I like the versatility of soft coolers, which can be more easily stored when not in use. This includes keeping one in the trunk of the car for unanticipated needs. Unfortunately, the few of these I have previously owned suffered from poor insulation, shoddy zippers and a tendency to leak as soon as the ice starts to melt.
I finally came across an especially robust and capable soft cooler called the Frost Pak from Seattle Sports. I liked it so much I purchased three of the four sizes available (ranging from 12 to 40 quarts).
They’e made of heavy duty vinyl with well attached handles and quality zippers. While not quite as insulative as a good hard cooler, these are more than sufficient to fit most of my needs within a day. While not inexpensive, the Frost Pak is a much better value than all those coolers which simply didn’t hold up.
While I rarely use USB for data transfers these days, almost all my portable devices use USB cables recharging. Now that I travel with my iPad instead of a laptop I needed an army of chargers to carry with me. Even if they all used the same connector, I wanted to wake up with all devices charged, meaning multiple chargers. I replaced the multiple transformer bricks with a $40 Antec USB charging station.
The USB charger provides 4 ports for simultaneous charging. Two ports can provide up to 2 amps, and two ports up to 1 amp. The 2 amps can fast charge devices that support it. I use them with an iPad 3 and an iPhone 5. The two 1 amp ports I use for other devices like my bluetooth headset and bluetooth keyboard. With devices charging on all 4 ports it barely warms up. The long (tranformerless) power cable can plug into power outlets hidden behind hotel TVs, desks or beds.
You can find cheaper USB chargers but you have to read carefully to ensure the power output meets your requirements. I found many of the cheaper ones would provide “2 amps of output power” in total. Meaning with one device plugged it the full 2 amps were available, but plug in one more and it would drop in half. Add a third and frequently iPads would no longer charge.
-- Kevin van Haaren
[Above: a video review of the charger. - Mark Frauenfelder]
I bought this 6000mAh USB charging unit because I have a lousy sense of direction. I get lost in buildings and in cities, even ones I’m familiar with. My iPhone’s GPS map is a godsend. I use it when I’m driving, walking, and taking public transportation.
When I was in Tokyo in June, I brought along a small Android phone installed with a local data SIM card. I used the phone as a wireless hotspot for my iPhone, and appreciated having access to the online map to guide me from my hotel to the subway station, and to attractions like the Tsukiji fish market and Kabuki-Cho. It was also nice to call home using Skype, and to post Instagram photos. The only problem was that the batteries on the Android phone and iPhone drained after a few hours, forcing me to ask people, chikatetsu wa doko desu ka? in badly-accented Japanese, to find the nearest subway station.
On my next overseas trip a couple of months later, I brought along a Mophie Juice Pack Powerstation Duo. It’s a beefy battery pack that has two USB charging ports. I kept it in my daypack and my family and I used it to charge our phones while we were walking around London and Paris. It was like having a portable wall outlet, because it never came close to running out of juice, despite nearly constant use. It’s bulky — about as wide and tall as an iPhone 4 and nearly three times as thick (see photo below). I wouldn’t carry it in my pants pocket, but it isn’t a problem in a jacket pocket or bag.
If you want all-day smartphone Internet connectivity, the Mophie Powerstation Duo is what you need.
I go somewhere on a plane at least twice a month. For over ten years I’ve used a Briggs & Riley roller carry-on, and I’ve been fairly happy with it. It’s heavy for its small size and the zipper pulls all broke off (I made replacements from binder clips and Sugru) so I’ve been keeping my eye out for a replacement. After hearing great things about the accessibility and capacity of the Skooba Weekender duffle, I decided to give it a try. It turned out the be the most convenient carry-on I’ve ever used.
Measuring 18″L X 12″H X 11″D this boxy duffle features a capacious central container that holds a week’s worth of clothing plus my large toiletries case. The exterior is micro-ballistic nylon. Around the four sides of the main storage container are zipper pockets. One is a reinforced laptop pocket (designed for laptops up to 15″). Another is meant for iPad-sized tablets and contains a mesh pouch for cables. Another side pocket is good for my AmazonBasics Universal Travel Case. The fourth pocket has small pouches and a zipper mesh pouch that’s perfect for pens, notebooks, and other goodies.
Recently, I took the Weekender on an overnight trip to Chicago. It doesn’t have wheels, so I was concerned it would be a pain to haul around. As a test, I walked 2.5 miles from the metro station to my hotel. The reinforced shoulder strap was excellent, and I was comfortable carrying it. Every 1/2 mile or so I would switch the strap to my other shoulder.
Emboldened by the experiment, I took the Weekender on a 5-day business trip to Tokyo and it performed terrifically. The central container was large enough to hold all my clothes plus a bunch of souvenirs, and I quickly memorized which side pockets held which gear, making it easy to retrieve and replace stuff without digging through clothing.
On my recent 12-day trip to Europe I used my beat-up Briggs & Riley, but from now on, any trip under a week is going to be with the Skooba.
The video below provides a nice overview of the Weekender’s compartments.
I’ve been trying to live off the grid for a while now. I bought land in Cabo San Lucas that I plan to entirely run by solar and wind turbines.
I also use my cellphone a lot. I burn through batteries so quickly, that I only buy phones that use replaceable batteries. My current cellphone is a Samsung Galaxy S3 and I have a 7500 mAh battery (no, that is not a typo) and a fully charged backup 3500 mAh battery that I keep in my pocket.
With my committment to living off the grid, I have tried those little solar cell phone chargers that you can get in China; I have tried the Solio and I have even tried to fabricate my own solar charger. The problem with all of these devices is that the solar panels are so small that to give your phone even a small bump in energy, you have to keep your charger in the sun for a minimum of 6-8 hours.
Enter the Gomadic Sunvolt Solar Power Station and Solar Cache High Capacity Battery Pack. It is an all-in-one solar charger and high capacity battery in its own sturdy carry case. At first, I thought, wow, it is as big as my laptop, and I would never lug that around. True, it’s big, but this is because it contains a large 10 1/2″ x 10″ solar panel. The case acts as a stand so you simply unzip and position the panel to receive optimal sunlight and you’re good to go. The design of this system is really well thought out — the outer pockets of the case hold the battery and every conceivable connection to every conceivable electronic device. Even if your device connection is not included, all you’ll need is a USB cable to your device as the out port on the battery is a standard USB port. Best of all, the power output blasts all of the other solar chargers in the market. It outputs between 8.0 – 14.4 watts (and I understand that they are coming out with a more powerful one).
The solar panels charge a 3400 mAh battery which is good enough to charge my cellphone for a day’s use, although you can hook up your device to be charged directly from the sun.
I recently brought this to Thailand, where it is 100 degrees in the shade, and I found the system to be extremely helpful, especially in the south where modern electronics were sparse. The case is extremely durable and well made. The near-empty battery was fully charged after two hours in the full sun, which is extremely quick. I found that during the day, I would charge the included battery and then at night would use it to replenish my dying cell phone.
The only thing I would wish for is a charging indicator that would confirm me that the panels were getting enough sun and that I have a proper connection to be providing a charge.
-- Alastair Ong
Gomadic SunVolt High Output Portable Solar Power Station
I have way too many water bottles. I think it’s because I’m always trying to find the right one. It wasn’t until I received a 16oz metal Liberty Bottleworks water bottle as a gift that I knew I had finally found the perfect water bottle. So perfect in fact, I ordered the 32oz and 24oz size from their website which claims “the only American made metal water bottle; 100% recycled aluminum; BPA free materials.”
Three things make this water bottle a stand out among all the others I have owned:
1) Cool 1/4 twist on/off locking cap seals up your water bottle tight and allows you to open up quickly to grab a drink or fill it up. You can also order a standard flip top “sport” cap with a straw.
2) One-of-a-kind artistic designs created by real artists with proceeds from each sale going to their favorite charity or non-profit. Their “straight up” series of bottles include colors like Shiraz, Flamingo and Lime or you can get a topo map as a design option on your bottle.
3) Create a custom design. The bottle I received as a gift was specially made with a logo from the university where I teach. You can submit your own custom graphic by uploading a PNG or GIF file to their website and they will imprint your design on a metal water bottle.
This Northwest company creates the most unique, eco-friendly, artist supporting, non-profit supporting, American made metal water bottle. It’s a solid design I have been using for several months that is rugged for day to day use when I throw my backpack on the ground or take it on a hike on the weekends. It’s functional and looks great.
-- Ken Pendergrass
Liberty Bottleworks Straight Up Water Bottle
$15 – $20, depending on size
I’ve always had a penchant for bags, of any kind. I adore them. I tend to like them stripped to their absolute essentials, and made well enough that I’d trust my life to them in any sort of unreasonable (and unlikely) dangling-by-my-backpack-from-a-skilift scenario. About eleven weeks ago my wife and I adopted a beautiful baby girl at birth, and so it was about thirteen weeks ago that I purchased the SSCY Tack in preparation for parenthood. I bought it as my ‘diaper bag’.
The nifty trick it pulls off is that it converts gracefully from a one-shoulder tote, to a dual strapped backpack. I’ve seen other bags attempt this, but it usually comes at a cost of complexity and overall weakened build quality. The Tack remains drop-dead simple and bulletproof. The target market is presumably hipster bicycle beer runs and farmer’s market trips. I don’t doubt it’s great for that. The bag is _enormous_. We refer to it as my ‘bag of holding’ because there’s always room for whatever else we want to put in it, and it’s a hilarious magic trick to lay out it’s contents on the floor when it’s been used for a day’s outing. Without a doubt you could put a 24 pack in here and still have room for a large sweater and your lunch.
As a diaper bag it’s great. The outside pockets are ideal size to securely hold bottles-in-waiting, pacifiers, or snacks. In it’s tote configuration the straps are plenty long to hand off of the back of a stroller.
In backpack mode folks used to plus ergonomic padded straps will be dissapointed. This is literally a heavy canvas tub with seatbelts stitched to it. I don’t mind that much, it serves as a reminder not to haul so much weight that it’ll be bad for my back with or without shoulder-chaffing. The other limitation I find is wanting to hang things from it like keys water bottles, kids toys, etc. I’ll probably be stitching some accessory loops to the outside and inside for this purpose.
All in all, I don’t know what I’d do without it. Easily the best money I’ve spent on a bag, and that’s saying something.
Last year my wife and I found ourselves in Scottsdale, Arizona without a hotel room. We came across a hotel that looked good (The Saguaro) and asked the front desk attendant about the price: $279 a night. I was about to pull out my wallet when I remembered that a week earlier I’d installed a free app called Hotel Tonight, so I pulled out my smartphone instead to see if I could get a better deal. It was quite a bit better: $89 a night. I showed the price to the attendant and asked if he could match that price. He said no.
I stepped aside from the counter and made the reservation through Hotel Tonight. Then my wife and I sat in the lobby for a few minutes sipping water drawn from a chilled glass urn with citrus slices floating in it. I returned to the desk and told the clerk I had a reservation. He looked at my driver’s license, tapped something on his terminal and smiled as he handed me my room key. I don’t think he remembered me.
I’ve used Hotel Tonight several times since then. It offers its service in most major cities. Here’s the deal: you can’t use the app until noon local time, so if you are in a city during a busy time of the year, the pickings will be slim. Also, the deals in traditionally expensive cities like New York or San Francisco are not nearly as good as places like Portland or Reno. Still, if you ever end up in a city without a room, it’s worth checking Hotel Tonight to see if you can save a few bucks.
I do a lot of traveling for Engadget. I go to a lot of conferences, and I bring my Skooba Cable Stable with me on all my trips. It looks like a standard binder bag. Inside, there are elastic straps for corralling all of the different things I need as a 24-hour blogger who shoots and produces web video on the go.
It’s got my Verizon Jetpack modem, battery charger, Ethernet cable, Elgato turbo stick (a great way to crunch up video and upload it quickly), various USB cords, some shammies, assorted flash drives, my business cards, and some pens (because every once in a while you do actually need to write things on paper). It’s pretty decently padded, and you could probably fit a 7-inch tablet in there as well.
For a very long time, I just had a jumbled mess of cords in my bag. My new year’s resolution was to be more organized. This is the closest I’ll probably come to being able to do that.
Skooba makes very rugged things. I’ve had cases by them that have lasted me for years. I would say this has been a game changer for me. It has completely changed the way I do shows.
This tablet case is perfect if you want to leave your tablet in your car or any other place where it could be a tempting item to be stolen. Looks like a manilla envelope and has faux postmarks and address labeling (with some minor comedy to boot). It has a little padding and a flap lined with velcro.
-- Lenny Diner
Undercover Secret Tablet Sleeve for iPad, Xoom, Sony S1, Galaxy Tablets