In this piece, I’ll be listing the core equipment we took along, with its pros – cons and my observations. Some of this equipment is specific to our kind of expedition and is in part generic for all expeditions.
- Ultra light day sack – I had taken along my a Deuter 33L sack. I could have done with a smaller capacity sack, but I noticed that when I packed in less items in mine, there was no significant weight difference between my sack and smaller backpacks carried my some of my team mates. This pack accommodated my 2L hydration pack in a special pouch of the sack, my camera + spare batteries, wet wipes, a small medicine box, rain wear, scarf, hydration salt sachets, a water bottle and a small bag of snacks. With all this in it, there was space left over. It is a good size and comfortable backpack. There is a well designed wind mesh on the surface where the sack hugs the back and loops at helpful points along the straps. A small pocket at the bottom holds the rain cover. An opening at the top allows the hydration pack hose to travel out of the sack and can be curled appropriately to be placed on hand. The sack’s main compartment can be divided into two via a zip-able partition –this is a handy arrangement. It holds well to your body, with the adjustable strap height, and waist strap. If you want to go for a smaller backpack, just make sure it has all these features.
- Water bladder /hydration pack – This is the inventor’s gift to outdoors persons. The quintessential item that every person who enjoys being outdoors, in the wilderness, for extended periods of time has. I use a pack that opens up entirely from the top, it has a flap with a stopper. This makes it easier to clean and dry. Also, in our conditions, I think it was good that mine has a cover on the mouthpiece. It kept the dirt and dust out.
- Expedition backpack/ big duffle bag – I was carrying a Quechua 65L back pack. It is essentially a travel back pack and suited my purpose well. It had sturdy straps which were useful in holding the sack in place on the camel’s back with ropes. The straps ends can be moved to suit your height. The main compartment was divided via a detachable partition which was hard but flexible enough to take in all the pokes and angles of things moving inside. Also, this compartment is accessible from the top, if you keep the sack upright, or from the front if you have it lying down with the back straps next to the ground. I find this to be a great feature. The same pack double up as a sack as well as a duffle back, with partition. And the fact that it was all closed up with zippers makes it very easy to lock up for travel. It does not have strings that bunch up or snap locking fasteners. The top flap is further covered by a top compartment with elastic strings on the very top to hold a bulky item.
- Walking poles – It you are the type who likes to swing their arms as they walk, the poles might not be for you. Besides giving you rhythm, the poles act as support to take away some weight from your knees and give you a push ahead. They need getting used to though and you have to set a pace where your steps match the pole placement and arm position. Practice thoroughly before use. Use ones which have a grip contuoured to be held for long and also has loops to rest your hand from time to time. All that gripping day after day can be tiring.
- Spade – To dig holes in the ground for poo! J Handy for other circumstances as well, like digging yourself out of a snowed in tent, or a sanded in tent!
- Document wallet - a very handy addition to your kit list..since you want to keep all your documents in one place. This is applicable when you feel the need to rummage through your sack everyday to fish out something and loose papers just get in the way. I used one and kept it neatly folded in an inner pocket of my expedition backpack. Everything stayed intact till the very end.
- Compass / G.P.S – if you are keen on plotting your own course take one along. A compass is better, and it’ll help improve your plotting skills. A GPS needs batteries every few days so keep this in mind while choosing. I had both a compass, that I used occasionally and a GPS watch that gave out as soon after the solar rechargeable batteries refused to work as expected.
- MP3, Ipod - Extremely useful to keep your mind occupied with songs, audio books. Lauren, one of my Australian team members listened to a lot of audio books and talks of her selections here.
- Camera - with it comes cables, batteries, and memory cards – all of them can add to the weight so be sure you want to lug along that DSLR. Charging camera batteries and keeping it clean are the biggest challenges. Make sure you have a cleaning kit too.
- Solar panels and battery – I saw two varieties on my expedition. The hard panel kind and the soft foldable panel kind. Both are good depending on where you are placing the panels. I used the hard kind that were sponsored for us and we placed the solar panels on the camel back and the batteries in their saddle bags. What often went wrong was that the cable connecting the two became undone with even a slightly jerky movement and that meant the battery did not charge. Faraz tried putting the panel on his backpack and the battery in it. That stayed connected because he was careful. But make sure you buy something with a firmer connection for sure. The soft paneled one was used by Yihui and it came with an array of connectors to get a decide to charge right from the panel or charge the supplied battery. The surface area of her panel was more and thus ensured effective charging. Also since the panel was soft, it adjusted to the camels movement well. I would vote for the soft panel ones.
- Net book, laptop, PDA – carry these if you must, because like the camera, they come with cables/batteries and other paraphernalia. We had some in the team carrying the Macbook Air and Peter carrying only his iPhone. Each to his won I guess. Charging becomes a major hurdle, right after keeping the device clean and dust free.
- Water bottle – besides the hydration pack an water bottle serves to contain your hydration mix to replenish salts and such. You can attach it to your sack’s straps so that it is within handy reach. This can be the PBA free plastic varierty or a metallic one with a glove. Though I took a plastic one along, I'd reccomend the metal one with glove. It comes with a handy lid, attached to the bottle so there is not fear of losing it. The glove keeps the water warm/cold, as required for sometime.
- Head torch (rechargeable batteries) – Keeping aside the issue of power to charge the batteries, the head torch keeps your hands free for chores when you want to operate in the dark. You can buy torches with adjustable beam power, saves you battery charge. The basic torch has this feature and some even come with focus enablers—giving you a wide or narrow beam. I think you can safetly stick with the basic. In our case the sun was up until almost 10 pm, so the torch requirement was minimal.
- Small trek towel/Napkin – I vote for cotton ones, not too rough though. These are cheap, quick to dry, absorbs a lot and are very dispensable. I took along 4/5, ended up using only 2.
- Sleeping bag - I for one prefer sleeping On the bag, than in it. The ones with a mummy shape constrict movement. Maybe that is a fine fit for polar regions. You can look for sleeping bags meant for specific temperatures so that they don’t end up being a burden. Wherever it is, I doubt I can sleep well in a bag. I prefer a mat and my own light rug to cover myself.
- Sleeping mat – When you have a floor full of lichen clumps, bumpy rocks pebbles and uneven contours, a sleeping mat is very handy. We used the kind that was inflated when in use and rolled up into a handy bun when not. It is very light too. Besides evening our your bed, it serves as an insulator—prevents heat or cold from the ground to reach the body. Usually these mats are made of tough material and small thorns or rough stones did not puncture it in anyway. You can also take a carry mat along, it is very light but adds volume.
- Tent – Bases your decision of a tent on how many people will share one, what area you are visiting and what weight can you carry. If you are heading for extremely windy areas, make sure you by a low tent which you need to crawl into and has extremely flexible, but sturdy poles. If you are visiting an area which, along with being windy, is hot, use a layered tent. You can remove the top covering and expose the mesh to let air in. If it rains too, the cover will be good protection. I saw Agii use such a tent and it was better than any of ours. We had one with a separable sleeping area with some space for luggage. By the end of the expedition, the poles were bent beyond repair. The pegs to fasten the tent to the ground also have to be of a quality with address the area you are pitching it in—light aluminum ones for soft soil, iron ones for hard ground. The tent material also has to be tough enough to bear tugs and jerks due to the wind or sand deposition. Make sure the tent has wind pockets on top for some ventilation and that they are placed such that cross ventilation occurs. Else be prepared for a sticky night ahead.
As usual, comments and questions are welcome.