It’s that time of the year – where our resident gear guru Phoebe Smith trawls through the best travel gear on the market with her fellow judges to find the ultimate items for 2020. And the winners are…
Staying warm can mean the difference between a good and a great trip – you don’t want to think back to your journey to the northern lights and simply remember how cold you were. That’s why an insulated jacket is key.
Paramo has been ethically making these since the 1980s, giving gainful employment to ‘at-risk’ women in Colombia and working with the World Land Trust to offset all the carbon produced in the running of the business and never using toxic chemical waterproofing treatments. All this and they’ve still made a warm insulated jacket that works well.
Due to their Nikwax Analogy insulator fabric (which directs moisture away from the wearer), it will even keep you warm when it gets wet.
Special mention: Among the other entries were the Arc’teryx Proton LT Hoody which impressed judges with its robust yet breathable lightweight fabric and helmet compatible hood (making it ideal for multiple adventures).
Also worth name-checking is the Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket, which is super light, super warm and ideal for Alpine use.
Of all the daypacks submitted, this one was clearly designed with the traveller in mind. Forgo the fact that it looks good and focus on the separate cabin pod that can hold all those little accessories you might need during your flight (earplugs, passport, phone), keeping them easy to access from the overhead locker without pulling your entire bag out.
It also has a padded compartment for your laptop, a hipbelt that tucks away, a sleeve that slides over your wheelie handle at the airport for easy lugging, a lockable main zip, raincover, grab handles, a sleeve for your water bottle, and an integrated pocket for a solar charger. And, for that green bonus, its outer fabric is made from recycled plastic bottles.
As did Craghoppers’ 30L Rucksack which boasts a number of security features including a ‘café strap’ to wrap around a chair leg to help protect your belongings, RFID protection and cut-resistant straps.
Sometimes it pays to team up with companies that share your values – as this winning partnership with comfy footwear legends KEEN and ethical Nepalese kit brand Sherpa proves. The result here is a superbly comfortable waterproof hiking boot that not only looks good, but which for every sale funds go to support child literacy charity ‘Room to Read’.
It is also a high-performing boot that is eco-aware. The leather is tanned using a process shown to use less chemicals than traditional methods, the anti-odour control neglects pesticides to go for natural probiotics and the water repellency is PFC (environmentally harmful chemical) free. So you can help the planet, children and your feet.
Special mention: Also impressing judges was Craghoppers’ brand-new Salado Hi Boot, which not only offers a moulded footbed, robust sole and waterproofness, but also has their anti-insect-bite NosiLife inbuilt to stop critters getting into your boots too.
Danner’s Trail 2650 GTX Mid came in third for their light weight, comfort and stylish look – just a shame they don’t come in a women’s version… yet.
They’ve been making clothing and accessories specifically designed for adventurous travellers for more than 50 years now, so it’s only right that when it comes to the ultimate in travel trousers, Craghoppers knows the score.
With stretch panels making sitting and moving around very comfortable, RFID pockets (to keep your credit cards and passport safe from ID theft scanners), a provided dry bag for your mobile phone, drying loops for hanging up on the road, a sunglasses wipe, sun protection and odour control – these were the best in legwear for travellers.
Oh and they repel biting insects for the life of the product too. We’re hoping that the next step is that they can actually fly!
Special mention: Other trousers that caught the judges’ eyes were the Maui by Paramo, with their huge pockets, durable fabric and freedom of movement, and Kathmandu’s Flight Men’s Stretch Travel Trousers that are slim fit so look smart from pub to peak and are water-resistant to boot.
When it comes to a travel top perhaps the most important quality – next to it being lightweight – is its ability to stay pong-free. Enter merino wool, a naturally breathable, wicking (moves sweat away from the skin) and non-clammy material that resists odour effectively.
Icebreaker have been working with it for more than 20 years and prides itself on having 100% traceable wool products, with all their farms being audited regularly to ensure they follow strict animal welfare standards.
The result is products like this standout short sleeve top, which feels so soft and non-itchy it’s hard to believe it’s wool. Perfect for layering, naturally renewable, recyclable and biodegradable.
Special mention: An honourable mention goes to Craghoppers’ classic Adventure II Shirt with its built-in NosiLife technology (to stop biting insects), sun protection and a range of nifty touches all designed specifically for the traveller.
Also standing out from other entries was the casual Joni ¾ Sleeve Top from Arc’teryx that was perfect for trails and towns, with all the benefits of merino wool.
One aspect in common among the most noteworthy of the waterproof nominations this year was the focus on sustainability – which is superb to see.
So it’s no surprise that Devon-based manufacturer Finisterre, who has been creating rain-beating layers made from recycled fabric for more than a decade, has pipped the others to the post with its brand-new offering.
Made from 100% recycled polyester and finished with a non-harmful fluorocarbon-free waterproof repellent treatment, and seam-taped throughout, judges were amazed that all this came in at a £110 price tag – a great deal for both the planet and travellers who need a just-in-case option in their suitcase.
The New Zealand company claims another top spot this year for its ingenious rolling hybrid luggage.
Featuring a telescopic pull-out pole and two wheels for easy navigating through the airport, it is also easily converted into a backpack with a fold-out harness and an inbuilt and impressively breathable back system.
Mesh pockets and a large opening make it easy to pack, as do compression straps and a front pocket. It’s lockable, durable and has attachment points so you can also clip on a daypack if needed.
Special mention: Nearly taking the top spot again is Osprey Farpoint Wheels 65 which also converts from a wheelie to a rucksack with ease and style.
There's also Berghaus’ Expedition Mule 60, which is a great lightweight holdall option for those who want to throw it all in and simply go.
Plastic bottles have dominated our thoughts over the past few years and there’s no excuse now for using single-use water bottles – except perhaps if you’re travelling in a country where the H2O source is questionable. But that problem’s easily removed with this collapsible drink bottle, winning this category for the second year in a row.
Boasting a filter in the lid and a tiny foldaway bottle that will fit in your pocket, you can literally take it anywhere and pop it under any tap or dip it in a stream as it removes protozoa and bacteria as you drink. It’s easy to clean, store and use, meaning you really can ditch those nasty plastic bottles wherever your adventures take you..
Special mention: Among the many nominated accessories – from towels to socks and everything in between – another standout was Craghoppers’ NosiLife Sleeping Liner, which removes the worry of bedbugs in questionable accommodation.
We were also very impressed with Nikwax BaseWash Travel Gel, which is environmentally friendly and easy to use to wash synthetic base layers on the road, so you buy and pack less
To test all the products, we ask manufacturers to nominate the item of kit they made in each category, which they felt was best for travellers.
From the nominations received, our judges meticulously examined the features, weight and credentials of each and made their case for the winners. These were scored to find the standout piece of kit in each category.
An award-winning writer, broadcaster and photographer, Phoebe is Wanderlust’s travel gear expert and chaired the Gear of the Year judging.
The first black Briton to walk over 400 miles to the magnetic North Pole, Dwayne uses gear regularly on his travels and knows the value of kit that works under pressure.
Paul founded and ran Nomad Travel and Nomad Travel Clinics. He has also worked as Logistics Assistant for the TV production company who made BBC’s Beyond Boundaries
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