Our resident gear expert and her panel of judges have once again tirelessly prodded and probed to uncover the best kit to accompany your adventures. Drum roll please for this year’s winners…
With a sock-like fit, superb breathability, four-way stretch and comfortable anatomical footbed that feels as though you’re wearing slippers, Keen’s sandals kicked all the competition out of the park. Despite competing against full-on walking boots, mid-height footwear and trainers, they stood out as a travel staple suitable for any destination. “Whether walking around a hot dusty city or padding around an Alpine hut, these are so lightweight you could always throw them in your luggage just in case – and they’d be comfy on a plane too,” said one judge. Special mentions to Haglöfs’ Skuta Mid Proof Eco and Teva’s Arrowroute Utility Mid, which came second and third for their versatility and, in Haglöfs’ case, their green credentials.
An insulated jacket is an undisputable travel essential, vital for cosying up inside following a hike, when outside watching wildlife, or waiting for the northern lights to show. Key is its weight-to-warmth ratio – a weight-conscious traveller needs something as light as possible that doesn’t compromise on insulation. Enter the winning Micro Puff. Made from water-resistant, ultralight synthetic fill, and featuring a grid-like network of filled baffles, even if it gets damp, it will still keep you warm. So with this you can be hot – in every sense of the word. It’s also worth highlighting Haglöfs for its Essens Down Hood, which not only uses traceable waterproof down, but also features no nasty fluorocarbons and employs recycled fabric. And another goes to Rab’s Microlight Alpine, whose 750-fill waterproof down is ethically sourced.
From specialist hiking packs that double up well as hand luggage to stand-up paddleboarding-specific numbers and vintage-look canvas sacks – we had it all in this category. There were some exceptional contenders, but by far the standout was the retro-looking Yatra, which hides a fleece-lined and padded pouch for a laptop or tablet, and handy pockets for passports and tickets, all wrapped up in a hard-wearing fabric that’s water-resistant. Even better, for every pack sold, a book is donated to a school in the mountain villages of Nepal – a win, you might say, for everyone. Second and third place respectively went to Alpkit’s stylish Brevent wax-coated pack and Haglöfs for its ShoSho enviro-friendly bag.
With new so-called ‘must-have’ travel items hitting the shelves every year, the question we asked in this category was – “but do we really need it?” This year a resounding yes was cried by all judges to Katadyn’s collapsible water bottle complete with a filter in the top – meaning you can even drink water of questionable quality on your travels, while keeping single-use plastic out of landfill. What’s more, when you’re not using it, it folds down to smaller than a wallet. Pure genius. Runners-up included the vital tool for any would-be travel writer – the Rite in the Rain Outdoor Journal, which can be written on even if it gets wet – and Eagle Creek’s handy Pack-It Specter packing cubes made from sustainable, water-resistant and ripstop fabric.
Flying in the face of the likes of United Airlines – which famously made passengers who arrived at the gate in them ‘cover up’ – our judges gave a decisive thumbs up to leggings this year as the perfect travel trousers. This particular pair is made from bamboo fabric, which is naturally breathable, good at moving sweat away from the skin, anti-bacterial and offers UV protection. It’s also great for sensitive skin and recommended by the National Eczema Society. “From hiking to travelling and even as an extra layer in cold climes, leggings are always in my case,” said the judges. A special mention goes to Rohan’s quick-drying, wrinkle-resistant Bags – complete with not one but four security pockets – and Craghoppers Kiwi Pros, which offer a comfy yet functional fabric and a great fit.
Shirt? Warming baselayer? Fleece? When travelling it’s hard to know which kind of top is needed, and the answer is that it’s normally more than one. But one definite useful addition to your torso is this new hoodie. Though it looks like a normal casual top you’d throw on for your flight, it hides pockets specifically designed for your passport, wallet, phone and tablet, an RFID-blocking pocket to stop your credit card being scanned, and a hood designed to be pulled down so you can catch 40 winks. It’s as if it were designed for 007… Second place goes to Eider for its snuggly Mission Hoodie made from recycled plastic bottles; joint third are Alpkit’s Keeshond – a pong-free baselayer – and CMP’s warm and stylish Knitted Fleece.
Packing can be the bane of travel and very time consuming – but not so with this winner from Osprey. Designed from the blueprint of a duffel bag – meaning you simply shove in your kit, strap it down and are good to go – it’s fixed on to high-performance wheels that are thick and sturdy. In fact durability is the name of the game here, as the material is also robust and weather-resistant, meaning your belongings should stay dry even if they’re left out in the rain by the plane, bus or train. “I’ve used one for the past year and found it incredible at withstanding everything my travels – and luggage handlers – can throw at it,” commented one judge. Coming in second and third were Eagle Creek’s Migrate Duffel, featuring a water-resistant coating made from recycled windscreen wipers, and Mammut’s hardy Cargo Trolley.
No one goes away in search of rain, but like it or not, it’s always a possibility when you travel. That’s why it’s key to get a waterproof jacket that works well but also packs down small, weighs little, and doesn’t break the bank. The winner here does all the above – by the bucketload. It also has zipped pockets and an adjustable hood and elasticated cuffs designed to keep water out and you dry. And all for under £100… A big green thumbs up also goes yet again to Haglöfs for its LIM Proof Multi Jacket, which, free from polluting fluorocarbons, shows it cares about the environment, and Snugpak’s waterproof and insulated Torrent, perfect for when it’s wet and cold.
Gear manufacturers were asked to submit their best piece of kit in each category, specifically well-suited for travellers. Our expert panel of judges then scrutinised each one, argued just a little and finally came up with the winners.
An award-winning writer, broadcaster and photographer, Phoebe is Wanderlust’s travel gear expert and chaired the Gear of the Year judging.
Travel writer and editor Daniel has been writing gear reviews for more than a decade and contributes to publications including Sidetracked, The Guardian and Wanderlust.
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.
Kevin is a filmmaker and adventurer who’s spent recent years exploring Europe’s wildest places with top endurance athletes. He understands the need for top-notch travel gear.