In other posts, I’ve referred to the way Tom Bihn bags often make my life better. I want to expand upon that point lest I sound like a mere company shill.
Tom Bihn bags and Sunday Afternoons hat
Today I’ll talk about how one “key” feature of this particular brand helps me stay organized and deal with the ongoing issues of a chronic medical condition. I’m talking about removable Key Straps that can be attached to O-rings integral to Tom Bihn bags and many other anchors on luggage or in hotel rooms.
Key Straps are the “key” feature
I carry a Cafe Bag ($70, size: Medium, color: Original/black Halcyon with Wasabi lining) almost every day, sometimes swapping it out for a Travel Cubelet ($40) or my Packing Cube Shoulder Bag (PCSB, $34) when I travel light. My Cafe Bag is generally fitted out with six separate Key Straps at once, each serving a unique function.
Key Straps ($5) come in 8-inch and 16-inch lengths, and are currently offered in seven colors. Many of mine are the older style, sewn from folded Dyneema/Halcyon nylon fabric. Newer Key Straps are made of webbing instead. Key Straps come in two varieties: with a snap hook on both ends, or a snap hook on one end with an O-ring on the other.
Additional Tom Bihn accessories that go virtually everywhere with me include:
Coach purple leather card wallet on Steel/grey TB Key Strap
Solar/yellow TB Key Strap left empty for… my keys!
Pocket Pouch† ($10) in Aubergine with Wasabi lining for lip balm attached with its own integrated clip
Eagle Creek pouch on Ultraviolet TB Key Strap
Aubergine Small Q-Kit† ($18) on Iberian/red TB Key Strap for medication
Wasabi Mini Q-Kit† ($15) on Wasabi TB Key Strap for electronic charging cables and earbuds
Clear pouch with red back for paper and longer objects I want to carry, often including a checkbook, a full length emery board (nail file), or a passport
I attach non-Bihn items by various methods. You can see the Key Strap snap hooks attached to a key ring on my card wallet and a fabric loop on my Eagle Creek purple pouch in my detail photos. The integrated O-rings and detachable Key Straps are tiny things that make a tremendous functional difference in my Tom Bihn satchel, but these accessories play very nicely with other brands.
By designing modular pockets, pouches, and parts for the end user to attach or not with separate Key Straps, every bag can be customized precisely for its specific purpose. This works really well for me.
QÔR is one of the many brands that has popped up in recent years seeking to combine modern performance fabrics with stylish silhouettes.
Want to commute by bike but need to meet a certain level of business appropriate attire upon arrival? QÔR could have what you’re looking for.
The same features that work for active commuting are key elements of a successful, compact travel wardrobe: fabrics that launder easily and dry quickly, resistwrinkles, and release odors.
Teen capsule wardrobe TOPS
Teen capsule wardrobe BOTTOMS
While QÔR makes pieces for both men and women, our household made the brand’s acquaintance with the purchase of men’s items for DH and DS1.
Travel capsule wardrobe for a teen boy
In a bid to create a compact, packable travel capsule wardrobe that could take my son almost anywhereI might drag himwith reasonable style, I picked out five† of QÔR’s pieces he could mix and match for our first order from the brand.
He’s a young teen just growing into men’s sizes. His more formal travel pieces will also serve as dress clothes for occasional use at home.
Three QÔR garments are his key travel pieces:
Navy jacket in Italian fleece
Merino hoodie (in grey)
Lightweight grey trousers in a quick dry, technical fabric
We combined these with long- and short-sleeved t-shirts (3 total), a pair of jeans, lightweight knit casual pants (1 pair) and shorts (1 pair), with a synthetic fiber, plaidbutton down shirt to complete* the wardrobe.
Most of the non-QÔR pieces in the capsule came from Coolibar, whose sun protective clothing represents the major part of our family’s summer/outdoor wardrobes.
The colors in the tartan dictated the color scheme for the rest of the wardrobe: navy and grey with touches of white and brighter blue. The t-shirts coordinated in navy, bright blue, and heather grey.
QÔR’s heavyweight navy jacket in a sweatshirt-like poly/cotton blend fleece is nice enough to pass inspection in situations where other men are wearing proper suits. Simultaneously, it is heavy enough to layer for warmth in chilly weather. There is a reasonably subtle, slightly asymmetrical zip closure behind the more traditional three button front to keep out drafts. It is comfortable enough that my son will grab it in lieu of a sweatshirt while lounging around our house.
Aside from the front zip closure, technical features include a zippered chest pocket and a reflective patch mostly hidden under the collar at the back of the neck. My use of flash photography is the reason it is so obvious in the first photo. There is a small, fairly subtle QÔR logo printed on one wrist.
Logo without flash
Logo reflecting flash
Chest pocket unzipped
Chest pocket zipped shut
Though the most expensive QÔR purchase I’ve made, the Italian Fleece Blazer ($158) is also the best value. It is versatile, meets my son’s needs perfectly, and he likes wearing it! If I weren’t afraid he’d outgrow it, I would buy a second right now to guard against its wearing out. A navy jacket certainly won’t ever go out of style.
Like many boys his age, my son prioritizes comfort over fashion. He likes to express himself with graphic tees, and he prefers certain colors over others, but, beyond that, he’d be happy with the same sweatpants and t-shirt combo every day.
Mom (a.k.a., I), on the other hand, expects a somewhat higher standard, especially when we travel together.
I don’t dress in a particularly formal way myself, but I have come to realize that being nicely put together makes city travel easier.
A very casual outfit must be changed to allow for some activities. Modesty restrictions at churches and temples require covering up tanks and shorts, for example, and the same garments are unthinkable for dining at nicer restaurants.
A young man wearing a navy jacket and grey slacks should be welcome every place he wishes to go.
Tank inspection at Vienna Military History Museum
The Italian Fleece Blazer is too thick to seriously consider hand washing during travel. That said, I rarely find a need to wash outer layers like this one whether at home or on the road. I have laundered this jacket once or twice using my home machine and laid it flat to dry. These photos reflect a frequently worn, occasionally washed garment.
One complaint my son has about his jacket is that a larger iPhone 6+ doesn’t fit its zippered chest pocket. He carries it in one of the two welt hand pockets, but it sticks out somewhat and I worry that it isn’t secure.
From my perspective, the jacket would benefit from an interior zip pocket large enough to secure a passport. If it had a rear vent, or, ideally, side vents, I suspect it would be just a bit more comfortable for travel, but my son never complained.
The hefty Italian fleece works for us because we live in New England. For our June trip to Iceland and Austria by way of Belgium and Germany, the blazer functioned best as an outer (heavyweight) layer.
Most of my son’s dress up occasions at home are likely to occur around the holidays when our weather is cool. Those living—or traveling—closer to the equator or looking for suits to wear primarily indoors should consider a lighter weight jacket for travel, but this one is great for Northern climes and cold-blooded types.
The Lightest Trouser
While less beloved than his fleece jacket, QÔR’sThe Lightest Trouser ($118, shown here in Steel Grey) lives up to the descriptive moniker. They pack up small and weigh very little. These pants are easy to travel with.
Make no mistake: my son would rather be wearing sweatpants. If he must wear “real pants,” however, he judges these very good. These trousers allow as much freedom of movement as knit sweats or joggers.
Lightest Trousers hold up to rounds of Mini Golf and Pit Put
Segway Tour training run in the Austrian Alps
Like many (most?) men’s brands, QÔR trouser sizing begins at a 30″ waist. My son is narrower than that, and still takes an XS size when available. In a tidy inverse of women’s vanity sizing, it turns out that men hate to be labeled “small”—or, God forbid, EXTRA small!—so options are frequently quite limited. He needs to belt these pants to keep them up, but they don’t look sloppy that way, even on the rare occasion when I insist he tuck in his shirt.
QÔR Lightest Trouser back details
Photos for this post show a young man who should be wearing a 28″/31″ in size 30″/32″ trousers that we hemmed by about an inch.
The polyester/spandex fabric blend is the best and the worst feature of the trousers. No other material would be so easy to travel with. That said, the synthetic does have a sheen to it and a difference in hand that no one would ever mistake for proper wool dress pants.
The week we received them, and before we packed them for Europe, I let my son do what he would if I weren’t around to nag him: he wore the same outfit, including these pants, every day for the better part of a week. He wore them sitting on the the floor to do his school work. He wore them to the gym with his dad. He no doubt wiped his hands on his trousers instead of a towel or napkin, etc.
After five days, I gave them an arms-length sniff test before washing them. No discernible odor. Anyone sniffing a teen any closer a) deserves whatever he gets, and b) is some kind of perv.
I held them up and stared intently: while not as crisp as a recently ironed suit trouser, there were no egregious wrinkles.
After washing in the morning with a load of delicates to simulate hand washing on the road, I hung The Lightest Trousers to dry for the length of a business day. They were ready to wear after dinner when I remembered to check on them—somewhere around eight hours later.
In practice, this held true during our travels, as well. These were the only pants he had with him that I would consider sink washing with total confidence that overnight would be sufficient time to dry. His knit bottoms were just too heavy to consider more than spot cleaning.
Blending in boarding a bus full of scientists in Klosterneuburg, Austria
My son never smelled stinky, his trousers didn’t seem inclined to stain, and they didn’t look sloppy when we dined in a fine European restaurant with my husband’s distinguished colleagues.
These trousers represent a best use case for when synthetic fabrics are a great solution.
Pullover Merino hoodie
Though not my son’s favorite piece to wear, the QÔR 17.5 Merino Pullover Hoodie ($98, shown in Aluminum Grey) in 195 GM, medium/light-mid- weight wool blended with 11% nylon for durability, was a key piece to make sure he was suitably attired for all the conditions we faced.
He brought the pullover with him when conditions didn’t seem to warrant a jacket because it was so compact and easily carried.
He layered it with all of his other pieces when the weather during our Iceland stopover felt more like winter than our expectations for mid-June.
He chose to layer a Frogg Toggs packable poncho on top to cope with the rain instead of bringing a waterproof jacket. He felt this combo was more comfortable, and the poncho weighed less than his existing rain coat, so I approved it for this particular summer trip.
Aside from the days in Iceland with significant rain that required the voluminous poncho, my son looked quite tidy, and pretty equivalent to local teens we saw on our travels. Even in European capitals, his attire compared well to other kids his age.
My son prefers zip front sweatshirts to pullovers. I seriously considered a similar weight alternative, the 190 Merino Full Zip Hoodie ($168), in Indigo Blue or one from another great brand, Icebreaker, to suit that preference.
For an expensive item, I did want to maximize his likely re-wearing of the garment by honoring his preferences. I want these pieces to be part of his everyday wardrobe; a young teen doesn’t need dedicated travel clothes he might outgrow before they’re worn out.
Two major and one minor point pushed me to choose what I thought was more practical over my son’s first choice. Packing bulk and washability were the deciding factors; appearance added weight to my choice.
A zip front and pockets would be bulkier and harder to wash with other delicates. Zippers tend to chew on other items in the wash!
The pullover style has a bit less fabric, fewer layers to delay dry time, and fewer parts that could fail. A zipper could also set off metal detectors during travel, though I suspect that’s unlikely. The extra zip layered beneath his Italian Fleece Blazer would also look a bit less sleek/tidy/nice compared to a pullover’s smooth front.
Finally, as for color, while I thought my son would look great in the lovely Indigo Blue color, grey was the more practical choice for maximum matching flexibility and avoiding stains. He likes brighter, more fun colors, but I was shopping and packing for versatility this time. We already had a second shade of vibrant blue featured in his button front and a t-shirt, so Indigo Blue might not work with every single garment we were packing.
The Pullover Hoodie packed down very small. My son could carry it inside his Tom Bihn Travel Cubelet ($40, Northwest Sky shown) along with his passport, wallet, and iPhone 6+. This compact, 5.7” x 7.3” x 3” bag could even be worn beneath his blazer for security where it counted.
Though packed full with the hoodie inside, all items could be removed and accessed without much difficulty or the inadvertent spilling of other items that occurs when it’s least convenient with a tightly packed bag. Most other hoodies—especially those with zippers—simply would not have passed this test.
Visible branding vs. the tourist who wants to blend in
QÔR branding is generally fairly subtle, though “active lifestyle” features like reflective strips might be visible or displayable with some pieces.
Logos on nice clothes annoy me. This is a pet peeve of mine with some performance brands, too proud of themselves to actually get my business. If I’m spending $50 and up for a merino wool t-shirt, I’d like to let the richness of the fabric speak for itself. I don’t need a corporate sponsor telling the world I buy cool clothes.
Logo without flash
If you can see a label on my clothes, odds are it’s the tag sticking up at my neckline. I’d prefer you let me know so I can tuck it away where it belongs!
QÔR makes quality pieces sold by top notch staff
QÔR quality has been consistently good. We have (okay, I have) washed, dried, packed, and (he has) worn and carried my son’s QÔR-centric wardrobe across America and to Europe over the better part of a year. The jacket and trousers are part of his regular, daily wardrobe. I have yet to notice any wear or tear, and have yet to find so much as a loose stitch to complain about.
Customer service made ordering from an untested brand easy and non-stressful. QÔR staffhavebeen truly exemplary, and they play a big part in making higher prices worth paying by my metrics.
I emailed back and forth, asking many questions about sizing and colors. One rep, Sue, grabbed product from the shelves and sent me cell phone photos of color combinations in response to my request for more information about how different blues and greys might work together.
I was offered free shipping to help make the remote fitting process easier. Policies seemed flexible, with a real dedication to making the shopping experience work for the customer.
Returns and exchanges are also easy. I did a few “back and forth” exchanges in search of correct sizes and preferred style and fit. I’ve come to trust that their guarantee is as straightforward as it seems:
“We’ll take it back if you don’t like it. Without question. At any time.”
Putting it all together makes a (capsule) wardrobe
A wisely chosen travel ensemble can take a tourist virtually anywhere. It needn’t be uncomfortable, either. I think this is as true for teens as it is for grown men and women.
Putting such an outfit together is a skill I’d like to teach my son while he still relies upon me to provide the bulk of his wardrobe.
If he takes up ballroom dancing or joins a performance group that wears tuxedos, he’ll have to sort out travel of that kind for himself. Odds don’t seem to point in that direction, however. His brother, on the other hand…
We packed for two weeks in Europe with no checked baggage, flying on a discount Economy ticket with Icelandair. My son’s entire wardrobe, plus a few items of mine, fit in a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45.
Teen boy capsule wardrobe packed in Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45
Vienna, Austria demonstrating the futility of rolling suitcases
Combine a few special pieces sewn from easy care, packable fabrics with travel-oriented features like zippered pockets with a kid’s everyday wardrobe. Dress things up a little, but not too much. Keep comfort in mind while assessing good looks. Everyone can be happy. This strategy can take you anywhere in the world.
Though there are lots of great capsule wardrobe posts online, the vast majority are for women, and, then, mostly for young women. While the pace of change in men’s clothing may be slower than it is for that of ladies, both genders enjoy—but also sometimes suffer from—greater choice in what to wear than most people did in the past. Choices give one more room to pack inefficiently, potentially leading to over-filled bags that somehow still fail to contain what’s really needed.
First class Deutsche Bahn compartment on scenic Rhine Valley route from Innsbruck to Köln
The benefits of thoughtful planning and careful packing apply equally to men and women, young and old. In fact, I’d argue that family groups with kids of any age in tow will gain far more from thinking ahead and curating clothing choices than carefree singles do. Just multiply every excess by four, as well as every opportunity for something unexpected to pop up.
Other sources for technical fiber, thoughtfully designed packable clothes
If you like the idea of business-ish styling made with modern performance fabrics for ease of care, bike commuting, or one bag travel, but QÔR doesn’t have exactly what you’re looking for, I can also recommend Ministry of Supply menswear based upon one positive personal experience, Icebreaker for merino, and some of Ex Officio‘s less sporty pieces.
A few related brands I’ve got my eye on but haven’t yet tried include merino dress shirt maker Wool & Prince, Outlier, and British travel clothing specialist Rohan.
Gratitude to the long suffering teen who made this post possible
This post wouldn’t have been possible without a lot of help from and even more patienceon the part of my long-suffering teen. He posed for photos with only minimal eye rolling and answered more than a few questions about comfort and fit in spite of his constant desire to get back to his own interests sooner rather than later.
Without a doubt, my boy is a blessing.
†The other two pieces from our first order were a pair of light grey casual pants and a bright blue, merino wool blend polo shirt. Either of these could work in the travel wardrobe as they fit with the color scheme, but were ultimately not first choices for one bag travel on this particular trip to Europe.
Navy knit pants are dressier looking than light grey ones. My son also prefers the feel of a blend with more natural fibers than synthetic, which the Coolibar version offers. Polo shirts aren’t my son’s first choice for daily wear, so he chose t-shirts to wear when his collared shirt wasn’t required by the day’s dress code.
*There were also undergarments, including a set of long johns/base layers that doubled as pajamas, but my son has no commentary he’d like to add to the internet on the subject of men’s underwear.
A swimsuit was also included. Though he prefers the popular, knee-length, baggy board shorts everyone else is wearing around here, a somewhat briefer version was cheap on Amazon and packed much smaller than his old pair without provoking the teen horror of a fitted Speedo brief…
My son’s preference for short ankle socks packed up small (3 pairs), plus we carried three more pairs of taller, grey socks for colder days and dressier occasions where his ankles needed to be covered.
Icelanders expect you to follow the letter of their law when going for a swim: wash, naked, with soap before entering a public pool or hot tub.
I’m shocked by how many Americans post comments about washing first not being required at home. Actually, at my local YMCA in New England, a sign clearly states that “soap showers are required” before entering the pool.
It’s just that, at American pools, nobody enforces the law.
We have laws against jaywalking, too, but you’d never know it in most cities based upon enforcement.
Also, our instructional posters are plain English language ones without the helpful “red zone” graphics employed in Iceland.
Cell phone or camera use isn’t allowed in locker rooms thank God! so I’ll point you to others’ mysteriously captured photos for illustrations. Follow the links to pool etiquette articles, below.
Picture the typical men’s room sign “guy” infographic, then add big red circles glowing around head, armpits, groin, hands, and feet. Those are the parts it is mandatory to wash with soap before entering an Icelandic public swimming pool or hot tub.
I’m reinventing the wheel here, but it bears repeating again! since every Icelander seems to know that Americans (and Brits) arrive unprepared for proper Icelandic pool protocol. I read about a dozen “how to use a public pool in Iceland” posts myself, and yet, here I am reiterating much of the same advice.
Those posts helped me, so I hope to offer the same to another reader. Good travelers respect the places that they visit by following the rules.
Access for visitors with mild physical impairments to Icelandic pools
Another, perhaps less common, thing I want to address is accessibility in Icelandic public pool locker rooms.
I did find one blogger who writes about access from the perspective of a wheelchair user, but he only seemed to visit the swanky Blue Lagoon spa. For over $40 per person, it darn well better be fully accessible!
I was looking for an affordable, family-oriented experience more akin to what average Icelanders might enjoy with their own kids.
Also, my needs are far less intensive than those of a pool user who requires a lift (hoist) to access the water. I have arthritis and chronic pain due to an autoimmune condition. My accessibility needs are variable, but often minimal, and most relate to twisting and pushing with the hands.
Sometimes, however, hip or knee joint stiffness makes it hard for me to reach my own feet. Heck, I couldn’t get my arms high enough overhead (shoulder stiffness) for the requisite TSA scan when I departed from Boston the night before I visited my first Icelandic pool.
Some days, aside from morning stiffness in my fingers, I bend like a healthy person; other days, not so much. This is a big part of what drew me to the famous geothermal hot pots of Iceland during even a brief stopover.
When my joints are stiff, I’m also more prone to balance issues and potentially falling. My limbs don’t always respond the way I’m expecting to the commands sent from my brain.
I had questions before my first visit to a public pool in Iceland to which I couldn’t find answers online. I’ll try to enlighten those of you with similar concerns according to my own experience as an English speaking tourist with about two weeks’ experience in that country.
Nothing, not even living through the experience, will reconcile my mind to a summer capsule wardrobe for a February trip. That’s the reality of visiting the antipodes, however, and it was quite a treat to leave the wretched winter weather of New England for a respite in New Zealand, however brief.
Even 10 days is brief when you’ve flown 9,300 miles to get there!
I planned a wardrobe for this trip,* and then, after some reflection, cut it back further to roughly what’s shown in the first image. As I traveled with it, I realized that it was, in fact, a tiny bit larger than it needed to be. I wore all but one miniscule garment that I carried, though, and we weren’t burdened with an unmanageable amount of stuff.
Most important of all, I had what I needed to be comfortably dressed throughout the ten day trip. I’m a traveler with joint pain and an autoimmune condition who remains bound and determined to make it to more corners of the globe. Smart packing isn’t a hobby for me, it’s a necessity.
The week before we arrived, our primary destination, Christchurch, baked in 90º+ F temperatures, but we had a cooler trend and the remnants of a cyclone to deal with. What I packed would have worked for either week’s weather, so it was a solid wardrobe plan.
Whether or not you choose to carry enough to cover last week’s weather as well as the forecast temperatures is a personal choice. I’m more comfortable being over- than underprepared, especially when setting a modest pace with no special events that demand tight connections or a particularly quick turnaround between destinations. Continue reading →
Sometimes, reality intervenes between our ideal experience and one we can achieve.
Since being diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, I’ve found myself having to adjust my expectations for many facets of life. That includes my hobbies, which can be hard enough to prioritize for a stay at home mother of two.
One of my favorite things is travel. I’m not a full on globetrotter like some, but my trips—planning them as well as taking them—are great highlights of my life.
In the past year, I’ve had to cancel much-loved annual jaunts due to flaring symptoms. I’ve had to “waste” money already spent on non-refundable tickets, and I’ve regretted going on excursions for which I was in no condition to participate.
I’ve found myself asking:
“Should I even try to travel for pleasure anymore now that I’ve been diagnosed with autoimmune disease?”
My answer to that question—when the flare passes, and when the pain and exhaustion have subsided—is that I should. In fact, I must carry on.
If I don’t persevere, the disease wins. If I give up what I love, I’m choosing misery over joy. I never want to live that way.
I got dealt a bad hand this time around, but it’s the only one I’ve got to play. I can make the best of it, or I can quit the game. I could just watch the other players, but what fun would that be? That’s not the life for me. Nor would I wish such circumstances on anyone else.
With that said, here are a few tips for putting some of the pleasure back in travel for a traveler with a chronic condition. Continue reading →
Many of us practically live in our cars, or it often feels like we do. From long commutes to the carpool expectations of modern parenting, our vehicles have become as familiar as our homes.
To keep ourselves healthy and comfortable on the go requires some effort. We fundamentally ignore nature’s expectations for our bodies (frequent movement, limited sitting) in automobiles.
Stock your vehicle for health & safety
What steps can we take to make our vehicles safer and healthier for our families?
Keeping a blanket handy and storing a reflective vest, safety flares and a wide brimmed hat in the trunk could reduce the hazard of an automotive emergency or an unplanned, prolonged stop awaiting rescue.
Carrying my Beastie massage ball and a pair of generic fit-over sunglasses (I’m utterly dependent upon prescription lenses to see) in the glove box helps me avoid debilitating headaches that could take our show off the road.
Little things like stocking shelf-stable snacks and bottles of water keep my family from resorting to junk food drive thru fare. Once in a while might be fine, but daily is a recipe for poor health and an empty wallet.
Storing drinking water in your car
That said, how safe is it to store drinking water in a vehicle?
The poorly insulated metal and glass body of even the nicest car will always exacerbate local climactic conditions. On a hot day, the inside of the car will be a deadly inferno; in frigid weather, a stopped car blocks the wind, but quickly releases its heat once the engine is off.
Extreme heat could affect water safety
Exactly what happens to drinking water stored in a plastic container in a hot car is scientifically unclear, but it is reasonable to be cautious where heat and plastic are concerned.
My usual bottle for use in the car is a 1.5 litre Sigg made of coated* aluminum. I fill it every Monday morning, drive around with it all week, and bring it in for a thorough wash over the weekend. I have a set of glass bottles, too, which I will use cautiously in the car, but not “on the run” because I’m clumsy.
At this stage in their lives—elementary/middle school age—I’m not comfortable giving my kids glass bottles to use outdoors. They aren’t careful enough, and I don’t want shards of glass to ruin a day out. I could switch over to glass for their use solely while seated in the car, but I’ve watched a lot of objects get kicked out the door by a boy in hurry, and I also ask them to carry their own gear out from and into the house each day. My calculus on this question still points to unbreakable metal bottles for growing kids.
The sheer magnitude of the denting on their Sigg bottles tells a cautionary tale!
I’m a little more comfortable leaving water in my car in a reusable container that isn’t made of low grade plastic like disposable bottled waters, but I always try to avoid extreme temperature variations of my drinking supply.
In the summer,I typically refrigerate my bottle overnight before bringing it to the car. I prefer room temperature water, but, if it starts out cold, it may not reach “hot” before I drink it.
Sometimes, I’ll fill one of our lunchbox Thermos jars with ice cubes before I leave the house for a full day of adventures; I can add one or two as necessary to cool off what we drink from our personal bottles. It’s rare for the melt water in the Thermos to be anything but cool, even late in the day.
Freezing cold has its risks, too
Metal or glass water bottles might alleviate concerns about heating plastics containing potable water, but there’s another serious risk in New England’s four season climate: freezing.
When water freezes, it expands. Ask anyone who has had the misfortune of burst pipes at home during a deep freeze.
At least one of my children has forgotten a full aluminum Sigg container in a car parked outdoors in winter, resulting in an exploded bottle. I discovered the bottle before it thawed, so it was the loss of a pricey (~$15 USD) object that hurt, not ruined carpet or upholstery. The lesson was taken to heart.
At our old house, we parked outside. All water bottles were carried in from the car each night, and we brought new ones out with us the next morning. Most of this effort was to prevent freezing as opposed to spoilage or stinking since children don’t get any drinks in my car except for water.**
Now, I have the great privilege of parking in an attached garage, so what was a vital necessity is just an abundance of caution. The garage temperature doesn’t drop below freezing.
Even with my van being kept warm(ish) overnight, living in the Northeast means enduring at least occasional days where the air temperature doesn’t rise above the freezing point of water, but I don’t like being caught out and about without fresh, filtered water to drink.
Solution: an insulated wine tote
Here’s my solution: an insulated wine bag. Mine came in a gift. It was part of a matched set with a lunch bag and a file tote.
The wine bottle size is perfect for my large water bottle.
The interior layer of reflective insulation helps protect the water from temperature extremes. The decorative outer material feels like a lunch bag or heavy duty reusable grocery tote.
The top of the bag has Velcro to keep it closed when relying upon the insulation to do its job; I don’t even close it in mild weather. The whole thing folds flat when not in use. It wipes down for cleaning, but that’s rarely necessary since it’s used by an adultonly for water.
Since implementing this storage solution, I’ve returned to my van to find a rime of ice in my drinking water, but never a catastrophic hard freeze that bursts my bottle. On hot days, I don’t encounter that gross mouthful of sun-warmed, plastic-tainted water.
You can see in my photos how the insulation solution also works to prevent the oversized and top-heavy bottle from toppling over out of shallow cup holders when I take corners a little too fast—I hang the Sigg in its insulated bag on my passenger seat armrest instead.
Velcro-ed shut, this keeps the bottle protected from temperature shifts, but it remains easily freed, even one handed, while driving. I know where to reach, and don’t take my eyes off the road.
Unscrewing the cap while driving to get a drink is actually much more difficult than accessing the bottle itself. Since my daily reality also involves having a tea or coffee mug in the car, I’ll often use that for water, too.
Once my morning caffeine fortification is complete, I’ll rinse out the mug and pour in a few ounces of drinking water at a time. This, I do while safely parked; I take my responsibilities to others on the road as a driver quite seriously. The coffee mug gets carried in at the end of every day for washing, and it’s never filled to the top with plain water. If it were forgotten, it wouldn’t be full enough to burst if frozen solid.
By pouring water from my large bottle into a cup instead of drinking directly from the spout, I also feel better about using the same one all week long. I refill it as needed, at the doctor’s office, or the gym, or school—anywhere convenient with filtered drinking water. Our town, a mere seven miles from our old home, gets its water from a different reservoir, and the taste is less than pleasing to a girl who grew up on the fantastic water sourced from the Bull Run water shed.
Keeping my mouth off the large bottle also makes it more hygienic to share when one of the boys forgets his bottle or has already emptied the smaller ones they find easier to carry when we’re active. It isn’t out of the question for us to drink from the same bottle, but I do try to avoid swapping germs willy nilly when there’s a good alternative.
Amazon is selling a range of similar insulated totes from $8 to $50. If you’re carrying a water bottle in your car in a climate that regularly freezes or exceeds comfortable temperatures, this is a good solution for keeping your drinking water at your preferred temperature for both taste and good health.
To avoid buying something new, consider using an extra insulated lunch bag for the same purpose, though you would probably need two shorter bottles instead of one large one for that scenario.
Once again, my Thermos food jars are often pressed into service like this. In winter, I’ll fill the 16 oz jar with hot water from my electric kettle. Hours later, it won’t be hot enough to brew a decent cup of tea, but it can take the chill off cold water from a bottle left exposed.
Bonus points for color-coordinating cup to lunchbox!
If I’m packing water for the whole family on an especially hot or cold day, I’ll nest more sets of bottles into lunch sacks with ice or heat packs as needed. I might then tuck one or two, or more! lunch bags full of waters into an insulated shopping bag or a cooler to extend the time even further before outside conditions affect our drinks.
You can spend a fortune on the best cooler available, or you can increase the insulating power of items you already have by doubling or trebling them up.
My insulated wine tote gets tucked inside the larger cooler as necessary when winter brings its worst, and my water bottle doesn’t freeze solid and burst.
*I am left with questions about the potential risk of the “non-reactive” coating inside Sigg’s aluminum bottles, but I’m not enough concerned to dispose of a container whose other features I like that is still in perfect condition. I won’t re-purchase bottles by this brand because of how they handled the BPA controversy back in 2008.
**This is partly about health: we drink water because it’s the best choice for hydration. The other motivation is avoidance of sticky substances that will annoy me if they are spilled. If you aren’t old enough to clean my car thoroughly after you spill—or pay for detailing—you don’t get any option but water. Exceptions are made on long distance journeys when the family is in the car all day for many days in a row, but, at home, during a normal commute, water is absolutely sufficient.
Rolo, when carried, ends up crammed inside Tom Bihn or Red Oxx, however. It has been used as a carry-on in conjunction with a Tom Bihn Aeronaut 45, a Red Oxx Small Aviator Bag, and even a Tom Bihn Shop Bag tote.
I haven’t posted about the brand before, but my one set of wheeled luggage is Sherpani. We need to talk about them, too.
Yes, I’m on the record railing against wheeled “roll-aboard” bags here and in real life, but my Sherpani wheels are on a larger, checked-luggage sized suitcase. I never lift them over my head, and I don’t try to carry them on. Large wheeled bags are the best for trips involving a lot of stuff.
It is possible that I bought my Sherpani wheeled suitcase primarily because it came in a really fetching brown and purple color scheme. Highly unusual for luggage carousel spotting! Coordinated with clothes I wore frequently for travel! The presence of cute little daisies in charming spots could also have been a factor.
The more similar your trips, and the more similar your needs during travel, the less likely it is that you need a variety of pieces of luggage. If, on the other hand, you sometimes fly carry on only in basic economy, but other times enjoy extended voyages with extensive wardrobe requirements, you might appreciate having a range of bags that can exactly suit the given style of travel.
If I didn’t have the budget or the storage space for all four types of luggage, I would rank their order of importance to me exactly as I introduced them above:
Ultra-lightweight carry on,
Sturdy check-able duffle in a moderate size that could also be carried on,
Specialized bag optimized for organization,
Specialized largerbag for extra long trips with more specific requirements.
For someone who flies rarely or has the strength to find all carry on luggage of trivial weight, I would prioritize item #2 above all else in most cases. A sturdy rectangular bag is the most versatile option available, by far.
Some people can make do with everyday items (shopping bags or school day packs) in lieu of travel gear; some people are willing to spend more on luggage than they do on the trip itself. Most of us fall somewhere in between.
A good brand will only produce bags of high quality, but that won’t matter if you buy the wrong bag for your needs.
This is an idea so simple as to be almost silly, but I find it helpful every week when doing laundry, so I’ll share it with the world. Note that this is a tip for the lazier housekeeper. Martha Stewart and my mother don’t need it!
Growing up, we had sets of carefully selected towels stacked in each bathroom. In the blue bathroom, Mom alternated blue and white towels, whereas peach and green were to be had in the master bathroom to match my parents’ bedroom color scheme.
When I was about to be married and we were registering for household linens, an idea occurred to me. I thought it would solve a problem that came up after laundry day in my single girl’s apartment where I was making do with a few mismatched towels received as high school graduation gifts.
Being The World’s Least Interested Housekeeper, I would usually wash my clothes and get them dried, then leave them rumpled* in the basket for days (or forever) as opposed to putting them neatly away. Hurrying to get ready in the morning, I would reach into the towel basket for a bath sheet only to pull out a washcloth or hand towel in the same color.
With visions in my affianced head of a gigantic jumbled basket stuffed with a household’s complete set of matching towels, I devised this solution. I chose colors to go with the pink floral tile in our marital home’s dated, 100 year old bathroom:
Face cloths in green,
Handtowels in pink,
Bath towels in white.
You’ve never been in my bathroom, but I bet you could find the body towel in an instant without digging through this basket of clean laundry.
A related tip I really did get from Martha Stewart is the wisdom of selecting darker toned washcloths. I rarely wear makeup, but the idea that these little workhorses might be stained by cosmetics or plain old dirt as our family grew made a lot of sense. My darkest towels are and always will be the washcloths.
Pink for the hand towels was a matter of attempting to match an element I couldn’t change in the old bathroom. As the hand towels wore out, I moved to light grey for that room, and we’re still using some of each color in the bathrooms at our new house.
White for bath towels was the simplest decision of all. I will never tire of the look of fluffy white towels. I dreamed of renovating our really quite terribly decrepit first bathroom, and knew I wouldn’t need new towels to go with it when I did** if I stuck with white.
Though I rarely use chlorine bleach in our laundry, it is reassuring to know that it is an option with white towels when one ponders infectious skin conditions or other communicable horrors of the sort children unwittingly bring home. There can be blood, too, with growing kids, but I’d rather we didn’t talk about that.
Another nice feature of white towels is their constant availability at Costco at a value price geared toward hospitality industry buyers. The old white towels go perfectly with any new ones I add as the collection ages.
When I reach into the large basket of freshly laundered toweling after my most hurried shower, I grab something white, and it is the suitable object for drying my body. When a kid needs a washcloth for a skinned knee, he knows to grab the old green ones or the grey stripes we added when we moved into a house with a second bathroom to stock.
This works really well if you live out of your laundry baskets, even just sometimes.
Way back when we were married, I kept my original college towels (and some of DH’s mismatched collection from his hovel apartment) folded as sets for visiting guests who might be uncomfortable with a towel not visibly distinguished from those of the household. I had learned by that stage in life that some families see towels as personal linens, as intimate as one’s own clothing, where others buy towels as needed in a jubilant blend of colors and styles and pick through the commotion in a common linen closet.
Color-coded toweling isn’t for everyone. My mother doesn’t even understand what I mean about “the towels that aren’t folded yet, still sitting in a basket the next morning.” Somehow, I suspect the reader recognizes immediately whether my system might offer time savings for him or her.
Those of us who routinely dry and dress ourselves out of laundry baskets know who we are.
*I do fold actual clothing, most of the time, but it can be selective folding. Towels and underwear fulfill their functions equally well when wrinkled; outer garments do not! I’m fairly careful to fold/hang items that I might otherwise need to iron to make them presentable.
**I never did! We remodeled the kitchen, but moved before we got to the bathroom.
We went car camping as a family in August. There are four of us. We’ve enjoyed our affordable, easy to erect Coleman Instant Cabin six person tent for a little over six years now. It has never let us down.*
Upon arriving home, one of the first things I did (after a long shower and donning fresh clothes without the scent of smoke) was to begin researching new tents.
According to the reviews I found, “Honey, we need a bigger tent!” is a pretty common refrain.
I find myself asking:
Does every family camping trip end with a wish for a larger tent?
I’ve posted before about my new favorite car camping accessory: a set of Disc-O-BedCam-O-Bunk XL stacking bunk bed cots. Lifting two of our four sleeping positions up off the floor allowed for a vastly improved storage situation, and a much more comfortable path to the door. Not to mention improved sleep quality for those of us lucky enough to rest on them!
Mosquito Frame, installed on Cam-O-Bunk
The cots do fit in our Coleman tent, but only just. If used as a pair un-stacked for twin beds, the cots wouldn’t touch the tent walls. Due to the inward slope of the walls heading up toward the roof, the top bunk, when stacked, does press against the fabric and produce small about 1″ protrusions visible outside.
If you’ve never camped in a tent, you may not be aware that touching its side walls when it rains sometimes causes moisture to migrate through the fabric from outside in. The classic blunder is a child reaching up to touch the tent immediately above her face. For the rest of the night, drip! drip! drip!
Most kids learn the “why we don’t poke the tent” lesson via natural consequences.
It’s true that modern tent materials are much better at preventing such leaks, but it is also my opinion that it is always better to be safe than sorry about staying dry when sleeping outdoors. For this reason—and to avoid added wear and tear on my tent’s sidewalls—I would be happier if my tent were at least six inches longer in the door-to-back-wall direction.
End view, seen through the tent door
We have yet to find ourselves in a campsite that wouldn’t accommodate a modestly longer tent than the one we have, especially since I don’t see any need for it to be simultaneously wider. Our current tent is 9′ x 10′. I think my ideal tent size is 9′ x 12′ for a family of four.
On the other hand, as you can see in the photo of the cot visible through the Coleman tent’s door, we could also make do with the exact size we already own… if the door were centered instead of set to one side. You see, in my ideal world, I would have two sets of Cam-O-Bunk cots stacked to sleep our family of four. A pair would sit on either side of the tent with a clear aisle in front of the door.
Two bunk beds would allow all of us to sleep off the ground, but, more importantly, also get all of our clothing and personal gear under a bunk, out of the way, yet not touching the potentially damp side walls of the tent.**
The newer Coleman model with the same name as ours seems to have been updated in precisely this way. I bet I’m not the only adult who wanted to walk right into the open full height center of their tent, leaving beds snugged against either side wall. You can see from my photograph that the XL Cam-O-Bunk blocks the majority of the tent’s doorway, and at the least convenient side of the door.
It would be possible to enter our tent with the cot there, but it would be constantly annoying. Even shaving off 7 ¼” of width by choosing the narrower Cam-O-Bunk L set for the kids would leave the door about halfway blocked, on the side with the zipper, no less.
Am I going to buy an almost identical tent to replace the one we have to solve this problem? No, almost definitely not, unless our old tent is actually destroyed.
We will probably buy an additional, larger tent to use for longer trips or those with greater probability of rain. We’ll keep our trusty Coleman Instant Cabin – 6 person for quick trips and fair weather. I’ve yet to see another tent as easy to erect as the one we own.
I’m leaning toward the Kingdom 8 from REI. It’s 8.3′ x 12.5′ which is almost exactly the size I seek. Its centered door means the narrower width should suit us well. The available floor-less garage sounds like a dream come true for soggy trips or sandy*** areas assuming a combined 27.5′ length would fit the site. Side walls of approximately 57″ would allow for the bunk bed cots (36″ high) to stand quite close to the edges of the space.
At 104 sq. ft., the Kingdom 8 isn’t that much larger than our Coleman Instant Cabin – 6 which measures about 90 sq. ft, but the extra square footage appears to be exactly where I need it.
There’s a Coleman Instant Cabin – 8/10 (retail $310) widely available for less than half the REI tent’s price, but its 140 sq. ft. are still arranged in a more square-ish 10′ x 14′. These dimensions just don’t strike me as more helpful to my ideal layout. It is also worth noting for new campers that having more volume inside your tent means it is less likely to feel cozy due to the warmth of your family’s bodies. This could be great in very hot or humid weather, but is a negative for climates with cool/cold summer nights.
With a retail price of $529, I wouldn’t suggest the Kingdom 8 tent to a first time camper with limited funds. I paid only $136 (retail $180) for our Coleman, and I have a strong hunch that it would prove easier to use for most beginning campers. For reasons of quality and comfort, you don’t want the very cheapest tent you can find for your first camping trip, either. Try to find a balance between reasonable price and features/ease of use.
When my family camped during my childhood, we had an heirloom (old!) canvas and wood tent that absolutely, definitely leaked in the rain when a kid poked it with a finger. Do you need to ask me how I know? It took my dad a long time to set up with much cursing and he needed my mother’s help to manage that beast. Before I reached my teens, newer materials arrived that gave us the option to buy a spacious family tent one person could put up on his own. These new tents kept us drier, too.
Some research is warranted on a purchase of this size for most middle class families. A tent can be seen as a reasonable investment in many years of affordable family vacations. If you aren’t comfortable, you won’t end up camping as often, and your money could be wasted.
You might want to ponder how you think you will use the interior space before selecting your first tent. At home, do your kids climb into your big bed, or do some (or all) of you prefer more defined personal sleeping space?
Families who share queen size air mattresses will enjoy the more rectangular tents such as Coleman’s Instant Cabin line.
Those of us who are using individual foam or air pads (or cots!) may prefer a longer, narrower rectangular arrangement—or not. Taller individuals, too, may be grateful for reserving open space in the tallest, middle area of a family tent.
*FYI for new campers: tents usually fail by collapsing or leaking. Most often this is a result of user error, but better designs lessen the odds of a failure.
**Aside from rain water migrating through the walls of the tent, it is also common for condensation to form inside a tent, especially when the air outside is cooler than your little fabric shelter full of warm, breathing bodies. Condensation is cured by ventilation, such as leaving the mesh windows somewhat open at night instead of zipping everything up tight.
***Unless you take off your shoes every time you step into the tent, the floor will end up very gritty. If you have kids, it’s pretty much a guarantee. Keeping a mini broom and dustpan by the door helps manage this, but it is a fact of life of tent camping.
I’ve mentioned my Rolo hanging carry-on bag in a few contexts (Amtrak travel, summer camp.) I discovered it—and the Red Oxx Big Bull Roll-Up luggage that I’m reviewing now—during the same internet search for a new piece of kit that would help keep my family organized on a long trip.
Red Oxx Big Bull Roll-Up ($285) next to Rolo bag ($50), both empty
My summer road trip proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that this style of bag works really well for my family. DS1 stated that the Rolo made managing his things at summer camp easier. I appreciated the design at every brief overnight hotel stop.
Thus convinced, I bit the bullet and ordered the Red Oxx bag upon returning home. We’re going camping this summer, and I can definitely use a roll-it-out-and-see-it-all bag for each boy.
I got the Rolo bag first because it lists for $50 compared to the Big Bull Roll-Up’s $285 price. I could buy one Rolo bag for each family member (plus 1.7 extra) for the price of one Red Oxx Big Bull. But would I want to? Continue reading →