COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | PHIL BAKER

A look at some new travel gear

With spring arriving — at least in California — and the Travel Goods Show in Las Vegas just concluding, attention is turning to travel. Here are some products I’ve been trying out.

Bolt Briefcase: The new Bolt Briefcase from Waterfield Designs is a refreshing change from the staid black bags so many of us carry. My wife said it’s the best looking of all my bags, and on recent flights, two passengers asked me where I got it.

It’s particularly well designed for carrying the all of the essentials but not much more. It has one padded pocket perfectly sized to fit a MacBook, along with an assortment of pockets to organize the rest of what we carry. There are two front outside pockets with magnetic closures for a phone or pens and business cards, two interior pockets for keys, chargers and cables, and a large 4-inch-wide central interior section for holding a compact camera, headphones, music player, iPad, file folders and books.

The Bolt has a clever water-resistant zipper and a carrying strap with shoulder pad. What makes it so stylish is its rugged waxed canvas fabric and chocolate leather trim and handles. It looks like it should stand up to years of use. It’s also available in other choices of leather, as well as black ballistic nylon for those more conservative. It comes in three sizes for 13-inch, 15-inch and 17-inch notebooks, and slips over the handle of a rolling suitcase. $249 to $279, made in San Francisco. (www.sfbags.com).

CC Skywave Traveler’s Radio: The CC Skywave has just been introduced as the ultimate travel radio. It was developed under the direction of C. Crane of Fortuna, known for making radios that can receive stations hundreds of miles away.

This new model, measuring, 4.75-by-3-by- 1.1 inches, provides excellent AM reception as well as shortwave (2.3-26.1 MHz), weather, aircraft traffic and FM bands. It will turn on to warn you of emergency weather conditions and has an illuminated clock, timer and alarm to use as a bedside clock radio. Stations can be tuned using its scan function or their frequencies can be entered directly with buttons, and you can enter 400 stations into storage for quick retrieval.

The internal speaker provides good sound and it can also be used with headphones. The radio is battery and AC operated and will work from 60 to 70 hours on two AA batteries. In my testing, the radio pulled in stations from San Francisco at night, and the aircraft band provided access to some air traffic control. Some countries, however, don’t allow the use of aircraft scanner radios. $90 at www.ccrane.com.

Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow: Air travel is getting less comfortable, particularly in coach. So I’ve been trying out travel pillows over the past year, including inflatables, and others filled with small beads, foam rubber and everything in between, hoping to find a little more comfort.

Most of those I tried were not worth the inconvenience of carrying something so bulky. But one pillow stood out; it was also one of the most expensive, but worth it.

That’s the Cabeau Memory Foam Evolution Pillow that costs $40. It’s made of high-quality memory foam similar to what’s used in expensive mattresses. It felt softer and more pliable than the other pillows, yet was firm enough to provide good support. The foam takes a temporary set under pressure and heat to mold around your head.

The pillow is shaped with a thin wall behind the neck to avoid pushing the head forward, and has extra side support for resting your head. The plush velour fabric cover felt luxurious compared to many of the others, and can be removed for washing.

It has a pocket in the pillow to hold a phone or music player and a carrying strap for hanging it on your suitcase or securing it around your neck. With a little effort, the pillow can be compressed and rolled up to about a quarter of its size and slipped into a supplied case. For $40, it just might make your trip a little more comfortable. Available at www.cabeau.com.

TGT Compact Wallet: If you carry lots of credit cards and a few bills, and want to avoid the bulk of an ordinary wallet, look at the TGT wallet. It’s the smallest wallet I’ve ever come across, short of a rubber band. It will hold a stack of credit cards plus several folded bills in a neat tiny package. It’s constructed of soft Italian leather and a special U.S.-made elasticized fabric that seems to stretch enough to hold a dozen cards, yet still lets you easily expand the stack to retrieve a particular card. The wallet is manufactured in Brooklyn.

I’ve been using it for a few weeks, carrying about six bills, folded in quarters, tucked into its leather pocket, and ten cards stacked together, held by the elastic fabric. While the design seems simple, it took the inventor a couple of years to engineer it, so it all works. First introduced in 2012 on Kickstarter, he raised over $300,000, more than any other wallet. It comes in several color combinations and costs from $34 to $46. (www.tightstore.com).


Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," published by Financial Times Press. Send comments to phil.baker@sddt.com. Comments may be published online or as Letters to the Editor.

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