About a year ago (actually, in just our second post on this blog!), we published a list of awesome travel and outdoors gear made by small companies. Since then, we’ve come across lots more local companies across the U.S. that are making unique, high-quality products, and we thought now would be a good time to update the list.
But why small companies? We believe that where you shop and what you pack is the first step to traveling responsibly. Buying from the little guys supports local economies and boosts entrepreneurship – plus, their gear is often innovative in a way that isn’t seen at larger corporations. Here are some of our favorite products from companies we love (many of which are also eco-friendly):
1. Laptop Sleeve
Topo Designs – Boulder, Colorado
Every traveler needs a laptop sleeve; nothing puts a bigger damper on a trip than a broken computer. Topo Design’s laptop sleeves are constructed out of Cordura fabric, the same indestructible fiber that our Mystery Ranch backpacks are made from. Combine that with interior padding and a convenient handle, and you have some excellent protection for your laptop.
The company makes a variety of backpacks and bags, but if you’re looking for a stocking stuffer for a frequent traveler or a digital nomad, the laptop sleeve is a great choice. Bonus: if you’re in the Denver area, their flagship store is assembled from reclaimed shipping containers and looks amazing.
2. Anti-Bug Balm
BadgerBalm – Gilsum, New Hampshire
BadgerBalm has been producing excellent organic and eco-friendly skin-care products for twenty years now, and their foray into insect repellant is no exception. The Anti-Bug Balm is a mixture of citronella, cedar, and lemongrass essential oils in a moisturizing cream.
Insect repellants really only work well when they completely cover the exposed skin (misting yourself in repellant or wearing a chemical-containing wristband isn’t that effective), so BadgerBalm’s thick cream is an ideal medium for applying their product.
The debate about whether DEET is harmful to one’s health can be saved for another day, but DEET-based insect repellants smell awful (who hasn’t suffered through spending time in a tent with someone who’s taken a DEET shower?). The essential oils found in the Anti-Bug Balm are as effective in repelling mosquitos and some ticks, and it soothes your skin with moisturizing olive and castor oil, all while making you smell like a delicious herb garden.
3. Wool Button-Down Shirt
Wool & Prince – New York City, New York
Wool & Prince made a big splash back in 2013, when its founder wore their prototype button-down shirt for 100 days without washing it. Since then, the company has grown to selling not only dress shirts, but also T-shirts, polos, short-sleeved button-downs, and underwear.
While their products don’t come cheap, I love this shirt because it doesn’t wrinkle or stain easily and doesn’t smell after repeated wearing. Wool is the ultimate travel fabric in that respect. When everything needs to fit into a backpack, having a great looking shirt that needs minimal care is a huge asset. Plus, this shirt works equally well on the road, on the trail, or at the office.
At this time, Wool & Prince only carries products for men, but they’re adding new stuff all the time.
4. Topo Water Bottle
Liberty Bottleworks – Union Gap, Washington
Travelers tend to go through tons of plastic water bottles, which is why we always suggest packing a refillable bottle. Of course, if you already have a great water bottle, don’t go out and buy another. But if you or somebody you know is in need of a new one, Liberty Bottleworks is an awesome place to get a bottle that’s unique, convenient, and eco-friendly.
I picked up one of their national parks-themed bottles, which has a topographic map of part of Glacier National Park embossed on the outside. They make Topo bottles with maps of a dozen parks, along with a plethora of other designs. All of the bottles feature a novel cap system, which only requires a quarter twist to open, making them much more convenient to drink out of when you’re on the trail.
The company also touts that they’re the only metal water bottle manufacturer in the U.S., and that all their products are made from 100% recycled aluminum, reducing their carbon footprint.
5. Leather Shoulder Bag
Goertzan Adventure Equipment – Missoula, Montana
This one admittedly might be a bit too “Western” for some. It’s an incredibly well-made bag, though, and I think it’s pretty classy looking. It’s got a little bit of old-world charm – like something Indiana Jones might travel with (or maybe I just want to think I look like him with it).
We use it to carry our laptops and other electronics when we’re working in coffee shops around town, but it’s also my go-to camera bag, with space for my camera body, lenses, and various filters. The wide shoulder strap is comfortable, and it has a couple zippered interior pockets for stashing small items, too. The Scout bag is the perfect size for carrying an 11-inch MacBook Air; if you have something larger, you’ll want to get their Messenger or Tote bag.
If you’re traveling to a region with really high humidity like Southeast Asia, be sure to get a leather care product like this one from Bee Natural to protect it from the elements.
6. Reusable Cloth Bag
Trek Light Gear – Boulder, Colorado
Perhaps one of the biggest nuisances of travel is how to carry everything. You don’t want to haul your main backpack around town, and even a daypack can feel like overkill if you just need to carry some groceries, souvenirs, or other purchases from the market.
Of course, most stores and vendors will offer plastic bags – but cutting down on plastic waste is one of the best things travelers can do to be more eco-friendly. Enter the reusable bag.
Trek Light Totes are amazing for travel because, unlike your standard cloth bags, they can be packed down to smaller than your fist. They’re also stronger than almost any other cloth bag, as they’re made from scrap hammock material (which is meant to hold the weight of a full-grown adult). No matter what you end up buying during the day, this bag will be able to get it back home (or to your hostel).
7. Mesh Produce Bags
Equinox – Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Take cutting down on plastic bags another step with these little mesh bags, which are useful for buying fruits and vegetables that need to be weighed or just separating purchases in your bag. The material is nearly weightless and super strong.
If you’re planning on buying any food while you travel, these are a big improvement over the plastic bags normally found in the produce section of the supermarket or at produce stands. Equinox also has a great section on their website for travelers looking to make more eco-friendly choices.
8. Solid Shampoo/Soap
Windrift Hill – Conrad, Montana
When traveling the world, one of the things you most want to cut down on is liquids. They make checking bags more difficult, and one loose cap can lead to a terrible mess all over everything else. Solid bars of shampoo and soap help solve this problem.
Unfortunately, many of the solid shampoo bars out there leave your hair feeling either greasy (doesn’t wash out well) or dry (washes away your hair’s natural oils). Fortunately, Windrift Hill’s shampoo bar has neither of these problems, as it’s formulated with moisturizing goat’s milk. They have a pretty big selection of essential oil infusions, so you can choose whichever is best for your scalp and skin.
Even better, the family behind the company is committed to the ethical treatment of animals on their goat farm and to providing great organic products to their customers.
What small companies do you love?
I love that you guys are from MT! Me, too! BUT all your adventurous traveling is making me a bit envious 😉
Ryan Victor says
There are so many amazing places to visit in MT, and some great outdoor gear companies, but we do enjoy our worldly adventures.
Alix @A Hedgehog in the Kitchen says
These are great ideas! I love the natural bug balm (we always use natural bug repellent when we travel to countries where it is necessary to protect against bugs)! I also love the small mesh bags – very practical + cute!
Ryan Victor says
Natural bug balm is great! Better for your skin and doesn’t smell terrible like the synthetic stuff.