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Journeys in East Africa: Episode 2 “The Gear I Brought”

When I think about gear planning my mind immediately goes to small weekend camping trips or day hikes. I remember some of the fondest memories growing up were with my father when we would go camping. I remember loading up the truck with gear and heading out to the wilderness. I love gear, I’m sort of a gear nut and any of my friends, including my wife would more than agree. Does this mean I know everything about gear? Nope, not even close. My motto is I want something that will work and work for a long time.

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It gets a little trickier when planning for a yearlong trip into unknown territory. I remember reading David Livingston’s books and seeing all the preparations he made; same the exact same! Going into uncharted territory and not knowing exactly what to take. I knew that I would be “out” a lot; meaning away from home, camping in the bush. Other than that I didn’t know much. On top of that, I didn’t have an unlimited budget. On the contrary, I had a pretty tight budget.

I can’t say enough good things about the “gear” or “outdoor” community. I say that because on numerous occasions I had guys just give me stuff to take. I will mention a few in this article but I’m sure I won’t remember them all. From monetary donations to free knives etc. this community is top notch and I am forever grateful for their help. To do this article I want to break it down into a few categories of the things I thought were the most important (not in any particular order).

  1.  Water
  2.  My pack              
  3.  Edged tools (self-defense and utility)
  4.  Fire
  5.  Shelter
  6.  Navigation
  7.  General survival items (shoes, clothing etc.)

1. First of all, water. (LifeSaver 6000)

This was one area where I had some experience. I remember my previous trips and how important it was to have clean water. I did some research and to the best of my ability tried to find the most versatile water filter on the market.  I chose the LifeSaver 6000 portable water filter. There were a few reasons why I chose this model. First of all, it was very portable. This is important because I’m out a lot and need these things to fit in my pack. I needed it to be strong and most of all very effective at cleaning the water I run through it.

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Here is what their website says about the filter. “The LIFESAVER® Bottle 6000 removes bacteria, viruses, cysts, parasites, fungi and all other microbiological water-borne pathogens from your water. Its activated carbon filter also reduces the effects of heavy metals, chemicals, and medical residues.”

After reading some more reviews I was convinced that this was a good filter. The price was about 180.00 USD and I ordered mine on Some might say that this is a very expensive item, and it was; but believe me, when it comes to clean water when you are out in the bush, you will be glad you got the good one.

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I’ve used this product extensively and it has yet to fail me. The packaging said it should provide clean water for one person with daily use for a year. I don’t use it daily. I usually only use it when I’m out working in remote areas. At the house we have a drip filter that we bought in the market that works great. More will be said about this filter in future articles. Also, along the lines of water, I picked up an awesome canteen/cup from, great customer service as well.

2.   My pack (The Arc’Teryx Mantis)

Deciding on what pack is right for you is a very important process. For me, I knew I would be wearing this pack daily. I don’t leave the house without it. For this reason I took special time devoted to finding the right pack for me. I had a few criteria it needed to be. First of all it needed to be “non-tactical”. I like tactical stuff just like the next guy but for this area it’s not smart to sport it around. That ruled out a lot of packs immediately. Next, it needed to be somewhat compact. Although I am out for many days at a time, having a compact pack is important because when I’m getting to those destinations I’m often crammed into a public transport or plane. I learned to minimize my load out to fit in this pack. Lastly, it needed to be comfortable. When you spend hours on end with a pack it becomes part of you. It needs to be comfortable. This required me not to order it online but rather go to a local outdoors shop and try them out. I chose the Arc’Teryx Mantis 26L daypack. After I told them my story and what I was going to do the guy even gave me the employee discount and I nabbed this sweet pack for 50 dollars. Not bad at all! I was thrilled. This pack is ideal for my uses. I carry 2 Maxpedition smaller organizers inside that organize my EDC. One of them is strictly for medical usage. I keep enough medical gear to treat myself and a few others with me at all times. The way the zippers are set up on the outside of the pack is perfect in my opinion (see pictures). More will be said about this pack in the future but let’s just say I have yet to find fault with it after daily carry for six months now. I love it.

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 3.  Edged tools

Knives are my passion. I’ve always loved them and have a pretty large collection at home. I knew I couldn’t bring them all so I needed to narrow them down. When I was preparing, one of my friends, Adam out in California, called me up and told me he talked to the knife makers over at Sniper Bladeworks about my work in Kenya. For me, Sniper Bladeworks had never been in my reach, they were like rock stars of the knife world to me. Long story short I got in contact with Lance the owner and he invited me up to the shop in Kansas City. I couldn’t believe it. My wife said I was as giddy as a school girl. She came with me and while she went shopping in KC, I got to hang out with the awesome guys over at Sniper BW. It was an amazing day and those guys are awesome. While I was there they gifted me with a fixed blade called the “Tactical Sushi”. It has become my mainstay as far as a fixed blade is concerned. I will do a more in depth review of this knife a little later.

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Other knives I brought were my Cold Steel Finn Bear, Cold Steel Recon 1 folder (tanto), and a Blind Horse Knives fixed blade (which is absolutely priceless over here). I can’t leave out the always faithful Swiss Army Spartan either. A friend mailed me a Cold Steel American Lawman which is a great EDC folder. Also, I won a contest with Woods Monkey and got some very nice knives like an EKA slipjoint and a Gerber Epic! I’m very grateful for all those who hooked me up. I’m definitely set when it comes to edged tools. I also brought a lot more, a Spyderco Delica and Boker S2. There’s no way in this particular article to go into the detail of all of them but I hope to elaborate on them later.

Just to give you an idea of some of the knife guys that helped me out here are a few, Sniper Bladeworks, Blind Horse Knives, Jericho Bladeworks ,and many other individual knife owners. This community is very generous.

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Also, along the lines of edged tools, I also brought my faithful Wetterlings wildlife axe. It fits perfectly in my pack and although it adds some weight, it’s worth its weight when I’m setting up camp.

4.   Fire

I wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to fire preparation so I prepared for the worst. Before I left home, I was sent some fire starting materials from a good friend, Leon Pantenburg. It was a wax based fire starter and it works very well. When I got here I found that you could pretty much buy a lighter or matches at any shop. In spite of that I still carry a ferro rod from Gobspark. It’s the Gobspark Armageddon and it throws as nice spark. Normally, I will carry that along with a Bic lighter. Nothing fancy but it works.

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5.   Shelter

This was an interesting one for me. My shelter needed to be very portable and light weight. Something I could carry around. To be honest I was stumped. It was not until about a few months before departure, Jen and I were visiting our families and we found ourselves in Atlanta, GA saying goodbye to hers. I was chatting with my brother in law Michael and he was showing off his new hammock from ENO. I was impressed. So impressed that we Googled how to get to the nearest REI and I went and picked one up with a bug net. This was a great investment. The ENO hammock packs down to a very small size. It’s breathable, and the bug net is perfect, especially for Africa. The locals think it’s great. When I was in the North Desert about a week ago they would line up at night and watch me sleep. They said, “He sleeps like a sack of tomatoes” and “He sleeps like a bird in a tree”. All I cared was that I was off the desert floor where the scorpions live and the net was keeping the mosquitos out. I also took a very compact sleeping bag to accompany the hammock. All of this was very easy to carry and set up. The hardest thing was finding two objects to strap it to in the desert. As far as keeping out of the rain; they sell tarps here for very cheap so problem solved. I have not had to use one yet but I know if I need one it will be available.

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6.  Navigation (Suunto MC-2 GLOBAL)

This is an important thing to consider, especially if you are going to be out where there are no roads and its unfamiliar territory. My trusty compass that I chose to bring was the Suunto Global compass. It’s a great compass and the thing I like most about it is how rugged it is. What makes this one different than a regular compass is that on the needle there is a little piece of metal sticking down to prevent the needle from rubbing the bottom of the compass. I know, confusing right? Being right on the equator, the magnetic pulls will pull the needle down and it would drag the bottom of the case. So I had to get a global compass. I needed it to be sturdy and very effective when it came to land navigation. The Suunto Global was exactly what I needed. I also nabbed a very useful book to read on the plane to touch up my skills called “Be Expert with Map and Compass” by Bjorn Kjellstrom.

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7.   General items

In this category I wanted to talk a little bit about my shoes/boots and other odds and ends. When you think about being gone for a year, you may want to invest in your feet. This isn’t something that should be last minute because you want them to be broke in by the time you leave. I invested in a pair of Eco boots and a pair of Salomon trail shoes. Both of these have gotten a workout and have stood the test of daily hard use. On an average day Jen and I will usually walk about 4-6 miles. We live outside of town and many times walk in to buy food and supplies. This is good for exercise as well as some good bonding time.

Also I brought a few multi tools. These have proven to be so valuable to my EDC. The Leatherman Rebar, Leatherman Juice CS4, and Victorinox Swisstool X.

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Another odd item I would include in this section that has paid for itself is a micro fiber towel. We picked a few large ones up before leaving and they have really come in handy in the field. Lastly, is my medical equipment. I needed to be stocked, not knowing everything I would encounter.

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In conclusion, I know I probably forgot to list some of the gear I brought. This is in no way a full list but it’s the stuff I use the most. Like I said at the beginning, I consider myself a rookie in this kind of thing but I’ve found what works and what doesn’t over here.  I truly hope you enjoyed reading this article.


Check back for future installments of Caleb’s Journeys in East Africa!

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