- Liquids bag
- Shelter for sleeping
- Locator chips
- Support this site
Over time, people have asked me about my stuff (what I think of them, where they can get some, etc.). So I’ve made notes here, so I remember where I got them. I focus on the (luxurious) essentials here:
Since I travel a lot, I need a backpack designed for secure urban travel rather than wilderness bushwacking.
So the backpack that makes the most sense for my everyday carry needs is Cabin Max Metz Backpack Flight Approved Carry on Bag ($50)
Below are discussion of specific attributes versus trade-offs:
Mine is black but there is a gray camo fabric. A dark gray color backpack is less noticeable than a bright-colored pack to alert thieves.
I’d like to put a patch (such as an American flag) over their big logo, though.
Size & Weight
The maximum size to qualify as carry-on luggage is defined by IATA to be 22 x 16 x 8 inches. Some airlines have different standards, such as (21 x 14 x 9). I prefer a backpack this size so I don’t need an additional bag when I go for a weekend or need to carry several laptops, camera or recording gear, etc.
The room’s there when needed at a Lightweight 700g with water resistant 600D material, which the Amazon Basics bag does not have. The LocTote, XDDesign Bobby packs feature Cut-proof fabric.
Such a size may be too big for most. But I would rather cinch up a pack than not have enough room when I need it. The pack has side compression/cinch straps to flatten it out. But I rarely use them.
Some cannot carry backpacks, so a regular rolling bag would be needed. Wheels dd weight, so I’ve steered away from them (I can’t resist the pun).
A backpack would allow me to get on the plane with essentially two pieces of carry-on luggage.
A large backpack is less comfortable to carry for long periods, and less “executive business style”.
It Would be nice to have more adjustable shoulder straps that transfers weight to the hips. Front straps are especially important for a women’s physique.
External quick access
Most backpacks for wilderness travel have several pockets for easy access.
In the front “Quick Access Pocket” I put receipts in, so it’s not locked. That’s where I keep a couple of lost/emergency contact cards inside Ziplock bags.
I keep these in that pocket or hanging outside the pack:
[_] Magnetic compass. The Brunton compass I can squeeze to rotate the plate to remind me to adjust for magnetic declination vs. True North on maps. In the continental U.S., declination can vary from nearly 20 degrees east in places on the West Coast to nearly 20 degrees west in places on the East Coast. A 15 degree error when traveling over a mile puts you a quarter-mile away from your destination. Magnetic North has moved over 2.5 degrees during the past 22 years (recently at a faster rate toward Russia).
[_] Large carabiner and straps to attach the pack so it stays on top the handle of a rolling luggage bag.
[_] Thermometer for ambient temperature. Not really accurate but good to know.
A sleek look without side pockets (that never seem to be the right size) is a halmark of the Astor, Minaal packs.
I prefer a front flap that unzips completely to see at a glance where various small items are (headphones, pens, batteries, cords, SD chips, etc.)
[_] Valuables such as passport and currency I put in a internal wallet I wear under my shirt.
Locks are a trade-off sacrifice of quick easy access to glasses, water.
Glasses can be expensive.
[_] Sunglasses (in a case)
[_] Reading glasses (in a hard case)
Normally a person needs a half gallon (64 oz) per day or more. Water weighs 8 pounds per gallon. So it can be the heaviest item in your backpack.
[_] A “LifeStraw” to suck water from a sack inside the backpack is great not just for backpackers. Offices can have water quality issues too.
Hikers enjoy the convenience of an external water tube to reach an internal water bag so it’s not necessary to stop and remove the bottle for a drink. Some bags have them built-in but there are add-ons available.
Cooking and heating
[_] It’s a true luxury to have a hot drink on a cold night or a cold drink on a hot day. Double-walled canisters keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold.
[_] I got a cup made of silicon so I can microwave water or to cook a Campbell’s soup can.
[_] I need an aluminum pot holder to handle it when hot.
I like having one big compartment that unzips completely open, splayed) [Astor], rather than several pockets that snag on stuff.
PROTIP: I custom-made little boxes that doubles as padding to cushion all around my laptop. Hats, gloves, scarf at the top because they are used in the winter. Change of socks and underwear, which I rarely need, at the bottom. Extra shirt and towels on the left and right compartments.
Some boxes are made of insulation material because many items (food, medicines) degrade when hot. The material also provides some stiffness. Some packs contain soft pull-out packs. But I prefer stiffer water-tight boxes so they stack neatly in the pack.
They are more effecive than internal compression straps to keep things inside the pack from knocking into each other.
The [XDDesign Bobby] features high density foam.
Having internal compartments that are water-tight seals.
Zippers is where my previous backpacks wore out first. “YKK” brand zippers (from Japan) are considered the best. New versions are leak-resistant.
Mimizing external pockets also minimizes the number of (TSA approved) locks to secure the pack when I need to.
Easily lockable zippers make it harder for people standing behind me in line to explore the pockets on my backpack.
The XDDesign Bobby pack features hidden zippers.
High-tech packs have:
- an alarm that sounds if someone picks it up. This can be added on.
- Red LED rear light for safety [Astor]
- Red LED side light for safety [Astor]
- Front lights [Astor]
- Locator beacon (such as Tile)
The trouble with them is that I need to hassle with keeping its battery charged.
Other qualities and alternatives I’ve considered during my survey of various ones out there are below.
I don’t care about the pack being:
- Velcro patch to attach skateboard [Unitty]
- Lumos Astor by Gandharv Bakshi for cyclists with built-in lights.
Other alteratives considered:
The D3 Traveller is a duffle bag which costs $983 because it looks like a used trash can liner. It is ultralight even though has double walls of waterproof scan-resistent fabric.
Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack ($160) This one’s nice but a bit spendy.
I keep a couple meals in my pack with a bottle of water. Ideally, it would not have much sugar, salt, MSG, etc.
[_] A bag of mixed nuts (unsalted)
[_] Jerky has a lot of salt
CALENDAR PROTIP: Food spoils over time. So write a date on each item and enter a replacement recurring appointment on your calendar a few months out so it’s eaten before gong stale.
[_] Long titanium spoon to eat from a Mountain House foil pouch. Regular spoons are too short cause you to have food on your knuckles.
[_] Small sissors with rounded tips for kids, with a cover. I’ve never had TSA at airports flag it. $2 from Walmart’s art section.
[_] Small waterproof vials of herbs and spices you like to add to your food. Tameric. Cardemon.
I get small 3 oz. bottles or fill up little tubes rather than handling and carrying big bottles.
[_] Thick plastic waterproof bags (rather than zip-locks that leak over time)
[_] Dish soap
[_] Hand sanitizer with a hook hanging on the outside of my pack
[_] Hair gel
[_] Personal lubricant. Jo hybrid is our favorite.
[_] Bug repellant
[_] Balsamic vinegar
[_] Port wine (to go in clam and other chowders)
I keep a small bag in my backpack for essential toiletries:
[_] Toothpaste (small size)
[_] Disposeable shaver
[_] Dental floss
[_] Small roll of toilet paper in a waterproof and abrasion-resistent bag.
[_] travel-sized Febreze To Go.
[_] Wash cloth (polyester for faster drying than cotton) Use it to clean computer screens.
[_] Toiletries bag that hangs, such as the Ogio Doppler bag.
[_] First-aid bag with band-aids
[_] Breath mints
[_] Eye mask
[_] Earplugs in a plastic case to keep dirt off them
[_] Nail clipper
I keep in my car a bag I put in my luggage when I travel:
[_] Nail clipper
[_] Woolite Travel Laundry Soap or Travelon Laundry Soap Sheets so you can hand wash laundry in a sink.
PROTIP: An extra pair of socks and underwear makes for great padding for electronics.
[_] Gloves with touch-screen fingertips. I prefer leather gloves for its wind protection.
[_] Hat (cap), because you loose a lot of heat through your head.
[_] Scarf (shemag) of 42 x 42 can be used to filter water and as an evaperative cooler. Also breathes through it in smoke.
[_] Money & passport hider
[_] A rainsuit (with pants) takes less room than I thought. The Frogger rainsuit replaces umbrella, which doesn’t work that well anyway for protecting pants. So wear dark pants ;)
[_] Big waterproof airtight bag for storing soiled underwear.
[_] Underwear from Ex-officio, at $25 each, is worth every penny to me for its comfort and quick-drying properties (not cotton) It doubles as a bathing suit (kept in a waterproof bag)
[_] Stain remover stick
[_] Extra bag for souvenirs
Shelter for sleeping
Variations in where to sleep, from the most comfortable to least:
- In a building (hotel, AirBnB home, CouchSurfing)
- In a vehicle
- In the wilderness or park
- In the city (“rough sleeping”)
Different equiqment is needed for each type of sleeping accomodation.
In a building
For traveling to hotels, here are a few items
[_] UV flashlight to reveal proteins if sheets are not fresh (free of bed bugs, etc.). I’ve found issues even in five-star hotels.
[_] A “space” or “survival” mylar reflective blanket in my pack. It’s less than an once. $6.20 for 10
I was glad I had one to put on top of someone who had fallen, passed out on the sidewalk. That may keep someone from going into shock.
[_] Clear repair duct tape to patch fabric tears without looking trashy. $5.80 for 5 yards 1.5 inch wide. I put this in an insulated box because adhesives degrade.
[_] $50 Cocoon Silk TravelSheet Silk Sleep Sack) keeps your skin away from quesionable sheets with a nice-feeling one. Lightweight and compresses to a small size. Yeah, I’m spoiled.
Sleeping in cars
[_] I keep a 4-season sleeping bag and pads in my car in case of breakdown in the Winter.
In New York City, the Bowry (Chinatown).
[_] Nylon cord
[_] Trowel in case I have to dig in dirt
[_] Screwdrivers (flat and phillips head)
[_] Converter (400 Watts)
[_] Extra car battery to use
[_] Electriccal heater (that doesn’t use up oxygen)
[_] Jumber cables
[_] Tire inflator
A tent (with stakes) is the item which separates a city pack and wilderness backpacking.
I think it’s wise to be experienced and prepared to sleep in the “cuts” (hideaway spots like bushes and alleys). It’s not just in case you’re homeless. I’ve been in a city where I can’t find any hotel room available. I’ve slept on a sidewalk in front of a store waiting for it to open so I am among the first to buy a hot item. I’ve slept on a sidewalk to squat a spot to watch a parade the next morning.
So I’m not so quick to judge people sleeping in the city. Public Shelters can be dangerous places. I can’t keep my fancy backpack from being stolen there while I sleep.
[_] Pepper spray as a defensive weapon.
Many cities and towns have a thing against people sleeping on the street. Their solution is usually have the police annoy the homeless (waking them up in the middle of the night) so they move to another city. I think that’s unconstitutional “cruel and unusual punishment,” under the Eighth Amendment. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on September 2018 ruled against “criminal penalties for sitting, sleeping, or lying outside on public property for homeless individuals who cannot obtain shelter.”* The state, the court said, “may not criminalize conduct that is an unavoidable consequence of being homeless.” The suit was brough by Eric Tars of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
So I try to boycott such towns, primarily Boise, Dallas, Denver. I applaud Saleforce billionaire Mark Benioff for leadership in this. Meanwhile, Amazon is doing what?
[_] Donate to the Navigation Centers in San Francisco. They provide a viable shelter by proving storage, eliminating curfews (for those who work odd hours), not requiring resident to exit the premises each morning, allowing pets, and permits mixed gender sleeping arrangements rather than requiring families and couples to separate. But one has to dial 311 (415-701-2311) to get on their waiting list.
More than a dozen cities from Santa Rosa to Seattle and Austin, Texas, are copying the model*
Anyway, dangers from rough sleeping makes it helpful to have a buddy with you. If you’re traveling alone, perhaps team up with another homeless person. Better yet, many cities have street counselors.
PROTIP: Get everything in gray.
[_] A decoy wallet to give robbers. Dropping it on the floor gives you time to run away.
[_] A chain with lock to tie the backpack like you would a bicycle. They can be heavy, though.
[_] Earplugs to reduce noise.
[_] Keep the USB drive containing a full backup of your laptop separately from your backpack, such as in your sleeping bag by your feet.
[_] A bottle with a wide opening to pee in.
I use my phone as a flashlight.
But for being to use both hands in the dark, nothing beats strap-on headlamps (with extra batteries and red lens filter). I keep one in the car.
I got a few Tile chips (for about $20 each) when they were first on Kickstarter.
But after a year, when I needed it, I realized they had died.
[_] In many airports, my electrical cord with 3-prong plugs enabled me to keep my stuff charged.
[_] There is a big battery to power my Mac laptop for a few hours. But it’s heavy.
[_] Instead of turning on the light to wake everyone up, Streamlight 73001 Nano Light Miniature Keychain LED Flashlight is an amazing little flashlight that is super bright and tiny.
[_] I have a Mac, so I need HDMI and VGA monitor adapter. And an Ethernet network dongle.
PROTIP: I don’t recommend solar panels. Small ones don’t make that much energy. Plus I’m not outside much.
I’ve had several headphones over the years. That’s not to be fashionable, but because I lose them, sit or step on them or, in the case of the Sony MX1000, they broke easily at the swivel.
Difficulties with alternative designs:
Earplugs like Apple’s AirPods do block ambient sound, but hurt my ear.
When I want to seem more approachable, I wear a bone-conducting headphone. I wear them in the car so I don’t get a ticket when I listen to my iPhone while driving a noisy van. But I found others can hear the sound from them. And they co-exist better when wearing glasses.
Over-the-ear headphone I wear as ear muffs to keep warm in the winter. And there is nothing that says “don’t talk to me” like having big headphones on.
I got the flagship WH-1000XM3 ($249 - $350 available since August 2018) adds touch controls and microphone to make calls.
- I’ve accidentally hit its playback controls on the right earcup because they are touch-sensitive. To skip forward, swipe forward. Swipe left to go back. Pause and resume by double-tapping. Swipe up or down to control volume. Tap once to activate voice assistant and answer phone calls. Nice when I’m wearing gloves.
But the most desired now (May 2019) is Dolby’s $499 Dimension Bluetooth headphones.
DURABILITY: Dolby has a metal connection between earpiece cup to the headband. This is versus WH-1000 models which has a plastic hinge that allows the headphone to fold is easily broken. And Sony refuses to replace ones that break.
With Bose, I once commented to a salesclerk that my Bose headphone chord frayed, and he just gave me a new cable.
PORTABILITY: The Sony is somewhat troublesome to contort so they fit into its case and take up more room in my backpack.
Dolby headphones do not fold. But I would take that if it’s sturdier.
MEH: The most annoying aspect of Sony is it needs to be paired with a smartphone or it turns off after 5 minutes. In other words, you can’t use it just for noise cancellation on an airplane without worrying whether your smartphone has enough juice for the trip.
AMBIANT SOUND: It would be cool to wear those headsets with the clear cord. The FBI, CIA, cyclists, and other bad-ass serious people wear them so they can hear ambiant sound.
NOISE CANCELLING: The Sony headphones has noise-cancelling, either 3.5mm cord (for use on airplanes) or Bluetooth.
SWITCH AMONG SOURCES: The Sony is more hassle than it’s worth because I have to constantly turn Bluetooth on or off either my Mac or iPhone so the headphone doesn’t pair with the wrong device.
The Dolby has 3 buttons to switch among 3 sources. Sweet.
EASE OF CONFIGURATION: With Sony, “You have to manually turn on the aptX/AAC codec. To do so you have to either do a terminal command. The other option is to download the developers kit Xcode and then download Bluetooth file exchange and there are a few boxes you check to manually turn on the aptX/AAC.”
This model also pairs with the Sony | Headphones Connect app for Android/iOS so you can specify sound Equilizer settings.
BATTERY LIFE: Sony claims 30 hour battery with 10 minute charge for 5 hours of playback.
The new models have gone to a USB Type-C charging port, but its annoying is MEH: the headphone don’t work when being charged.
The WH-CH700N at $198 list is less than $100 refurbished.
MICROPHONE FOR CALLS: The new Sony model still suffers from a built-in microphone others have trouble hearing since it doesn’t have a boom like some others. So its Google Assistant and Alexa integration may not work well.
The older WH-1000XM2 has slightly smaller earcups, sensitivity, and impedence.
[_] Micro USB to USB-A to transfer and charge Android mobile phone.
[_] PROTIP: The Android mobile battery charger enables me to charge one battery while another is being used.
PROTIP: The ability to remove and replace batteries is why I went with Android S3 rather than iPhones. But there are precious few models left that do. Alas, Verizon doesn’t serve its 3G technology.
[_] A Google Cast HDMI plug and micro-USB electrical with a long chord to project to a TV from your laptop.
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