Richard McComb road-tests essential holiday gear, gadgets and pampering for gentlemen travellers.
It’s not easy being a chap when the annual challenge of packing for the summer holiday comes around.
What are the essential bits of kit you will need to combat the boredom of air flights, the heat and the varying terrain?
With this in mind, I put some lifestyle accessories to the test on a trip to Queensland, Australia, and have drawn up what might be called a Gentleman’s Survival Guide to the Hot Countries. Don’t worry if you are going to the Isle of Wight – the same principles apply.
Here is the pick of this summer’s must-have travel kit:
1. Sennheiser MM 550 X wireless headphones
At £349.99, they don’t come cheap, but Sennheiser’s latest generation of wireless headphones saved my life on long-haul flights to and from Australia. They also served as a wonderful companion scooting around the Outback by minibus.
The headphones use noise cancelling technology to block out exterior sound so you get total clarity while listening to music in the most hectic of environments. I even used the Sennheisers as luxury ear-buffers to block out the rumble of aircraft engines when I wanted to get off to sleep.
Stereo Bluetooth offers convenience and there are no loose wires flapping around your neck. The TalkThrough setting means you simply press a button to turn on the external microphone, so you can hear, and talk to, fellow passengers or the flight attendant without removing the headset. There is also a direct cable option with airline adapters so you can use the headphones while you are up in the air.
Neodymium magnets and Duofol diaphragms provide exquisite sound reproduction and the SRS WOW HD function (activated by depressing a button on the headphones) provides lusher sounds with bigger bass.
The extra-large ear cups mean you can wear the Sennheiser’s for hours without discomfort and the charge on the wireless function is excellent – in my experience up to eight hours.
2. SunSense sunscreen
A reliable high-protection sunscreen is essential and it’s virtually the first item on any family’s holiday check-list.
Awareness of the dangers of skin cancer has increased as the fashion for the lobster look has fallen away. When it comes to skin protection, men are in the same boat as everyone else and if you are like me you’ll dread the feeling of slapping greasy suncream on your chops. It’s a necessary evil, but in the case of SunSense you can also kiss goodbye to the skin-cloying unpleasantness of covering up.
SunSense was recommended for my trip to Oz by our family GP. It’s Aussie-made and designed for the blistering rays. Hence, SunSense only comes in sun protection factor 50+ and offers ultimate screening against UVB, the ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn, premature skin ageing and increases the risk of skin cancers.
The range includes Ultra, a smooth, easy-to-apply lotion suitable for the whole family which is water resistant for an impressive four hours. There’s a Sunsensitive product for very sensitive skin, too.
I applied liberally and didn’t burn at all despite swimming on the Great Barrier Reef.
Available at selected Waitrose stores, Ocado, John Lewis and Crawford Healthcare Ltd.
Ultra (125ml) £13.64; Sunsensitive (100ml) £14.70.
3. Merrell Wilderness Canyon Boots
Hiking boots? For the beach? Have I been in the sun too long?
It may not sound like the obvious choice of footwear but as I was heading into the Outback and the rainforest and wanted to be suitably attired. You can’t do better than go for a modern classic.
Merrell’s Good-Year welt construction Wilderness Canyon Boot (£150) is a remake of its 1982-styled Wilderness, which was voted Backpacker Magazine’s “Best Boot in the World.” The boots are made of very durable, waterproof leather and no details is overlooked. There is extra impact absorption under the big toe and heel – and no-rub rivets.
This hiking boot has broken into a high-end fashion having been showcased alongside the finest tailored suit in a DKNY catwalk show.
So what if other people are wearing flip flops and training shoes? No one will kick sand in your eyes when you’re wearing canyon boots.
4. Bulldog Natural Skincare
Skin takes a battering on holiday and you need a moisturiser you can rely on for protection and relief from weather blasting. Applying Bulldog’s original moisturiser is like a soothing kiss and has the ability to gently reinvigorated the most tired-looking skin.
The moisturiser (£6.99), which has a Sensitive skin kennel-mate, is made with eight essential oils, green tea, green algae, konjac mannan and vitamin E. Most blokes won’t know what the hell these things are but I can tell you they work. And Bulldog is reassuringly English, free of synthetic fragrances and muck.
Bulldog does a range of grooming products that are ideal for après soleil pampering (including a face scrub made with coconut shell and rosehip oil).
But I’d go for the nifty metrosexual Original Eye Roll-On (£9.99) that fights puffiness and dark bags during and after long flights – or a tricky afternoon on the beach.
5. Wahl’s Grooming Gear
Don’t you hate that whiskery feeling that descends on day five of a foreign jaunt? Shaving is fine but if you have “sideboards” and a little beard – not to mention a balding head that needs anti-fuzzing attention – then you hanker for some trimming.
Wahl, which makes whizzy top performance gear for professional hairdressers, also produces an inexpensive Grooming Gear set (£16.99) for general sale.
It fits neatly into a case or overnight bag and features a travel trimmer, a personal trimmer (ears and nostrils), scissors, tweezers, knife/file, tooth brush, pocket comb, cleaning brush and nail clippers.
The trimmers are battery operated, which is ideal for travel, when you only need the gear for short bursts. The main trimmers, for clipping hair, work all right but it’s fiddly if you want to remove the 6 position guide comb. Perfectly adequate performance for the money and convenience.
6. Speedo Aquashot camera
For most people, swimming on the Great Barrier Reef is a once in a lifetime opportunity so I wanted to capture as much of the experience as I could – underwater.
Speedo’s tough 5 mega pixel camera does a decent job, offering up to three metres’ water resistance, which is fine for a duff swimmer like me. The Speedo Aquashot (£100) floats if you drop it in the water and comes with a strap, so it attachs to your wrist for ease of swimming.
The camera comes with all the features you get in a standard camera – LCD display, image sensor and zoom function, video setting. It is, of course, only as good as the swimmer operating it, which meant I fluked a couple of pictures of exotic fish rather than framed and planned anything.
I was chuffed with the pictures I got and amazed by the concept of an inexpensive camera that shoots in the sea. But it wasn’t a particular intuitive camera and requires a fair bit of toggling to get through the functions. A great starting point for underwater exploration.
7. Wenger Swiss Military Ranger Watch
How can a red-blooded male resist anything with the words “military ranger” in the name?
This watch, made by Wenger (£114.95) has a Swiss quartz movement with a sapphire coated crystal. Although it is made from lightweight polycarbonate, the cool looking military ranger is a tough guy, designed for outdoor sports and water resistant up to 50 metres (should you be on duties with the Special Boat Squadron). There are luminous hands and numerals, too. I wore it while sailing off Brisbane with the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron and felt the part, twiddling with the unidirectional rotating bezel.
The Wenger – producers of the famous Swiss Army knife – has a comfortable rubber strap and best of all, for neurotic, light sleepers like me, it doesn’t tick.
Available from www.whitbyandco.co.uk
8. Icebreaker T-shirt
Icebreaker’s Tech T is made for sunsplashed travel. It packs away to nothing, doesn’t crease and keeps you as comfortable as a New Zealand merino sheep – whose coat it is made from. The superfino merino keeps you cool in the heat and staves off those shivers you get in hot climes when the sun disappears over the horizon.
Because the wool is breathable, the T-shirt remains odour resistant – for days. Yes, days.
So although £49.95 may sound expensive for a T-shirt, the Icebreaker’s resilence to wildly differing conditions – and the fact it can be worn again and again without washing – makes it a sound investment. What’s more, you can use it for layering in the winter.
There’s a great colour range too, from cool black and grey to an eye-piercing red and bright blue.
Available from major retailers like Blacks, Cotswold, Snow and Rock.
9. Jungle Formula Insect Repellent & Travel First Aid Kit (Lloyds Pharmacy)
Bites from mosquitos and bugs can blight a holiday and cause considerable discomfort. Plus, huge, itchy, red blemishes are not a good look by the pool.
Jungle Formula Insect Repellent (£5.99 for 125ml aerosol) is as tough as it gets and is approved for use by travellers visiting areas with insect transmitted diseases.
It contains 50% DEET for long-lasting protection, up to 10 hours.
I used it in the rainforest and on a walk through a swampy mangrove. The only place I forgot to apply it – the top of one hand – picked up two bites. Slap it on everywhere except the eyes and lips and enjoy trouble free exploration of the tropics.
Lloyds Pharmacy’s Travel First Aid Kit (£6.99) has got everything you need for those unexpected bumps and scrapes that happen on holiday. The easy to stow green box contains all the items you would expect such as antiseptic wipes, dressings, antiseptic cream and various plasters.
Available at www.lloydspharmacy.com and in-store.