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Traveling light

Posted: Thursday, September 05, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Imagine packing just two pairs of underwear for a two-week vacation. Gross? Gonna sleep alone?

Not if you pack a pair of undies from Ex Officio, a company that manufactures men's and women's underwear that are quick drying, anti-microbial and moisture-wicking. They feel nice, to boot.

Because these briefs dry in two to four hours, travelers can get away with packing only one or two pairs if they are willing to wash one every night.

In modest blues, grays and black, these nylon/spandex undies can be the start of a whole new travel philosophy -- packing lightly.

There is a fine line between taking too much and too little but the trend, especially at airports, is toward lighter and fewer bags. For anyone who knows the hassle of shuttling from place to place on trains, planes, boats and taxis, this is good news.

Where to begin? How about an +outdoor+ specialty shop.

At the recent +Outdoor+ Retailer Summer Market in Salt Lake City, every company had some new thingamajig designed to ease the traveling load.

Companies such as Ex Officio, Woolrich, Mountain Hardware, Gramici and Royal Robbins offer lines of clothing made of mostly synthetic materials that dry fast and take less room than more traditional garments.

Some companies offer pants and shirts that can be converted to shorts and short-sleeve shirts by zipping off pant legs and sleeves. With a flip of a zip, one piece of clothing can serve dual purposes. That saves space and weight.

Other newfangled fabrics provide ultraviolet sun protection or prevent insect bites.

''It needs to be comfortable and it needs to be versatile to deal with weather and climate changes,'' says Woolrich's Todd Yates. ''Clothing needs to roll up, be quick-drying and be more comfortable. One item needs to do as many things as possible. It needs to dry quick, have good packability and be lightweight.''

But don't ignore traditional fabrics.

For example, Keith Anderson of Ibex argues that one wool garment can replace two or three shirts or pants made out of other fabric because wool is warmer, antimicrobial and naturally water resistant. And much of today's wool has been refined so that it is machine washable and itch-free.

''Wool stays warm when it is wet,'' he says. ''It retains your body heat better than a synthetic, maintaining a more consistent core temperature ... You can go a lot longer without washing wool clothing. It is naturally anti-microbial. The thing that makes your clothing stink is bacteria and germs. That creates the smell.''

Another key to packing light is finding one pair of all-purpose shoes that are comfortable, dressy and easy to maintain.

Once you have picked your clothes and shoes, it is time to stuff them somewhere.

Mountain Hardware has designed one of the lightest travel packs. It weighs just 21 pounds and includes a tent, sleeping bag and pad, clothing, jackets for cold and wet weather, cooking gear, first aid and hygiene products. The company's waterproof and breathable Epic jacket and pants were especially impressive.

Then there are the little gadgets and gimmicks that help save room in your luggage or pack.

A Hat in a Bag, for example, fits in a small bag, weighs 3 ounces and provides protection from ultraviolet sunlight and rain. Sunglass skins made by Hides serve as eyeglass holder and case.

And J.R. Liggett's shampoo bar -- which is biodegradable and comes in a plastic drying case -- can be used as shampoo, body soap, shaving cream, laundry soap and, when mixed with baking soda, toothpaste.

Colorado-based Whistle Creek offers a lightweight survival kit in a vacuum-sealed can with 25 survival items including matches, fire-starter cube, compass, fishing line, tea bag, duct tape, first-aid supplies, chewing gum, signal mirror, note paper and an energy nugget.

In an attempt to make it easier to check knives and multi-tools that can no longer be carried on airplanes, several companies are putting their knives or multi-tools on carabiners so they can be quickly removed and stored in your checked luggage.

National Geographic offers a carabiner/multi-tool that includes a knife and screwdrivers, while Schrade is adapting several of its Simon knives so that they clip to packs.

The biggest decision travelers may have is whether to try to carry on luggage or check it in.

Barbara DesChamps, author of ''It's In The Bag: The Complete Guide to Lightweight Travel,'' recommends keeping your bags in hand, especially on overseas trips. Airlines can make reimbursement for lost or damaged luggage difficult, she said. By carrying on bags, you avoid the hassle of waiting in line for check-in and you eliminate the after-flight wait at a baggage carousel. Trains or mass transit are less expensive than cabs, but hopping on and off a train is a chore when hauling numerous bags.

Ricky Schlesinger, executive vice president of Eagle Creek Travel Gear, says if you want to carry-on, you must think in terms of a bag that is 22-by-14-by-9 inches. That makes advance planning important.

His company offers two ways to organize clothing while saving space. One system uses compressor sacks that resemble giant Ziploc bags and a valve that sucks the air out of your luggage and compresses bulkier items.

But Schlesinger prefers a cube system that designates specific bags for shirts, underwear, pants and toiletries.

Some bags offer the option of a zip-off daypack that can be used when traveling around town. He also likes bags with wheels that can either be carried like a backpack or rolled across an airport or train station floor.

''For most of us, the wheels are worth their extra weight,'' Schlesinger says.

But Liang Che, who has designed a number of lightweight, waterproof bags and packs that will be introduced this spring by National Geographic, has what he thinks is a better idea.

To save weight, he has designed carry-on bags with reinforced bottoms that can be dragged across the floor without wear. His packs are adjustable for different torso sizes.

One last tip on purchasing travel clothing and bags: It is a good idea to check out the Web site of a company whose product you like. Many offer discounts and closeouts.

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