Darren looks at our trekking gear choices that are critical to our expedition.
Because of our need to carry all of our trekking gear in a rolling duffel bag, we had no choice but to find equipment that is small and light. As we researched what met that criteria, at a good price point, we came upon those items that we can’t do without. Below is the gear that we each settled upon. We are not receiving any compensation for endorsing the products below. All prices are street.
REI Flash 50 – $140
For our trekking backpack, we chose the REI Flash 50. While this model is hopelessly small for up to six nights in cold weather, we plan to augment it with a bag lashed to the back. In the bag, we will store dehydrated food – something that is bulky but also lightweight and thus won’t throw off the pack’s center of gravity. As far as the bag itself, we liked the weight (2 lbs., 10 oz.), size (super thin when empty, thus fitting easily into our duffel bag when not trekking) and the lashing system.
Marmot Atom 40 – $229
For our sleeping bag, we selected the Marmot Atom 40 for its weight and size. It only weighs 1 lb. 5 oz. When it is in its stuff sack, it is about the size of a loaf of bread. A normal sleeping bag would have taken half our luggage space. It is rated to about 32F / 0C. In order to improve the warmth of this bag, we are bringing a silk sleeping bag liner. This will give the bag another 10 degrees of warmth. If it gets really cold in places, such as in the Tian-Shan Mountains, we plan to sleep in all of our clothes, parkas and hats.
REI Quarter Dome T3 Tent – $349
As for the tent, we chose the REI Quarter Dome T3. We decided the extra weight of the three-man model was worth it. This tent gives us a little extra room and also allows us to bring our packs inside at night. While the tent is not exactly light (4 lbs. 11 oz.), it easily separates into three pieces – the base, the fly and the poles. This allows us to share the load and also to distribute the items in different parts of our minimalist packs.
Black Diamond Z Pole – $80
There was a time when we shunned the use of walking sticks. But, after some experimentation, we have accepted the extra weight and cost in return for reduced fatigue, increased speed and improved safety while climbing on uneven trails all around the world. We selected the Black Diamond Z Pole because it folds into three small pieces – perfect for when they must be packed in our rolling duffel bags.
Petzl Tikka XP 2 Headlamp – $50
The next item is a headlamp. We started to see “miner’s lights” (as they were once called) about 10 years ago. At this time, they were much larger and included a battery pack on the back. Over time, the technology has shifted to LED, which takes a fraction of the power of an traditional incandescent bulb. By wearing the light on your head, you free up one of your hands, which can be crucial in an emergency situation or when you arrive at camp after sunset. Although there are many brands and models to choose from, the Petzl Tikka XP 2 is a strong contender. The light has three modes – high brightness, low brightness and flashing. We have found that the batteries last literally “forever” (over 100 hours on the low setting). This reduces cost, weight and waste. This unit even includes a whistle.
MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter – $89
Because of the complexity of the topic, we went around and around on water purification. There are several choices here. The most basic is to simply boil the water. However, that option takes time and uses a lot of fuel. Since part of our message is sustainability, boiling all of our drinking water wasn’t an option. Another possibility is iodine. We are, in fact, bringing iodine as a backup. But, we don’t like the taste and there are reasons to suggest that iodine is not a good choice for an extended period of time.
There are also several new products that use ultra-violet light. However, we are concerned about industrial waste, which isn’t addressed with these units. After all this analysis, we finally settled on the MSR MiniWorks EX Microfilter. The ceramic filter includes a carbon core, which together removes bacteria, as well as pesticides and metals. If we find ourselves in an area with viruses, we can pre-treat the water with iodine and then filter it with the MSR as a second step. Note that even this regiment is not effective against Cryptosporidium. Bottled water or boiling will be used in these areas.
Nalgene Wide-Mouth Cantene – $8
Water bottles rarely make it to gear lists like this one. However, we feel that Nalgene has come up with something really special. We are talking about the Nalgene Wide-Mouth Cantene. Rigid bottles would have taken half of our luggage space when we weren’t trekking. These collapsible bottles take almost no room at all when they are empty and, in fact, attach to the bottom of our water filter. We plan to carry five of these bottles – four of the 32 oz. models and a large 96 oz. one for cooking.
MSR Dragonfly Stove – $119
Sticking with the ultra light philosophy, we selected the MSR Dragonfly Stove for cooking. It weighs less than a pound and burns white gas, kerosene, unleaded auto fuel, diesel or jet fuel. The unit includes a windscreen, which reduces cook times (and therefore the amount of needed fuel). Finally, this model allows the operator to have fine control of the flame, which, if used properly, will again further reduce fuel usage. Bon appetite!
We feel that we are taking this trip at just the right time. Twenty, or even ten years ago, all of the gear would have weighed twice as much. The cost has come down as well. We are excited how this trekking gear will help us to focus on improving the experience of the students who are following our journey.