Adventure Kokoda Gear Guide: BACKPACKS

The wide range of backpacks/rucksacks available can be a bit daunting for inexperienced trekkers.  The best advice I can give is do some research online before you step into a camping shop otherwise you will be at the mercy of the sales staff who might want to push a particular brand – and probably an expensive one at that – rather than satisfy your needs for a trek across the rugged and remote Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea.

My first backpack for Kokoda had an external frame – I still have welts in my back to prove it.  Never again!

If you intend to continue your adventures off the beaten track after Kokoda you should outlaying a bit of extra money and look at brands such as Osprey, One Planet, Deuter, Macpac or Wilderness Equipment. You can check them out by clicking on each link. You need to be prepared to spend $250 plus on these top of the range backpacks.

I have been using an Osprey pack for the past few years and cannot think how it can be improved. It is light, strong and well-balanced. I believe the other brands are of equal quality but I can only report on what I carry.

If you are looking for a good quality reliable backpack I would recommend a Caribee 65 or 80 litre. These range in price from $130 upwards and you won’t get better value than that for the price. We purchased a few hundred of an earlier model around four years ago and they have been used by our PNG guides and carriers on a continuous basis ever since.  They have lasted at least a year more than I expected so I have no hesitation in recommending them.

You might like to keep the following hints in mind when you venture into your nearest camping store to purchase your backpack: [Read more…]

Adventure Kokoda Gear Guide: DAYPACKS

If you intend to carry your own backpack across the Kokoda Trail you will need to be in top physical condition. The terrain is rugged and remote, the humidity is high and some of the mountain ranges could be classified as razorback.

In the past many trekkers wanted to do it ‘as the diggers did it’.  They were therefore advised they would not need a tent, a sleeping bag, spare clothes, toiletries or food.  They would also have to go to a disposal store and buy some hard leather hob-nailed boots.

Some persisted and made an unrealistic attempt to carry their own backpack regardless. Unfortunately we then had to try and recruit local villagers to help them complete their journey. This placed an unfair burden on the guides and carriers we had recruited as they then had to share their food and shelter as there was no prospect of a resupply.

The trek itself is hard enough without the unnecessary burden of an extra 12-15 kg.

For those who engage a Personal Carrier we recommend they purchase a small daypack – between 10 and 35 litres – to carry your water and snacks.

It is wise to do some research to ensure you get one that meets your needs for the trek – and for years to come.  Please don’t borrow or bring a cheapy – it might not last the distance and it will certainly not fit well. If it doesn’t fit properly you will curse your decision from about day 2.

It should have a good suspension system, a hydration sleeve, an outside pocket and a rain-cover.

Some of the links below will assist in your research: [Read more…]

Adveture Kokoda Gear Guide: HYDRATION BLADDERS

A hydration bladder is a sealed plastic bag connected to a rubber hose to be used as a system for drinking water during when trekking, cycling, endurance running, etc. The size and features of the hydration bladder will vary according to manufacturer – the most common range 1.5 to 3.0 litres. Bladders are designed to fit inside a specially designed backpack with a hole to allow the hose to run from the inside of the back to the outside for easy access. The end of the hose will feature a bite valve that will prevent water from leaking out when not in use. Some of the latest developments include hydration packs that have pressurized hydration bladders which will force water through an in-line-filter allowing the user access to clean water on-the-go.

Hydration bladders are a much more effective aid in avoiding dehydration because of ease of use. All you have to do to have drink on the move is put the bite valve, which hangs beside your cheek, into your mouth and suck on it. Waterbottles placed in a pocket of your backpack or hanging from a clip can be a bit more fiddly to use and therefore some prefer to wait for a restbreak before they have a good swig from them. This is not a good approach to avoiding the perils of dehydration in a hot, humid, tropical environment.

Quality and convenience are two of the most important factors in choosing a hydration bladder. If the bite valve just fits on the tube there is a chance it could slip off – if you don’t have a spare valve (and companies like Camelback charge like a wounded bull for spares) then you are beggared.

I have used most of the brands over the years and I believe the Osprey is the best – by a long shot. It has a rigid spine which helps maintain its shape and prevent the reservoir from folding on top of itself, and the AquaGuard anti-microbial formula makes sure you don’t taste anything but pure, clean water. It has 180 degree on/off pivot bite valve with magnet which clips onto the strap of an Osprey pack for convenience.

Following are some useful links to allow you to do your own research:

Hydration Systems

Review: Camelback Vs Osprey

Video: How to choose a hydratiion system

Video: Hiking 101: Hydrations Systems

Osprey Hydration Bladder

Camelback

Platypus

Preventing mould in a hydration system

Please let us know your preferences.

Adventure Kokoda Gear Guide: How to pack your backpack

The best way to plan your backpack load is to lay out all of your gear to get it organized. This is a great way to make sure you have everything you need and organize it by weight.

It is then a good idea is to cluster similar small items, such as eating utensils, toiletries, 1st Aid items, clothing, sleeping gear, etc and pack them in zip lock or stuff bags. I use different coloured bags for these items.

I pack the things I am likely to need during the day in the zipper compartment on the top of my pack i.e. head-torch, mosquito repellent, snacks, spare torch batteries and lighter.

I pack my cup, eating utensils and a small chamois in the side compartments.

When loading my pack I obviously place the gear I do not need during the day at the bottom of the pack i.e. sleeping bag (which is packed in a waterproof stuff-sack); sleeping gear and clothing.  I then pack my 1st Aid Kit, rain jacket, plastic plates and toiletries at the top of the pack for easy access during the day.  As a guide you should place your items so that 80 percent of the weight is sitting on your hips.

If you have a foam or therm-a-rest sleeping mat you can strap this to the outside of your backpack – if the ground is wet when you take a break you can easily unstrap it and use it as a mat.  I also hang my sandals on the outside of my pack for easy access for creek crossings.

After your bag is packed, tighten all compression straps to limit load-shifting while trekking.

 

Adventure Kokoda Gear Guide: TREKKING BOOTS

The trekking boots you select should be lightweight, fit well and have a good tread. We recommend boots with a synthetic upper in preference to leather. Synthetic uppers are usually made from cordura and suede, are lighter, more breathable and some have waterproof membranes like Gore-Tex. You will not be able to keep your feet dry as they will be wet from your own sweat during the trek so the way you care for them is more important than the boots you wear – it is therefore more important for them to have a mesh upper. Synthetic boots do not need to be ‘broken-in’ like leather boots – you can trek in them the day you buy them as long as they fit properly. To test the fit first, with the boot unlaced, you should be able to get two fingers easily down behind your heel, then you should lace up the boot you intend to buy and kick the ground with your toe. If your toe hits the end of the boot it is too short – this means your piggies will not be happy on the downhill sections of the track! The boot needs to support your foot without compressing it. Some brands fit narrow feet better than wide ones; other brands do the opposite. Don’t be conned by a brand name – buy the boots that fit your feet. The boots you choose should have good ankle support to assist with stability. You should also make sure the sole of the boot flexes at the ball of the foot and not in the middle. Check the under-foot cushioning to ensure it is firm and supportive.  Click here to view the Australian Bushwalking Forum on hikig boots and blisters.

Adventure Kokoda Gear Guide: TREKKING POLES

When we first started trekking more than 20 years ago our PNG guides would cut us a few sticks and these acted as a prop for the steep climbs and descents, creek crossings and slippery sections. Trekkers then began to bring their own trekking poles with them so I thought I should give them a try. For the first couple of treks I used a single pole but after awhile I brought another one to use. I now wouldn’t trek without them.

Good quality trekking poles such as Leki are light, strong and easy to adjust. I shorten my poles for the steep climbs to allow me to leverage off my arms and ease some of the weight off my legs. I lengthen them on the steep descents and use them as a break to ease the pressure of my knees which give me a bit of curry from time to time. I adjust them to just above waist height for flat sections and I find they provide good leverage and allows me to use my upper body to share the workload.

But most importantly, trekking poles are grear for balance.  The trail can be muddy and the rocks can be very slippery.  After awhile your trekking poles, because they are so light, become virtual extensions of your arms to be used instinctively to correct your balance if you take a wrong step.

They can also be used to dry your socks and jocks over the fire at night, hang your hat and sweat rag on when you take a break, etc, etc.

I simply wouldn’t trek without my Leki’s.

You can check a YouTube video on Leki Trekking Poles by clicking here.

Please let us know what you think about trekking poles – and tell us about your favourite brand.

Adventure Kokoda Gear Guide: HEADTORCHES

A good quality reliable (emphasis on reliable) headtorch is an essential item for trekking the Kokoda Trail. I therefore recommend that you stick with known reliable brands such as Petzl, Black Diamond or Princeton Tec because our trek leaders have lost count of the number of times they have been asked to try and fix and/or replace a cheaper headlamp during a trek. Fortunately we always carry a couple of spares but sometimes this is not enough.

The other advantage of purchasing a quality head torch is the opportunity to use it after you return – hands free reading at night, working on tricky items, walking/jogging at night, etc.

We also recommend that you bring a spare torch with you as well. You can get small hand-held torches that clip onto your backpack or belt. When you get into your tent at night you can clip it onto one of the straps inside the tent so that you know where to reach when you wake up for a pit-stop – or you can use it to find your head torch!

You can do your reseach on the quality brands online so you know what you are looking for before you walk into your camping store – or you can purchase them online and save yourself the trouble – you Google brands such as Petzl and Black Diamond.

 

Adventure Kokoda Gear Guide: SLEEPING MATS

Neo Air MattressOver the years I have learned that the grumpiness index’ i.e. the look on a person’s face when they first poke their head out of the tent in the morning 🙁 is related to the quality of the sleep they had during the night. Most are happy, cheerful and full of beans – but there are always a few who look like they missed out on lotto by a single digit. This condition seems to be directly related to the quality of the mattress they have been resting on, or wrestling with, for the previous eight hours or so.

I have used everything from a groundsheet in the early days (in an attempt to lighten my backpack), to thin rubber, thicker foam and therm-a-rest self-inflating mats (more comfortable but heavier).

In recent years I have been using a Therm-a-Rest Neo Air Mattress. The Neo-Air weighs just 350 grams and rolls up to the size of a small waterbottle. You have to blow it up each night – it takes 36 good puffs – but the effort is well worth it. It’s a bit pricey at around $250 but there are less expensive versions now advertised in camping stores. You can check out current prices and specifications at Kellys Basecamp or Hiking.com.au.

I value my sleep so much I wouldn’t trek without my neo-air.

The two links to Kellys Basecamp and Hiking.com have a range of more economical options if you are consscious of your budget and don’t expect to be spending every second weekend in the bush after you get back from Kokoda

If you decide to purchase a mattress from the Therm-a-Rest range the following link will show you how to care for it:

Check the Youtube video here to learn how to care for your therm-a-rest mattress.

Please let us know your views based on your trekking experiences.

Adventure Kokoda trekking hints for keeping clean on the trail

A high standard of personal hygiene is essential to avoid discomfort and disease when trekking in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.

The tropics are unforgiving on those who are slack in this regard. Microscopic There are no large predators high up in the Owen Stanley Ranges but there are billions of microscopic bugs that will cause just as much grief if they are enter the system via a crack in the skin, a dirty hand or food that has not been prepared hygienically.  In some cases the bugs don’t even need a crack in the skin. For example if you walk around in bare feet and inadvertently tread in some dried dogs poo you could contract strongylides – if you haven’t heard of this condition please click here.

You just can’t be too careful in this regard.

The best way to stay healthy is to follow these guidelines:

  • Keep a clean set of underwear and clothes to change into after you have showered or bathed at the end of each day’s trekking.
  • Wash the clothes you have trekked in when you shower/bathe at the end of each day – you will be able to dry these over the fire in the drying hut at each campsite.
  • Carry a small bottle of hand-sanitizer in your pocket (you will need to bring about four of these) – apply it to your hands before you eat anything or rub your eyes.
  • Keep a small bottle of hand-sanitizer in a waterproof zip-lock bag with your toilet roll.
  • After you shower/bathe at the end of each day apply hand-sanitizer to your feet to kill any bacteria.
  • Wash your socks and the inner of your boot with anti-fungal soap each day.
  • Use water-sterilization tablets in your water bottle.
  • DO NOT walk anywhere at any time in bare feet – ALWAYS, wear camp slippers or sandals. I use camp slippers as socks to sleep in so if I need a pit-stop at night I don’t have to fish around in the dark for my sandals.

Click here to see how Cindy converts her camel-back into a portable shower.