I like to think of myself as a non-materialistic guy – someone who can get by with very little and who isn’t impressed or excited by “things.” I’m basically an enlightened, gluten-free warrior monk – lean, minimal, unfettered by things or materials desires.
Turns out that’s complete bullshit though 🤷🏻♂️😬 – I’m just a gear guy, through and through. While I don’t actually buy a ton of gear, A LOT catches my eye and I put WAY too much thought into the gear I buy and use.
One of my favorite parts about running – especially trail running – is all the gear. At first blush, running seems like a pretty simple sport (basically just shoes, right?). But there’s quite a lot of running gear to be coveted, and that’s one of the things that unites runners of all levels.
So, in hopes that y’all are also into more than just running gear, I wanted to share a few general items that I’ve recently acquired and that I’m loving. Apologies for not being more run-focused here, but hopefully this round-up appeals to the gear junkie in all of us. And please be warned, there’s some nerdy-ass stuff below.
Right away, two new items jump out as significant and worth discussing, and both are tech pieces. First is the Microsoft Surface Pro, which I recently purchased to replace my 2011 Macbook Pro (MBP). Now, in tech terms, seven years is a LONG time, and the fact that I was using a 2011 MBP as my travel computer up until about 2 months ago says a lot (my desktop is an iMac from 2016). The MBP was heavy and clunky, and it was easily bogged down, but operationally speaking it’s pretty remarkable that it was still performing so well.
But with travel becoming a bigger part of my life, and (despite my gear obsessions) I actually do try to travel lightly, so lugging a huge computer was real pain. After reading positive reviews and checking one out at my local Costco, I decided to give the Microsoft Surface Pro a shot (plus, that Costco return policy!).
Microsoft Surface Pro – The Good
This isn’t meant to be a fully detailed review (check out the CNET review above), but so far I’m loving the Surface Pro. It’s a full laptop, so tons of functionality there (whereas an iPad is still just a mobile OS, meaning functionality is limited), and it’s also a very serviceable tablet. Never thought I’d get so much joy out of using a stylus, and from an overall hardware standpoint, I’m a big fan. Screen res, speed – it’s a really nice little computer.
Microsoft Surface Pro – The Not-So-Good
Two big cons to report. First is the fact that any apps you want (for when you want to use it more like a tablet), have to come from the Microsoft Store and that is just VERY limited. If you’re coming from the Apple App Store (which I was) or Google Play, you’re going to be disappointed by the app availability (it’s probably about 25% of the Apple App Store). But, my main intention with the Surface Pro is to use it as a laptop, not a tablet, so this isn’t a big deal to me.
Second con is that Microsoft, in all of its Microsoft-iness, has taken the one app that made having a tablet, and really nice stylus, and basically locked it down. I’m talking about Microsoft OneNote, which to be honest is an amazing note-taking app, as long as you never want to share or meaningfully access your notes anywhere other than your Surface Pro. They’ve basically made integration with Evernote, Dropbox, or Google terrible (despite what they say), and that’s a huge bummer. If I could sync my OneNote notes to Evernote, it’d be my main note-taking solution – it’s that good. But alas, despite lots of research and trying, there’s no good solution to Microsoft resorting to its old closed-off ways. And it’s not searchable or flexible the way Evernote is, so it can’t replace Evernote entirely.
Overall – the Microsoft Surface Pro as a tablet is probably a B (mainly due to limited apps). As a laptop – at least for what I need – it’s probably an A-. The fact that it’s a combo probably makes the unit an A/A- overall, despite the weak app avail.
NEO Smartpen & Notebook
The other piece of tech I’m excited about is another combo situation – the NEO Smartpen and notebook. The pen is a real ink pen that has an infrared camera in the top, so when you write on the NEO notebook, which has thousands of microdots, the pen identifies and tracks what you’re writing and automatically digitizes all of your notes. It then syncs with Evernote (or Google or OneNote – but again, the OneNote integration sucks) and all of my handwritten notes are digitized, catalogued, and – and this is the key – searchable. You get that same tactile feel of writing with pen and paper, and all of the benefits of a fully digitized notebook. Big fan of this system, and I’d give it an A- because the native app search is pretty weak and slow, which is why I use Evernote.
As I mentioned before, travel is becoming a bigger part of my life, so obviously I need to have the right equipment! Besides a few obvious items like noise-canceling headphones (seriously worth their weight in GOLD) and a decent travel pillow (how did I not know they have ORANGE!?!), I have a few pieces to share.
Space Saver Bags
Space saver bags are nothing new, but I’ve always looked at them as something you use when moving or traveling somewhere for like a month. But I really like them for trips of all lengths. Basically, I fold and pack my clothes normally for the outbound, and as my clothes get dirty, I just shove them into a space saver bag. Then at the end of the trip, I sit on the bag to remove all the air and vacuum seal it, meaning I can bring all my stuff home without having to refold a bunch of dirty clothes. And the magic is that my bag isn’t bursting at the seams with a bunch of unfolded clothes because they’re all vacuumed down. They’re also great for compressing my travel pillow down to a size that doesn’t take up all the room in my carry-on bag (probably ⅓ normal size).
Hydrapak Collapsible Water Bottle
Like many runners, I’m someone who drinks an F-TON of water. I conservatively go through about 4-5 liters of water per day, so traveling means I’m basically always looking for water. And on the plane, to avoid asking the flight attendant for water every 10 minutes, I always bring a big bottle. But in keeping with my aforementioned space-saving proclivities, I don’t want to roll with a 32oz Nalgene, so I’ve opted for this collapsible water bottle by Hydrapak. It’s big (anything less than a liter is too small), packs easily, and has a wide mouth for easier refilling.
Rounding out my gear list is an item that’s all about versatility. Not having to bring two items in the same category is key, so finding sunglasses that work for all situations is huge. I got to try Knockaround Sunglasses because they are a BibRave partner, and I feel like their bright and bold shades work for casual style, running, and even for dressier occasions (if you can own the look in nicer settings). And their price point is such that you don’t have to worry a ton about your shades getting beat up in transit or during extended travel.
If you want to try a pair, you can use code “BIBRAVEKNOCKS” for 20% off your entire order, limited to one use per person. And just to be clear, they are a BibRave partner but we don’t make any money if you use our code – just trying to get you a discount on some sweet shades.
OK, thanks for indulging my gear review, and please let me know if you have any tips to share. I know there are some road and sky warriors out there, and we’d love to hear and reshare your travel/gear hacks and tips.