Adventure Kit That Really Packs a Punch!

If the military has taught me anything, it’s that time spent in preparation is seldom wasted. Whether you are just starting out or a seasoned professional, ensuring you have the right kit and equipment should be a sizeable part of everyone’s planning process before heading into the great outdoors. Having the right gear means you can concentrate on the task at hand, allowing you to push your physical boundaries in the knowledge that your kit won’t give up before your legs do. However, there will always be a limit to how much you can carry and there needs to be a sensible balance between safety, speed and agility. So if you intend on packing light, you will need adventure kit that really packs a punch.

When out and about I often find myself chatting to others about their equipment choices, weighing up the pros and cons of various items against my own and occasionally drooling over someone else’s ultra lightweight bit of kit. Unfortunately, I simply do not have the time or money to constantly research, upgrade and test out new gear every time a manufacturer manages to shave a few extra grams from last season’s efforts. While I might not own the newest ultra-minimal Cuben Fiber constructions [albeit very tempting], participating in a varied range of outdoor interests and pursuits means a lot of my kit needs to perform equally as well regardless of where my travels take me. Below are a few of my favourite bits of kit that now make up the core of my packing list for personal expeditions and adventures. This list is by no means exhaustive and I am sure there are many better products out there suited to specific situations. But over some years of refinement, I have found all of these items to be an excellent balance between weight, versatility, value for money and, most importantly for me, bombproof reliability. If it also happens to be nice and light too, then all the better.

Boots

Scarpa Manta BootsChoosing the right footwear is an essential but often daunting prospect given the vast range of options available. If money [and space] is no object you can, of course, purchase different treads for every occasion. But if you’re likely to embark on an adventure that will cross several terrain types or want the multi-purpose versatility to walk, trek and climb in one set of adaptable footwear, then you are going to need a good all-rounder. My pick of the bunch for UK and European exploits are Scarpa Mantas, which feel equally at home on a windswept hike over the Peak District’s Kinder Plateau as they do on the snow-capped summit of Mont Blanc. What’s best of all is that these boots are out-of-the-box-comfy and just get better with time. They are also capable of accepting both C1 and C2 type crampons, which comfortably bumps them up into the easy Scottish winter orAlt-Berg Desert Microlite boots Alpine summer territory when needed. I have used Mantas extensively in all seasons for over 5 years, both in UK summer and winter condition as well as for non-technical summer Alpine mountaineering, and they are still going strong today. Despite them having been a stalwart in the 2-3 season boot market for over two decades, Mantas won’t suit everyone. What’s important is finding the right balance between weight, rigidity, durability, mobility, support and reliability. Mantas certainly offer these qualities in abundance. For more desert-based expeditions or in warmer climates in general, I would unreservedly recommend Altberg’s Desert Microlite boots. Having used them extensively through my military career, they really ARE the best that money can buy and worth every single penny. They’re made in Yorkshire too!

Sleeping Bag

Your sleeping system will obviously consist of more than just a sleeping bag and, depending on the weather conditions, you will need to adjust your setup accordingly. Of course, as with everything, you could own a number of different bags to best suit the situation. However, this is an expensive option and you will probably still end up taking a warmer and heavier configuration than you actually need. I prefer to take a reasonably lightweight bag and then incorporate a liner, bivvy bag, sleeping mat or even existing clothing layers to achieve an ideal level of comfort. Rab Neutrino Endurance Alpine 400 Sleeping BagThe Rab Neutrino Endurance [formally Alpine] 400 is a perfect sleeping bag for the job. For a start, it already comes with a far more weather resistant ‘endurance‘ outer shell than the standard Neutrino, meaning it happily stands up to summer Alpine conditions without the use of a bivvy bag. In addition, Rab’s recent introduction of Hydrophobic Down sees your bag protected for longer if it does happen to come in contact with water or condensation. Weighing in at feathery [excuse the pun] 890g, the exceptional warmth to weight ratio achieved by an additional 200g of goose down over its lighter counterpart, the Neutrino Endurance 200, is well worth the extra outlay and gives a highly respectable real-life comfort rating of -6 degrees Celsius [21’F]. By combining it with other elements of your sleeping system, the Neutrino Endurance 400 becomes a super versatile and lightweight addition to any pack up for a multitude of activities whether in the UK or further afield.

Sleeping Mat

Therm-a-rest NeoAir XthermI used to be a die-hard advocate of closed-cell foam mats over inflatable mattresses for all of my exploits. After all, you cannot puncture foam! However, after trialling the Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm on a few shorter trips both in the UK and overseas, I was sold on the idea and quickly discovered the benefits far outweighed any perceived pitfalls. Although the Xtherm is marginally heavier than its ultralight NeoAir Xlite sibling, the difference is negligible and pack size remains exactly the same. What you get for the additional 80g is a far more durable and puncture resistant base fabric as well as heat reflective inserts that raises the Xtherm’s thermal rating [R-Value] to a mind boggling 5.7, almost double that of the NeoAir Xlite which already had a very impressive R-value of 3.2. With such high thermal properties, the Xtherm is suitable for a wide range of environments. OK, I admit I do still reach for my Thermarest Z-Lite foam mat when I go backpacking significantly further afield or during extended trips where I need something to withstand an untold amount of abuse. But in general, the Klymit Inertia x-frameXtherm is by far the best and most versatile sleeping mat I have ever used. What’s more, Thermarest also makes a couple of lightweight accessories that convert the NeoAir range into an inflatable chair or stool, increasing the pad’s utility even further. For the wannabe ultralight minimalist, you should check out the multiple award-winning Klymit Inertia X-Frame. Packing down to about the size of a can of coke, at 258g, it is the lightest full-length inflatable mattress on the market and is ideally suited to lightweight summer based activities. I admit that its cut-out loft pockets do look a bit odd and the concept of sleeping with the mat inside your bag may seem alien to some. However, the logic is sound and I can attest to many comfortable nights sleep on this skeletal looking air mattress. It can be fully inflated in just 4 breaths too!

Sleeping Bag Liner

Sea to Summit Silk Sleeping Bag LinerWhile on the topic of sleeping systems, having made the switch some time ago from a standard cotton liner to silk, I have never looked back. I have now used the same Sea to Summit Silk Liner in most conceivable situations; from a stand-alone sheet in 40 degrees heat of the Saharan Desert to adding roughly five degrees to my sleeping system as an additional layer in a chilly Alpine bivvy, each time finding myself surprised at how well it has performed. Nowadays, I nearly always carry a silk liner close to hand, either in my day-sack or hand baggage, as you never know the next time you’ll be delayed overnight in an African airport or handed some dubious looking bedding at an eastern European hostel. At only one third the weight and pack size of its cotton counterpart, it’s easy to see why silk liners come so highly recommended.

Emergency Kit

Adventure Medical Kit: Sol Origin
I have never really been a fan of survival kits. The thought has always conjured up nostalgic recollections of my time in the Army Cadets, filling up rusty old tobacco tins with all manner of little trinkets that would never again see the light of day once placed into the depths of my bergan. That was until I came across the SOL Origin by Adventure Medical Kits. While it probably won’t meet the exacting requirements of the most seasoned survivalists, it’s still a very user-friendly, ready-to-go kit that will appeal to a wide audience. Made almost entirely of high-durability plastics, the virtually indestructible waterproof container houses a selection of the most important survival and rescue aids, arguably the most useful of which is a handy little waterproof survival guide. What I like most is the ease of access to some of the externally housed tools such as the knife, whistle, torch, fire-starter and compass, meaning you don’t have to constantly rummage around inside to find what you are looking for. For those that want to expand on the basic list of included items, there is a small amount of room left inside to add few extra bits of your own such as plasters, mini flint stick, foldable water container, etc. At just under 4 inches long and 1.5 inches high, the SOL Origin is small enough to fit into the tiniest of nooks in your pack and is light enough [170g / 6.1 oz] that you will hardly even notice it’s there – but will be eternally thankful it is should you ever need it!

Personal Cooking System

Jetboil Sol Titanium TiYour cooking set up is one place you can save a lot of weight and space yet still be able to prepare a feast fit for a hardy adventurer. I have used Jetboil stoves ever since the introduction of the first Personal Cooking System (PCS) back in 2004. Since then, several design refinements have seen the system offered in a number of variations, the lightest of which was the Jetboil Sol. With its Thermo-Regulated burner technology, the Sol also performed well in high altitude environments and colder winter conditions. Unfortunately, Jetboil discontinued this highly acclaimed variant and now only offer more weighty systems. The good news is that you can still pick up both the Aluminium [Alu] and Titanium [Ti] Jetboil Sol from third-party retailers, although stocks are now rather limited. At a time when they were still in production, I was fortunate enough to pick up the Jetboil Sol [Alu] version (300g / 10.5 oz) Jetboil Sol Titanium Tiand purchase a separate titanium cup, effectively converting it to the Ti variant (240g / 8.5 oz) and allowing me to interchange my set up as required. I have now used both configurations extensively and without experiencing any adverse issues. Admittedly, I do tend to favour the Aluminium cup when cooking food for extended periods or when melting snow due to minor reservations over purported issues with the titanium cup’s flux ring – likely to be one of the reasons for it being discontinued. However, Jetboil has since released the Flash Lite (new for 2015), which is similar in weight to the Sol [Alu] but only incorporates the standard adjustable burner, limiting its use to less extreme environments. MSR Whisperlite UniversalIf you want a system that still operates well at altitude or in colder conditions, then the lightest set up now using Jetboil’s updated version of the Thermo-Regulated burner is the more weighty MiniMo at 415g / 14.6 oz. Although integrated-canister stoves are not the lightest on the market, few set ups offer the speed, efficiency and convenience of a Jetboil cooking system. For adventures much further afield, where finding butane canisters cannot be guaranteed, there is little choice than to take a heavier liquid-fuel setup. I prefer the unmatched versatility of the MSR Whisperlight Universal. As well as being one of the lightest multi-fuel stove in its class, it also allows butane canisters to be inverted for better performance at altitude or when nearly empty.

Spork!

Light My Fire SporkIf you need me to explain this to you then I think you may have visited the wrong website. Sporks have no known disadvantages. In fact, you should get two; one for each hand. For the Spork connoisseur, there are also a titanium version and I have even seen a folding variant of the titanium Spork too!

Pack

There is only one job I want my pack to do and that is to carry all my necessary gear and do it well. With such a vast range of products available, manufacturers are increasingly adding more and more innovations to their bags in an effort to differentiate their product and increase sales, which invariably only puts more weight on your back. Well, that’s where Crux’s AK Range differs. Rather than adding fancy gimmicks, Crux has completely stripped back their rucksacks, focusing on the bare essentials and providing you with only what you actually need. Other than a few minor tweaks to stay abreast of modern gear developments, the bombproof design specification of Crux’s AK range has remained virtually unchanged since it was first introduced back in 2002.Crux AK47-X RucksackThe most versatile pack in the series for multi-activity use is the acclaimed AK47-X, which has an additional 5 litres of capacity over the standard AK47 due to its floating [and removable] lid. But to say the AK47-X is a no-frills pack is doing it a bit of an injustice. A large part of its success is down to a number of well thought out design features that could be easily overlooked at first glance. For instance, the high Kevlar to Cordura mix fabrics used are exceptionally durable and the entire sack is made from one single piece of fabric rather than separately stitched panels, reducing the chance of failure occurring in machined areas. There are also a number of discreetly placed accessory cord attachment points, meaning you can customise the outside of the pack to best suit your needs, as well as an ultralight internal frame, wand pockets, ski attachment straps and a useful oversize haul loop. Unlike most other packs that have two horizontal side compression straps, the AK range employs a single zigzag strap design. This allows for better empty space compression resulting in far less bag sway when tackling more technical pitches. Impressively, all of this is achieved in a pack weighing just 1150g – although mine is a fair bit lighter, coming in closer to 1kg. For aspiring ultralight enthusiasts, check out the Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) Range, particularly the MLD Prophet 48L pack weighing in at under 500g!

Shelter

Terra Nova Tarp Shelter 2My first ever experience of sleeping in the outdoors was with the Army Cadets under a very rudimentary military issue ‘Basha’ tarp. Unbeknown to me then, this would be one piece of kit that I would find myself using throughout my military career and which would be inextricably linked with the discomfort of military field exercises and the despair of having to dig ‘shell scrapes’ and sleep in muddy holes in the driving rain. In my quest to find greater comfort for my own personal outdoor pursuits, I trialled numerous 3 and 4 season double-walled tents, lightweight single-skin tents, A-frame and pyramid midi-tarp shelters and even stand-alone hooped bivvy bags. Ironically, for up to 3-season use, I seem to have come full circle and reverted back to a flat tarp shelter. When combined with a lightweight waterproof bivvy bag, I have found the versatility of a flat tarp to be unparalleled compared to all other shelter types, with pitching configurations limited only by your own imagination. Flat Tarp Basic Pitching OptionsHowever, I now tend to favour my 2-person Terra Nova Shelter Tarp at 330g rather than lugging around a 1kg Army issue option! If you are lucky enough to find them in the UK, both the Mountain Laurel Designs’ (MLD) SuperTarp and Flat Tarp by Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) offer even greater versatility due to a multitude of additional guy line attachment points that expand pitching options even further. While these both come in at a fraction of the weight of other tarps due to their Cuben Fiber construction, they also have eye-watering price tags. For 4-season winter conditions and Alpine use, I now always opt for my single-skin Rab Summit Mountain Bivi tent. With models in their current range in 1.45kg (2 Person), 1.85kg (2 Person +) and 2.2kg (3 Person), there is little else that provides you with bombproof protection from the elements at such minimal weight and pack size. Rab Summit Bivy Shelter TentMade with Rab’s 3-layer event fabric, it is both highly waterproof and breathable and its two internal pitching poles make assembly fast and effortless. Rab’s Summit Mountain Bivi range also incorporates handy features such as a durable ‘bathtub’ base fabric, internal mesh door and rear tunnel vent for improved condensation venting, as well as several ‘doughnut‘ harness loops for securing occupants to external fixed anchor points if you find yourself having to kip on a particularly perilous ledge. At the very lightest end of the range, you do compromise somewhat on space and it is quite snug for 2 people plus kit. So you really do have to get on with your partner as there may be some spooning involved!

Travel adapter

Skross World Adaptor Pro+ USB Travel AdaptorWhile it’s always nice to feel you have done your bit towards conservation by harnessing free and clean energy on your Solar Monkey, this isn’t always possible, particularly in UK conditions. Wherever I travel at home or abroad, I generally always take a phone, MacBook and DSLR camera for staying connected, writing and photo editing on the USB Multi Device Charging Cablemove, as well as a handheld GPS from time to time. Rather than lugging around masses of adapters and chargers I use the Skross World Adaptor Pro+ USB. Being Swiss made, it is in every sense the Swiss Army Knife of power adaptors. Coupled with a USB Multi Charging Cable, I am yet to discover a plug socket it doesn’t fit or device it won’t charge.

Water Sterilisation

For longer hikes where I know I’m going to be in the field for a few days and reliant on water from streams and springs, it’s important to have a reliable method of sterilisation to prevent illness. Lifesaver Bottle Water FilterBy far the most effective method is boiling water for about three minutes to kill all the nasties, which is fine at the beginning or the end of the day when you have your cooling system to hand but less ideal mid-hike. In the past, I have used either iodine drops and sterilisation tablets, which are a very small and convenient method, but they add unwanted chemicals and disfavour your water. In my military career, I have also trialled the LifeSaver Bottle in Afghanistan, where the filtration of particulates is equally as important as sterilisation against bacteria and viruses. While this is an exceptional piece of kit, for general use, it is quite cumbersome and heavy at 635g [22.4 Oz] and I usually reserve its use for regions I am less likely to find sources of clear flowing water. However, fSteriPEN Freedom Water Steriliseror UK and European exploits, I use a SteriPEN. At the lightest in the range, the SteriPEN Freedom weighs only 75g [2.6 Oz] and is also USB rechargeable, meaning you don’t have to rely on finding replacement lithium batteries when travelling. Its UV sterilisation method eliminates practically all bacteria and viruses responsible for causing waterborne illness and can sterilise 20 litres of water on a single charge. It is also the only portable sterilisation device that carries the Water Quality Association’s Gold Seal and the technology used is the same found in hospitals for sterilising surgical instruments. Admittedly, it doesn’t make your water look or taste any nicer, but at least you will significantly reduce your chance of getting the Hershey Squirts!

Travel Towel

Lifeventure SoftFibre Trek Travel TowelAlthough a lightweight travel towel is a pretty bog standard piece of backpacking kit nowadays, there are still a few factors to consider, namely drying time [or wicking ability], absorption amount, antibacterial properties, weight and feel. Lifeventure, probably best know for being the creators of the original trek towel, have now developed their range further to offer several variations based on your personal preferences. Their best performing towel is the SoftFibre towel. It has the highest absorption level at 9x its own weight in water and dries 8 x faster than a standard beach towel. As well as being one of the softest towels in the Lifeventure line up, it has been permanently treated with an antibacterial formula to keep it fresher for longer – particularly important in more humid climates or for times when you need to pack it away before it’s completely dry. At 162g for the 100 x 75 cm (Large) towel, it is super light too. The lightest towel in the Lifeventure range is the Hydrofibre towel at 127g for the 100 x 72 cm version. While it dries a bit quicker than the SoftFiber, it has a lower absorption level at only 6x its own weight and sizing options are more limited too. For those that don’t like the feeling of dabbing yourself dry with a chamois leather, take a look at Turkish Pestemal Towels. Cotton Pestemal Turkish TowelThese, often brightly coloured, traditional Turkish Bath towels are made from a very thin weave of highly absorbent Turkish Aegean cotton, dry just as quickly as microfibre towels and weigh even less that the lightest travel towel on the market when compared like-for-like in size. The only downside is that they do not have the same antibacterial qualities as some travel towels and pack size is generally a little larger given the standard size of a Turkish Towel [95 x 170 cm / 38 x 68 ins]. However, their size gives them the added versatility of doubling as a beach towel, picnic mat, blanket, sarong, head shawl, scarf, tablecloth, furniture throws, beach bag, first aid sling, rudimentary water filter………………… the list of uses is endless!

Summary

Ultimately, selecting the right kit is a very personal choice and while something might work well for someone else it may not be the best option for your intended use. It is therefore important to fully research the options and read a wide selection of reviews and recommendations rather than being reeled in by manufacture’s hype and gimmicks. Versatility is key if you want to get the most from your purchases and spending a little more money on reliable products means you will have a far more enjoyable experience without the added worries of whether or not your kit is up to the job.


Tips and Advice

  • Strong. Light. Cheap. I once heard a friend describe that finding a piece of kit that was strong, light and inexpensive would be like discovering the holy grail of equipment. More often than not products will only ever satisfy a combination of two of these three attributes, arguably the most important of which for serious adventures is strength and weight. If you do want good quality gear and end up paying top-dollar, make sure that it punches well above its weight and is versatile enough to perform well across a number of activities, ensuring you get the biggest bang for your buck.

  • Flat Tarp Basic Pitching OptionsLoveAdventures Flat Tarp Basic Pitching Guide. A guide to some basic flat tarp pitching options. There are far too many subtle variations to show them all on this one page, but here are the most common. In areas where there is an abundance of trees I’ll just use, lightweight elastic bungee cords for ease and speed of pitching. For open spaces and hill top pitching, cords and guy lines are best combined with trekking poles. Download the PDF here.

  • Care and Maintenance. By following manufactures care guidelines you can spread initial costs over a much longer period rather than having to replace lesser quality kit more often. “If you spend more money on it you are less likely to neglect it’………..well that’s how I always justify the expense to myself anyway. So, once in a while, dig out that festering ground-sheet that’s neatly wrapped up together with your expensive tent and get them out on the washing line!

  • Nikwax Tech Wash TX Direct Wash InWaterproofing. You can wash waterproof jackets with liquid detergent [not powder] or re-waterproof older jackets with specialised reproofing solutions from the likes of Nikwax to freshen them up and remove the build up of grime that inhibits the fabric’s breathability and waterproof properties. Powered soaps are more abrasive and can leave residue embedded in the waterproof membrane that with re-crystalise when dried and degrade the garments abilities. Similarly, fabric conditioner will also degrade waterproof membranes and coatings. Remember to wash out your detergent tray first to avoid contamination of any previously used powder soap. If the care label allows, tumble drying your garments will reactivate any Durable Water-Repellent (DWR) treatments on the outer fabrics.




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