Sh*t That Lasts: An Unsettled Gift Guide

By: Michael Youngblood, Co-founder of Unsettled

I never understood my friends who were into things like cars, watches, and clothing. I couldn’t really bring myself around to understand people who had relationships with things; I mean real connections. To stuff.

My dad is more of a fun-loving guy than an intellectual who says quotable quips, but one day he riffed to me about how I need to be careful not to own too much stuff because "your things will end up owning your time and your time is the most precious thing you'll ever have." He described how his car, boat, lawnmower, house, etc. all required maintenance that ended up taking away from time he could spend with us at ballgames, exploring the mountains, or hanging out on Saturdays. 

So in my 20s, I actively pursued a lifestyle that one might call minimalism, but I think of it as ‘anti-materialism’ because I took a hard stance against what materialism stood for. Herein lies a paradox that I’ve discovered as I’ve grown up a little: because I took this stance against materialism, I began to devalue the few things that I owned.  

Take for instance, my 1994 Honda Accord. I treated that thing like shit even if it did make it to 333,000 miles (530,000 km). I never put money into basic maintenance of that car. I didn't wash it or clean because driving around  an older and dirty car, became a statement that I care about experiences over things. When the car finally died, the mechanic explained that it could have lasted another 100,000 miles if he had done some preventative maintenance for $100. 

I've learned with time (and maybe slightly more income) that this maybe the most dangerous attitude of all. Just because you don’t value something, doesn’t mean that you have to devalue it. That car took hard work, natural resources, and human capital to bring into existence, not to mention it was shipped from Japan using even more petroleum just to deliver it to my front door. By devaluing it, I was not helping it live up to its potential or longevity. What’s the big deal, you ask?

Consumers are often greater culprits of waste and unsustainable behavior than corporations, yet we blame corporations for the world’s trouble. If you analyze the supply chains of many consumer products that we’ll be buying this holiday season, the least sustainable part of that product’s lifecycle isn’t the water used in growing the cotton or the minerals mined for the hardware -- it’s us. It's our serial consuming attitude that everything can be replaced. That everything needs to be new. That we need version 8 or X or whatever as soon as it is released to stay with the times. The problem is us, and how little we use a product before it ends in a landfill.

So what’s changed?

Mostly my mindset. I value things that last because I’ve learned how important longevity is for the environment and for my wallet (remember our childhood adage, 'reduce, reuse, and recycle'? There's a reason 'reduce' comes first). I spend a lot more time thinking about a purchase and analyzing it's materials and durability before I buy it, like the second pair of jeans that I've owned in my adult life. 

So this holiday season, we’ve put together a gift guide of products we believe in. Things that are essential for our travels and our ‘Unsettled’ lifestyle. And, more importantly, things that aren’t designed to break down after a month of hard use.

Here are 10 things we feel every (responsible) Unsettled nomad needs:

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Western Rise Gear: Staying stink-free.

If you know a thing or two about adventure, then you need to be acquainted with Western Rise. Their outdoor-ready gear is designed to fit the lifestyle of the hikers, kayakers, campers and mountain bikers among us, as the clothing is made with DWR coating, stretch fabrics, mesh pockets and DryWeight Henley as a base-layer (designed to dry 3X faster than standard merino wool). This Telluride-based apparel brand caters to those men and women who like to call the mountains their home, and it guarantees to stick around for months without any rips or tears. We’ve used it and we can guarantee it works! Starting at US$98. 

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Headlamp: Seeing through the darkness.

A favorite accessory among many Unsettled team members, a good quality headlamp goes a long way when you’re hopping from one country to another. You never know when the power will go out, and sometimes we all need something brighter (and better) than the phone torch. If you’re pushing your work adventures out of the cities, then invest in a good quality, waterproof headlamp. You’ll find cheaper ones out in the market but they have a shorter lifespan and you’re risking corrosion from water damage. Our team likes the Black Diamond Storm Headlamp. It’s dust-resistant, waterproof and designed with 350 lumens. US$50.

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Aeropress: We all need fuel.

Can’t imagine living the nomadic life without quality caffeine? Unsettled Experience Leader Patrick Elliott can’t either. While carrying a Nespresso machine around the world isn’t advisable, an Aeropress is a perfect alternative for those seeking instant and a deliciously rewarding coffee. Whether in the middle of the jungles of Colombia or in nice apartment in Barcelona, this coffee maker uses pressure to force hot water through coffee grounds and brews straight into a cup. The clean up is quick, easy and sustainable too, i.e. uses very little water. US$29.95.

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Trek Light Gear Hammock: For a good hang...

It helps that the founder and CEO of Trek Light Gear is an Unsettled alum, but even if that weren’t the case, we’d still be big fans of his hammocks. Seth Haber’s love for the outdoors is obvious in his compact and sustainable product, as these are arguably some of the best hammocks in the market (which also double up as a sleeping bag). Aside from its strong, lightweight and compact features, Trek Light Gear also gives back to the community in many way.

One is that for every hammock sold, these guys plant two trees somewhere in the world in collaboration with Trees For The Future. How can anyone say no to that?! Starting at US$49.95.

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Patagonia’s Lightweight, Super Packable Puffy Jacket: Stay warm anywhere.

By focusing on good design and environmental advocacy, American outdoor brand Patagonia has struck a chord among many nomads. They don’t care about what’s cool, and they don’t have to, because Patagonia’s customers are all about the easygoing, high-performance gear that leave the tiniest footprints possible. Patagonia’s authenticity, strong brand values, and thoughtful design is what’s made it a favorite apparel brand for over 40 years, and we’re still not over it. This lightweight, super compactable jacket is made with recycled and fair trade materials, and it’s going to last for years, not just a seasons.

Patagonia also offer an incredible lifetime guarantee for wear and tear; and our founders have used it. A lot. US$199.

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Herschel Supply Co. Backpack: Travel light, and efficiently.

When you have six months of traveling ahead of you, a solid backpack that fits your entire life is mandatory for this list. The Herschel Supply Co. backpack is our pick, as it fits a laptop, has a ton of pockets for a wire here and a USB there, and we don’t mind that it’s a little stylish at the same time. This Canadian company reverse engineers every bag, and its utilitarian design has become a classic symbol of escape, adventure and style. Starting at US$85.

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JBL Bluetooth Speakers: Keep the party going.

A good quality bluetooth speaker goes a long way either when you’re traveling alone or on an adventure with friends. These waterproof, dustproof and wireless speakers can connect up to three smartphones and produce crystal clear sounds, and it’s just the right size to carry along for those weekend camping trips. They’re made for adventure, so they’re built to last. US$99.

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A Good Pair of Blue Jeans: Fitting in, everywhere.

Co-founder Michael Youngblood recently bought his second pair of blue jeans in his adult life. He feels a well-constructed pair of jeans should last 10+ years, so this purchase is actually really meaningful. How? Assuming your waist line stays the same size, by the time you start buying your own clothes at around 20, and you die at age 80, then that's only six pairs of jeans you’ll ever have to own. If you only buy six pairs of jeans, you can afford to pay a little more to afford organic cotton and fair trade certified clothing elsewhere.

In terms of pollution, the apparel and clothing industry is sitting right up there next to oil and coal. Consumers love to point to the producers as using raw materials farmed with chemicals that take tons of water, but the biggest effect on waste is when we buy those clothes and then they end up in a landfill, like 85% of clothes do (that's 85 billion pounds of clothing in the landfill every year in the U.S. alone.)

Levi’s started using a clever Water<Less manufacturing method for all its denim products a few years ago, and in the process has saved over 1.8 billion litres of water to date. Fun fact: American designer, Tommy Hilfiger doesn't wash his Levi's for months because he doesn't think they need it. Surely he’s onto something there?  Starting at US$59.

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Headspace: Staying mindful.

When Experience Leader Bonnie Gerlaugh leads back-to-back retreats, she finds meditation as one of the best ways to stay balanced and grounded during a 30-day Unsettled experience. “It makes us all better humans”, she says, and we couldn’t agree more. Headspace is a great digital service that provides guided meditation sessions, and teaches how to be more mindful in everyday life. And all of this is right there on your phone, so you don’t have to go searching too far. A perfect gift for someone who needs a little more balance in their Unsettled life. Starting at $99/year.

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A BPA-Free Water Bottle: Staying hydrated.

Water is the essence of life. And we drink a lot of it to sustain ourselves while traveling. The cost of plastic water bottles are so cheap that sometimes we purchase them without thinking- but their impact on the environment is terrible. And in doing so, think about how many water bottles we destroy everyday? Instead, if you get a BPA-free water bottle from Nalgene, you’ll save at least 167 bottles from ending up in a landfill. These are made from recycled plastic and dramatically minimize carbon footprints.  Starting at US$10.99.