These days there is so much gear on the market for the traveller it can be daunting to know what you need, This page covers most of the gear you'll need including Rucksacs, Sleeping Bags, Tents, Clothing, Walking Boots, Cooking, Water.
For low level walking except in winter a daysac of around 20 litres should be enough. However if you intend to walk in winter or on higher hills then a larger capacity of 25 to 35 litres is needed. For serious mountain walking you'll need 35-45 litres capacity for the extra clothing and equipment. This size pack is also useful for weekends away. If you are going to be carrying a heavy load check out the smaller backpacks as they tend to have more comfortable straps and padded hip belts. In general I would avoid daysacs whose main compartments close with zips.
The most important thing about buying a rucksack is comfort. Its worth trying different manufactures and back systems. When trying them always ask the salesman to fill the pack so you have an idea what it feels like loaded. It is vital the distance between the shoulder and strap and hip belt is correct so that the loaded is correctly distributed. Remember that if you fully load a backpack you've got to carry it.
There are two schools of thought when choosing a size. One says choose a big sac you don't have to fill it and the other says choose a sac a size smaller than you think you need and through out all the excess crap you don't need. I have travelled for several weeks with a backpack of 35 litres which held clothing and basic summer camping equipment.
Rucksacs are rarely fully waterproof so either use a plastic line or pack everything in plastic bags, don't forget the side and top pockets soggy maps and guide books can be difficult to dry out.
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Sleeping bags come in a wide range of types generally the more you pay the better quality the bag will be. I would recommend that you buy a bag which is warmer than you require, if it's too hot you can always unzip it. Always use a sheet liner so you don't need to wash the bag too often. Pockets in bags are handy for keeping valuables close to you at night.
Sleeping bag temperature ratings give you an indication of what temperature you can use it in. These ratings vary from manufacture to manufacture. The temperature you can use a bag to is usually inversely proportional to the size. Obviously some of the modern synthetic bags can be considerably smaller for the temperature rating and you usually have to pay for this. For the ultimate performance and the lowest weight, down sleeping bags are still the best. The table below gives you some guidance to the ratings.
|Season||Extreme Min.||Comfortable Min.||Comfortable Max.|
Single Layer-Mainly suited to summer and lightweight use due to its ability to pack down to a small size.
Offset Double Layer-Eliminates cold spots of the single layer and is warmer. Its normally bulkier than single layer but performs much better in cold weather.
Box Wall & Slant Wall-Used in the construction of down filled sleeping bags. The compartments are filled with down. The slant wall construction is slightly more efficient as there is a slight overlap of filling.
Sleeping Bag Care
Storage- When not in use you should store your bag unpacked in a warm dry place to help it maintain its loft.
Cleaning- The easiest way to clean your bag is to soak it in a bath over night in warm soapy water. Rinse and drain it. Great care should be taken as you remove it from the bath as the weight of the filling can cause the outer to rip. You can usually spin dry them and to ensure full loft dry it in a launderette tumble dryer. Always read the label first!
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Try to find a flat area of land, check for sharp stones or plants which may damage the bottom of the tent. Pitch with the wind to the back of the tent. If your staying in one place for a period of time move your tent occasionally to help prevent damage to the ground underneath. Use 6 inch nails instead of tent pegs, you can hit them a lot harder in hard ground. Always carry some spare tent pegs.
If you tent has got damp due to rain, frost, dew, etc. then make sure its properly dried out before you store it for any length of time.
If there are several of you back packing then split the weight of the tent between various packs. You can use a compression bag on the tent fabric and wrap the tent poles in your sleeping mat, strapped to your pack.
Remember to seal the seams on your tent when you first get it. From time to type the outer layer will need reproofing. Its better to proof preventively rather than having a leaky tent that will get all your gear soaking.
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With the current generation of waterproofs there are two main things to consider the first is how waterproof they are and the second how breathable.
Usually you find that the heavier fabrics with a thick waterproof coating are more waterproof than a light weight fabric with a thin coating. Check wether the seams are taped if not use a seam sealent.
Breathability is the ability for moisture to pass out through a fabric. If you have ever found moisture on the inside of you water proofs due to perspiration then this is because the material is not breathable. If you have a breathable jacket then you should also wear breathable layers underneath. Cotton is not good as it absorbs water and stays damp. If you have a breathable jacket then it is important that you keep it clean otherwise the microscopic holes can become blocked stopping moister from passing through it.
The best systems are the 2 or 3 layer laminated systems such as Goretex and Sympatex.
Probably one of the most popular mid layers is the fleece jacket. These range from the cheap types that are warm but heavy to the lightweight fabrics such as the Polartec range of fabrics. Each range of fabrics come in different ranges for example there is Polartec 100, 200 and 300. Depending on how warm you want the jacket to be. In wind wether you will need a out wind proof shell to benefit properly from a fleece jacket.
Base layers should be able to wick away moisture from the skin to keep it dry. The most important factor is that it can also trap a layer of warm air next to the body to preserve heat. Synthetic fibres are best such as polyester, polyamide or polypropylene.
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When looking at boots remember they will get well abused, think about what weather and terrain you'll be walking in. Fabric boots are more light weight but tend not to be as waterproof even with waterproof membranes inside. The more stitching on the boot the more chance of it leaking. Try and get a boot where the upper is made from a single piece of leather.
The exact size of boots will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Take along the socks you intend to wear with the boots when you try them on. Place your foot in the unlaced boot and stub the boots toe on the floor when you stand up you should be able to place a couple of fingers in the gap between the boot and your heal this will make sure that your feet have room to expand. Next tighten the boots up are the comfortable, you should be able to wiggle your toes, the instep should not feel tight and the heel held firmly into the back of the boot.
One or two pairs is the questioned often asked. The answer is what ever you prefer. Although if its just one pair make sure they are thick. Two pairs will be warmer than one.
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When using an type of fire or stove don't use them near on in your tent. Tents and a lot of camping clothing can be highly inflammable. What ever fuel you take will need to be bought at your destination since you can't take flammable fuels substances on aeroplanes
If you want to keep your gear as light as possible then fire is the obvious choice but the question you need to ask is it going to be feasible in the area's or for the style of travel you have in mind. If your mainly free camping and there is a good supply of downed wood then fire's are a good bet. Keep them as small as possible, remember that fire can spread rapidly so check that the fire is out before you go to sleep or leave the site. Preferably cover it in earth. Obviously if your in a camp site you need to ask permission first.
Don't use fire wood if it's in limited supply and if its not already downed don't chop it down. If you need to burn bamboo make sure that you smash all the air cells before putting it on the fire else it will explode and could cause injury or start other fires. Don't leave the fire unattended. If there is someone else already using fire ask if you can use it as well and offer to find some more wood. When carrying fuels always try and use metal containers and double check the lids are tight if possible carry them in a side pocket to help save the rest of your kit should they start to leak.
Fine if your travelling and you know you can get the canisters. However the chances of you getting any in the developing world is about as remote as finding rocking horse shit. So gas isn't really an option.
Kerosene & Multi Fuel Stoves
Kerosene is the most common fuel used for cooking in the developing world. This makes kerosene stoves a good bet. The kerosene you buy may be watered down, dirty or stored in strange manners so it may not burn as cleanly as you might expect. This also means that before you leave home you should check you know how to and have the tools to strip down an clean the stove.
Better than Kerosene stoves are the multi fuel stoves that are know on the market these can burn practically any thing from petrol, diesel or even aircraft fuel. These are your best bet.
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The only way to be sure that water is safe is to treat it yourself. Remember to be careful of ice cubes and any food that may have been washed in untreated water. The main contaminates are Bacteria (Cholera & E. Coli), Viruses (Hepatitis, Polio & Rotavirus), and Cysts or Protozoa (Giardia & Cryptosporidium).
The main two types of chemical treatment are chlorine and iodine. Chlorine based tablets (Puritabs) are useful in the UK but remember that chlorine does not kill off cysts so is unsuitable for developing countries. The better chemical method is to use Iodine. Tablets (Potable Aqua Tablets) are better as they don't spill. Tincture of Iodine will treat large quantities of water with a few drops and can be used as a wound treatment. Iodine should not be used for prolonged periods of time. If you need to purify large amounts of water for prolonged periods there is a chemical called Chlorine X (I think!) used for sterilising hospital equipment, which is use by most overland companies a very small amount can be used to purifier large amounts of water.
Water purifiers kill all organisms and use filtration and chemicals in their process.
Water filters strain the water through fine filters. The finest filters will not filter out all viruses so they should be used in conjunction with chemical treatment.
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'Backpack Traveller' © K.Vans-Colina 1992-99