Photo by Eva Darron on Unsplash

Now that I’m back on the road, I am happily noticing a few more things that have made travel much easier even as it also gets much more challenging.

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Just before I fell face-first into the ridiculously comfortable bed at the old British ladies’ house-turned B and B in Arusha called Researcher’s Rest, I pulled out an item for further warmth which I’d bought a while back but hadn’t used because of Covid. This is an ultra lightweight travel blanket which, because of its design, doubles as a super lightweight sleeping bag.

Sea to Summit makes it. Here you go:

I’d stashed this in my car back when I still lived in Colorado. Those of us who have ever had a car break down by the road or had to pull over in a blizzard in the high country know that a nasty cold death can await those foolish enough to believe the sales pitch Mother Nature presents on a beautiful sunny day, only to end with a banshee blizzard because, well, Rocky Mountains. You never travel without winter gear, and that means hiking the high country as well as driving it. This blanket, which packs down to almost nothing and is smaller than a baby’s soccer ball, is warm enough for summer bikepacking. It’s also that small bit of ridiculous luxury when you are stuck with a very long layover at some airport.

On this trip, I slept inside this very light 750 fill bag instead of inside the bedding, which for any intrepid traveler some of the places I’ve been is a damned good idea. This bag allows you to be in your own space without worrying about what else is in the bed with you. For those who have cootie fears, this bag is for you.

It’s not cheap; the 50-degree bag is $220.00, but inexpensive doesn’t get you these features: it’s got a drawstring bottom to pull it tightly for a sleeping bag, and in that way that the folks at Sea to Summit really know how to design for serious travelers, it has a tiny compression sack to fool you into thinking this is just a big jewelry roll.

This was its maiden voyage, and I am now a full-fledged fan. Last night in this gracious, lovely old home, I pulled that down quilt up to my neck as the cold air touched my cheeks.

Sigh. Rest indeed.

The other item I bought at the last possible minute before coming on this trip deserves some context.

As a bona fide gear pig, I have one of damned near everything, being as compulsive a gear shopper as I ever was a luxury clothing hound. That said, when I reviewed the gear list for Ol Pejeta I realized that I did not have a small backpack for field work in the right colors.

Okay, damn. Who knew? You can get bright neon orange, blue, pink, every fashionista’s dream. This has to be camo, or at least the kind of dusky khaki or green which fades into the African countryside. After having vomited all my gear out onto the floor and finding nothing of the sort, and being flat out of time to order a camo Camelbak (they make them), I headed at speed and without much hope to my local REI.

There, I stumbled on this:

Ultralight Black Hole Tote Pack
Shipping and Returns Orders placed after 4 pm PST will be filled the next business day. We're only able to provide…

Look, I squirm at paying full price for anything, but in this case I had no choice. I checked the features, chocked it into my shopping cart, checked out and brought it along.

I am so damned glad I did. I also bought two different kinds of velcro straps to jerry-rig a Camelbak water bladder to the straps, which also worked swimmingly.

Just as an aside, this trip allowed me to appreciate having those velcro straps for a slew of other duties I couldn’t have anticipated.

Here’s what works for me:

Besides being the right color for the African bush, this pack is made of recycled materials and is uber-light. It works as a backpack or tote sack, and with all the straps and handles, can shift among those roles easily. The other day I was hiking down the ramp into Mara Eden in the Maasai Mara and I had a great fat heavy watermelon in there with all my gear to boot. Not bad.

While out in the bush, the straps allowed me to hang it on a limb while eating lunch. That kind of thing.

The capacity is remarkable. It’s also solidly made, which is a hallmark of much of Patagonia’s stuff, and it packs down into its own small bag.

I bloody well love that kind of design. The straps are of course adjustable, one on each shoulder strap and then a chest strap where I lodged the drinking line from the bladder.

It’s most of a hundred bucks, which is typical of new gear these days. However. Many years ago I bought something very similar from REI, a grey duffle which I have used every single trip without fail, which now bears the scars and scuffs of nearly fifty trips. I only just recently discovered the damned thing had backpack straps hidden in a zippered compartment on what was the bottom of the damned thing.

If you are anything like me, that kind of ingenuity and design is utterly delightful. That bag, many years ago, cost me perhaps forty bucks. Its replacement will be the same. This is the bag where my souvenir items go. The Patagonia bag can do that duty but if you buy like I do, you might want some extra room.

Here is the selection:

Duffel Bags & Gym Bags: Packable & Waterproof for Travel & Outdoors | REI Co-op
Shop for Duffel Bags at REI - FREE SHIPPING With $50 minimum purchase. Curbside Pickup Available NOW! 100% Satisfaction…

You can buy online. Sure. But given the extraordinary choices, you really need to see what you’re getting as well as weigh those features carefully. In truth, you have to try some things out before you know what you really need. I usually end up buying bells and whistles that are meaningless in the bush.

Such as, and I cop to this, years ago in my Very First Excellent Adventure hitching for four years around Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, I bought a tiny, backlit item which showed me maps of Yellowstone.

I was so chuffed with this thing I bought it. And took it with me Down Under.

A map of Yellowstone National Park, for Down Under.

Which is why, when on occasion I will make disparaging remarks about fellow travelers, I will without fail include myself in such hilarity (or frustration as the case may be). But I digress.

I strongly recommend you get thee to a gear shop and heft the bags for weight, check them for construction, and open the tiny bags to check for capacity and strength. A few years back I bought a Sea to Summit Ultra Sil backpack which was almost the size of a walnut, but lasted less than a minute in the conditions in which I use such gear.

I like most of their stuff, but this particular item didn’t pass muster for durability. We can end up “out-cute-ing” ourselves to make cool gear but end up trading weight and heft for too-thin materials which tear the first time the item sits on a sharp rock.

I sit on a LOT of sharp rocks, and my gear needs to be just as hardy (if not foolhardy) as I am.

Look, my head is a sharp rock.

Okay, okay, it’s a dull rock. Just saying.

To that then, the local mosque just called the faithful to prayer. For my part, the day unfolds in utter relief. I am at the dining room table, the place empty of guests but for me, a rare treat in these parts but not for the staff and managers. Eddie got a big hug from me at the airport, yes we were masked. I cannot wait for him to cook me breakfast. Outside are two rambunctious new puppies, all ears and sharp teeth and milky breath, who tumble all over themselves for attention.

I am going to have a long, luxurious day in one of my favorite old places, full of history and memories and long-gone English ladies who loved tea and adventure, puppy breath and Eddie’s fine cooking and sweet good humor.

This lovely, gracious old place (an article follows) promise a restful but busy Sunday in Tanzania. The birds are up and so am I.

Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash