Travel Gear Reviews: Backpacks, Shoulder Bags, & Other Stuff We Tried in 2016

by Gigi Griffis

All the companies reviewed here were kind enough to send me free samples to review. As always, opinions are absolutely my own.

As you may already know, I spent most of 2016 in North America visiting friends, being courted by my now-partner, road-tripping across both the US and Canada (to the tune of about 8,000 miles), and spending lengthy stays in Flagstaff, Arizona, and Vancouver, Canada, working on creative projects, focusing on my health, and otherwise slowing down.

During these adventures, I also tried some new travel products. And now, as the year draws to a close, it’s time to review them. Here’s what I thought:

Hiking Backpack: Osprey Aura AG 65

hiking pack

After years of traveling with an 80-liter backpack, I realized in 2015 that I just didn’t need that much space. Feeling optimistic about my minimalist tendencies, I grabbed a 40-liter REI pack, which I then cycled with across France and traveled to Amsterdam, the US, and Colombia with, learning pretty quickly that while I didn’t quite need 80 liters, I do need more than 40.

Thus, when I got back to the states, I started looking at my 60 and 65 liter options. Because of their excellent reputation for high-quality bags, I ended up reaching out to Osprey to see if they’d send me an Aura AG 65 to try out and review here on the blog.

I’ve had the pack since my winter in Arizona, have taken it on the road trip across the US and then back across Canada, and have done a test pack or two for our upcoming Europe adventure. So far, it’s holding up well. I still need to see how I feel when I’m back to living fully out of a bag (during most of the year I’ve had a car, so I’ve had more space and more possessions than usual).

What I can say for sure so far is that Osprey’s reputation for quality is a well-deserved one. The pack hasn’t stretched, scratched, torn, or otherwise malfunctioned at all in the nine-ish months I’ve had it. I also like the color and the multiple pocket layout, which allows me to access the most important things in the bag without taking everything out every time I am staying somewhere for a night or two (I choose my backpacks at least in part for their pockets because the idea of digging through a single-pocket bag all the time sounds terribly unappealing to me).

The one downside I’ve encountered so far is the hip belt: it’s incredibly stiff and I have to do an awkward little dance every time I put the thing on because the hip belt is made to lay against the bag and every time you try to pull the straps out to wrap them around your hips, they snap back against the bag while you’re trying to put it on. This is pretty annoying and I hope it goes away as I wear the bag in.

Dog Transport: WagWear Shoulder Bag

Luna in her wagwear bag on the bus

I first fell in love with this bag when a friend of mine introduced me to hers and let me take Luna for a ride in it. One dog-travel dilemma I’ve run into more than once is that some buses, shops, malls, or trains only allow dogs if they’re in a carrier bag. And while I adore (seriously adore) our Sleepypod Air for air travel, car travel, and as a safe space for Luna when we’re at our apartments or hotel rooms, it’s a bit heavy and bulky when you just want to go shopping or ride a bus into town for a walk.

What we needed was a lighter (but still very sturdy) bag that I could fold/roll up and put in my purse or backpack when we weren’t using it. Something Luna could hop into when we run into a big fresh market that doesn’t allow dogs on foot, but ignores them when they’re held. So, on Sonja’s recommendation, we reached out to WagWear to see if their messenger pouch could be the answer. Like Osprey, they were kind enough to send us a free one for review.

It’s been a few months since we got the bag and so far the results are promising. It’s incredibly sturdy, made of a thick canvas material, but much lighter and more flexible (read: less bulky) than our Sleepypod Air. When I first put her in the bag, Luna gets a little nervous, but she seems to be getting more and more comfortable with it over time (and, in fact, got excited when I pulled it out earlier this week). And for me it’s super convenient. In the past, when I had to carry her inside a shop, that meant my hands were occupied. Now I can bring her in and have my hands free for shopping, paying bus fares, or whatever else needs to be done.

We’ll be test driving the bag some more in the coming months, but so far I’m a fan.

Cleanup: Epic Wipes

epic wipes

The idea behind epic wipes is a pretty genius one: a biodegradable giant wet wipe that you can use to “shower” or otherwise clean up when you’re roughing it. The company sent me a package to try out and I’m a fan.

Our biggest use (and this is gross, but illustrates things perfectly): when Luna got sick in the backseat of the car while we were driving across central Canada. We were in the middle of nowhere when we noticed that she’d been sick and was somewhat covered in it. So we pulled over, unharnessed her, and managed to wipe her, the seatbelt, and her leash and harness fully down with a single epic wipe. It completely eliminated any smell and she seemed pretty clean and happy afterward.

Body Bark Leggings

Body bark leggings, Taormina Sicily

One of my projects in 2016 has been to revamp my wardrobe. When I went cycling across France in 2016, I went through my things and donated, tossed, or repurposed everything that had gotten stained, frayed, tight, loose, or no longer fit my style. Since then, I’ve been playing with a new color scheme and trying out some new styles, so it was a nice surprise when Body Bark emailed to ask if I’d like to try out a few of their products.

The idea behind the products is a simple one: extremely comfortable, high-quality (read: durable) fabric used to make simple garments that hug the body. I received their luxury pant, leggings, and tank dress.

The luxury pant wasn’t a good style for me (being petite, I felt engulfed in so much fabric, though I think they might work well for tall willowy types), but I’ve been wearing the leggings every week since they came. I’m a big fan of skirts and dresses year-round, no matter the weather. In the summer, I go bare-legged, and in the winter I usually don tights. The leggings are actually more comfortable and warmer than my tights, so they’ve become something of a tights replacement in my winter rotation.

I haven’t had a chance to give the tank dress a proper try yet (it’s been freezing and rainy in Vancouver), but it fits very well and feels sexy and the fabric they use (on all the items) is incredibly soft and comfortable, so I’m looking forward to testing everything out more thoroughly once we reach the more reasonably warm climes of southern Italy. In the meantime, the leggings get a thumbs up.

So, what new stuff have you tried out this year? Any new favorite travel products? Would love to hear what you guys have found on your own quests for the perfect carrier/bag/packing system/folding bike/whatever.

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