This edition of our travel gear reviews includes a backpack elegant enough to grace the streets of Milan, a solar-powered gizmo for charging devices on the road and a mat to help you get a good night’s sleep – even if you’re halfway up a mountain.
The Vango Vibe 30 backpack is perfect for city tripping © David Else / Lonely Planet
Vango Vibe 30
So you’re heading away on a city break, and you need a small backpack, but you don’t want to look like a college kid. Enter the Vango Vibe 30. It’s neat, practical and – most importantly – has a subtle style that won’t look out of place on the streets of Paris or Milan.
Key features include a large flat pouch, perfect for a laptop or keeping shirts pressed in transit. There’s also a capacious central compartment, and lots of small internal pockets to keep your stuff organised, while ventilated mesh on the straps means you won’t get too sweaty when you’re strolling down the Champs-Élysées.
- Plus points: straightforward design, easy access, subtle looks
- Worth noting: compression straps have metal buckles that hook over loops – unusual but perfectly functional
- Cost: £50
- Rating: quality 8/10; practicality 9/10; value 8/10
- More info: vango.co.uk
The AKU Bellamont Plus shoes provide practicality and style – ideal for travel © David Else / Lonely Planet
AKU Bellamont Plus
AKU is an Italian manufacturer specialising in outdoor footwear, with a range of products from serious climbing boots to lightweight hiking shoes, including the ‘mountain inspired’ Bellamont Plus shoes that are ideal for travel combined with low-level hiking or outdoor activities.
In cold weather these shoes keep your feet warm, while the natural leather is breathable in hot conditions. They are extremely comfortable, and made from top-class materials with low environmental impact (including the part-recycled Vibram soles and natural cotton laces). Wearing a pair of Bellamonts, you can confidently stride through Indian markets or scramble up cliffs in Utah’s Monument Valley, and still look smart enough for fancy hotels in the evening.
- Plus points: versatile, comfortable, rubber-protected heel and toe, excellent green credentials
- Worth noting: pale inner means white lines between sock and shoe that may offend the style-conscious; many other styles and colour options available in the Bellamont range
- Cost: US$150, £120-155
- Rating: quality 9/10; practicality 9/10; value 8/10
- More info: aku.it
The Osprey Kestrel 28 is ideal for long hikes or ultralight backpacking © David Else / Lonely Planet
Osprey Kestrel 28
For long days in the mountains, your backpack needs to cope with tough terrain and hold everything you need. The Osprey Kestrel 28 does just that. It’s skilfully designed with a host of features including ventilated back, external straps for attaching a bed-roll or an ice-axe, and an adjustable hip-belt with two pockets.
Clever touches include a large elasticated mesh pocket to carry wet gear, loops to stow walking poles without taking off the pack, and compression straps which connect to provide extra carrying capability. If you’re an ultralight backpacker, this bag may do for weekend trips, but if you need a bit more space the Kestrel comes in many sizes, up to a gargantuan 68L.
- Plus points: comfortable, tough, ingenious touches
- Worth noting: not waterproof; rain cover supplied in a dedicated pocket
- Cost: £100, €130
- Rating: quality 9/10; practicality 9/10; value 9/10
- More info: ospreyeurope.co.uk
The LifeStraw Go combined bottle and filter makes dodgy water safe to drink © David Else / Lonely Planet
Travel in the developing world or hiking in the wilds can mean unsafe water supplies. Carrying a LifeStraw Go solves this problem. You simply fill up the bottle from a river, lake or unreliable tap, then drink. Water goes through the internal filter, removing bacteria and protozoa, making it safe with no aftertaste.
Made from tough plastic, it’s robust without being too heavy in your backpack. Flow rate is good (you don’t have to suck on the mouthpiece) and the LifeStraw Go has the obvious advantage over standalone filters in that you can fill it then drink on the move.
- Plus points: neat, simple, robust
- Worth noting: capacity is 0.65L (22 oz) so may need frequent refills in hot conditions – larger LifeStraw products available for groups or overnight camps
- Cost: US$29.95, £32
- Rating: quality 9/10; practicality 9/10; value 8/10
- More info: lifestraw.com
The Solarmonkey Adventurer provides power when you’re off the grid © David Else / Lonely Planet
Powertraveller Solarmonkey Adventurer
On serious treks in remote areas you’re often away from mains electricity but still need to recharge a phone, GPS or camera. So consider the Solarmonkey Adventurer; you simply open the clamshell photovoltaic panels, plug in your device via USB cable, and let sunlight do the rest. Features include rubber padding (although the flap covering the USB port is rather flimsy) and the whole unit comes in a canvas pouch which you can clip to your backpack to re-power on the trail.
The internal battery also stores power, but the Solarmonkey Adventurer is not a gadget for the impatient. It takes around four hours to recharge a device (depending on device), or six to 12 hours to fully recharge the internal battery (depending on the strength of the sun). Ideally, you’d leave the unit at base camp all day to power up the internal battery, then recharge your devices overnight.
- Plus points: compact, straightforward, never needs mains power
- Worth noting: needs sunlight to recharge, but will function with daylight
- Cost: US$130, £85
- Rating: quality 8/10; practicality 8/10; value 7/10
- More info: powertraveller.com
The Aero Compact helps provide comfortable sleeps when you’re in the wilds © David Else / Lonely Planet
Vango Aero Compact
If your next trip includes camping, trekking, or travelling to places where beds aren’t guaranteed, the Aero Compact mat will ensure comfortable nights without being a burden during the day. When it’s time for shut-eye, simply unroll the mat and it self-inflates. Key features include padding aligned with your hips and shoulders, and silicone gripper dots to stop your sleeping bag sliding off.
Measuring around 1600mm long, 500mm wide and 30mm thick, the Aero Compact isn’t the largest or most luxurious mat available, but it’s relatively light (660g) and rolls down tight when deflated to fit in your backpack. Overall, it’ll help you get a decent sleep, whether you’re on the deck of an Aegean ferry, the floor of a Malaysian longhouse, or halfway up a glacier in the Andes.
- Plus points: good balance between comfort, insulation and compact pack size
- Worth noting: relatively fragile – treat with care
- Cost: £40
- Rating: quality 9/10; practicality 8/10; value 8/10
- More info: vango.co.uk
More travel gear reviews:
How we review products
Our opinions are by definition subjective. Our testers (male, female, young, old) trial products in the real world, then give their honest opinion and scores for quality, practicality and value: 5/10 = mediocre; 6/10 = fair; 7/10 = good; 8/10 = very good; 9/10 = excellent; 10/10 = perfect. We don’t include anything that scores less than 5/10.
We aim for gender balance, and over a year cover an equal number of male- and female-specific items. We state where kit is available in male and female versions, or for everyone, unless it’s obvious.
Prices are quoted in at least one major currency. Where possible we include other currencies. We take prices from manufacturers’ websites; information was correct at the time of publication, but you may find different prices online or in specialist stores, particularly after a period of time when products are discounted.
Manufacturers supply Lonely Planet with test products for review. We do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.