Approaching the volcano Lanin in the Neuquen province of Argentina
Hi all! For this blog I thought I’d take a quick look at expedition gear. And I don’t necessarily mean a 9-month exploration of the Patagonian icecap. This could mean a three-day crossing of northern Snowdonia, it could be a week on the South-West Coast Path, or it could mean a hut-to-hut trip in the Alps. And the advice I want to give you is something a little different from the norm.
Search online and it’s really easy to find comprehensive kit lists for big-scale expeditions. That tends to be because there’s a lot of big adventure companies out there, and they want their clients to be a) fully prepared for the 4-weeks in, say, Borneo that they’ve got planned for them, and b) it’s a pretty good way to advertise how exciting and challenging their trips are going to be.
However, one thing you won’t necessarily get from these otherwise brilliant shopping lists are the little tips for comfort and ease that only experience will give you. I’m sure plenty of you hardcore Lifesystems-types will have your own choices, but hopefully the following five that I’ve picked up over the last 15 years of shoestring adventuring will prove useful.
So, here we go...
Expedition essential #1: your own water bottle
It’s easy, wherever you are in the world, to pick up a plastic water bottle and reuse it for as long as it lasts. That’s always a good thing to remember if you happen to find yourself bottle-less and far from home. However, owning and reusing your own bottle is a real joy, and there are two main reasons for that. Firstly: if it’s a good one it’ll last years and cut your dependence on manufactured plastics. Secondly: I’ve always found a huge psychological boost from taking a favourite bottle with me. It might be the feel of it in your hand, the pleasing colour or the solidity of the cap closure, but it acts as something familiar and dependable, which can’t be underestimated when you’re spending an extended period of time far from home and often in the company of strangers. The downside is that if you lose your favourite bottle - as I did whilst climbing Mont Blanc in 2012 (it was knocked out of my pack’s side pouch, slid down the glacier with incredible speed and was swallowed by a crevasse - and I still feel sad/guilty about it) - then the psychological impact may be a negative one. So be careful!
Water, water, everywhere… Grey Glacier in Torres Del Paine National Park, Chile
Expedition essential #2: a sleeping bag liner
I would consider a
sleeping bag liner to be as essential as the sleeping bag itself. There are a number of reasons for this: 1) a good cotton or silk example adds 2-4 deg C to the warmth rating of your bag, 2) it’ll keep your sleeping bag clean from your stinky feet and sweaty body, and is simple to throw in the wash with the rest of your clothes, and 3) it’s often all you’ll need when you’re sleeping in a hot and cramped alpine hut, and will protect you from the communal blankets (or equivalent) which may not be as sanitary as you’d hope.
Me (right) high up on the side of El Misti, a Peruvian volcano, in 2001. A sleeping bag liner would have been a handy addition in this situation
Expedition essential #3: a neck tube
A hugely versatile bit of kit. The originals were made - and continue to be made - by Buff. However, other brands are now available. You can wear them in the style of a neckerchief, a beanie, a balaclava or a bandana (amongst others) and when not in use it can be easily doubled up on itself and kept on your wrist, which makes you look incredibly fashionable (yes, it does). I’ve used neck tubes to keep the sun off my head and face on alpine glaciers, to keep warm in windy British autumns in the hills, and even as a sweatband whilst trail running too. They’re the business.
Many companies pay to have their own bespoke necktubes produced. This one was made for Swedish footwear company Icebug
Cerro Fitzroy on the Argentine-Chilean border in Patagonia. A necktube may not be the sole tool needed to reach or climb it… but it helps
A view from within the “W” of the Torres Del Paine circuit
Expeditions don’t have to be overseas. This shot, from the southern side of Snowdon, was taken on a multi-day trip across Snowdonia
Expedition essential #4: words, music and other distractions
Being on expedition can be exactly like real-life, just ever so more intense. So it makes sense that you’re going to need some down-time and some escapism. You’re also likely to spend huge amounts of time in transit, both
en route to your destination and when actually on your travels. So, taking some music and reading material along with you can have massive effects on your attitude and outlook during challenging times. In 2002 I spend 3-months in Ghana on a Raleigh International expedition, and as far as I recall I spent most evenings falling asleep to the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, trying to equate my struggles to those of Frodo Baggins (don’t be too quick to judge, I was quite a sheltered teenager). Likewise, reading some powerful literature like Cormac McCarthy’s border trilogy in a suitably epic setting (as I did whilst travelling the length of Argentina in 2006) can have life-altering effects. Just remember to pack an e-reader instead of the paperbacks… I ended up taking two rucksacks, one for books and one for everything else!
You can ever store travel guides on an e-reader, as I have done here (my word it was cold up there)
When it comes to music, a separate MP3 player can make a sensible addition to your phone. You may not want to use precious battery life listening to tunes
The shared tent from my Raleigh International expedition in 2002. I’m sure Frodo would have considered it luxurious
Expedition essential #5: sensory deprivation tools
The ability to shut out light and sound can make a huge difference to the quality of your sleep. I’ve been in hostel dorms where the force of somebody’s snoring has actually made the bed shake. And even if you don’t happen to be sharing a room with an anti-social sleeper, the combined noise of 30 trekkers chatting and packing (and the disruption caused by the occasional naive soul that decides to switch the overhead light on at 1am) is easily enough to make for a fitful night’s sleep. I’ve found that even in the busiest of places using an eye mask and
earplugs can guarantee a solid 7 or 8hrs.
Eye mask and earplugs: a cheap and effective way to sleep well on expedition
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Until next time, amigos.
Dan Aspel is a journalist and Mountain Leader. You can find him at
Visit www.lifesystems.co.uk to find a host of kit and equipment for your next mountain adventure.