Best Travel Gear of 2020
My favorite gear and recommendations based on the travel bags and clothes I've reviewed and researched this year.
Introduction To The Best Travel Gear of 2020
What a year it's been! With the year that was 2020, I'm just not really sure how else to start this. We're just over 1 year old, and it was our first full year of writing on the site. I can tell you it was not an ideal year to be jumping head first into a travel related website. We couldn't generate a lot of content for our trip reports and destination reviews. But, we did double down on our travel product reviews and because of that - we're offering up our first ever Best Travel Gear of 2020 year-in-review article. All the items in this list are items that I've reviewed (accept one) and tested personally. For what it's worth, for me to even have gotten to the point of wanting to review them, I put in lots of research on my own to narrow it down - I'm not just reviewing every product under the sun.
I don't think it needs a huge introduction and won't keep you waiting. Let's get into it!
This is my list of The Best Travel Gear of 2020 - hand picked from the list of products I've covered this year. For each item on the list, I'll link to my full review. All items in this list have a full review at Always Wander (slash has one on the way), or it's an item I've heavily incorporated into my travel routine.
This page does include affiliate links in some cases. When used to make a purchase, we make a small commission which helps keep this site running, but this in no way affects the results of our recommendations and is at no cost to you.
Best Travel Bags
Best Travel Bag Overall For Most People - Aer Travel Pack 2
The Aer Travel Pack 2 was on a lot of "must have" lists. And for good reason. Frankly, for most of the year it was my favorite pack that I reviewed until just recently (foreshadowing alert). But with its combination of Goldilocks sizing (again, for MOST people), "all of what you need, nothing you don't" feature set, and its fantastic build quality and materials - I think this bag is going to satisfy the biggest chunk of needs for most people. There just isn't a lot wrong with it, and so very much right. At $230.00 I also think it represents a solid value for what you get and while in the premium category, I don't think it's over priced. It's at the lower end of that range in terms of cost. But hey - buy a great bag and use it for 10 years. That's my philosophy. You can read our full, in-depth review here: Aer Travel Pack 2 Review
Most Innovative Travel Bag - Matador SEG30 Backpack
About that foreshadowing above - it was for this. This was the bag I was most looking forward to reviewing this year. I felt the industry had been a bit stagnant on real innovation, and this caught my eye. It didn't disappoint. Matador introduced built-in "segments" that behave like packing cubes already built into the bag. They are each different sizes in liters, so you can organize the same way you would with packing cubes. Best of all one of the major issues people have with packing cubes (shifting in your bag en route and getting messy and squished) - is solved with the SEG30. It's made from great materials, has awesome water proofing (which is on par for Matador products), and should last you for years. There's also a bigger brother, the SEG42 if you need a bit more space. My current go-to. Intrigued? Our full, in-depth review here: Matador SEG30 Review
Best Budget Travel Bag - Osprey Transporter Carry-On Backpack
This might sound a bit surprising, because Osprey is in no way a "budget brand". But, through some trick of the COVID economy, or by way of trying to clear out old inventory, the Transporter Carry-On has been on a crazy discount for virtually the last 6 months (and still is as of November 30th, 2020). With some colors still available at $116.00 - that's a steal for this pack. Now, this is the one item on this list I've not finished a review for yet - but I'm in the middle of writing it. I've had it in my hands for the last two months and have tested it on 2 different weekends away. I was surprised how much I liked it (though I shouldn't have been, it's Osprey). This is a 44L, clamshell bag that's closest in operation to the Patagonia Black Hole MLC. Other than the awesome green color here, it's subdued enough in design for urban travel, and rugged enough for more adventure travel. I'll get my review up asap, but felt this deserved to be in this spot for the price alone. Why go for an off-brand, knock off version of a bag when you can get one from one of the best companies in the space at this price?
Best Travel Shirts
Recommended Button Down For Most Scenarios - Western Rise Limitless Merino
The Western Rise Limitless Merino set out to be a shirt for your travel that could reduce the overall number of shirts you can bring. I think it can. It's made mostly from Merino wool - which as most travelers will tell you has magical anti-odor properties. This increases the number of wears out of a garment, something crucial for packing light. They combine it with a special weave of polyester to make this more comfortable than most merino button downs. The result is a shirt that's good for casual work settings/meetings, going out to bars or dinner, or even just out around town when you want more than a t-shirt. Because of the merino, it's also good in a variety of weather. It's a definite recommendation for your travel kit if you're looking to downsize and optimize. Read our full, in-depth review here: Western Rise Limitless Merino shirt review
Recommended Merino T-shirt - Aviator Air Dry Merino T-shirt
There are a lot of merino t-shirts out there in the market...a LOT. Many of varying degrees of quality. I've tried a number of the Amazon brands, and was never impressed. Aviator changed my mind about the segment. This t-shirt is 100% New Zealand merino wool and is virtually scratchiness free. It also has a MUCH better fit than the other brands I tried, something that varies across the space by a shocking amount. The Air Dry t-shirt is also a heavy enough gauge fabric so as not to be translucent - something many of the cheaper shirts struggle with. At $65.00 you might think that's expensive. But when you're replacing 2, 3, maybe even 4 shirts in your bag with one of these...it's not. It's also about half the price of something like an Icebreaker version. Comes with all the benefits of merino like temp regulating and serious odor protection to help you cut down on packing, and washes. Our full, in-depth review here: Aviator Air Dry T-Shirt review
Best Active/Outdoors Shirt - Poncho Outdoors Shirt
This is one of the first travel specific items we've had the pleasure of reviewing here, and it's not been supplanted yet as my most recommended shirt for active wandering. Now, it's meant as a fishing shirt first - and from what I can tell in research it nails that. But, I took the Poncho shirt more as a camping and hiking shirt and it really shined in my usage. When I can finally book my safari, both colors that I own will be joining me. For most people, I'd suggest the slim if you want a shirt that looks better around town but doesn't lose any of the functionality. Even better - they've taken everything good about this, and made one of the softest flannels I've ever had for the cooler weather (they've also removed the vented back, which I support for daily wear while traveling). I've not reviewed the flannel yet, but I own one and it's fantastic. Thoughtful touches like hidden collar stays, magnetic buttons, sun glasses-safe wiping fabric under the hem, and quick dry. And as they say, it's a shirt that doesn't fit like a trash bag. That's all we can ever want in an outdoor shirt, right? Our full, in-depth review here: Poncho Outdoors Shirt review
Best Overall T-Shirt For Travel - Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily
I couldn't make a travel t-shirt recommendation and not mention these shirts. Simply put, they've changed my travel life (and my every day life). What's so great about them? For one, they are backed by Patagonia. I shouldn't have to say any more about that in terms of the company and its mission. Two, the Capilene Cool material feels AMAZING on your skin. It's - dare I say - slightly cool. Not just a clever name. It doesn't look wicked techy, feels great, is very lightweight and very packable. On top of that, it's treated with one of the best anti-odor agents in clothing - so you get more wears (I hope by now you're sensing a pattern on that). These shirts basically ruined cotton for me. Comparatively, cotton feels heavy, hot, and miserable when wet (not to mention it takes forever to dry if you're doing self laundry). No bueno for traveling. While I haven't officially reviewed these on the site yet - I have 4 of them (formerly 5, RIP in peace Faded Yellow) and pretty much replaced all my cotton t-shirts. Get yours directly at Patagonia.com. They also have non-graphic versions if that's more what you dig.
Best Travel Pants
Best Travel Pants To Dress Up or Down - Bluffworks Ascender 5 Pocket
The Bluffworks Ascender 5 Pockets took an already popular chino style pant, and made it to look more like jeans detailing. And did that very well. These pants look good, can be dressed up or down, have a great spectrum of sizes/lengths, and work really well at what they do. They are pretty light as well, but not TOO light. So they are good for packing weight, and warmer weather if needed. I pushed them into the 70s F and was fine. The colors are also good for when you need something a little nicer. That said, they go really well with a pair of sneakers, too, for the day trips. A great pair of pants to help you cut down your overall pack. Our full, in-depth review here: Bluffworks Ascender 5 Pocket review
Best Travel Jeans - Aviator Travel Jeans
Aviator kind of stole my thunder on this one. They call these "the best travel jeans in the world". Which to be honest is kind of ballsy if you ask me. Turns out, they might not be wrong. I loved them. To be up front, these were the only travel jeans we officially reviewed this year - but with good reason. They were so good I really didn't see the need to go digging around for more. Travel handy pockets. Stretch for unreal comfort. And the real look of regular jeans because, well, these ARE jeans. I've also traveled with a LOT of jeans in my day, so I know the difference. These were instantly one of my main 2 pants I now travel with. And because they are just jeans at their core, you can get the indigo like I had, or black, and they are perfect for dinner jeans. Just like your normal, heavy, non-stretchy ones. No one will ever know how comfortable you are while you're at that 10 course Michelin dinner. Our full, in-depth review here: Aviator Travel Jeans review
Best Travel Pants for Utility - Western Rise Diversion Pants
Don't let my use of "utility" fool you here. That's my word, not theirs. We're not talking about painter's pants with a hammer loop on them. Nothing wrong with those, they just don't make the best travel pants. I mean utility here because the Diversion pants can be thrown in your bag (or worn en route) and take the place of your every day pants, your going out pants, and even in a pinch your hiking pants. I say in a pinch because they aren't my first pick for a hike - but they are durable enough and stretchy/comfy enough to be fine if you did wear them that way. Mainly, they've got a lot of great properties that make them great for travel. Or possibly the best daily wear Dad pants out there (in a good way, again). Tech fabric. Special pockets. Flexibility so they can turn multiple pairs of pants into one pair. Less. To. Pack. Say it with me now! For the most flexibility, I'd go with the blue gray color. I had the dune, and they looked great, but I did worry about getting them dirty. These also have a nice modern cut - they aren't floppy below the knee but don't look like skin tight yoga pants. See? Utility. Our full, in-depth review here: Western Rise Diversion Pants review
Best Travel Gear of 2020 - Final Thoughts
And that's it, ladies and gents. The first official Always Wander "Best of the Year" list. I think if you're trying to optimize your packing, get down to that "onebag" level, and really start packing less because you honestly need less than you think - these items are going to be a great place to start. It's not exhaustive of the entire industry, obviously, but trust us when we say we've done a fair bit of research this year. Even with the total items on the site - we research many more before it even gets to the point of a review, narrowing it down to not include items we don't think are worth your time, for whatever reason.
So use these recommendations to get you started on wandering more, and wandering smarter. It's a big world out there, and real soon - it's going to be opening back up to us again with open arms.
Thanks for being with us in our first year! I can't tell you how grateful I am to have finally gotten this site up, and to have been able to share it with all our members, and those that stumble across Always Wander on the web. Here's to more travel content in 2020!
Sign up to be notified of future reviews like this, and head on over to our Travel Clothing Reviews page for more clothing (like the Bluffworks Ascender 5 Pocket pants review, the Aviator Travel Jeans review, or the Aviator Air Dry Travel Hoodie review) to help you make some decisions for your wandering. Don't forget to follow me on Instagram for new review announcements!