I’ve been a bit busy (and a bit lazy) but I’ve finally gotten around to doing the equipment posts I promised. In this first one I will deal with the bits of equipment I am replacing/upgrading detailing why I’ve chosen to do so. I’m on a pretty tight budget for this next stage of the trip so I’ve had to put a lot of thought into what I spend money on so hopefully some of you reading this will find my choices helpful!

Packed ProLite on the right and XTherm on the left.

Packed ProLite on the right and XTherm on the left. SD Card and A4 paper for scale :).

Firstly the upgrade that in my mind is the most important, which was also the priciest, my new sleeping mat. I’ve decided to replace my Therm-a-rest ProLite sleeping mat with a Therm-a-rest NeoAir Xtherm for several reasons. Mainly the old mat was just not warm enough for camping out in close to zero temperatures. The XTherm is, by all accounts, the warmest carry-able sleeping mat there is. It’s even suitable for sleeping on snow which may prove very useful when I ride up into the Turkish mountains in February. The only mats warmer are big heavy things used when setting up a long term camp.

The Prolite (orange) and XTherm (Grey) inflated.

The Prolite (orange) and XTherm (Grey) inflated.

On top of this the XTherm is thicker, which gives more comfort, which has been a problem as I tend to sleep on my side which when using the old mat has lead to some aching and numb limbs in the morning. The new mat is also full body length, the old is only a “torso” mat, which will reduce the problem I’ve been having where the end of my sleeping gets wet as it rests in the condensation on the floor of my tent.

Thickness comparison of the two mats.

Thickness comparison of the two mats.

As you can see in the first picture this mat also packs a lot smaller which is always good news. The only downsides I’ve been able to come up with are that the new mat is heavier (400g versus about 300g) and also takes longer to inflate (3 breaths versus 10 breaths). I have to say I’m super happy with it, it really is incredibly warm. Place your hand on it and you feel it warm up in just a few seconds as the warm air inside is trapped between the reflective baffles inside.

The next biggest change is my new camera. My old camera has been absolutely fantastic, an Olympus Pen E-PM1 and I only began to consider replacing it in the last 3 days before Istanbul. Moisture from my gloves got into the power button and left the camera stuck powered on, I was still able to use it by removing the battery to power it off but this was not a great omen. Luckily the camera recovered once it dried out. On top of this I’d had to avoid photos in the rain to avoid damage, the camera was very difficult to use whilst wearing gloves and also too big too store in a pocket allowing easy access. I decided to look into rugged compact cameras when I got home and stumbled upon the Olympus TG-620 Rugged Camera. An extra bonus is the weight and space saved as can be seen in the following photos;

Olympus Pen E-PM1 with all accessories: Charges, Wide angle adapter, flash and charger.

Olympus Pen E-PM1 with all accessories: Charger, Wide angle adapter and flash.

The new camera, which can charge using the same cable my Amazon kindle uses.

The new camera, which can charge using the same cable my Amazon kindle uses.

This was a tough choice as I really like the quality of the photos coming out of my old camera but it just really isn’t the right tool for the job. The new one has chunky buttons for use with gloves, can be dropped from 1,5m without damage and can even be used underwater. The built in lens is wide angle and has a decent zoom built in. The reduced depth of field is a shame though. I’m planning to take both cameras to Africa next week to give them a proper comparison and if I really can’t do without the old camera then I’ll take both keeping the rugged compact in my jersey pocket for convenient quick shots and old one tucked in a pannier for when conditions are good and there is a particularly great shot.

Next is a new bike pump, the Topeak Mini Morph which is replacing the smaller Topeak Master Blaster. The main problem with the Master Blaster is that it mounts directly to the valve without a rubber hose which puts the strain of pumping onto the tube itself, this has so far cost me 3 inner tubes where a hole has formed at the base of the valve. Another bonus is the new pump has a pressure gauge making maintaining tyre pressure much more precise than guessing by squeezing the tyres like I do now. I should have bought this pump in the first place as it’s only a little bigger and pricier but I didn’t really know better. A nice little feature is it also folds out a bit like a floor standing pump.

New pump collapsed

New pump collapsed

And ready to go...

And ready to go. The tab at the bottom is intended as a foot hold.

The next purchase was just a very easy way to save a lot of space in my luggage, replacing my camp pillow with an inflatable one. I’ve also been getting a stiff neck from lack of support which makes checking over your shoulder for traffic a literal pain! The new pillow is an Exped Air Pillow which is replacing a Trekmates Deluxe Pillow. The dramatically differant packed and unpacked sizes can be seen here;

Pillows packed.

Pillows packed.

And unpacked.

And unpacked.

Onto tent pegs. Part of this improvement is a need and part is trying something out of curiosity. First take a look at my tent when setup;

My camp setup in Bissert near Sarre-Union, France.

My camp setup in Bissert near Sarre-Union, France.

You may notice the two long guide ropes at each end of the tent. These need to be under quite high tension has they in-turn create the tension across the middle section of the tent between the hoops. In damp and soft ground these pegs have constantly been being pulled out or moving collapsing the tent. I’ve bought two huge red aluminium tent “Anchors” to do their job;

The big anchors at the top. Lightweight titanium pegs in the middle. One of my old pegs at the bottom.

The big anchors at the top. Lightweight titanium pegs in the middle. One of my old pegs at the bottom.

I also bought 6 ultra light titanium pegs to save some weight, as they were cheap, but, I’m not confident they will have enough grip so I plan to test them out side by side with my old pegs and then just discarding the old ones if the titanium ones are the victors as they cheap are starting to degrade a little bit.

The next upgrade is another matter of preference and also a little bit of pain. I’ve been using an Ortlieb handlebar bag on my bike as well as using it as day bag when walking around town on days off. The bag is quite awkward when worn on one shoulder and seems to have gradually led to a lot of pain in my right shoulder. Might seem like a small deal but it has been annoying me quite a lot.

Old Ortlieb handlebar bag on the left and my Revelate designs frame bag on the right as well as an ultralight  backpack that fold down very small.

Old Ortlieb handlebar bag on the left and my Revelate designs frame bag on the right as well as an ultralight backpack that fold down very small.

The handler bag also annoyed me for a couple of other reason, it blocked the view of my front wheel making rough roads a bit tougher, the lid on mine fits very tight and is quite tough to close, I find myself subconsciously using less of my differant handlebar grip options even though the bag doesn’t actually block them and finally it blocks the option to mount lights on my handlebar. I’ve replaced it with a bag that mounts in the front triangle of the bikes frame and also a very light and compact back pack for my days off. I’ll get a good picture of the new bag mounted when I get back to Istanbul.

Finally I’ve bought some better lights for my bike after the nerve racking experiences in the tunnels in southern Serbia. This includes two small high power torches that will go on the handlebars and can also be removed and used when setting up camps in the dark as well as a top of range Cateye rear light that even the laziest Turkish truck driver won’t be able to miss.

New lights.

New lights.

I hope that this has been some help to anyone reading! I’m also looking into replacing my alcohol stove with a petrol stove so I can still cook when in the outback of Central Asia and China but it’s £85 I really don’t want to spend!

If you’ve enjoyed reading this then checkout my site 121degrees for more info and subscribe to this blog for more entries along the way!

I also want to divert the interest this trip generates towards helping out a charity that made a big differance to some friends of mine. Samuels Children Charity are a Lewes based charity providing support to families throughout the UK who are currently affected by childhood cancer. I hope to raise the sum of £5,000 from people who hear about this trip to help them continue their work, and to also keep me motivated throughout the challenges this trip will provide! If you’d like to see how the fundraising is going (or even better would like too donate!) then click here.

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