CLOTHES, TRAVEL GEAR, PACKING etc

Click on images to enlarge them.

Reviews of recommended (and not) bike/travel stuff
... that we have road-tested daily for two years RTW.


CLOTHES, PACKING & MISC STUFF IN THE SADDLEBAGS


Helmets: Fit, comfort, ventilation and ease of use are highest priorities for us, once they have the appropriate ratings.

Personally, HJC [link] fits us both well, and we like flip-ups, so I'd had three $500 ballpark HJC SY-Max's in a row. Plus it's very simple to remove padding and wash it; attaching boom mikes is easy.

However the flip-down sun shade of my previous SY-Max II was poor in terms of sun-shield when driving into sunsets. It just needs better UV sunglass-quality plastic. Plus the back liner needed to be glued in after a while, it kept coming off. And the flip-down locking latch required being slammed shut or didn't lock.

Then the flip-down mechanism on Thao's HJC just came apart on one side. Broken plastic bits fell off, it just was not made well enough. Garbage time.

Final Pisser: HJC head office did not answer three urgent emails a week apart at the badly named 'Customer Service Dept.' (AKA Customer Non-Service) from their web site. I begged them to help me source a new pair of $500 helmets for Thao and me in India, was willing to pay air freight. Not even the courtesy of a reply. "Arrogant lazy idiots" is the first phrase that springs to mind. Next.

So to hell with HJC – we needed to find another brand that wants repeat customers. And who makes helmets that last a while.

We bought a cheap made-in-Thailand helmet from Kaulsons in Delhi India. Thao hated everything about it.

We heard from happy owners that the German Schuberth [link] is the best quality on earth, with excellent sunshield flip-down. It's not available in North America due to some regulatory issue. But it has all the European EC ratings, which are generally quite strict.

Finally in Singapore in Nov '09, we found dealers that stocked most major brands. We tried on all of them for fit, comfort and well-madeness.

Thao fell in love with a Shoei Multitech [link]. It just felt right and is clearly well made, around $400. Her comments: Nice mesh fabric wicks sweat; excellent ventilation in hot weather; flip-face mechanism very smooth, strong, easy to use; very quiet; like the looks, not too round like a big ball. [WebBikeWorld review link.] No bells or whistles, just a very good flip-face. Intercom headsets were an easy installation. She still loves it at the end of Australia, many moons later.

Thao's only gripes (also mentioned in the review) are it's tight on the cheeks, chin and forehead after a while. It loosened up after a few weeks of wearing, no need for me to do a little 'padding surgery' as I'd expected.

Wheezy got a Schuberth C3 for around $570 which is cheaper than European prices for some reason. It fits this specific head perfectly. Good internal fabric. The built-in sun-shade has excellent optics, UV-filtering. The best sound-proofing in the industry. It's light in weight. Everything is obviously made and put together extremely well. Indeed it won 2008 'Flip-up Helmet of the Year' on WebBikeWorld [review link.]

Fitting headsets onto the Schuberth is a bit of a challenge, but I figured it out and it's worth the challenge (if necessary contact me and I'll tell you how I did it.)

Both helmets beat our previous HJCs hands-down. Simply superior in quality in every detail – even though price is similar.

In both cases, Schuberth & Shoei are a very big step up from HJC in one of the most essential pieces of riding gear. If they fit you, we give them highest marks.

. . . .Lesson we re-learned: Never-ever buy helmets (or shoes) until you try them
. . . .on! Under travelling duress, we almost bought another brand online and
. . . .would have bought helmets that didn't fit us. A close call!
. . . .One wears a helmet for thousands.of hours. Buy comfy and well-made!
. . . .Or regret it for thousands of hours.

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Best Long Sleeved Shirt: Writing this from the end of the trip. One shirt has been my absolute fav. It's a Woolrich brand [link to similar shirt.] I bought mine at Sporting Life in Toronto which is the best all-round travel/sports clothes store we know of.

I've bought and thrown away a few shirts on this trip – only one 'keeper' the whole time and will likely wear it a few more years at home. The Woolrich shirt is:
. . .- Cool.
. . .- Looks semi-dressy.
. . .- Sun-friendly colour (mine's light yellow), wear it riding, a lot.
. . .- 100% cotton, so comfy.
. . .- Air vent in the back from shoulder to shoulder.
. . .- Sleeves roll up and can be buttoned up.
. . .- Easy to wash in the sink, dries in hours, does not wrinkle!
. . .- REPEAT: "Easy to wash and does not wrinkle!"
. .. . (So important in serious travel.)

Woolrich shirt has shown little wear after two years of travel; love it when an inexpensive product is merely perfect for the task.

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Socks & Undies: If you carry just a couple pairs per person, in an air-escape compression bag for space and if you wash/rinse them out nightly and thus need them to dry fast – selection matters a lot.

Forget the ones from Tilley’s or Wigwams, they claim to dry overnight but that has proven to be consistently false. We threw both brands away, hated the Tilley's with passion.

Best socks we own are the hiking/climbing liners of Merino Smartwool, here's a photo [link.] Bought pairs in sports/climbing stores in Canada and UK both; they're black with have a little white man-with-stick-hair logo on top; after 9 months wear, they are the best for anything but coldest weather. They do dry overnight anywhere, and are comfy as can be.

Also love the heavier socks by Falke MO2 model, could not find a web link but Techsox, a Canadian company, makes similar [link] moisture-wicking reinforced biking socks with a "L" and "R" indicated on toes area. Get them, feet matter a lot.

Undies: Briefs dry faster and I like mine in cotton blends; they can dry overnight if you give then enough air and perhaps TV or lamp-top heat.

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Riding pants: Forget about taking leather; way too heavy and hot, totally impractical for rain and washing in hotel sinks.

We both adore and highly recommend Joe Rocket Alter Ego Riding Pants [link] with their brilliant ventilation system – a zippered strip piece around leg tops and hips comes off and rolls up compactly into your trunk-top bag. We use this removable strip a lot in hot weather.

The pants are also lined with a mesh which keeps the pant material off your leg in extreme heat and humidity (we hit 47˚C=117˚F and often rode in mid-40's.) They totally beat jeans, no contest.

Joe Rockets have a (necessary) side zipper that goes all the way up to mid-thigh, so you can adjust ventilation perfectly, or slip them over your riding boots.

Have seen none better and we both wear them daily; they wash easily in sink/tub and do in fact dry overnight! (Jeans don't) They are water resistant, although not fully waterproof. (For serious rain you need rain pants, period; good ones too.)

All-weather adjustable, even cold/hot with decent crash padding; reasonably priced.

For extreme cold we also carry light thermal long undies; long undies and the Joe Rocket pants combined are fine all the way down to 4˚C (40˚F.)

Thao still has her riding pants after two years. Mine got a cigarette burn, so I rode in shorts in most of hot SE Asia (yes, it's dangerous.) But I'll get a new pair of Joe Rockets when I get home. Even though not totally waterproof, we both think they're nearly perfect. We both bought suspenders to keep them riding high.

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Rain Pants: Go for the best, no false economy, because being wet and sick for days costs even more. Plus it's no fun.

I trashed my previously-considered-OK $50 rain pants, and bought North Face $400 ones in a Switzerland mountaineering shop – the morning after being thoroughly soaked in the bum/crotch area.

Sewn seams are simply a no-go, even if the fabric is claimed as waterproof. Taped seams only – plus strong un-lined thinner material for less bulk.

Gore-Tex brand is the unqualified best, no substitutes due to waterproofness and breathability; waterproof North Face self-sealing double zippers go up/down the whole leg, for when you pull them on in a hurriedly over your boots roadside. We hate spending $400 on rain pants, but there ya go, another biking downside.

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Gaiters: These tightly seal the space between the boot-top and rain pant leg against rain and extreme cold wind. If you do not have them, heavy rain gets inside your boots. Soaked boots is sheer misery, plus they take a long time to dry – days of drying in fact. If you try to rush things with heat, you can spoil the leather. So keep water out of your boots!

I bought Gore-Tex Trek-Mates gaiters in UK [link] and use them a lot; they are compact to pack in trunk-top rain bag. Trek Mates also have other neat stuff on line. Never leave home without them.

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Riding Jackets: Learn from our mistakes, go for the very best, with Gore-Tex built-in, not another brand of waterproof material, nor a removable liner(s) for rain/cold. We're not going to discuss leather due its obvious limitations, even though back home, we often wear and love leathers.

Mistake: I spent ages on web research and finally bought the $450 Rev'it Sirroco jacket in grey, in London UK – Canadian distribution is horrid. Sirroco got raves in WebBikeWorld [link] that convinced me wrongly it was the perfect jacket; they obviously just wore it for a few days before reviewing. It is comfy, good looking, ventilated well for medium-warm or hot climes; but not waterproof unless you carry along their extra liner or wear an over-jacket; in silver-grey gets ugly-dirty in one dusty day; I ended up washing it once or twice a week. The black version is hard to get, not good looking. The sleeve fabric frayed badly and quickly; some Velcro issues like gloves grabbing sleeves all the time.

Bottom line, I needed a new $500 jacket within three months of daily wear of the Sirocco.

Best choice: In Istanbul, we lucked upon an excellent Hein Gericke [link] shop, am still glad a year and a half later I bought the HG Cruise II GTX, [here's a UK picture link] which is a way superior product, no contest. It looks almost new and is comfy as can be, as of the end of Oz and 20 months of use, many washing later. I probably wash it one every 4-6 weeks.

My highest recommendation; truly waterproof even in the driving rain, I threw away my space-using rain jacket; easy to wash without scrubbing, dries in 8-12 hrs; gets far less dirty being grey with better fabrics everywhere; very comfy. Warm in 10˚C cold winds/rain with just a shirt beneath; add another later and it's good to nearly freezing. Not overly hot in 30˚C=80˚F and tolerable to 33˚C = 91˚F. Superior padding; many excellent pockets with secure zippers.

If I have one design improvement, it would be longer zippered ventilation opening in the sleeves. Maybe C$550, but extra German quality is worth every dime.

Thao has a $250 Richa Diva model [link] in black, well-wearing after 22 months of daily use, a decent-looking jacket that fits petite women (rare). It's very easy to wash and dries overnight. It has clean simple lines, not overly-bike-tough, so in cooler weather Thao wears it out in the evening and looks acceptably well dressed. After a year and a half of hard use, the exterior textile is not at all frayed, however some of the black has turned black-violet due to extreme sun conditions. It is (serious wow!) completely waterproof! Gripes: No zipper-vents plus liner does not breathe well above 35 degrees.

Neither Thao's nor Wheezy's is a very-hot-weather jacket. For that you need to carry a mesh one. But forget that hassle if packing space is limited; risking shirt-sleeves is preferable to us.

Thao also has the top tier made in Canada Arc'teryx [link] Gore-Tex Theta AR shell which adds cold/wind/100% waterproof-ability; but just this rain jacket costs $400.

One all-weather waterproof riding jacket is by far the best choice, even financially. No removable liners/layers to pack & don. Who wants to strip down, fumble with bulky liners or over-jackets while getting rained on roadside? Or, who wants to carry extra rain gear if avoidable? Not us.

I also carry a superb $300 Canada Goose Pearson Field Jacket [link] which I can wear as passably dressy to meetings, dinners etc., it's waterproof, windproof, hand washable, makes a great 2nd layer in extreme cold, or can be worn for warm weather riding. It packs compact in a Eagle Creek big air-removal bag (below). Highly recommended as jacket alone and ultra-layer.
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Boots: Major comfort and safety basic in this lifestyle.

Truly waterproof and comfortable riding/hiking ones are hard to find; and on-line comparisons show almost all boots flunk the serious water tests.

With only one pair to wear daily, they need to look acceptable, not just riding but also in other contexts.

I adored my bedroom-slipper comfortable Danner 42985s [link] after 6 months of daily use, bought for about $150, that’s cheap. They look like cop/army boots, apparently are, so I added red laces to de-goth them. Zipper on the sides, which is essential. Hence you get the laces just right, slip in-out no problem; one can adjust for heavier socks easily, leave the zipper open when its hot, etc. They truly are waterproof, even in 100 km driving splash; perfect temperature-wise down to the freezing range and up to quite hot.

Very highly recommended Danner 42985, my next pair of boots will be the same model.

Alas, tragedy struck: The zipper on one Danner boot broke, sob sniff, and I could not get it fixed after many tries, so in Sicily bought $350 Dainese Gore-Tex Touring Boots, here's a similar-boot [link]. Love them, although had them cut lower by a shoe repair guy; truly waterproof in downpours and comfortable, wearing extremely well. I used the Danner insoles which are superior.

My only real complaint: The Dainese bottom grip in not as aggressive as the Danners, so on slippery surfaces, or while climbing steep rugged nature walks, it's not as grippy/safe. But they are nice looking and strong comfy boots. After a year and a half of daily wear, I still love them, and they look almost-new with an occasional polishing.

Thao bought Stella Alpinestar Torre [link] motorcycle boots for $300. She considers them the #1 ladies boot for waterproofability, narrow clean fit, barely midcalf is perfect height. Has worn them during long days for past 16 mths in 4-45˚C cold/heat; hiked and walked whole days; very comfy; made in Italy, high-quality leather. On and off is quick and easy with zipper and no use of Velcro. Truly waterproof! Her feet are completely dry. After a year and a half, got another pair by email order. They are superb for all-weather biking women.

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Packing Clothes & Small Stuff: One packing accessory brand rules: Eagle Creek [link.]

Their shirt-folding system is a must-have for business or biking, have used it for years; we carry his/hers. The shirt-folding system is a travel essential.

Their other small cases are also just superb. The plastic compression bags save a great deal of space (air gets squeezed out) and protects against wetness, we have 4 of them in different sizes for 2 pairs jeans each, socks/undies, etc.

We bought from Le Travel Store [link] in USA, were very happy with prices and service.

In Toronto area, Europe Bound in Oakville is the best in-store travel shopping we have seen anywhere, they have everything you can imagine.

Forget Tilley’s completely if you ask us, it's over-priced, not that great except their hats, poor taste/selection except for those who like the safari uniform look. We hate it.

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Trunk-Top Rain Gear Bag: Trunk-top is the only way if you want fast access to this light-weight stuff.

Get one that is waterproof as possible, it will get soaked. Denier Nylon seems to be stronger, easier to fix/sew than vinyl; I threw the vinyl one away after much sewing/repairs. It kept falling apart and leaking.

A new one was sent to me in Tunisia from Wingstuff.com [link]. Keeping in mind it's low cost at $35 so one does not expect miracles, it is intended for the gentler touring domestic market. The bag per se is light, spacious and seems well made; but it is not waterproof unless you put on the supplied rainproof cover, which is a hassle. We use the rain cover daily having learned the hard way, the price of not using it habitually; everything in the bag gets soaked.

You take it off nightly when the leaving bike, so it needs to attach firmly and come off quickly. They claim it fits 'any trunk rack' but frankly, I spent 3 hours of cutting, sewing their Velcro straps by hand to get it right. Plus I added a secure bungee system for fear of losing it – we almost once lost it on bad roads in Iran and the bungee saved us a big loss. Their supplied attachment system is poor, for our purposes anyhow; I came up with a better one using heavy-duty industrial Velcro.

Six months later, we found a shoe repair guy in Thailand to fix the torn zipper and one of the attaching straps.

No perfect bag to recommend yet. I'd pay a lot to get the right one, that wore extremely well, was rugged and truly waterproof. Perhaps I'll have it made somewhere.

Any suggestions? Email me please or add a 'comment' below.

Fixing 2nd rain gear bag in Thailand.

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Trunk & Saddlebag Luggage: My old GL1500 bags are thin, light, strong, no extra pockets/flaps, easy to wash/dry, just ideal. KISS: Keep It Simple Stoopud. The extra outside pockets get stuffed, makes it harder to close the trunk doors. Bags bigger than the trunk are a terrible idea – get them re-sewn to fit perfectly if they are too big.

Everything gets systemized into smaller bags inside the carry-in fabric ones, and thus needs to be planned/organized carefully. That will take a while, so plan ahead. We finally have a good organization system and the doors close quite easily without forcing them.

But the moral is: Bag liners that are too big are simply bad liners!

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Laptop Computer & Case: I'm a heavy computer user. Writing this blog en route is one bit of evidence – lots of computer time. To me a good Mac laptop is a must-have, but that's just me (I used to be a Mac computer dealer).

Choose your own, or do without, it takes a lot of space/time.

But it's also our phone, email machine, video/stills storage and everything else.

Also we carry a large fabric cosmetics-type bag of connectors, adapters, cables, chargers, back-up hard drives and on and on. Electronics are a big space consumption!

Instead of the 15" MacBook Pro I started with, in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia I bought a 13" newer model. It's thinner, lighter and a tad faster. I do not miss the extra 2" of screen in the slightest and much prefer the size. Either one fits in the trunk bag and get used almost daily. Neither has let me down even once. They're as good as laptops get. Rugged too.

The fabulous highly recommended protective case is the costly but worth it Waterfield Hard Case [link.] It's presentable for any biz meetings, classy quality, and really protects the laptop without being bulky. Get one, it's the best – after 20 months of daily use so far, looks perfect and no functional flaws. Five stars.

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Money: OK, so it's not clothes but a wallet is a key piece of travel gear. After 8 months on the road, here's our conclusion: ATM's rule. Plus reasonable sums of US$ and/or Euros in well-hidden cash money. I try keep 2-3 weeks' projected needs in cash-cash, so any loss/theft is not horrendous, replenishing my stash in small sums once or twice a week.

Prior to departure, I brought a lot of American Express Traveller's Checks in Euros. Safe, but they are very hard, sometimes impossible, to cash. Big hassle. Plus there are local bank fees and much paperwork, unless you luck upon a rare Amex office (I found one so far). Never again, it is the 'old way' now.

However ATM's exist almost everywhere in local currencies.

Different banking quality in different countries: Eg., The Turkish Economic Bank (TEB)which is everywhere in its homeland, has ATM's that spit out your choice of Euros, US$ or Turkish Lira! In Turkey, I stocked up on Euros for the Iran/Asia leg ahead.

The ATM fee can be $5 per transaction, depending on your bank plan; my bank plan is $0 fees. At 4-8 ATM's a month, for many months, the $5 fees add up.

People openly look in your wallet as you dig into it daily – let their snoopy eyes see only small money or attract the wrong attention. I find an un-showy 3-compartment wallet works best, two of them zippered closed.

Useful to carry in your wallet is a 24-hour overseas collect call non-800 phone number for when they block your card for security suspicion – I had to call a few times. You tell them you are overseas for a year, but computers still auto-block.

Western Union is everywhere; amazing how everywhere, even in smallest towns of obscure countries, sometimes affiliated with the Post Office. They can be an emergency transfer correspondent bank perhaps.

My two major-bank Visa cards simply do not work in some places. It's not me or the cards – its local banking Computer Voodoo. In relatively sophisticated Turkey, my Visa cards works perhaps 50% of the time, on the infrequent occasion where the vendor accepts Visa at all. I carry Visa cards, with different banks, because one might get worn out or lost. Or get eaten by an ATM machine (twice so far.) And sometimes one works at this machine, the other does not.

'On-line banking is the only answer to paying bills on the road I know of.

See specific country blogs for exceptions, Iran being a memorable example where only cash works, no cards or banking under the present regime and embargo.

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Phone & Internet: This is about personal choice, but here's my experience/viewpoint.

I abandoned, for a trial period, both the use of a cell phone and the wonderful Blackberry after much research, due to enormous roaming costs and hassles in different countries.

$2-$3 a minute is not unusual in roaming, and cost per GB of data can be huge, depends where you roam.

If staying in one or three countries, or even in western Europe, it would be different, one can just buy a deal(s) and phone chips for those countries – but when you cross 20-40 borders on a few continents, whew.

It's yet another hassle in each country to get a phone chip; I keep trying to simplify this travel stuff, not add complications.

Hundreds of dollars a month is the likely real-world cost if you cross many borders. Is it worth it, is the personal question. 'Damn the expense' is one attitude. 'See if we can live without' is the other.

I decided to try Plan B thinking I could always change my mind.

So far, 13 months into the trip and 25 countries later, we are still living without, no regrets.

Blackberry or iPhone yield instant emails besides phone call of course, but if friends send (as they do) huge, daily 6 gb movies, dumb jokes etc. I cannot live without, receiving them costs a fortune and takes time. Then relaying some of those dumb jokes to 20 other friends ...

Plus I need to have a real keyboard, computer, screen, given that I use the computer a lot even on the road (this blog is an example) – hence am prepared to wait a day or two to read emails. But that's personal.

If I had pressing business needs to stay in touch, if big money was at stake, of course I would think differently. We are considering buying a second laptop for Thao because I hog this one.

Web access has been iffy in some countries, plentiful in others. But over-all we stay in touch as needed, basically for free or dirt cheap. We joined no service, just take whatever local hook-up needed. Some internet caf├ęs. The web will soon be ubiquitous, world is in rapid transition.

One great gizmo I have and recommend highly is the MagicJack [link] a simple USB plug-in for the laptop, the size of a Zippo lighter and featherweight. It works, as long as you have high speed internet for the laptop. When you have a good web link the sound quality can be literally like calling from a block away; with a poor connection you may have to try a few times. But mostly it works. The cost of MagicJack is virtually free, all calls in USA-Canada are a flat $15/year! Overseas calls cost a little, put $20 on your credit card and that's good for a few hundred, or a few thousand minutes (they tell you at the start of the call). What a deal.

They give you a free normal USA phone number. Anyone can call, leave a message or reach us. Voicemail is relayed by email! so when you check email, you hear your phone messages. Or you can call, pickup messages normally. Or both. Superb, the future is here.

The main downside is you need to carry the smallest hard-line, not-wireless, phone you can find that has an RJ11 (normal phone jack.) Look on-line for phones, they are $10-$20 but find a small light good one. I finally found my excellent TELCOM brand one-piece $10 phone in the UK, the GE one I got in Canada was too bulky.

Skype is huge internationally, but MagicJack works on ALL telephones in the whole wide world. This is the way to go, in my view.

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Coffee-Tea-Soup Maker: To us, it's a must-carry, as many places make lousy coffee or none – and we both need of a gourmet fix in the morning. It's also handy to have quality cups along for other beverages, even making instant oriental noodle soups in them at times.

We came up with the ideal compact system; we used it literally daily, sometimes twice daily, for two years.

As compact as can be, including:
. . . .- a dual-voltage Heat 'n Go water boiler
. . . .- another plug adapter for each
. . . .- two stainless double-walled fabulous mugs
. . . .- a mini gold mesh filter another must-have
. . . .- one of those cheap bags that's a perfect fit.

Suggestions:

(a) Get two (not one) of these 220V-110V Heat 'n Go [link] water boilers. They are fast, especially at 220V, slower at 110V but fine; 1-3 minutes for a mug of boiling water, boil it right in your stainless mug; Austin House [link] carries them and lots of other cool products. Heat 'n Go sells for roughly $10. We burned one out en route by leaving it plugged in while not immersed in water (!) so it was damn lucky we had a spare along. Cannot overstate how appreciated and useful they are – especially occupying virtually no space/weight. Just stuff them into your stainless steel mugs as photo'd below.

(b) Get only, only, the well-polished double-walled stainless cups, the finest quality you can buy, you won't find replacements on the road. In Toronto we bought our excellent brilliant mugs and the Heat 'n Go at LeBaron [link] which is a superb outdoor and camping store. Three Ontario locations and superb service. Also bought socks, boots and other biking items there. Highest marks and recommendation to LeBaron.

(c) find or adapt a tight-fit case for them so there's no wasted space, packs perfectly.

We bought fine-ground coffee en route, plus tea bags compacted in a Zip-Lock bag, plus Coffee Mate, all of which fits into a small extra zippered bag. We love this system, one of our daily-appreciated luxuries.

We made it home with the system after heavy daily use for two years and everything was perfectly like-new. So its all extremely durable as well as highly useful stuff.











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