Ten Christmas Gift Ideas

There are some ordinary things that I use on a daily basis, and they are just so well made, comfortable, or user friendly that they make me happy every time I use them. So if you're looking for a gift idea here are a few of the things I would suggest for the photographer/traveler in your life.

T here are some ordinary things that I use on a daily basis, and they are just so well made, comfortable, or user friendly that they make me happy every time I use them. So if you’re looking for a gift idea here are a few of the things I would suggest for the photographer/traveler in your life.

First there’s a list of all the items, then farther below details and thoughts on each.

Victorinox Swiss Army Men’s Tachymeter Watch $319

Ultra lightweight, super durable, wheeled luggage by Eagle Creek $245

Apricorn 120 GB Mini USB Hard Drive for Backing up your images $120

The lightest most comfortable sunglasses. Maui Jim Kapalua Polarized Sunglasses in Rose Tint $259 (ouch, only the price hurts!)

Kuhl Jeans, the word’s most comfortable, quick drying, travel pants $62

The world’s best leather Flip Flops by Chaco $50

Fantastic sounding ear bud earphones for your iPhone or Ipod by V-moda $40

My favorite bent-gate carabiners by Mad Rock,$7 attach anything to anything with these ergonomic, high strength carabiners

Once you use these notepads you will never be satisfied using any other brand. Moleskin 3 pads for $7.95

The definitive, end-all, compact travel Pen By Zebra, 6 pens, $12


Victorinox Swiss Army Men’s Tachymeter Watch $319

A watch is the one thing that might just be worth splurging on (if you consider $319 ” splurging”). Of course you can pay a lot less, or a lot more for a watch, but a watch that’s functional, aesthetically pleasing and comfortable is important. If your like me, you’ll likely be using it on a daily basis, for a decade or more.

The reason I was in the market for a new watch is that the band on my 15 year old Swiss Army watch kept breaking after repeated repairs. I looked into getting a replacement band but the band alone would run me $140, so I figured I might as well look at a completely new watch.

After lots of looking around, I chose the Victorinox Swiss Army Men’s 241405 Chrono Classic PVD Coated Grey Dial Watch. The List Price is $525.00, but you can find it for as low as $319.00 with FREE shipping at Amazon.com

The Victorinox Swiss Army Men’s 241405 Chrono Classic PVD Coated Grey Dial Watch has a Stainless steel case with a stainless steel bracelet and a tachymeter bezel. The face is black ice guilloche with luminous hands and Arabic numerals hour markers and luminiscent minute markers around the outer rim. The Chronograph has – three sub-dials displaying: 60 seconds, 30 minutes and 1/10th of a second. It has a quartz movement, scratch resistant anti-reflective sapphire crystal, a stainless steel screw-in case back. The case diameter: 41 mm. Case thickness: 12.2 mm. Deployment with push button release clasp and it’s water resistant to 100 meters / 330 feet.
What’s guilloche you ask? Find out here
What’s a tachymeter and how does it work you ask? Find out here
About PVD Coating
Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) is a process to produce a metal vapor that can be deposited on electrically conductive materials as a thin highly adhered pure metal or alloy coating. The process is carried out in a vacuum chamber at high vacuum (10-6 torr) using a cathodic arc source PVD Coatings are generally used for Medical Device Applications for its hypo-allergenic and wear resistant properites.

PVD coating has been around for decades primarily in military applications original designed to decrease friction wear on metal parts. It bonds a micron thick layer of metal compounds to metal or other materials. Why PVD? First off the finish won’t wear off. It reduces wear of bracelets, crowns, bezels, etc. Adds a unique Professional appearance to your timepiece & virtually eliminates reflective glare. As the deposition process is so flexible many industries have begun using the technology. Tooling for example on metal cutting lathes increases the life of all sorts of parts from the lathe bed to the cutting tools themselves. F1, where as many people know is often on the cutting edge of technology in racing has used PVD successfully on transmission gears and engine parts to help those 10,000+ RPM engines increase reliability. Because PVD reduces friction between metal parts less lubrication is necessary and temperatures are generally lower than without coatings. Though PVD coatings are typically only a few microns thick the molecules bond to the surface of the metal in such a way that they are nearly impossible to remove once applied. This long lasting resilience is what makes PVD so attractive for thousands of mechanical applications.

Since it was introduced to the medical device industry in the late 1980s, physical vapor deposition (PVD) has become widely used to deposit wear-resistant thin-film coatings on a variety of medical devices, including orthopedic implants, pacemakers, surgical instruments, orthodontic appliances and dental instruments. The value of PVD technology rests in its ability to modify the surface properties of a device without changing the underlying material properties and biomechanical functionality.
PVD Coating Properties and Medical Devices> PVD coatings provide a number of benefits to medical devices in addition to hardness and adhesion. The most significant are listed in Table I. The biocompatibility of a coating is a prerequisite to its use on medical devices. Coatings are certified biocompatible based on a series of tests conducted by an independent biological-testing laboratory. These tests were conducted in accordance with ISO 10993-1 guidelines for materials that experience short-term body contact. The results indicate that TiN, ZrN, CrN, TiAlN, AlTiN and two Multi-Arc proprietary coatings (Blackbond and Tetrabond) are acceptable for external and internal medical devices that contact bone, skin tissue or blood.

Available in several different face colors, white, black etc….



Ultra lightweight, super durable, wheeled luggage by Eagle Creek Hovercraft 22 sells for $245

Front zippered boarding pass pocket
Expandable main compartment adds 15% more packing
Front slip-away luggage tag and color accents throughout to help identify your bag
Detachable piggyback clip offers add-a-bag versatility
Two-way lockable zippers on all main compartments
Rugged skid plate and corner bumpers protect bag against urban obstacles
Oversized HC2 off-road wheels provide a smooth ride over varied terrains
Ergonomic retractable handle system for a smooth and comfortable carry
Interior compression wings to secure the load
Interior accessories pocket
Organize this bag with the Pack-It™ System

Eagle Creek Travel Gear Hovercraft 22 Upright Luggage




Apricorn 120 GB Mini USB Hard Drive for Backing up your images $120

* Pocket-sized storage
* Weighs just 3.7oz
* High Capacity
* Bus Powered
– No need for an AC Adapter
* Integrated USB 2.0 Cable
* Extensive Shock Mounting
– 16-point omni-directional shock mounting system

Aegis Mini USB… security and reliability for your data that fits in a shirt pocket

The Aegis Mini ultra-portable 1.8″ hard drive instantly adds up to 240GB of capacity which is ideal for storing, sharing or backing up your valuable data. It’s the perfect companion for travel between home and the office, or for extra storage on the go.

Compatible with both PC and Mac, Apricorn’s Aegis Mini gives you the option of a Hi-Speed USB interface. The integrated cable wraps neatly around the Mini when not in use and draws all its power from the laptop, so an AC adapter is never needed. Pair this with Apricorn’s Data Protection Software Suite and tiny footprint and you have the most comprehensive mobile backup and storage system available. Click here for my full review and a coupon code for a discount


The lightest most comfortable sunglasses. Maui Jim Kapalua Polarized Sunglasses Copper in Rose Tint $259 (ouch, only the price hurts!)

The medium-sized, 8-base frame features flexible wire temples that hug the face with a relaxed fit. Most comfortable glasses I have ever found. Serengeti makes similar ones for less but I can’t find them anywhere! They were called “Titanium”

Here’s my review of the Maui Jims





Kuhl Jeans, the word’s most comfortable, quick drying, travel pants $62

The clothes that I wear are just about as important as all my other technical gear. I have modified and honed my clothing selection based on comfort, ease of use and performance. Recently I discovered a product called Kuhl Jeans, or more specifically, Kuhldry jeans. Here is a report of my findings:

Kuhl Dry jeans have articulated knees. What the heck does that mean?…Take a moment to look compare “normal” pants to pants that have “articulated knees”.You can quickly see that pants with articulated knees, mimic the normal anatomical shape of our legs. Pant with articulated knees allow for a more comfortable fit and provide freedom of movement as compared to a standard, straight design.

Why I like articulated knee pants:

In an attempt to get a unique vantage point, I am often down on one knee while making photographs. Sometimes I’m laying down on the ground, sitting or climbing up on stuff. Much like a rock climber needs freedom of movement to reach a new foothold, I need pants that don’t hinder my ability to “get the shot”.

If you have never worn pants with articulated knees, I suspect that once you have, you will never want to go back to normal pants again…at least when you are being “active” in sports or being “active” in you pursuit of the perfect picture.


Double needle bar-tack, reinforced stitching: I hope this means that they will stand up to heavy use, and or abuse. We shall see over time.

Athletic fit: Kuhl says that “athletic fit” means “larger in the thighs to accommodate skiers and mountaineer’s thighs”. Personally my thighs are pretty small, so this is not a factor for me.

KuhlDry fabric, “evaporative comfort technology”: this is a very important factor for me. First of all I need pants that are cool, because most of the time, I am working in environments that are hot and humid. Additionally, in these environments I often end up staying in hotels which may or may not have air conditioning. Since I only carry 3 pairs of pants (3 pairs of Kuhl Jeans), I have to do my own laundry. This consists of washing things in the sink or shower (see this link for info on washing clothes on the road). On a recent trip to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Colombia, I used my Kuhl jeans. Even with high humidity and relatively warm conditions my Kuhl jeans were relatively comfortable, and when I washed them at night in my hotel, they were dry the next morning when I woke up. (approximate dry time, after a rather aggressive “wringing out” was about 7 hours). Dry time can be reduced by wrapping the pants in a dry towel and wringing them out, and/or when staying in a hotel with a fan or air-conditioning unit.). If you have a window and can put these pants in the sun, dry time can be as little as 2 hours!

Pockets and layout: The pockets are similar to a pair of Levis…standard layout..two rear pockets, two front pockets,with the tiny pocket on the right side, above the main pocket. If you are like me, you have been wearing “cargo pants” with multiple pockets, often with zippered compartments and such. These Kuhl jeans don’t have these features, but frankly, I tended to carry too many things in my cargo pants for the simple reason that I could…now I have cut back and what I put in my pockets…the end result is that I am more comfortable !

Packability: Two pairs of Kuhl Jeans pack in about the same space as one pair of Levis. In terms of weight, two pairs of KuhlDry Jeans weigh less than one pair of Levis.

Fit and finish: I like fit and finish of these Kuhl Jeans, they feel like a very lightweight pair of Levis. They seem to be well made, with good attention to detail. In terms of durability, I have yet to have use these pants for an extended period of time. We shall se how well they hold up to my daily use and abuse, my washings in hotel sinks, and more importantly how well they hold up to “laundry services” in the places I travel, which often means someone banging them up against a rock, or wailing on them with a stiff brush and some heavy duty soap!

Washing and more importantly, drying time: Easy to wash. Dry time is about 25 percent more than nylon cargo pants, but still quick enough…a night time wash usually provides enough time so that pants are ready to be worn the next morning. (See my advice on washing clothes on the road)


Comfortable fit. I love the articulated knees
Fabric is soft and supple, yet appears to be durable.
Finally a pair of pants that looks different from what 95% from what all other “tourists” are wearing..namely, Khaki, nylon, convertible, cargo pants.


The fabric has a soft, fuzzy outer surface that tends to show dirt, especially dry dusty stuff. Compared to nylon cargo pants, these tend to require more frequent washings (if you want to look your best).

Some key wear points, such as on the right pocket (where I store most things) look like they are starting to develop. I have yet to determine if this is a serious “wear issue” or just the resulting “broken in look”, similar to well worn Levis.

In summary:

I would recommend these pant to anyone who needs a lightweight, cool, comfortable pair of pants for work or travel that can be washed and dried quickly, even in humid conditions. I will continue to evaluate these pants, based on my personal experience and update this page in the coming days weeks and months. Currently these are my pants of choice, and I am confident enough in them, that I have eliminated all my nylon cargo pants. I carry only 3 pairs of Kuhl Dry Jeans with me, which really helps lighten the load in my luggage.

Here’s my full review and an update after 1 year of continuous use.


The world’s best leather Flip Flops by Chaco $50

Buttery-soft nubuck leather wraps our supportive BioCentric™ footbed to create a stylish slip-on that not only feels great on your feet, but provides all-day Chaco comfort.

• Leather lined BioCentric™ footbed

• Soft nubuck upper

• Skived and rolled nubuck toe post

• EcoTread outsole features 25% recycled rubber

or at Sierra Trading post for $49 while supplies last

.Chaco Flip Eco Tread is the one you want.


Fantastic sounding ear bud earphones for your iPhone or Ipod by V-moda $40

The Perfect Integration of Form and Function

V-MODA, the music lifestyle brand that owes its allure to the fusion of fashion and function, introduces its passion for music and style to the world with our innovative line of “modaphones”. The pinnacle experience of music is interwoven with supreme style in these premium fashion-phones that sound as amazing as they look. The Vibe series of earphones comprises the signature example of the V-MODA line, combining for the first time a meticulously-crafted sound signature with a conscious eye towards modern design.

V-MODA’s “Sculpted Sound Curve”

V-MODA’s engineers spent over a year of the design phase crafting the perfect sound signature of the Vibe series of headphones. Designed to mimic the warm, sweet sound of hi-fi stereo speakers costing thousands of dollars apiece, the curve remains amazingly straight with no bass roll-off which delivers a smooth and detailed bass response. A sensitivity dip in the 500hz to 2kHz range accentuates the bass slightly and reproduces a warm soundstage. The gentle dropoff in the high ranges was carefully designed to avoid harsh or “clinical”-sounding highs, making the Vibes suitable as in-ear monitors.

The Power of V-MASQUE and BLISS Technologies

V-MASQUE is the speaker technology designed to reproduce V-MODA’s sculpted sound curve. It involves using micro-sized metal alloy housings with dynamic neodymium speaker drivers to produce intense clarity and a warm, rich sound. Many other high-end headphones use balanced armature drivers, which can produce clarity well when inserted deeply–and for many people, uncomfortably–into the ear. Yet even in the best-case scenarios headphones using balanced-armature drivers can often lack warmth, producing a “mechanical”-sounding midrange and highs that feel flat and cold. The sound signature of the Vibe series is specifically designed for juicy lows and a sweet midrange yet maintains very precise highs.

Vibe’s amazing hi-definition sound makes every element of your music crystal clear and present on a 3-D soundstage. The unique V-MASQUE dynamic driver and “beat port” airflow system recreates the sensation of a LIVE music experience. The “beat port” airflow system works by allowing the airflow to move throughout the housing naturally thanks to precision-cut holes in the driver and the housing. This airflow creates an organic output that is far different than other high-end in-ear monitors that can sound distant and mechanical. The Vibe simulates an experience of listening to live music thanks to the circulation that takes place inside the headphone.

BLISS is the acronym for “Bass-Level-Isolating Soft Silicon”. Passive noise isolation by itself is not unordinary for in-ear headphones, yet extreme attention to detail is critical because of the fitting’s effect in both comfort and sound. The exact thickness of the silicon can make all the difference in the world. Many of the “softest” silicon fittings on some brands proved to be too thick in V-MODA’s user test panel. BLISS is made to not only be extremely comfortable in the ear canal, but also to be the easiest earphone to put in and take out quickly. This way one can rock quickly in a matter of seconds, then take an intermission before another encore.

The shape of the fitting is also extremely crucial to prevent them from popping out too easily by providing a proper seal. One of the interesting things V-MODA discovered is that the smaller the fitting, the better the fit for some users since the smaller fitting fits slightly deeper to prevent fall-out. However, many people commonly try only “larger” fittings thinking they may be tighter when the opposite is true. This is why V-MODA puts the small fittings on by default in the packaging, but users should try a few different sizes to decide for themselves optimal sound and comfort.

The design behind BLISS is also an ideology of how far deep the fittings should lie in the ear and the level of noise isolation. In V-MODA’s user test groups, many users found that other high-end headphones required a fit too deep and too intrusive to get the best sound and comfort. BLISS fittings are “just right” for everyday use and the amount of noise isolation they provide.

What It Means To Be a “Lifestyle” Headphone

Though designed as an audiophile headphone, the Vibe was also specifically designed to be used on the go while moving: at the gym, heading to the venue, or walking down the street. Even though the casing is made of metal, the Vibe amazingly weighs only 12 grams, which is a third of the weight of many other competing high-end headphones. It is also the only headphone designed to lie flush within the ear so that you can use it while laying down on a pillow.

Extra thought and research was also put into the cable. Why is the cable so important? The main cable diameter of 2.2mm and overall cord length of 44″-46″ work best to prevent “earphone fallout”. V-MODA’s cables are rigorously tested with weights to withstand abuse.

In addition to all this, the Vibe comes with a lot of extras. A gold leather pouch provides quick and easy storage, and the Modawrap cable manager can be used to control the length of the cables which is especially great for use with sport armbands. Black and clear fittings are included for extra personalization and two pairs of each size fittings are included. Try all 3 sizes (small, medium, and large) of fittings to create secure fit maximize music listening experience. Gently insert fittings into ear canal deep enough to ensure optimal seal.

Costco carries these, so if you have a Costco nearby, you might find them on sale for about $20
If you can’t find the ones in the picture above, then this newer, more expensive version at Amazon is the one to get. Vmoda also offers a style with a microphone if you need to use it as a cell phone headset, it runs about $10 more.

My favorite bent-gate carabiners by Mad Rock,$7 attach anything to anything with these ergonomic, high strength carabiners

Nothing to say about these other than get some !

On sale now $4.95 at sierra trading post!







Once you use these notepads you will never be satisfied with any other brand. Moleskin 3 pads for $7.95


When it comes to taking notes, I like Moleskine Cahier notebooks. They look kinda’ like a passport. They are durable and for me, contain enough pages for quick notes that I may jot down on a trip of about 6 weeks. Below is the manufacturers description.

Moleskine Cahier Notebooks Like comfy jeans on the weekends, the Moleskine Cahier is casual yet durable. A journal for all occasions — It’s soft, light and fits in every pocket. A flexible cardboard cover houses the acid-free paper pages, while the thread stitching is visible on the spine. The back cover has a spacious pocket for notes or clippings, and the last 16 pages of each journal are detachable. Available in 3 formats: Pocket (3.5 x 5″), Large (5 8.5″) and XLarge (7.5 x 10″). Sold as a set of 3 notebooks with Black or Kraft Brown cover. Get your Moleskine Ruled Cahier Journal Black Pocket: set of 3 Ruled Journals $7.95 at Amazon.
I get the ones that are about the size of a passport….called “pocket size”




The definitive, end-all, compact travel Pen By Zebra, 6 pens, $12

One day I was sitting around with my friend and fellow photographer Theresa Vernetti describing what I though would be the perfect pen. Small enough for your pocket, with a covered tip (so as not to stain clothes) and with a clip that was flush with the top (I didn’t want it protruding above my shirt pocket level, because I have covered pockets rather than open pockets like on a dress shirt). Anyway, she found the Zebra F-310 and gave me a few prior to an overseas assignment. Since that trip, the Zebra F-301 compact has been my favorite writing instrument….now I pretty much carry one every day, work or play!

F-301 Compact Transforms from compacted size for storage to full size for use. Stainless Steel barrel Non-slip Grip Cap featured eye-loop to attach lanyard.




8 Responses to “Ten Christmas Gift Ideas” Subscribe

  1. Dean Forbes December 11, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    Great post Karl. I have the Moleskin journal and the pens, so if you want to get me any of the others for Christmas, I’ll send you my address . . . 🙂

  2. Karl Grobl December 11, 2010 at 11:52 pm #

    hahaha, nice try Dean 🙂

    Glad you like the Moleshin jornals and the pens!

    Happy holidays,


  3. Sean December 12, 2010 at 3:02 am #

    Just got back from 12 days in India and could have done with a few carabiners (I only had one tiny one). They are the first thing I’ve put on my travel photography shopping list ready for the next trip.

  4. Dean Forbes December 13, 2010 at 4:31 pm #

    Seriously speaking (writing?) now, your travel and packing tips have been very helpful. I returned from India having learned some things about how much gear to bring and how to carry it: I brought too much and found that a photo backpack was not ideal for being portable. I’m going to consider your use of a belt system. I did buy a rolling suitcase similar to yours which turned out to be a good size. And, your images have been an ongoing lesson for me. Thank you, Karl, and happy holidays!

  5. Karl Grobl December 13, 2010 at 4:54 pm #

    Hi Dean, I always appreciate hearing that something I wrote on the blog, helped someone in some small way…packing for trips has become second nature to me, so I’m happy to share what I have learned. Dean, I think you’ll like a belt/holster system after you get used to it. It’s kinda’ weird at first, but then you realize how awesome it is to have complete and immediate access to your cameras! Take care and happy shooting. I’m going to click over and see your Flickr gallery now. Happy Holidays, Karl

  6. Terry Wheeler December 13, 2010 at 11:00 pm #

    Hey Karl,
    I am going to point Mary Ann to your list. There are a few things on this list I don’t have!
    Hope you are enjoying your time at home during the Holiday Season!

    Merry Christmas,

  7. Karl Grobl December 14, 2010 at 6:07 am #

    Hi Terry,
    Thanks for the comment. I hope I’m not in trouble with Mary Ann 🙂
    Merry Christmas to you too.
    Hope we can get together again before mid January.
    Take care,

  8. Terry Wheeler December 16, 2010 at 9:44 pm #

    Hi Karl,
    It would be great to get together before you take off to the Philippines! Especially since Mary Ann’s dad (the UN doctor that worked with NGO’s) is still staying with us. He and his wife are going back to the Philippines in March.
    It would be fantastic if you guys could meet. I have shown him your blog and your work, and he would love to meet you!

    Let me know when would be good for you and Carrie.

    Talk to you soon.

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