I'm going to do something a little bit different with the gear post this year. Usually I go over every single item in a small amount of detail. This year has only a few changes but they are really exciting changes, so I'm going to highlight only the differences.
Once you finish reading this post, you can go back to the 2017 Gear Post to see the things that didn't change. Next year I'll do a full writeup again, as it would be annoying to have to keep going through back posts.
Wool Wool Wool
I have to start the gear post off by talking about wool, even though I'm sort of sick of writing an ode to wool every year. The bottom line is that it is essentially impossible to travel light without wool clothing. Everything I wear is wool, and that's the secret to being able to wear the same clothes every day, and thus not have a huge backpack full of stuff.
Most of my wool stuff remained the same this year, but Wool and Prince and Makers and Riders both updated their key pieces.
Wool and Prince now has more fitting options. The old ones fit me really well so I was worried about this, but the slim fit actually fits even better than before. They also have a ton of different type of shirts now, so there will be something for you even if you don't like button-downs. My every day shirt is a button down from them, and I also carry a v-neck tee for working out or really hot days. I have one of the work shirts at the island, but I think it would be too heavy for year-round single-shirt use. Also, the natural white t-shirts are somewhat transparent -- I tried one, but you could see my chest hair through it, so it's probably not the best choice unless you are layering. The other colors are great, though.
There was a major update to the Makers and Riders pants, and it is all positive. The back pockets are finally passport-sized and, even better, have a secret zip pocket on the right side. I love the new gray color. For many years I complained that the back pockets were too small, but now I'm 100% happy about these pants.
Lenovo Carbon Thinkpad X1 5th Generation
The laptop of my dreams has arrived! I used the NEC/Lenovo LaVie for many years and was always totally happy with it, but Lenovo has raised the bar big time with the new Carbon.
The bad news is that it's a little bit heavier. The LaVie was 1.87 pounds and the touch version I later switched to was 2.04 pounds. The Carbon X1 weighs in at 2.49 pounds. But what you get for that is well worth it.
First of all, you get a larger screen. It measures 14" rather than 13.3", but thin bezels mean that the computer footprint is virtually identical. The screen also has a wider gamut range and is matte, which makes it one of the best laptop screens I've used. The resolution is the same at an excellent 2560x1440.
One of the big features I was excited about is the SIM card slot. I got a T-Mobile tablet plan and put the SIM in the laptop, so that now I always have internet. This has been a huge quality-of-life improvement as I never have to worry about flaky internet, getting wifi passwords, or draining phone batteries using hotspot.
I bought the Japanese version of the laptop (because you get many extra keys that can be remapped), so I had to replace the cellular data card in it, which was both inexpensive and easy.
I've always preferred the eraser-like trackpoint of the Thinkpad series to the trackpads that most other people seem to like. I'm extremely happy to have a laptop that has a trackpoint again. I disabled the trackpad so that my palms don't accidentally hit it when I'm typing.
Along with the awesome trackpoint (and excellent trackpad, if that's your thing) comes what is generally considered to be the best laptop keyboard. And if you get the Japanese one like I always do, you get a bunch of extra useful keys. Even if you don't, the US keyboard also has page up, page down, home, and end.
The last thing I love about the laptop is the port situation. It has two USB-C ports, a USB 3 port on each side, and a full size HDMI port. There's also a headphone jack and a microsd slot, though the latter is a bit inconvenient to access.
I won't go through the whole rundown, but it's pretty funny to compare this laptop to the Macbook Air which is both 20% heavier and worse, often significantly, in literally every specification except possibly battery life.
I also like that at home I can have a single USB-C cable which supplies power to the laptop and carries the 4K video signal to my monitor.
Long story short, having a SIM slot on your laptop is amazing as a traveler, it's been way too long since I had a trackpoint, and I love Thinkpad build quality and practicality.
Snow Peak Titanium 350 Kanpai Bottle
When a reader contacted me to let me know a much better double-insulated thermos existed, I was a little bit skeptical. And then when I saw the price, I was shocked. It appeared to be much better, though, so I bit the bullet and paid $159.95 for a 13oz container.
The first thing to know is that it's incredibly light. When empty it seems almost unreal. That alone is enough to get my attention.
The wide mouth is actually wider than the main interior cylinder, which makes it much easier to clean and to load. I also like that the lids are very low profile, so it's actually half an inch shorter than the Klean Kanteen while still holding 8% more.
Some of these may seem like slight differences, but they add up to create a very satisfying container that just oozes quality. My only gripe is that it's hard to grip the lid, especially when I twisted it too tight before taking off on a plane.
One of the biggest benefits, though, is that I found stackable plastic containers that fit perfectly inside! I've long been trying to find a good solution for carrying tea and this is perfect. I ordered many on Amazon to try them out, and these ones were the best. You can fit three containers inside the Kanpai bottle.
Thanks to Paul Sandhu for recommending this!
Buy on Amazon
There is also a stainless steel version that's heavier and cheaper at Amazon
Buy the stacking containers on Amazon
This is my favorite phone currently, though it has some issues that annoy me.
What keeps me with LG is the dual-camera setup with both a wide angle and a regular lens. I find myself using the wide lens at least half of the time, so I'm totally unwilling to give it up. Especially for a traveler, it's great for both landscapes and tight interior shots.
It also has very good battery life and some of the best audio of any phone (though it doesn't sound quite as good as the V20 to me). The screen is a great size at six inches, and has such small bezels that the phone still feels small.
On the other hand, it doesn't seem to have as good reception as my older phones and the screen doesn't look very good when it's at its dimmest.
It gets my recommendation mainly due to the wide-angle lens, battery life, and USB-C port, but it still has its flaws that prevent it from being a 10/10.
Buy on Amazon
YOJOCK USB C Charger
You'd better believe that if I'm willing to recommend something called a "YOJOCK", it had better be great. I compared and tried many USB C chargers from Amazon, and this was the best one.
It's small and has foldable plug prongs. It supports Power Delivery, which basically means that it can charge lots of different things efficiently. The same USB C cable that charges my laptop can be unplugged and plugged into my phone, which it will quick-charge.
It also has an extra 2.4A USB port which you can use to charge something else while you charge your phone or laptop.
The YOJOCK has a removable USB-C cable, which was very important to me. Besides making it possible for me to replace the cable with whichever length I want, it also means that I can remove the cable and use it to charge my phone from my laptop, or to copy files between the two.
Because it supports quick charge, I find that I can get away without an extra cable when I travel. I just swap between the laptop and the phone.
Buy from Amazon
For a long time I used the ASUS WL-330NUL as my portable router. My primary use for this is sharing internet connections on cruise ships and airplanes, but throughout the year it comes in handy for a few other purposes.
However, on the last cruise I was on the connection seemed to be really flaky. That lead me to explore other options, and I landed on the GL.iNet.
I haven't been on a cruise since, but I ran all of my laptop traffic through it for 24 hours and it didn't skip a beat. I like that it is standard hardware and runs a nicely skinned version of openwrt router software.
Buy from Amazon
Minaal Daily 2.0 in Aoraki Black
I switched to the flashy new black Minaal Daily, since my previous one was actually a beta version. I think the all black looks really cool and I like the improved side handle, but I find the pockets and organization a bit disappointing.
The quality on this bag is better than any other bag I've ever seen and I love how clean it looks and how much it holds, so it's still my top recommendation, but I actually think the beta version had better pockets and organization.
Vivo Barefoot Mata
I hate to recommend these as they are no longer available, but I'll mention them anyway because I wear them every day. Vivo makes great zero-drop thin-soled shoes, but they change their lineup all the time so if you find one you like you need to buy multiple pairs (I have four pairs of the Matas).
It's particularly crazy to me that these got discontinued, because they were the only slip-on shoes that Vivo made. I like them because there are no laces to deal with, they look pretty good, and can be worn barefoot in a pinch.
Buy from Amazon until they disappear
Fuchs Old-Style Travel Toothbrush
I contacted Fuchs last year after giving up on that terrible new version they had, and I bought out their entire stock of old toothbrushes. I think I have 40 of them or so. I'll keep looking for new ones so that I have something to recommend, though.
Can't buy these.
Things I Got Rid Of
I got rid of a few number of things this year, and I think it's almost more satisfying to get rid of items than it is to get new ones, so I'll mention them briefly here.
I stopped carrying the Soundmatters speaker around. I like it, but bluetooth in Linux is somewhat miserable and I have bluetooth speakers in Budapest, Vegas, and the island, so most of the time this goes unused.
LG 360 Camera
I still bring this around sometimes, but I find I just don't use it. The main reason is that 360 degree photos and videos seem to confuse people.
LG Extra Battery
I sure wish I could carry this around still, but the V30 doesn't have a removable battery. That's a real shame, but I guess I have to accept this new reality where no one besides me wants removable batteries.
I love the lock picks, but the one time I needed them I wasn't able to pick the lock, so I stopped carrying them around. Turns out you need to stay in practice for these to be useful.
Everything Else is the Same
I double checked, and everything else I carry is in the 2017 post. Not everything is pictured because I actually forgot a couple things this trip in my haste to catch a flight that ended up not being as delayed as it seemed it would be.
I've also been experimenting with carrying my old RX100 III camera around. The photo quality is just so good that I'm tempted every once in a while.
Sorry that this year's post isn't as comprehensive as usual. Next year I'll do a full write-up again. I have several items that I was researching or trialing that didn't make it into this year's post, so I have the feeling next year will be a big one.
To see all the gear from last year, check out the 2017 Gear Post.
Okay, okay, okay... I'll write the gear post before the year's over! One of the things that keeps me from writing all year is that it never really feels like the stuff in my pack has changed all that much. I switch one item at a time, never thinking I have much to write about. Then the end of the year comes, the citizenry demands a post, and I'm always surprised to see just how much has changed.
I called last year's gear post the Style Edition because although it was 100% functional, I also made a few choices to have slightly better looking clothing. That trend has continued a little bit this year, but I'm calling this one the Zen Edition because my already minimal packing list has become even shorter.
When I first started traveling, the minimalism aspect of it was pure coincidence. I had intended on buying a normal backpack, but Todd convinced me to go smaller. Our first 28L Deuter Futura backpacks seemed impossibly small at first, but after a year of learning what is and isn't necessary, space gradually opened up. My response was to fill it with new gadgets-- eventually I had a portable kettlebell, a full cot with silk sheets, and who knows what else.
As the years went on, Todd continued to get smaller backpacks, which influenced me to get smaller backpacks as well. I would always pack them completely full until recently. Last year I had some empty space, and now my pack is less than halfway full. If I could find a well organized and designed 12 liter pack, I would use it.
Part of the reason I have less stuff now is because technology keeps getting better. My laptop is tiny and light. The camera I have now couldn't exist five years ago when I started all this. Everything charges with the same cable. The other reason I've continued to reduce what I travel with, though, is because carry unnecessary items makes your trip worse. They weigh your pack down, clutter it up, and make it take longer to pack and unpack. The less I travel with, the better my experience is. At this point my pack weighs 10.7 pounds, which makes it trivial to carry it all day, even when climbing through the mountains.
I've started doing a lot of YouTube video blogging and I've been working on finding the best video camera for the job.Since I post mostly to YouTube, I don't need a super high resolution camera. I've been using a Canon SD900 for several years now and it's an excellent camera. But when I take videos longer than 10 minutes or so, I've found it freezes my MacBook Pro up when i connect my camera to the laptop via USB cable, and I have to force-quit iPhoto. So, I went in search for another camera. I tried the Flip (Mino series) and the DXG 567V HD cameras. They're both in the $100 - $150 range.
I would rate the DXG above the Flip Mino any day of the week. It has a macro lens setting and is higher quality. It uses rechargable AA batteries. While both the DXG and Flip feel cheap compared to the Canon, they are good camcorders. But after testing their video qualities, I decided they weren't any better than the Canon. So, how to keep it from freezing up?
I ended up bying a $2 SD Micro USB flash card reader off eBay. It just allows me to plug my flash card directly into my laptop via a USB port. For whatever reason, I'm able to sync long movies using the flash card reader just fine when the cable fails & locks iPhoto up.
But I also wanted to test different camera resolutions to see if I could get away with using a lower resolution video setting on the Canon camera, since the movies are really large files on the 640x480 30 FPS (FPS = "Frames Per Second") setting. For example, a 5 minute video is 325MB!
I've started doing a lot of YouTube video blogging and I've been working on finding the best video camera for the job.Since I post mostly to YouTube, I don't need a super high resolution camera. I've been using a Canon SD900 for several years now and it's an excellent camera. But when I take videos longer than 10 minutes or so, I've found it freezes my MacBook Pro up when i connect my camera to the laptop via USB cable, and I have to force-quit iPhoto. So, I went in search for another camera. I tried the Flip (Mino series) and the DXG 567V HD cameras. They're both in the $100 - $150 range. I would rate the DXG above the Flip Mino any day of the week. It has a macro lens setting and is higher quality. It uses rechargable AA batteries. While both the DXG and Flip feel cheap compared to the Canon, they are good camcorders. But after testing their video qualities, I decided they weren't any better than the Canon. So, how to keep it from freezing up? I ended up bying a $2 SD Micro USB flash card reader off eBay. It just allows me to plug my flash card directly into my laptop via a USB port. For whatever reason, I'm able to sync long movies using the flash card reader just fine when the cable fails & locks iPhoto up. But I also wanted to test different camera resolutions to see if I could get away with using a lower resolution video setting on the Canon camera, since the movies are really large files on the 640x480 30 FPS (FPS = "Frames Per Second") setting. For example, a 5 minute video is 325MB! So I ran some tests, and you can judge the results for yourself. What I found was that there was very little difference between the highest and lowest settings except for the "video via email" setting on the camera, which was too low. So if you're just planning on doing YouTube videos, you might as well do the 320x240 at 15 FPS. However I think I'll use the 640x480 at 15 FPS (the 2nd highest setting) just so I have the larger video size for repurposing the video later. Doing 15 FPS instead of 30 FPS cuts the video size in half. The file size decreases by 50% for each setting. They are ordered below from largest (highest quality on the camera) to smallest: Canon SD900 Testing Video Quality 640x480 + 30fps Canon SD900 Testing Video Quality 640x480 + 15fps Canon SD900 Testing Video Quality 320x240 + 30fps Canon SD900 Testing Video Quality 320x240 + 15fps Canon SD900 Testing Video Quality - Email setting