Travel Gear Then and Now

Gear Guide — By Alexi Ueltzen on August 13, 2009 at 11:40 am

As Gear Junkies, we have a special place in our hearts for travel gear of old. Worn steamer trunks, bandannas so faded the pattern has all but disappeared, dented camp pots and pans… These nostalgic pieces remind us that travel didn’t used to be so fast, so convenient, so, well, easy.

Many will argue that the high cost of tickets, the never-ending frustrations of airport security and the annoyance of huge groups of tourists means that travel is anything but “easy.” Nevertheless, over time we humans have developed some pretty ingenious solutions to age-old travel problems. Read on for a list comparison of your grandparent’s travel gear, and what you have available today.

The Bag

Then: Steamer trunks
Used to be, when you packed up your knickers and flower-pressing journals, you put them in a formidable steamer trunk. These resilient pieces of luggage were the go-to for any trans-ocean, cross-country or international trip. Made of wood, with brass, leather and iron embellishments (including some serious locking mechanisms), many still exist today because they were built to last. While this speaks to the quality of the craftsmanship, it also speaks to their weight. The only people that handled these were strapping menfolk and anyone you could pay to carry them.

Now: Suitcases
A clear evolution of the steamer trunk, suitcases now come in every material, color, size and shape imaginable. Some of today’s amenities include: rolling wheels, extending handles, suitcases that convert into backpacks for easy carrying, zippered pockets for easy access to each section… and some really weird ones:

– A translucent attache case for security line efficiency
– A suitcase that is also a chair (…or a table, or a file cabinet)
– A transformer-style suitcase trolley that turns into a bike

The Footwear

Then: Leather Boots
When Sir Edmund Hillary climbed Everest, he did so in thick leather boots that froze outside his tent the night before. Leather has been the go-to material for hardy footwear for centuries because it’s, well, hardy; until the age of synthetic material, nearly every type of shoe came in leather, from ski boots to walking shoes to football cleats. Resistant to sharp rocks and (most) inclement weather, it’s also malleable enough to make a form-fitting shoe. Our ancestors thought they had it pretty good when they also added thick rubber soles. However, leather is hot, heavy, stiff and has a tendency to absorb water (ski boots alone could take on a couple of extra pounds after a sunny day on the slopes).

Now: Every type of footwear imaginable
From all-terrain boots with various treads, support systems and waterproofing to sandals that protect the toes, the arches and even have a hidden bottle opener, to say that footwear has “evolved” is an understatement. Lighter-weight and ergonomic shoes make traveling, a time when you probably spend the bulk of your day on your feet, a much more pleasant experience. We’re willing to bet that if Sir Edmund had access to a pair of today’s Merrell’s or Asolos back in 1953, he wouldn’t know what to do with himself.

The Clothing

Then: Layers. Formal, heavy layers.
At  the turn of the century, plucky female travelers could be expected to wear corsets, petticoats, ankle-length skirts, face-obscuring hats, gloves and, in case a breeze managed to find its way through all those layers, a shawl. Men weren’t much luckier, with stiff-necked collars, starched shirts, heavy jackets and must-be-impeccably-clean-at-all-times hats. Society and its obsession with modesty made light, comfortable clothing all but forbidden. But hey, they got to travel!

Now: Fanny packs, flip flops and “I Heart This City” shirts. ‘Nuff said.

Photo Credits: Trunk by, Chair suitcase by geekologie, Hillary boots by flattop341/Creative Commons, hiking boots by Fitting Boffoa, clothing by and Ed Yourdon/Creative Commons

Tags: boots, clothing, gear, history, suitcases, travel


  • Sanya Travel says:

    Interesting comparison!

  • mens hiking boots says:

    Great, I like the comparison 🙂

  • mens hiking boots says:

    nice information and great comparison , thanks

  • says:

    Leather bags are a must for everyone, including men. Leather bags are now available in so many different styles, materials, colours… the list goes on, that whatever your wardrobe or occasion, there is a leather bag out there for you!

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  • Hiking Boots says:

    We have definitely come a long way. I couldn’t imagine traveling in half the stuff they wore back then.


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