January 17, 2018

Trans-Siberian Railway: St. Petersburg to Shanghai

AJ Atop the Khongor Sand Dunes - Gobi Desert, Mongolia

By AJ Bracebridge (BatteredBackpacks.com)

We love train and overland travel. There’s just something about being at ground level that gives an awesome perspective. A Trans-Siberian Railway trip has been on our bucket list for many years. But we didn’t want to just take a 7-day train ride, look out a window, and call it a day. So we decided to take 3 months to train over 7000 miles across Russia, down into Mongolia, and then around China, making many stops along the way for exploring.

AJ's Wife, Thalita, Posing In Front Of A Trans-Siberian Railway Car - Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

We are carry-on only travelers most of the time, and this trip was no different. I brought only my 35 liter pack for the entire trip. I knew I’d be needing some cold weather gear. But with packing space being a major concern, I reluctantly decided to leave behind my down jacket in favor of a heavyweight merino wool base layer and my Cubed Travel Jacket. Even with temps dipping into the teens (F), rain, snow, and wind, I stayed surprisingly warm while hiking or exploring new cities.

AJ Sporting His Cubed Travel Jacket™ On A Cliff Overlooking Lake Baikal, Russia

I started the trip on my own in St. Petersburg, which is an amazing city, filled with history and dazzling architecture. I moved quickly onto Moscow and, although rainy and cold, thoroughly enjoyed wandering the streets of Russia’s capital city. A 49-hour train ride eastward had me in Novosibirsk, Russia’s 3rd largest city and the unofficial capital of Siberia.

Area Around Novosibirsk's Railway Station

After a couple weeks in Russia’s big cities, I was ready for somewhere rural. Another long train ride, a minibus, and a ferry got me out onto Olkhon Island in the middle of Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake. The people of this region have a spiritual relationship with Olkhon Island, and you’ll find many Shaman prayer poles as well as the picturesque and sacred Shaman Rock. I arrived in the low season, so I was able to take many solo hikes around the island, and just relax in relative solitude.

Shaman Prayer Poles on Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal

I had a quick few stops in the Siberian cities Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude, and then turned south and into the Land of Khans….Mongolia. I was excited for a an amazing new country to explore, and because my wife came to meet me in Ulaanbaatar and finish the trip together.

AJ In His Cubed Travel Jacket™ Hiking In The Mountains East of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

We spent our first few days in a Ger camp in the mountains east of the capital to hike and let my wife get used to the cold. Now ready to brave the cold, we boarded an old UAZ-452 (a gnarly Soviet 4WD van), and headed south on a 7 day tour through the Gobi Desert. Everyday we’d drive somewhere new and see awesome places like the Khongor Sand Dunes or the Flaming Cliffs. Every night we spent in a ger at a different family’s home along the way. We also visited the ruins of several monasteries and learned some important history.

Sunset Over AJ & Thalita's Ger, Gobi Desert, Mongolia

We were in love with Mongolia and were not ready to leave, but we had plans with a friend in Beijing, so onward we went. Going from Mongolia, the least densely populated country on earth with only 3 million people, to Beijing, a city of 21 million, is a shock to the senses to say the least. But we had a good time, exploring the Forbidden City, meandering through the Summer Palace, and of course hiking on the Great Wall.

Hiking the Great Wall Near Jinshanling, China

Our next stop was Huashan, an amazing mountain, and home to the internet proclaimed “most dangerous hike in the world.” The mountain itself has great paved trails and staircases to hike around to the different peaks, but the most dangerous part is the Plank Walk in the Sky. Pay 30 Yuan to rent a harness, clip into some anchored cables, and start down a ladder to a plank walk along the rock face of a mountain some 5000 feet above the ground. I just had to do it! The adrenaline rush and views below did not disappoint!

Traversing the Plank Walk in the Sky in his Cubed Travel Jacket™ , Mount Hua, Shaanxi, China

The last part of our epic trip went rather fast. A stop in Xi’an let us explore the Muslim Quarter for some good street food, a night stroll along the historic City Wall, and of course, visit the Terracotta Warriors. We then headed over to Chengdu for a visit to the panda breeding center so we could watch those guys play around. We ended our trip in the massive city of Shanghai. From the skyscrapers of Pudong to the Former French Concession to the wonderful museums, there’s so much to see and do. It was a great place to relax and look back on our epic trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway and beyond.

View of the Pudong Skyline while walking the Bund in Shanghai, China

About the author: AJ and Thalita are adventure travelers, avid volunteer workers, and reggae music lovers. They blog about their adventures at BatteredBackpacks.com.




January 05, 2018

Inca Trail: A Journey To Machu Picchu

By Cedrik - California, USA 

Your 43 kilometer, 4 day journey along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu will start in Cuzco, at 3,399 meters. Exploring the historic Quechua town will help acclimate you to the Andes and give you the opportunity to sample some of the local cuisine, like roast guinea pig or stir-fried alpaca. I passed on the guinea pig, it looked far too bony, but the alpaca was excellent; sort of like a combination of chicken and elk, lean and tasty. Add some Peruvian potatoes, onions, bell peppers and a pisco sour and you’ve got a fine lunch indeed. My general rule for alcohol is to drink whatever is local and the pisco sours didn’t disappoint.

Llama in Cuzco, Peru

Just getting onto the Inca Trail is a bit of an ordeal. With the increased popularity, trekkers are strictly limited. The days of just showing up in Ollantaytambo and doing the hike on your own are over. A quality outfitter will take care of the red tape and rent you a tent, sleeping bag, and pad. They’ll also feed you well and will follow the rules regarding how much weight the porters carry.  

Porter with his 25kg load

Cocoa tea is bitter and astringent and I’m a coffee guy. But in the pre-dawn chill above 3,000 meters on the Inca Trail, when the porters hand you a steaming hot cup it suddenly tastes all right. The small basin of warm water they also bring so you can wash up is a welcome luxury. Altitude sickness isn’t a worry for the porters and guides, for me, there was the tea! While they engage in a vigorous game of soccer against the village locals, I'm left breathlessly walking over to watch the game.

Brewing coca tea on the Inca Trail

Days were mostly warm, the evenings and nights were chilly and it rained most of one day. With such a variety of weather on the trail, I was happy to have my Pick-Pocket Proof Business Traveler pants, which hardly got wet and dried very quickly on our day of rain. On the last day of the trek, you need to arise at 3:30, so it’s nice to have dry gear for your final day. The goal is to reach the Sun Gate at, um, sunrise, but you still need to pace yourself although you’re just carrying about 7 kg in your daypack. Those sprightly porters hauling the group gear will be jogging past you with their 25 kg loads, but now you know you’ll make it to Machu Picchu.

Walking up to the Sun Gate

You’ve seen the view of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate innumerable times, but in person it’s even more spectacular. Descending to Machu Picchu proper, you’ll join the busloads of tourists coming up from Aguas Calientes. You’ve now completed the Inca Trail and it’s time to take the scenic train ride back to Ollantaytambo, then a bus back to Cuzco. The hotel breakfast buffet will have all the standard items, as well as local Peruvian specialties. But as I was ready to fill my mug with hot coffee, oh yes coffee, I spied a small bowl of green leaves. As I reflected on the last four days of wonderful trekking, I passed on the coffee and had one last cup of now-tasty coca tea.

Cedrik sporting his Pick-Pocket Proof Business Travel Pants




December 14, 2017

Everest: Up In Smoke

Milo Sporting His Tan Men's Travel Shirt & Green Convertible Travel Pants at Everest Base Camp!

Editors note: The title is in reference to the Himalayan Stove Project, which Clothing Arts is proud to support. They provide clean burning cookstoves to families in Nepal, eliminating indoor pollution from traditional open fire cooking. Read more at the bottom.

By Milosz Pierwola (AdventureMilo.com)

Traveling with a purpose. I have always wanted to reach Everest - it was as if my bucket list already had this destination by default. Mankind’s highest stepping stone towards the heavens. Crowned by the highest mountain range in the world, Nepal attracts the world’s greatest explorers. I found myself in this fantastic world and it wasn’t just checking off a box, but I was here to wander off the beaten path.

My mission was to reach remote settlements in the Khumbu near the famed Everest Base Camp trail. I was brought on board by the Himalayan Stove Project to photograph and film the impact of the program, as well as to study it’s operation. My guide, Pasang Temba Sherpa, was responsible for managing operations for the entire region. He can only be described as a legend; a Sherpa guide for 30 years and grandson to one of the men who built the famous Tengboche Monastery.

Everest humbles you. It brings real perspective to the sparse population of Sherpas that live in this environment. They have survived here for millennia, through earthquakes, avalanches, floods, and events that were never recorded in history. They carry with them a legacy of the unconquerable, and each time you meet them on the trail, you always receive a warm smile immediately followed by a friendly “Namaste.”

Over the course of 19 days, there is no photo that can convey the magnitude of these mountains; they appear infinite in number and only grow in size, rising one behind another as if the earth was lifting itself up into the sky. In spite of the elevation, dense forests carpet their slopes well into the trek, and bleached white glacial rivers thick with stone dust cut across them, humming gently in the background. At times the landscape is so vast and the air so clear, it almost appears as if it has existed in this state forever. Quiet, unchanging, and undisturbed.

Clothing Arts is Proud to Support the Himalayan Stove Project:

The Sherpas on the slopes of Everest cook and heat their homes using open fires inside of their kitchens. These fires produce thick suffocating smoke that causes a host of debilitating issues; this has been deemed as the #1 Environmental Hazard by the World Health Organization. The solution has been largely ignored until George Basch created The Himalayan Stove Project in 2011. He witnessed firsthand the conditions and was stunned that nobody ever did anything about it. And so, since its inception, HSP has delivered over 4,100 clean burning, fuel efficient stoves with chimneys that have helped clear the air for a calculated 40,000 people.

The caretakers and protectors of this fantastic land now need our protection. The Himalayan Stove Project is presently collecting for its most ambitious goal of delivering the 5th container of stoves (hundreds of stoves per container) to Nepal, and every donation helps get us closer to this goal.

Make a Donation to Himalayan Stove Project




November 09, 2017

Iceland: We Come from the Land of the Ice and Snow

Cedrik Climbing Vatnajokull , Iceland's Largest Glacier , in his Pick-Pocket Proof Business Travel Pants!

By Cedrik - California, USA

"Dip your water bottles and drink," said the guide, "the water is clean and pure." We hesitated. Even in California‘s remote High Sierra mountain range, the standard is to filter or purify the water. But Iceland is different.

A remote land. Sparsely populated, Iceland has only 334,00 people, with 11 percent of the country covered in glaciers. You quickly get used to not being able to pronounce names in Iceland. The largest glacier in Iceland and all of Europe is called Vatnajokull while the infamous volcano that erupted in 2010, causing air traffic chaos in Europe, is called Eyjafjallajökull. You can buy the t-shirt and the friendly Icelanders will smile as they help you pronounce it over and over again until you get it right.  

It’s much easier to break into your best Led Zeppelin rendition of The Immigrant Song, "We come from the land of the ice and snow . . ." I lost count of the times someone in our small group sang some of the lyrics, but Iceland is a land of ice and snow. Even in June, a heavy snowfall meant pulling on that extra layer of clothing and zipping up the mountaineering jacket and exclaiming, "Well, it IS called Iceland." The puffins don't mind and if you visit make sure to bring foul weather gear.  


Did I mention the wind? The occasional howling gusts triggered another Zeppelin stanza... "The hammer of the gods will drive our ships to new lands." But the stark beauty of the landscape and the remote vastness of the country are what draw many tourists. If you have the time, make sure to go beyond the one-day Golden Circle distance from Reykjavik so you can see the less-crowded part of the country in the north and east. There you will taste the best seafood soup ever and maybe even eat cod you just caught, which the captain filleted on the way to port then threw straight onto the grill. Melt in your mouth good. You’ll be drinking lots of that clean, clear stream water because beers are about a cool $10 each.  


You’ll need beer and more because it’s likely you’ll eat Kæstur hákarl, the Icelandic delicacy of fermented shark. Preparation consists of gutting and beheading the shark, then burying it in the ground for 6 to 12 weeks to ferment and cure. Wikipedia correctly notes, "Those new to it may gag involuntarily on the first attempt to eat it," while Anthony Bourdain says it‘s "...the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing" he has ever eaten. Moral of the story: you absolutely must try it. Of course. Shots of locally produced high test brennivin help sear any remaining taste buds after sampling this delicacy. The Icelanders are a hardy lot with regard to food, as well as the outdoors.


The best of Iceland is found by exploring nature. The fjords, open countryside, dockside villages, geysers, and glaciers. Random tidbit: Iceland is the home of Geysir, the original geyser. So why not climb up part of the Vatnajokull Glacier, which by now you’ve learned to pronounce? We got kitted up with mountain boots, crampons, and an ice ax. You can also rent waterproof overpants, but I opted to just stick with my Business Traveler pants, knowing they were windproof enough and water-resistant enough to hold up to Icelandic weather.

With no snow, little wind, and only a light intermittent rain, we considered the weather perfect for climbing up the glacier. Like most glaciers in the world, Vatnajokull is retreating, so we had to first hike to the toe of the glacier, then securely strap on crampons and start climbing up. You need to step carefully because a slip on the ice has three possibilities. If you are skilled in ice ax self-arrest you’ll stop yourself from hurtling down the glacier. If not you’ll either be lucky and go the hospital with broken bones after a long and fast slide to the bottom or you’ll be unlucky and fall into a crevasse, a split in the glacier, and most likely die. But don’t worry, it’s not that steep and we were told accidents are rare. You might even find glacier mice, small balls of moss that form over time and tumble around the glacier, pushed by the wind. And you thought a rolling stone forms no moss.

We continued higher, reaching a small open stream on the glacier. Since we were thirsty and knew the water was clean, we could do a Viking-style drink: use your ice ax to span the stream, have one foot on either side of the stream, then lower down in the push-up position, drink the literally ice cold water, then push up and repeat until your thirst is quenched. Not really sure if the Vikings actually did that or if the guides were just having fun with us, but the water sure tasted good. Sooner than we wanted the trip was over, but not before watching the setting midnight sun. With one last refrain, "We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow."

Farewell, beautiful Iceland.




August 31, 2017

Easter Island: The Mystery of the Moai

By Founder/Designer Adam Rapp

Adventure. Exploration. Mystery.
It’s all on Easter Island. This trip was planned since before I even knew what planning a trip was. I first saw the majestic statues and learned about the ancient mystery of the Moai from the pages of National Geographic, which brought the Moai across oceans and right into my living room. I knew someday I would have to go see it for myself.

Fast forward 20 years and there I was, under the stars, on a Chilean island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, completely alone with huge stone faces for company.

Our best scientific understanding tells us that the teams of people stood the Moai faces up and rocked them back and forth, using ropes to inch the statues forward. Local stories tell of the Moai walking to their final “Ahu,” or platforms. But pictures, and scientific knowledge are no match for the sheer power of seeing the statues in person.

My journey started at the volcanic crater of Rano Raraku. It’s a wonder to see the statues frozen in time, in various stages of completion, and standing in all manner of angles staring back at you on the cliffside. I retraced the well-worn path down from the quarry and saw an ancient Moai face down in the road, just where it had fallen hundreds of years ago. One could feel like they were discovering it for the first time.

Ahu Tangariki is the most impressive and awe-inspiring of the Moai groups on Easter Island. I visited on my first afternoon and went back two days later to watch the sunrise. It wasn’t enough. On the second to last night of my trip, the skies were predicted to be clear, and I couldn’t resist trying to see the Moai once more, silhouetted by black sky and bright stars. Sure, night viewing is not encouraged, and standard tours to the island don’t include it. But that didn’t stop me. If anything, it made me more determined. I found one of the few cabs and headed down the road that rings the island shortly after midnight. As my eyes adjusted to the absolute darkness, I saw the forms of fifteen faces. Slowly, the majesty of the stones against the night sky came into focus. The mystery of the Moai was clear that night.

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