Every time I enter an 'outdoors' shop I am reminded of Bill Bryson's pertinent description of such jaunts into the high tech world of camping - it can really make one feel like an idiot when you stand there, trying to figure how to make some little gadget work and some young, just out of college sales kid with a pimpled face starts blasting you with techno babble that make simple straps and headlamps sound like the latest space age inventions.
And while I share Bill Bryson's view that a lamp is still a lamp, no matter how technologically advanced, and that its sole purpose in life is to shine a damn good light in the darkness - the slightly less technologically challenged, will appreciate that there are actually major differences to consider.
Personally, I have had some major revelations in this department since I discovered my all time favourite outdoor store, which actually is more of a playground for outdoor fanatics than a store. Sure enough, each section has its own highly trained geek on hand, who seems to know everything about every model of the range he is in charge of, but they don't jump on you as soon as you set your goggle eyes on all their spanking new equipment. Instead, each section has a little area where you can actually try things out - from the dark box that allow you to test the illumination power of various flashlights, to ice tents where you can feel for yourself whether those subarctic sleeping bags will really keep you warm, to climbing walls where you can test climbing gear etc. They even have an area for canoes...not that one can go very far, but still, it's the thought that counts and the little pool is just about big enough to give you and idea of what it would feel like to be sitting in one of these vessels, and how the paddles handle. I love this store and probably spend far too much time marveling at all their wonderful gear. On one of my recent jaunts I made a list of my favorite gadgets:
- I would never travel without a headlamp ever again. Headlamps, originally designed as special caving gear, have long since become popular for all sorts of outdoor adventures and camping trips. (They are also extremely useful when staying in rainforest lodges where there is no electricity). The great thing is, they keep your hands free. Nothing new about that, but what has become rather nifty is the fact that these lights are now available as LED lamps with different settings, low light, strong light, red light and blinking. And all this in ultra small sizes, keeping the weight down, while giving hours and hours of light - much longer than conventional flashlights.
- Water Purification:
- Always an issue in the outdoors, not just in exotic destinations, but just about anywhere away from clean tap water or sources of bottled water. The traditional method is to boil water for at least 20 min or to treat it with water purification tabs, which however, takes at least an hour or two to complete (not to mention all the nasty chemicals in those tabs). Now there is a squeezy waterbottle with an inbuilt filter on the market, which not only takes out particles of dirt, but bacteria and viruses as well. The only disadvantage is, it only holds 600ml, which isn't exactly a lot, but then again, you can always fill up again and it does not take long to filter through. Unfortunately, its not all that cheap, but if you are hiking in the outback, it may well be worth the money.
- Beach Towels:
- Want to bring your own beach towel, but dread the weight and size? Check out super-absorbent micro fiber towels. These are amazing. Rolled up, the smallest I have seen is about the size of a mobile phone, the biggest about as big as a medium sized can of tomatoes. They are super light, very efficient at absorbing moisture and dry very quickly too.
- In many destinations one might reasonably expect to find a powerpoint where one can recharge one's essential power hungry toys. But there are places where there is no electricity - what to do? No problem, if you are the proud owner of a portable solar power recharging kit. Power to the people!
Electronic equipment reacts somewhat sensitively to humidity, heat, cold, sand, you name it - while you may not be able to protect it against one and all, you might be able to protect it against some, like humidity, water and sand, with special protective bags. Quite handy, if you want to take your mobile phone or camera to the beach or to the Sahara, for example.
- Dehumidifying Bags:
- Particularly useful for journeys close to the water, or in the rainforest. These dehumidifying bags are filled with a special kind of clay, which is a perfectly natural product and environmentally completely safe. Dehumidifying bags are very helpful in the rainforest especially as stuffing for camera bags.
- Compression Bags:
- It is incredible how much more stuff you can get into your travelbag if you pack everything (especially your clothes) in compression bags. However, be aware that although the bulk is vastly reduced the weight is not - and more room usually results in more items being packed, which can spell trouble if you are checking in on one of those small internal flights in Central or South America with a maximum luggage allowance of about 12 kg.
- Sitting Pads:
- Now, this item is really a little extravagant, or perhaps it just shows my age. I never used to mind sitting on the floor, on rocks or trees - wherever. But something twitched in me when I saw those ultra light-weight seating pads - available in foam or as self-inflatable cushions and I thought to myself, why not add a little comfort to the outdoor experience - just don't forget to pick it up and take it back with you.
- My all time favourite: The Swiss Army Knife
- Nothing new about that either; its' basic design has not changed in decades, but it will always be one of my favorite gadgets. The great thing is it comes in so many different variations on the theme, I even saw one that had a built in compass! Just pick the one that has the most useful gadgets for your needs - and remember not to take it in your hand luggage!!!
- My least favorite gadget: Trail guide GPS systems.
- They might have their uses, but geeze, don't they take all the fun out of hiking in unknown territory? Sure, you won't get lost, (unless you refuse to obey), but aren't the greatest adventures to be had when we come off the intended path? What ever has come of venturing into the unknown? (Or of basic map reading and compass using skills, for that matter...).
© Kat Morgenstern, 2007, all rights reserved.
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