Interview: Meet the Kit Expert

Written by: Andrew Tipp

Find Your Perfect Travel Kit

Andrew Sagar, 29, is a full-time employee of outdoor specialists Blacks and a part-time adventurer. Bitten by the travelling bug after visiting Mexico in 1998, Andrew spent two and a half years travelling and working in New Zealand, where he learned to climb and snowboard. He recently returned to the UK after cycling from England to Finland to visit his girlfriend. It must have been a tiring trip because after he arrived in Helsinki he stayed for six months. Andrew has trekked and travelled through a number of other countries, including Peru and Australia, and has recently joined up with to be our new Kit Expert. Recently the caught up with him to talk kit, gadgets and packing fails…

Hi Andrew. Can you tell me what the top kit errors people make are when prepping for a round the world trip?

People often fail on footwear. Lots of people buy big heavy boots thinking they’ll be doing a lot of trekking and they just don’t. So they end up with these clunky boots weighing them down everywhere they go! So getting the right shoes to take is important.

What would you recommend?

Something like the Merrell Pantheon Sport is great for general travel use.

How come?

It’s just so light, waterproof and comfortable. It’s gortex-lined so it’ll be breathable, too. It’s just what you want from some travel footwear if you’re not doing any hardcore trekking. It’s a great all-round summer trainer for light walking.

And it’s important to wear any travel footwear in beforehand?

Yeah, don’t walk into a shop the day before you travel and get your walking trainers. You want to be wearing them for a while before you go.

Cool. What else do people fail on?

Sleeping bags are a big thing too. If you’re sleeping somewhere cold, outside, maybe camping, then fine. But in a lot of hostels in places like Australia you may not need them. The YHAs in Australia they don’t let you use your own sleeping bag.

How come?

You have to use the linen provided. So it’s important to think about what you really need to take. If you do take a sleeping bag or jacket, be aware of the seasons you’re travelling through.

There are seasoned sleeping bags, right?

Yes, 2 Season is usually sufficient for a lot of people. As I said, you might not need it at all.

Can you tell me a little more about sleeping bags?

Sure, there are two main types of sleeping bags. You’ve got the down-fill and synthetic-fill, which is a man-made fibre. The down bags are really efficient, really warm and packs down really small.

Any drawbacks?

The only drawback is if they get wet – they start to lose their efficiency. That’s where the synthetic bag wins. It doesn’t matter if it gets wet and it’s quite a bit cheaper too.

Interesting. What is your recommended sleeping bag?

A Blacks Quasar (2 season) is a good buy.

Right. And what’s the difference between a cotton and silk liner for your bag?

Silk is a lot smaller, a lot lighter. It’s going to hide away in your backpack or travel bag, and you’re not going to notice it’s there. In places like Australia and New Zealand you might just take the liner instead of a sleeping bag, as over in the hostels they will provide you all the bed linen you need.

Checking out kit

Ok. Let’s talk backpacks.

No problem.

What are the main options of backpack out there?

There are two styles of bag: The rucksack – or toploaders – and the travel bag. The rucksacks are for people looking to do a bit of trekking. The travel bags are more practical for people doing general travel. They can come with wheels, can look a bit like suitcases and they can come with smaller packs that you can detach for day trips. So you’ve got that practicality. Also, you can zip away all the straps on the back so if you’re on trains or buses you can tidy them away.

I’m not a trekker or expeditioner but I’ve always liked the toploader.

Yeah, I mean it’s about personal choice, whatever feels comfortable for you.

What toploader would you recommend? How do you recommend bags for people when you speak to them?

Generally I would speak to them about their plans and what they need it for.

Just for a general six month trip. General backpacking.

The Blacks Alpine (65 litre) is a good, standard pack. It’s fully adjustable on the back, there’s water resistant zips to it and on the side there are compression straps and pockets. It’s mid-level price-wise in the market, it’s a nice size and it’ll do the job.

People can get a bit scared with the amount of money they can spend pre-travelling. What are your absolute essentials to take away with you?

Little things that you wouldn’t think of can be massively useful.

Like what?

Like a sink plug. [Gapyear Guru looks disappointed.] Yeah, it doesn’t sound very exciting, but when you’re out there and you need to be washing your things, this will be really handy. Lots of hostels and campsites probably won’t have them.

Ok, what else?

Micro-fibre towel. People think it’s just a towel, but it’s a fraction of the size of a regular towel.

What are its killer features? Can towels have killer features?

Yes! It’s highly absorbent and tries much quicker than a normal towel.

Good stuff.

Oh, and multi-purpose travel wash. It does everything soap, shower gel and shampoo does.

Checking out more kit

I take a water-proof wallet when I go travelling because I once jumped in a swimming pool with my passport in my pocket. My photo looked like an Andy Warhol.

That’s a really good idea.

What, jumping into a swimming pool with pockets full of important documents?

No, the wallet. You can use it to keep all your contact info and hostel bookings. It’ll build up over time and become really useful.

How full should people pack their backpacks?

Generally, about 85-90%.

What would you say to someone who tried to fill their backpack to 110% capacity.

I’d say that was impossible. You can’t pack more than 100%.

That was a test, Andrew. You passed. Next question: Would you advise people to take jewellery/electronics/gadgets while they’re travelling?

I think it’s okay to take some jewellery while you’re travelling. People want to live a normal-ish lifestyle while they’re away. It’s makes them comfortable. But certainly don’t take your most expensive things. You’ll be devastated if you lose them.

And there are places it’s not appropriate to wear flashy stuff?

Yes, sometimes it can make you a target.

What about tech stuff?

Obviously you want to take a camera. If you want take saleable pictures then take a decent SLR. Otherwise a compact, digital point-and-shoot will do the job.

Some people on the boards have talked about taking netbooks. What do you think about that?

I found there are enough internet cafes around to not have to take a netbook. What I’d say is take a good USB stick, or if you want more space maybe a portable hard-drive. You can get one the size of a wallet which will store a terabyte.

That’s a lot of bytes [genuinely doesn’t know how many]

It is.

What’s your advice to people if they’re going away for more of a long haul trip (12 months-plus) as opposed to shorter jaunt? (2-6 months)

Just invest that bit more to get good kit. Plus, take some luxuries if you’re going for longer. Things personal to you.

Demonstrating the kit

Should we be taking padlocks for our backpacks?

Personally, I never have. It’s fine if you do, but for me it’s like the pack-safe nets. They will secure your stuff, but people might think, ‘Well, why have they secured their bags? What is there to nick?’ Plus they’re heavy.

Hmmm. A case of ‘don’t take what you can’t afford to lose?’

Exactly. Travelling is a trip. It’s an adventure. Part of the fun of doing it is to do it with minimal kit. You might get more out of it.

Do it with minimal kit? Blacks won’t like you saying that.

You shouldn’t take more than you need. One girl came in her other day with only a 3kg weight limit for her backpack. She was doing lots of internal flights across Australia and that was the hand luggage limit.

She was going to travel for how long?

Six months.

Six months? On 3kg?

Yeah. With a tiny day pack. People go with 15-20kg. She was doing it with 3kg. It can be done. She did it.

What should someone be spending on kit for a six month trip? What’s reasonable?

What do they already have?

They have…clothes.

Ok, I think £300 sounds reasonable. You could spend anything between £200 – £500. You could spend a lot less than £200 if you’re on a budget. We have sales at Balcks. You can get stuff when it’s on offer.

Or get it second hand?

You could do that as well.

I’m making up my own First Aid kit. What’s going in it?

Plasters, antiseptic cream – most likely you’ll be getting bumps and scrapes – bandages.

A triangular bandage?

No, that’s not really necessary.

Ok, what else?

Cable ties. String. Paracetamol. The drugs you take is down to personal choice.

I’ll say! [ does not condone the use of illegal drugs.]


Cool. Ok, thanks for your time Andrew.

No problem.

Further Information

Andrew Sagar will be available to answer questions about kit, gadgets and anything else relevant both on the boards and through his profile.

Check out the to the Travel Kit messageboard.

Visit Andrew’s profile.

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