Editors Note:  Between April 26 2014 and April 23 2015 Huw Kingston completed mediterr année; a 12 month, 14,000km, 17 country circumnavigation of the Mediterranean Sea by foot, kayak, ocean rowboat and bike. The journey started and finished at Gallipoli in Turkey and was a fundraiser for Save the Children Australia for which Huw became the largest ever individual fundraiser. mediterr année was also a personal commemoration of the Centenary of the Anzac landings. Details can be found at www.mediterrannee.com.au. This article refers to the gear Huw used for a particular leg of that journey, an 84 day on-foot traverse of the European Alps, which included a summit of Mont Blanc.


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A Weight off my Pack

Quite a number of people have asked about the gear I used on this journey. So with this in mind here’s some detail on what I used for the trek across the Alps. As you know (by now!) I’m fortunate to have some great sponsors such as Paddy Pallin and this, combined with a background in the outdoor equipment industry and 30 years of playing around in the mountains, ensures I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t.

The total pack weight obviously varied depending on food etc I was carrying, but based on carrying a couple of days worth of food it probably hovered around 15kg total. Trekking in the Alps you are rarely more than a couple of days from a resupply, although in the last month with so many shops etc closed I had to be careful not to get caught out!

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CLOTHING & FOOTWEAR

Choosing outdoor clothing is like choosing a partner. If you get it wrong you’ll suffer immeasurably and after time most people either move on or leave it languishing, unloved. Get it right (like I did with the Special Package ) and life is just that bit more comfortable. Of course others might say that some of it is like having an affair; you may not use it too often but its nice to have in reserve………

I’m sure some of you thought, looking at the photos (including I might add, all through the kayak journey from Gallipoli), ‘Does he never change that grey mediterr année shirt?’ And the answer  is no! The mediterr année Paddy Pallin Tech T (130g) rarely left my back, except when taking the occasional shower. The Polartec PowerDry fabric dries quickly, doesn’t smell (honestly!!) and the printing, done by my good friends at Certton, is as crisp now as at the start.

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Next on up top was a North Face TKA100 (215g) quarter zip. This lightweight Polartec Classic 100 fleece top was my first defence against the cold; the light infantry. Whilst many cheaper fleece fabrics go to pieces in time, Polartec have maintained their quality and this top is as smart now as when I got it. I do prefer at least a small pocket on such a top but that’s a minor gripe. The TKA100 also doubled as my pillow case!

When the cavalry were required to fight the cold out came The North Face Thunder down Jacket (350g) Aside from on Mont Blanc, I don’t think I ever wore it actually on the move but as immediate central heating it was toasty and invaluable around and in camp. Talking of toast, I did love a bit of graffiti on the back of a toilet door years ago: ‘If bread is the staff of life then toast is a decadent, capitalist luxury’. Overstating it a bit perhaps. Given I chose to use a + degree sleeping bag throughout (see below) the Thunder jacket also doubled as a sleeping bag booster when the nights were cold when I’d wear it in the sleeping bag.

When the rain or biting winds came I’d slip on the Marmot Hyper waterproof jacket (300g). I fell in love with this early on when I first fondled it before leaving Australia. Comfortable stretch fabric and superlight for a full waterproof. I want another one……….

Down below, Facebook followers have already met the  ExOfficio shorts that were worn every one of the 84 days on the trek. No comments about walking on their own please… As I shed a few kilos I had to snug up the belt a bit more. I do like a generously sized leg pocket as, provided it’s not raining, I like to keep the map  in the leg pocket.Hardly a mark is showing on the shorts. These shorts actually come with zip off legs which I didn’t take these with me on the trek. But when I reunited the shorts with them after, there was little colour fading between well used shorts and never used legs! I took two pairs of  ExOfficio Give-N-Go briefs (I’m really not sure about that name…) one for wearing and one for best (like my mother always told me!). Just good underwear – no rubbing, relatively odour free considering.

The Icebreaker Apex merino long-johns were one of the items that hardly got a look in. They were occasionally worn to bed and once, for half a day, trekking. It’s just that I’ve got warm legs……..some might say hot! What did get used much more often in wet or cold weather were my Rab Bergen waterproof overpants (370g), on top of the shorts. The 3/4 length side zips made for easy on/off over boots and allowed for excellent ventilation when needed. The eVent fabric breathed well and I had little condensation problem and whilst the elasticated waist with no fly makes it slightly more awkward for a pee, the benefits in waterproofing are well worth it.

Finally I had a donkeys years old Ground Effect Vespa (120g) vest. Weighing next to nothing, it is great when there’s a cool breeze blowing and you just want something to cut it down

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Now to accessorising my wardrobe……. I had a pair of Ground Effect arm warmers. Normally people use these for just for cycling but to be honest they are brilliant for trekking. They make a short sleeve shirt into a long sleeve one and, when things warm up a bit you either take ’em off or push them down to your wrists. On the bonce was primarily an Icebreaker Pocket 200 merino hat. I liked it a lot because not only was it warm, it was small enough to keep in the pocket of my shorts without bulking so that I could pull it on whenever needed. I carried a lightweight Manzella Polartec PowerDry balaclava for storm and tempest but never used it. And to keep the sun from my eyes or the rain off my glasses, an ExOfficio cap was perfect. A thin ‘buff’ style neck/headband given to me at an Italian bike race years ago was up and down like a bride’s nightie; soaking up the sweat as a headband on the climbs and drying out around the neck on the descents. There was rarely any flat!

Let’s get down to the digits now. I carried 2 pairs of socks from Wigwam, the thinner Merino Lite Hiker and slightly thicker Merino Comfort Hiker. I wore the latter more often, probably for 2/3 of the trek and never had any trouble with rubbing or bunching. Two days before the end, a tiny hole was appearing in one big toe area, hardly surprising after what they’d been through. 2 pairs of gloves were on hand. The Manzella Ultra Max Liner Glove got a fair bit of use on cool days whereas the warmer Manzella Trekker 2 Windstopper gloves only came out on Mont Blanc.

Boots for the trek started as a pair of Scarpa Delta Goretex leather boots (1460g/pair) that were supremely comfortable for the first 50 days of the trek. I did not consider these suitable for the Mont Blanc ascent using crampons etc. With this in mind Scarpa provided me with a pair of Scarpa Rebel (1320g/pair) Goretex fabric boots. I picked these up en route and, with some trepidation regarding using new boots, set off for a week toward Mont Blanc. They were fine, perhaps a tiny bit narrower in the toe box than the Delta’s for my chunky feet. So fine in fact that after Mont Blanc I wore them all the way to Monaco. What impressed me most was their surefootedness on steep, loose downhills. Call me a chamois.

A cheap pair of 5-euro thongs (230g) were my non trekking footwear. Those following my journey will recall that at the beginning of the trek they were responsible for blistering my errant, lymphodema suffering right foot. I have never and will never forgive them.

Finally, hardly clothing (too small to run from the bathroom in) but in the picture, is a microfiber towel for those occasional times when I had a shower and when other more luxurious towels were not available. Also used as a general mop in the tent.

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PACK

The pack I used throughout the trek was an Osprey Aether 60 (2.3kg). That’s 60 litre capacity which was heaps of room – I never filled the pack to overflowing. The Aether uses reasonably lightweight fabric but after 84 days there was hardly a mark. A couple of tiny holes in the base compartment area where I must have caught it on rocks, perhaps on the rock scrambling up/down Mont Blanc? After all that time under an Alpine sun, the fabric on the lid has faded a bit but the rest has held its colour well. Zero breakages on any of the buckles,stitching, straps etc. The carry system worked very well for my Welsh stature (long torso, short legs!) and the shoulder strap foam showed no compression right to the end. I love the lightweight stretch panel outside pockets (on front and sides) – they’re not noticeable when empty but have plenty of room when needed. In these days of ‘gotta add more features’ to every product, there are a few on the Aether I reckon Osprey could lose to save a bit more weight. I did cut out the panel dividing the inner into 2 (I always do) and I never used the zipper opening on the front of the pack.

All in all absolutely the right pack for the job.

An Osprey Packcover went over the Aether when the rain came down. When was the waterproof packcover invented? Such an obvious thing. Unlike waterproof clothing, account does not need to be taken of the condensation; packs don’t breath or sweat. For decades I carried packs that in rain or snow obviously got soaked. 100% better with a packcover!

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CAMPING & SLEEPING

I set off on the trek using the same Nemo Obi 2P (1.9kg) tent that I’d slept in since Gallipoli. It really is an excellent tent; the perfect size for one person with heaps of room in the 2 vestibules for cooking, boots/pack etc. And it proved itself against some pretty solid winds on coast and in mountain. I rather like it. After 5 months or so and for the last month of the trek I swapped to the other tent I had selected for the journey; a Wilderness Equipment Space 2 with Winter Inner tent (2.0kg). The main reason for this was that the Obi 2P had a full mesh inner tent; perfect for ventilation in warmer weather but substantially colder when the temperatures started dropping in the mountains. The Obi 2P was also, unsurprisingly, starting to show a little wear on the groundsheet after 5 months of rocky beaches and mountain camps. WE tents have always impressed me with both design and quality and when I first pitched the Space 2 I realised they were onto a winner. A full 2 person double skin tent (and I mean full 2 person) for 2kg. There is more space than I need (secretly looking forward to them bringing out a 1 person version…..) and WE have, as always thought of everything. Well almost everything! I do like a decent sized door opening and the Space 2 has quite small doors which, when open, hang quite low making in/out a bit awkward and, if the tent fly is wet, often a damp affair. The Space 2 is coming with me on the bike.

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My weary bones rested upon a Nemo Zor (400g) full length mattress. For decades I’ve tended to use a 3/4 length mat so perhaps I’m going soft but to be honest, at 400g, the Zor is lighter than many of my other mats and my calves/feet appreciate the pampering.

Western Mountaineering provided me with two sleeping bags for mediterr année, a +2 degree rated Highlite (530g) and a -7 degree rated Ultralite (870g). After using the Highlite all the way from Turkey, I weighed up my options for the trek. In the end I continued with the Highlite for reasons of weight; deciding that on cold nights I’d wear my TNF Thunder down jacket that I was carrying anyway. I also swapped from a Sea to Summit Silk Liner (145g) to a warmer Sea to Summit Reactor (266g) sleeping bag liner.

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COOKING, EATING & DRINKING

From an environmental perspective, I’m not a great fan of the single use throwaway gas cylinder. However for the trek I couldn’t leave the tiny Optimus Crux (85g) stove head behind. This screws into a reasealable butane/propane gas cylinder. I found a 230g cyclinder would last me 7-8 days of cooking. I’m certain the technology is there to offer refillable small cylinders. Come on Optimus, Jetboil, Primus; I challenge you to be the first……..

An Optimus Terra Weekend Teflon cookset (300g) was perfectly sized. The ‘lid’ was just the right size to brew up in whilst the main pot plenty big enough for a decent pasta feed. Foldaway handles mean a pot grip doesn’t need to be carried. Even after 6 months there is hardly a scratch on the Teflon inside the pans.

A 1 litre Nalgene Lexan bottle (180g) was my water bottle day and night. A 500ml version (90g) acted as extra capacity for camping and as a wine bottle on numerous occasions. A spoon, stolen from some restaurant (apologies….) stirred things up and fed me.

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THE CUP OF LIFE

Drum roll please……….most importantly of all………

Yes you know the story. You don’t?! By far and away the most important piece of kit I ever carry is of course my ever faithful orange plastic mug. 35 years ago I was given a 2nd hand plastic mug which has been my constant companion ever since on journeys, expeditions. Dirty, worn, cracked, taped; even a spot of plastic surgery, she never flinches when taken to my lips.

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MISCELLANEOUS STUFF

A Nikon 1 AW1 (550g) was my main camera. This fully waterproof, shockproof camera is a beauty as it comes with interchangeable waterproof lenses. That said I only carry one; a 11mm-27.5mm zoom. It’s so nice whether in the kayak or on foot, to be able to not worry about the camera being wet, cold, dirty. Sure I’ve missed the flexibility of my big Nikon D300S DSLR but every time I’ve thought of taking it on this trip, I’ve not because of the weight and the need to look after it.

I carried a Go Pro Hero 3+ video camera (130g) (takes nice stills too!) because everyone does! But it has been good even if it stresses me out trying to keep up with downloading the big files it produces. The Nikon 1 AW1 also takes nice video. My Sony Xperia Z smartphone has been very useful not only for internet (I tend to buy a local SIM card for any country I’m in longer than a week) but for shots for Facebook etc as I’m usually unable to download camera shots until reunited with my laptop at rare points in the journey. The Xperia Z is supposed to be waterproof. I don’t trust that, mainly because the charging jack cover often comes undone.

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Princeton Tec Vizz (95g)lit up my nights, on half beam in the tent or full beam if trekking in the dark. A Leatherman Skeletool (145g) multitool cut formaggi/fromage, opened beers and a hundred other things.

Komperdell Expedition Vario 4 trekking poles (400g/pair) gave some relief to abused knees. I tended to use only one and that only for the descents. I get annoyed with poles on climbs for some reason although most people use 2 for both ups and downs

Of course Cedric the Snail aka the Spot Tracker (120g) gets switched on once a day to tell the world where I was sleeping that night.

I used a couple of Osprey Digistow pouches for cameras etc which I hung off the hipbelt and the shoulder strap of the pack. Various sacks/pouches from Sea to Summit were used from dry sacks for clothing/sleeping bag to lightweight nylon stuff sacks for food to map cases, document pouches etc.

Plus, Maps, diary, toilet roll, lighter, suncream, toothbrush, first aid kit, sunglasses, compass, mini tripod, phones, chargers, passport, mediterr année cards, stickers…

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About The Author

Huw Kingston

A passion for the outdoors has seen Huw spend over 30 years journeying to wild places. This includes his recent mediterr année expedition for Save the Children; a 12 month, 14,000km, 17 country circumnavigation of the Mediterranean by foot, sea kayak, rowboat and bike. Some years ago Huw travelled 25,000km around Australia by kayak, foot, ski and bike and, in the dark ages, had a long love affair with ski touring in the Himalaya. Blessed to have seen stunning parts of this fragile planet, Huw also recognises the threats. His environmental work, including the campaign against bottled water, saw him named by Time Magazine as one of their 25 Worldwide Responsibility Pioneers and he is also a recipient of the Peter Rawlinson Award from the Australian Conservation Foundation. Huw is a regular contributor to a range of publications on outdoor/travel topics. For 25 years Huw has run Wild Horizons, an adventure events/ tours business.

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