As the workshop went on the equipment got smaller.The next item Karina demonstrated was a daypack,which is a fairly simple backpack without any sophisticated suspension system.The padding on daypacks will depend on the model and manufacturer of the equipment.The daypack Karina showed us was so small and light that it could be rolled up and stashed into a larger piece of luggage, just in case you needed a light piece of luggage for your on-location activities.
Next we got introduced to a variety of accessories. Karina first showed us rain covers for back packs. These items are put over expedition-style packs and keep them dry. They should not be put on the packs during air transportation since they easily get ripped off.The beauty of rain covers is that it prevents the aweful smell of backpacks when they get wet and everything inside stays nice and dry.
Karina also showed us a small money belt that can fit around the waist.It is very flat with a zipper and I bought the same model last year for my trip to Cuba to hide my passport,credit cards and small change. This item works like a charm since it can be hidden under your t-shirt so nobody knows where you are keeping your valuables.Karina also mentioned neck wallets,which are much more popular with men who wear them underneath their shirts.Another type of concealable wallet are leg wallets that can really only be worn comfortably underneath long skirts.
The next accessory on tap was a voltage converter, an important item to make sure that small electric appliances will work in different countries around the world.
Then Geoff took over and talked about his specialty: clothing. He mentioned right off the bat that layering is key.He started off with the base layer that essentially has two main functions: moisture management and insulation.The lightest type of base layer is called “silk weight” and is mostly used by people involved in heavy exercise: runners,cross-country skiers and hikers.Cotton is rarely used as a base layer since it does not wick moisture away from the body very well and it also dries very slowly.
Merino wool is another popular material for base layers.It is a very fine wool and spun into a delicate knit,definitely not scratchy at all.Merino wool absorbs moisture into the spongy core of its fibres.Synthetic fabrics like Polyester dry very quickly and wick moisture away from the body.The main difference between Merino wool and synthetic fibres is price (Merino wool is about twice the price),and odour retention.Synthetic fibres retain odour a lot more,which may be an issue when you are on a multi-day trek without access to laundry facilities.Wool also insulates better over a broader range of temperatures.
Base layers come in different thicknesses,from light weight,to mid weight to,you guessed it,heavy weight or expedition weight. The difference is the amount of insulation that the base layer provides. I asked Karina after the workshop what her advice was for me,since I am always freezing and I’ll be heading off shortly to go skiing to Banff/Lake Louise.She suggested wearing a thick base layer plus one or even two extra layers of fleece pants under my ski pants in the event it gets really cold.
Then Geoff touched on trekking clothing and demonstrated a variety of shirts and pants designed to be worn on their own in warmer climates.One of the trekking shirts,made of synthetic material, had vents underneath the armpits and in the chest area to help with perspiration management.Mesh inside the garments adds an extra layer of air.Geoff also demonstrated convertible pants or Explorer pants where you can remove the legs with a zipper and be left with shorts.These types of pants are handy in tropical climates where you can decrease your leg coverage by simply removing the lower part of the pants.And it saves on packing space too since one garment will function as a full-leg pant and as a pair of shorts. Many of the pants have cargo pockets and built-in belts.Some of them are made of stretch material which makes them even more comfortable to wear.
Then Geoff moved on to mid-layers whose purpose is to provide additional insulation and to disperse perspiration away from the base layer.Geoff demonstrated a vest that was made of a very slick material and could glide easily over other layers.In addition,it could roll up into a tiny ball to take up very little space inside the luggage and still provide major insulation from the cold.This type of vest can even be used as an outer layer on dry,not overly cold days.
Our next item on the agenda were outer layers. Geoff demonstrated various outer garments,including a raincoat made of a waterproof/breathable material with a nylon outer fabric. This garment is handy for high winds and/or rain while moving in moderate to cold weather because body moisture can escape through the material without comprimising waterproofness.(There must be a temperature and humidity difference from inside to outside the garment for it to “breathe” effectively).This nifty item could fold up and be stashed away in a little pocket that was sewn right into the raincoat.We also saw a fleece jacket and a wool jacket that had a rather elegant look to it.
Fleece can be made wind/water resistant,but is usually not.Traditionally,fleece is very breatheable and is a great insulator,even when damp,very much like wool.Some of the fleece garments are wind resistant and offer a slight level of water resistance.Geoff then demonstrated an affordable and light-weight Hydrofoil jacket.It offers some breathability because of its semi-porous fabric.The pores are not big enough to let water in,but they do let some of the body’s moisture escape.It had pit vents and some of the models have detachable hoods.
The next item to be covered were waterproof outer shell pants which are usually taken on or off during mutli-day hikes as the weather changes.Many of these types of pants have zippers at the bottoms or even all along the side of the leg to make it easier to get into the pants without having to take any boots off.This comes in particularly handy when you are hiking in the back country and your boots are muddy.
We then covered a few accessories,such as sun visors who also have a windstopper function built in.We looked at really cool light-weight gloves and a mid-weight type of toque that is very popular among runners,cross-country skiers and even cyclists who wear it under their helmet.
We also briefly touched on footwear,and found out that there are lots of different choices out there.The key rule with footwear is: go as light as you can since every additional pound of weight on your feet makes your journey so much tougher. Every pound on one’s feet generally takes as much effort as five pound in one’s pack,so it’s worthwhile to select the appropriate footwear.
Sandals are very popular and they even come in technical versions with sticky rubber outsoles.They come in land-oriented and amphibious versions.Trail running shoes provide impact protection and motion control while outdoor athletic shoes are hybrids.They usually have durable rubber soles, similar to hiking boots,but are light-weight with less ankle support than full-on boots.
Dayhikers usually have a mid-cut,similar to conventional backpacking boots,but are made from lighter fabrics and suede material.Backpacking boots are stronger,heavier versions of dayhikers and provide more ankle support and impact protection.
After the official presentation by our experts from the MEC was finished I also had a chance to ask about some of my own personal clothing issues and other seminar participants also got their equipment questions answered.I also had a chat with Jerry Da Costa,the manager of the G.A.P Store,who provided me with some information about some of G.A.P’s Latin American trips since I am considering to travel somewhere to Argentina and/or Chile in one of my next trips.These are two places I have always wanted to visit.
Small group travel is an excellent concept,especially for a woman travelling by herself to foreign destinations that involve an element of personal risk and culture shock.You always have the safety of the group and expertise of the group leader to fall back on.
I am thinking of combining a language study trip to Buenos Aires with a small group adventure trip to Argentina and/or Chile to get the best of both worlds: to combine the wide expanses and varied destinations of Latin America with an exploration of one of the most fascinating urban centres in the world.
Now that I know all about the eqiupment,let the planning begin……