Packing down to the size of a one-litre water bottle, this mattress not only allows additional backpack space for an extra slab of chocolate, but it also guarantees a comfortable night’s kip. I slept on tree roots, hard timber boards and on bumpy ground and I could’ve been lying on feathers. At 196cm long, 63cm wide and weighing in at 550 grams, it’s pleasing that once you’ve put all your puff into inflating it, the mattress is a chunky 6.3cm thick. There’s no down or fibre insulation, but a reflective barrier returns warmth to your body and reduces heat loss from the ground. The R-value is 2.5; the star value is five. This is a piece of kit that should be a definite inclusion on any hiking trip.
When hiking in somewhere like the Western Arthurs, keeping your gear dry is always a big challenge. One of the best things about this four-season, two-person tent is that it’s exo-skeletal; being able to erect the fly first if it’s pouring down with rain guarantees a dry inner tent. It has vestibules at both ends, one of which is fairly small but big enough to store stinky boots and gaiters. The other vestibule is spacious, big enough to store a backpack and you’ll still be able to manoeuvre in and out of the tent comfortably. Having two vestibules means you can ventilate the tent from both ends, and after 11 days in the bush my tent needed all the airing it could get! The fly fabric is made from siliconised polyester and the floor fabric is made from PU Nylon. I camped on marshy plains and on sodden timber boards and the floor remained dry. As with all tents, it takes several goes to learn how to put it up effectively. Watch out for the straps that hold the tent taut – it’s easy to get the poles tangled. The timber boards were just about big enough for the tent; in small spaces it’s tricky to get the larger vestibule taut but that shouldn’t make too much difference. The only way that water will get in to the Second Arrow is if you sit on your bladder tube (you’d think I’d learn after the first time), and if you’re exiting the tent via the larger vestibule when the fly is wet. With the flap open, water drips inside the tent and you have to zip it up quickly to keep it dry. The tent could also come with a few more pegs. It has six, and unless there are nearby trees with which to secure guy ropes, tautness could be compromised. At 2.9kg in weight, it’s not super light but the extra few grams ensure toughness against the elements. This is a good honest, comfortable tent and you’ll stay dry in it.
This heavy duty backpack has more compartments than a spy’s suitcase. There are pockets for everything which helps keep things separate and organised – you just have to remember where you put things. What I liked most about this pack was the roomy compartment at the bottom, which is a great place to store a tent and means you don’t have to unpack everything to access it. This bottom compartment also has a zip which allows access to the main part of the bag. The pack has two ergonomically arched, crossed aluminium bars in frame channels that transmit part of the carrying load laterally to the hip strip, therefore distributing the load from the back to the hips. A rubberised lumbar pad in the middle of the hip strip prevents the rucksack from slipping. The back padding above that is ultra-conical in shape and lies comfortably against your back. You can adjust the shoulder straps in accordance to how tall you are. This was a highly comfortable pack to wear; I didn’t need to take it off once during a down-climb, such was my confidence that it was going to stay in place. The only design flaw is the chest or sternum strap. Both parts of this strap have little catches on the end that clip onto a runner system – like a stiff piece of cord stitched into the shoulder strap. One of the catches popped off early on and it was impossible to clip it back onto the runner. In the end, I had to re-attach it with string. This aside, I’d feel comfortable charging into the wilderness with the Bison again, albeit with a better chest strap.
When I first unwrapped this from its packaging I thought the people at Petzl were being a little stingy. I couldn’t see a strap and thought that you had to buy one separately. But the clever designers of this torch have incorporated a retractable band which when pulled can be attached to the head or wrist. I found the wrist option particularly useful in areas where there were mosquitoes or bugs at night. Being able to strap the torch to my wrist meant that the little critters weren’t flying into my face. The torch has three different white light modes: one click of the button for maximum brightness; two clicks for a duller, more economic beam; and three for a flashing mode to attract attention. If you depress the button for longer than two seconds then you’ll get a red light, handy if you’re thinking of turning your tent into a brothel (or more specifically for attracting attention). The red light mode has two settings: a constant beam and a flashing option. There’s also a light to tell you when the battery is running low. Operating the torch on its maximum beam (70 lumens) will get you 58 hours of illumination. The more economically minded will get 185 hours. The torch takes 3 x AAA batteries.
Bear Grylls would be salivating at the number of different features on this stainless steel portable tool shed. It has spring loaded pliers; a wire cutter; a main knife blade; a file blade with wire stripper; a large and small flathead screwdriver; an awl (I don’t even know what that is!); a can opener (although you’d be silly to take cans on the Western Arthurs traverse) complete with screwdriver tip; a saw blade; and scissors. There’s even a built-in LED light which takes 2 x CR1220 batteries. It has rubber handle inlays for a better grip, is four inches when closed and weighs 300 grams. It’s a tool lover’s delight but to be honest, I found it a tad excessive for a wilderness walk as I only used the pliers, the knife and the scissors.
This lightweight jacket is made from a material called Chameleon 3Layer fabric and not GoreTex. Whenever it rained I stayed dry and my hands were warm thanks to its generous hand warmer pockets. The Strider is longer than standard rain jackets and it has a two-way heavy duty zip with a protective placket as well as an adjustable hood with a wired peak. It also has a useful chest map pocket.
I wore the smallest size and the jacket dwarfed me. The designers say that the roomy cut is to allow for warm mid layers to be worn underneath. I found that the extra room meant that I didn’t sweat that much because there was space for air to circulate. It may be a tad pricey at $399, but this is one jacket in which you should stay dry.
Merino Fleece; $19.95
According to the makers, this sock is used in the field by both the Australian Antarctic Division and the Australian Defence Department. I walked for seven days straight in these socks; if they hadn’t been so smelly and wet come day eight then I would’ve worn them for the entire trip. The high merino yarn content coupled with the “Y” Gore line in the heel prevents foot slippage (very handy in the Beggary Bumps), and the padded welt also provided additional comfort. This is probably the most comfortable sock I’ve ever hiked in. They were soaking wet for half the time and I didn’t get one blister. Pack a pair or three for long hikes.
Hike and Travel Sock; $23.95
With my often wet boots and socks peeled off, stepping into these woollen wonders at night was a joy for my prune-like feet. The inner Terry finish kept my toes snug and warm; my feet felt cared for wrapped up inside.
When hiking in Tassie it’s best to eat local, and Strive Foods (situated in Sandy Bay, a suburb of Hobart) is a good option. There are nine main meals to choose from: pasta Bolognese; beef massaman curry; Asian chicken noodle broth; vegetable laksa; minestrone; cheese, corn and vegetable risotto; mushroom and herb risotto; lentil curry dhal; and creamy vegetable pasta. To look at them in their vacuum-packed bags, I wasn’t sure if the meals were going to fill me up. But I was pleasantly surprised and very full after each serve – so much so that my rationed fruit cake lasted the whole 11 days (no pudding was necessary). The meals were tasty – especially the creamy coconut vegetable laksa; Mama would’ve licked her lips at the pasta Bolognese. I took a fuel efficient Trangia stove on which to cook, which was a good job because some of the meals took a good 15 minutes (mainly the risottos) to prepare. This was because the pasta and rice weren’t pre-cooked. Fifteen minutes is quite a long time to cook a dehydrated meal, and for an 11-day hike certain stoves may require that you carry additional fuel. But if your stove is fuel efficient – Steve and I shared a litre of metho and we had more than enough – then these are really satisfying meals to end any day.