Top Gear

In this season of festive consumerism, I thought I might pause the travelogue and celebrate the objects I brought with me on my walking adventures. (Also, might as well just do a light one for Christmas Eve, eh?) I had originally conceived this as a breakdown of every item I packed, but that turned out to be supremely boring, so instead, let’s just talk about my Top 5 Awesomest Adventuring Things (plus honourable mentions). These are either the items I couldn’t have lived without, or else those that provided such a boost in comfort over alternative options that I would never go back. These are the things that I will bring along on all future adventures, and will probably pull out occasionally just to gaze at in the meantime and reminisce (um…maybe not #4).
(Right, and if you are one of my brothers [vel sim.], pls skip #4.)
5. Headlamp
This thing doesn’t even leave my side when I’m not adventuring. You would be surprised how often I find a use for it. It helped me pee in an abandoned WWII bunker, it helped me find the local pub in a couple of unlit villages, it helped me peer into mysterious crevices in the cliffs of the Calanques, it helped me read inscriptions with raking light, and it helped me find the toilet in unfamiliar AirBnBs with unpredictably-placed light switches. Most recently, it helped me dig through my dusty old pile of crap in a dark corner of my parents’ basement. I found a handmixer.
4. Diva Cup
(Not pictured.)
I know it’s TMI and all, but man, I will shout this one from the rooftops. Anyone who’s gotten drunk enough with me in the past couple years has probably already heard about this at considerable length, so you can skip on down. But listen! You don’t need any other supplies! (Except soap. Just trust me on this, bring your own unscented soap so you don’t have to make do with whatever’s available. Now let us never speak of this again.)  You only have to deal with it every 12 hours! No TSS! No leaks! No waste! Single greatest invention of all time, full stop, I will throw down with anyone who disagrees.
3. Journal 
A sentimental favourite. One of the hardest things about leaving Toronto was having to leave behind my beloved capoeira group, composed of some of my favourite people on Earth and dearest friends. Their goodbye present to me included a small, dark blue Moleskine notebook, unlined. That sturdy little notebook, which generally found itself in use multiple times a day (and gave me something to do during lonely restaurant meals), holds all of my most treasured memories of my travels. I only got through maybe a quarter of it, too (writer’s cramp would curb my loquaciousness), so it will remain by my side for a good many more adventures.
2. Scarf
I had a favourite scarf once. It was enormous and soft and green, and it went with me everywhere I went. It is somewhere in the Dorset countryside now. Maybe the cows have it, I don’t know. Having (somehow) survived the entire rest of my Dorset trip with no scarf, I tracked a new one down immediately upon my return to Prague (it’s a beautiful, dusty blue this time, and doesn’t deserve all the abuse I put it through).
A scarf is my real-life equivalent to the Hitchhiker’s Guide towel. Among its many uses: head & neck warmth; sun protection; picnic blanket; extra nighttime blanket; emergency towel; anti-chafe wrap when straps are digging into skin; airplane pillow/blanket. Also a fashion accessory, I guess.
1. Boots
You might recognise these by now. Keens. Mike gave them to me for my 31st birthday and they’re the most comfortable things on Earth. Wearing them is like wrapping my feet in a warm cloud that is not so great on slippery rocks but otherwise fantastic. I’m wintering on the frozen Canadian prairies just now, and have even retired my normal winter boots in favour of the Keens. In all the hundreds of kilometres I’ve walked in them, I’ve gotten a single blister, and that was because of a sock.

Honourable Mentions

Dry sack
Also sometimes called a wet sack, bafflingly. Unless that’s only in my immediate circle? Mine holds 25 litres, which is far too many litres. I bought it in case of torrential rain, but found that it’s a great way to compress all my clothes in my backpack because it’s airtight.
Pringles can
Use this to store croissants and other squishable snacks for later.
Walking sticks
sticks
My dear sweet boys
Not the fancy ski pole kind; just find them on mountainsides. They will save your knees on descents, and also maybe your life when things get hairy on cliff-sides. Anthropomorphise your sticks so that you feel extra-bad leaving them behind.
Phone
I didn’t even have reception in Europe, but I would have 100% died several times over without my phone’s GPS.

There. I’m off to drink wine and sing carols with the people I love most now. I wish you all the most sublimely joyous & cosy holiday season.

Unilever: Lip Balm, Face Scrub, Facial Wipes

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The promotional card that came with this package reads, “Whether you’re heading into a new school year, or starting a new adventure it helps to put your best face forward!” I’d maybe prioritise personality over face, but there’s not much Unilever can do about the former, so fair enough. I got three things in this package, all of which I’ve been using over the past few weeks. Here’s what I think of them.

Vaseline Lip Therapy Rosy Lips ($3.47)

They claim that this lip balm ‘gives lips a light tint and natural glossy shine while helping to heal dry lips’. I like it a lot as a lip balm, actually; it lasts a nice, long time, even if I’m drinking water or something. My lips don’t feel dry after it’s worn off, which is a common complaint with lip balms. It also comes in a nice tin, if you’re into that sort of thing.

There are some downsides. The biggest is the smell. They describe it as ‘a sweet fragrance with hints of rose, vanilla and red berry’, but what they meant was ‘a sort of plasticky, sickly-sweet abomination that doesn’t go away’. It’s gross, and if you’re sensitive to these things, it will probably make you feel sick. But the lip balm is effective enough that I still use it. There also is no tint at all; my lips look exactly the same when I’m wearing it. That’s fine by me, though, and I don’t really consider it a downside. This is a good product and I’m glad to have it.

St. Ives Fresh Skin Exfoliating Apricot Scrub ($7.49)

This is an exfoliating face wash that you’re supposed to use 3-4 times a week. I usually just use a flannel and soap in the mornings, but this has been a nice addition to my nighttime routine. I like that it uses natural exfoliants (no microbeads), and it’s sulfate- and paraben-free. It’s also not drying, and it leaves my face feeling really soft. I wouldn’t say that there’s any particular downside to this, but a washcloth is a much cheaper way to exfoliate.

Simple Cleansing Facial Wipes ($8.27)

This is another product that’s fine, but I just don’t have much use for it. The wipes remove my normal, everyday makeup very well. They claim to be equal even to waterproof mascara, but they really aren’t effective against any sort of serious eye makeup. I recently had to wear full-on 60s makeup with big eyeliner and everything, and the wipes did a good job on everything except the eyes. I needed oil for that, as you would expect. If you like makeup wipes, I don’t think you’d be disappointed by these, but I don’t think they’re worth the money (you get 25 wipes to a package). Just use toner (or whatever astringent you want; don’t let me dictate your life) and a cotton pad, with oil for the tough stuff, then wash your face.

Reviews

You don’t need to pay any attention to this section if you don’t want to…basically, I signed up for a thing that sends me free beauty products so long as I review them. A deadline looms, so I figured I would review my first batch here and see how it goes. I also just genuinely like trying out stuff like this, so I’m a bit excited.