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advice kit reviews

kit reviews and general equipment advice (By Matt Ward)

General Equipment Advice

This section aims to give general advice on different types of equipment. Should camping equipment be taken? Is an expensive sleeping bag required? Is a water filter essential? Kit reviews of some of the specific equipment we took is below this section.

The Weight Factor
We had 45 kg total each including the bike and pannier racks. This equals about 25kg of 'kit' each including the pannier bags, which themselves weigh about 3-4kg total. Out of all the long-distance cycle tourers that we met, this was at the lower end of the scale. Many were carrying 5-10 kg more than us. See our kit list to see exactly what we took. At the end of the day it is not too important to minimise the equipment weight, because the bike frame carries the weight, not your back. Of course, on hills an extra payload will add to the toil, but not by a huge amount. We feel that weight minimisation should not be a key issue.


We each took a good quality lightweight cycling Gore-Tex Paclite waterproof/windproof jacket. These had a short cut so that they did not interfere with the leg motion. However, they had no hoods, which proved to be a pain in a real downpour. We also took a pair of cheap waterproof trousers each, which only came out when it was really raining or freezing cold.

Cycling Clothes
We had 2 pairs of cycling shorts each. This is fine, as long as you wash them regularly - maybe take 3 pairs if you are really hygienically minded. We tended to cycle in t-shirts most of the time. This was not ideal because they seem to make you sweat more than a thin thermal top. A thermal top is easier to clean, lighter to wear and does not smell so bad when slightly dirty. Any other clothes can be bought for almost no money on the route.

Camping Stuff
A big decision is whether you want to camp out on this trip or always use accommodation. It is possible to avoid camping along the route by using a mixture of hotels or hostels. It's also likely that local families will be willing to accommodate you, especially in Turkey and Iran. The good thing about camping is the freedom that it allows. We camped in many beautiful areas and it cost nothing because we mostly camped on rough land. A tent means that you do not have to reach a certain destination to find proper accommodation. On the negative side, you will have to spend a small fortune on all the kit to camp out with: tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, cooking equipment. This stuff will probably double the luggage weight. My advice is to take camping equipment. The camping experience was a definite highlight of the trip for me and the extra flexibility was invaluable.

We were in a group, so the question was whether to use one 3-man tent or three 1-man tents. We opted for a 1-man tent each to allow more personal freedom and flexibility. The disadvantages are the increased weight penalty and extra expense. We chose lightweight, expensive tents (due to a sponsorship deal), but these were not strictly necessary. Cheaper versions would do fine. The main thing is to see the tent erected before you buy it to see if you are comfortable with it. I have another tent at home that cost me £60 new, which would have done fine. A decent size porch is important so that you can safely store your pannier bags away at night.

Sleeping Bag
We took sleeping bags that were warm down to around -10'C. This might seem excessive but there were several nights when we were thankful to have that warmth available. The night-time temperature in Iran and eastern Turkey was cold (below zero). There are many options available from many manufacturers. A down bag (using natural duck or goose feathers) is generally considered to be the best option because they are lighter and generally warmer than the synthetic (using man-made fibres) alternative. However, they are more expensive and are practically useless if wet. We took down bags, but I'm sure that a decent-ish synthetic bag would be just as good. If you have a cheaper sleeping bag already, then it is probably better to just buy a warm liner that will allow cold weather use, if required.

Sleeping Mat
There are two basic choices, either an inflatable mat or a standard foam mat. An inflatable mat will be more expensive (say £60), smaller, heavier and much more comfortable. However, it may be slightly colder and you may experience an occasional puncture (take the specialised puncture repair kits!). Another advantage of an inflatable mat is that you can buy chair conversion kits (or just make one yourself) that will fold and hold the mat to make a comfortable camping chair. I would recommend an inflatable mat, if only because of the extra comfort available. We took lightweight versions (Thermarest Ultralites) and occasionally got a cold backside on a cold night. If you are travelling in the cold winter months then a thicker, heavier, bulkier version would probably be better.

Water Filter
There are many filters available. The expensive ones force the dirty water through a ceramic stone filter. The cheaper ones are not as effective and generally use a separate chemical treatment stage to clean the water. A cheaper filter will normally treat far less water before a replacement filter is required. A water filter is not strictly essential for a cycle tour like ours - we met many tourers who did not have one with them. It is always possible to use bottled water, tap water (if it's safe) or use iodine tablets. But a water filter gives you piece of mind, flexibility and can work out cost effective in the long run, especially if shared among a group of tourers. Bottled water can be expensive and we generally went through at least 3 litres a day each. My advice is to buy an expensive version (possibly second hand) - you can always sell it when you return.

Again, you need to decide if you are going to cook for yourself, or simply use restaurants or cold, pre-cooked food. Cooking your own food is cheaper and probably safer, because you know what is in it and that it's cooked properly. It also means that you are generally more flexible and the food can even be tastier than restaurant food (depending on your culinary skills).

The only option here is to take a stove that can burn petrol or diesel. These are the only fuels that are readily available from the many petrol stations on this route. Also, please, do not buy an MSR Dragonfly (like us). For want of a better word - it was utter rubbish (see kit review below). Our stove clogged up continuously with the poor quality fuel used is the poorer countries.

A good quality metal fuel bottle is required to hold the fuel. We had a 650ml version that kept 3 of us fed properly for 4 days/nights cooking. A larger one (say 1000ml) would be better for a group of 3 or more.

First Aid
Essential stuff. We took a travel first aid kit each. It's best not to take anything too basic. We used a standard travel kit that seemed to cover everything. We also had a small supply of clean needles and syringes, just in case of a serious accident. We also had an emergency dental repair kit in case of a bad tooth accident. These are cheap and small and could save a lot of pain.

This one's for your GP. Probably best not to take too many Immodiums tablets (a pill that 'bungs you up' if you have bad diarrhoea). These pills are expensive and it's a good idea to flush it through anyway.

Short Wave (Worldband) Radios
A radio can provide entertainment and useful news updates on world affairs. It is great to hear home news and live Premiership football on Saturdays. We used a cheap and cheerful radio costing £5 in Iran. It worked, but not too well. It can pick up the BBC Worldservice and Voice of America on short-wave, but I would definitely invest in a good quality radio (say £30+). Roberts Radio, Sony and Sangean make worldband models. There are many options for radios. A digital tuner is a good idea, but it would be useful to pre-program in the many frequencies that the radio stations can use before you leave. The main English speaking stations are the BBC World Service (www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/schedules/frequencies) and Voice of America (www.voa.gov). The SW frequency that a radio station uses vary according to the country you're in and the time of day. The individual frequencies can be found on the station websites. The more expensive models have a loop aerial - a long, separate wire aerial that can be used to enhance the quality of reception.

Worldspace Satellite Radios
An alternative is a Worldspace satellite radio. These give perfect radio reception almost anywhere in the world for not too much money. The newer receivers are not too large or heavy, but the service is switching to a 'pay-as-you-go' scheme. Using the Worldspace network you can receive many music, news and entertainment channels including the BBC Worldservice. It is worth noting that the small satellite receiver dish must be placed within 'Line of Sight' of the satellite i.e. no roof, tree or obstacle between the dish and the satellite in space. Please see www.worldspace.com for model details and programming.

Electrical Gizmos
We were lucky to get sponsorship from Psion who gave us palmtop computers on the cheap. These were great for us because we all had to write stuff for this website. The Psions have a digital sound recording facility. This was a nice touch and there's something authentic about recording sound alone. We have sound recordings of many types of music, speech and other events. Sound recording equipment can be bought for not too much money (£20+).

Guide Books
We took the Lonely Planet Istanbul to Kathmandu guide book. It was good and gave lots of accommodation, restaurant and historical site information. However, it was not always 100% accurate. You might want to take the individual (more detailed) country guide books - you can get them sent to main post offices using the worldwide Poste Restante service. Of course, you might not want to take a guide book at all. To do this you'll need more patience, some language skills and accept that the info will not always be correct. In fact, in some countries the local people will tell you wrong directions or information, rather than admitting that they do not know the answer. However, not having a guide book will increase the 'local' experience and increase contact with the local people.

Individual kit reviews

Dog Dazer
These things rule! They really do work and they work well. Cycle tourers are prone to dog attack and a few nasty ones have tried to eat us on this journey. A Dog Dazer emits a high frequency sound that we cannot hear, but sounds like Concord taking off to a dog. If an aggravated dog is within, say, 3-5m then a quick blast on the Dazer will stop him dead in his tracks.

Dazers also work on annoying cats, rats, monkeys and small babies. But unfortunately not on irritating people trying to sell you crap in the street. Essential equipment! The Dazer Co. - www.dazer.com


Hilleberg Akto 1-Man Tent (£280 approx.)
A fantastic tent. Lightweight (only 1.3kg) and spacious. In fact, it is best described as a 1.5 man tent with a porch. It could just about sleep 2 'friendly' people.

It's very easy to put up and take down. The inner tent is attached to the outer tent, so the whole tent goes up in one attempt - no fiddling around with a separate flysheet. However, the inner tent can easily be removed for drying in case of a wet night.

The porch is big enough to put all of your equipment in at night - even the bike could be squeezed in as well (at a push). Strong and sturdy. We had no problems with them at all. By far the best 1-man tent I've ever seen. But also, of course, very expensive. Hilleberg - www.hilleberg.se


Katadyn Pocket Water Filter (£180 approx.)
A well built and reliable piece of kit. This thing takes any type of 'bad' water and makes it drinkable. It will not necessarily take away a bad taste, but you can be certain that it will be 'clean'.

Water is filtered when the handle is repeatedly pumped up and down. This allows a litre of water to be pumped in about a minute. The dirty water is forced through a ceramic filtering stone, which is also chemically treated to kill nasty bugs in the water. The filter will purify about 50,000 litres of water before it needs replacing (a replacement costs £100). The filter itself can be easily cleaned and the mechanism is unlikely to go wrong because it's so solidly made. Katadyn - www.katadyn.com


MSR Dragonfly Stove + 600ml Fuel Bottle
Please do NOT buy one of these. It is fine for short-term camping trips, but not for long term expeditions through countries where the fuel quality is low.

The shaker jet clogs up very quickly, especially with the 'dirty' fuel on sale outside of Europe. The situation got so bad in Iran that the stove would not run for more than 10-15 minutes before going out because the nozzle was too clogged with sediment. This makes it almost impossible to cook a simple pasta meal.

It's a very hot stove, but struggled to effectively cook enough pasta for 3 people in one go.
Please consider Optimus stoves, Primus stoves or other MSR stoves (especially the Whisperlite - simple but apparently flawless).

The 600ml fuel bottle held enough fuel to make simple pasta dinners and tea/coffee once a day for 5 or 6 days for all 3 of us. Fuel is readily available along the route. We used unleaded petrol, it's the only thing that's easily available. MSR - www.msrcorp.com


Macpac Neve Sleeping Bag - £200
These sleeping bags are somewhat unique because only the top half of the bag is insulated with down. An inflatable sleeping mat (e.g. a Therm-a-Rest) must be used and slides into the bag eliminating the need for insulating down on the underside. This effectively means that the bag is half the weight of an equivalent 'whole' sleeping bag and, in principal, sounds great.

However, if your Therm-a-Rest gets a puncture then you're going to get a very cold backside - take Therm-a-Rest puncture and valve repair kits! Having said this, we have had no major problems at all. Other (minor) disadvantages are that once the Therm-a-Rest is held within the sleeping bag, it becomes impossible to sit up or curl your body much.

It is only necessary to slide the Therm-a-Rest into the bag on a cold night and this is only a 2 minute job anyway. The Neve has a comfort rating of -15'C. We have rarely needed this extreme temperature range, but on a few nights it has been invaluable.

Another major factor is that a Therm-a-Rest is actually not that well insulated. We took the lighter and smaller Therm-a-Rest Ultralites (full length) and on a cold night you can feel the cold floor through the mat. I also found that the hood did not fit well.

All in all this small and lightweight bag is ideal for cycle tourers (but expensive). Try to test one out before you buy - some people love them and some really don't like them. Macpac - www.macpac.co.nz


Therm-a-Rest Ultralite Inflatable Sleeping Mat (£65 approx.)
We went for the full length Ultralite version. Each weighs 790g (full length) and is fairly comfortable to sleep on. We had a few minor problems with punctures. It's very important to take a Therm-a-Rest puncture repair kit along. You can also buy valve repair kits.

It's also worth knowing that these mats are actually not all that warm. On a cold night you can feel the cold ground through the mat.

A Thermarest chair conversion kit is a great idea as well for camping. This involves sliding the Thermarest into a special sleeve that then folds the mat to become a comfy chair. Thermarest - www.thermarest.com