This wasn't a story we could research—we had to wait for this one to come to us. A while back, we decided to keep tabs on some of our favorite smaller brands, the ones we stumbled across in the course of our travels, tried out, loved, and have come back to again and again. And now that we have collected enough of these good experiences with great brands, we're excited to share them with you. They're diverse in their offerings—from toiletry-kit treasures to ultrapackable jackets—but all share the distinction of being great travel companions that we can vouch for firsthand.
(Photo: Sea to Summit)
Sea to Summit
Even the strictly urban traveler can find something to love in Sea to Summit. The company—which was started by the first climber to scale the entire 29,000 feet of Mt. Everest, from sea level to summit—specializes in well-made, affordable outdoor equipment. Avid adventurers dig Sea to Summit's backpacking gear, but any traveler looking for lightweight travel accessories will appreciate its Travelling Light line. The range of ultralight travel bags, sacks, and cases is constructed with a special fabric known for its strength and durability. And each item weighs a fraction of what you'd normally expect—think 2.4-ounce daypacks and 2.8-ounce hanging toiletry bags.
It's definitely travel-friendly clothing, but you may not recognize it at first since there's nary a front-pleat or zip-off pant in sight. That's because Anatomie takes a different—and very refreshing—approach to the concept. Everything in this line of women's clothing is durable, extremely wrinkle-resistant (even when packed less than perfectly in a suitcase), and comfortable—all musts for travelwear. But unlike the majority of brands that cater to travelers, Anatomie makes elegant, flattering, and stylish clothes. And while this total-package approach to travel-friendly clothing comes with a higher price tag (pants run about $200), the adaptability, utility, and classic style of Anatomie makes any item a wise long-term investment. Plus, the company's dedication to customer service (for instance, you can call and they'll help you decide which pants would be best for your body type) makes the selection and purchase process a breeze.
(Photo: Flight 001)
Would it be an overstatement to say that Flight 001 has changed the way we pack? No, it would not. Over the years, we've relied on the company's six U.S. stores and online shop for bags, clever travel toiletries, jet-lag remedies, packing sacks, and endless gifts for the avid travelers in our lives. And we love it for that. But it wasn't until we bought the F1 Seat Pak, a multipocket organizer with a little loop to hang over the tray-table closure doohickey, that we were able to reinvent how we carry on. With zippered pockets to divide up all the things you'd need on a flight (ranging from your passport to your earplugs), you can pull it out when you get on the plane and not have to fumble around in your carry-on for the rest of the trip. And between trips, items like inflatable travel pillows and eye masks can stay packed and ready to go for next time.
(Photo: lululemon athletica via flickr/CC Attribution)
Your clothes should have your back. And your front. And, well, pretty much everything in between. That's what we like about Craghoppers, a British outdoor-clothing company that's been keeping adventurers warm, dry, sun-protected, comfortable, and bug-bite-free for nearly 50 years. Its designs offer surprisingly sleek outdoorsy charm and do double-duty with fabrics designed to protect against the best and worst that nature can deliver. We're particularly enamored of the very lightweight and truly tiny-packing Pumori Packaway Jacket for women and the Compresslite Packaway Hooded Jacket for men, which compresses into a stuff sack that fits easily in a suitcase (or even a day bag).
The very things that have frustrated us for years about travel-sized refillable containers for toiletries—that we could shake them forever and not get that last bit out, that they're nearly impossible to clean, that they leak, and that we can never remember what we refilled them with last—are totally solved by Humangear's clever GoToob. GoToobs are soft but durable silicone tubes that you can squeeze every last drop out of (a key feature when you're traveling with minimal amounts of toiletries) and that can be easily disassembled and cleaned. They've also got a built-in labeling system, which means we never have to guess at what's inside. And they've never leaked. Not once. Humangear also makes GoTubb, a small hard-sided container, and a series of other small, clever, travel-friendly products.
(Photo: Urban Junket)
Fashion-forward. Sturdy. Vegan. Non-toxic. There's a ton we love about the bags produced by Urban Junket, a brand we stumbled across while researching the story Travel Bag Details We Love. These bags win us over again and again with their attractive designs, great internal organization, and cool details like secret middle pockets, portable phone chargers, and pass-through pockets for slipping over the telescoping handles on luggage.
Ladies and gents, it’s time to rethink the wallet. That's the idea behind Etsy's RockItBot shop. Its handmade all-in-one Nerd Herder Gadget Wallets hold traditional items like credit cards, IDs, and cash, but a slightly larger design, fitted felt pockets, and a snug elastic loop create additional safe storage for smartphones or digital cameras. An array of pockets can hold earbuds, SD cards, passports, lip balm, USB devices, business cards, and whatever else you've got that needs herding. An integrated clip can be used for a small set of keys or can attach to a wristlet that turns the wallet into a clutch. We love the range of fabrics (some are a bit more masculine, others slightly more feminine). The shop also sells tablet keepers (with storage similar to the wallet) and other related accessories.
(Photo: Pad & Quill)
Pad & Quill
Minnesota-based Pad & Quill won over SmarterTravel editors by combining gorgeous craftsmanship, local manufacturing, and a surprising way to keep your gear safe with its bags, wallets, and smartphone and tablet cases. The Odyssey Wallet is sized perfectly for travel and fits a passport, a boarding pass, a few credit cards, and money all in one place. And we like the handmade phone and tablet cases not only because they effectively protect electronics as we're toting them around the world but also because they lend us a bit of class as we're doing so. And since they look more like a leather travel journal than an electronics case, they offer a bit of protective camouflage from thieves (unless you happen to be in a place where words are prized more than gadgets).
(Photo: This is Ground)
This Is Ground
There are a lot of handmade products on this list, and that's no accident. Travel is, in many ways, a handmade pursuit, built of personal interactions, individual discovery, and the sorts of experiences that can't be mass-produced. That spirit is alive and well at This Is Ground, a small Los Angeles-based company that makes by hand leather electronics and cord organizers, wallets, and more. We're particularly impressed with the Cordito, a roll-up organizer for chargers, wires, and power cords. While sandwich bags are the lightest option for taming the cord wilderness in a suitcase, the Cordito offers a far more elegant and personal solution—and one that comes in an impressive array of beautiful colors.
Ask people why they're devotees of Osprey backpacks and luggage and you'll usually find it's because the gear is lightweight and well made. Osprey has three options suited to travelers: convertible wheeled packs (most with zip-off daypacks), more traditional wheeled luggage, and backpacking backpacks. Another reason to love the company and its gear? The All Mighty Guarantee, which covers any damage or defect in any Osprey product, regardless of how old it is. Any item that can't be fixed will be replaced. If only all luggage had that kind of protection.
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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Niche Travel-Product Companies We Love.
Follow Christine Sarkis on Google+ or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Lead Photo: Urban Junket)