Revised by BoatUS editors in April 2012
Whether the quest for speed has overcome you or you are looking for a more balanced, comfortable ride, you need a traveler that allows you to make quick adjustments. If you're retrofitting a boat that has an older, all-rope mainsheet system or a basic track-and-stop system, or if you're buying a new mainsail, you should take a close look at today's new travelers and consider upgrading your entire system. The new systems offer many advantages that can help improve your performance through better sail control, and they make sail handling easier.
Mainsheet travelers let you control the location of the boom without changing leech tension. This reduces the effects of weather helm-the boat's tendency to round up into the wind, making it difficult to steer and creating drag. In addition to avoiding jams, the new systems are easier to handle under load-you can fine tune your sail trim without too much effort, a near impossibility with older systems. In addition, the new travelers let you control the shape of the sail when reefed. If you're purchasing a new mainsail, you want to match its new materials, computer design, and superior quality with a high-tech traveler system that lets you take advantage of modern sail technology.
When you get a gust of wind, you ease the traveler to leeward to reduce your angle of heel, while keeping the sail shape and driving you forward. In light air, raising the traveler above the centerline allows a close sheeting angle without placing excessive strain on the leech. However always keep safety in mind. For example, easing the traveler to leeward should not take the place of letting out the sheet if that's what you need.
The simplest track system consists of a piece of track with movable stops, and a low-cost slide with no bearings. However, this type of system tends to bind up under load and can become ineffective in heavy air, when you need the control most. More sophisticated units will operate at greater loads, but even basic systems will out-perform simple sliding cars that lack bearings.