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Gears & Gadjets : New Products Ease Clothes Packing Anxiety

Experienced travelers try to keep luggage to a minimum. The ideal is a single, wheeled carry-on bag, but that minimalist goal can be elusive when you need a range of clothing. In addition, when everything is stashed into one bag, ties, suits or dresses can be vulnerable to serious wrinkling amid weighty shoes or toilet kits.

Even if you manage to squeeze it all into a single regulation-size carry-on bag, airline personnel sometimes decide tight cabin space mandates checking hand luggage. Add the Angst of envisioning all your gear vacationing in Cancun while you touch down in Cleveland with nothing but the clothes on your back.

The products here answer many of these concerns. Prices do not include shipping and handling.

Travelpro, maker of the best-selling--and in my tests, best-performing--roll-aboard bag, recently came out with a case that addresses wheel-aboard luggage’s principal flaw: the lack of a system for packing suits and dresses in a wrinkle-free fashion. The company’s new Rollaboard Suit Carrier starts with a basic, but one-inch fatter, medium-size Rollaboard bag (22 by 14 by 8 inches), then adds an inside fold-out compartment for securing a suit or a few dresses via elastic straps and a padded cross bar. The fold-out compartment then is “folded” back into the lid and held fast by elastic X straps. I found the Rollaboard suit carrier kept jackets and dresses in much better shape than when they were simply folded and placed in a regular bag. A full-scale garment bag will accommodate more hanging items and keep them more wrinkle-free, but for short trips--when you need a minimum of dress-up clothes and want to keep your luggage down to one sturdy carry-on--this combo wheel-aboard is well worth a look.

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Travelpro Rollaboard Suit Carrier (No. 7480) in black or navy is $199.95 from ASU, a mail-order distributor; tel. (800) 756-1444, or at luggage stores. For men who plan to take a dress shirt along, Lands’ End, makers of upscale sportswear, has come up with a handy alternative to toting around expensive cuff links and tie bars. Fitted inside a foldable blue felt carrying case are eight gold-plated brass essentials: a collar bar, a tie bar, a set of cuff links, two 2 1/2-inch collar stays, and two 2-inch collar stays. The jewelry looks like real gold and Lands’ End provides free engraving on the cuff links and tie bar for a classy touch. If these items are lost or stolen during your trip, you’re only out a pittance.

Men’s Engravable Jewelry Set (No. 2432-9G12) is $29.50 from Lands’ End; tel. (800) 356-4444.

Cool mornings and hot afternoons go with the turf on many trips, and where shorts might be fine for wandering the countryside, the dress codes in urban quarters and at certain religious sites may require long pants. Several manufacturers have tried their machines at designing convertible pants/shorts, but Sportif leads with the best engineered product. The folks at TravelSmith, a mail-order distributor of travel-oriented clothing and gear, say Sportif’s two-in-one pants are their all-time hottest seller. The khaki-colored safari pants convert to shorts via concealed nylon zippers in the legs. The pants have deep cargo pockets topped with button-down compartments in front, as well as button-down pockets at the rear. They are available in two fabrics: cotton twill or Supplex, a very lightweight, fast-drying artificial blend that feels like cotton and is my choice for trips when the going could get wet.

Currently, the pants are available only in men’s sizes, but an order-taker helped me estimate a comparable woman’s size that fit me fine, though in a shapeless kind of way. Next year, Sportif plans to introduce women’s convertible pants as well. While trying out the product, I was slightly conscious of the zipper area against my thighs, though it wasn’t particularly uncomfortable. In addition, some people might not like the look of the pants when worn long, since the overlap where the shorts and legs are zipped creates a visible line. Still, I liked the versatility of the two-in-ones, and recommend them for compact convertibility on the go.

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Two-in-one pants in khaki-colored cotton (No. 2001) or Supplex (No. 2013) in men’s sizes 32-40 are $47 from TravelSmith; tel. (800) 950-1600. Pity the poor little tie, vulnerable to a crushing variety of heavier gear but expected to look smooth and classy around the neck at the end of the line. T. Anthony, a distributor of upscale leather accessories, offers a swank leather tie case that shields neckwear from the rigors of travel. Ties are draped from brass bars on each side of the case (up to four ties per side), which are then secured by leather straps that snap against the inside of the case. The case folds shut and fastens with more snaps. A brass hanger at the top of the case allows for hanging in closets or from hooks or door tops.

Travel Tie Case (No. O1635) in black or orangy-brown is $95 from T. Anthony; tel. (800) 722-2406.CQ A more compact model (No. 9009BK) zippers shut but does not hang. It holds up to four ties, comes in black leather, and also costs $95. Traditional luggage tags are fine for those who want any lost bags sent home--or to the single address on the tag. But what if your trip involves a substantial number of extended stopovers--and you’d really like your bags as soon as possible? These large (6-by-3 1/2-inch) vinyl tags invite baggage agents (in eight languages) to remove the itinerary you’ve placed folded up inside the pouch and to forward your bag to you while you’re en route. The pouch has room for a folded piece of letter- or business-size stationery with detailed travel plans. The tags have leather straps with metal buckles and come in pairs. A sample itinerary is enclosed in the pouch as a guide.

Retriever Luggage Tags (No. LA311) are $4.85 a pair from Magellan’s; tel. (800) 962-4943. Gear & Gadgets appears the first week of every month.


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