Nine months of travel in the developing world will test your equipment to the limit. My gear list has changed quite a bit since I left, with some things being sent home and others being discarded along the way. About the only thing I’ve added is clothing I’ve purchased along the way — my pack is a good ten pounds lighter than when I left.
Here are ten essentials that have proven the most useful and durable:
Timbuk2 Swig Laptop Backpack — I use this as my everyday backpack and it’s withstood every hazard I’ve thrown at it. It’s been rained on, crammed into taxi trunks and rickshaws, strapped to motorcycles and even pooped on by birds and monkeys, all while protecting my laptop, SLR, zoom lens and another five pounds of assorted gear. It sheds rain well and is in remarkably good shape despite being overloaded and seeing heavy use every day. The only complaints I have are that it lacks enough pockets inside and that it tends to fall over when you sit it down.
iPhone — If I could only take one gadget with me while traveling, this would be it. I’m using a iPhone 3G which is over two years old now and has been unlocked so that I can use local SIM cards wherever I travel. I use it for reading books with Stanza, keeping up with email, reading the news, navigating my way around via the Maps app, tethering to my laptop for net access (when possible), calling home via Skype, updating Twitter and Facebook, tracking my website’s stats with AnalyticsPro, making notes and roughing out posts with Evernote, taking snapshots and occasionally even placing a local phone call.
Keen’s Sandals — These things are bullet-proof. I’ve worn them every day for 9 months in just about every kind of terrain imaginable and they are still in perfect condition. While riding scooters or motorcycles, they safely covered my toes and made shifting easy and safe. Perfect footwear for Asia, where you find yourself removing your shoes often to enter homes or temples.
Marmot Hydrogen Sleeping Bag — This bag saw absolutely no action while I was in Asia — there was just no reason to dig it out of my main pack. But now that I’m in India and it’s December, I am so very happy to have it. It only weighs 1.5 pounds and squishes down to the size of a cantaloupe with the aid of a compression sack, so I barely noticed it for all those months. I was reluctant to spend so much money on a bag, so I watched eBay where I eventually found last year’s model for $170.
Silk Sleep Sack — I’d debated whether or not to bother with a sleeping sheet and am very glad I did. It weighs just a few ounces and stuffs into a built-in stuff sack about the size of my fist. Staying in budget hotels, I’ve found that sheets are often sketchy or sometimes even nonexistent — my sleeping sheet quickly worked its way to the top of my pack where it was readily accessible. REI wanted $45-50 for one of these but I found mine for $35.
North Face Windwall Fleece Jacket — This is another item that saw little use in Asia, other than as a pillow. Now that the temperature has dropped, I’ve found it to be lightweight (2 pounds) and comfortable and it really does a good job of blocking out the wind. Layering my rain jacket over it gives me the warmth of a much heavier jacket without the bulk and weight. Found it on sale at REI for $80. Downside: doesn’t compress well and eats up a fair amount of pack space.
Under Armour T-Shirt — I wish I’d brought several of these. They breath well in hot weather and wick moisture from your body. Even more importantly, they dry quickly and are tough enough that you can wring out every last drop of water without wrinkling the shirt. I can wash it in the morning, wring it out, dry it in a towel and then wear it. Note: they’re sized to fit snug, so buy a size larger than normal if you want a loose fit.
Marmot Precip Rain Jacket — An REI Outlet special, I bought this lightweight jacket for $60 or so. It weighs only one pound and has done a good job of keeping me dry during several downpours and while climbing around waterfalls. I wouldn’t expect it to perform too well in a long hike through torrential rain, but it strikes a good balance between usability and size/weight.
Belkin Mini Surge Protector — For a geek like me, keeping all my gadgets charged is a real challenge on the road. Many budget rooms have only a single plug and the power itself can be a bit suspect, especially when visiting remote spots where electricity comes form a small diesel generator.
The strip features three outlets and two USB plugs, and the plug itself rotates so you can squeeze the strip into almost any spot. With just one outlet, I can charge my laptop, camera battery, iPhone and USB-powered video camera all at once, while the built-in surge-protection gives me added peace of mind. Not bad for ten bucks.
Booq Vyper Laptop Case — As a travel blogger and freelance graphics guy, protecting my laptop is at the top of my To Do list. The Vyper has taken a real beating and has saved my Macbook twice now, most recently from a half-liter of water that drenched the inside of my bag. The cover shed most of it and the water that did manage to leak inside was soaked up by the foam rubber padding.
What’s your favorite piece of travel gear?