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 →