Upper Amazon Basin, Cuyabeno, Ecuador
I don’t have any product sponsors on this blog, and I receive no remuneration whatsoever. This is all just personal opinion on my part based on my travel experience over the past four years. Wow, it hardly seems possible that I’ve been on the road that long. I started in Yucatan, Mexico, early in 2012, and now find myself in Peru. In between I’ve spent a lot of time traveling through Cuba, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador. Bolivia, Chile and Argentina are yet to come before I finish up Latin America and head back to Asia.
Let me say from the outset that there is a huge difference between vacation attire and travel gear. Vacation attire implies style over function, and I’ve found that to be true, whereas travel gear stresses function over form. In four years of hard travel (jungles, mountains, rivers, beaches and cities) I’ve found that most vacation stuff just doesn’t hold up over the long haul. Even my rough & tumble gear is starting to show fatigue. The following is a list of 5 items that standout amongst the rest, and that I can personally recommend based upon my own informal testing—basically that it’s still with me, and not in a dumpster somewhere.
1. At the very top of my list is my Tilley hat. I’ve had this hat for five years, it is worn every single day, in all types of weather, and it is absolutely indestructible. Sure it’s somewhat faded and stained, with its rakish patina, but structurally it is as sound as the day I bought it. Manufactured in Canada, it comes with a lifetime guarantee, and if lost or stolen will be replaced at 50% off. That’s how confident they are of their product.
2. Second on my list are my Alden “Indiana Jones” boots. American made, of the finest leathers, on an American (not European) last. Meaning they fit my American feet like soft leather gloves. These boots have been to operas, ballets, symphonies and 5-star restaurants. They have also been in the jungles of Yucatan, Chiapas, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador (including the Amazon and Galapagos) and are now trekking at 12,000 feet in the Peruvian Andes. One caveat, after five years the Vibram soles recently started to delaminate, but I got them repaired for $2.86 USD here in Huaraz.
3. I’ve had my Casio Pathfinder watch for almost eight years now. The metal dial recently fell off, and it’s really scratched up and looks deplorable, but like the Timex of yesteryear it “takes a licking and keeps on ticking.” It is solar-powered (no batteries to replace), records international time around the world, will update automatically via the atomic clock (if you’re within range), sports an: altimeter, compass, barometer and lighted dial. I use the compass and altimeter functions all the time, the compass to orient street maps in the city and the altimeter to confirm I’m dying in the Andes for lack of oxygen.
4. Cabela’s Safari shirts are perfect, and get even better with time. They are a 60/40 blend of polyester and cotton. Polyester for wear & tear and quick drying (I’m always getting wet, whether in the jungles or Latin American downpours) and cotton for comfort and reducing the “funk-factor.” Two large faux-bellows chest pockets provide ample room for: passport, travel tickets, notebook, pen, pencil, glasses, medications or whatever else needs quick retrieval. Shoulder epaulets get infrequent use, but they look really explorer-cool.
5. My pants of choice are manufactured by Propper. They are Milspec BDU (Military Specification Battle Dress Uniform) cargo pants. These are the same pants worn by our military and some law enforcement personnel. Like my shirts these are a polyester/cotton blend. In this instance they are 65/35, 65% ripstop polyester and 35% cotton. They are super rugged, comfortable and dry fast when they get wet (which happens a lot as explained earlier). Button fly and pockets preclude zipper failures (a constant risk in wet, muddy environments). The large button-down cargo pockets are ideal for securing wallets, small cameras, passports, flashlights and any other thing you might want to secure. These are practically pickpocket proof, and keep essentials within easy reach. Hell, you can even pack a lunch or water bottle into one of these pockets (I’ve done it plenty of times).
Helpful Hints: My gear comes in two colors and two colors only, Khaki/Brown and Olive. Both colors hide stains (which are an inevitable consequence of travel), and they are easily mixed & matched. I buy my shirts and pants an extra size up for roominess and flexibility. I buy my footgear to my exact foot size, there shouldn’t be any sloshing around room in your boots or socks, or you will guarantee yourself a nice set of blisters. Shirts to pants is a 2-to-1 ratio: 2 shirts for every pair of pants. I travel with 3 pair of pants and 6 shirts. Poly/Cotton blends ensure rugged, long-lasting performance, with increased comfort and reduced “funk-factor.” Funk-factor is that gamy smell polyester gets after minimal wear in a hot, humid climate. It stinks.
I really wanted to include my Keen sandals on the list, but ultimately they failed the travel test. I love everything about them: the comfort, the utility, their quick drying qualities when wet, the toe saving toe guard and the style. Like the epaulets on my safari shirts, these sandals just look explorer-cool. The failure came because the soles of both sandals separated way too soon, and this experience wasn’t unique to me alone, my brother’s Keen sandals did exactly the same thing. I’m sure they would last years and years when worn just on weekends, but daily wear over a year or two and they came apart. Fix the problem Keen, and I will gladly and wholeheartedly include them on my next list.
Some people chide me about my African safari look, and I will admit that I look like I just came off the African savannah, but this stuff is ultimately practical and comfortable. And compared to some other travellers I look pretty normal. You see people dressed in some really weird-ass shit when you travel, you’re gonna have to trust me on that. And this has become my look for better or worse. It works for me on all levels.
Stephen F. Dennstedt
Photographer, Writer and World Traveler