Merry Christmas! As seems to be my pattern lately I keep pushing the gear post later and later. Sorry about that! It happens because I get excited about gear and always end up testing a bunch of things right near the end.
One thing I'm very excited about this year is that I was able to merge several items and have fewer overall. My shorts and bathing suit are now one and the same, and several items got merged into one.
Without further ado:
Wool and Prince Button Down
I've talked about this button down for who knows how many years now, and I still love it just as much. The astute reader might notice that this is the same exact shirt I got last year. Usually these shirts look pretty tired after a year, but this year mine still looks good as new. I asked the manufacturer and he said that they have made some changes to make it more durable. It's also possible that I wore my short sleeve shirt more this year and that also contributed to the long sleeve lasting longer.
For those who haven't read my gear post before, I love this shirt because it looks great, is durable, and is very comfortable. And, of course, it's made out wool.
Buy at Wool and Prince
Wool and Prince V-Neck T-Shirt
This shirt faded more quickly than usual, but I think it might be because I wore it more than in previous years. I actually tried to dye mine and it worked but I did just poor enough of a job that it looked like someone had accidentally spilled some oil on my back. After two or three people asked what was wrong with my shirt, I got a new one.
I would love it if this shirt had a pocket on it, as it is my habit to put my folded-up boarding pass in my shirt pocket.
Buy at Amazon
Wool and Prince Pants
I saw that Wool and Prince had pants and I had to try them. I really love that they have a gusseted crotch and I like the extra stretch in the material. I have only been wearing them for two months so I can't speak to their reliability yet, but so far they seem great. I still really like the Makers and Riders pants of previous years and can't say definitively yet which are better. My hunch is that I like the W&P fabric/cut better, but the M&R pocket configuration better.
Buy at Wool and Prince
Rip Curl Global Entry Boardwalk Shorts
Who would have thought that I'd recommend something from Rip Curl? I've been unhappy about short selectiosn for a long time, and finally started looking into shorts that could also function as a bathing suit since I don't swim all that much. I searched for shorts that would dry quickly, be long enough to pass as normal shorts, and have enough pockets to be useful. The Global Entry Boardwalk fits the bill and works surprisingly well. The design is extremely thoughtful, with lots of hidden perforations to drain water. Pictured are a slightly worse/shorter version that I bought in the airport on the way here because I forgot mine at home and wanted something for the photo.
Buy at Amazon
Icebreaker Anatomica Briefs
Well, here I am posting pictures of my underwear online again. These are the briefs that I've been wearing for years (two new pairs every year or so) and I don't see how they could really be any better. That said, I'd definitely try a pair made by Wool and Prince if they started making them.
Buy at Amazon
Montbell Plasma 1000 Jacket (Japanese Version)
Once again, the king of warmth to weight reigns supreme. This jacket has lasted for many years now, is nice and warm, and looks ok. If you buy it in Japan it will have pockets, but if you buy it in the US it won't.
Buy at Montbell or in Japan
Arcteryx Norvan SL Hoody
I loved the idea of the windbreakr as a shell until I found myself running through a storm in Riga, soaking wet, desperately trying to find a working ATM so that I could get cash to get to the airport.
After a ton of research, this seemed to be the lightest shell (4.4oz) that isn't specifically meant for road biking. It's not as tiny as my non-waterproof windbreaker from last year, but it's fully waterproof and dries very quickly. The fit is perfect. Online people talk about how it's so fragile that you can't use it with a backpack, but that hasn't been my experience.
Buy from Amazon
Crocs LiteRide Pacer
Finally the ultimate shoe has been created, and against all odds it's made by Crocs. I actually like the slip-on ones from last year better, but they don't look amazing and I hear about it constantly from friends and family. These sneakers look pretty normal, especially in the all black configuration. The reason I love Crocs is because they're durable, easy to wash, and don't need to be worn with socks. That said, these started to smell during a fairly grueling three week trip through central Asia after six months of constant wear.
Buy at Amazon
Roav Eyewear Lennox Sunglasses
These sunglasses are still kicking and despite being forgotten in my pockets many times they still look brand new. They're polarized, look cool, and fold into the smallest package you can imagine sunglasses folding into.
Buy at ROAV
Breitling Transocean Unitime Watch
As far as I know, this is the only mechanical watch that can show all 24 time zones and can switch between them with a twist of the crown. It's a little bit big for my wrist, but worth it to easily be able to see all of the time zones at once. If smart watches didn't have to be recharged constantly I might switch to one, but I love mechanical watches and am happy to wear this one.
As I mentioned last year, a more budget version is the Omega Seamaster GMT, though there are a few Breitlings that are around $3500 with a leather band or $4500 with a metal band.
Buy on ebay
Minaal Daily Backpack
I've had this backpack for four years now and it looks as good as it idid when it was new. I occasionally look around at other backpacks, but I've never found one that is so well built and looks so clean. The size is just about perfect for the kind of travel I do— I usually travel with it about 1/3 empty which makes it very easy to reach around and find stuff, but leaves enough room that if I buy a bunch of tea (or, say, want to carry an Oculus Quest to Christmas so that my family can try it) I have room.
Buy at Minaal
Sonicare Qi Toothbrush
Unfortunately these are essentially impossible to find these days. I have no idea why they stopped making Qi compatible toothbrushes and went back to their proprietary standard. I love this toothbrush because it's the best quality electric toothbrush and I can charge it on any qi charger, including the back of my phone. I wish I had an alternative to recommend but I don't.
Despite the fact that it's for animals, the Wahl Professional Animal Super Pocket Pro Trimmer (quite a name) is the best travel shaver. It runs off a single AA battery and, unlike the ones meant for humans, has an adjustable guard. It's definitely not as good as a full sized trimmer, but it gets the job done.
The nail clippers are my trusty Henckels Ultra-Slim Nail Clippers. This is the same pair I've had for six years and they're still just as sharp and effective as ever.
The scissors are Tweezerman GEAR Scissors. I think that I actually bought some fancier Dovo Solingen ones when I thought I lost these, but to be honest I can't tell the difference fram a practical standpoint, so it's better to just buy these.
Keith Titanium Travel Tea Set
I've now been using this tea set for over a year and I love it. It's an absolute dream for a tea lover and it allows me to make perfect Chinese tea anywhere I go. I ended up buying an extra cup that I travel with sometimes so that I can make four cups, and I modified it by anodizing the titanium and cutting off the handle of the fairness pitcher. The titanium imparts no flavor and is virtually indestructible. If you love tea and you travel, you should have this.
Buy at Outdoor Player (available elsewhere, but always more expensive)
Kanpai Titanium 350 Thermos
This is the lightest double wall water bottle you can get. I love the extra-wide mouth and the no-taper design that makes it easy to clean and to store things inside. It comes with three tops but I just use the hot water one. It's absolitely perfect for keeping boiled water in.
I also bought this set of storage containers which nest perfectly inside for tea storage. They're a really good fit, but there are definitely a couple more milimeters of space that could be gleaned. If you can find a better set, let me know! For tea people, you can fit in each container about 35g of a tightly rolled taiwanese oolong or 10g of a loose large leaf black.
Buy at Amazon
300W Immersion Water Heater
I bought a different water heater this year. It's a little bit bigger, but it's higher wattage and has an on/off switch. The switch seems bigger than it ought to be, but it's worth it for the convenience of not having to unplug in between water boilings and for the faster boiling speed.
In case it's not obvious, I put this in the Kanpai Thermos and use it to boil water. Often I'll put the top on and wait until I'm in the air before I make my tea. You can also ask for hot water on the airplane, but it's often not very good.
Buy at Amazon
They don't seem to make this size anymore, which is 12x22. It's the perfect size because it's very compact but just big enough to dry your entire body if you somehow don't have a regular bath towel wherever you're staying. I can't find anything else that's the same size, which is frustrating. Usually I use it as a base for brewing tea. I'm tempted to get the small 10x14 inch one to replace it (the snap pulled off so it's harder to keep compact) but wouldn't look forward to drying off with such a tiny towel. The one I linked below is the closest size I could find that looked decent, but feel free to let me know if you find a better option.
Buy at Amazon
Carbon Fiber Money Clip
I still have my rather expensive Koolstof carbon fiber money clip, but there are cheaper options on Amazon now that seem to be identical, so I'm linking one of those instead. I can't imagine why someone would use any wallet other than this. It's super compact and light, doesn't set off the metal detector, and is very easy to use. Mine has retained its springiness for many years now.
Buy at Amazon
Samsung Galaxy Note 10+ Phone
There are a lot of great phones out there these days, but I went with this one because it has a huge screen, has excellent cameras, and the stylus is actually useful once in a while. I stuck with LG phones for a long time because they were the only ones that had wide-angle lenses, but eventually Samsung copied them, as did Apple eventually. The Samsung interface is a bit more polished than my LG was, and the cameras are even better. It can also charge other Qi devices, which is really cool. That said, I'm not sure I would have updated if I hadn't cracked my LG V40 screen.
The curved screen looks cool but is way easier to break than a flat screen. New leaks of the Note 10 Lite show that it will have a flat screen. If you're considering an upgrade it might be worth waiting for that, as long as the cameras are equally good.
I use T-Mobile service with the Global Plus add-on, which gives me free LTE everywhere. I happened to add it on during the <7 days where it offered unlimited LTE rather than a 15GB cap. Project Fi can be a bit cheaper, but T-Mobile includes free voice calls to and from every country with Global Plus, and I'll definitely get a lot of use out of that.
Buy at Amazon
Lenovo X1 Carbon (Japanese Version)
I still have the 5th generation, but only because I'm waiting for the 7th to drop in price in Japan. The X1 is very high performance, has an LTE sim slot, has a trackpoint, an excellent screen, the best keyboard, and plenty of other benefits. The new 7th generation has processors that are twice as fast as the one I have now, even higher res screens, and speakers that are actually good. I'll upgrade before the next gear post.
The port selection on the computer is perfect (2 USB A, 2 USB C, HDMI) and I love that it has a microsd and sim slot. The only non-perfect thing is that the speakers are pretty terrible.
I always buy Japanese keyboard laptops because I get extra keys that I can remap. I can't imagine a better setup than this, except for a speaker upgrade.
Buy at Lenovo Japan (good luck)
CARD Travel Adapter 4-Pro
Oh boy do I love this thing. It has eliminated 3-4 other items and actually performs many of their functions better.
First, it's a 45W PD USB-C charger, which charges my laptop and my phone. It also has three extra USB-A sockets, so you don't need a separate USB charger. On the back side it has three different plugs that adapt to fit every country, so you no longer need a travel adapter. And the socket on the front can accept any plug as an input, so it's an anything to anything adapter. Plus that socket is always empty, so the device also serves as a power splitter.
As far as I know there's no other device like this. There is a new charging technology called Gallium Nitride (GaN) that can make chargers much smaller, but even the smallest plus the smallest accompanying accessories isn't smaller than this. I do hope they remake it wih GaN.
Two hidden benefits to this are first that it's much harder to lose than a travel adapter, and second that the European plugs stick better in a lot of airplane sockets. On the back it has a cover that holds a spare fuse. I threw it away to make the unit smaller and easier to use.
Buy at Amazon
Hokonui Q5 10000mAh Power Bank
I spent an embarassing amount of time finding the lightest 10k mAh wireless power bank, and I think this is it. Please let me know if you find a lighter one (must be wireless).
It works as it should and has a cool pull-out phone stand that I actually use quite a bit. The only downside is that it doesn't seem to do well with low power qi devices. I couldn't get it to charge my toothbrush.
Buy at Amazon
Headphones (CIEMs or Etymotic Research ER-4P) and Cool Headphone Cable
Pictured are the custom in-ear monitors (CIEMs) I had made by 1964 Audio. They're great but they're so many years old that I don't know which model to recommend at this point. CIEMS sound excellent, with eerily full bass, and provide a fit that is custom molded to your ears and isn't constantly pushing out to stay in place. For that reason I find them far more comfortable for longer periods of time.
The cables in mine broke so I temporarily went back to my Etymotic Research ER-4S (similar to the ER-4P but not as versatile) in ear monitors that I bought 20 years ago and I was surprised at how great they still sound, even compared to newer earphones. If you're on a budget or don't want to get custom molded, they still get my seal of approval. I particularly like how tiny they are.
New this year is a Bluetooth 5 Apt-X cable that I bought from Aliexpress. I realized that all phones were getting rid of headphone cables, so I figured I'd sample what was out there. This is the third wireless cable I bought, and it's the best by far. The sound quality is great, the battery life is excellent, and it pairs with my laptop and phone at the same time. I actually converted to it before I got a phone that didn't have a headphone jack.
Buy Etymotic 4Ps at Amazon
Here's my collection of cables. The first is a very thin HDMI cable. I've had mine forever and can't find the exact one, but I'm linking the one that I would buy today. I used to carry around a chromecast but I find these days I'd rather just hook up the HDMI cable, plus lots of TVs have built in smart receivers. The car adapter is such a genius invention that I have no idea why it was discontinued. It's flat and compact and puts out 2.4A. I hope I never lose it. The third cable is just a random USB to micro / C cable.
During a two or three hour tea session in Shanghai the girl making the tea handed me a long thin wooden box and told me to try to open it. It took a couple tries, but when I got it open I saw that it wasns't just a puzzle box, it was an incense holder. I bought it, not because I ever burn incense, but because it was such a cool little box. Fast forward a year or two later and now I'm really into incense and carry the incense holder around everywhere. I didn't think that I liked incense all that much, but through some experimentation I found Jnkoh Juzan, which smells amazing.
I don't know how you can find the incense holder, unfortunately.
To make the incense easy to light while traveling I bought a Bolt USB cigarette lighter. It's rechargeable by USB, works pretty well, and is nice and compact.
Buy at Amazon
KeySmart SC1 AirKeys
With all of our shared properties around the world I've ended up with a decent collection of keys. In some places we have key lockers or electronic locks, but I like to have physical keys just in case. They were starting to get a bit heavy so I replaced all of them with aluminum keys, which are far lighter. Do I really notice the difference in my backpack? Not really, but every little bit adds up. You can get these at Home Depot or Lowes and the MinuteKey kiosks in some of those stores also have some aluminum keys.
That's it for this year! It feels good to have combined a few different items to simplify my pack a little bit. I have very very few remaining desires for gear at this point, as it seems like everything is pretty close to ideal. I do wish that I had a thinner more flexible USB C to C cable, but no one lists how thin their cables are for some reason. If you have one, please let me know.
Enjoy! If you like the way I pack, you'll probably like the way I travel. Check out my book Forever Nomad.
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.
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.