Gear Reviews Part 1: Packs and Clothes

A very important part of travelling is having the best gear for the situation. We spend a lot of time researching and experimenting with what works for us and what doesn’t. We’ll be posting our reviews here as much as we possibly can, in the hopes it might help you choose the right gear for you!

Today I’m going to go over the packs, clothes, and some organizational tools that we used in Peru. We’ll be going over all our camera gear very soon, so stay tuned for that!



Day Pack

Never underestimate the importance of a great bag. You’re going to be using it all day, every day, and it will either drive you bonkers, or you won’t even notice it. I’m still looking for that pack that I won’t even notice!

For us, the top priority is our day pack. This is what will get used the most, and will carry around our cameras. We prefer to use packs, rather than camera bags, as they blend in a lot more. They also have space for you to toss in other things, like guidebooks, jackets, etc. We’ve found camera bags to be focused on cameras only, and not really all the other accoutrements that come with travelling!

In Peru we used the MEC Alpine Crag Daypack

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Our views on this bag are mixed. 

First up, in build quality, it was great. We’re pretty tough on our gear…scratch that. I’m pretty tough on our gear, Rob’s much more careful! The drawstrings did break on both, so those could use some better construction, but everything else was really solid. Great zippers, great buckles, nicely padded straps. etc.

As far as size, it fit Rob really well, but was waaaaay too long for me, which ended up being pretty uncomfortable. I think these would be perfectly suited to someone going hiking for a week, as it can hold a TON of stuff. We usually didn’t even have it close to full, day to day, but when we were moving from place to place, we could fit so much in there it was insane. 

As a camera bag, it wasn’t very efficient. It’s a top loading bag, which means a lot of hassle opening and closing it. When we’re going in and out of it all day for our camera, it became a big frustration. Next time we will definitely be going for a zippered pack to put our cameras in! 

Pros: 

  • Great build quality
  • Top lid has a zippered pocket for quick access to frequently used items (this is where I kept our guidebook, maps, hand sanitizer, etc.)
  • Holds a ton of stuff!
  • Padded straps were nice and comfy
  • Was inconspicuous. Didn’t scream “I have an expensive camera in here”

Cons:

  • Top loading style was cumbersome for frequent access
  • No way to lock it up
  • Possibly too big for a day pack
  • Extra padding tended to soak up sweat, which got smelly. Gross, I know, but something to think about!

Bottom Line: Seems like a good pack, but not for a photography bag. 

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Shoes

It’s very very very very very important to have comfortable shoes. Very important. Did I mention it’s important? Good.

Your shoes will be on your feet constantly, and in unpredictable situations. Here at home we have nice sidewalks to go everywhere. We lead a soft, cushy existence. In Peru there were sometimes sidewalks, sometimes not. Sometimes we were climbing up muddy hills, sometimes we were traversing broken up, uneven pavement. Sometimes there was a nice old hole in the road that my feet inevitably managed to find. I guarantee I would have sprained by ankle at least twice if I didn’t have proper shoes on. 

We both used multi-sport Merrell shoes. We hear there’s a bunch of debate over whether or not Gore-Tex does all it claims to do, but from our experience, our feet never got wet in these shoes, including during those torrential rains in Cusco. 

These are Rob’s shoes, which are the Moab Gore-Tex XCR. I had the Siren Sport GTW XCR. Mine never got smelly, Rob’s got very smelly, but he washed them with some CampSuds, and they were dry the next day, looked brand new, and the smell was alllll gone. We loved these shoes, and can’t wait to use them again. 

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Pros:

  • Insanely comfortable. Great arch support, and ankle support
  • Kept our feet warm and dry during the whole trip
  • Quick drying and fairly easy to clean
  • Decently breathable

Cons:

  • Not very stylish. They look like every other hiking shoe. I would LOVE if they tried to make a more stylish looking one that still had all the great features. 
  • Rob’s laces came untied frequently. That was annoying.
  • Fairly pricey, but we did find it was worth it. We also got them on a sweeeeet sale :)

Bottom Line: Great shoes all around, so so so glad we invested in high quality ones. As for the looks, well we certainly weren’t going to be winning any fashion awards no matter what shoes we had on! 



Pants

Yep. Pants. These pants were awesome enough that we wanted to make sure we wrote about them. I had a pretty simple pair from MEC, and didn’t find them all that awesome. But these beauts from The North Face that Rob wore were outstanding.

And for the life of me I can’t find them online! 

But I’ll still tell you about them, and keep searching for their name. 

First up, these pants are tough. Great build quality, and all the zippers were smooth. Never underestimate the value of a great zipper. They also had some soft material around the waist band, which was a nice touch. They were lightweight and breathable, which was key for the heat of the jungle, and loose enough to wear a base-layer underneath for the chilliness of the Andes.

One area where these pants kicked my pants butt was water-resistance. In Cusco we were out every evening in the pouring rain. Even a short run to the nearest restaurant left my pants soaking wet for hours. I’d leave them to dry overnight and they would still be damp in the morning. Rob’s pants, on the other hand, barely showed any rain, and dried really fast. That was so valuable, I was intensely jealous.

These pants also looked good, for travel gear. I can’t even begin to tell you how much we dislike the look of “convertible” pants (zip off legs that convert the pants into shorts). And they seem to be everywhere! As multi-purpose as they might be, we just can’t bring ourselves to wear them. Finding a good pair of pants that weren’t “convertible” was very very difficult. 

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An extremely handy feature of these pants were the zippers. When we travel, we always keep our passports on us wherever we are. But putting them in a backpack isn’t the safest, because those can easily be grabbed. We’re not fans of money belts. We have them, and have tried them, but find them to be very uncomfortable. We also find that some people use them, but in such a blatant manner as to completely negate their stealthiness. They reach down their pants, pull out their money belt, take out some bills from a huge wad, and then stuff it back down their pants, all right out in the open!! Common sense will always triumph over a piece of gear that is meant to keep your valuables hidden. 

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that these pants were the perfect solution for us. Rob kept our passports and other valuable documents and money in his pants pocket. Normally that’s the last place you’d want to put these things, but not with these pants! As you can see in the very handy little sequence below, these pockets have a locking mechanism. 

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I think The North Face calls them “pockets with infusion”. Basically, you take the zipper pull, tuck it into the pocket, and push the zipper all the way to the side. It ends up hiding under a little piece of fabric, and becomes completely locked up. There is really no way someone could pick that pocket unless you were unconscious. It takes quite a while to get it open yourself, which is exactly what you want. When it comes to passports, inconvenience is the key. These pants had 5 zippered pockets that locked, which is incredible. So so so useful. 

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Pros: 

  • Durable and well-made
  • Comfortable
  • Lightweight enough for warm weather, but substantial enough for cool temperatures. Loose enough to wear a base layer underneath
  • Look good for travel gear
  • Locking zippered pockets!! There were 5 of these. Two hand, two thigh, and one back pocket.
  • Belt loops, for all the weight you end up loosing while traveling
  • Water resistant and quick-drying 
  • Didn’t show dirt, or get smelly

Cons:

  • Pricey (we were able to get them on sale though)
  • Can’t find them online!!

Bottom Line: Awesome pants if you can locate them. I’ll be getting ones for myself if I can find them!!



Medical Kit

If you’ve read our articles, you’ll know all about our obsession with our med kit. We really want to be prepared when it comes to our health. I also tend to get sick pretty easily, so I use this stuff allllllll the time. We made our own med kit, rather than buying a pre-made one, since we like to tailor what we bring to our own needs, as well as the location we’re going. It’s possibly cheaper as well, but I haven’t worked it out. Whatever works best for you! 

What makes it awesome is the sweeeet First Aid Bag we found at MEC. It’s brightly coloured, and easy to spot among all your stuff. The international First Aid symbol is so useful as well. If you can’t help yourself, someone else will instantly know where to find your meds. 

We got the Medium size, which is perfect for the two of us, and the large amounts of meds we bring along. They also have Small and Large, so you can get whatever works best for you. 

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The clear windows make it easy to find what you’re looking for, and there are enough spots for a bit of organisation. I always try to take meds out of their box, and then cut the instructions part of the box out, and bring that along as well. Saves on space. 

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Pros:

  • Inexpensive
  • Obviously a Med Kit
  • Clear windows make it easy to spot what you’re looking for
  • Lighweight
  • Durable
  • Multiple sizes

Cons:

  • Have to get all the meds yourself (thought that’s kinda nice, since it’s a good idea to know exactly what you have!)

Bottom Line: When it comes to something important like medications, be organized. This little bag is pretty much essential. 



Organizers

Being organized while travelling is the difference between frustration and smooth sailing. The more we travel, the more we find investing in little bags like these makes our life waaaaay easy. 

First up, a mesh organizer from On Sight. We tried both their mesh bag, and one with a clear plastic window. We found that the one with the plastic window ended up getting kinda foggy/murky after use, but the mesh one stayed in great shape. These come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and we’ll definitely be picking up a few before our next trip. Rob used this one to keep our large camera accessories organized. I had a small mesh bag in my pack that I kept my batteries, flash cards, and other small things I’d use every day together. 

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And this little guy was one of Rob’s brilliant ideas. It’s going to sound kinda simple, but trust me, it’s fantastic. 

This is our flight bag! It was actually a toiletry bag from MEC, but we didn’t think it would fit all our stuff. Rob then started packing the things we always use on a plane into it. Our inflatable neck pillows, eye shades, ear plugs, Gravol, Tylenol, and earphones. Instead of always having to keep my whole backpack with me, taking up all my foot space, I’d just grab this little guy, and be set for the whole flight! We ended up taking quite a few flights, and this was so so useful. 

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Organizers are all pro. Cheap, you only need a few, and they make your life easy. Do it up.



Water Bottle

Carrying a water bottle is really essential when you travel. We always had to drink bottled water, but tried to buy really large bottles to cut down on all the plastic. Having your own reusable water bottle lets you take just as much as you need for the day. We also brought along some powdered drink mix, and having a water bottle let us use that. 

We used a large, wide-mouth Nalgene bottle for our trip. They are indeed super durable, and the little hook on the lid was useful. We’d clip it with a small carabiner onto the outside of our packs, so that it didn’t have a chance of leaking onto our camera gear inside the bag. 

One big problem with these that we had, however, was that they really soaked up smells. By the end of the trip they were really bad. We had washed them numerous times, let them soak with soap, but nothing got rid of it. The wide mouth also resulted in me spilling water all over myself on so many occasions. 

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Pros:

  • Durable, even with you drop it on the ground like me
  • Lightweight
  • Clear, so you can see if you have any water left
  • Hook on lid lets you clip it to the outside of your bag
  • Inexpensive

Cons:

  • Soaked up smells that we just couldn’t get rid of
  • Wide mouth made it hard to drink from without spilling
  • Always screwing the lid on and off got a bit tedious 

Bottom Line: We’re going to look for another bottle for our next trip. It just got too frustrating to have to deal with smelly water every day!



Rain Jacket

The best way to be adaptable to weather is to layer. Layer, layer, layer. So the best way to approach prepping for a trip is to get some different jackets that can work alone, or in concert. When getting ready for Peru, we knew we would be experiencing cold, rain, and heat. And there’s nothing worse than being cold and wet. So first up was getting a good rain jacket.

We both went with the MEC Hydrofoil 3 Jacket, which comes in both a ladies and mens version. (You will soon find that Rob and I usually get the exact same of everything. We have the same tastes, and get jealous of the other one if they have something better! :) ) 

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This jacket was really fantastic, and did a good job of keeping us dry. It wasn’t perfectly waterproof, and after a lot of rain we’d see it ever so slightly soaking in, but we weren’t wet. If we weren’t wearing a fleece underneath, it did tend to get clammy against our skin. But I can assure you we looked a whole lot better than the majority of people in Cusco, who had to buy a cheap poncho to stay dry! 

Pros:

  • Kept us dry, even in a lot of rain
  • Ventilation zippers under the arms were great
  • Looked good
  • Decently priced, though not cheap
  • Velcro on the sleeves made sure that the wind didn’t get in
  • The hood had a draw-string that let you fit it perfectly so that it wasn’t in your eyes, but still kept the rain off your face. Built in brim was great.
  • Super lightweight and packable. Easy to just keep in a pack for any situation.
  • Long enough to cover your bottom! 

Cons: 

  • Needed to wear a fleece underneath or we’d get clammy

Bottom Line: Great jacket, for a reasonable price. Anything that is easy to pack and lightweight gets extra points for travellers!



Fleece

These fleece jackets were probably our favourite pieces of clothing we got for this trip. We wore them constantly. In Cusco, when it was cold, we just wore them all day. They were thin enough to easily layer under our rain jackets without getting bulky. Every time we had a flight, we’d wear them to combat the chilly air they pump into the planes. And even in the jungle, when the air con was on all night and we’d get cold, we would put these on and be nice and warm. 

We each had a MEC Watchtower Jacket with a full zipper. Go for the full zip, and not the half, as it’s much more convenient. I still wear this jacket all the time at home. It’s just so comfy and warm, without being bulky like a sweater! Love it!

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Pros: 

  • Great quality
  • Lightweight
  • Warm but not bulky
  • Extremely comfortable
  • Looks nice
  • Inexpensive
  • Zip pocket on the chest was so so useful

Cons:

  • Could have used a couple hip pockets

Bottom Line: A near-perfect jacket. We will never travel without it, even to hot climates. Travelling through airports is chilly business!



Socks

Just like your shoes are important, socks can be pretty important as well. It’s a common saying that if your feet are warm, the rest of you feels warm. So for those cold climates, you’ll want a good pair of wool socks. We used these bad boys: TekoMerino Light Hiking Socks.

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They were super comfy, and kept our feet warm without getting hot. 

Pros: 

  • Comfortable. Nice cushioning on the bottom.
  • Breathable
  • Warm without being too hot. Were great for the Andes

Cons:

  • Pricey! We got these because they were among the cheaper options, and they were still $16.50 for one pair! We will be getting socks for other climates slowly, because they are certainly a lot of money for socks. But we want our feet to be as comfortable as possible!
  • Too warm for the heat of the jungle

Bottom Line: High-tech socks are pricey! We will be sticking with one or two pairs, and expanding that collection slowly. There are so many other things to spend your money on!



Document Holder

This little guy was so handy when we were moving through airports. You always have so many little papers and cards to hang on to, making sure you have then easily accessible saves a lot of time. It’s the MEC Documents Holder. 

We had the Regular size, and it was great for 2 - 3 people. For one person the Small would be better, I’d say. 

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Pros: 

  • Durable
  • Perfect pockets for organising your travel papers
  • Inexpensive
  • Side handle was great, used it a lot

Cons:

  • None

Bottom Line: We love organisation on the road. And airports and plane travel require dealing with a lot of papers. This thing was fantastic, and we’ll never travel without it!



Airline Tote

When travelling with a backpack, you often find yourself struggling to tie up all the straps and buckles before getting on a plane. And if you neglect to do so, you might come out the other side missing one or two. You also might have some difficulty locking it up. This MEC Airline Tote is a fantastic solution.

We had one for each of our large backpacks, and would simply toss them in before heading to the airport. They were rugged, easily locked, and had a nice big shoulder strap to easily carry the bag around. And really inexpensive. Score. 

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This baby is all pro, so I’m not even going to list pros and cons. If you have a backpack, and need a way to keep it secure while flying, grab one of these. 



Travel Packs

We’re not the kind of travellers who head up into the mountains for 2 weeks. At least not yet! So a large, top-loading bag is pretty inconvenient for us. We really enjoy travelling with a suitcase-style backpack. Something that opens along the side for easy access to all of your stuff, but you can still easily carry on your back. MEC (of course) has a great one that we’ve been using and loving. All pack manufacturers seem to have one model like that, so it’s not limited to MEC

This is the MEC Walkabout Travel Pack. It has a small daypack that zips on the front of it, but we don’t use it. 

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Pros:

  • Easy access to all of the contents
  • Durable
  • Zip-down flap to cover the straps
  • Shoulder strap and handle come in really useful, especially in airports
  • Lightweight
  • Inexpensive compared to many packs
  • Multiple sizes

Cons:

  • Not the best harness system. Not really meant for super heavy loads and long carrying times. Wasn’t a huge issue for us though.
  • Daypack was a bit too small for our needs

Bottom Line: We’ll likely use this bag, or a newer version of it, for quite some time to come. Great value, and the ease-of-use makes it a winner. 

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