Testing Gear in the Congo

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8 July 2017 by Justine

There are types of adventures that are particularly good environments for testing gear, and our five-month cycling trip in central Africa half-in the raining season surely was one of them. Let’s see what made the cut :

TOP 5 AMAZING GEAR DISCOVERY

  • Camelbak 3L Rogue
  • Outback Trading Company River Guide oilskin hat
  • Knife Opinel #8
  • UE Boom 2 portable speaker
  • Solar pannel Anker 21W dual-port

10 AMAZING PIECE OF GEAR

  • Helinox ChairOne foldable chair
  • Vargo Titanium wood stove
  • Camelbak 3L Rogue
  • MSR Titanium cooking pots 0.9L+1.3L
  • Outback Trading Company Holly Hill hat
  • Knife Opinel #8
  • InReach Delorme SE satellite device
  • Solar pannel Anker 21W dual-port
  • MEC Brooks dry bag
  • Chinook TEC Polar Micro 32F sleeping bag

TOP 3 DISAPPOINTING GEAR

  • Therm-A-Rest ProLite Sleeping Pad
  • Sea to Summit Aeros Ultra Light Pillow
  • Pack Knife GSI

GEAR REVIEW

tested while cycling in central Africa 2016-17

Kelty TN3 tent

This is our first Kelty. Note that they don’t ship to Canada – yet. Like all tents on the market, a 3-persons tent is just big enough for us 2. Since we were heading for a tropical weather, we were looking for a full-mesh 3 person tent with DAC poles, 2 doors and footprint under 2,75kg and for less than 500$CAN. The TNT3 was our best guess. Overall, this is a good tent and a brief experience with customer service gives the impression of a really good after-sale service, which is always good.

PROS : we were sceptical on the hugging-clip to attach the poles to the tent, but turned out they work fantastic, they are easy to use and nothing broke ; DAC poles… Thumbs up, again. Nothing moved, nothing cracked and we got few super windy nights ; for some dark reasons, the footprint isn’t included in this one, which brings the price of this tent up of a good 60$CAN. I would never ever buy a tent without a footprint or leave without one. It simply doubles your tent’s durability and more, and could be the only piece you have to wash after a dusty or muddy night. We slept more than once (and more than twice) under heavy rains and woke up in 2 inches of water, but because of the footprint and the waterproofness of the materials, everything kept pretty dry – in the worst cases we had to move everything that was in the tent on us or on our mattress, and then nothing got wet. The strength of the poles and tarp made our tent super solid and well anchored, even in storms and under big winds ; we would typically fix the tent with all its pegs, and then roll the sides and watch the stars so that setting it completely and quickly would be easy in case of rain.

CONS : the tent is barely long enough for JP, and he’s 5’10”(or 1.78m). We soon found out with JP getting a weird skin infection from a bug bite because his head was touching the mesh. Not recommended for anyone taller than that ; I would love at least 2 big mesh pockets inside for stuff instead of 3 minuscule ones, or a ceiling hammock for stuff (I’m pretty sure they sell it and we really should have bought it) ; the mesh is really fragile and started ripping after only few weeks of usage (overall review : 4/5).

. . .

Therm-A-Rest ProLite Sleeping Pad

We were looking for super comfortable, resistant and light air mattress. The choice was hard, and reviews, all over the map. We picked the ProLite, a regular size (510g/183cm long/109$CAN at MEC) for JP (he’s 5’10” or 1.78m) and the small size (350g/119cm long/89$CAN at MEC) for me (I’m 5’6” or 1.68m). According to the reviews, we had about 50% chances of piercing one, and just as much chances for the inside’s air compartment of one to fusion and make it almost unusable and… We took the chance, leaving for a five-month cycling trip (crazy) and tried to make sure of always setting the tent on flat and harmless grounds.

PROS : as long as it’s inflated and intact, this mattress is nicely comfortable (…) which lasted 6 months for mine after reparation and 3 months for JP’s ; They are relatively easy to wash, and easy to repair IF it’s a simple detectable puncture on the main surface, and if the repair kit is on hands.

CONS : on our first night, we slept on a perfectly flat and harmless surface and my mattress burst. Fortunately, I could find the hole with the soapy-water-bubble trick and repair it with an alcohol wipe, a glue-dot and a clear adhesive patch from a Therm-A-Rest permanent repair kit. That was the only problem I had with mine for six months, and my reparation is still strong. JP’s on the other hand got the air compartment fusion problem after 3 months of usage, and couldn’t inflate it anymore without creating a giant pillow on the level of his shoulders. Fortunately, he had brought one Therm-A-Rest Z-Lite and he could layer both of them to have an almost decent sleep (NOT) – no words on how frustrating it is to loose your sleeping comfort on an extensive cycling trip because of pure gear failure (overall review : 2/5).

 

. . .

Opinel #8 knife

Wonderful !

PROS : didn’t rust ; still sharp after 6 months ; no damage what so ever ; good size for cooking and for random little tasks ; very smart blade lock ; comfortable weight.

CONS : hard to wash on where it bends (overall review : 5/5).

. . .

Camelbak 3L Rogue

First time that JP tried that concept of having a Camelbak on his back while cycling and… He loved it. It forces you to drink water, and in tropical weather where we were, we need to drink lots.

PROS : Light and comfortable – JP would forget he has it on his back ; love the two small pockets ; easy to use ; all system is still in very good shape after six months of daily intense usage (but we did take good care… don’t want to mess with mold in a Camelbak system) ; easy to change the suck-on end.

CONS : had to change the suck-on end once after three months because it was leaking (but JP admitted he was kind of chewing it and keeping it in his mouth even when not drinking) ; the fabric of the bag is now covered with mold and is not red, but pale pink now, but this is completely normal usage of the product considering the conditions it got through (overall review : 5/5).

. . .

Solar pannel Anker 21W dual-port

Amazed by how fast the solar energy industry is evolving. This panel is half the price of our last one bought 2 years before, its panel is 3 times bigger and is 3 times more efficient.

PROS : very useful to have two ports ; efficient enough to fully charge our UE Boom speaker and one iPod touch within 1h30 of sun ; easy to wash the outside protector ; perfect closed size (11×3.5”) and weight (417g) ; easy to pack ; easy to attach it on our rear dry-bag and charge devices that are hiding in a pannier while cycling (!!!)

CONS : not good for charging our USB Petzel head lamps ; should come with maintenance or cleaning directions for the panel itself (though I didn’t check their website) (overall review : 5/5).

. . .

Outback Trading Company Holly Hill hat

After being disappointed with Tilly and Sunday Afternoon hats from previous trips, Justine is still looking for the hat that will keep her face from burning under the sun while cycling. A new candidate this year : the Holly Hill hat from Outback, an Australian partially oilskin hat. After five intense months of testing, it’s confirmed : the search of the best hat in the world is over.

PROS : the structure of the hat is solid enough for the brim not to flip too much while cycling with head wind or downhill (which is one of the most important characteristic Justine was looking for) ; the brim is large (3”) and gives a proper protection ;  even though it looks heavy, dark and thick, it does not get too hot under 40 Celsius and plus sun ; a sweat absorbent inside headband keeps the sweat from dripping in the face and keeps the head cool ; the hat is waterproof because the cotton (65% cotton & 35% polyester) has been oiled and waxed ; easy to maintain (check out their website for details) ; durable (Justine’s hat looks like new after five intense months of daily usage) ; worth every penny of that 69$CAN hat ; Outback Trading Company makes other very interesting hats (JP loves his, made of 100% cotton and mesh).

CONS : hard to find the products in Canada to try them on before buying them, though they sell directly on their website once you know your size (I wear medium on my Holly Hill, and so is JP on his full cotton and mesh one, which seems bigger) (Review : 5/5).

. . .

Arkel ORCA 25 & 35 made in Canada

Arkel team in Sherbrooke has always been incredibly supportive and curious towards our trips and it’s with great pleasure that we have tested their new ORCA bags in central Africa this winter. Arkel makes different products in order to fit different tastes and usages. Indeed, while JP will never give up on his Cordura bags, Justine prefers a waterproof bag, and was very happy she had ORCA bags in central Africa with her, and had a peace of mind concerning her gear inside her bags she would have not got with any other products.

PROS : waterproofness wise, there’s no cheating. Our brand new ORCA bags were fully dust, water and sun proof, as long as the clips were well adjusted and attached. Our bags got dusted for two weeks straight and no dust was to be found inside. Our bags got heavy rained on for many hours straight, and everything stayed dry. Our bags got dropped in sticky mud and we could just spray water on them without emptying them and all was good ; to get more space, we can take the firm plastic bottom off ; easy to clean with the removable plastic bottom ; easy to repair (Justine made a clean 10cm cut on one side with a used gear cable that got inside her bag and did a fast repair that is still holding with alcohol swabs clean-up and  with plastic clear Tenecious tape inside and fabric Tenecious tape outside) ; dries fast.

CONS : loved the side pockets of the Dauphin just under the clip in which I could place and secure a Nalgene bottle of degreaser, bananas, garbage and even sandals, but the ORCA doesn’t have them, neither the outside extra zipped pouch that was useful to easily keep little stuff. ORCA bags’ simplicity of having only one compartment is good for well organized people. It took me a month to really organize my stuff and once I had a system going, I began to really enjoy my ORCA bags ; our Surly LHT don’t have a stand so we always lean our bike agains a tree, a post, a building or on the grass, and it’s the panniers that get the shock. I would love to see a prototype for a set of rubber stripes to protect the bottom and the face of those panniers for stand-less tourers ; durability wise, I would give another 6 month intense cycling trip to my ORCA for a total of 12 months, and wouldn’t count on waterproofness after that point, which is better than my Dauphin that lost waterproofness after about 10 months of intense daily usage. Again, durability wise, nothing NOTHING beats Cordura bags. JP’s Cordura T42 are still going strong after 27 000km/23 months under all elements while I used Dauphin 48 and ORCA 35 (only the main zip got changed and mold took over the upper fabric part – but JP isn’t the king of the cleaning neither) (Review : 4/5).

. . .

UE Boom 2 portable speaker

Nice discovery, very sturdy product. Will definitely try other of their products (the bigger model, the Megaboom) for other occasions than cycling. No words to describe how cool it is to be able to cycle with loud and good quality bluetooth music and not be scared of wrecking any fragile piece of electronic, even under a small rain.

PROS : waterproof ; dustproof ; weather sealed ; rugged ; can be synchronized with our iPod touch and controlled from it with Bluetooth and see how charged the battery is too ; fits in a sock for extra protection (!?!) ; 2 year warranty ; can plug 2 similar speakers with one device for better sound and cool outdoor parties.

CONS : weight is considerable for a bicycle (548g) but… Probably entirely worth it ; the battery is good for 8 hours of electronic music on low volume, and probably 3 or 4 hours on high volume, which is disappointing compared to the advertised 16-hour autonomy ; can’t replace the inside battery like on the UE Megaboom model (overall review : 4/5).

. . .

Cocoon Travel Sheet Silk African 100% Ripstop sleeping liner

Sleeping liners are a must while traveling. In hot weather, they are just perfect (no need of a sleeping bag), and in colder weather, they can be washed and leave the sleeping bag intact. Justine prefers a cotton liner, but for JP, it’s all about the silk.

PROS : the only con of the silk liner was that they would easily rip… Not anymore ; light ; packable in 4 square centimetres ; stays comfortable even if very hot and humid weather ; dries super fast.

CONS : get smelly quick with sleep sweat ; not as easy as cotton to get hand washed (overall review : 5/5).

. . .

Sea to Summit Aeros Ultra Light pillow

Our years of camping go by and we are more and more looking for comfort. Justine had a Therm-A-Rest lumbar pillow for years and JP was looking for one…

PROS : good for side sleepers ; super light ; super packable ; inflates pretty big.

CONS : super thin material ; the two air compartment merged after less than two weeks of usage and the pillow became uncomfortable (try to sleep on a soft soccer ball!) ; burst after 3 weeks of daily usage – didn’t want to put energy in repairing it… Went back to classic pile-of-clothes-pillow (overall review : 0/5).

. . .

GSI Pack Knife

I insist on putting this item on the list, event hough I wasn’t expecting anything special from this knife because that’s exactly what I thought of my three cooking utensils by the same brand (the spatula, the ladle and the tongs) that turned out to be wonderful – and still are after 18 months of day-to-day usage. Turned out this knife is complete junk (!!!), but hey…. It could have been my truly best simple kitchen knife ever, especially coming with that little case (that I haven’t even lost yet) – still looking for a good simple kitchen knife !

PROS : love the size, and the little blade protector.

CONS : the blade is covered with some kind of paint, which completely pealed within one month of usage (and went in our food and tummy – yummy) just like GSI’s Pinnacle first entry cooking pot kit (Pinnacle), and the blade lost its sharpness within the same time too, though I haven’t tried too hard to sharpen it neither (overall review : 1/5).

. . .

MSR Shower Kit for the Dromedary Water Bag

It’s hard to believe that we haven’t use our Dromedary bags as a shower for our previous trips. This winter, this is how we enjoyed a daily end-of-the-day shower :

PROS : fits on our 6L Dromedary water bag (we travel with four 6L for two people) ; easy to use system ; relatively easy to clean system (mold builds in the system after a couple of months of usage but a rope can be pushed inside and than turned around with a bit of soap to clean the tube) ; 6L is enough for a soaped shower ; 2x6L bags are enough for body and hair shower ; the tube makes the washing on small amount of water easier ; we would suspend the bag with a carabiner either on a nail inside someone’s shower shack or on a branch, the highest we could, and would get enough gravity to shower until the very end of the bag ; we could warm the water by putting our black Dromedary bag under the sun for an hour (nothing like a warm shower even in hot climate, but also, a cold one drops your body temperature of precious degrees that will allow you to fall asleep way faster in tropical climate – priceless).

CONS : we have to switch the caps every time we shower (not a big deal of course)… maybe there’s a possibility of attaching the tube and valve system directly on the normal cap ?! (overall review : 5/5).

. . .

MEC Raptor Dry bag

Always happy to try new MEC products, especially dry bags.

PROS : used to keep dry food provisions dry and free of dust, strapped on Justine’s front rack with a bungee cord and did a lovely job ; easy to wash.

CONS : as expensive as MEC’s Brooks range products, but less rugged (though lighter)  ; the clip system looks fragile so I wouldn’t recommend depending on it to support its weight ; easier to pierce than the Brooks range products (the bag moved from Justine’s front rack and got in the wheel’s way for few seconds and burned – probably easy to repair… haven’t tried yet and would love MEC to put maintenance/repair guide on their website for their products) (overall review : 4/5).

. . .

Fujifilm X70 camera

First time we decided to spend more than 500$ on a camera that would come on a cycling trip in major mud, dust, sun and rain conditions with us (860$CAN for the X70)… We now regret not paying an extra 300$ to get the weather sealed model (X100) but we simply didn’t have the money at that time, neither experience with Fujifilm products. Keep in mind that this is a good camera for close-ups (especially portraits) and landscapes, but does not have a zoom… So no, we didn’t get a picture of that chimpanzee that was chilling in a tree in front of us in Congo.

PROS : blabla

CONS : the locking system that keeps the battery in place broke after 10 months and a half, and without any kind of shock – pure weakness. The camera has been sent to Ontario for reparation. Should be under warranty for another month and a half – our customer service experience with Fujifilm starts now ! (Review : 4/5).

. . .

GEAR REPAIR

Therm-A-Rest Women’s ProLite Sleeping Pad : repair a puncture

  • find the puncture by putting soapy water on the inflated mattress and check for bubbles, or submerge and check for bubbles
  • clean and dry the mattress
  • alcohol swabs around and on the area, wait to dry
  • glue-dot on the puncture (from Therm-A-Rest repair kit)
  • clear adhesive patch on the glue-dot in order to get an inch of patch around the dot  (from Therm-A-Rest repair kit)
  • put pressure for a minute

Sleeping bag Chinook TEC Polar Micro 32F : repair small/medium holes and rips

  • clean and dry the area (don’t put in the washing machine if there’s a hole or else you’ll lose your down)
  • alcohol swabs around and on the area, wait to dry
  • simple nylon adhesive patches, cut in a circle with an inch bigger on each side
  • put pressure for a minute

Chair ChairOne Helinox : repair a hole on chair fabric (from coil or cigaret burns)

  • clean and dry the fabric
  • alcohol swabs around and on the area, wait to dry
  • cut a patch that has fabric or nylon on one side and a vinyl coating on the other side in a circle that has minimum one inch over where the hole stops
  • draw the contour of the patch on the chair fabric with a white crayon or chalk
  • put a thin layer of vinyl/fabric/plastic flexible/adhesive glue (I used Loctite brand) on the coated side of the patch AND on the chair (inside the circle line)
  • assemble and put pressure (something heavy like a can or a book – it needs to be flat, and beware of maybe glue sticking on it)
  • you may patch both sides of the chair

Arkel ORCA 35 : repair a clean cut from the fabric

  • empty the bag and use a flat surface to work better
  • clean and dry the fabric inside and outside
  • alcohol swabs around and on the area on both sides, wait to dry
  • clear plastic adhesive Tenecious Tape patch inside with an inch extra on each side
  • Fabric adhesive Tenecious Tape patch outside with an inch extra on each side
  • put pressure for 5 minutes on flat surface
  • note : Tenecious Tape sticks more as the glue slowly dries… not a quick repair, though you’ll be able to put back everything in your bag and use it as normal an hour later, just be careful where the reparation is. The bag should be waterproof again the next day or so

Water bags MSR Dromedary Cordura 6L : repair a puncture in the bag

  • (to be continued)

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