Having the right gear can often make all the difference in the world when it comes to the enjoyment of your trip. Likewise, having the wrong gear can take away from your enjoyment of a trip, or depending on how wrong or bad your gear is, be downright dangerous. What makes me think of this as I’m in the middle of nowhere sitting next to another camp fire? It’s simple, I have lots of gear along, and while I thought I had all the right gear, it is turning out that I was not 100% correct in that belief. Most of what I brought has performed great, but over the last week, I have been plagued with a disturbing number of gear failures. With this in mind, I’m going to run through what I brought, and what I would do differently the next time I ride to Ushuiaia, based upon usefulness, durability, and price.
Before you start buying things, and well before you start packing, you need to decide what you will need to bring. Admittedly, I tend to travel rather heavy. I despise being caught unprepared, or not being able to do something because I don’t have the right stuff. This trip was particularly heavy for a moto adventure because I was covering everything from the tropics, to desert, to Ushuaia after the freeze has set in, and I intended to camp in all of it. What I have since learned though, is that I didn’t end up needing hardly any of the extreme weather or extended camp gear that I brought. I have a 0° sleeping bag which is quite large, though not terribly heavy. Next time, I will just bring my smaller lighter bag, hope for the best, and if it does get that cold, I’ll find a hotel. I brought my MSR multi fuel stove, thinking that I would want to cook more than the JetBoil allows, and often enough that I would need lots of fuel. To complement that I brought a full cook set, which includes a pot, a fry pan, two cups, and some other cooking supplies like seasoning that I smashed in. Best intentions aside, the reality of this trip hasn’t involved the gourmet meals that I had in mind. I would have been far better off saving the space and weight, and just brought the JetBoil, since all I have actually cooked has been things like pork and beans…not exactly something that requires a nice even flame and a regular pot! Along those same lines, I brought a full sized two person tent, the theory being that I would be able to (carefully) cook inside it in the crappy Patagonian winter weather. I didn’t think this through however, because while I can easily cook in a tent with my JetBoil, the Whisperlite International has entirely too much open flame to consider cooking in a tent, it’s not an option. Even if I had the JetBoil though, I would probably still have just ate my cans of Tuna and gone to sleep, not cooking anything in the crappy weather. It’s not a big weight or space consideration since it fits in it’s own (good quality) dry bag on top of a side case, but depending on my plans I might consider something like a bivy sack, we shall see.
I am a firm believer in that you get what you pay for. This does not, however, mean that you must buy all the most expensive equipment REI has to offer, it simply means that Wal-Mart brand stuff is usually as good as the cheap Chinese price tag that comes with it. Despite my loathing of Wal-Mart, I did bring a few things from there anyway, with mixed results. The good would be my $12 12V outlet. It is cheap, has a good waterproof lid (when you remember to close it before the rain begins that is…) and is easy to wire, ignoring the fact that the positive and negative wires are colored the opposite of what they should be. The bad would be the cigarette lighter to USB adapter, which wouldn’t stay in place with vibration, and failed after a week of use. Radio Shack fixed that problem with a slimmer, tighter fitting, and evidently much more reliable model that has lasted the remaining three and a half months, enabling me to charge things like my GPS, camera batteries, iPod, etc. Of course, with any cliche progression like this, you have to have an ugly piece of kit. That ugly piece would be the $10 Wal Mart dry bags I purchased rather than shelling out $50 for the versions carried at places like REI. They seemed just fine, and for a fifth the price, or less depending on size, I thought it the way to go. WRONG. Every bag I purchased (yes, that includes the spare that I haven’t even used) are covered in Gaffers tape trying to keep the water out of the many holes that have appeared in them. Some were for worthy causes such as contact with the exhaust of my friends bike. Why KTM can’t put a bloody shroud on their exhaust is beyond any of us, and this has caused a huge amount of equipment melting issues. Others are for far more inexcusable reasons, the best example of which would be the large bag that as of this morning is missing the whole top end that rolls up and clips together, making it waterproof. It came off in my hand while putting the bag away, but thankfully I only have one more night and the weather is supposed to be beautiful…I hope. The two $50 bags I have are still quite serviceable though, despite one of them skipping down the highway at 80mph. One out of three cheapskate items worked out…pretty poor odds.
On the opposite end of the spectrum have been my tires. I chose to go with the hard-to-find Heidenau K60 Scouts. A big deciding factor of these tires is that with the BMW I have a very limited choice of dual sport tires. There are the famous Continental TKC80’s, or their sister tires the Karoos, which while great dual sport knobbies, are not an option to me based on the $400/pair price combined with the depressingly poor 2-3,000 mile lifespan (I would likely be finishing up my seventh set of those this trip!). The next option, which is fairly common, is something like the Pirelli Scorpions. They have much better life (6-10,000mi) and are a bit cheaper, but are far more road oriented then I wanted given some of the roads I had planned to ride. That doesn’t leave any other options in the size range I need, save for the K60’s. This has turned out to be a fantastic choice! They have a nice, aggressive tread, and impressively deep lugs. Combine that with the harder rubber they are made from, and I am still running the same set 15,000 miles later. They will be down to the wear bars when I pull into Buenos Aires in two days, but by then I will have put nearly 17,000 miles on them, fully loaded, and only had minor problems with flats all this way!
Speaking of flats, this brings me to the third, and perhaps most important thing to consider when picking your gear. Know how to use it! Don’t just know the idea of it, actually KNOW. I brought along The Stop and Go Pocket Tire Repair Kit. Of course I read the directions before I left with it, but when I went to use it, I couldn’t get it to work. I followed the directions to a T, but even with a pair of pliers involved, I just could not bring enough force to bare to insert the plug. Thankfully I had also brought along a few of the more standard plugs I have used before. Along with plugs, I also brought along tubes. Even though my tires are tubeless, I figured if it came down to it and I shredded a tire, I could always throw a tube in it until I could get a new tire. I had lots of strange looks on this, with people telling me that was unnecessary, and that the space and weight would be far better used on something else. I didn’t listen, and it is the only reason I am not still sitting in Rio Grande waiting for a new tire to be shipped down from Buenos Aires. Since I was riding in deep gravel and the bike was handling like crap anyway, I didn’t notice the front had gone flat. Because of this, I managed to do the nearly impossible; I bent a BMW rim. For those of you who don’t know, the standard BMW rims that come with the full size GS’s like mine are famously strong and hard to bend. I now know just what will bend them; an unexpected 6 inch high slab of concrete around a cattle guard, at 100kph, with a flat tire. I put such a big dent in one side of the rim that I could only make it about 30km between stops to air it back up. Thankfully I ignored the comments, bringing tubes for my tubeless tires, and rather then waiting for a new rim to be shipped in ( I can’t imagine how long that would take down there) I simply put the tube in and will deal with that issue when I get home!
Most of the rest of my gear issues or praises are less specific to price, utility, or knowledge of use. My motorcycle boots are coming completely apart, with big holes in the sole of the right one from putting the bike on the center stand. I have since learned that Tourmaster is known for quality issues, but I hadn’t seen anything about that when I researched them. My jacket, a Firstgear Rainier, is fantastic. It is absolutely as waterproof as advertised, quite comfortable, still acceptable even in hot desert climates, and while looking quite dirty, shows no sign of skidding down the road a few times. My helmet, a Shark, is equally great, though all the moving parts of the modular chin piece are none too fond of the dust caked into every crack of the sliding channel in the design. I’m extremely happy that I chose to go with Pelican Cases for side and top boxes. The Happy trails rack the saddle bags are mounted to had to be repaired when the forward mounts cracked and broke, but otherwise the saddle bag system I have has worked fantastic. I made my own system to mount the Pelican 1510LOC I use as a rear box, and it is amazing! I keep all my clothes and laptop in there, so when I stay at a hotel I’m able to take the padlock off, grab my tank bag and rear case, and walk in…it takes less time then it took you to read the last sentence.
What were the best and worst things I brought? iPod and maps. I purchased all my maps before I left, and ITMB was the only brand available. They are hands down the worst maps I have ever seen, save those artsy things you see in tourist information centers. On second thought, those artsy things may be better then ITMB. They are not just inaccurate, they are dangerous. What shows as a major paved highway is an unmaintained back road, and visa versa. I will never buy another ITMB map again, if they are my only option I will just stop and ask directions more often! As trivial as it seems, short of Porky herself (my R1100GS) my iPod video is the best thing I brought. Without music or audiobooks I would have gone crazy, and though it really doesn’t like being cold, it still works even after hitting the road at 120kph! Granted, it locks up about every 30min, but it still works! A close second to the iPod would be the Kelly Kettle. I didn’t really use it enough for it to qualify as the best, but I do have to mention it. Yes, I know. It’s large, and though it doesn’t weigh much, it sure is awkward to carry on a motorcycle. But I bring it every time I camp, moto or no, and this trip was no different. For one, it’s just such a fun piece of classic kit to play with, I love using it just to feel cool (yes, I can freely admit that!). But it is also the only way I could heat anything in Patagonia. There aren’t too many stoves that I’m aware of that will still work in 70kt winds, but that’s the conditions the Kelly Kettle works best in. It also did a great job of leveling out the rear seat since it is the same height as my tool roll, making for a nice level surface to strap the sleeping bag to. I could, however, be convinced that the smaller version would be better suited to a moto rather than my full size one…