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!