Expedition Countdown: gear review – hardware and sleeping!

The expedition is getting closer by the minute! It’s funny how the last three months, ever since I signed up to this possibly rather mad idea, has been a complete roller-coaster of “I can’t wait, it’s awesome” to “how the **** am I going to be ready in time/sort xyz…?”

(And apols for the lack of posts here and on face-twit recently – there really aren’t enough hours in the day right now!)

So I thought it’s about time I did a bit of a gear run-down – what I think is definitely going in the bag, and what I’ve still to decide on.

Hardware – I’m mostly going with what is provided by Oceanwide Expeditions. They’ve made some good choices with their gear (eg North Face VE25 tent with extra snow-flaps added). Although I’m still wary of their choice of MSR stove as it’s priming flame will be a bit scary if we have to shut the tent doors to keep the howling wind out! The gear is virtually all brand new, and using what’s already on the boat will save a lot of excess weight on the planes to get there.

Ski GearSkis and bindings. Although Oceanwide are prioviding ski-sets as part of the trip next year, this wasn’t available for this trip. And as the sole participant without their own skis (I’ve always managed to borrow or hire ski-touring gear) I needed to sort this. Fortunately I’ve managed to get a loan of most of the ski-hardware including some Dynafit skis and bindings from our friendly guide Gudrun 🙂

SkiBoots – Although I could have hired some boots with the skis I felt this was an area that I really needed to make sure was a perfect fit for me before the expedition. Bad blisters on the Trident Col would not be a good idea… Looking around, there appears to be one ski-touring retailer that’s really cornered the English market for fitting boots correctly. So I went up to Backcountryuk.com (not to be confused with the American company backcountry.com) in Ilkley and spent a good while getting a pair of Dynafit zzeros custom-fitted to my exact footshape. Not only were they really expert in the fitting of them, but I really lucked out – they’d recently had a rare client who’d changed their mind about a pair of boots and had swapped a pair that were my size for a different sort! Which being second-hand, made them significantly cheaper.

Ski-socks. Although the boots were fitted to my existing pair of merino Icebreaker socks, Gudrun suggested I look at X-socks, for their lack of odour properties. (Always a factor when sharing a tent on expedition!) Having tested out a pair, I can confirm that while not totally odour-free, they are significantly less pongy than most socks are after being used in wet and muddy conditions – and they’re definitely on the kit list. Although I’ve currently got the trekking version, so I need to find a dealer selling the longer ski-version…

Sleeping Systems. Oceanwide provide a closed cell foam mat, a Thermarest Prolite mat and the Carinthia 3in1 sleeping bag system. I’d not heard of the Carinthia sleeping system before, but it seems to be quite well-regarded by those that have used it. And being synthetic, it won’t suffer on the first night if it’s raining (a strong possibility if we’re still close to the shore). But it’s not light, or small. And I really like my down sleeping bags… So I’ve come up with a compromise – I’ve got a one-season sleeping bag that’s just been freshly cleaned and brought back to life by Mountaineering-Designs of Cumbria, and I’m going to take that instead of the inner bag of the Carinthia system. Combined with replacing the Thermarest Prolite (which is a great mat, but I hear reports that sleeping on glaciers is a bit colder than it’s really designed for), with an Exped Synmat 7, I reckon this is as good a compromise between weight, condensation/dew-resistance and warmth as I can get. Oh, and I AM taking a pillow. The smallest I can find, but it makes a big enough difference to how well I sleep that it’s really not worth arguing over the extra weight and bulk. (I fear I may well be into excess baggage charges anyhow – a couple of hundred grams won’t make any odds on that!)

I’ll try and continue this with a review of camera gear and other clothing before I go – but time is rapidly running away from me so it may be after I get back – when I’ll be able to say how good or bad my choices turned out to be!