Columbia Drainmaker Shoes
When you’re hiking in a tropical locale, it’s almost a given you’ll hike through some sort of water, whether it’s a trickle across the trail creating mud, a creek with a log bridge, or a full-on river. So, you want water shoes. Columbia’s Drainmakers ($80) have drainage ports on the bottom so water never sloshed around my toes upon exiting the rivers. But, the netting under the footbed caught lots of pebbles and rocks and the shoelaces would not stayed tied no matter how many double knots I insisted on. The current kept pulling them loose.
E-Case E-Series 9
From the sandy beach to the rainy jungle—and then to a snowy hot tub in Vail, Colorado—the E-Case e-Series 9 ($28) protected my iPhone from an impending number of dangers. A locking zipper—a heavy-duty version of a ZipLock plastic bag closure—sealed out sand and water and never leaked. Bonus: you can still use the phone through the clear plastic window and take images through it without affecting the camera quality.
Helly Hansen Skagerak Bikini Top and Marstrand Bikini Bottom
It’s not the sexiest of swimwear, but that’s OK. The Helly Hansen Skagerak top and Marstrand bottom ($50, $40) provide great coverage, support, and insurance against costume malfunctions while fording rivers and shimmying through narrow passageways between boulders. The sporty suit comes in fun colors—mostly of the nautical ilk—and also stayed put when de-wetsuiting after a day exploring Belize’s underwater population.
Probably not the first thing you think to bring to the tropics but the Microsoft Surface tablet ($499)—sporting shiny new Windows 8—comes chock full of apps to help you while traveling. The finance app gives you exchange rates, the travel app allows you to book hotels and flights, and National Geographic’s World Atlas app gives you access to antique-style and satellite maps.
Olukai Mahina Sandals
They may look like designer sandals but because Olukai’s roots are in sporty footwear, the Mahinas ($90) are built for wearing—not just looking good. The well-cushioned anatomical midsole feels supportive and comfortable all day long.
Olympus TG-620 iHS Camera
Underwater cameras aren’t anything new. But for the last six years, as they’ve been growing in popularity, they’ve also been growing in quality. The cameras of yore couldn’t take pictures at the same level as non-armored ones. Things have changed. The water-, dust-, and shockproof Olympus TG-620 iHS camera ($250) has 12 megapixels and HD video, which allowed us to capture images and video of sea turtles, rays, mustard yellow tube sponge, trumpet fish, and, of course, each other, while diving 36 feet down, with clarity. Bonus: they come in bright colors. When one in our group lost his on the sea floor, another spotted it amidst the flora and brought it back to the boat.
PackTowel’s shammy-like, large size Original towel ($17) packs down to the size of a deck of cards and is lightweight, so adding it to an already-crowded small bag was no problem. Upon exiting the cave into cooler temperatures, I was happy to have it to dry off with. But once the towel became completely soaked, it took a few days for it to dry completely, which was a bummer while traveling.
Platypus Tokul XC 8 Pack
It may look tiny but the Platypus 8-liter Tokul pack ($90) fit the PackTowel, a spare change of dry clothes to change into after the cave, sunscreen, a camera, and a full bladder of water. The bladder, which opens with a heavy-duty zipper like the E-Case never leaked and was incredibly easy to clean and dry after using. The best part: it packed down flat and barely took up any space in my luggage.
Quiksilver Women's Harbor Maxi Dress
Whether hanging out poolside during the day or twirling to steel drums by night, the Quiksilver Women’s Harbor Maxi dress ($68) feels at home most anywhere. That’s because it’s so comfortable. Its lightweight cotton fabric breathes perfectly for a long dress in a humid climate and the slit in front gives it a little shape.
Smith Gibson Sunglasses
Smith’s Gibson sunglasses ($80) protect from harmful rays, are super lightweight, offer crystal clear optics, and look pretty darn cool. Heading out on the water? Pick up a polarized pair ($119) to nix the glare off the surface.