Gear Update: 18 Months of Travel Later

In October of 2008, I wrote a post for the Lost Girls about packing for a round-the-world trip, specifically with a midget-sized woman in mind. Prior to writing the guest post, I spent most of the year in South America and wanted to climb as many mountains as possible. As a result, a lot of the clothes and gear were tailored toward practical trekking and climbing, and with a serious expectation of wear & tear. However, after moving on to Asia and spending over a year here thus far, I’ve significantly changed the way that I pack and wanted to update everyone on what works for me and what does not.

Packing for Travel: What has stayed the same?

1. Compression Sacks remain the best packing tool I’ve found. While many travelers wax poetic about packing cubes, I’m on Team Compression Sack, with no room for debate. I have been extremely happy with the Sea-to-Summit brand products, and these compression sacks are no exception. Impregnated with siliconized nylon, they have proved sturdy and lightweight and my clothes take up very little room in my bag.

2. I still love my Zinetic Pocket Slippers. They have been through quite a lot in the last 18 months and are still kicking. I’m impressed at how light and small they are and they prove a perfect way to let feet breathe on long plane or bus rides.

3. My headlamp is an extremely important piece of gear and my Petzl Tikka Plus headlamp is going strong, despite being on the receiving end of a lot of abuse. Most notably: falling on my face in Gobi, with my headlamp breaking the fall along with my fists. I had a mark on my forehead for days. I am a classy, classy traveler.

4. The pack towel is a critical item too. My MSR towel finally bit the dust this month, but I am surprised it lasted this long. I got the same MSR pack towel as a replacement and am very happy with the brand overall. I’ve tried the Eagle Creek, REI and MEC brand towels in the past, and MSR has been the most durable and – important! – the least smelly.

5. U-Pillow: The Eagle Creek travel pillow takes up a bit more room than the flimsier airport version, but the fleece cover is very comfortable and can be removed and thrown in the wash. I have also used it as a traditional pillow by wrapping my sarong around the U-shape and lying in the middle.

6. My Ziploc Big Bag has not been used frequently in Asia. However, it takes up no room and remains a perfect storage solution for shoes when I am in a tent or staying in the jungle. It is always nice to put on your shoes in the morning and not have to assume that there are spiders or scorpions inside.

7. iPod: I still use my iPod classic and would not take an overnight bus ride without it.

Packing for Travel: What has Changed?

1. I no longer use my Gregory Deva 60 pack. It is important to note that I was extremely happy with the pack and with an XS torso size it fit me perfectly (despite the whole “midget” thing). It is a great technical pack and you barely feel the weight on your back. I would also continue to recommend the “Bag in a Bag” concept to anyone travelling with a top-loading pack, as it was a perfect way to keep my stuff safe and the nondescript black duffel meant that my bag went unnoticed. Well, other than the fact that it strongly resembled a body bag.

Once in Asia, however, a top-loader quickly became a hassle with the constant movement. Since I was no longer trekking for multiple days, I no longer truly needed a technical pack. As a result, I bought the Karrimor Women’s Global Gapper in Kuala Lumpur. A 65L pack with 15L mini-daypack zipped on, it has proved to be far less comfortable on my back but the easy access to all my things still makes it worthwhile. I swapped out the 15L for a 20L daypack that I wear on my front, completing the “girl wedged between two pieces of luggage” look. I mailed the Deva 60 back to my mother, who is my height.

2. It is far too warm to carry a sleeping bag anymore. For those in the market, I would still recommend the Mountain Hardwear Lamina 35F bag for its softness, compressibility and reasonable price point. However, now that I am in Asia I only use a sleeping bag liner. Though many people enjoy the silk liners, I find them clammy on my skin and the cotton liners too bulky for my tastes. I recently found the perfect compromise in Australia, a Sea-to-Summit sleep liner in a silk-cotton blend. Several months later, I still love it.

3. I donated my Nokia’s N810 Internet Tablet to my baby brother and picked up an Asus eeePC 901 in Singapore for $250. Though it has no real hard drive, the SSD necessarily means that if I drop the computer it isn’t the end of the world. And given its price, I am less worried about theft than other laptop-users. It has been a great way to keep the blog current on the road, use Skype to call home and handle my online banking needs. I dumped a 32gb SDHC card in the computer to add additional storage. Bonus: I bought a sticker version of the letter “W” and pasted it on the laptop, so now it is a Weee PC.

4. I recently bought the X-Mini II capsule speaker, and sharing my music just got a lot more fun. The speaker is lightweight, reasonably priced and packs a serious amount of sound in a small package. Essentially it is me, but in speaker form. I will not be able to provide a full review until I test it out further.

5. I bought a cheap mobile phone in the Philippines and purchase SIM cards on a country-by-country basis. SIM cards might be the new fridge magnets, souvenir-wise. The cards are extremely cheap and incoming calls are usually free in Asian countries – so my family can ring without any cost to me. In addition, it means that meeting up with expats or locals is hassle free and a simple text away. Bonus: my phone has a built in flashlight, despite costing only $10.

6. I swapped out my hiking boots for more practical trail runners. I live in flip-flops 99% of the time in Asia, and lugging big boots around didn’t make sense. It is worth noting that the hikers I used to use – the Garmont Kiowa Vegan boots – were fantastic. They’re just too single-purpose for my current travels. I opted to try Oboz, a new brand for me, and their Luna lowrise hiking shoes are sturdy, extraordinarily comfortable and – dare I say it? – stylish. I broke in the Oboz shoes by climbing a volcano and never once worried about stability.

7. My Canon G9 camera has proven a worthy choice, and takes great photos. However, it remains a prosumer camera and has been bulky to carry and not very subtle to take out and use. I recently bought the Canon S90 (note: Canon has released the excellent S95 camera, like the S90 but now with HD video) instead, and with its sleek casing, great lense (it goes down to f2) and amazingly thorough manual shooting options, I hope it will be an ideal marriage of all my camera needs. While I would love to travel with a DSLR, they remain far too heavy and require too many ancillary items to make their use worthwhile.

8. Finally, for the solo female traveler: a simple doorstop, purchased at your local hardware store (or, apparently, through!). The efficacy of these little wedges has (luckily) yet to be tested, but I know that if I’m in a room alone, I sleep better knowing it’s hard for someone to get it the door from the outside. Sadly, they don’t make window-stops.

What’s next?

I will by flying back to Bangkok in mid-December to visit my friends Jana and Boris and to apply for visas to Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Cambodia. Many more countries await for 2010!

I am always looking for inventive packing solutions or new gadgets to test out so might just have to post another update somewhere down the road.


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