Our Favorite Gear

Have no fear: we haven’t started accepting sponsorships from outdoor gear companies for our blog. After hearing about the catastrophic events in Nepal, I started thinking about a few items we own and brought here from the US, things that I’d be extra glad to have around in a time of serious shortages. And, given the time of year, and America’s upcoming gifting spree (Father’s Day and graduations), this might give you some helpful ideas for some products that have been tested and tried.

Without further ado, here is a summary of some of our favorite items for life here; things we use nearly every day. (Links to sites with these products are in the titles and images, if you wish to check them out.)

Sawyer Water Filtration System

(Point Zero Two Model and Sawyer Mini)

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These two filters prompted me to write this blog post in the first place. We use our household filter for all our drinking water, and have yet to get stomach sickness from our water at our home. The best part about these filters is that they have indefinite lifespan; anytime they show signs of slowing down, all that’s required is that you back flush them with a syringe and they’ll be operating like new again. If we ever encountered a serious water shortage here, this filter has the capacity to filter enough water to give to our friends and neighbors.

The small portable version (Sawyer Mini) is wonderful for hiking/backpacking, as you a) don’t have to pack nearly as much water weight along, and b) you don’t need to expend extra energy on furiously hand pumping for a cupful of drinkable water; all it takes is an empty, clean water bottle and some squeezing (as depicted in the above photograph).

Z-Lite Therm-a-rest Pads

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We have three of these, and here are a few reasons why we like them:

– If you travel anywhere in the developing world, you’ll meet your fair share of dubious mattresses. The Z-lites are helpful for having an extra layer between you and whatever lives/has lived in those mattresses, or just a layer between you and the floor if you opt for the ground instead. (If you like plenty of padding, however, these may not be the best option for you.)

– No inflation required, and because they don’t need air, they also won’t pop a hole and become useless to us.

– The infinite “z” fold in these makes them a useful little stool in a pinch (or when you’re waiting around in an airport and need a nap!). And they weigh only 14 ounces, so they’re not a burden to tote around.

The Platypus Softbottle

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This water pouch has yet to develop the disgusting grey tinge and bad odor/flavor that befalls many water bottles. Once in a while it gets a stale smell about it, which is easily fixed by letting it air out for a day or two. It is super for travel, as it is completely flat when it’s empty, and it won’t consume extra space in your carry-on. Also can be attached to a drink tube.

Pelican Cases

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They look a little bit suspect, and every time I carry mine through an airport, I expect to be apprehended by security. Dubious appearance aside, these boxes have kept our cameras and electronics intact for many a bumpy ride, and I’m grateful for them. They come with foam inserts that can be cut to fit whatever electronics you plan to port about. The pelican case is also completely watertight, which is another nice “peace of mind” feature for your gear when you live in a climate where mold grows at a frightening rate… which leads to the next item:

Rechargeable Silica Gel Desiccant

There are plenty of products available that promise to keep things dry and mold free, but the beauty of this desiccant is that it has an indefinite lifespan. We keep desiccant in each of our Pelican cases with our cameras, in dry bags to keep favorite clothing from molding, and in rubber tubs to preserve our books. Each bag of desiccant comes with an indicator; when the color signals too much moisture, all that’s required is to put the whole bag in an oven at 200F for 3 hours, and it is back to new condition. (Much to the amusement of our German friends, the best brand of desiccant we’ve found is available from U.S. gun companies. Oh, ‘Merica.)

Petzl Rechargeable Headlamps

Our power goes out several times a week, sometimes for hours at a time. Many meals have made it to the table fully cooked only by the help of our faithful little Petzl. That, and it’s also nice to have on hand when you’re poking around dark places frequented by rodents and reptiles. These are designed to recharge via USB, which is much better than having a unique charging port that cannot be easily replaced if lost. (Note: Since we bought ours, Petzl seems to have upgraded their available models. I’d say any headlamp is helpful, as long as you be sure to find one that can be charged via USB and doesn’t require AAA batteries.)

BioLite Stove

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This is one of my favorite birthday gifts ever (thanks D & K!). We cook with gas, so we haven’t had much occasion to use this stove, but in the event of some sort of apocalypse, it would be incredibly helpful. When we have used the Bio Lite, we have been impressed with how efficient it is: one 6 in x 2 inch stick of rather soft/porous wood burned hot for about 15 minutes in this little stove. Add to that: it is lightweight and compact, and it also will charge anything with a USB port. It is great for use in dry places where having a ground fire would be a hazard. If we ever encountered a fuel shortage here in Myanmar, this stove would be a lifesaver for us. With a leftover wedding gift card, we picked up the Biolite Kettle to accompany this stove; I still can’t get over how great it is that they designed the stove to be stored inside the kettle. Three cheers for efficient design!

Quick-Dry Towels

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They speak for themselves, but I’ll add a few words. They dry fast enough to be packed in luggage soon after use without making everything soggy. We use them daily and the reason we love them is that they don’t grow mold, like most other cloth here. I can say from experience that drying one’s face and head with a moldy towel doesn’t give a fresh feeling. So I commend to you our friends the quick-dry towels.

Linen garments

Consider this my official un-reccomendation for synthetic travel clothing, especially shirts. 100% linen clothing is wonderful for living in/traveling to hot and humid places. It wicks sweat and stench better than any synthetic material I’ve tried. It is hardy, easy to wash, and it dries quickly. Linen also doesn’t retain the smell of sweat after washing, unlike a good deal of synthetic clothing on the market these days. Another plus with linen: it is a much more environmentally-friendly product than synthetic clothing.


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More of a fun item than a necessity, but it’s made for many a good movie night and dance party, and it’s practically wallet size. Once or twice we’ve been in group meetings/presentations where the computer and the sound system didn’t jive, and this little friend stepped in and kept things rolling and audible. The battery life is great, and it travels well.

Lingerie Bag

This is more of a travel tip than a specific product recommendation. Washing machines in some places don’t have a “gentle” cycle. I don’t actually use a lingerie bag for machine washing lingerie; I use it to keep some of our shirts or aging clothes from getting permanently disfigured, ripped, or overly stretched out by the ubiquitous rogue washing machines of the developing world.

Arc’Teryx Backpacks

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Really expensive (we got ours for bargain prices) but a good investment if you travel a lot. One feature we love is the fact that these packs have a simpler design, instead of infinite pockets and buckles everywhere. Arc Teryx makes an amazing waterproof piece of luggage (and they do so in North America–another plus for savvy shoppers). Having waterproof luggage is really helpful for traveling during monsoon season, especially given that some airport luggage areas have no rain shelter for you or your baggage. One of us may have once fallen in a river and been floated to the shore with the help of the Arrakis model… the happy ending sold us: nothing inside the main waterproof pockets got wet after that episode.

Some other items we are glad to have:

– Custom-made commuter bicycles for the developing world (Jim loved building our bikes, and could probably write a book on how to design a bike that is easy to repair in remote conditions. We’ll spare you the details here, but if you’re a bike person and you want some tips or parts recommendations as far as building a sturdy bike for bad roads, Jim would be glad to talk shop.)

– Portable Phone Battery Charger

– Chaco Sandals

– Dry Bags

– Write in the Rain All-weather notebooks


Anything we missed? What are your favorite all-weather travel items?



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