People didn’t like my iterative way of doing the gear post last year, so I’m listening and going back to the old format of writing about every single item, even if it’s been on the list forever. There are a considerable number of new items this year, so there is a lot to write about. At least a few of the items are things I can just about guarantee you’ve never heard of.
I seem to go in ebb and flow cycles of trying to get a little more utility from my gear and paring down the weight and bulk, and this year was primarily the latter. Both are satisfying in their own ways, but I just love shedding weight. These days my bag is so empty that on my last trip I had room to bring back for friends two masks and snorkels as well as two extra jackets!
Things That Didn’t Make It
I got rid of my chromecast. I liked having it, but didn’t feel like it really got used enough to justify bringing it, especially when I also have an HDMI cable. TVs in hotels and cruise ships also increasingly have smart features that allow me to cast my screen to them without something external.
I got rid of the tiny router. It failed me a couple times to the point where I stopped trusting it, and my new phone is able to tether over wifi in addition to cell. So, for example, when I’m on a plane I can get an internet connection for my phone and share it with my laptop over wifi. That was what the router was for, so I don’t need it anymore.
Wool and Prince Button Down
New year, new color. I don’t actually know if their process is improving, but it seems like each year my Wool and Prince shirt is in better shape than the one I had replaced the previous year. In fact, if they didn’t send me free shirts I bet I could make it 18-24 months on one shirt now. The earlier versions seemed to last exactly a year like clockwork. I love that they have a bigger selection of colors now, as well as a very wide variety of styles. On the island I keep one of their work shirts which is perfect for the cold fall and spring when I prefer to go out there. They even have a women’s shirt now as well as a women’s dress which my friends have been very excited about.
Wool and Prince T-Shirt
Not much to say about this that I haven’t said about the button-down. I love the shirt and love the wider selection of colors they have this year. I would like if it had a pocket so that I could stick a folded boarding pass or ear plugs in it, but I’m just getting greedy there. I wore the gray one I had last year in the sun a TON this year and it got a little bit faded on the shoulders, enough that I would have replaced it even if they didn’t send me a free shirt. I wear the t-shirt or button down literally every day of the year, and I’m thrilled with the combined longevity of them.
Buy at Wool and Prince
Makers and Riders 4 Season AeroDri Wool Jeans
I switched from the trousers to the jeans and while they are still excellent, I like the trousers even more (though I hear they’re being discontinued). The jeans look a bit more casual and the extra stretch makes them more comfortable sitting cross legged, but I’m worried they won’t be as durable. The trousers still look new after a year, but there are some surface scuffs on the jeans after a few months (though I do vaguely remember crawling across rocks or something, which probably caused it). Either way, both pants are truly excellent travel pants.
I absolutely love the low profile double back pocket with a zipper and the zip coin pocket. The back pocket is the perfect size for a passport.
Related, for the first time ever I decided to standardize which pocket I put items in (phone left, cards and keys right, passport back, active boarding pass shirt) and it’s saved me many seconds trying to figure out where something is.
Buy at Makers and Riders
No Good Shorts Available
These are my Icebreaker shorts from several years ago. They’re now long discontinued. Every year Icebreaker makes some new shorts that are totally different from the previous year’s and it’s a crapshoot whether they’re good or not. I ordered a pair of this year’s and they were very disappointing. No rear pockets (what?) and the snap broke after three days of wearing them. The metal pieces separated, so I can’t fix it easily. I would love to have a better short option and feel like I may just cut a pair of Makers and Riders down. Every year people suggest synthetic or cotton options to me but whenever I try them I don’t like them. Wool or bust.
Icebreaker Anatomica Briefs
I didn’t take an individual photo of these because it feels increasingly weird to post a picture of my underwear on my blog, but if you know what underwear looks like you know what these look like. They’re pretty much perfect and I never really consider switching to anything else. I like briefs the best out of all cuts and they happen to be the smallest cut for storage, so it’s a win win.
Buy at Amazon
Montbell Plasma 1000 Jacket Japanese Version
There’s still no real competition to the MontBell plasma 1000. It’s the highest warmth-weight ratio lightweight jacket and it’s truly excellent. It weighs basically nothing, can be jammed into a pocket in a pinch, and fits in a 1 liter stuff sack with room to spare.
As I’ve mentioned before, you should buy one in Japan if you can. In the US they don’t have pockets, but in Japan they do. No idea why, but that’s how it is. If you buy one at the mall in Ikebukuro you can get it without tax.
Despite the thin fabric this jacket has lasted for several years now and still performs excellently.
Buy at MontBell or in Japan
Montbell Tachyon Parka
I was walking through Taipei with Leo Babauta when it started raining. We pulled our raincoats out of our bags and… his ways way lighter than mine! How was that possible? I did so much research to get the lightest one.
“Oh, it’s just a windbreaker, but it works pretty well,” he casually replied.
Sure enough he was just as dry at the end of the day as I was. Windbreakers aren’t technically waterproof and will eventually soak through if you stay in the rain long enough, but if you’re not hiking through the backcountry it will be enough. I’ve tested mine a few times in the rain over the past month and it’s been way better than I expected. I haven’t been wet once.
It weighs less than half of my previous pick, the Alpine Houdini, and packs down much smaller. This is a relatively new item so it hasn’t been as thoroughly tested as most of my items, but so far it seems promising enough to include.
Buy at MontBell or in Japan
Crocs LiteRide Clog
Yep, I went full Croc. Never saw that one coming.
I always wear Crocs on the island because most days I have to step in the water for one reason or another, and it’s nice to have shoes that are comfy but still dry very quickly. Since we have to take the boat across the water to go into town I always end up wearing my Crocs even off-island. And, against all expectations, I’ve really come to love them. They’re the minivan of footwear— perfect in every way except that they look funny.
For most of the year I wore Allbirds slip-ons, but after three rainy days in Tokyo that left them totally waterlogged and smelling funky, I knew I had to get something more versatile. So I decided to take Crocs from island life to normal life.
I love that I can wear them without socks and they are well enough ventilated that they never smell bad. I like that I can keep them in slip-on mode most of the time but easily convert the heel strap if I’m hiking or running.
In theory I prefer thin-soled barefoot shoes, but after finding my feet far more tired than my brothers’ while showing him around Tokyo, I decided to bite the bullet and get something with more padding. I do like that these have a nice wide toe box and negligible drop.
They look… okay at best. Better than normal Crocs, but still Crocs. I’m fine with it, especially considering the convenience and versatility they bring.
Buy on Amazon
ROAV Eyewear Lennox Sunglasses
The almighty Ray-Bans have finally been replaced! ROAV Eyewear has mode what have got to be the thinnest foldable sunglasses that are possible to make. I was really excited to try them and was promised review samples. When they ghosted me for the second time I bit the bullet and just bought some myself. And then I liked them so much I bought a second pair.
The design is truly excellent with all the right compromises made between comfort, style, and portability. They’re small enough to get lost in your pocket, versus the Ray-Bans that you definitely noticed but didn’t really mind.
The first pair I had slipped off of my nose a bit, but the newer version had a redesigned nose pad that sticks better. Now I have no complaints.
Buy at ROAV
Breitling Transocean Unitime Watch
Same watch as last year, still ticking, and I still love it. For a brief refresher, it’s the only mechanical watch that shows all 24 major time zones AND can change time zones with a single twist of the stem. My only complaint with it is that it had an antireflective coating on the crystal that got scratched and looked crappy after a while. After a jeweler told me he’d charge $500 and couldn’t guarantee he wouldn’t destroy the crystal, I ended up just sanding it off myself and everything has been great ever since.
The watch is big and heavy and maybe looks a little bit big on me, but I totally rely on the time zone features now, love never having to think about batteries or charging, and end up using the stopwatch feature more than I would have guessed.
Another great choice is the Omega Seamaster GMT. At roughly half the (used) price of the Breitling it’s a great value. It doesn’t have the time zones, but it has a rotating bezel and is intended for scuba diving. I dove by accident with the Breitling, though, and it was also fine.
At the time of this writing you can get one for under $5000, which feels like a good value to me. I think the all-metal ones with single tone dials will age the best as far as resale value goes.
Buy on ebay.
Minaal Daily Backpack
Well, it appears that I forgot to take a single photo of this one, but you can see it clearly in the main picture. What I love most about the Minaal Daily is the extremely high quality of materials and workmanship and the low-profile look. It never looks out of place, is the right shape to conveniently stow under the seat in front of you or on a small bus overhead rack. I’ve had this thing for a few years now and you can barely tell that it’s not new.
I wish that it had better organization (like the Minaal x Tynan bag I keep pitching them that may eventually happen), but I manage to make due with the little that it does have. To some degree I’ve “outshrunk” the bag, meaning that it has probably 1.5-2x the storage that I actually need, but I frequently enough find myself toting tea to friends or stashing some snacks in there that I don’t mind.
They also have a bigger bag that doesn’t always qualify for “personal item” like the daily does, but honestly who needs that much room?
Buy at Minaal
Toiletries + Sonicare Qi Toothbrush
In order to make it to my wedding last year I had to redeem miles last minute and the only way back in time was a SWISS flight which happened to only have business class left. Poor me, finally breaking my rule of not redeeming points on business flights.
As it turns out, the toiletry bag they gave me is a totally ideal size for a minimalist! It occured to me that most people way more liquids and things than I do, so the tiny bags they give business passengers are perfect. I checked on ebay and couldn’t find any like mine, but there are similar ones.
The real best way is to walk through business after your flight in the back and just take one that someone opened but left. I notice that most people leave them.
The electric razor is the Wahl Professional Animal Super Pocket Pro Trimmer. It is apparently for professionals who need to trim their pets on the go (?), but it works great for non-professional humans as well. It is the only compact shaver that has an adjustable guard and runs off a standard AA battery. I use it infrequently enough that I’m considering being a little bit more beardy sometimes to save the weight, but it stays for now and is the best choice for travel beard trimmers.
The scissors are Twezeerman GEAR Facial Hair Scissors. I mainly use them when my mustache gets too long for soup and I don’t want to do the full trimmer thing. Sort of superfluous, but they’re small and once in a while I just need to open or cut something and they are helpful.
The nail clippers are the Henckels Ultra-Slim Nail Clippers. The bad reviews on Amazon totally blow my mind and make me wonder if people are using them wrong. They are so sharp that one friend complained that they cut her nails too easily (don’t ask me), and another friend who doesn’t travel bought them after using them once. They’re a perfect combination of tiny form and function.
Maybe what I’m most excited about is the Sonicare Qi toothbrush. It’s discontinued but easy to find on ebay. I have two of them because I’m scared that I won’t be able to get one in the future. I discovered this while going through a massive rabbithole trying to get my toothbrush to charge with a hidden charger built into the marble counter (which was a total failure). It’s a little bit bigger than I’d like it to be, but I assume the size is what contributes to the power of these toothbrushes. There’s just no substitute for a Sonicare. The best thing is that this one charges on a standard Qi charger! So you don’t need to carry some stupid bulky charger around with you. Many people have wireless chargers, as do lots of airports. And as you’ll see later, so do I…
Keith Titanium Travel Tea Set (Custom Anodized)
Todd found an incredible titanium tea set online that seemed almost too good to be true. I checked out the manufacturer’s site and saw that other goods they sold had really cool anodized finishes. I emailed them asking if I could get a custom tea set made with some of those finishes and they sent a rather brusque reply saying that they couldn’t. That annoyed me enough that I ordered all of the chemicals and equipment necessary to anodize so that I could do it myself.
This set has much bigger vessels than my last one, but it all fits more compactly than the old one. It trades a tea box for a fairness pitcher, which is a trade up in my book. The quality of the pieces is far higher than I expected, with very thin delicate-feeling edges and double walls for everything but the fairness pitcher.
The structure transmits just the right amount of heat to the outside that it feels roughly like ceramic. Not too cold, not too hot. I love brewing with and drinking from this set, and for once I don’t have to worry about it breaking. I’ve had two ceramic gaiwan lids break in the past couple years.
To anodize I did around 50v on the insides and 70-100v on the outside. I then dremeled some stripes and hit it with 19v to make it so that everyone can tell which cup is theirs (an idea I copied from the cups at Zhao Zhou.
This is now my totally ideal tea set, especially since I’ve customized it exactly to my tastes. I ordered one last cup so that I can have a set of four, but it didn’t arrive in time for the photo.
Prices are $275 everywhere except for a random store called Outdoor Player that sells them for $175. I don’t understand why they have it so cheap.
Buy from Outdoor Player
Kanpai Titanium 350 Water Bottle
As you may be able tell, I also custom anodized this one to get a cooler color, though it doesnt show too well in this light.
Anyway, 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
Immersion Water Heater
I’ve had this same trusty cheap water heater for years and I use it all the time in either glass cups or ceramic mugs from hotels or my titanium water bottle. The two key things to know are that the entire white part can be submerged and that the metal coils MUST be submerged. Always unplug and then remove— if you do it the other way around it will burn out and die. It gets bad reviews because people don’t realize that. I always recommend the dual voltage one (it boils at 4x the speet on 220!) but there’s a chance they’re all the same and the cheaper one would also work on 220v. Not sure.
Buy at Amazon
They don’t seem to make this size anymore, which is 12×22. 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 10×14 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
LG V40 Phone
I upgraded from the V30 to the V40 this year. It has a bigger screen, with a somewhat irritating notch, a third camera on the back, and a much better internal speaker. Other than that it’s largely the same as last year.
I find myself sticking with LG because I love the wide-angle secondary lens on the back. I use it all the time, probably more than the main one. I sometimes consider other phones, but just can’t get rid of the wide-angle. The V40 now has a 2x zoom lens as well which I was excited about initially but don’t seem to get too much use out of now.
Reception on this phone is excellent (V30 was mediocre) and the “Boom Box” feature of the speaker is actually surprisingly good. It vibrates the whole phone and putting it on a larger surface does create a bigger sound. It’s good enough that I find myself listening to music through it sometimes.
The only thing that bothers me about this (and every) phone is the amount of curved glass on it. I would actually pay extra to have a plastic back like phones used to have and to have a flat front. Up until the V30, the first curved glass screen I ever had, I never cracked a screen. I cracked the front and back of that one and have already chipped the front of the V40.
I use T-Mobile service with the new 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.
Lenovo X1 Carbon (5th/6th Gen, Japanese Version)
It seems very unlikely that I will ever switch away from the Lenovo X1 Carbon series at this point. They’re very light but are high performance, have LTE sim slots, have trackpoints (far superior to trackpads), great screens, and the best laptop keyboard out there. I didn’t upgrade to the 6th generation as it didn’t seem like a big upgrade from mine, but I’m looking forward to seeing what comes in January when they release a new version.
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.
ZMI Powerplug Turbo 45W
I bought several different USB-C chargers this year and this one won out as the smallest that can actually charge my computer. It only has one port, but at this point I only use USB-C and can split it by just charging a second item off of my computer. I love how small it is and notice the size difference even though it’s barely smaller than my last one.
Buy at Amazon
IDMIX 8000mAh Wireless Charger
I ordered this thing on Indiegogo and sort of forgot about it until it finally came, and it’s one of the few things I’ve gotten from Indiegogo that lived up to the hype. It does wireless charging, PD 2.0 in and out, QuickCharge 3.0, can charge multiple devices at once, can charge other things while it’s being charged, and automatically enables wireless when it’s plugged in (great for bedside when traveling).
It’s really the perfect battery pack, which makes it doubly unfortunate that it’s not for sale as I write this. They did have some weird holiday themed ones on ebay a few weeks ago but I haven’t seen them since.
Follow at Indiegogo
Micro Smart Universal Travel Adapter
(Sorry for the different photo background— this one arrived after I did photos)
I feel obligated to order every compact travel product on crowdfunding sites even if they don’t look too good, and this is one I was skeptical of. Sure enough, when it came it was too bulky and I almost wrote it off. then I started tinkering with it and removed the extra pieces that you don’t really need. They serve to cover the 3rd grounding pin, which is not necessary, and to hold the optional 3rd pin which is needed for UK outlets. I used a couple rubber bands to piggy back it on the back of the plug. Now it’s smaller overall than my old one and certainly a lot better built and sleeker. The pins retract in, I just extended one set so that you could gauge the size. I also like that it has a fuse.
It doesn’t seem that it’s possible to purchase right now, but here’s a link to the Indiegogo.
Headphones (CIEMs or Etymotic Research ER-4P)
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.
Etymotic Research ER-4P 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 USB cable is the best short combo USB-C and USB micro cable that I could find. I’ve tried a few that were not durable, but I this one has held up so far. My general charging strategy is to use the long USB-C from the outlet to laptop, use the cable to go from computer to IDMIX battery pack, and charge my phone wirelessly from there. 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 last item is a standard headphone splitter.
That’s my stuff! I use small ziplock bags for currency/coins/transit cards, and I have a whole slew of credit cards and lounge cards (you can read my latest travel book for in-depth details). Most of my bag is empty, but that’s very convenient because I can stuff a jacket in there outside of its stuff sack, haul tea home back for people, bring something to a different home base, etc.
One of my new goals is to make it so that I don’t have to open my bag when I come home from trips. This is partially just for the fun of it, partially because it requires very little duplication (toothbrush, laptop + desktop [which I got recently for another reason]), and partially to totally eliminate any worry that I might have forgotten something. I very rarely forget anything, but I always feel like I may have, especially because I’m constantly trying to make my backpack lighter.
At this point I’m extremely confident that you can’t get a much lighter and more performant set of travel gear. But… I’m always open to suggestions!
Whew… feels great to finish the gear post for the year!
I still have some spots left for the 2019 Superhuman 2 event in March. The attendee list is fantastic so far! Everyone who is confirmed has arranged payment now, so if you believe you are confirmed but haven’t paid yet, get in touch!