A few thoughts about the gear I used in Kenya

In the months before I left home for Mount Kenya, I had all sorts of thoughts going through my mind regarding clothes, sleeping bags, gadgets and other kit.  Most of my kit would be carried by a porter and I’d just have a day pack with me.  It would be hot during the day, but cold at night.  The advice was to purify the water, but would this really be necessary? I don’t usually bother in the Scottish Highlands.  Would I need boots, or would my Inov-8 Terrocs be OK?  Here are the choices I made and a few thoughts on whether I would do anything differently next time.

Sleeping  In anticipation of night-time temperatures down to -10C, I treated myself to a Tundra Pure -10  sleeping bag.  I already have a Rab Quantum 400, which is supposed to  be warm to -5, and which I augment with clothes, a silk liner and a Terra Nova Moonlite sleeping bag cover in winter.  In December 2010, I was absolutely freezing in Rowchoish bothy (once the fire burned itself out) so I’d already been planning to get a warmer bag.  I chose Tundra as they use “ethical down”, ie the down is not a by-product of the food industry, nor is it gathered by live-plucking which, I believe, is the case with some Chinese down.  The Tundra website didn’t answer the questions I had about their products, but my emails were answered fully and promptly, and my bespoke bag (I ordered a shorter length) arrived on time.

The bag weighs less than 1100g in a stuff sack and lofts beautifully.  It feels so light and warm and I really enjoyed sleeping in it!  It has a full-length zip and waterproof fabric at the foot and hood which should protect it from condensation during my British winter camping trips.  One minor gripe is I wish it had some sort of press-stud at the head end of the zip so that I could fasten the bag closed around my neck but have a bit of ventilation, or maybe sit up in it with my arm sticking out.  This bag kept me warm when I was ill and I am looking forward to using it camping in the snow in Britain.

Rucksack  My daysack had to be dual-purpose; it had to be small enough to be allowed on the plane as hand luggage, but also big enough to carry everything I needed during the days on the mountain.  I thought my Karrimor Trail 35 may be too big for an over-zealous airline official, so I chose to use my Millets Wilderness 18 which I have used for summer day-walks in the UK.  The pack was just big enough on the inside but I really missed a few things on the outside.  First of all, the net pockets on the side are tiny; only big enough for a few sweets or biscuits and it would be impossible to put a water bottle in them.  Also, there is nowhere to carry a trekking pole which could have proved awkward on scrambling sections.  I do like the fact that it has a large zipped compartment on the outside of the lid and a smaller zipped compartment inside the lid – just right for malaria tablets and ibuprofen.  I now intend to buy myself a new daysack; around 25 litres, large net pockets and loops for trekking poles.

Hydration  In the Scottish Highlands, I usually drink water straight from the burn or, if there’s any doubt about the water, I use Iodine tablets.  The thought of getting (what is politely refered to as) “an upset stomach” whilst walking up Mount Kenya convinced me that I should take no chances with the water so I decided to buy myself a Travel Tap.  I’d read mixed reviews about this water filter and, having now used it, I would say that it works well in some situations but is not the perfect solution to having a constant supply of clean water.  The bottle has a filter in the lid; you fill the bottle, screw on the lid, pull up the little tube (like a sports bottle lid) and suck the water out whilst gently squeezing the bottle.  I found the flow too slow for my needs; I prefer to glug water and this just wasn’t giving me enough.  After the first day, I decided to use the Travel Tap to filter water into other bottles so that I could drink as much water as I wanted.  After the second day, I reverted to Iodine tablets!  Will I use the Travel Tap again?  Yes, I will use it when camping or day-walking in semi-rural parts of Britain in hot weather when the streams are low and there’s the risk of animal or other run-off.  I’m taking it with me tomorrow on my overnight bivi as the area is a mix of farmland and tourists and I don’t want to carry a lot of water.  When walking on my own, I think the slow flow-rate will be less of a problem but, in a group, I felt that I wasn’t drinking as much as everyone else and maybe that contributed to me being ill?  I do have a 3-litre Camelback and, with hindsight, this would have been perfect for the Mount Kenya trip as I could have sipped all day (and maybe kept 500ml in a bottle in my bag for that moment when you suddenly realise your Camelback is empty!)

Clothes and footwear  I walked in my Inov-8 Roclite GTX 390 boots as they are lightweight and comfortable.  They were nearly at the end of their life before the trip and I did not bring them back home with me.  I could easily have completed this walk in my Terroc 330 trail shoes.

My best item of clothing on this trip was my Icebreaker GT 200 merino wool long-sleeved baselayer.  I wasn’t sure it was worth the price when I bought it, but I now love it.  It’s comfortable to wear under a T-shirt on a sunny but cold and breezy day; it has thumb-loops which mean I can warm my hands without bothering to put my gloves on; and it makes a really nice pyjama top!  And it’s true what people say – it doesn’t get stinky even when worn night and day (but has stood up well to machine washing).  This top is definitely coming with me on this year’s TGO Challenge.

I was packing for this trip in mid-February and I had to remind myself where I’d put my Tilley hat after summer ended last year.  Apart from the final ascent (which was in the dark and below freezing) I wore my Tilley hat all the time and would not be without it on a sunny day.  It was augmented by a buff-type scarf (mine is a Matt) which stopped my neck from burning and helped to keep me cool or warm depending on how high up the mountain I was.

Gadgets  My digital camera is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ8 which is a very capable compact digital with loads of features I neither use nor understand.  It took some good photos…. and loads of rubbish ones.  The main problem was the lack of an optical viewfinder.  It has a large digital screen but, most of the time, the sun was so bright that I could not see what was being displayed so I did not know whether my photo was framed properly.  There was a lot of “point and click” going on so I have photos of trees with no birds and zebras with no heads.  This is a 12 Megapixel camera but I tend to leave it set at 5 MP as that’s more than good enough for the way I display my photos.  However, it also has a 12x optical zoom which was perfect on the safari and I wonder if 12 MP would have been better when I was at full zoom?  Really, what I need to do is buy a simpler camera or read the manual.

I’d loaded up my SanDisk Sansa Clip+ MP3 player with audio books and podcasts before I left home.  This is a cracking little gadget containing an MP3 player and FM radio.  It is tiny and has a big clip on the back so you can fasten it to your collar, belt or rucksack etc  It comes with a short USB cable and can be charged via a computer, but I bought a 3-pin plug-to-usb adapter so can charge it from the mains.  However, one charge lasts for about 15 hours so I didn’t need to charge it while I was away (as I couldn’t stay awake long enough to listen to anything in the evenings!).  I will probably take this on this year’s Challenge, but I need to test the FM radio in the hills as it auto scans and I suspect the radio won’t be the best in areas of poor FM coverage.

So, that’s a quick run through a few bits of kit.  Let me know if any of you gear-obsessives want any more detail!

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6 Responses to A few thoughts about the gear I used in Kenya

  1. Louise Evans says:

    Interesting stuff! I am funny about water and not as brave as you to drink straight from the streams so we have a Travel Tap. That’s the one I used in the Borders last year that gave camp entertainment as I squeezed it between my knees, aiming the water at a pot between my feet! I just find it too much hard work, but David gets on with it fine. I love, love, love merino, but I have to say, I only use my Icebreaker GT top for day walks now. I think because of the hint of lycra, it didn’t ‘suit’ me on the Challenge last year, but it’s great for day walks and I’ll probably take it this year as my clean top for socialising, it is incredibly lightweight so I’ll be happy to carry it for that. Can’t argue with Tilley hat, love mine too.

    I really must get round to trying Terrocs.


    • Judith says:

      Louise, I never actually saw what filter you were using on that trip; I just remember the interesting noises! I used the Travel Tap this weekend and it meant that I was happy to drink water which I would normally regard as not quite good enough. I used it as a drinking bottle and also to fill my pan for cooking, although I think it takes AGES to get a decent amount of water out of it. After this weekend’s trip, my Tilley is now a not-very-attractive greyish-brown colour. That’s the trouble with taking a white hat bivvying!


  2. Alan R says:

    I can go along with people who don’t filter the water in Scotland, BUT, for the weight of a filter it isn’t worth the chance of an upset stomach especially in areas of deer and sheep. So i always filter it.
    My advice on your camera is to keep it and pick out the techy bits from the manual that will enhance your pics. You have a cracking lens there with a decent sensor. Zoom of 25 – 300mm equivalent slr comparison.
    Its a handy size and weight. Just by using the Auto or scene menu should be enough for excellent mountain shots.
    Its a nice camera and the Leica lens is not worth changing to something that would probably be simpler to use but inferior in quality.
    Tilley hats, Love them. cannot be beaten.


    • Judith says:

      Alan – yes, the Lumix TZ8 is a good camera – especially in the hands of someone who knows what they’re doing. Like you suggest, I shall re-read bits of the manual so that I know how to get the best out of it. My main gripe is the lack of an optical view-finder but these are becoming increasingly rare on “non-specialist” cameras. Even as a happy-snapper, rather than a “Proper Photographer”, I’ve had some amazing photos that just wouldn’t have turned out on my old Coolpix 3100 (although that was a good camera in it’s day, IMO).


  3. Laura says:

    Thanks for that post Judith – very interesting! I’m glad you like your Tundra sleeping bag…..I hadn’t noticed the lack of a fastener at the neck…..I’ll have a look at mine when I fish it out of the bag to pack for the Challenge!


    • Judith says:

      Hi Laura. After commenting about the lack of a fastening at the neck, I wondered if I’m right or not? There is a velcro fastening on the neck baffle and that might do the job. I shall have to have another look (although the Pure -10 will be a bit too toasty for the Challenge!)


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