Gadgets You Need When Traveling Light

After many months of blogging silence, it’s a pleasure to be back, and to welcome a guest blogger! Zach Cunning has spent a lot of time traveling and backpacking in various parts of the world, and has honed lightweight travel down to a science.

There are always new travel gadgets coming out. Something lighter, something faster, and invariably, something more expensive. Some of them are worth the price, but a lot aren’t; and as budget travelers, it’s important for us to know what’s worth the money, and what will just slowly shift itself to the bottom of our bag and eventually be left behind at the hostel for some other backpacker.

Here are five absolutely essential pieces of cheap gear you might not think of, all available at REI or Amazon:

  1. Duct tape…specifically duct tape that’s been taken off the cardboard roll and wrapped around a 3-inch piece of plastic coat hanger. I’m a fan of Gorilla brand tape since it’s about the strongest stuff around, but any duct tape you can get your hands on will work. I have a pair of shorts that ripped in two places after several months on the road, and I still had several months left to go. I stitched them up, but they ripped again a week later, same places. I reinforced the rip with Gorilla tape and then stitched it; a year later, and everything from one-hundred-mile hikes to being used as board shorts on a surf trip, they’re still going strong. Carry duct tape, it will save your ass. Available on Amazon or at most hardware stores–  link here
  2. Sawyer mini filter. Duct tape will save your ass, this thing will save your stomach. They cost 20 bucks, weigh almost nothing, filter out, according to Sawyer’s website, “99.99999% of all bacteria, such as salmonella, cholera and E.coli, and…99.9999% of all protozoa (such as giardia and cryptosporidium).”  As long as you don’t accidentally freeze one they’ll filter more water than you’re likely to drink (100,000 gallons). Available at REI: link here
  3. Light my Fire Spork. Spoon, little knife, and a fork in one plastic carry-on-able package. Hobos were budget backpacking before budget backpacking existed, and they had a little folding knife/fork/spoon combo that they carried for eating whatever food they got. While you’re probably eating off-brand Chobani from a Hudson news stand while waiting for your flight, instead of a can of beans next to the Big Rock Candy mountain, the principle remains the same. Variations on the theme are available from REI and other outfitters but my favorite is here on Amazon: link here
  4. Quick dry towel. REI, MSR, Sea to Summit, and pretty much any other outdoorsy company make these microfiber towels. They’re sizes range from roughly that of a paper towel to a full size bath towel, and even the smallest will easily dry you off after a shower. They do, however, begin to smell a bit if they aren’t bone dry when they’re put away. Spend a few dollars more on a linen bath towel. They actually dry faster in my experience, don’t smell, and roll down to about the size of a t-shirt. Search Amazon for “linen bath towel,” there’re too many options to link just one.
  5. S or “double gated” carabiners. Nitecore makes the official ones but there are knockoffs around too.  Made of plastic or metal, these things range from itty bitty two-pound-rated up to those rated around 75 pounds (and bigger, but past 75 they just get obnoxious). I use them for everything from attaching gear to my bag, to holding zippers shut, to improvising belts, even hanging flashlights from the top bunk slats at a hostel. The metal ones can also pry off a beer cap if you’re feeling creative. They’re available from REI and Amazon of course, and basically everywhere else from Walmart, to outdoor shops and even some convenience stores.

Bonus Round: 550 paracord. I keep about 100 feet of black paracord in my bag pre- cut to varying lengths between one and 50 feet. Rope has infinite uses, and with 100 feet costing about 10 dollars at any military surplus store and taking up less room than a pair of underwear, it’s well worth it.

George Carlin said, “That’s the whole meaning of life, isn’t it? Trying to find a place to put your stuff…If you didn’t have so much goddamn stuff you’d just be walking around all the time.” In other words, backpacking. I’ve found the above stuff helps me carry less stuff while making it easier to find a place to put my stuff when I’m done walking around for the day; hopefully it does the same for you.

Zach Cunning has taken trains throughout Europe; walked Roman roads along the Camino de Santiago; hiked and hitchhiked in Portugal, Peru, Colombia and many other areas: learned to surf in El Salvador; and taught people the fine arts of shaking up the perfect margarita and concocting the perfect pancakes wherever he went. His latest adventures found him in Morocco. When not sprinting for a connecting flight, Zach lives, works, and studies in Chicago.

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