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outdoor

THE TAJIKISTAN PLAN

THE TAJIKISTAN PLAN

The countdown is on once again.

This is all getting a little familiar; The weekends away months before, the early bedtimes, the ordering copious amounts of food, antibiotics, altitude meds, paying the enormous insurance fees, Spot tracker and Sat Phone subscriptions... Just less than one month to go until I jet off to Tajikistan for quite the adventure. (Don't worry if you haven't heard of Tajikistan before, most haven't. It's next to China, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan). 

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Adventurer in the city

Adventurer in the city

The presumed opinion is that to enjoy a life of adventure, one must reject the 9-5, the fast pace of the city and the seemingly superficial lifestyle to then resort to the sticks, become a vegan and hike all day and night. This is fine to do if that’s what you want but it’s not the way I have created my expedition orientated life.

I’ll be honest, I know I’m young and relatively responsibility free (I am fully aware that many people have more commitments) but I wasn’t born with it all mapped out for me. I had to create my own path but I made it how I wanted it to be. I’m fortunate enough to have a full-time job that I enjoy and that challenges me when I am not in the remote corners of the world but a job that allows me to take the time (within reason) to continue my exploration career.

I enjoy the glitz of the city just as much as the peace and beauty of the wilderness.

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My Top Kit Picks for the Cold

My Top Kit Picks for the Cold

We spend so much money and time trying to get the perfect kit to try and make a hard expedition that little bit easier or those photos a little more trendier.

Here's a couple of my top picks from my recent Denali expedition. 

Rab 1200 Expedition Sleeping Bag. Rating: -35C (RRP: £770)

A pretty penny indeed but this bag became my safety net. At first glance it seems over bulky but this is a brilliantly thought about feature. It's not heavy for the warmth it provides; weighing in at 1850g. 

Made for cold weather, it works best when wearing clothes otherwise there is too much empty space and in those temperatures you simply can't warm up. It has enough space for a full down suit just in case the temperatures get wildly life threatening. On a few EXTREMELY COLD nights on Denali and when up in the high Arctic in January, I had to wear my Rab Expedition down jacket inside it for the entire night. The combo worked together brilliantly and probably saved my life. The foot compartment is spacious enough to not only allow for big down booties to be worn inside but also so that you are able to fit the many objects you need to stop from freezing during the night. I put gas canisters, my liner boots, socks, gloves, water bottle, suncream, toothpaste, batteries and pee bottle inside. Somehow the bag's space means that you can still sleep comfortable even when sleeping amongst so many uncomfortable objects!! Other great features include the awesome hood (you can pull the cord so that only your mouth is exposed to the cold air) and the fact that because it is hydrophobic down, it drys quickly.

Every morning on Denali I would wake up with ice all over the area around my mouth on the bag and once the cooker is on this ice melts and wets the bag. However time has gone by and you've packed up for the day ahead the bag has pretty much dried itself so thankfully no packing away wet. Pretty neat. 

Páramo Torres Medio Insulated Jacket (RRP: £210)

For temperatures as cold as the Arctic or high altitude mountains, this jacket acted more of a mid layer than an outer layer which is what it is ultimately designer for. I didn't take this jacket off on Denali. I slept and climbed in it. It is surprisingly breathable considering it only has the main front zip for venting. At first I wasn't sure on the fit of it as it isn't exactly athletically fitted like it's competitor jackets but instead has a long, wider cut. This actually proved very practical because when climbing with hands above my head or pulling my sled, it wouldn't ride up meaning my torso was always kept warm. The hood is great at keeping the elements out and the feel of the jacket is very cosy and comfortable providing a little bit of luxury for hard environments.

I definitely recommend this jacket but just remember to take extra layers if you are going in temperatures below -5C and for temperatures lower than -15C never forget your expedition down jacket as that is when they come into their own.

Note: It looks like the women's version of this is no longer available.

Lowe Alpine Cerro Torre 65:85 (or 75:100) Rucksack (RRP: £200)

On cold expeditions your bag needs to be able to fit a lot inside it. Usually if you're in the Arctic, Antarctic or on an Alaskan expedition you'll also have a sled behind you too but the bag will be just as important. I use this bag because of it's simplicity and comfort. It's heavier than some bags of the same size (the 65:85 comes in at 2.75kg) but this weight is due to the structure it provides. When packed well the weight is piled high rather than side to side making for more balanced weight distribution. It has a useful extendable front lid for when you are filling it to it's max but will also pack down small for lighter trips. It has two sizeable side pockets, a hip pocket on both hip straps and a front pocket which is big enough to put a map in. 

MSR Reactor with 2.5L Pot (RRP: £180)

Everyone thinks that gas doesn't work in cold temperatures and high altitudes. However if it is looked after it can out perform liquid fuel. The Reactor is so efficient that no heat is lost (a down side if you are looking to heat up the tent whilst cooking but great for saving fuel). You do need to keep the current gas warm when you are not using it so that would mean keeping it in your sleeping bag at night and wrapping it in a jumper in your bag during the day. It's a fragile stove so when not using always pack away. Even though this sounds like a lot of faff compared to liquid fuel it really isn't when you consider with liquid fuel you have to pump it, clean it and avoid getting fuel all over the tent and fingers. The Reactor us so light and fits easily in a pot. As a back up, always take another stove e.g a Pocket Rocket. 

Balancing work and play... Or in my case, not very well

Balancing work and play... Or in my case, not very well

I was told a memorable bit of advice when on an expedition in Svalbard for 10-weeks in 2011. For the whole team, it was the first long haul expedition we had ever been on. We had no outside contact at all, were completely self-sufficient in the Arctic wilderness. We were moving, climbing and partaking in science work for the duration and it took some of the team more time than others to adjust to this life. We were told that it would take each person different times before our 'spirit' traveled from the UK to Svalbard.

The idea being that our spirits would be left at home when we arrived in Svalbard whilst we adjusted to life in the Arctic. But when we were in the swing of things and the expedition became our world, our spirit would return to us and we would feel whole again. It would take even longer for our spirit to return to us when we got home. For many months post expedition it would be left in Svalbard as we adjusted to civilian life again. Thing is, I don’t think my spirit ever came back, my spirit is essentially always on the next adventure. That’s not a cry for sympathy, I love my civilian life but what makes it so great is that I can keep adventure a part of it. Without it I would have a big piece of me missing.

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Gear that works

Gear that works

Don't you just love it when your outdoor gear simply works? I do. The Patagonia Expedition Race and my adventures after the race in South America put me in some of the toughest conditions for outdoor kit.

Unlike the pristine Arctic wilderness where the snow keeps kit clean and the dry air prevents things from disintegrating, the Patagonian wilderness is primarily damp, cold and windy. The weather can turn from beautiful sunshine to the most ferocious storm imaginable. Gear is vital here and with a good tent, a good stove and a good sleeping bag, you can't go too far wrong.

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One piece of kit worth mentioning is the OMM Mountain Raid 1.6 Sleeping Bag. Sleeping bags for me, are one of the most important pieces of kit. I am very particular about which I use as the idea of not being able to sleep because of being too cold is too terrible to think about - especially in a race scenario or a long expedition.

I've often taken big sleeping bags whether it be down or synthetic depending on how wet the destination is. Buying the OMM sleeping bag took some bravery. I read its weight and size online and I couldn't believe that something so small would allow me to sleep comfortably in the Patagonia conditions. I bought the bag anyway, prepared to sacrifice comfort over weight and size for the race scenario.

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I didn't sacrifice or compromise anything at all. After the first night of the race and over 48 hours of being awake (we hadn't slept during the build up!) I was exhausted. We stopped for the night and I got off the bike/fell off the bike due to the high winds. I realised just how exhausted I was. My body couldn't keep its temperature and I was becoming cold very quickly. I was scared that I would remain cold all night due to buying such a tiny sleeping bag... The bag kept me warm for the night (well as long as we allowed ourselves to sleep!) and I was suitably impressed.

I used the bag again and again when traveling around more of Patagonia in Argentina as well as Chile. We had some very cold temperatures but the bag continually kept me warm and was one of the lightest things in my bag.

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I cannot recommend this sleeping bag enough so if you're looking for a bag that'll keep you warm and take up almost no space in your bag and weigh very little - this OMM Mountain Raid 1.6 Sleeping Bag is the bag for you! Check it out here: https://www.theomm.com/product/mountain-raid-1-6/

See more gear in action on my Instagram - @lucysheps . Until now I've kept my Instagram a secret!  https://www.instagram.com/lucysheps/