Supporting small businesses is one way we try to make our travels more responsible and sustainable, and we’ve found that it’s also a way to get unique, innovative products that you won’t find at larger companies.
We believe that one of the most important tenants of responsible travel is to support the local economy by buying from small businesses that keep your money in the community, instead of putting it in the hands of large corporations. This applies not only when choosing restaurants or souvenir shops during trips, but also when buying travel and outdoor gear in your home country.
Small Business Saturday is easily our preferred post-Thanksgiving shopping day, and sharing our favorite travel and outdoor products from small businesses has become an annual tradition on our blog (and a monthly one in our newsletter). Usually, the products we feature in these posts are ones we’ve come to love over recent months. But since we’ve been on the road with just backpacks almost all year, we’re buying a whole lot less stuff these days.
So this year, most of the things we’re sharing for Small Business Saturday are items from our own wish list, which we think would make great gifts for travelers (or additions to your own gear closet). If you end up purchasing one of these products, let us know how you like it!
ChicoBag – Chico, California
Plastic bags are ubiquitous in travel – a Ziploc bag to pack liquids in your carry-on, a shopping bag to carry groceries or souvenirs back from the market, another bag to hold your dusty shoes when there’s not enough time to clean them off before heading to the next city.
And these bags are a massive blight on the environment: disposable bags create unnecessary waste, and they don’t break down, instead becoming unwanted ornaments in our trees, clogging our sewers, and littering our oceans. So we appreciate any product that helps lessen dependence on plastic bags.
ChicoBag has created an extensive line of reusable bags ranging from large totes for carrying a load of groceries to small pouches for bringing a sandwich to work. Their products not only help reduce the use of disposable plastics, they’re actually manufactured from waste that already exists.
Most of ChicoBag’s products contain recycled PET, the plastic used in water and soda bottles. While the ultimate goal should be to drastically curtail our use of plastic, it’s important to find a use for the waste that’s already been produced.
While these bags were designed for everyday living, they’re also perfect for travel. Use them to carry snacks or even a PB&J while hiking, on bus and train rides, or out exploring.
2. Collapsible Water Bottle
Nada Bottle – Crested Butte, Colorado
Sadly, it looks like Nada Bottle is no longer in business, but you can read more about their mission here.
I love collapsible water bottles for two reasons: they don’t take up much space when they’re not being used, and they don’t slosh. I like to carry one on long-distance runs because the container gets smaller as I drink from it. Having a pound or more of water moving around in a regular bottle can throw off your rhythm and slow you down.
Many companies make collapsible water bottles, but what most of them are lacking is durability. They’re usually made from thin plastic that’s easy to puncture and have a not-so-strong cap that eventually starts to leak.
While other companies are apparently comfortable with this mediocre design, Nada Bottle innovated by covering the thin plastic with a tough Cordura sleeve and attaching a heavy-duty polyester cap. Their bottles also have a braided paracord strap that clips to your pack.
Carrying a water bottle is always a good idea when traveling, and it’s a necessity for activities like hiking and camping, in addition to running. If space in your pack is at a premium, it doesn’t get better than a collapsible version. Nada Bottle also has a charitable mission to provide clean drinking water to impoverished communities, and donates a portion of the proceeds to distributing water filters and digging wells around the world.
3. Changing Mat
Rareform – Ventura, California
It would be a luxurious problem to complain about hanging out at the beach, but one of the real downsides is how dirty everything gets. By the end of the day, your clothes, your gear, and everything else is covered in sand. While I love spending a day at the beach, I hate taking it home with me. This is especially an issue when surfing or diving, as wetsuits are magnets for sand and grit.
Luckily, Rareform has come up with a solution to this problem, while also helping to protect the environment. Their answer is the change mat – just stand over the mat, pull off your wet suit (or swimsuit, or just drop your towel or tote bag on it), and then tighten the drawstring on the mat. Your gear and all the sand on it is now in a sealed cocoon, and your car and home or hotel room will be protected from all that sand, not to mention the fishy ocean smells.
Better yet, Rareform’s mats are made from recycled billboard vinyl, which is lightweight, waterproof, and incredibly durable. No two mats are identical, and each contains a portion of the ad from the original billboard. If you have no use for a change mat, they also use this material to make backpacks, wallets, and all kinds of other equipment.
Matador – Boulder, Colorado
Few things have worried me more during our travels this year than keeping my laptop safe from water. The downpours in Southeast Asia are legendary, and anything not inside a dry bag or under a poncho will get soaked. When we head out for a day of work at a coffee shop, we usually carry our computers and camera gear in my REI Flash Pack.
There’s nothing wrong with the Flash Pack and I trust that it’s mostly waterproof, but I can say with certainty that my MacBook is not waterproof at all. I’ve searched for waterproof laptop sleeves in a couple places we’ve visited, to no avail, and I don’t want to line my backpack with a dry bag. The less-than-desirable solution has been to put the pack on and wear my raincoat over the top of it (which makes me look like a turtle).
So, what’s a rain-fearing digital nomad to do? A small company called Matador has come up with the perfect solution: integrate the dry bag and the backpack. Their 24-liter packable daypack is made from waterproof Cordura fabric and has no zippers on the main compartment, instead using a roll-top closure like you’d find on a dry bag. When not in use, it can be stowed away in a pouch the size of your fist.
Matador also makes some other really cool products, including a packable picnic blanket with integrated weights that keep it from blowing away and a water-resistant camera lens case that looks like a down coat and has the same roll-top as the backpack.
Flowfold – Peaks Island, Maine
For several years, my first passport had a distinct set of bite marks in it, courtesy of my parents’ dog, who felt this was the best way to show his affection. Every time I walked through immigration, the officers gave me quizzical looks, and a few commented on the passport’s rough shape. I got a new one last year, which is still unscathed, but I’m betting it won’t stay that way for long without a cover.
Fortunately, I think I’ve found the perfect one. Flowfold makes passport covers out of the same cloth racing sails are made from. It’s completely waterproof, and can stand up to even the most ferocious game of passport tug-of-war with a beloved pet.
Flowfold also manufactures wallets from sailcloth, and everything they make is lightweight and water-resistant – a big benefit when you’re in the tropics.
6. Ski Gloves
Picture – Gerzat, France
Ski season is just getting started in the U.S., and it’s time to unpack all your winter gear. If you’re like me, some of that gear is in questionable shape, because I don’t really enjoy buying new equipment at the beginning of each season. I prefer to wear everything down until it’s unusable or Jen says she’ll no longer be seen with me. It just seems wasteful otherwise.
Fortunately, I’ve found a company I can feel good about buying new equipment from. All of Picture’s products are made from recycled materials; in fact, at least 50% of the polyester fabric they use comes from recycled plastic bottles. Their cotton is free of GMOs, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers, and they even manufacture the padding for their helmets from recycled car dashboards (who knew a dashboard could be recycled?).
When I need new ski gloves, I want to buy them from a company that’s all about sustainability. Picture’s Lorado gloves are constructed from 84% recycled polyester, but they’re still incredibly warm, comfortable, and even have touchscreen conductivity so I can operate my phone if I get stuck on the lift with someone who’s just a little too weird.
7. Cord Roll
This Is Ground – Los Angeles, California
*Unfortunately, it looks like This is Ground has stopped selling their products. The good news is you can still look for unique leather cord rolls on sites like Etsy.
Our front-loading backpacks and packing cubes have both completely changed how we organize our gear while we travel. Dirty clothes no longer spill from our bags when we unpack, and we can actually find the things we’re looking for.
But one area we haven’t done so well with organizing is our electronics. We have two laptops, a camera, multiple external hard drives, a GoPro, phones, Kindles – and they all have cords that need to be stored. The last-minute solution was to throw all the cords, headphones, USB drives, and so forth into a Ziploc bag. Several months of travel later, that bulging bag is starting to wear out, and everything gets tangled anyway.
What we need is a cord roll – a fabric organizer that holds electronics accessories in easy-to-access compartments and rolls up to take up less space than a single shirt. A cord roll doesn’t sound like something that could be called stylish, but wait until you see the one from This is Ground.
Designed in Los Angeles and sewn by leather craftsmen in Italy, the Cordito Cord Roll will inject some sophistication into your travel gear. It holds four cords and two plugs, and has space for a couple of USB drives – perfect for solving our organizational problem.
Jumbo Hammocks – Koh Lanta, Thailand
It might be a bit of a stretch to call hammocks “travel and outdoor gear.” But hey, you use them outside, right? You can even go hammock camping! So when we found Jumbo Hammocks in Thailand, we knew we had to include them in this list.
Sure, you could go to a sporting goods store and pick up a portable hammock that weighs a pound and rolls up to the size of a water bottle. This is not that type of hammock, though. Jumbo Hammocks is the Rolls Royce of hammocks, each one made from nearly two miles of yarn (yes, over 10,000 feet) and taking fifteen days to weave.
They make a few different versions, some weatherproof (acrylic yarn) and others built with comfort as the priority (cotton yarn). While I’m sure the acrylic models are still great hammocks, they’re nothing compared to the comfort of the cotton V-weave that’s so soft it feels like you’re laying on a cloud.
We spent quite a bit of time testing out the hammocks at their shop in Koh Lanta, Thailand (i.e., we nearly fell asleep in them), and we can attest to the fact that they don’t feel like any other hammock we’ve used.
In addition to building amazing hammocks, Jumbo has a social mission of training and employing displaced people from the Mlabri hill tribe in northern Thailand. They were formerly nomadic, but deforestation has disrupted their traditional way of life. Producing hammocks provides a sustainable source of income that allows them to remain in their villages rather than needing to seek work in larger cities.
On Small Business Saturday or any time of year, buy gear like this to help out the little guys and find travel and outdoor products you won’t get anywhere else! For even more inspiration, check out our small business gear guide from last year or the year before.
Will you be adding any of these items to your wish list?