they fit your ears exactly and don't press outwards like normal earphones. That means that they remain comfortable for much longer— like an entire twelve hour flight. The sound quality is also ridiculous, particularly in the low-end. The only downside is that I find they don't block quite as much outside noise as regular IEMs.
I think it's worth making the plunge and spending the $500+ it takes to get some of these made, as long as you aren't the type to lose your headphones.
No longer available, but other customs are at 64audio.com
FinSix Dart Universal AC Adapter
Finally after two or three years FinSix shipped this AC adapter that I preordered on kickstarter. It's the smallest laptop AC adapter and supports any laptop up to 65W. It also has a 2A USB charger which can be located near the wall or laptop thanks to a reversible cable.
I wish that they had a better solution for cable management (last year's Zolt was awesome), but I live with it because it's so good in every other way.
I used to go nuts about each cable, but I don't care as much anymore. Back when my phone was micro-usb I got a charging speed boost by having a switch that turned the data pins off. That also prevented random charging spots from reading my phone.
Now that my phone uses USB C and my phone asks if I want to charge or transmit data, I just use regular cables.
Mainly I get two USB C cables, a 12" and a 36", plus my old micro-usb one for my speaker. It's so critical to be able to charge my phone that I don't mind having a spare, plus it's nice to be able to charge my phone and spare battery at the same time.
Skinny Plug Universal Adapter
I used to have a cool expensive clone of this that had a built in LED and lit up when it was plugged in. This was annoying when sleeping, but useful to see if a plug worked. I left it in the bathroom of the Melbourne Airport after boiling water for tea.
I go this one off Amazon and it works just like any other one. Half isn't shown because I forgot it at home. Or maybe in another airport— can't be sure. At around $10 I don't worry too much about them.
Anyway, this small adapter (double the size shown in photo since I'm missing half) can convert anything to either European or US. It also does many other countries, but not UK (though can convert UK sockets to US electronics).
Yazawa Japanese Power Splitter
You can buy this only in Japan (try LABI), but it's the best splitter ever. It converts one outlet into four and swivels, which is sometimes just as useful as the splitting feature.
The closest thing I've found in the US is this one, which you could try out.
Griffin PowerJolt Micro
This has been discontinued and replaced with a worse one. I love this adapter because it's so small and delivers 2.1A of power.
Since you can't get it anymore, you could consider the bigger one on Amazon. I would probably just not carry one, though, as most rental cars have USB now.
Breitling Transocean Unitime Pilot
Okay, this is a little bit ridiculous, but bear with me. This is unequivocally the best travel watch that exists. It lists for $12k, but can be had for $5k-6k on eBay. I got mine for substantially less than that through a total fluke. The thing is, high end watches hold their value really well, so if you buy low you can sell later if you need the money back.
Last year I featured my Omega Seamaster GMT watch. It allows you to see two (or three if you're creative) time zones at once. It also allows you to adjust the main time zone in one-click hour increments, making it very easy to switch time zones without messing up the seconds or minutes.
There are also watches called world time watches, which show every time zone simultaneously. The problem is that they are always cumbersome to switch time zones (think: go past the hour by a few minutes, then back), which defeats the purpose. Great if you stay in one place, terrible if you travel.
The Breitling Transocean Unitime is the first watch that does both. It shows all twenty-four time zones AND can be adjusted in one-hour clicks without disturbing the second or minute hand. I was infuriated as soon as I saw one, because I realized that I had no choice but to get one myself.
In addition it has a stopwatch on it that can record up to twelve hours with quarter-second precision. Breitling actually invented the wrist-mounted stopwatch.
I just love having a mechanical watch. It winds itself (and can stay wound for 72 hours with no movement), will last forever, and is just an amazing human creation. Each one is made by hand to incredibly precise specifications. Sometimes I just listen to it tick or marvel at the genius that went into it.
If you're going to buy one, I suggest getting one that doesn't have the globe image in the center. I bet those don't retain their value as well.
The Seamaster GMT is still an excellent choice for anyone who wants a smaller or less expensive watch. You can even buy mine if you email me.
Chopard SCH-135 Sunglasses
I bought these because I finally lost my Rayban Wayfarers and I saw it as a chance to try something new. I like that the bridge clicks into place and they feel like they may be slightly higher quality than the Raybans, but honestly I think they look a lot worse. If I ever lose them I'll just buy Raybans again.
Functionally they're equal, though: polarized glasses that fold up small enough to tuck away in your pocket.
I say get Raybans, as they look cooler and are cheaper, but if you're like me and want to try something new, you can get the Chopards.
Carbon Fiber Designs Koolstof Carbon Fiber Money Clip
I almost can't believe how long I've had this thing. I've stretched it out, dropped it, scratched it up, and it still works like it did on day one.
It's just a basic money clip that weighs next to nothing and is non-metallic so you can walk through the metal detector with it. Perfect example of a simple product executed well with nothing stupid added to it.
Somewhat Hilarious Bathing Suit
I don't know why, but I get a kick out of having a funny bathing suit. Nautical theme plus a real metal belt! Amazing!
My family hates this thing and will either refuse to swim with me or complain all the time. My grandmother is oddly supportive of it, though.
The funny part is that when I'm in Europe, no one bats an eye. There's always a guy with thirty years and thirty pounds on me who has a much smaller one.
I get these at Pistol Pete, which is obviously not meant for heterosexual people. Great bathing suits, though.
P38 Can Opener
I used to have one of these, lost it, and then remembered how useful it was once a friend gave me a spare. It's technically a can opener, which is sometimes useful, but I like to use it as a small knife. TSA doesn't notice it and when they do they seem satisfied with the explanation that it's a can opener. I used to wear it around my neck, which was very convenient, but sometimes it would stab me, which was inconvenient.
Bogota Lock Picks
I'm not great at lock picking, but I'm good (and stubborn) enough that if I lock myself out of an AirBnb that doesn't have a totally insane lock, I'm going to get myself back in. I stick these in my toiletry kit and hope that they appear to be some sort of dental pick. Haven't had anyone say anything yet.
These are titanium, so they're very light and durable, and I actually prefer them to full sized picks.
Come on, Fuchs! They used to have a perfect design, one that was easy to open and close and that ensured that your bristles never touched the possibly gross counter, no matter which way the brush was laid down. It was so genius. Then went I went to order another one, I was sent this monstrosity.
It's hard to open and allows the bristles to touch in just about every position. I'm reluctantly using it now, but don't love it at all. This happened right before the gear post, but I'll find something better for next year.
Tweezerman Stainless GEAR Facial Hair Scissors
If you want some scissors to keep your beard (or hair, if you're real adventurous) in check, these are the ones to get. They've been through over a hundred different airports with me and have only been confiscated once in Shanghai. The quality is good and the rounded tips make TSA agents feel comfortable.
Henckels Ultra Slim Nail Clipper
I honestly never thought I'd become the kind of guy who had posh nail clippers and actually cared about them, but here we are.
People are so aggressively annoyed by these in the Amazon reviews, but it's only because they aren't using them right. Once you master the basic technique, which can be done in ten seconds, you will love these nail clippers. They're sharper than any others I've used and are incredibly compact.
Laser Lite Ear Plugs
Right now I'm writing this at midnight from a capsule hotel. Capsule hotels are awesome, but are often occupied by people who snore. Guess how I'm going to solve that problem after I finally finish this beast of a post? Laser Lite ear plugs.
I like that these are really comfortable and soft and have very good noise reduction. Plugs are available that have one decibel more, but they always fall out on me. These usually stay in.
Wahl Travel Trimmer
I've tried just using scissors to keep my beard at an acceptable length. Maybe someone has the aptitude for that, but I end up looking like my nickname should be "Patches". I love this little trimmer because it does a good job and uses a single AA battery, which can be purchased anywhere.
I have a fairly genius idea for a replacement for next year, but some testing is required. Until then, you'll love this one.
Outdoor Research Backcountry Organizer
This is the bag that I've used for many years to keep all my toiletries contained. It has a lot of reasonable pockets and organization, but there's nothing very special about it. It's discontinued now, so I'll come up with a better one for next year.
EarthRunners Circadian Sandals
I really don't like wearing socks, so I wear sandals all the time, even in the winter. People always ask if my feet get cold, but they really don't unless it's wet.
These sandals are great because they have the suede footbed and leather laces, but the leather is reinforced with nylon so that it doesn't stretch. That's new this year.
My only beef is that the clips that hold the laces are really bad. My come loose all the time. Every other aspect of this shoe is super high quality, so I hope they improve those clips soon.
As usual, this gear list has taken me way longer to write than expected, so I've saved my dessert for last: my portable tea set.
When you go minimal in every other way, you give yourself the luxury of getting to take an extra item or two. I love having my tea every day, and I love being able to make tea for other people. For me it's the perfect social experience, and also a meditative one if taken alone.
No one actually makes a good travel tea set (business opportunity! Let's collaborate!), so I've ordered a ton of them and cobbled them together to make something nice.
Most of the stuff I got from eBay, so you may have trouble finding it. Hopefully you can figure it out from the links I've posted and the pictures.
Here's the base set on eBay
It's actually usable on its own, but the "metal" tray is actually plastic and doesn't drain well due to having only one hole. So my friend Brian made me a custom-milled one with my logo in it out of rare coco bolo wood.
I also bought a better gaiwan. These are hand painted, so they're not often in stock, but here's one as of this writing.
This is bigger than the stock one, but it will still fit in the case. It's painted in Famille-rose style, which is a Chinese technique that uses layers of translucent paint to build up a textured colored image. I really like it and always look for Famille-rose ceramics in museums, so it's cool to have a gaiwan made the same way.
You can use the original cups, as I've found it totally impossible to find slightly bigger ones.
Last I replaced the gross polyester towel with a custom made linen one from this etsy store (7" is perfect).
I actually use this for drying off sometimes, too, but if I'm on an airplane or somewhere else where I don't want to have tea drips everywhere, I put this down. I got one size bigger than I'd actually need for that so that it has enough surface area to dry me off.
Klean Kanteen 12oz Insulated
I replaced the Vapur water bottle with this because I like that it keeps liquids either hot or cold. It can also be used with the immersion boiler to boil water. I was always tempted to try this with the Vapur as well, but thought it would certainly end in disaster.
I mostly use this for drinking water or to boil water, but sometimes I'll brew a bag of tea in it and drink it in the car or something like that. Overall it's versatile enough that I don't mind something heavier and bulkier than the Vapur.
This is an extremely easy way to heat water, and also an extremely easy way to look suspicious at an airport. Dunk it in the Klean Kanteen and wait a while until the water boils all over the place. Or time it perfectly like I try to do and pull it out right before that.
It is extremely important that you never have this plugged in unless it's in water. Put it in water, plug it in, unplug it, pull it out of the water. It will instantly self-destruct (seriously) if you have it plugged in but not in water. The bad reviews are all from people who don't get this concept.
Big news is that I'm selling my RV. Once I'm back in SF I'll take photos of it and write a proper sales pitch. But if you're one of those people who has been trying to buy it over the years, or you just want to own the RV that started the Rialta craze, email my name at my name dot com.
Please share this list with other travelers. If you base your gear post off mine, consider linking here.
I recorded a video but it's 3am here and I'm too tired to edit it. Coming next week.
Welcome to the 2016 Gear Post! This is my most anticipated post of the year, which means that it's the one I'm harrassed about the most. Due to popular request, I did individual photos for each item, which takes considerably longer to do. My curent backpack weight is around 10.5 pounds, and as you probably know, this is everything I take with me to 20+ countries per year. A huge thank you to the people who buy items through my Amazon links (which fund more experimentation for the next year) and to all of the companies that give me free products to evaluate.
If you are one of the many travelers who bases your own packing list off mine, consider linking to this post.
My main criteria when choosing clothing is versatility. I need clothing rugged enough that I can blaze trails on the island, yet formal enough for nice dinners. For many years this balance was impossible to strike, so I opted for rugged clothes that got the job done but made me look like a confused alpinist. Now such great options exist that most people don't realize just how versatile my clothing is.
For the new year I resolved to not buy any books or clothes. It's been about 100 days into this resolution and reflecting on the process is important for me to understand why I'm doing this and whether it's all worth it.
I see no reason why I won't be able to continue this throughout the spring and summer. My Kindle continues to get a lot of use thanks to Instapaper and IFTTT and our library has a wonderful lending policy. My only thought is that my wife will view some shortcoming in my wardrobe and will tempt me with new clothes.