I want to do a lot more than that this year – especially when I head down to the Pyrenees in September – but I’d really like your feedback on what you’d like to see reviewed. So please… take a moment and use the form below to make some suggestions and I’ll get right on it.
I’ve already started to gather recipes to film over on Horizons – but if you’ve got something you’d like to try let me know using the form below.
I’ve been reading Sam’s books for quite a few years now. First there was Into Africa – a journey through the heart of, you guessed it, Africa, by a man who had only just figured out what a motorbike was for (travel of course). Next up was Under Asian Skies which took us right across Asia with Sam and the people he met along the way. The next book out of the already quite impressive stable was Distant Suns which was based on the diaries of Sam’s partner and travel buddy Birgit Schuenemann. Finally we have his latest book – Tortillas to Totems– and what a corker it is.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I don’t often write book reviews. Not because I don’t devour every single adventure motorcycle book out there – but because for the most part… um… they’re not very good. I’ve made some exceptions to that rule – first with Lois Pryce and her book – Red Tape and White Knuckles and eventually I will for Paddy Tyson and his books – but the stand-out daddy of them all is Sam Manicom.
Tortillas to Totems is easily Sam’s best book so far. The writing style is engaging and steady – that horribly addictive style that leaves you realising you’ve been reading for 10 hours straight and just can’t put the book down. The stories he tells don’t just transport you there – they encourage you to get on your bike and ride. For me – that’s the best thing a travel book can do. If you only want to read one of Sam’s books – start with this one, then head back to Into Africa and read the rest – just be prepared to leave a few days clear before you start!
I don’t know about you but the very idea of dealing with a puncture when I’m on the road fills me with dread. When I was running tubeless tyres it wasn’t quite so bad – plug the hole – pump with CO2 cartridges and get to a garage. But now I have tubes…. well I’ve been petrified of how I’ll deal with a flat.
Before I rode out to Russia I took a six month City and Guilds motorcycle maintenance course here in London. We spent two hours dealing with tyres and tubes – on beautiful clean, new bikes – what a breeze! The tyres had been on and off the rims so many times you hardly had to use the leavers.
Fortunately at the Horizons Unlimited meet up in Derby earlier this year I was lucky enough to see Grant Johnson run a tyre changing demo… I was blown away (see what I did there) by the aspects that I simply didn’t know and actually, once you have the know-how, how easy it can be… why on earth was I ever worried?
The good news is that Horizons have produced a DVD which is basically Grant doing his demo – in detail and with notes. I can’t recommend it enough – if you’re frightened of dealing with a flat, or even if you just want to brush up on your skills before hitting the road, this DVD is for you.
It’s available to buy from the Horizons Unlimited Store (you need to scroll down some to find it) for $24.99 US or from people like Traveldri-plus here in the UK (I’m afraid I couldn’t find a direct link so just give Les a call).
When you’re cooking on the road, other than your cooker, the most important bit of kit you carry is your camp kitchen. There are lots of options out there – from the home-away-from-home sets right down to nothing more than a sharp knife and a spoon.
I carry a commercial Sea to Summit kitchen set that I’ve modified with a few personal luxuries (if you can call a small whisk a luxury). But more than things like knifes, forks, spoons and washing gear the most important part of your camp kitchen are your everyday spices and little extras that mean you can cook properly.
My kitchen contains:
Washing up gear (sponge, cloth, washing up liquid)
Buying a new tent can be incredibly difficult. There are so many choices out there that it can be very confusing if you don’t know what to look for. As the northern hemisphere heads into spring, and camping becomes a comfortable alternative to the B&B again I wanted to share some tips on how to chose a good tent.
I made a little video about choosing a tent which you can watch at the bottom of this post, or over on YouTube.
1. How far from help are you?
Before you decide how much you want to spend, work out why you’re buying the tent and how far away from shelter you are. If for example you’re travelling in a Land Rover, then your tent – whilst being your primary shelter – is not as important as it is if you’re camping 10 miles from anything else on your own. Ask yourself, how near shelter am I if the tent fails? The further from help, the more you want to spend, and the more consideration needs to be taken.
2 . Materials
Simple enough, do some research on what materials work best in which senario. Are you going to be spending time in the desert? What about rain? A good tent for northern Europe, may not be the best bet for the hot climbs of central Afrrica. A swag bag works wonderfully in the dry conditions of Australia, but is simply not suited to a wet trip in Canada.
3. Size, weight and dimensions
Are you carrying the tent on your back, on the back of a motorcycle or in a car? If you’re carrying a tent you’ll need to explore high-tech options with suppliers like Exped and Tatonka. Both companies offer options with light-weight short poles and highly compressible materials – ideal for hiking and the motorbike.
If you’re in the car you have a greater range of options – consider a tent that goes up in seconds from Quecha or something designed to fold out from your vehicle in a few simple steps from people like Oz Tent.
You’ll be amazed how many tents don’t come with the essentials. Make sure you have:
Ground sheet / footprint
Good quality pegs
Strong poles / pole repair kit
Material repair kit (for fixing holes)
The ground sheet will really help with keeping condensation to a minimum – they also act as a barrier between the cold ground and your butt, but most importantly they protect the material of your tents bottom from sharp stones on rough ground. A good ground sheet means you can keep your ventilation vents open in most weathers.
Pegs are so important – many tents ship with really weak simple pegs that will not drive into hard ground and have no grip in soft ground. Try a v shaped titanium peg from people like Alpine Kit – they don’t have to be expensive! Make sure you drive the peg in at a 45 degree angle.
There are really three major tent designs. Geodysic, dome and tunnel. Depending on what type of camping your doing you’ll need to consider the different types.
Tunnel tents generally pack up very small, they also tend to have very short poles and are quite often very easy to erect. They do however require some thought when pitching – they can be badly affected by wind and you should try to pitch with the front or back facing into the wind – if you get caught side on in a gale it can not only end in a very noisy night- but can also bend the shape of the tent inwards, affecting it’s thermal capabilities and how much rain it can deal with. This is the type of tent that it is really important to buy the best of – money really does have an impact here and the more you spend generally gives you a very sturdy, tough option with all of the benefits.
Dome tents tend to be the cheapest option. You’ll see them in the supermarket for very little cash and for many applications are the ideal option. Their pack size is small, they generally only have two poles and can be purchased as an inside up first option or a fly up first option. In wetter climates the outer (fly) up first option is ideal, but in dryer hoter climbs you’ll find the option of being able to pitch the inner tent without the outer ideal – it keeps the bugs off, and lets the heat escape more efficiently.
Geodesic tents can be rather complicated to erect – but once you’ve worked out the knack they are without doubt the most stable shelters around. They tend to be more expensive and they’re what you’ll see the professional expeditions using as they head out into the great wilderness. They deal with very bad weather well, will see a gale through with hardly a twitter, these are the best options to ensure you’re safe and snug inside.
Finally I’ll come back to that first tip when choosing your tent – remember that it’s your primary shelter – if you can sleep somewhere else if it flys away or gets soaked through then don’t stress it – if you HAVE to get a good, warm, dry nights sleep then spend some money.
The best place to start is with a reputable supplier – I recommend Travel Dri-Plus – call and ask for Les – he’s the most knowledgeable person I have ever talked to about tents – if he doesn’t know it – it’s not worth knowing about.
Thing is, I can’t help spending money in camping shops. It’s a problem, and it leads me to buy things I think I really need.
In this case I’m certain I need this. It’s a bivi bag, or you could call it a waterproof sleeping bag cover. Whatever your syntax of choice – it’s lovely and warm, and importantly waterproof. No good for full on storms, or even a light shower – but combined with the Basha – it may well mean I get the swag off the bike less than I initially planned.
As I couldn’t go camping with Mrs Cashmore this weekend – I decided to take advantage of the hideous weather to give the swag a good wet test.
First of all I wanted to play around with configurations to keep as much of the water off the bag as possible – that resulted in this set up:
A simple rip-stop nylon basha combined with a ground sheet and a couple of poles. A simple solution that for about six hours in moderate winds kept 99% of the rain off the canvas.
However, I then left the swag, and having not tied the ropes down properly, the basha came lose and exposed the swag to the full fury of a coastal South Wales storm. Got up this morning to a small water problem. I’ve called this the second ‘test’, when in fact it was my stupidity forcing one.
The canvas inside was dry, as was my sleeping bag and mat. I got in and gave the canvas a good prodding. Nothing got through. Must admit I was surprised and very impressed.
I then rolled the swag up, and left it in the back of the car for about six hours for the journey home. Just unrolled it and the water has started to seep inside. Not a great result, but proof if I needed it that I have to ensure that the bag just doesn’t get this wet – either by avoiding camping in the worst weather on the road – or by ensuring I get the basha set up properly and securely.
A little while ago we met a very nice chap called Michael Field at the Daily Telegraph Adventure Travel Show – we had a good talk to him and he told us the best way to keep ourselves dry on the road.
After we got back Michael dropped us a line and very kindly offered to send us some bits and pieces to help us get our kit ready. I must be honest I’ve never really believed in after-market waterproofing – we’ve all been there and bought the sprays and the liquids and everything in-between from the camping shop – so when I put the jacket in the wash this weekend I wasn’t holding out much hope.
My jacket is three years old, it’s never been washed and to be totally frank it was not really very waterproof around the tummy area. I’ve always put that down to the way my tummy pushes against the front and desperately tries to escape 🙂
So into the washing machine the jacket went, following the instructions on the tech wash bottle – 30 degree hand wash cycle – out it came dripping wet and not very much cleaner than before – but Michael had warned me – use the tech wash first otherwise the waterproof wont work.
Given the beautiful weather this weekend it was dry in a couple of hours, so went back in on a 40 degree wash, gentle cycle, slow spin with the waterproof liquid. To cut a long story short, it took six hours in total to wash the jacket, dry it, wash it again and leave it dry once more. It’s not a task I’d do in anything but the best of weather.
Allowing for British weather I didn’t have to wait long to test the application. This morning it was throwing it down, a perfect opportunity to see in action the wonder proofing that Michael had promised. I rode for an hour in the rain, constant but not heavy, fully expecting to have to change my top when I got into work.
Arriving in west London I noticed something very odd, the water, as it was hitting my jacket was beading, gathering in little balls before running off all together. It’s not 100% efficient but most of the water simply wasn’t staying on the fabric. Getting into the office I pulled the jacket off to discover no wet spot – nothing at all – bone dry underneath.
These two products form the basis of the Nikwax range, and frankly if everything else they produce works as well as these two, then it’s a name I’ll trust in the future.
Choosing a tent to take overland is never an easy task, do you go for weight? What about material? Cost? All very important questions, but ultimately I think it boils down to how you work with the tent and how it works for you in return.
I know, slightly strange to be talking about forming some sort of bond with something as silly as a tent, but after all this small, insubstantial shelter is going to be your home for the next goodness knows how long, why not take some care in what you chose? Why not take into account how you feel about your home?
With that in mind may I introduce the first tent that has made me feel something about how it’s put together – the Coolabah swag bag from Burke and Wills – distributed in this country by www.theaussieshop.co.uk
It’s completely made of canvas, both it’s best and worst point. I remember when I was a kid camping with my dad, a massive six person tent that took up the entire rear of the car, and took about a week to put up. It smelt bad when it rained, if it rained for more than a couple of hours you’d get a fine mist working its way through the material. But it seems even with the oldest tent material in the world we can have a bit of an update.
I couldn’t tell you exactly what it is, but it’s more ‘waxy’ and even though I’m yet to test it in the wet I can quite believe the claim from Burke and Wills that once it’s been wet, the seams expand and it’ll deal with everything but the worst of the weather. They suggest before you use it you take it out and give it a good hosing. Makes sense.
It’s certainly a ‘choice’, once I’d decided that I didn’t want to take a tent that took a lot of time to put up, and decided that I didn’t need a tent that I could get changed in etc, then the one man options became more sensible, the problems as ever boiled down to how you get in and out when it’s raining and where do you sit if it rains.
I’ve looked at a lot of one and two man tents, but all the modern ones just seem to be far to complicated. I’ve been looking for something that I can pull off the back of the bike un-roll and get in – complete with sleeping mat and bag. With the Coolabah I’ve finally found it. It ships with a foam mattress that frankly I’d be comfortable with as my main bed, but practically it’s just too big and doesn’t roll to a sensible size. I’ve now replaced that with my Exped Downmat (from Traveldri-Plus) and my sleeping bag – it now rolls up to half the size but it’s still fairly wide. If you’re on a narrow bike with no panniers you may struggle to find a way to fit it on. My bike, just like me, is quite wide and with 54 litre panniers on either side this isn’t going to cause me a problem.
The attention to detail is superb. As you get into the tent through the very accessible top door and put your head on the pillow you notice immediately how well put together it is, how close all the stitching is and how good the material is. I was very impressed when I saw a handy little loop for my torch and a series of pockets just above my shoulder for those little things like phones and glasses. I was slightly concerned about storage for things like my camera, but actually there’s so much room down by your feet that I stowed both my stills and video camera there without noticing them during the night.
There’s enough space inside to comfortably move around during the night and even change your undies and put some trousers on, but putting a top on is a bit difficult and you’ll need to poke your head out to achieve the more space conscious dressing activities.
Watch the video review.
The design is perfect, rather than the usual crawling into your tent you use a door on the top of the tent, very coffin like. In reality this means you can lie down and look out at the stars, either directly or through the mosquito net before pulling the canvas door over your head for a totally dark night. There is a door at the very end you can crawl through – but frankly – I don’t fit – I do like the fact you can leave the canvas on the end open with the net down however.
In summary, a great tent, very well made and once you’ve pulled out the supplied foam mattress and replaced it with a more sensible version just right for putting up each night very quickly. The only issues are with the size once rolled up – if you can deal with that and can find a sensible way to cover yourself in the rain (think tarp and poles off your bike) then go for it.
From a post I made over at Horizons Unlimited – these are my intial thoughts after using the Asus as a primary machine for a week whilst being away – full review to follow in a month once I’ve used it properly.
Okay so a quick update before the full review gets going – I’m using the ‘wee beastie’ as my primary machine whilst I’m away with work at the moment – so it’s getting heavily used each day.I’ve been scared about messing with the OS too much as I’m away from another machine that will help me fix it – but I have updated all the software and run the advanced mode – had a little explore of Xandros as a distro and played with it’s more esoteric features.
OS– Xandros is a bitch if you’re used to more power and flexibility in your OS, it’s perfect for the Eee, but it’s going as soon as I get a chance to flash to Ubuntu – YMMV depending on your computer know-how and it’s not something I’d recommend for the feint of heart. The boot time on Ubuntu if done properly is only 5 seconds longer than Xandros – worth the wait IMHO.
Build quality– fantastic, very sturdy little machine, been thrown in and out of my bag all week with no visible abuse – comes with a handy little neoprene bag to keep it’s beautiful baby blue cover nice and pristine – no use on the motorbike yet.
Keyboard– takes some getting used to, and even after a week (I’m a touch typist) there’s no illusion that I’ll be putting out 20 page documents – but I can type at about 80% of my usual speed and for blog posts, forums and email that’s sufficient.
Wi-Fi– works like a charm – in easy mode and advanced mode alike it finds and connects exactly like a windows machine, but perhaps not as simply as a Mac – easy to see what’s going wrong if it can’t connect and direct comparison between an IBM thinkpad and MacBook Pro show it sees the same number of connections, it is a little over-optimistic about signal strength though.
Web cam– what do you expect? It’s not as wonderfully clear as an iSight on the Mac, but then again it’s perfectly useable in everything except very strong back light – perfectly sufficient for Skype (once you’ve installed the Skype update).
Storage– I have the 4gb version and was left with a little over a gig after the OS instal – that’s a little tight but after using if for a week I’ve not had any problems – docs are quite small when saved in Open Office format (it ships with open office, but you can save the docs as MS Office should you wish), the video I download I’m dumping to my cameras 2gb SD card and I’m leaving my photos on the camera SD card, uploading directly to flickr.
The built in SD card reader is well placed, it takes a while to soften up a little – I was slightly worried about how stiff if was when first using it – but no damage to the cameras SD card as it’s been in and out all week. If you’re going to run Windows I’d suggest you install it to a sep SD card or a USB memory stick.
I’m going to be buying an8gb SD card from Amazon – £14.53– to leave in there to store videos / photos etc if I really need them – but frankly I don’t think that’s going to be an issue.
Sound– the in-built speakers it ships with are not going to power your house party, but they’re perfectly useable if it’s quiet and you’re on your own – you’ll probably want to plug in some headphones though, and the volume from those if perfectly sufficient.
These are my initial thoughts and I’m sure they’ll shift as I play a little more – I’ll post here as I discover new stuff that may help others – my next step is too see if I can mess around with short AVIs I’ve shot on the stills camera to do video podcasting whilst on the road…..