…a packrafting journey into the heart of Sierra Leone and Liberia's Peace Park…supported by the RGS Journey of a Lifetime grant

…and now a few messages from our sponsors

IMG_2375-1Some of you have been asking for a blog on the sort of kit I take with me on expedition so here’s a run through of some of the key pieces I’ll be bringing with me to the Upper Guinean belt this spring. Some of it’s new from trusted brands, some of it is old favourites. Gear is constantly evolving so I tend to chop and change quite a bit but my rules for selection are absolutely rigid:

1. It has to be durable – my stuff always takes an absolute hammering. Descending rivers by packraft leaves the kit prone to being crushed by rocks as I slam into banks, I pull my bags around an awful lot when I’m steering the raft as well, and more often than not I just end up sat on top of the lot. Walking in through the forest places even more pressure on the equipment; the jungle tears into my bags, crawling under logs crushes my pack from above, falling over all the time smashes it even more, and yet, in spite of it all, I can count on one hand the pieces of kit that have actually broken.

2. Water resistant or waterproof – my expeditions are predominantly in tropical forests, a highly humid environment as it is, but combine that with a river descent of often ungraded white water and you are on a one-way street to guarantee the total submersion of everything you possess at some point on your journey. Not everything I take is waterproof but you would be surprised how water resistant a lot of pieces of gear, even technical equipment, can be these days. It goes without saying decent drybags are absolutely essential and I am a big fan of zip lock bags for proofing everything else as best you can. More is less: double bag if you need to, and I’ve even used Tupperware with lock-tight ‘o’ ring type systems when I’ve wanted a rigid waterproof case. It is a good idea to take handfuls of silica gel to get rid of any excess moisture, particularly in cases carrying tapes and technical gear.

3. It must be light – I operate unsupported and am often totally self-sufficient. Every piece of gear has to be as light as possible without being flimsy. Equally every single item must pass the “is this more important than food” test. It may seem insane to leave out items of first aid or safety equipment, but you simply cannot take everything to cover you for all the risks you might encounter as you will end up forsaking the basics, or worse, crippling yourself with ludicrously heavy load bearing.

It has got easier to find support from equipment partners as my experience has grown, and these days, with exposure from the articles and images I get published, I do have at least something to offer back, but I’d still rather pay for a piece of really good kit than take something sub-standard for free.

Here’s my top ten:

Alpacka Packraft – what can I say? A simply vital piece of kit. The raft I take is the un-rigged explorer. It packs down to the size of a two-man tent and weighs only a couple of kilos. This item has done more to open up the most remote environments on the planet than anything else I own. I bought mine after a kind loan from the Colorado based company for the Trans Papua and have never ever regretted it.

Lifesystems deet and puritabs – I am yet to find a deet based repellent that matches the lifesystems brand for being genuinely effective as well as well packaged. The bottles are solid and, crucially, they don’t leak the chemical all over your stuff in transit – an inferior brand once melted right through the waterproof liner of my rucksack just before a trip. I’ve got a bunch of stuff from their Lifeventure range that I’m looking forward to testing out, including a new money belt to replace my old Lifeventure one that was still going after 11 years of battering. Also, I’m using their Chlorine Dioxide tablets in conjunction with a funnel filter (to remove the worst of the suspension) for my water purification – they’ll kill cysts and viruses as well as bacteria, which is a greater range of baddies than straight chlorine and won’t leave that ‘swimming pool’ aftertaste.

Aquapac – I used an Aquapac camcorder case on the Trans Papua and found it so reliable I ended up storing all my film tapes in it as well. Big news for packrafters, they’ve just brought out waterproof duffle bags – a combo of a drybag and a big duffel holdall –  I’ll be taking that alongside their drybags and waterproof pouches. An incredible amount of thought has gone into design: colour coded drybags and translucent materials help you to select the right drybag without needlessly opening every bag you own and rooting around, waterproof ipod pouches and headphones are a really nice touch, and air vents on the duffel allow you to remove excess air and compress your bags right down. Sounds nerdy, but more than anything I am grateful for the strong loops and numerous points to bind my bags to my craft. The thought of watching your bags disappear down an isolated river due to a broken binding is the stuff of expeditionary nightmares.

Brasher boots – I’ve got Ahklun GTX boots on this expedition – a good hybrid boot that’ll take a crampon. Great for those of us that don’t have heaps of disposable cash to splash out on every boot type in the adventure-sphere, plus top quality Vibram soles as standard.

Arcteryx rucksack – “if you’ve ever thought there was a weakness in your rucksack then this pack has got it covered” said Callum after we invested these packs in 2009. We’ve both pushed them waaaay beyond expectations since and they are still going strong. The straps are incredible – we carried 45 kilos each in atrocious conditions for the best part of two months last year, this simply would not have been possible without these bags.

DD hammocks– Spacious with a mossy net integrated into the design plus really strong cord fittings and bungees to keep the net off your face. Inferior designs will leave you touching the side of the mossy net in the night, which renders it pretty useless as most insects will just go ahead and bite you right through the mesh. I’ve never had an issue with these hammocks. Buy the snakeskin sheath, it totally streamlines setting up and breaking camp.

Expedition foods – the best calorie to gram meals on the market. I got badly caught out with my nutrition (or lack of) in 2008 and 2009, becoming so sick of the food I was carrying that I was unable to swallow. If I’d made the same mistake in 2012 I wouldn’t have made it out of the forest. These rations were delicious and very much the highlight of our day when we were having the shittest time ever on the retreat in Papua last April.

Mora frost knife – first recommended to me by Andrew Price of Dryad Bushcraft, this Scandinavian blade is unbelievably sharp and very much my knife of choice for all my expedition needs from cutting grooves for hanging hammocks to slicing through strangler vines, plus, you can pick one up online for around a tenner. An absolute bargain when you consider bespoke products can set you back £250.

Go Pro – Technical kit can be a total ball ache but if you want to make any money back on your projects, and help your cause for future funding, you are going to need good film and images. Costs have come down in recent years but you are still going to have to try hard to find something that doesn’t cost the earth and won’t fall apart from the slightest knock. I can recommend the trusty sony a1 (perhaps a bit outdated these days with its mini dvs but it’ll take some colossal punishment) and I carry the canon g12 for my stills, but if I had to punt for one piece of kit it would be the Go Pro. This little camera thoroughly deserves to be everywhere in the adventure market these days – matchbox-sized, HD shots and you can stick them almost anywhere if you’ve got the right clips. The turnover in the range is quick enough that you can get some absolute bargains on the earlier Hero2. I recommend spending the money for the little silica gel sleeves to go in the housings if you are taking them into a humid environment – any shift in temperature will cause the lens to steam up instantly and totally ruin your shot.

Craghoppers – The Nosi Life range is brilliant. Tough trousers with zip-off lower legs and shirts with a discreet vent at the back to ease your sweats plus useful pockets and strong buttons – I have only once torn the arse clean off, and that was after a 30 foot fall down a cliff, so I think its fair to say that this range deserves its reputation for durability.

Duct tape – in documentary production the phrase “if you can’t duc’ it f**k it” was held up as the gold standard rule of thumb for any piece of equipment requiring a temporary repair. The same applies to packraft expeditions.

So there you have it, good quality kit on its own isn’t going to get you to the end of a project in one piece but it really does help – really really good luck to anyone heading out, I leave in three days! AAAAAARGH!

Will x

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