New Year, New Travel Gear!
Travel Editor and resident athlete Kim Cross tested the best gear for active travel and life. If you're a socially conscious shopper, here's an extra reason to treat yourself—each item is made by a company worth supporting and comes with a backstory that will make your purchase more meaningful than just new "stuff."
The Lightest, Greenest Suitcase
Made from durable, lightweight nylon, this 6-pound carry-on weighs considerably less than the average rolling weekend suitcase. A book-style design with divider panels makes it easy to separate clean and dirty laundry, and convertible backpack straps help you take this bag anywhere the smooth-rolling inline skate wheels won't.
Why we love it: GoLite is an industry leader in the use of post-consumer recycled materials, and its Take-Back program shows they walk the walk: They'll take back any unwanted Go-Lite product ever made; repair, recycle, or donate it; and give you a 20% discount on your next purchase.
Buy it: TraveLite 22-inch wheeled carry-on ($175); golite.com
The Ultimate Yoga Pant
The gear: The new trend in yoga pants is cuts that flatter your assets, and we tested six pairs from different brands that make this claim. This pair was among the best. Its high waist and taut mesh panels cover the tummy and lower back, compressing problem areas and providing a tactile reminder to keep your core engaged.
Why we love it: The material's 4-way stretch and moisture-wicking capability passed the Vinyassa test, and the slimming (but not too tight) cut permitted a dash to the grocery store without making our tester feel like a spandex superhero. These pants endured repeated washings without fading or pilling.
Buy it: lucy Perfect Core Pant ($98); lucy.com
The Recycled Jacket
You may think you're looking at a cozy fleece jacket, but this is really a 12-pack of plastic bottles that would otherwise have gone into a landfill. Seriously. But this sustainable material doesn't compromise performance—the lightweight synthetic wicks, insulates, and stretches like a champ.
Why we love it: Every single EARTHTEC product contains recycled material, and this one's among the greenest, made of 80% post-consumer PET—that's short for polyethylene terephthalate, the hard plastic that makes up the 150 billion or so plastic bottles, jugs, and containers that get thrown away every year.
Buy it: Jujuba Full Zip Jacket ($50); earthtec.com
The Life-Saving Bracelet
Whether you run the same neighborhood loop every day or scope out new trails when you're on the road, chances are you're not taking your driver's license with you. If you are injured in an emergency, this bracelet could save precious time. Customize it with your name, emergency contacts and phone numbers, allergies, and other important info that could help medics help you faster.
Why we love it: As a Web-based option (for a nominal charge), you can upload extensive medical files to a Web site that EMTs or other responders can access via a URL engraved on your bracelet. If you have unusual medical conditions, this information could save your life.
Buy it: Wrist ID Elite ($30); roadid.com
The Tree-Hugging Yoga Mat
One of the first eco-friendly yoga mats, this natural rubber mat grounds your inner (and outer) yogi with a nonslip surface that's dense enough to provide good cushioning, but not so squishy that it throws off your balance poses.
Why we love it: Made in the USA from natural rubber (the kind that's tapped from rubber trees—a renewable resource) instead of PVC and other synthetic materials, this is a socially responsible purchase that justifies the price. (Note: It does smell a bit like tires at first, but the scent seemed to diminish. We don't notice it now.) Bonus: For every mat purchased, Jade plants a tree in partnership with Trees for the Future. Love!
Buy it: Harmony Professional ($65); jadeyoga.com
The Sustainable Sipper
The spill-proof bottle holds 16 oz. of water (or your electrolyte-charged sports drink of choice) and is BPA free, making it environmentally friendly and good for your health. A bite valve inspired by CamelBak's hydration bladders eliminates leaks and tucks neatly away when not in use.
Why we love it: This limited edition version is a gift that gives back—100% of the proceeds support efforts to bring drinking water to developing nations through Water.org
Buy it: CamelBak Better Bottle ($19); gift.water.org
The Wonder Shirt
Made from thin and supple 100% Merino wool, this top pulls double duty as a performance base layer or a stand-alone travel top. Natural wool is making a comeback thanks to its near-magical properties—it wicks moisture, keeping you cool when it's hot, and insulates, keeping you warm when it's cold. And while synthetics tend to pick up odor, wool's natural anti-microbial properties fight the funk.
Why we love it: LUNA Sport is dedicated to high-end cycling and active wear specifically for women. Its designs are feminine but not girly (think racing stripes, not pink leopard print) and cut for athletic figures. The line is an offshoot of Luna Bar (and Clif Bar), the first company to pay its professional women's cycling team on par with male pros.
Buy it: LUNA Baseline long-sleeve crew ($65); lunasportgear.com
The Anything-Goes Bag
The gear: We love bags, but if we had to choose only one, it might be this fine chameleon. It's chic enough to carry your work laptop (in a padded sleeve), spacious enough to double as a gym bag (bottom straps can carry a yoga mat, and a side pocket fits a water bottle), but well-organized enough for a travel carry-on (inside pockets stash keys and gadgets, a rear pocket provides easy access to plane tickets and magazines, and a sleeve slips over the handle of your rolling suitcase).
Why we love it: Sharon Eisenhaur started her company by making brilliantly designed handbags in her New York apartment. They're functional, cute, AND green: While the classic line includes our all-time favorite To-Go shoulder bag, the new Rumi series (including this messenger) is made from 100% post-consumer recycled materials.
Buy it: Haiku Rumi Messenger ($109), haikubags.com
The Shoe That Gives Back
The gear: Life's too short to hobble around in painful heels, no matter how cute they may be. With the height of a heel but the stability and comfort (well, almost) of a flat, this canvas wedge makes a great travel shoe that can handle cobblestone street days and bistro nights.
Why we love it: This company was founded with a powerful "One for One" mission: For every pair of TOMS shoes purchased, the company donates a pair to a child in need. As of September 2010, it's donated more than 1 million pairs of new shoes to kids worldwide.
Buy it: Canvas Women's Wedges ($69); toms.com
The Home Away From Home Travel Kit
A trusted brand since the 1800s, J R Watkins Naturals is the original natural-beauty company. The TSA-approved-size kit includes shampoo, conditioner, body wash and lotion, lip balm, and even a washcloth for $16.
Why we love it: No effort is too small in the company's commitment to being socially conscious—from the soy-based ink used to decorate the products' easily recyclable packaging to the 30-plus charities J R Watkins Naturals supports.
Buy it: Home Away From Home Travel Kit ($16); jrwatkins.com
The Real-Life Board Short
Finally—surfer-girl board shorts cut perfectly for the hips of real women (not teenage waifs). Made from quick-drying fabrics with cute (but not cutesy) prints, these are perfect for cruises and beach trips, an absolute must for water sports, and a great alternative to sarongs for après-pool coverage.
Why we love it: Carve Designs is a women-run company dreamed up on a girls' surfing trip. The Leilani board short reverses from print to solid, and the Freestyle Short (shown here) is cut more modestly, but both are comfortable and quick-drying, and they hang just right on your hips.
Buy it: Freestyle Short ($54) and Rodeo Reversible Bikini Top ($48) by Carve Designs; carvedesigns.com
The Conflict-Free Accessory
The gear: This is a necklace that represents one small, socially responsible company. The Arizona Sleeping Beauty turquoise is all-natural and comes from U.S. sources instead of China, where many stones are artificially treated to enhance color.
Why we love it: Designer Bronwen Lodato uses small batches of conflict-free stones from sustainable miners who return her calls from their backhoes. She partners with Earthworks, Too Precious to Wear, One Percent for the Planet, and other organizations working to eradicate open-pit mining and support sustainable mining.
Buy it: Arizona Sleeping Beauty Turquoise waterfall necklace ($189); bronwenonline.com
The Wear-Everywhere Dress
Every peripatetic woman needs a good travel dress, and this organic cotton number (with a built-in shelf bra) is comfortable, packable, and versatile. Dress it down by day and up by night with a swap of shoes and accessories. Unsnap the optional shoulder strap ties to change the look.
Why we love it: Not only is Nau a leader in sustainable—and stylish—apparel, but the clothier also donates 2% of every sale to worthy causes including Kiva (which gives micro-loans to entrepreneurs in developing nations), the Breakthrough Institute (working for affordable alternative energy sources), and other nonprofit organizations.
Buy it: Glimpse Dress ($90); nau.com
The Water-to-Wheels Sandal
The gear: This amphibious sandal is equally at home on water and land. With the ventilation of a sandal and cushioning more like a sneaker, it's great for rocky shores and beachcruiser bikes—an all-around handy shoe for a cruise or active vacation.
Why we love it: Keen is making efforts to find eco-friendly alternatives to materials containing toxins, reduce its manufacturing waste, and repurpose waste materials for use in new products.
Buy it: Whisper Sandals ($85); keenfootwear.com
The (OM)G Hoodie
The gear: Form? Meet function! This best-seller manages to reconcile the coziness of a hoodie with the sleek and slimming lines of something you'd gladly wear out in public. Clever design elements: pre-shrunk cotton fleece that's practically windproof, a 10-gallon hood, extra-long sleeves with thumb holes to warm your mitts, and the removable elastic zipper pull doubles as an emergency ponytail holder. (Genius!)
Why we love it: Lululemon's "ambassadors" host weekly free events—from group runs to free yoga classes—at local "showrooms." We attended a recent candlelight Vinyassa class, and they thanked every participant with a free pair of Groove pants—wow! Plus, they hem for free.
Buy it: Scuba Hoodie ($98), lululemon.com
Meet Our Tester/Gear Girl
A gear geek and avid adventuress, Travel Editor Kim Cross put these products to the test in real-life travel and fitness scenarios. The "cafeteria decathlete" has competed in more than 10 sports and vied for a national title in three—water skiing (first), sprint triathlon (fourth), and 24-hour adventure racing (not last). She's teaching her 3-year-old son to stand-up paddleboard and race cyclocross.
Did she miss one of your favorites? Email Kim.