Sheltering under foliage and subsisting on stuff that they’ve picked, caught or shot themselves may be some people’s idea of camping. Most of us prefer a less minimalist approach. Regardless of your preference, as long as you stick to a few basic rules, you’re almost guaranteed to have a great experience. Adventurer Ray Chaplin tells us how he survives while roughing it on his unassisted, one-man expeditions. And there are plenty of cool gadgets to help make your sojourn in the bush more comfortable, not to mention a bit more fun.
Hiking tips from a pro
Adventurer Ray Chaplin gives us the lowdown on smart hiking…
A bad day outdoors beats a good day in the office any time in Ray Chaplin’s book. “I had an office job – once,” says this Cape Town adventurer, campaigner and educator.
“But subjecting myself to eight years working as an IT network manager was more than enough to drive me permanently outdoors.”
An avid proponent of human power, he now spends most his “office” time either on foot or pedalling his bicycle, raising awareness for good causes and environmental issues – and the more remote the location, the better.
Previous excursions include walking from Cape Town to Beit Bridge on the Zimbabwe border, and riding a bicycle – a single-speed – from Johannesburg to Cape Town. He’s also clocked up about 10 000 km touring the country on his bike. “Most of the time I travel alone and camp wherever I can,” he says. “So I always make sure I carry enough kit to be self-reliant.”
Right now, Chaplin is preparing for his first really big expedition: an epic journey that will take him 100 000 km, completely unassisted, on a human-powered vertical circumnavigation of the globe. He plans to leave Cape Town in May 2011, crossing the North and South Poles before returning home. He’ll cross five continents (following the route of their widest extremities), pass through 200 World Heritage Sites, and climb the “Big 7” summits. The trip includes 11 world firsts, one being the crossing of the Drake Passage (the cold, stormy waters between South America and Antarctica) using human power alone – something no one’s ever been crazy enough to want to try before. If everything goes according to plan, he reckons that this project should keep him safely away from office life for another 10 years, at least.
His slogan, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst”, makes sense when you consider that many of the survival tips he now swears by were picked up the hard way. He also strictly adheres to the well-known acronym, KISS – Keep It Simple, Stupid. “When you’re in the middle of nowhere,” says Chaplin, “it’s usually the ‘gee whiz’ solutions that get you into trouble.”
Chaplin always securely packs his sleeping bag and one set of clothing inside a goodquality dry bag (preferably one with a purge valve that allows you to compress it by expelling excess air). “That way, even if I get caught in a bad downpour, my water bottle leaks inside my bag, or my backpack gets dunked in a river, I’ve at least got dry underpants and can get a decent night’s sleep,” he says. “There’s nothing worse than being cold and soaking wet for days on end. It’s terribly uncomfortable.” The same sentiment applies to soggy toilet paper, for understandable reasons – that’s why he always packs his waterproof toilet roll holder, too.
He never leaves home without his Bivi Bag emergency shelter – essentially a large, lightweight waterproof rectangularshaped sack into which he can fit himself, his sleeping bag and backpack. “In really bad conditions, it will keep you alive and out of the wind. When the weather’s great, you can use it instead of a tent, and cut down on the gear you need to carry.”
But tents are handy things: nobody outside Fear Factor willingly submits to having creepy crawlies wander over their bodies, and sleeping uncovered in a rainstorm is no fun. According to Chaplin, unless you’re heading into the Drakensberg during winter, it’s best to choose a design with plenty of mesh that lets air circulate freely on hot summer days. He highly recommends self-inflating mattresses. “They do more than just keep you comfortable; they insulate you from the cold ground. Roll-up foam mattresses are bulky to carry, uncomfortable, and quite frankly don’t insulate you that well.”
He also suggests you always pack clothing for a few degrees cooler than you think you’re heading into. This will prevent any chance of hypothermia setting in and ruining your trip.
While a gushing mountain stream may look extremely refreshing, danger lurks for the unwary. That’s because even crystal- clear water can be loaded with pathogens. So you should always set off with an appropriate water filter and a method of purification. Says Chaplin: “Just to be safe, I always use a two-pronged strategy, namely filtration and water purification tablets. Both methods have drawbacks when used alone.”
Pathogens can be grouped into three categories.
Protozoa (1 –15 microns in size) are single-celled organisms that get into the water via animal and human faeces. They are highly resistant to chemical disinfectants, but are large enough to be easily filtered.
Bacteria (0,2 – 5 microns) such as e-coli, salmonella and cholera spread rapidly in water, and when mixed with faeces become extremely dangerous. Fortunately, a good-quality filter removes them with no difficulty.
Viruses (about 0,02 – 0,2 microns) include hepatitis A, Norwalk and polio. Due to their small size, filtering them out is difficult, but they are sensitive to heat and chemical disinfectants. Usually bound to particles, they can be removed to a large extent using a filter with 0,2 micron pores.
When cleaning large volumes of water, Chaplin prefers using a “slow but sure” gravity-fed base camp filter. But if he just wants to quickly quench his thirst or fill his water bottles from puddles on the side of a trail, he opts for a hand-operated pump filter instead. They take a bit of elbow grease to operate, but are well worth the effort.
Even if you find yourself severely dehydrated, Chaplin advises that you never tempt fate by drinking untreated water. Instead, completely immerse yourself in the water (assuming you have no cuts or abrasions) to bring your core body temperature down. Then filter the water, pop in a purification tablet and wait the prescribed 30-minute contact period before quenching your thirst. “Taking shorts cuts can get you into trouble fast,” he explains. “If you begin to vomit or pick up diarrhoea, you’ll dehydrate further and that can ruin your trip. Waiting that half hour for clean, safe water isn’t going to make your situation any worse.”
Some like it hot
Sure, you can wash in freezing cold water – but why would you want to? Alva’s Portable Water Heater GW205 gives you the convenience of hot running water when you’re a long way from home. It ignites automatically as soon as the water begins to flow, and comes with a direct hose connection, a 12 V pump and a gravity-fed water bag. To ensure safety, there are protective systems to prevent overheating (it kicks in at 55 degrees), tipping or unbalancing, and running dry. Temperature and water flow are fully adjustable. The unit fits all Alva 3 kg and 4,5 kg gas cylinders, and is supplied with a SANS 1237-approved regulator and hose. Price: about R2 200. Contact Alva Marketing on 021-442 1540 or visit www.alva.co.za
When your water bottle runs dry, thirst invariably becomes the most important thing on your mind. Well, LifeStraw’s Portable Water Purifier allows you to quench your thirst with safe drinking water whenever and wherever you find a puddle of the stuff. Measuring a mere 31 x 3 cm and weighing 140 g, it can clean up to 700 litres of water. Self-contained, it requires no electrical power or spare parts, removes particles down to 15 microns, and kills more than 99 per cent of waterborne bacteria and viruses. Price: about R180. Contact Cape Union Mart on 021-464 5800 or visit www.capeunionmart.co.za
When it comes to cooking gear, Chaplin swears by his MSR Dragonfly multi-fuel camp stove. “I’ve used it for about three years now and have never had one hassle with it,” he says. It weighs about 400 g and burns white gas, paraffin, unleaded petrol, diesel and jet fuel. It comes with two selfcleaning jets – one for diesel, and the other for everything else. There are three different-sized fuel bottles available, so you can pick the one appropriate for the duration of your trip. And its fuel consumption is pretty good, too. Chaplin only ever burns paraffin. “On one trip I took the large 975 ml fuel bottle as I was going away for an entire month. Even though I cooked breakfast and dinner for myself every day, the tank was still about half full when I arrived back home.”
The type of pot you use influences fuel consumption. “Although titanium pots are not as durable as steel ones, I prefer using them because they are much lighter than steel, and their ability to transfer heat is significantly better,” Chaplin says. Tests that he conducted have shown him that, for the same amount of fuel and time, he can boil three litres of water in a titanium pot compared with two litres in a steel pot, saying “It might not sound like much of a saving, but when you’re going for fuel-efficiency and are tired and impatient to eat, it makes a huge difference.”
The last thing you need on a rainy day is to battle to get your stove started. That’s why Chaplin always travels with a flint and waterproof matches. “Cheap lighters break, and expensive ones require that you carry extra fuel to refill them. Compared with normal matches, waterproof ones are more expensive, but the extra outlay is definitely worth the cost.”
Boots and backpacks
On the subject of footwear, Chaplin is adamant – it’s not about what particular brand you covet, but rather what works for your feet. He suggests that you try on as many pairs as possible before committing your cash. “If they feel uncomfortable in the shop, they’re never going to be comfortable on the trail.” He points out that, actually, you’re not shopping for shoes, but for a walking solution – and hiking shoes and socks are a unit. Ideally you should take along your favourite socks when shopping for boots, and vice versa. “Because I never know what my feet are going to do – for example, they could swell on a hot day – I always travel with three different thicknesses of socks, just in case,” he adds.
When shopping for a backpack, Chaplin recommends that you take along an experienced hiker to help you make the right choice. Don’t just rely on sales staff to provide advice. In assessing backpacks, always start with the hip straps first. They must sit comfortably because they “carry” the pack’s load. Chaplin elaborates: “If they don’t fit you properly, you’re going to have a terrible trip.” He strongly advises that you test them out with the load you’ll likely be carrying, saying, “It’s pointless testing a bag with a three-kilogram load when you’re going to be carrying 15 kg on your trip.” He also suggests you avoid gimmicks such as male/female adjustable bags: “There are male- and female-specific backpacks for good reason.”
To find out more about Ray Chaplin and follow his exploits, visit his Web site at www.raychaplin.com
Singing in the rain
Torrential downpours might keep others off the trail, but if you’re wearing First Ascent’s Dry Lite jacket you’re sorted. Weighing a mere 325 g (and that’s for the Large size), it’s said to be the lightest fully waterproof jacket on the market. It’s made out of 2,5 ply Vapour Tex fabric that is both extremely waterproof and breathable. Pit zips and chest pockets that double as core vents help shed excess moisture build-up generated through sweaty activities. It’s available in Blue or Red; expect to pay about R1 500. Contact First Ascent on 021-787 9380 or visit www.firstascent.co.za
Carry that load
If you need a lightweight, functional backpack with plenty of space, First Ascent’s Jupiter 65L + 10L Hiking Pack could be the answer. Featuring a variable back system, it can be confi gured for the perfect fit. Terra-Hex 420D fabric provides lightweight durability, with 600D fabric adding strength in high-wear areas. Its removable lid doubles as a toiletry bag and includes a mirror that can be used as an emergency signalling device.
A “flight mode” zipper entrance lets you pack it as if it were an open suitcase, and provides access to gear buried at the bottom. There’s also a convenient front pocket for easy access to necessities.
The sternum strap keeps everything secure and includes a handy emergency whistle built into its buckle. There’s a removable rain cover, and only YKK zippers are used. Available from mid-October, it costs about R1 200. Contact First Ascent on 021-787 9380 or visit www.firstascent.co.za
Home away from home
Bonding with other family members loses its appeal remarkably quickly in a cramped tent. Natural Instinct’s Bridge 6 Plus Family Tent can sleep up to five people comfortably, and six at a pinch. Weighing 13 kg, its sleeping area measures about 3 metres square and stands 2 metres high. The spacious veranda (measuring about 3 x 2,5 metres) features built-in insect screens. It takes about 20 minutes to erect and is said to be extremely stable. Made out of tough ripstop 75D 190T polyester, it is polyurethanecoated, fire-retardant, resistant to UV, fade and mildew, and boasts a water column specification of 1 500 mm. Other features include a 210D Oxford polyester groundsheet, two top vents for extra ventilation, glass fibre poles and steel pegs. Everything fits in an EZ-PAK carry bag. Price: about R2 700. Contact Sportsmans Warehouse on 0800 003 051 or visit www.sportsmanswarehouse.co.za
Watch the weather
Should you be stuck outdoors, it helps to know what’s in store weather-wise. Timex’s Expedition WS4 watch features a revolutionary wide-screen dashboard that provides information such as altitude, weather conditions and compass heading at a glance.
Target Altitude Setting and Altitude Alarm help you to reach goals and warn you when you’re exceeding your limits. The compass’ declination angle can be adjusted to make it more accurate for your location, and reading it is a cinch, even in the dark, thanks to its INDIGLO night-light (it can be activated by pressing any button). Other features include a 100-hour chronograph with lap and split option, a 24-hour countdown timer and an alarm.
The inner workings are protected by a 50 mm wide composite case with stainless steel top plate and a screw-down battery hatch. You can choose a comfortable, durable rubber strap or an XL Elastic Fast Wrap that fits outside performance gear. Price: about R3 000. Contact distributors Just Time on 011-405 3350 or visit www.timex.co.za
There’s almost no fun in roughing it if you can’t share your exploits later with friends and family from the comfort of your couch. Olympus’s ì TOUGH-8010 14-megapixel camera is so rugged that you can almost take it wherever you’re prepared to go. Made out of anodised aluminium and featuring double seals, it is waterproof down to 10 metres, can withstand drops from as high as two metres and is freeze-proof down to a chilly -10 degrees. There are double lock mechanisms on the battery cover, a memory card slot and ports for extra security.
Of course, it also takes pictures. There’s a 5 x wide angle optical zoom, dual image stabilisation and HD movie recording. You can access a range of functions by tapping the camera body in various areas, and tilting the camera scrolls through images when in playback mode – making it perfect for gloved hands. The 2 GB internal memory can be supplemented by the SD memory card slot. Price: about R4 800. Contact Olympus SA on 021-424 2978 or visit www.olympus.co.za
You might want the freedom of a quiet country trail, but you still want to stay in touch. Oregon Scientific’s TP393 Slim Radio Walkie allows you to communicate freely with others up to 5 km away. About the size of a credit card (excluding the antenna) and just 17 mm thick, it weighs a mere 69 g. You have 20 channels with 38 CTCSS codes, giving you a total of 760 channel combinations to choose from. Plus, you get an FM radio so you can still catch a game while enjoying the outdoors. The Li-Ion battery has a standby time of 16 hours after a three-hour charge. There’s also a choice of 10 polyphonic ring tones and a stopwatch function. Available in stores around November, it costs about R900 for a set of two. Contact Oregon Scientific on 021-508 4700 or visit www.oregonscientific.co.za
A cuppa might be refreshing, but after a long, hot day on the trail a frostie is always welcome. Mobicool’s Thermoelectric Soft Cooler S32 is definitely too big to take on a hike, but if you’ve got wheels and are going camping, then it could be a winner. Capable of cooling your drinks and perishables down to 15 degrees below ambient temperature, it has a 32-litre capacity and enough vertical height to accommodate 2-litre bottles. Power comes from a 12 V car battery or via the mains. Its exterior is made from tough polyester and it folds flat for convenient storage. There are plenty of pockets for stashing cutlery, too. Price: about R900. Contact Sportsmans Warehouse on 0800 003 051 or visit www.sportsmanswarehouse.co.za