Last week after amassing 600 kgs of supplies and kit for a big trip this summer I packed it into 20 loads, put it on a pallet, wrapped it in industrial cling film and shipped it off to the back of beyond. At the end of June I will be reunited with it along with four friends, hundreds of miles from anywhere in the Arctic wilderness. For the following five weeks of exploratory adventure our survival and the success of the expedition will be entirely dependent on the contents of my shipment.
There are myriad choices to be made when deciding what will and will not be required when packing for a big trip. How much toilet paper will we need? How much rope and what rack? What about batteries, fuel, suncream? Tents, stoves, sleeping bags the list goes on and on…
It’s not a simple task and the stakes are high; get it right and you’re in for a safe, fun trip; get it wrong and you can fail before you even begin or somebody can get hurt.
“This is not my first rodeo” as they say so I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned about how to decide what to put in the box…
Packing for an expedition – Leo Houlding shares his Top 10 packing tips.
1. Research – what are you doing, where and in what conditions? This is fundamental to what you will need to bring. Go at the correct time of year – seasons can be weekly defined especially in the high latitudes or monsoon regions. Look for expedition reports from the area and try to contact protagonists.
2. Logistics – how are you getting your crew and cargo to where? Ships, Planes and cars usually get you started. Will you have porters, horses, or helicopters to get you to base camp? If you have to carry heavy loads long distances you need to examine your objectives and equipment even more closely.
3. Crew – the single most important factor in the success of an expedition. I find attitude equally if not more important than experience.
4. Disaster Strategy – It’s a bit morbid but having thought through an action plan for various disaster situations can mean the difference not only between life and death but success and failure. Make sure your insurance is airtight. Bring a hefty medical kit – what if three of the team need antibiotics at the same time?
5. Spreadsheets – the less glamours side of expeditions! There are literally thousands of separate items required, in different quantities, at different costs, at different weights from different suppliers. A spreadsheet is a easy way to keep track of everything including total weight and budget.
6. Labelling – Use bright duct tape and a marker pen to label each load. I assign each a number and write a few words outlining it’s contents. I then put a card inside the load detailing the exact contents. The exact contents are logged against each load number in the spreadsheet. On the journey when you repack relabel. This saves lots of time and faff when managing masses of kit.
7. Redundancy – It is better to have it and not need it; than to need it and not have it. Everybody likes to be minimalist and to travel light but on a serious expedition if you do not have something that you need it is game over. Important things break, get dropped or blow away. Build spares, back ups and redundancy into everything.
8. Test Everything – Obvious but surprisingly difficult to do. What looks great on paper soon falls apart in the field. Ideally tested in a real but controlled environment i.e. a weekend in Scotland.
9. Fuel – Modern heat-exchange gas stoves such as Jetboil or MSR reactor are fantastic. However propane/butane gas canisters are still difficult to get hold of in remote areas and on longer trips bulky to transport. Liquid fuel stoves are a great solution. I like the MSR Whisper Lite if you are confident the fuel will be good quality or MSR XGK if you’ll be using whatever you can get your hands on. Bring 1 stove and repair kit per pair and a spare stove per expedition. With quality fuel allow minimum 0.125l per person per day in summer, 0.25l in winter.
10. Food – Work out the total man days i.e. crew multiplied by days. On this expedition we’re 5 men for 35 days so 175 man days. That’s your base number for working out rations e.g. we’ll need 175 breakfasts, dinners & mains meal, 2 chocolate bars a day each is 350 bars etc.
Estimate the daily calorific intake required based on your weight, the climate and your intended activities. Given that the reference intake of an average UK adult is 2000 it safe to say on a big expedition you‘ll need substantially more than that. For this mission I’m working off 4000.Take things that you like and would eat normally and make sure there’s some variation.
BONUS 11. Freeze dried rations – are expensive but a total winner on demanding adventures especially if it has to be cached months in advance. It is high energy, nutritionally balanced, requires only hot water and can be eaten straight from the bag therefore no dirty pots & pans. Try to sample all dishes prior to departure. Never again will I bring a certain brands chile con carne after some some very unpleasant experiences and odours on the Asgard trip.