It Could Make or Break a Trip

10 01 2010

One of the things that we [you] worry about when planning a trip is how and what to pack.  Packing correctly can make or break a trip.  Pack too much and you waste space and energy; pack too little and you either run out of stuff or leave yourself high and dry.  These days it’s pretty easy to find packing suggestions for trips that you plan.  However, most of these packing lists are pretty generic and miss some things that may not be obvious until you get there and wish you had them.

My wife and I do a lot of international traveling to both conventional and non-conventional places.  For instance, last year we spent time in Italy and then later in the year went back to Africa to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  For the most part when you travel, there is a contingency plan for being able to pick up something you forgot.  My sister-in-law didn’t take a coat to Italy in later December and quickly learned she needed one and grossly overpaid for a new one in Rome.  However, while standing on the side of a mountain in Africa, contingencies are harder to come by.  So I have talked to some friends and travel mates to come up with a supplemental packing list that includes some lessons we learned from our travels (mainly to places that are off the beaten path) along with things that we wish we would have had but didn’t.

1.  Gatorade sachets:  Amanda learned right away how important these are.  The morning we left Arusha, Tanzania to begin our climb up Kili, she was violently ill with a stomach bug.  Day one was a fairly easy day but with depleted energy reserves, she had a rough go.  Luckily our travel mates had some Gatorade sachets that she could add to her Nalgene.  The electrolytes and extra calories in the Gatorade got her through that day and set her up for the rest of the trip while being gentle on her stomach.

Amanda Sick at the Trailhead

Amanda - Sick at the Trailhead

2.  Good Snacks:  Before we climbed Kili, a normal breakfast for both Amanda and I would often be a Clif Bar.  There are many different flavors and pack the right amount of energy and calories to start off the day.  So we decided that we would take them with us and supplement our meals on the mountain with them and carry some with us for an extra boost when we needed it on summit day.  Oh man…the thought of a Clif Bar now makes me ill!  I compare it to the same feeling you have about that alcoholic beverage that you can’t stand anymore because it made you so sick one night.  Although we never got sick from Clif Bars on Kili, there were plenty of times while climbing that you have to force feed yourself for the sake of getting energy.  We both decided that we should have found another kind of energy bar that we could stomach and taken those instead.  Also, we would have taken a wider variety of snacks and not just Clif Bars.  Nothing against Clif Bars – I could have taken pizza up there and not been able to eat it again (thank God I didn’t make that mistake!).

I would also recommend candy of some kind.  Especially on summit day (or any other strenuous day wherever you are), there are times when you need calories quickly and in a fashion that you can stomach.  Jelly Belly’s are good because they are delicious, hit your blood stream quickly and hold up in extreme temperatures.   Candy also mixes up flavors and textures which I was craving while choking down Clif Bars.

Finally on this point – and going back to drinks – on the summit of Kili, one of our guides had a Nalgene full of Pineapple Fanta.  This sounds crazy and I don’t know how or where he got it, but that Fanta made all the difference to me.  Again, I think it was calories and flavor but there was nothing on earth that tasted so good as Pineapple Fanta at the time in my life that I felt the worst.  I think the most important note on the issue of food and snacks is variety in flavors, textures and types.  Get creative, make sure it is packable and will hold up in extremes.  Also, decide whether or not you are willing to possibly hate those snacks afterward…

3.  Antibacterial Wipes:  This also may sound weird but in places where you can’t clean yourself in any other way, these things make you feel like you are at a spa!  I’m talking wipes (I loathe that word) not the gel – save that for meal times.  I won’t go in to the details of how and when to use these because I hope you could figure that out yourself…just take some with you…A LOT of them…more than you think you need or could use – trust me!

4.  Ear plugs:  You don’t ever know when you may need them but in many parts of the developing world, you may go crazy without them.  Chickens, goats, stray dogs, car horns, diesel engines and people walking around at all hours of the day and night create an inescapable cacophony that leads me to the brink of insanity while trying to grab some jetlagged rest.  You may also find yourself in an overcrowded campsite with people who don’t care that much that you are really tired, and ear plugs could end up being your best piece of gear.

Chris in Overcrowded Campsite 1

Chris in Overcrowded Campsite 1

5.  Liquor:  Our travel mates on Kili brought some individual serving bottles of whiskey and gin.  No, this was not to have a “proper session” (as my great British friend calls it) on the mountain, but it helped one night with a stomach bug that one of them was developing.  I’m sure that it could have also been used to disinfect a wound of some kind or deaden the pain of an injury.

6.  Needles / Syringes:  We have some new friends that have recently been to Bhutan (now that is some serious travel-cred there).  Bhutan may be one of the most remote and exotic places on the planet, and if you don’t have something there, you may not get it.  They took with them a veritable pharmacy in a suitcase and one thing they talked about taking were syringes.  Strange, I know, but the number one rule when traveling in exotic foreign places if you have to get shots or I.V.’s is to always make sure that you SEE the nurse or doctor take the syringe out of the sterile packaging to ensure that it is clean and has never been used.  Syringes may not be easy to come by and you would want to be careful about how you packed them, but if you end up being treated in a place with sketchy sanitation, you will rest better not worrying about all of your future blood tests.

7.  Pharmacy in a suitcase:  When preparing for an exotic vacation, look in that drawer or medicine cabinet where you keep all of your medications, Band-Aids, Neosporin, cough drops, Pepto, Imodium, etc. and think of everything that you have taken or used in the last 6-8 months.  Take at least one of each of those things.  You never know what you could come down with that something in there would help you with.  I could go on and on about this but there’s not always a Walgreen’s around the corner once you leave the States, so leave prepared.

My wife also took an old prescription that really paid off.  A while back she hurt herself and was given a prescription for Hydrocodeine.  It made her sick and she certainly didn’t need a full bottle of it so there was a lot of it left.  So, thinking ahead, she took it just in case someone got really hurt and needed something to alleviate pain while awaiting help.  On the descent from Kili, one of the people that we had been climbing alongside all week was having some serious issues with her bad knees.  Amanda was able to give her the bottle of painkillers and from what we could tell it really helped her get down the mountain.  [Now, I have to qualify that I don’t endorse the swapping of prescription drugs and we don’t make it a habit of dishing out things like that but this a unique situation and we wouldn’t have used the medicine otherwise.]

8.  Shoelaces:  For some crazy reason, I decided at the last minute to take an extra set of shoelaces.  Luckily I did because on the final morning of our Kili trip, I had to use them.  I think I could have taken some 4mm cord and that would have been as good and could have been used for a number of other things as well.

9.  Duct Tape:  When I was a rafting guide, I learned many of the virtues of duct tape; we used it for everything.  One of the great things about duct tape is that it can be re-used.  On Kili, I wrapped some duct tape around an AAA battery (that could have been used too) and was able to used it on a couple of different occasions.  Duct tape can be used in so many scenarios if you can employ a little bit of creativity and ingenuity and you don’t have to bring an entire roll.  (I plan on doing a short piece on a use for duct tape pretty soon).  Don’t forget it!

So this is a short list but includes some of the lessons we learned that would have made a difference in the trip(s).  This is one topic that I would really like to have some input from readers on.  Have you ever been somewhere and took something with you that you were glad to have, or are there things you wished you would have had?  Let me know and I will add to this post occasionally.  Also, let me know about some of the wild places you have been because I love to hear about other people’s travel stories.

Bon Voyage ~ Dan


Right NAU!

29 12 2009

If you haven’t heard of this company, you need to check out NAU (pronounced “now”).  Nau is a unique clothing manufacturer with a strong social conscience.  They aptly describe their products as “urban + outdoor apparel…for modern mobile life.”  I don’t know if they define their mission statement as such, but if you look on their website, they have a statement that sums it up nicely:  ”…to redesign fashion and to redefine business so that each become a powerful force for change. One small step towards unf*cking the world.”  Well said…and…they make amazing stuff!

I have always thought of NAU as a group of idealistic friends with a wide range of talents who started talking about some ideas one day over coffee or drinks and actually decided to act on them.  I imagine this conversation having to do with gear they liked and didn’t like, social issues that they cared a lot about, and how they thought that they could actually do something about it – and do it better.  Well they have!

I’ll get to the premise behind the company in a bit, but let me start by talking about how good their stuff is.  When you buy something from Nau, you’re not just buying some environmentally / socially aware karma, you’re buying some of the highest quality and best designed clothing on the market.  The stitching is impeccable, the cuts are precise and the fabrics are robust, comfortable and long lasting.  Between my wife and I and all the Nau clothing we have, this has been consistent throughout.

Nau’s style is unique as well.  “Urban + Outdoor” is right on.  The first thing that comes to mind is the colors.  Most of the collection is earth tones, or muted shades of brighter colors.  If you’re looking for something flashy, go somewhere else because that is not what Nau is.  If that sounds boring, it’s not.  The styling fits the ideology and look they are going for.  They have everything from base layers, to shirts and sweaters, to jackets, pants and accessories such as hats, scarves and bags.

On top of all that, you are buying socially aware karma after all.  Nau leaves no stone unturned when it comes to being a socially responsible company (I really encourage you to check out the section on their website about this).  This is what initially drew Amanda and me to Nau.  They take everything in to consideration from the fabrics they use, to the working conditions of the factories that produce their products, to how they ship products and more.

I had (have) a lot more to say about Nau but it was getting exhaustive and to be honest, their website is great and gives you the run-down on the company.  I mainly want to get the word out about the company and vouch for the amazing quality.  The website also has a store locator but I know in Chicagoland, you can find Nau at Uncle Dan’s.

In the nature of full disclosure, I do have to mention one downside to Nau.  It is expensive!  Fortunately, they acknowledge that and address it on the website.  I have said it once and will continue to say it forever, that you get what you pay for.  With Nau, you’re getting great quality but it comes at a price.  Luckily, they put their stuff on sale quite often.  Amanda and I have never bought anything at full price and that is on purpose.  You can sign up for email alerts or check the website every now and then and there is almost always something on sale – even items that are currently in season.  (Sorry Nau, I love you guys but if I’m going to keep credibility, I have to mention that…)

So now a brief gear review:

When Amanda and I climbed Kili, Nau went along.  For the summit attempt, I wore a base layer Nau shirt (which I can’t identify on their website now unfortunately).  It was comfortable and helped keep me warm.  I also took a pair of the Twill Chin-No pants that I wore at night around camp.  On one of those nights, one of my travel mates and I were playing with our cameras and we took the following picture.  This is me, swinging my arm in a circle holding my headlamp and a (roughly) 12 second exposure time.  Nau was having a photo contest for people to submit pictures of themselves in Nau clothes.  Well, I sent this picture in a got a free Shroud of Purrin Hoody valued at $290.00.

Nau Pic

Fun on Kili

This jacket is pretty awesome.  When you pick it up, it feels like a glorified wind-breaker, but it is so much more.  It’s lightweight, virtually windproof, water-resistant and super warm.  It is lined with something that they call “feline-soft interior fuzz” which is basically a shaggy micro-fleece so it is super soft and really warm.  I am not a big fan of large and bulky clothing or jackets.  This one combines lightweight and warmth like nothing else I own.  I can wear a sweater underneath it and be as warm as if I had a heavier coat on and be more comfortable.  Now, with some of the extreme weather we have in Chicago, this jacket won’t get me through the whole winter, but it can get me through a lot of it!

So check out Nau!  This is a great company and when you buy from them, you are not only getting great gear but you are supporting a greater cause.  I made a lot of references to their website and that is because it is exceptional too.  You can see their products but also become educated.  Way to go Nau…keep up the great work and keep on producing great products!

Nau go outside…I’ll join you once I recover from the flu!


I’m back!

29 12 2009

Alright…Alright…Everyone hold on to your hats.  Gear Check is back!  For reasons unknown even to me, I have taken a hiatus from posting in the infancy of this project.  I wish I had some good explanation, but I don’t.  For anyone who cares, I apologize.  I really like writing the blog and I’m very proud of it and have been given really great feedback from many people.  Whether you find my writing intoxicating, the pictures stunning, the information helpful, or the stories inspiring, it’s all back!

I don’t really believe much in New Year’s Resolutions, but I am resolved to keep this blog up and running and evolving.  I’m going to put my neck out and say that I want to update at least once a week.  That means that in 2010, I want to put out 52 posts.  Hopefully as I write on December 29, 2010, I will be able to report that I have at least done that much.  Please continue to post comments, tell your friends, and email or call me directly with your thoughts and feedback.  One of the things I love the most is when people have come to me for gear advice.  I geek out on this stuff so I can give the long or short on something, or can help you find it.

So here we go again…As I lay in bed with the flu; my computer and cell phones with me, I’ll have a new gear related post up very soon…

Peace, Danno

Gear Meltdown!

21 11 2009

Gear Meltdown…

This morning I got a text from my wife that read:  “Call Matt M right now:  312-504-…”  To which I replied, “Why?”  Finally she writes back, “He needs some gear guidance ASAP.  He’s at REI having a breakdown!

Intrigued, I picked up my hot chocolate at the Coffee Studio and called Matt right away (Click on his name – he’s a great friend of ours and an amazing writer who has a witty and inspiring blog about fatherhood).  He had just left the Lincoln Park REI and was as frustrated as I had ever heard him.  His mission was to find a winter cover for their B-O-B running stroller and some winter running gear.  His frustration stemmed from the fact that he could find neither.

Let me start with the stroller.  If you have ever been to the Lincoln Park REI, you would know that walking in to that location is what I imagine would be the result of a B-O-B stroller factory explosion – I don’t know if B-O-B has the amount of inventory in their own warehouse that the L.P. REI has.  For the young, crunchy and yuppie couples of Chicago, this place is paradise; apropos since in the same building is an exclusive daycare and the surrounding area is full of families with our similar fear of fleeing to the suburbs to raise kids.  All of this to say that I would have bet my life on the fact that this particular REI would certainly have the stroller covers…and they did not…

Not having kids or any on the horizon, I had little to offer in terms of quelling his frustration.  Sorry buddy!  So I turned to his other issue of winter running gear.  Now cold weather gear can be found everywhere but because of Matt’s schedule (and utter disdain for running indoors), he runs in the evening, and by that, I mean in the dark.  His frustration was that most of the gear he found at REI was either black or otherwise dark in color.  That, and the selection at REI was limited at best.

Two thoughts immediately came to mind.  First of all, there is a running store in Andersonville (a northern neighborhood in Chicago) called The Runner’s Edge.  My wife and I were walking around the neighborhood a couple of weeks ago and stumbled in to the store and they had cold running gear that I haven’t seen anywhere else.  I fell in love with the store.  High-end and expensive but completely dedicated to running in this area only.  I will be buying my next pair of shoes there and plan to do a review post afterward.

My second (and more insightful) thought was to look in to cycling gear instead.  Cycling gear is, of course, designed to be used in the midst of traffic and is usually made in vibrant colors or with reflective strips, etc.  The idea and design is basically the same and my advice was to look at a bike shop or in the bike section of REI if he could stand going back.  There may be some slight design differences but he actually might find them helpful.  For instance, cycling jerseys have pockets in the back that he could utilize on longer runs for Clif Bars or hand warmers.  Tights and tops are basically interchangeable from running to cycling (i.e. triathlon transitions) so I immediately thought this may work.

He doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to ask him to contribute what he finds.  Even if he decides against going with cycling gear, there may be someone else with a similar predicament that may find his solution helpful.  I (or he) will post how he was able to abate his frustration and find some “flashy” cold weather running gear.

Stay warm and visible!

PS – Matt’s call this morning is what this blog is all about!  Please feel free to call or email me at any time if you have questions or concerns about gear.  This is the stuff I love and if I don’t have an answer, I know how to get one for you.  Thanks Matt!  Email: Phone:  312-401-9304 – DR

Packing. What do I need?

17 11 2009

FYI – I plan on starting a new series on packing for travel of all kinds.  I have recently been asked by a few different people to add some content on this so it should appear soon.  I have asked some friends to help and as you read, if you would like to add your own thoughts or would like me to cover certain topics, please feel free to let me know.  I will gladly include your thoughts or if you would like to make an entire post that you author; just let me know…I want this blog to become a compilation of work by others as well.

Peace, Danno

Are we talking BBQ or Gear?

11 11 2009

I’m originally from Texas. I’m proud to be from Texas and there are plenty of things that I identify with from Texas – and plenty more that I don’t. I don’t really get homesick for Texas anymore since I have created a new life (or new lives) since leaving but there are some things that make me miss home like nothing else. One of those things…Bar-B-Que…and not just any BBQ, but BBQ…BEEF! Give me a brisket that has been slowly smoked for 12 hours, a foot-long rib that falls off the bone, smoked sausage smothered in sauce (tomato not vinegar) and I’m as fat and happy as they come. And among the best BBQ that I remember from my childhood came from Uncle Dan’s in Waco, TX. I couldn’t tell you how many times I ate there and I feel confident saying that I can’t remember a time that I left unsatisfied or disappointed. And, being an “Uncle Dan” myself, every time my niece and nephew call me that, it brings back good memories…

Uncle Dan's in Waco, TX

Uncle Dan's BBQ in Waco, TX

So why am I talking about BBQ on a gear blog? Well its not really about the BBQ, its about Uncle Dan’s. Chicago has its own Uncle Dan’s…Uncle Dan’s – The Great Outdoors Store.

Uncle Dan's in Chicago

Uncle Dan's in Chicago

I discovered Uncle Dan’s because they used to have a location in Evanston around the corner from the Whole Foods Market that we shop at. The moment I walked in, I felt right at home. The old store in Evanston was small and cramped with inventory shoved into corners, hanging from the ceiling with that pungent gear store smell that I have already described and so love. It was perfect! I walked in and immediately thought, “I want to own this store.” It reminded me of some of the small mountain town gear stores that I used to frequent as I was first cultivating my love of gear and gear stores.

Upon some research, I learned that this was only one of four locations that they have in Chicagoland. In a metropolitan area of this size (3rd largest in the country) it makes complete sense. This is a diverse area; what applies to one side of town, or even an adjacent neighborhood, may not apply in another.  One of the important things that Uncle Dan’s understands is who makes up their clientele. The Evanston location is in the back yard of Northwestern University and in the downtown area of a pretty wealthy suburb. Therefore, having a bunch of whitewater or Everest-quality mountaineering gear isn’t necessary. They have a great selection of what I call “crossover” gear – that is gear that is designed and made for the outdoors but can be worn to work, out to dinner or walking the dogs. (For instance, I have a Patagonia soft shell that I got at Uncle Dan’s that I wore up Kili and on most days at home when the temps are <40.) They also have the requisite TNF Denali Fleece selection and daypacks (book bags) for the rash of high school and college age kids that flood the area. They also have an equally wide and quality selection for men and women, which many gear stores lack. And, in the spirit of knowing their clientele, they also have a pretty healthy selection of clothing for children (for all of the yuppies who want their kids to look cool and crunchy like mommy and daddy).

The location that I frequent most is the Evanston store. They moved down the street from the original store and have upgraded in size and improved the overall look of the store. It was probably a good move and I’m sure they made the move in an effort to grow, etc., but I have to say, I loved the old place. It had all the charm of a small but serious gear store. Now don’t get me wrong, the new place is really nice. It is certainly larger and not as cramped and they did a great job on design and layout. What I really appreciate about this location is that the store is always well staffed. There is almost always someone to greet you at the door and the employees seem to know what they’re talking about.

I’ve been to the Lakeview store a couple of times and it still has some of the gear store charm that the original Evanston store had but with the chic-ness of a Lakeview boutique. I don’t remember being blown away by the staff but I liked it nonetheless. I have also been to the Highland Park location. This store seems larger than the others but it could be because of the layout – I don’t make it a habit to pull out a tape measure and figure these things out. The thing that stuck out to me at this location was the massive inventory. They had a lot of everything! I walked through at the end of October, so the winter stock was in full effect. They had so many different jackets from so many different makers that I can’t imagine that someone could go in and not find something they wanted. The store is really nice and in a great northern suburb location. My only complaint was that I was not impressed with the staff at all. I went in around noon on a weekday, so there were quite a few people in on their lunch breaks.  Although there was plenty of staff, they seemed pretty inattentive to the shoppers – changing displays, working at the cash register computer, teasing one another. And, being a bit of a gear snob, they didn’t seem like the most gear-savvy folks. I could be wrong because no one really talked to me while I was in there for about 10-15 minutes, but this was my only complaint about this location. I’ve not been to the Wrigleyville store, but I’m sure it’s great…

What I like the most about Uncle Dan’s is that it is a serious gear store but non gear heads can go in there and not feel intimidated or lost. They’ve got you covered on clothing, footwear of all kinds and plenty of camping and backpacking gear. Their pack selection is great and (at least in Evanston) there is someone who knows what they are talking about to get you fitted correctly. One thing that they do well that some other gear stores don’t is outfitting you for travel. They’ve got travel packs, rolling suitcases and duffels that can often only be found online. In fact the morning that Amanda and I left for Kilimanjaro in September, we made a mad dash to Uncle Dan’s (link to blog) to grab some last minute stuff before we flew out.

Finally, you know I love gear stores. REI is like Disney Land to me. But one of the tenants that Amanda and I try to live by is supporting local small businesses. This is among the first of many gear store reviews that I want to do around the country (and hopefully around the world). I hope that eventually I will review one that is close to where you live or that you will visit any of their websites (including Uncle Dan’s) and give them your business. I fully endorse these guys and encourage you to check them out next time you’re in need of some gear…or if you are like me and aren’t always in “need” of gear but you have to have some to get your next fix…

Shop well, Dan

The Gear You Can’t Live Without

8 11 2009

I haven’t asked this of many people but I’m often curious.  I have a feeling that many gear heads or athletes are a bit like me and there is that one piece of gear that they can’t live without.  Maybe it’s a hat that fits just right such that it would only sit on your head without looking funny.  It could be that paddle that you have used to navigate the class V rapids successfully so many times.  Or maybe it’s the lucky Capilene underwear that you have on when you toe the start line of all your races.

For me, its my trusty old Smith Empire Sunglasses that are dangling from the strap on my neck if they’re not on my face.

I’ve been addicted to my sunglasses since I was a rafting guide back in college.  Before that, sunglasses were never something that I wore or thought much about.  At 8,000 feet with clear skies and water beneath you all day, sunglasses become a necessity as much as a fashion statement.  And, unless you didn’t mind buying a new pair every week, a sturdy strap to keep them around your neck and prevent them floating away after a flip is imperative.

For me, the Smith Empires seem to fit my face just right and have been a part of me for the last three years.  Yes, that’s right, the same pair for 3 years!  It’s not a minor miracle, it’s the strap.  After returning home at the end of the summer, I never took the strap off my sunglasses and it has kind of stuck.  Now I kind of feel naked if I don’t have them with me.  They have become as much a part of my routine of walking out the door as putting on my wedding ring, watch and sliding wallet, keys and cell phone in my pockets.  They have also become a bit of a calling card.  On many occasions I have had clients remember me as the guy who always has the sunglasses around his neck or ask where they were if for some crazy reason I didn’t have them.

Good Ole' Smitty's

Good Ole' Smitty Empires

I’ll write a review one of these days about sunglasses but that’s not what this post is all about.  What can you not live without?

Later, Dan