- Buyer's Guide
Drive By :: Bellroy Elements Travel Wallet
“The spirit of Merapi never sleep,” goes Javanese legend, “ he only rests.” Now I’m not one for folklore and superstition but when you’re standing nearly 10,000 feet up on Mount Merapi (which translates to ‘Mountain of Fire’), and peering down into its smoking, threatening crater, you realize the Javanese have a point. Since 1548 Gunung Merapi has had 68 historic eruptions, most recently in April of this year.
Why then, you might be asking, do I find myself in such a rather precarious position? Earlier this week Merapi’s Volcanic Alert Level was downgraded from 2 to a 1 (with a 4 meaning a hazardous eruption is imminent), and needing somewhere suitably rough and rugged to put Bellroy’s new Elements Travel Wallet through its paces, summiting Merapi was an adventure I simply couldn’t pass up.
Bellroy is a company that exists to slim wallets. Their products are things of visual, functional, and minimalist beauty, sure to turn the heads of the most seasoned Carryologists. With their new Elements range, Bellroy is going to turn these heads even further – three new hard-hitting and even harder wearing wallets designed for those needing to keep their money and passport safe through rain, snow, sand, grit, and in my case one of the world’s most active volcanoes.
My climb begins in the tiny village of Selo. The Elements Wallet coughs up 5,000 Rupiah (roughly $0.50) and in return swallows a climbing permit, a map, and a few stickers. Each additional item neatly tucks into the precisely placed layered pouches of the interior.
I’m then off, immediately up the brutally steep path that makes me question what awaits once I actually leave Selo. Gradually the arching terraces of tobacco and tea leaves that line the path fade to a dense forest. I come upon Pos 1, where I’ll catch a few hours of sleep under the stars. I tuck anything of value into the Elements Wallet: passport, phone, and spare change are secured behind the sturdy water-resistant zipper and I store the wallet in my jacket. I’m not so much afraid of thieves up here but rather the curiosity of the resident monkeys. I settle under my emergency blanket and adjust the Elements Wallet which is to serve double-duty as my pillow tonight.
My alarm goes off at 2am. Shivering in the moonlight I’m left to wonder how Indonesia can be so cold. I fold up my emergency blanket and tuck it into the Elements Wallet. At this temperature who knows when I’ll need it again. Though a thick dew coats the hard-wearing leather of the Elements Wallet, the electronics of my phone and the all-important SD cards are assuredly dry within.
I force my legs awake, my cold muscles in a full out revolt against my mind. I make them move, only 3 ½ hours till sunrise and I’ve got to get to Merapi’s peak before then. Up we go. The Javanese cities of Yogyakarta, and Surakarta and Merapi’s less violent brother, Merbabu, gradually materialize around me. Under the beam of my headlamp I jot down frequent notes with the Elements Wallet’s included pen and notebook.
Illuminated by the white moonlight, the eerily black cone of Merapi finally emerges. Only 45 more minutes up an agonizing mixture of sand and rock. Gashes in the side of the mountain belch warm, noxious-smelling fumes. I lose count of how many times I slip, often landing uncomfortably on the Elements Wallet. Anything fragile within it however is thoroughly padded and remains intact.
Just before sunrise I reach the top. An unrivaled view of Java stretches before me on one side while a 200-foot drop into the smoking crater lies to the other. As I fumble for my camera lens a gust of wind whips across me, but the tight organization of the Elements Wallet prevents anything from blowing away.
Climbing a mountain presents you with ample time to reflect on many things – life, love, relationships, and the wallet you’re carrying. Between climbing Merapi and traveling halfway around the world to get here, I’ve got a good idea of what makes the Elements Wallet tick, where it thrives, and what it’s not.
Organization – Whether I’m pulling out cash for a beer back at basecamp or fumbling with items up at the windy peak in the dark, everything has a well-thought-out place in this wallet. And it’s all secured behind hard-wearing leather and a bomber water-resistant zipper.
Included Notebook and Pen – When all of your other important documents and cash are safely tucked away, why isn’t your notebook and pen? When a moment of brilliance hits you halfway up Merapi, such as “Next time bring a change of socks,” even though you are covered in mud and sweat rest assured that your notes will not be.
An Elegant Subdued Style – While having a wallet as tough as nails is nice at the top of an active volcano, unlike Christopher McCandless, we all have to return to civilization at some point. And while you will undoubtedly ditch the headlamp and fanny pack, this wallet can stay. Trust me, it looks great on the table of the local watering hole later that night as you entertain others with tales of your harrowing adventures.
Keeping The Elements Out – As I was desperately hoping for, the Bellroy Elements Travel Wallet does indeed live up to its name and keeps the elements out as promised. Whatever they may be. All of this was kept element-free.
The Not So Good*
*Take these with a grain of salt – this wallet is meant to be played with outside, not really in an airport.
Protection Comes at a Price (size) – The Elements Travel Wallet is not one of Bellroy’s slimmer wallets. It functions wonderfully when I could toss it into my bag and forget about it. However, when I was back in civilization and needed to frequently have it on hand, I found it too big to be stuffed into the back pocket of my pants. And while it could fit into the front pocket of my pants, its size made it a slightly awkward fit.
Protection Comes at a Price (zipper) – Most wallets don’t have a zipper – though most wallets can’t keep out volcanic ash. In its element, the zipper on this wallet is a godsend. However, when running through an airport with your hands full it can be cumbersome to constantly be unzipping to get at your documents.
Size Carefully – The included Bellroy notebook and pen are a fantastic touch. But since notebooks tend to fill up fast, it would have been even better if a Field Notes could fit into the wallet. Same goes for phones. While an iPhone can fit inside, slightly larger phones might be on the outside looking in (with envy).
Who it Suits
No surprise here, if you and your documents are going to be exposed to the elements while traveling, this is the wallet you want. Especially if you happen to find yourself on said adventures without having a home base at which to stash your documents.
Who it Doesn’t Suit
Someone whose travel documents will only see the inside of air-conditioned buildings. Unless you’re expecting to have these documents on you through the thick and the thin, the wet and dirty, the protection this wallet provides is probably overkill for you. Also if you think a plastic bag looks good as a wallet, this might not be your style.
The Bellroy Elements Travel Wallet is an excellent choice for when the line between work and play blurs or ideally is erased completely. It is unapologetically tough but still retains an air of elegance. The Bellroy Elements Travel Wallet will see to your documents from the airport throughout your adventure, no matter the elements, and back again to civilization. Regardless of what your backdrop is, you’ll have one of the best-looking and durable pieces of gear around.