Best Travel Surf Gear

October 06, 2017

  • by
  • Drew Zieff

Somebody say surf trip? If you’re loading up on necessities for your next surf adventure, the following top pieces of surf gear—from a durable Lib-Tech surfboard to a stealthy Dakine surfboard bag, stylish Smith shades to Patagonia’s new fair trade certified board shorts—have been tested and approved over the past few months in California, Thailand, and Indonesia.

It’s been a dream international surf trip for our traveling tester, to be sure, and it’s also been the perfect proving scenario for this gear. Living out of his surfboard bag and being constantly on the move, our tester has been absolutely ruthless on this is Darwinian gear testing experience, where only the fittest survive.

If a piece of gear didn’t work, didn’t serve its purpose, or wasn’t worth its weight—it was ditched, donated, or dumped. A minimalist traveler has no room for the semi-useful or the sometimes-helpful—and the following pieces of travel surf gear have proven themselves to be reliable day-in, day-out through surf trips both foreign and domestic. And don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for the best deals and cashback on your gear purchases.

Lib Tech Nude Bowl Surfboard


Photo Credit: Drew Zieff

Lib-Tech’s earning a reputation for crafting eco-friendly surfboards that can take a beating. Our tester’s been diligently exploring this hypothesis by being less than gentle to the Nude Bowl: it’s even smashed into the reef a couple times in Indonesia and emerged with only surface scratches to show for it. The simplest demonstration of Lib’s toughness? You can grab the deck and squeeze the rails as hard as you want, and these boards won’t give—they possess another level of toughness.

The 5-fin setup allows for mixing-and-matching, though our tester has mainly been sticking to a quad setup in Indonesia, using Lib-Tech’s M.I.LF. Technology fins up front and Spinfly fins in the rear. The FOC boxes allow you to customize board feel by fin placement: adjust the fins up or back depending on whether you want a looser ride or more drawn out turns.

Our tester found that the rounded tail and higher volume of the Magnesium, Basalt, and Carbon- constructed deck added stability on bigger, more abrupt drops, while the wider nose and thicker center portion of the board increase his paddle power and stepped up his make rate.

The Lib-Tech technology responsible for the board durability is a rabbit hole worth diving into—check out our article on Lib-Techs as ideal travel surfboards for more.

Tester Comment: “This board has been integral in my quest to improve as a surfer. Thanks to this deck I’m getting more waves and day-by-day feeling more confident going for bigger waves while slowly enhancing my turns. For fellow intermediate surfers with dreams of surfing bigger waves with better style—I’d recommend this Lib-Tech. It’s been the magical ingredient to my own slow but steady improvements.”

Bottom Line: A single-board quiver that can hang in heavy surf, catch waves in garbage conditions, and excels smack dab in between the two.

Best For: Traveling without worrying about your surfboard getting beat up; investing in a daily driver that can get the job done in most waves

Buy Now From Lib Tech

Patagonia Hydro Planing Board Shorts

Patagoniahydro Patagonia Hydro Planing Board Shorts $58.08 - $82.77

There are a few pretty sweet elements that go into these simple yet technical Hydro Planing Board Shorts. First of all, these Patagonia board shorts were stitched with Fair Trade Certified sewing—meaning they were ethically constructed and weren’t put together by an underage, overworked kid in a sweatshop. The UPF50+ fabric is also an eco-friendly 100% recycled polyester treated with a DWR coating.

The waistband is comfortable, and the drawstring passes through a double ladderlock for secure fastening that holds tight in bigger conditions. One of the coolest features is the shorts stuff into their own pocket, a self-storage design similar to that of many rain jackets. When stored, the key loop is on the outside of the pocket, and the packed shorts can be easily attached to the outside of a backpack if wet.

Our tester’s main complaint is that the fabric—while providing adequate stretch and comfort in and out of the water—doesn’t dry as quickly as some other technical, fast-drying board shorts. That said, the durability is what makes these board shorts a winner for the traveling surfer. Notched outseams don’t irritate the skin, nor do they snag or fall victim to run-of-the-mill abrasions. The internal draining hip pocket design separates the pocket material from the short’s outer fabric, meaning that it is less susceptible to damage, and a slash on the outer fabric won’t leave the pocket’s contents vulnerable.

Tester Comment: “I pretty much lived in these Patagonia board shorts in Indonesia. I’ve slept in them on multiple occasions, and once for multiple nights in a row—which I suppose says a lot about how comfortable they are… or how little clothes I have. Perhaps both.”

Bottom Line: Durable technical (and ethical!) board shorts that are primed for daily life in the tropics.

Best For: Prolonged surf trips; daily use abroad

Dakine Storm Snug Fit Long Sleeve Rashguard

Dakinestormrashguard Dakine Storm Snug Fit Long Sleeve Rashguard $37.68 - $41.60

Even in a place like Indonesia, where you might assume that water temperatures are always warm and that you’ll never wear a rash guard again, it’s a smart call to bring a long-sleeve rash guard with a bit of extra thickness for a couple reasons. One: it’s not always warm; rain, wind, and the inevitable exit of Apollo combine for some cold evenings. Two: if you smack the reef, you’ll be happy to have a little bit of padding between you and the coral.

While the Storm’s sleeves are a traditional lightweight polyester blend, the torso is a 2mm neoprene armor that successfully minimizes windchill and adds a bit of padding when paddling for hours on end. The addition of this neoprene does make the Storm a bit bulkier, but it’s hardly noticeable, at least in any negative sense, and the extra padding can be a blessing for paddling comfort.

The fit isn’t as snug as our tester would’ve liked, so you might want to size down, or at least check two sizes. Definitely make sure that you are accurate in your measurements on the Dakine site, and lean a little smaller if you have to.

Tester Comment: “There have been quite a few times in Indonesia when the sun drops behind the cloud bank on the horizon, and a crowded wave becomes almost empty for the last thirty minutes or so of light. Those moments, between having fewer people in the water and possessing a magical light and surreal quality, are among my favorite times in Indo. And I wouldn’t be able to stay out until dark without the Storm.”

Bottom Line: A lightly padded rash guard that can be employed on windy, rainy evenings in the tropics, as well as on sunny days when you don’t want to catch a nasty burn.

Best For: Tropical surf trips, extended use in warm waters, and extra protection on shallower reef breaks

Dakine Recon 3.0 Surf Bag

Dakinerecon30 Dakine Recon 3.0 Surf Bag Starting at: $170.96

Surfboard fees are the bane of every traveling surfer’s existence, especially when airlines charge not per bag, but per board. If you’re a frequent flier (and frequently frustrated with luggage fees) the Dakine Recon 3.0 surfboard bag is worth considering, if only for the fact that it might help you pull the wool over the eyes of the airlines—and save a little cash in the process.

In addition to being a surfboard bag that balances a sleek travel-friendly body with ample padding for the inevitable bumps in the road, the stealthy Recon 3.0 has a padded silver divider that fastens to the outer shell via velcro, making it seem like there’s only one board in the bag when a second is stashed out of airport staff sight. Hence, of course, the name: Recon.

Not only will the Recon 3.0 get you out of paying a board fee, but it may very well get you out of paying for a ding repair after you touch down at your location. As far as protection goes, the outer fabric is a 600D polyester, there’s 3/8-inch closed cell foam throughout the bag, and the stealthy divider (previously described above) adds 5mm of padding between decks.

On the bottom of the board bag, there’s a heat reflective layer that aims to keep boards from heating up and to mitigate melting wax, but complete eradication of this persistent issue is unlikely—especially if you’re traveling to the tropics. The two-way zippers are burly, plus the over-the-shoulder strap is comfortable enough to wind through airports and hike a ways if you have to.

Tester Comment: “Getting away with two boards when the airline only charges you for one is a wonderful feeling—almost like you’ve gotten away with some justified act of goodness under the watchful face of fascism. This might sound hyperbolic, but if you’ve ever been gouged by airlines for surfboards who couldn’t care less about how they handle them, then you understand what I’m saying—and you might want to check out the Recon 3.0.”

Bottom Line: A stealthy essential for surfers looking to save money while protecting their boards.

Best For: International travel, duping airlines, protecting your deck

Smith Salty Crew Lowdown Sunglasses

Smithlowdownsaltycrew Smith Salty Crew Lowdown Sunglasses $145.46 - $152.10

One of Smith’s most popular lifestyle models for a reason, the Lowdown sets an industry standard for style. The matte black Salty Crew collaboration we tested, complete with ChromaPop Polarized Blue Mirror lenses, is ideal for surf trips for a couple reasons: namely, the style and the lens clarity.

On the style front, the nose bridge possesses a slight indent across the top that adds swagger off the bat. The wide frames are embellished by a small slash across each arm, as well as almost imperceptible Salty Crew logos at the tips, adding another couple dashes of spice to the stewpot.

The blue ChromaPop lenses are the paramount piece of the puzzle: they help reduce glare when the sun reflects off the ocean and are ideal for reading waves from far-off cliffs. That said, the Smith shades are far from impervious to scratches; the model we tested non-stop for three months is nearly ready to be retired after the outer coating started to peel. Of course, if you’re careful, or you always rock croakies, this isn’t a problem—however, if you’re like our gear tester and are merciless/clumsy when it comes to handling sunglasses, this inevitability is worth noting.

Tester Comment: “Style? Undeniable. And the lenses are among my favorites I’ve tested in terms of clarity and color—especially if you’re fishing, surfing, etc. I was only bummed about how the lenses started to peel—but if you’re more careful than I am, I’d heartily suggest these Salty Crew Smiths.”

Bottom Line: Stylish travel shades that any surfer will appreciate. Treat them well and they’ll treat you right.

Best For: Living in a blue world—surfing, fishing, and general beach life 

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