On Adventure and Travel Equipment/Gear/Kit

A travel equipment/wilderness adventure gear threat made real…

I have threatened to discuss the specifics of adventure/wilderness and travel equipment before, long before I even started this particular website. This was mostly in relation to the months I have spent alone, living out in wild places in as much harmony with nature as is possible in this day and age. I mentioned brand names, I posted photos, but I never got down to actually completing full reviews.

(TL;DR[note]Am I alone in occasionally spending too much time contemplating the semi-colon in tl;dr?[/note]: I’m putting up a kit review/gear list page and posts on this site.)

Hammock Hanging From Oak Trees - essential Bushcraft and travel equipment
Lots of kit, during my wilderness time, much of which I will review/talk about soon.

A brief history

When I knew I was leaving the (dis)United Kingdom I bought a domain name and hosting specifically for a sort-of travel blog. For various reasons I never launched this properly — I still have the social media pages, I still have the site, but it never got launched. Recently the hosting company sneakily took another year’s payment rather a long time before it was actually due. In a cruel twist of fate (or a warning to future me and maybe you) I had a calendar alert set to double-check I had cancelled the hosting plan on what was, it turned out, the day after they took the money. I am still disputing this, as I simply don’t need hosting for a site that doesn’t exist. Instead, I had decided to keep the ownership of the domain but actually begin to use alexandermichaelcrow.com for all things, including travel writing, potentially cross-posting in the future, if ever I have time.

The above is a digression of sorts, but it serves to illustrate the fact I knew I wanted to tell tales of travel and knew some time ago. Being a mercenary pen-for-hire (freelance — the word was so much more exciting when all it meant to me was a career in a fantasy roleplaying game [Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition, I’m looking at you]. Which reminds me, see here for an interesting discussion on reading sourcebooks as, well, books to read.) I also knew that discussion of kit/gear/equipment/stuff is always popular and pulls in readers in the same way all those ‘Top 13 Things to Do in X’, ‘Top 17 Signs She’s Just Not That Into You’ or ’50 Things You Will Really Wish You Hadn’t Bothered Reading to the End’ posts that seem to act as a lodestone to certain readers and algorithms.

However, listen to Mr. Mears when it comes to equipment

I have also long-held to the belief that it is better for people to find their own way, especially when it comes to wilderness gear, to learn how to make-do, to improvise, to use whatever they can find and afford at a time, rather than placing trust in a brand name or recommendation from others and putting off learning skills as they should. I think this dates back to Raymond Mears’ very first (and long out of print) book The Survival Handbook: A Practical Guide to Woodcraft and Woodlore. This, at the time, was the book I had been waiting for — and it changed my life, quite literally. Without it I wonder whether I would have continued to push myself to understand hunter-fisher-gatherer ways to do things, to read and read around the subject of what is now popularly known as bushcraft, but is really our ancestral right, our shared species knowledge of how to live and thrive in the world with no modern equipment at all.

The author in a bushcraft setting. With pipe and fire and flames
Across the fire, in the wilds. The glint on my forehead is from my Zebralight headtorch, which I carry with me everywhere I go. Review to come.

In this book, Mr Mears rightly says about kit (and I am paraphrasing from memory here, as I am writing this[note]I have now travelled over, and in and out of, days and for many more miles than these figures since I drafted this post… It is pleasantly warm, but not hot, nor humid. Snow is still deep on the mountains but my beloved spring is everywhere I look, listen, and scent.[/note] sitting in 29° heat at 0742 in the morning, 6089.526 miles (9800.142KM )
as the Crow (sometimes it is hard not to capitalise crow) flies away from my physical library, so please forgive any mistakes:

“Equipment does not make you a better outdoorsperson, that comes from practice and patience…and for this reason I have curbed my discussion of kit here.”

Incidentally, if you can get hold of a copy, please do so, it is absolutely packed full of information, not as polished as his later books, but that, in my opinion, merely adds to the charm. It is a fantastic place to start learning bushcraft. [note]And, yes, I shall probably be talking Things to Read soon — expect books and blogs and who knows what else. No list of travel equipment is complete without sources of information.[/note]

And that stuck with me.

But I also believe in sharing…

…and I am nearly 41. I am nowhere near an expert in anything — I dislike the idea of self-proclaimed experts intensely — but I do have a good number of years under my proverbial belt, years in which I have amassed an understanding of what works for me and, I believe, it is now time to share these.

I commence with a caveat — for true travel adventure, improvise, make, mend

In line with the above, starting with a discussion of travel equipment that doesn’t exactly fit the bill of ‘traditional’ review makes sense to me. I think learning to improvise, learning to look at things through a different lens, is crucial to life, and not just for outdoors or travel gear. Being able to see something the vast masses think of as ‘disposable’, something that simply goes in the rubbish/trash/waste/sea, then using it again, repurposing — that is key to understanding my ethos.

Also, by carrying a few simple tools and knowing how to use them you can actually alter, mend and make things you need. For example, recently a handle snapped off the brush we use in the shower to sweep the water towards the drain (because when you leave certain comfortable, predominately western, confines, things don’t always work as they should). It was not surprising it broke, I was using it to try and smash a cockroach (usually we will capture and release wildlife, but sometimes cockroaches just get squished) and the end of the pole where it joined the head was rotten due to constant damp. It snapped off. I sat and studied it for a few moments, noting how the parts I was picking out of the head were carved in a spiral to fit into the head. Once clear of debris I simply carved a new spiral in good, non-rotten wood, reducing the length of the pole by perhaps a maximum of 10cm (4″). It screwed in neatly and took me perhaps ten minutes. I used the brush to sweep up the wood chips and squashed cockroach and then I went to bed.

Knife and carving skills saved the day, again.

The author sharpens his Gransfors Bruks small forest axe. Something to cut things with, and something to sharpen that with, are both essential travel equipment, in my opinion.
I don’t have a knife photo handy, so you can have an old picture of me sharpening my GB small forest axe. Which I didn’t take halfway around the world, but sometimes wish I had. I did take the wool Chocolate Fish Merino baselayer, however, still going strong after 10+ years.

Improvisation is similar. Why buy a plastic tumbler or glass cup when so many places give you one with your fruit shake? Why not clean and keep that peanut butter jar, to stop the ants getting to things, or to use as another drinking vessel? Chopsticks and bamboo skewers have a multitude of uses, from clearing blocked drains to reaching in places too narrow for fingers. Coil and keep that string, it has a thousand different uses, do not throw out that old t-shirt, but cut it up for cleaning rags, or keep it to wear when you help friends build their mud-house. I shall expand upon this in another post, I am sure — seeing the world’s “rubbish” as recyclable and reusable is a valuable lesson. (In Thailand and other ASEAN countries, you are going to end up with dozens of rubber bands — what we do is keep them, but keep them by adding to an ever-growing rubber-band-ball — it bounces ridiculously well and is a fun way to store our band collection…)

Out of production items or closed businesses — both still deserve love

Then there is also the gear that has outlasted its manufacturers which, again, in my opinion, is a sad but equally wondrous thing indeed. Imagine making woollen boxer shorts that someone (me!) is still using five years after the company ceased to sell them — one pair, more than ten years after purchase… Yes, they are a bit thin here and there but, for the most part, they are still all functioning well. Chocolate Fish Merino, I miss you.

A collage of photos showing the process of preparing and lighting a fire in a Honey Stove, with an artificial flint.
The Honey Stove, with a small how-to sequence. In the end I left this at home too, but I did take the flint firestarter.

Or equipment that is no longer the current model — it would be surprising if it was, given that I have been using the same pair of Animal sunglasses for fifteen years, just to serve as a wee example…

I still think it is important to discuss these, even if there is little to no chance the reader can find the same items. Why? Because they have done what they were designed to do, and done it above and beyond the longevity expected of such an item — that deserves praise, it deserves me singing about them and, where the company is still manufacturing, it deserves you looking at their range.

Bags, bottles and water

Expect travel equipment reviews. Expect discussion of what I use, not what I think you should use. If you want to carry your few belongings in a rice sack, then why don’t you? If you want the latest and lightest ultra-lite Cuben Fibre pack and are willing and able to pay for it, do that too. I’m really not going to judge you and I will always listen to other’s ideas and suggestions.

My gear list is not fixed. Every so often something needs replacing, or I discover an item that would make my life so much easier (often a synonym for lighter). At the moment I am toying with the decision of whether to retire my ten-year-old shoulder bag — my “personal item” on flights, as it fits beneath the seat in front of me — or repair it, yet again. It is old and shows scars, a bit like me. If I do retire it, it will be a working retirement, whereby I leave it with my other currently unused bags and packs, just in case I have time to repair it properly in the future or pass it on to someone who will appreciate it.

You should also expect reviews to be tied together in logical fashion. Take water, for example. I have a personal loathing of disposable plastic water bottles and try my damnedest not to buy any. It is not always possible, but I try. Instead, I carry a Sawyer filter, a large Source water bag, and a Glogg steel bottle. When I will be in one place for more than a day, it is worth buying a 5 litre bottle of water from the local 7/11 or corner store, then filtering water from the Source bag (from the tap/faucet) into this everyday, refilling the metal bottle to take with me when I go walkabout. I also carry other items that tie in with this — a fish-mouth spreader (yeah, it’s never been used for that — if you fish, I’m not sure why you’d need one when careful finger placement does the same thing) which means I can easily hang the steel bottle over a fire to boil water, a titanium spork and a long-handled titanium spoon, a titanium cooking pot/large mug  (oh, and do please expect a number of reviews of Alpkit gear and clothes), steel straws and cleaner, a three litre Camelbak with neoprene-clad drinking tube, and a MOLLE waterbottle pouch for the Glogg and accessories. Everything is compatible, everything just works. The steel straw can also be used to inspire a fire, blowing on embers carefully and precisely, whilst also saving the planet from yet more plastic waste (I keep a couple of plastic straws I’ve been given, even though always asking for no straw [language — it can be a barrier, you know?], in my repair kit — they can be surprisingly useful when you need a hollow tube…

In Thailand, the author filters water from a 4 litre collapsible Source waterbag, through a Sawyer filter, into a 5 litre container. These things are essential travel equipment again.
Filtering water with a Source bottle and a Sawyer filter, in Thailand, in case you can’t tell from the bottles… I shall take some better photos of this process for the proper “water” review, but this gives you a good idea.

Finally, I’m a free lance

Remember the fact I am a mercenary pen-for-hire? Well, that will come in here too. There may/will be some affiliate links to products I use — I will put together a full disclaimer page for this too. I don’t want people to think I am being paid to share these items of kit, I’m not. I’m sharing them because I use them and I love them and I want you to too. If I can make a few cents or pennies or baht from this, then I really think I should give it a go. I don’t do things by halves, regular readers will know this by now — when you read an article I’ve crafted you get a story, not a generic “buy this” list to make me money. This will be the same with kit reviews. I will also be reviewing and recommending those items I’ve already mentioned earlier — the difficult to find, the out of production — and I will also be recommending items where I might not be able to use affiliate links, simply because I care about them.

As I said, each article is a story, often a long-term personal story and this introduction is no different. I’ve rambled on for more than 2000 words just to let you know I’ll be putting together this new section of my site and I hope you find it interesting and useful. If I can persuade just one person to copy my water filtration method, then just think how many plastic bottles that would save.

Actually, let’s guess — here in Thailand I drink around five or six litres of liquid a day, at least. Some of this is fruit shakes (remember — reuse those containers or get them in a place that serves in a glass!), some tea, some coffee and, recently, some seems to have been diet coke (err, yeah, also a bit sorry about that). So, let’s say I drink three litres of water a day. If I bought litre bottles of plastic-water, that’s three bottles saved per day. I see people with 500ml bottles too — that’ll be six a day. For the sake of this brief argument let’s settle on the lower number. 3×7=21 per week. 21×52=1092 per year. Imagine that. 1000+ litre bottles not sitting around on a beach, or beneath the mango trees hidden amongst their fallen leaves, or floating and sinking into the oceans, in just one year. So, just one person listens to me, and I’ve doubled the difference I make to saving the world in this particular aspect.

See how that works?

I like that.

And that will be the central ethos to my travel equipment/gear/kit/duffle/tackle/EDC/what’s-in-your-bag posts — helping people through my own experience, words, and photos. Helping the world goes hand-in-hand with this.