The Christmas Gear Roundup 2017
Sun Dec 24, 2017 · 11 min read
If you’re looking for the best gear to take travelling in 2018, here’s everything I tested in my continuous travels throughout 2017. If it made it to this list, you know it’s good.
The end of 2017 marks my first full year of nomadic one bag travel. It’s also been a year of culling for me, largely in terms of my gear. I went from my first documented loadout of 14kg to my current pack - just 9.7kg. I spent a lot of time figuring out the things that were worth hauling along, and (slowly) weeding out the stuff that wasn’t.
A few readers (Hello readers!) have requested a kind of gear roundup review, so I thought - what better day than today? Whether you’re sitting oblingingly on the couch at Aunt Matilda’s house waiting for dinner, or hanging out in your hotel room (because nothing’s open), I submit for your pleasure and entertainment: my first annual Christmas Gear Roundup!
These are the items that have survived a year’s worth of culling and that I expect to continue to serve me well for years to come. I’ve run the gamut of climates and situations with this gear - everything from lazy poolside workdays in Thailand to North American roadtrips in snowy, below-zero conditions. If you’re planning next year’s travel, or just looking for the inspiration to begin, here are things I’d recommend investing in. Boxing day sales, anyone?
First, here’s my last state-of-the-pack photo for 2017:
I started out with the OG grey color, but recently was gifted the bag in the new, beautiful Aoraki black.
If you remember from my original Minaal review, one of the few things I didn’t like about the original 2.0 was the grey color, which sometimes looked green under indoor lights, despite the fact that it consistently photographed well. After receiving the black one, I wrote a short color comparison post with more photos. In short, I like the new color a lot better, despite the fact that the black fabric is a fuzz magnet.
Other than the color, as my original review post will attest, I love the bag as much as I did when I first wrote about it. It’s held up beautifully over the course of my first few months of pretty constant travel with it.
Minaal’s packing cubes are a recent addition, and are, to my pleasant surprise, quite useful. I originally thought there was no difference between these or using any other packing cubes, but the fact that these are sized especially to fit into the Carry-on’s available space really does make a difference in terms of taking advantage of that space. I’m able to fit all of my clothing into the large packing cube, which compresses it slightly when zipped up. When the bag is fully packed, there’s absolutely no wasted space around the cubes. Everything in the photo at the top of this post fits inside the Minaal Carry-on - with just enough space left over for a half-dozen protein bars or so.
ThinkPads have long been acclaimed as indestructible, road-worthy laptops, but I never really considered owning one. Generally, I knew ThinkPads to be bulky and heavy, and with the amount of time I spent carrying my laptop (or all my things) on my back, compact and light ultrabooks were more appealing to me. Unfortunately, compact and light ultrabooks come with their own set of problems (I’ll expand on that later). When those issues started getting in the way of my work, I was very happy to explore Lenovo’s best-of-both-worlds offering, the X1 Carbon.
This light and sleek beauty weighs just a touch over 1.13kg (depending on spec upgrades) and measures 323.5 x 217.1 x 15.95 mm. It’s a powerhouse in terms of what I need for developer work, with easily a day’s worth of battery life to boot. When I’m using it on a plane or haven’t brought my Roost Stand and external keyboard along, the Carbon’s built-in classic ThinkPad keyboard is still a pleasure to use. Add to that the little trackpoint that keeps my hands on the home row - thereby reducing repetitive stress injury - and I’ve found my perfect ultrabook.
It’s become a regular occurrence when I’m out working at a busy cafe that several people will stop and ask me, “What laptop stand is that?” Seriously, good people of Roost, I have two words for you: ambassador program.
All joking aside, this is a staple item if you’re going to work with your laptop while traveling. Having a proper ergonomic set up is essential to preserving the health of your neck and back, and the adjustable stand will morph to suit any table situation from food court tables to cafe bar counters.
I’ve opened, used, and packed this thing nearly every day for a year now, and it’s still as good as new. Totally worth the investment.
I got the Torrentshell this year and I’m pretty pleased with it. It packs down very small and weighs just 301g. It did indeed keep me dry in a rainstorm in Thailand more than once, and the storm flap zipper design has stood up well to frequent use.
This was one of the first items I invested in, along with the Roost Stand. Having a dedicated external keyboard is ergonomically really nice, and having one with which you don’t need to use an external mouse is even better. The famous little trackpoint nipple in the middle of this keyboard is perfectly placed for use without moving your hands off the home row, and saves your wrists from repetitive stress injury.
There are two little fold-out feet on the bottom of the keyboard that make it even more ergonomically friendly. This hardy little piece of tech has been squashed in my bag and toted around to cafes around the world all year. It needs charging about once every six months (yeah that’s not a typo). It’s never let me down.
Speaking of tech that hasn’t let me down, this unassuming little blue brick is also pretty high on that list. It works so well, it’s almost forgettable - there when you need it, small and unobtrusive when you don’t. You know what they say about making backups of your work - the most important one is the last one you forgot to make. XD
Seagate Backup Plus Slim Portable HDD, 1TB
I love this little thing! I’m one of those one-baggers who’s a little too concerned with whether or not I could shave off another 500g or so… this cute little battery-powered pack companion helps me keep track of my loadout weight. It’s simple to use and hardly weighs a thing itself, at just about 125g.
I love the dedicated on/off switch that keeps it from accidentally running out the batteries when stuffed in my pack. My favorite part though is the fact that I don’t need a screwdriver to change the batteries, unlike many luggage scales you’ll find sold in airports. I mean, who travels with a tiny screwdriver? It’s not even a standard size. I always thought the real ploy there was to get you to just throw out the whole scale and buy another when the batteries drained. Travelon’s Micro Scale fixes all that, in a super-handy, compact package.
This one’s a pure win when it comes to packability. A 1L bottle rolls up to the size of a candy bar - there when you need it and out of the way when you don’t. The cap is nice to drink out of and doesn’t require any sucking or squeezing, unlike sport-style water bottles. That said, it’s not the easiest thing to clean (who travels with a bottle brush?) so just stick to water.
I tote it around with me especially in cities where drinking tap water isn’t recommended. I’ll either fill it up from a water-cooler dispenser at the hotel gym, or ask restaurants to top me up with filtered water throughout the day.
I got these mostly to win one battle in my own personal war on using disposable plastics, especially in countries where garbage handling and recycling facilities just aren’t yet up to snuff. At just a measly 22g, this fork and spoon duo is just as sturdy as classic cutlery, and far more sturdy than disposable plastic cutlery. They nest for compact storage, and join together to create a longer utensil. After I use them, I just give them a quick rinse or wipe, then nest and stow - you can give them a better wash later on. They’re well worth the few bucks they cost.
I went most of the year with this laptop and was generally pleased with it, minus a few annoying bugs here and there. It has everything I liked about an ultrabook - big screen with small bezels, sized well for airplane seat trays, and enough of a spec sheet to handle any kind of dev work I throw at it.
Unfortunately, the annoying bugs only got more annoying the more I used it. Besides the well-documented screen flicker issue, the whole display system began to freeze up irrepariably whenever I plugged something into the USB C port. Eventually I decided to upgrade to the X1 Carbon mentioned above, concluding that Dell hardware just isn’t yet up to my ultrabook expectations.
I have mixed feelings about this handy little guy. It’s worked well in a pinch when I’ve had to travel in the dark or dig around in my pack in a dark room without disturbing anyone else. I also used it when I climbed the summit of Mt Fuji (very) early one cold morning. For the last, I didn’t find it bright enough for the job.
I like the quick retractable elastic for strapping it to your forehead, and the fact that it can be set at any angle you need. There are a few different modes with white and red light, and even emergency signalling. You’ll hardly notice it’s there until you need it, as it’s only 5cm across and 27g.
Rather than a light alternative to a serious performance headlamp, I’d call it a handy, compact substitute. Enough for dark dorm rooms, but if you’re planning to go hiking at night, get something more robust.
I love this ultralight towel because of how compact it is. It hardly takes up any room at all, and the included carrying pouch keeps the towel clean. The only downside to having it is a strange one - I hardly ever need it!
Most everywhere I stay that isn’t a hostel will provide towels, so having your own (while making you feel very prepared) isn’t strictly necessary. That said, if you are going to bring a towel, this one is a pretty good choice. At least you’ll know where your towel is.
Over the course of the year, I shaved off a lot of weight and unnecessary items from my pack. Everything from the bag itself to the individual items inside it underwent a few iterations of getting lighter and better. Here’s what I learned, in general terms.
It doesn’t matter what bag you start out with - just get a few months, miles, or climates under your belt first. Inevitably you’ll start to find out what works well for you, and it’s not going to be the same as everyone else. Don’t go the route I did, and drop a hundred or so on a new bag just to switch it up a couple months later when you realize you can’t stand to carry the thing through another airport because your shoulders are screaming. I was able to pass off bags I didn’t want to good owners, but I wasted a lot of time.
Once you do decide on the features that matter to you, invest in something of quality, then unsubscribe from bag company mailing lists and new gear-related forum updates. Trust me, it’ll save you some hassle.
You need way less clothing than you think you need. The only downside to carrying fewer clothing items is doing laundry more often - and even this isn’t really a big deal. With the right fabrics, like thin synthetic fabrics or merino/synthetic blends, doing laundry is as simple as stepping into the shower with your clothes on and washing and wringing them out. If that’s too much hassle, then carry a few day’s worth of clothes and do laundry once a week.
Rolling up your clothes burrito-style doesn’t really save much space, as far as I’ve found. Just fold them flat and compress them inside a packing cube. While in transit, wear the bulky stuff. Also, I haven’t worn full length jeans in over a year.
If the choice is between saving some money or buying something well-reviewed that you know will stand the test of time, I’ve learned to go with the latter. It costs more upfront, but ends up costing less in the long run.
That’s all I’ve got for this year, and this first annual Christmas Gear Roundup! I hope it was helpful and I’d love to have your feedback.
Happy holidays, everyone. :)