What gear should you take on a month-long expedition into the wild?

I’ve been exploring the world’s most pristine river systems for over a quarter of a century now and over the years, I’ve developed a pretty good idea of what I’m going to need for each type of trip.

 

 

For most journeys, I can fit a month’s worth of gear into one 90-litre backpack plus a separate food bag. Though I have used a large inflatable kayak on a couple of expeditions, I prefer an Alpacka packraft these days – it’s lighter, more portable and can be rolled up and stuffed into my pack along with my four-piece carbon-fibre paddle.

 

 

 

If I’m off to a jungle, I’ll normally soak my clothing in a diluted Permethrin solution to deter mosquitoes, ticks and other undesirables. Because most of my expeditions are along rivers, I also have to store everything in waterproof bags before they go in the pack. Here are some items I found useful during my four-week canoe trip down the remote and pristine Rewa River in the Guyana rainforest:

 

 

Emergency communication is essential when you’re in the middle of nowhere. Depending on the journey, I’ll take either a satellite phone, an EPIRB (emergency locator beacon) or a Solara Field Tracker 2100. Occasionally I’ll take two out of these three items.

 

Most of my explorations occur in tropical areas, so I rarely need to bring a lot of clothing. Over time, I’ve learned what gets used on a trip, what is used rarely and what I can safely do without. When it comes to gear and clothing, I resist the urge to sacrifice quality to save a few grams of weight. Instead, I buy the best quality equipment I can afford that serves my purpose. This is a habit designed to save my life – the last thing I need is to have a cheap tent or flimsy sleeping bag fail in extreme weather.

 

I’m a huge fan of Swedish-made Hilleberg tents (mine is shown below). They’re about the best you can buy – I’ve used mine all over the planet. One thing I love about them is that you can put them up in the pouring rain but the inside stays bone dry while you’re doing it.

 

Bolivia Hilleberg tent

My final gear list for river trips varies depending on destination, expected weather conditions, journey duration and other factors. Here is my basic list for all expeditions. I add or subtract items as needed to meet local conditions, checking all items off the list as I cram them into the backpack to ensure nothing gets left behind.

 

 

Equipment List

 

Air tickets / travel itinerary / hotel reservation printouts

 

Packraft with paddle and accessories

 

Cash / credit cards / debit cards

 

Sleeping bag liner (can even be used on its own in hot climates)

 

Passport with any required visas / driver’s license / other photo ID (I also photocopy all this stuff and keep the copies separate to the originals, in case they’re lost or stolen)

 

Inflatable sleeping mat (Exped, ThermaRest or Sea to Summit – I use a shorter length mat inside my jungle hammock too)

 

Expedition backpack (I prefer the 90-litre MacPac Cascade, the Wilderness Expeditions Karijini or a large Osprey)

 

Foreign language phrasebook, if needed for communicating with local guides (a small electronic pocket translator also works)

 

Personal toiletries (as lightweight as I can make it all)

 

Clark jungle hammock (more suitable for swampy jungles than a tent)

 

Groundsheet (I always use one beneath my tent and also under my jungle hammock so I can keep better track of gear on the ground)

 

Large drinking cup, plastic plate and utensils

 

Alarm clock (absolutely essential)

 

Reading glasses

 

Ear plugs

 

Sunglasses (not just for glare but eye protection against snapping branches, etc.)

 

Two pens and a notebook

 

Maps (if I can’t buy what I need before the trip, I’ll use Google Earth printouts)

 

Compass (I’ll often carry a spare on treks where I’m using it every day)

 

Rubbish bags /zip-lock bags (I use these for food supplies and any gear that needs to be kept dry and protected)

 

Knife (I don’t carry a huge macho man knife – just a reliable, locking/folding Spyderco)

 

Fire-lighting gear (matches, a metal flint and a couple of plastic Bic lighters)

 

Rubber bands

 

Boots (the type I take depends on the terrain)

 

P1010613
In swampy jungles, expensive Gore-Tex boots are close to useless – you’re better off with rubber boots or river sandals (worn with or without neoprene booties).

 

Kindle e-reader (the batteries usually last 2-3 weeks for me)

 

Sewing / repair kit (I’m always ripping my clothes on something)

 

Fishing gear (I take basic supplies to fish for food, not for fun)

 

Flip-flops (comfy for wearing around camp and for protection against germ-ridden showers in foreign hotels)

 

Hand sanitizer (sometimes there’s no other way to wash your hands before eating)

 

Hiking socks

 

Water sandals (I’ve used Keen and Teva brands in wet conditions)

 

Binoculars (I always carry a pair in wildlife-rich regions – they’re also handy for checking out what’s up ahead in the distance)

 

Money belt / zippered or sewn pockets (overseas, I always wear shorts or trousers with zippered or hidden pockets to keep money and valuables safe and deter pickpockets)

 

Spare batteries (for camera, torch and whatever else needs them)

 

Sun hat (I like a broad-brimmed hat with a neck strap so it won’t get blown off when I’m paddling)

 

Hand torch (I generally carry two – Petzl and Black Diamond are reliable brands)

 

Gloves (your hands need just as much protection as every bother part of your body in hostile environments – I take lightweight work gloves and/or kayaking gloves on every trip)

 

Sleeping attire (in hot jungles, I sleep naked; in Canada in September, I’ll sleep in a heavy merino top and bottom inside the tent)

 

Long-sleeve hiking shirts (generally, I choose long-sleeved shirts for better protection – I prefer cotton canvas over ‘lightweight, breathable, quick-dry’ artificial fibres, but it depends on the environment)

 

Wee bottle (when you’re in a tent and reluctant to get out of it when nature calls because of (a) pure laziness or (b) jaguars prowling outside, a wide-mouthed, screw-top plastic bottle can come in handy for in-tent urination – females can improvise similar receptacles)

 

Toilet paper (always take extra – occasionally you might need it help start a campfire)

 

Billy can with lid (though I have occasionally carried Trangia nested cooking pots that come with the stove, my preferred ‘kitchen ‘ consists of a single Aussie billy can with lid and handle – it’s used for boiling tea water and for cooking one-pot meals over the coals)

 

DEET insect repellant (around 25-30% DEET is plenty – the ‘heavy duty formula’ is a waste of money)

 

Video camera with dry bag, batteries and accessories (when I take a separate video camera for wildlife filming)

 

Dry sacks (Sea to Summit makes some excellent dry bags – I’ve been using them for years)

 

Tee-shirts

 

Long trousers (I never wear gaiters – I wear suitably protective long pants instead)

 

Shorts

 

Underwear

 

First Aid kit

 

The Basin (if I want to catch rain in a container, I use this collapsible receptacle by Sea to Summit – it’s also handy for doing the dishes in camp or carrying water from the river)

 

Water bag (I carry spare water in a collapsible water bag inside my pack rather than a rigid container – both Ortlieb and Sea to Summit make useful water storage bags)

 

LifeStraw (a brilliant, super-lightweight, highly efficient water purification device)

 

Water purification tablets (in my opinion, the best on the market are MicroPur MP1 chlorine dioxide tablets – I take them on all my journeys)

 

Empty Water bottle (to fill up when needed)

 

Bronze Zinc cream (longer-lasting than sunscreen for lips, nose and the backs of hands)

 

Bar of soap (I don’t use shampoo or ‘wilderness wash’ in the wild, just soap – if you’re trying to sneak up on wildlife to film them, you’ll find glycerin soap is close to scent-free so you don’t spook nearby critters)

 

Washcloth

 

Sunscreen

 

 

Tropical beach 1
Sun protection is crucial – and not just in tropical environments. Once more than 10% of your body has been sunburned, your ability to regulate body temperature suffers. Aside from the short-term risks, there’s also the danger of skin cancer to think about.

 

 

I like to make up my own first aid kit from scratch instead of relying on store-bought versions. My kit normally includes:

 

First Aid Kit

 

Scissors

 

Blister pads (Mole foam or gel types)

 

Tweezers

 

Splinter probe

 

Eye patch

 

Rubber gloves

 

Triangular bandage

 

Wound covers (an assortment of wound bandages in different sizes)

 

Band-aids or similar

 

Betadine swabs (great for cleaning small wounds)

 

Cotton balls

 

Paracetamol or aspirin

 

Diarrhea medication (don’t ever go overseas without it – seriously)

 

Malaria tablets (I’ve used Malarone on many of my jungle journeys with no problems, but the type of tablet you’ll need depends on where you’re going – check with your travel doctor for advice)

 

Gastrolyte tablets (for rehydration – Staminade / Gatorade powder works too)

 

Antiseptic (wipes, liquid and/or powder for wounds – simple alcohol wipes are also good and can even be used to help start a recalcitrant campfire)

 

Butterfly closures (unless you know how to properly stitch a wound, use these to keep cuts closed)

 

Haemostat (a handy, lightweight tool with both medical and other emergency uses)

 

Anti-fungal cream/powder (a good item to have if you’re in swamps or jungles)

 

General antibiotic (check with your travel doctor about any antibiotics you might want to take with you for emergency use in remote areas)

 

Claratyne (antihistamine can be very useful if you’re stung by an ant, bee or hornet and suffer a severe allergic reaction – I’ve never had to use mine but I always take some)

 

Compression wrap (these 10 cm wide crepe roller bandages are what you’d use to wrap a sprained ankle – they’re also essential for proper treatment of snake bite)

 

 

Food list

 

For journeys in remote parts of Australia, I can usually purchase dry food items from a supermarket before heading into the bush. Overseas, buying expedition food presents additional challenges.

 

Along the Parana River separating Paraguay and Argentina, I lived for three weeks on not much more than wheat biscuits, rice, pasta and canned sardines in tomato sauce – because that was about all I could locally buy before I went to my camping/exploration area.

 

In Gabon, I ate what my Baka pygmy guides ate: roasted monkey, antelope stew, tiny smoked fish and some baked grubs. Along rivers in British Columbia, the problem wasn’t finding expedition food in the stores beforehand – it was keeping my precious goodies away from the bears along the rivers.

 

Where I’m able to buy them, my river expedition foods normally include the following items, for starters:

 

Pasta

 

Rice

 

Beef jerky

 

Tuna in sealed packets

 

Dried fruit

 

Assorted nuts

 

Muesli (granola) bars

 

Dried soup powder (handy for creating pasta sauce too)

 

 

P1000220
Sometimes I’m able to supplement my dried supplies with some wild food. In the Kimberley region of northern Australia it’s usually not too hard to catch fish – I thoroughly enjoyed this fresh barramundi cooked whole on the coals.

 

Non-melting chocolate

 

Staminade powder

 

Sustagen powder

 

Dehydrated vegetables (peas, corn, green beans, dehydrated potato, etc.)

 

Parmesan cheese

 

Fresh garlic

 

 

P1000326
The humble Australian billy can (steel or aluminium) is my all-purpose pot. I use it to collect water from the river, make tea and cook everything from soups and pastas to breakfast oatmeal. River sand makes a good ‘scrubbing brush’.

Assorted healthy breakfast cereals (natural muesli, Weet-bix, etc.)

 

Powdered milk

 

Peanut butter and some biscuits or pita bread to put it on

 

Tea bags and sugar

 

As I said, these are just my basic ‘starting-point’ lists of expedition needs. Each trip is different and teaches me something new about what I should have brought or could have left at home. For solo explorations in extremely remote locations, my motto is ‘bring more food and less gear’.

 

 

Bolivia Madidi jaguar tracking 1
When I conduct solitary explorations and don’t have an indigenous guide around to help identify animal tracks, one thing I like to bring along is a printout of local animal tracks. This is me in the Amazon, wondering how wise it might be to keep following these suspiciously fresh jaguar tracks….

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