A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December

Category Archives: Gear

Passports, Packs and Pricks

Well, it’s about a month to go before we leave and whilst I am excited, there’s still stuff I have been procrastinating on which has me a bit worried.

The other recent bit of news is I finally manged to sort out passport applications for the youngest – Oscar (9) and Abbey (6). Being a tight arse, I found a couple of websites like Portrait Booth and 123Passport Photo  that allowed me to upload photos of them and crop them to exactly the right dimensions for Australian passport photos, save a JPG and take it to Harvey Norman and print for 10c each (I used three separate sites and printed all of them, and only one site actually fulfilled the exact Australian Government stipulations). The application forms are a pain in the rear end and what’s more, our guarantor (someone who’s known the kids for more than 18 months) made mistakes (spelled Clark wrong, and used a wrong date on the other) and they knocked back the applications at the Post Office, so we had to get that section done again. Grrrr. Hate bureaucracy.

I happened to be in Melbourne around stocktake sale time and was still undecided about a pack for me. I was narrowing down on the EPE Torino 55L exandable to 65L which has endorsement from the Chiropractic and Osteopathic College of Australia (sounds good) and is priced very well compared to the big brands. A travel journalist uses one and rates them, but I couldn’t find any other independent reviews, so it would have been a punt. They look great, but I would have bought it online and if the harness didn’t fit, I’d be forking out $20 return postage.

So back to the stocktake sales. Walking through Knox shopping centre I spotted a Snowgum store and at a loose end (I’m always at a loose end in shopping centres waiting for Nani) I said to the lad “they never have any good deals in here but we’ll have a look anyway”. Then I spotted a great deal on their Travel Pack – a 55L pack with a 10L day pack. Just the size I wanted (I’d travel with 45 if I didn’t have kids with me) and all the features I was looking for. It was down from $240 to $100 – couldn’t go wrong!

As I was rummaging through the features, I noticed an internal secret pocket with a zip but no puller (little bit too secret!) so I asked for a further discount – which they couldn’t do, but they threw in $20 of accessories (good customer service too!). Then after I paid for it, I noticed the zip on the back flap that protects the harness was all wonky, and the teeth weren’t lining up, so they rang their store at The Glen and put one aside and I exchanged it the next day. Success!

I have managed to buy a couple of other bits and pieces I think will come in handy – like this strong pegless clothes line from Ezyline. It’s very cool! I wanted a line so I could wash socks and undies and quick dry stuff that I might need the next day since I want to travel light, but I’d read warnings not to get lines with suction cups because they’re weak. So when I saw this ad on TV, I jumped at it and got a couple of lines that attach with ropes.

So aside from the long list of things I still need to buy – like tropical strength Aerogarde (remember the leeches), some lightweight shoes for the kids and a heap of other minor bits and pieces, one of the last things to do (oh don’t forget insurance) is pricks. We got a printout from the GP with a laundry list of vaccinations (typhoid, malaria, tetanus, Japanese encephalitis etc.) but I read down it, and none of them were really mandatory, or even necessary in places we were going, so I think just maybe the Hepatitis A should do the trick. So I think the task for this week is line the kids up and get some pricks. The six year old is going to just love that!


Kids Gear Success!

I’ve finally bitten the bullet and ordered the boys packs today so I’m very excited. I decided to order now, because I’m planning on doing an overnight trek with my eight year old son next month.

Kids gear is really hard to find down under. Even in the US, there seem to be only a few places that really cater for serious young adventurers. I ended up doing a fair bit of homework and reading to select the boys packs. I had it narrowed down the the Osprey Ace (48L) and the Deuter Fox (40L). I’m not trying to get travel packs for the boys because I want to them to be able to use their packs for serious hiking and when serious hiking, it really matters that the pack fits properly so the weight is well transferred to the hips and is comfortable on the shoulders.

There was also an Osprey 35L version but I just felt that might be a bit on the small side for hiking because once a sleeping pad and sleeping bag is in, there’s not much room for anything else with a 35L pack. On the other hand, the 48L will probably run slightly large for backpacking through Borneo because they won’t be carrying sleeping or cooking gear, but hopefully the pack will cinch right down and not be too cumbersome for throwing on top of buses, or cramming under the odd hawker stall table or chair.

The Osprey Ace and the Deuter Fox run back lengths from 12-20″ and 14-20″ respectively. This is measured from the iliac crest (the top of your hipbones) to your C7 (the knobby bone at the base of your neck). They are pretty good quality (the Osprey probably just beats the Deuter) so they will probably last until they’re teenagers. I decided to get one of each so depending on what we’re doing, they can select which one to take, as I normally take them on adventures one on one.

I ended up purchasing one pack from a pretty cool site called Tiny Trekker which catered well for kids, had good quality gear and very good prices and free ground shipping. The other I purchased from Back Country Gear which also offered free ground shipping. I’ve had them both shipped to a freight forwarder (an Aussie girl living in the USA), who will consolidate the orders for me and ship to Australia for a small fee.

On Friday, I’ll purchase waterproof pack covers for them, which we’ll also use when putting them in transit to cover up the harness so it doesn’t snag on every conveyor belt between here and Kuching.

Of all things headlampish

I just love headlamps. I carry one wherever I go because they’re really useful – even in the daytime. If you end up crawling under a car or looking in a dark cupboard, just whip it out. Of course at night I use them camping, hunting, fishing, hiking and during a blackout. They’re even good for reading in bed without disturbing my wife!

Sadly, I’ve misplaced my Black Diamond headlamp which I really loved. I know it’s somewhere, but I haven’t seen it for over a year. I’ve had a cheap one and have been pinching my wife’s headlamp to tide me over, but now it’s getting to the ridiculous stage and I just have to get one before going to East Malaysia, where staying in hostels and being in Uncle Tan’s jungle camp will mean a headlamp will be invaluable.

Since headlamps are so cheap these days, you’re probably wondering why I just don’t go and buy one for $5 from the local camping warehouses like Anaconda (which I did – that’s a little cheap one to tide me over), but there’s more to headlamps than meet the eye. Just a quick cruise around Candle Power Forums will quickly reveal over 500 forum threads on headlamps alone and it gets very technical! There’s great information there though – the guys are absolute fanatics.

Basically when it comes to headlamps the things to consider are what you’ll be doing with it. If you’re running or night hiking and need to see in the distance, you’ll need good “throw” and some decent lumens. If you’re just around camp or using it in close quarters (in the roof,  under the car, reading a book in a tent) you’ll need “flood” i.e a beam angle sufficient to give you some peripheral vision and also the ability to drop the output so you don’t blind yourself or others.

Good headlamps can do a bit of both with a single beam for penetration and a few LED’s around it for flood. You’ll want a few settings such as high, medium and low so you can vary the intensity and save the battery. Also, the more power you need out of it, the bigger the battery pack, and more heavy and cumbersome it will be (plus carrying spares). Heavy duty headlamps take up to 4 AA batteries in a rear mounted pack, smaller headlamps take 3AAA’s most often mounted with the light.

Other options you need to think about is adjustable angle, some circuitry that allows constant voltage (rather than having brightness drop with the battery charge), easy to use switching, water resistance or water proofing, build quality so it doesn’t fall apart too quickly, head band comfort, overall weight, light color (bluish light in the cheaper ones tend to make everything look weird at night), warranty, price/value, and adjustable beam. For power supply you may want a headlamp that will run Lithium Ion batteries which last longer but will destroy a headlamp that doesn’t cater for them. If you like reading a night, a power pack at the rear of your head is going to get old very quickly!

Some headlamps like the Zebra can actually be demounted and used like a torch. Devotees swear by them and the forums are chockablock full of users who rave about their Zebra. New powerful technology uses Cree Lamps with tons of blinding power.

For more reading on what you should consider before diving in check out this guide from the boys at Candle Power Forum (yes that’s right, I don’t think there are too many girls over there).

I jumped on a couple of forums and asked a few questions and after much reading, I found the names that kept popping up were the Peztl (this has long been a classic), Princeton Tec (USA manufactured), Black Diamond (which I had), LED Lenser, Surefire and even surprisingly Coleman and  Energizer.

I decided that I didn’t want to spend more than $40, so given my requirements I decided I needed around 1 watt of power, predominantly floody, adjustable down to around 10 lumens for reading, taking no more than 3 AAA’s and narrowed it down to headlamps like;

LED Lenser H7

Princeton Tec Quad

Petzl Tikka 2

Coleman High Power

So there you have it. I ordered the Princeton Tec Quad from Ebay in the USA since our exchange rate is so good, and should be able to land it for about $30 and I might even try and source the LED Lenser H7 from Singapore for around the same if I’m lucky and do a comparison. Hope this post didn’t get too geeky for you.

I don’t often get stung on Ebay

I’m an online warrior. I love the idea of shopping in my undies. Don’t get too many visuals (especially don’t get any ones involving Y fronts).

I buy stuff from the US, the UK, Hong Kong and of course domestically and being of Scottish/Asian descent, I’m frugal (ok I’m a tightarse), so I love a bargain – which is where eBay enters my life and seduces me into her… hang on a sec, where was I?

Oh yeah, I won an auction on a Macpac Clipper travel pack size S for Nani and cleverly posted my bid in the last six seconds, and hey presto, I won! For $31 it was a steal. Then I had to arrange a courier for pickup because the guy on the other end didn’t want to mail it, so I landed it for $55. Not bad for a Macpac – and the guy’s description said, and I quote “no damage or repairs.”

Then I check it all out today…. and, I find the frame guides in the shoulder straps that hold the foam in have perished, cracked and fallen out. A buckle is missing because it ran off with the shoulder strap like the dish and the spoon. Remote Equipment Repairs in Melbourne who do Macpac repairs, have quoted me $75+14 PH to replace them.

I’ve messaged the guy… he’s got a 100% rating with 98 sales…. I hope he comes up with something, because he’s about to go to 99% rating.

It’s not often I get caught with my pants down. Serves me right for shopping in my undies I guess.

When I complained to the seller and indicated that this would reflect negatively he basically refunded the entire amount and said “Good Luck with your travels”.  So for me, the world is a good place again!

I need a pack!

Today, I’m looking for a pack. I’ve done lots of reading, read reviews, listened to podcasts and tried packs on at my local Kathmandu and Mountain Designs but they don’t seem to have the sizes I’m after, so still no joy yet.

I already have an old 65L Macpac Cascade that’s a tough top loader with an excellent harness that I use for wilderness hiking, but it’s too big for backpacking travel since I won’t be carrying any bedding, shelter or cooking gear.

I’ve decided I need something around the 50-55L mark. If I was traveling alone or as a couple I think I’d go down to the 45-50L mark and travel light but I’m going to carry extra because trips with kids can go pear-shaped without the extras which either relate to comfort or safety. Size does matter when backpacking because we will need to be able to throw our packs into the back of a taxi, shove them under tables, on our laps in a mini van, lockers in a hostel and the age old inevitable problem of “you fill what you have” comes into play too.

I bought Nani a Macpac travel pack off Ebay for $30 (a steal) which is on its way from Sydney (I hope). For the boys, I’ve decided on the Osprey Ace 48 which is probably too large for travel, but hopefully I’ll be able to tighten them up and compress a little to make them a bit smaller. The reason I’m looking at that one for them, is it’s a hiking pack, made for youth and we’ll be able to use it for overnight, or two night hiking trips in the future – and it should last them quite a number of years.

But like Bono from U2, for me I still haven’t found what I’m looking for – although I am narrowing it down.

I’ve decided I need a front loading travel pack because I don’t want to have to empty my backpack at a bus terminal to get something at the bottom. It needs lockable zips, a couple of haul handles, a built in rain cover if possible, a good fitting harness system and a detachable day pack. I know some people hate these, but I’ll need to carry one anyway, and it might as well attach to the outside, than take up space on the inside. I also need for the straps to be concealed so they don’t snag on conveyor belts in transit. Obviously price point is a big consideration too, which sort of rules out One Planet who make brilliant packs, and anything new from Macpac or Berghaus etc.

I’ve not tried these two on my back fully loaded yet, but they look like they fit the bill although one is more expensive than the other (but the great thing is, I have time on my side to wait for specials – and winters coming when these things just don’t sell well so hopefully retailers discount big in the next few months). Both Osprey and Deuter are excellent brands.

The Osprey Farpoint 55 looks the most likely at this stage. At $189 with a detachable 10L daypack on top of the 55L main pack, it’s a good price (the free shipping doesn’t hurt either). Two sizes of harness are offered in 420 denier fabric, it comes in at 1.78kg, so not too heavy. It’s rated for 15kg so that about fits the bill (it’s all I’ve booked for our luggage limit). Not much in the way of reviews because I think it’s fairly new.

The other contender at this stage is Deuter Quantum 55+10. The nice thing is, it has integrated hydration and possibly a better internal frame . The downside is, it weighs nearly twice as much (3kg) and costs $273. A good review on was done on this one.