- Buyer's Guide
When we traveled to Iceland, we meticulously prepared a list that included every single item we were taking with us. We’re gearheads by nature, both professionally, and personally! There was no doubt that we would be well prepared for this expedition. However, as always, even with the best preparations, there are items in your kit that surprise you, or over perform, as well as items you don’t use as much as you thought you would.
Below is a selection of the items that I relied on when on the Atlantic Island, and that I have continued to use ever since. They are products that are well designed, well executed, and ultimately, reliable. These are the pieces that I would take with me, time and again.
One Shell to Rule Them All – Arc’Teryx Beta SV
All three of us are fully obsessed with our Beta SV, and with good reason. In my eyes, it is hands down the best waterproof shell I have used, and easily the most versatile. There are stretchier ones, or lighter ones, etc. etc. but none come close in do-it-all awesomeness. At a smidge under 500g, the protection this jacket offers is fortress worthy, and it has performed exceptionally in extreme conditions. This was our barrier against the elements, but also for me, a secondary carry, with excellent pocketing that comfortably held spare batteries, lens caps, and straps for my cameras–keeping all within easy reach.
The GoreTex Pro® shell is hard wearing, as one would expect from an SV product in the Arc’Teryx line up, but impressively so. During our time in Iceland, I slid over rocks, pressed against glacier walls, scrambled around in waterfalls, and hung from harnesses. The only sign of imperfection? Some volcanic dust stain which I will forever cherish. The storm hood fits over helmets without a second thought, and is adjustable by an elasticated pull tab on the rear, which is easily engaged with one hand, a real plus when out in the wild. When not using the hood for weather protection, I found the tall collar really great for general comfort, as it covers your whole mouth, and in the windy moments that protection proved invaluable. A RECCO® reflector is included in the sleeve for rescue assistance in emergency situations. Thankfully we didn’t need it, but it provides some peace of mind when you are in the more rural areas. It fits true to size and Arc’Teryx’s regular fit for me is the perfect midway point between fitted and loose. I can’t speak highly enough of this jacket, and I have worn it continuously since it arrived. It is my first choice, every time.
The Smartest of Watches – Suunto 9 Peak
I have a love-hate relationship with smart watches. On the love side, they’re convenient, they can give useful insights, they can make day to day interactions easier. On the hate side, they aren’t as beautiful as mechanical watches, you have to bring extra cables with you wherever you go, and how useful are the insights really? Well, thanks to the Suunto 9 Peak, it’s become more of a love love relationship. Simply put, this is the first smartwatch that I’ve used that doesn’t look like a computer on my wrist, it’s comfortable to wear for extended periods of time, and the insight is genuinely helpful.
Physically, it is a delight to wear. Most smartwatches are somewhat clunky, sit off your wrist a mile (if they don’t cover the whole thing!) and look rather ugly, even the well designed ones. This is the first smartwatch that I have used that I don’t mind wearing on a daily basis, even to dinner and such. Made from Grade 5 Titanium and paired with sapphire glass (what you expect to find on high end watches) – it is tough, and can take a beating, while remaining demure and understated. Oh, and did I mention it’s 10.6mm (0.42in) thick!? Impossibly thin for everything that is packed into this impressive watch. It is a wonderful example of Scandinavian design. It has even won awards.
Prior to our trip to Iceland, I tore my hamstring pretty badly in April. I was very concerned, while I knew I wouldn’t be at full fitness by the time of our Iceland trip, I was just hoping I could be fit enough to make the hikes, and the treks, all while carrying gear. Thanks to the Suunto’s useful and intelligent fitness guidance, I was able to get myself back on my feet in time for our trip. It provides real time feedback on the quality of your sleep, your energy levels, your steps, your oxygen levels, your heart-rate. It even compiles this information into a very digestible progress tab on the excellent phone app. The TSS (Training Stress Score) essentially tells you when you’re pushing too hard, or not enough. These calculations take nothing more than a couple of minutes to look at each day and really help you to manage your body, which in my state was very helpful.
Performance wise, I didn’t charge the watch once during our 12 day stay in Iceland. I decided to let the watch passively track my steps and our activity, opposed to using the GPS tracking feature as we were on guided treks. I was blown away to be coming home with 8% battery after 12 days in the field, in cold weather. The touch screen is legible at all times of the day, and there is a plethora of sport training modes, weather tracking, and GPS mapping to really take you to the next level. The software isn’t lightning fast in comparison to other smartwatches geared towards media consumption, but I consider that to be such a tiny trade off compared to the features you do get. I have continued to use this since my return from Iceland, and it is helping me get back on the horse after my injury. For a watch, I’d say that’s pretty impressive.
Cloud Like Comfort – Hoka Sky Kaha GTX
For the past 18 months, there has been no active brand that I have trusted like Hoka One One. I’ve been fortunate enough to test a few of their sneakers, running shoes, and hiking boots. Simply – the Sky Kaha is the perfect hiking boot for me.
GoreTex lining, leather uppers, EVA and foam cushioning and Vibram® Megagrip outsoles combine to make the perfect hiking boots. At 2.5lbs, the Sky Kaha GTX sit in the middle of the light vs heavy scale, and as such have that critical balance of sturdiness and flexibility. These are as comfortable as your favourite sneakers but with the added ankle support that gives you confidence on the trail (or the glacier). Not only do they have ankle support, but that support is wonderfully padded, which means you can stay in these for hours on end–I wore the Sky Kaha for 12 days straight.
The GoreTex Membrane allows you to explore a plethora of terrains without fretting about your feet getting wet, the design of the membrane rises all the way to the tongue, so unless you submerge your foot above ankle height, you’re going to have warm and dry feet! The lacing system is fully adjustable, so you can get the level of stability and tightness that you like when hiking, and even with a looser knot, you still get that slipper-like feeling from the Hoka One One design. The cushioning is something else, and while definitely copious, not to the point where you feel unbalanced, which is obviously critical when hiking. The Sky Kaha’s worked perfectly with my crampons too.
I cannot praise these hiking boots enough, I have never worn a pair of hiking boots that are so comfortable, and I’ll be wearing these until they make something even better. I’m fully converted, and my knees and feet have never felt better.
Camera Goodies – Peak Design Camera Cube, Carbon Fibre Travel Tripod & Mobile Tripod
As the media man on this expedition, I was very concerned about making sure all of my equipment was organized, protected, and dry. I had a significant amount of equipment, two bodies, three lenses, a drone, a gimbal, etc. etc. etc. We were using a few different bags, so I was looking for the trustworthy insert that I could move between vessels quickly. I also knew that in our Land Rover, it would function as a mobile studio regularly. Well, there was only one choice–Peak Design to the rescue. Taylor and I both adore our travel tripods, our leash camera straps, and practically every other bit of PD gear that we’ve used. The Large Camera Cube accommodated all of my equipment and a silica pack (pro tip for wet environments!) in each compartment. Well padded, easy access (full clamshell or side), and adjustable dividers make this a home run for me. I also like how easy it is to pull from one bag to another thanks to the comfortable handle. You could even use it on its own if you wanted to attach one of PD’s straps.
To pair with the Camera Cube, I took a prototype of their mobile tripod. This precision engineered tripod has to be seen to be believed. With a fully articulating ball head, multiple viewing options, adjustable tension, and magnetic connection, this mobile tripod is as good as it gets for a mobile accessory in my eyes. We took multiple long exposures on this, from varying angles, all with the simple adjustment taking mere seconds. Many of our single shot images came from this tripod too, which corrected for the traditional hand shake of phone photos, least of all when it’s 10ºF! Not only is this tripod clearly a static tool, it works well for selfies or unique angles where the tripod essentially becomes a handle and gives you the ability to either get closer/further away from a subject, or presents unique perspectives with the ability to put the phone in places that might be a little cumbersome to reach usually.
The travel tripod has revolutionised shooting on the go for me. Firstly, the size alone makes this a no brainer to bring with you anywhere, and everywhere. I’ve been using mine since the initial kickstarter, and it hasn’t disappointed me. It packs down to an impossibly small footprint, around the size of a soda bottle. The deployment is incredibly quick which allows you to capture shots in a timely fashion. When we were darting around in front of Vestrahorn to capture the northern lights, the lightweight carbon fibre made it a dream to carry. It comes with a great neoprene carry case, that looks after it nicely when not in use, and you can even combine this with their strap/anchor system to carry it across body, which is good for those hard to reach places when you don’t want a full pack. The really impressive feature for me though is the ball head, it’s so intuitive to use, you can adjust with a simple twist, and most importantly, I can get my camera off that tripod at the speed of light. The travel tripod is also surprisingly sturdy for a lightweight tripod, and the hook under the main column means you can add extra stability if needed. I hooked my bag on a couple of times in really windy moments. Once you go to this tripod, it’s hard to use anything else.
One of the earliest things I ever learned about being in the wilderness was to have good basics. Be prepared on a granular level, and you’re already doing something right. The first time I wore a pair of Smartwool socks, it was a love affair that has never ended, I still have some pairs that are approaching fifteen years old! Admittedly, they’re a little tatty, but there is still structural integrity! I knew that the only socks I would want to take to Iceland would be Smartwool. Over the last year, Smartwool have gone through a bit of an overhaul, and reduced their offerings into a more streamlined collection. I took 6 pairs of Smartwool socks with me to Iceland, two Hike Light Cushion, two Hike Classic Cushion, and Two Full Cushion. These all performed exceptionally well in a very damp environment, and even when they did get wet from exertion, they dried out quickly thanks to the Land Rover’s one working heating vent! As the sock names allude to, there were varying levels of cushion, which for me was mainly dictated by heat. On colder days I wore the full cushion, and on warmer days I’d wear the lighter options. Smartwool have always made great products, and with this refocused, smaller collection, I know that these socks should last me another 15 years too. As a hiker, I think they have the balance of cushion, to stretch, to support spot on. With enhanced durability zones at the heel and toe, along with their virtually seamless toebox, comfort wasn’t a concern once during our trip.
Saxx, on the other hand, are a new revelation to me, but equally as mindboggling. Over our trip I wore a mixture of the Quest and Hot Shot boxers, and I don’t think I’ll look at underwear in the same way again. All three styles center around their Ballpark pouch. That’s right, what I can only describe as a delicate mesh hammock for your crown jewels is the greatest thing to happen to mens underwear. Aside from obvious comfort, there are actually multiple benefits when wearing Saxx for active pursuits. Hygiene, moisture management, positioning, with this simple pouch, Saxx have alleviated the traditional stress and discomfort that can occur on longer active days. With well positioned mesh vents on the rear too, you’ll find yourself focusing on the task at hand. Saxx also makes daily options, so once you’re converted (and you will be) you can keep the Crown Jewels comfortable all day, every day. I’ve used these for all of my activities: running, hiking, rugby, tennis, gym, snowboarding. You name it, these have you covered. Give them a shot, you’ll thank me.
When using a bag the size of the Konseal 40, it’s hard to initially consider anything else other than comfort. With that much volume in a pack, it is very easy to carry a lot of gear, and often that can equate to a lot of weight. When I was using this in Iceland, it was carrying close to 40lbs of camera gear and wow, did the Konseal surprise me.
In terms of organisation, the Konseal is a simple, but effective bag. One GIANT cavity can hold pretty much everything that you could need (you can always jump up to the 55L size if you need more) and is well padded with foam to maintain its structure, stand on its own, and avoid any punctures from that sharp climbing gear. In my world, this is excellent for camera gear, not only does it provide excellent protection, but the cavity works as the perfect tray for any camera insert that you like. For this expedition, I carried a fully loaded Peak Design Large camera cube with multiple bodies, lenses, and a drone, and the Konseal worked excellently as the courier. I had plenty of room on the bottom of the bag for jackets, Dopp kits, and other accoutrement that didn’t need to be right at hand. Honestly, you could describe the Konseal as the best bucket that you’ve ever had.
Aside from the main cavity, you’ll find a healthy brain with two pockets (one internal, one external). This has a great volume, approximately 2L external, and 1L internal, perhaps even a touch more. It’s a natural home for gloves, hats, shell jacket, or anything you might want to get to on the move without putting the bag down. My power bars lived in here, just for when you needed that extra boost! There is also a slim floating pocket on the interior for your EDC such as your keys and wallet, and it’s easy to access the moment that you open the lid of the bag.
On the side of the bag, you’ll see four lash compression straps. These are perfect for tripods, layers, wet clothing, or any other more cumbersome items that you want to keep outside of the main compartment. They also allow you to compress the bag if not fully loaded. If you don’t need them, just remove and store them. There are also a few loop attachments you’ll notice, these are designed to be paired with some upcoming outdoor accessories from Arcteryx, inspired by some of their snow sports line. You’ll also see one of my favourite features of the bag–the grab handles. These burly strips are excellent for moving the bag easily on location, they span the width of the pack and distribute the weight evenly.
Apple iPad Pro
The recent iPad Pro’s have changed the way I work in the field, particularly on testing trips. I used this to keep us connected (LTE Version), and edit or content on the move. All from either the back of a landrover or a tent. Read my full review here.
I’ve had this puppy for over 10 years now, and it comes with me on any kind of camping/expedition trip. 19 tools are just enough to keep you going in the wild, and the Titanium finishing keeps rust at bay, is lighter weight, and is easy to clean. It’s not just the finishing that’s impressive either, an S30V main blade is great for food (particularly when you’re portioning fairly between three!) and is robust enough to do some serious work. Everything on this Leatherman is tough as nails, takes a beating, and just keeps coming back for more. Of course, in certain situations you need more than this, but as a do everything multi-tool that you can trust, the Charge tops the list for me.
Camera + Lenses – Sony A1, Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM, & Sony 12-24 f/2.8GM
Admittedly, these are specialist items, and obviously not everybody is going to go and spend lots of money on high end cameras for fun. However, these are my EDC! Particularly when on location. We’ll start with the body, the Sony Alpha A1. This is Sony’s flagship camera that has all the bells and whistles that you need to capture high level content on the move. Key features that make this so excellent for a trip like Iceland start with with a 30fps frame rate, which allows me to capture action as it happens. That action takes me to the second key feature: excellent weatherproofing. We took this into the undercroft of glaciers, shot footage in driving snow, and got soaked at many-a-waterfall. The body is sealed to such a degree that I couldn’t find any ingress at all. It shoots at 50.1 MP, which is great for post processing where you can crop in closely (as you’ve likely seen in many of our photos), and gives you lots to play with as you frame your shots. A very high ISO range (50-102,400) is impeccable in low light, and was critical when shooting the night sky and Aurora Borealis. Finally, video wise you can capture in 8k 30fps or 4k 120fps. Clean footage, every time. There are many more features that I won’t bore you with (from dials to customisation capabilities) but this is the best investment I have made in a camera in the last 10 years, it’s really a combination of their three previous flagships (A7SIII, A9II, & A7R4) into one body.
A good camera is useless without good lenses though! While I took a telephoto (100-400) the two lenses I used mostly throughout our trip are the 50mm prime and 12-14 zoom. The 50mm f/1.2GM is the perfect length for capturing most things on the move, it’s a mix between a street/documentary lens, while having a close enough focus distance to allow you psuedo-macro capabilites. Not only that, the f/1.2 aperture takes astonishing portraits with great bokeh. I enjoy using this for filming too, because I can be far enough away physically to not be intrusive, but the focal length still gets you into the action. With the A1’s crop sensor you also have an equivalent of 75mm at the push of a button.
Usually, I don’t love zooms, but the 12-24 f/2.8GM is the exception to the rule. You can’t go to a place like Iceland without an ultrawide lens, there is quite literally so much to capture that the wide end 12mm allows you gather some epic perspectives, and the 24mm tight end is great for handheld documentary, and even group environmental portraiture. f/2.8 is fast enough to work very well for astrophotography too!
I could write about my favourite gear that we took to Iceland for hours. However, no-one needs to hear all of that! These are the items that either I took with me because of previous excellent performance, or ones that I bought back trusting implicitly. One thing is for sure, when going on a trip like this, it’s a great chance to play with excellent gear to make sure you adventure is as magical as it should be!