Crossing Iceland. Part 3: equipment

29 September 2018Tips

This is the third and final part of the Iceland’s traverse summary. Here I discuss the equipment I used during 4-week crossing from Cape Gerpir to Cape Bjargtangar. What did I take and why? What worked and what would I change?

Boots

Although I’m a fan of light&fast (or just light, not necessary fast), on my Iceland crossing I took regular, high trekking boots to Iceland – and I don’t regret it. Even in good weather it was not too hot while wearing them. The terrain that I was walking on could be done with good quality approach shoes, as I did in Iran. In Iceland, however, high boots have a big advantage over low ones when crossing streams. Many times during the day I crossed shallow fords with water reaching just to the ankles. Boots were just enough to go through, low ones would need to be taken off, which would take time. During Iceland traverse I used Aku Trekker Light. They turned out to be perfect shoes for these conditions. Durable, lightweight, thanks to membrane they never got wet inside and the solid rubber tip protected it from sharp stones and lava.

In places where rivers were too deep, to be crossed in shoes, some other feet protection would be very useful. These could be trekking sandals, but it is important that they hold on to your feet tightly. Neoprene shoes used by surfers or divers might work better and be lighter than sandals. Their rubber sole protects feet from sharp stones and foam upper – from icy water, which can cause severe pain in itself.

traverse iceland crossing equipment boots

Clothes

My set of clothes turned out to be a bit too big for this year’s Icelandic summer, but in the worse weather possible it would have been perfect. I’ve chosen it for the worse conditions possible and they seem to be optimal combination for such a transition.

Top: Polartec Power Dry T-shirt + Merino wool shirt + 2 Polartec Powerstrech fleeces. I was wearing this set during cold days, taking off 1-2 layers when getting warm. An additional layer was a lightweight down sweater, which I could put during a very cold day or add some warm to the sleeping bag in the night. In the end, it served me only as a pillow, staying at the bottom of my backpack. As a outer shell I’ve used Salewa Pedroc GTX ACT jacket, a very lightweight (350g) and great model, great against rain and strong wind.

Bottom: in case of cold I carried some thin leggins, but these were useful only for sleep. I also put on rain trousers only once in 4 weeks. All this time I was wearing light softshell Agner Orval DST Salewa trousers, very comfortable and warm. Nice softshell, from which they are sewn, suits well for a wide range of temperatures. They were comfortable during warm 20°C day and during wet, windy days, when temperature dropped to 5 degrees.

My head’s protection was simple Windbloc cap. In a very strong wind, a thin buff, which covered my neck, was also useful. Regarding gloves – I took only a pair of thin silk liners to protect my hands.

Socks: I took 1 pair of wool Bridgedale Trekker (my favourite and most versatile model I know) and 2 pairs of Dexshell waterproof socks. They proved to work properly, but the weather was too good, to demonstrate their waterproof properties.

traverse iceland crossing equipment boots tent

Wind, light rain and miles of emptiness around. Typical icelandic day.

Backpack

The model I took to Iceland was the Osprey Xenith 105, an expeditionary heavy-duty backpack. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too large and inconvenient after packing. The waist belt could not be adjusted properly to the shape of my body, which resulted in a periodical pain. Xenith has a lot of great patents, incl. extremely capacious cap. However, this is clearly a model for a person who is heavier/wider than me. A backpack with a capacity of approx. 70 litres, e.g. Deuter Aircontact 70+15, would be perfect for Iceland.

Cooking, fuel

In Iceland, you can find gas cartridges in many places. The first choice should be capital city (I recommend the Fjallakofinn tourist shop, 11 Laugavegur Str., the main pedestrian zone of the city). You will also find them in many petrol stations and supermarkets. They are exclusivelly EN 417 (screw) cartridges.

My stove was Primus Express Spider (smaller and lighter would be better) and a 1l steel cup with a lid (as good as titanium, for the price $2.5). It was enough to prepare almost every meal I had, although at times I was troubled by the lack of plate/second bowl. During 28 days of my trek I’ve burned about 400 g of gas, a little less than two medium cartridges. The rest was light spoon, knife, a lighter and a Light My Fire magnesium fire starter.

Tent

The question if shelter was a bit of a pain for me. I’ve been tempted to take lightweight tarp. I decided to take the tent, however and that decision was right. The wind and rain came unexpectedly, and when they were blowing – there was no mercy. So I carried my 1.4 kg tent, swearing it, promising to never carry it again. And yet, without it I would be in trouble several times.

My tent is a 10-year-old Eureka! Zeus 1 EXO. Not particularly comfortable and to heavy. Single-layer walls leak quickly and easily, creating small puddle in the corner. I would like to have something lighter on this trip, eg. MSR Hubba NX or Freelight 1. Maybe also MSR Twin Sisters tap would work, but I’m not sure. The wind changed direction several times a day, making such shelter a little risky. A full-size tent would be best option.

It seems to me that using lightweight constructions might be a good idea. Single-layer tents made of cuben, set up on trekking poles, like Mountain Laurel Designes could work well. Another option could be fly + footprint from a tent (e.g. MSR Hubba NX weighs only 3/4 kilograms in the version without a bedroom). But if you’re not a fan of ultra-light and prefer to stay sure, take a full tent to Iceland. The shape of the dome will work well, as this construction is self-supporting. Tunnel tent will also be a good choice, because if properly set up, it’s very resistant to strong gusts. Before entering highlands, attach a few cords to the tent, as additional support against strong wind.

In some places I had problems with pegs. It’s worth to attach thin cord loops, which can be hold under the stones. On Iceland camping is allowed almost everywhere (except some private places, whose owner clearly marked that camping is forbidden, which doesn’t happen often), but finding a soft and even 4 square meters is sometimes a challenge. Before setting up the tent, check the terrain for sharp stones.

Sleeping bag

I took a very minimalist sleeping set, but it turned out to be perfect for this year’s warm summer. It consist from a Cumulus X-Lite 200 sleeping bag (comfort +4°C) with synthetic Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Plus insert. In practice, such set protects me at about 0°C. A very lightweight Cumulus model doesn’t have a hood, so while sleeping I put on a hat. However, in summer most people on Iceland will probably feel more comfortable with a warmer sleeping bag, filled with about 400 g of down.

I also used the old Ridge-Rest Regular mat. During the day I wear it on the side of my backpack, which was a disadvantage in Iceland: the bigger my luggage, the more you feel the strong wind. Next time I would take a lightweight inflatable mattress (e.g. Sea to Summit Ultralight) which rolls up to a very small size and fit inside a backpack.

traverse iceland crossing equipment boots tent

Navigation

I crossed Iceland using a 1:425,000 Reise Know How map. I really like their waterproof and accurate publication. In some difficult places I supported myself with old topographic 1:100 000 maps, but they haven’t always been up to date. On Iceland a slight change in the glacier regime is enough for rivers to change their ways and for smaller lakes to dry up. It happened to me, that during navigation north from Langjökull I was aiming to quite significant lake as a orientation point. I was surprised to see the shore of the lake has regressed about 2 km. So trust what you see around you rather than blindly following the map, and navigate according to bigger formations – valleys, peaks – rather than small lakes or streams.

I’ve been using small Silva 9 compass. When navigating through Iceland remember to take magnetic declination into account! Since the North Pole and the Earth’s magnetic pole aren’t the same, the compass will point magnetic north instead of geographical. This difference is small in most of Europe and many parts of USA (in Poland about 5 degrees east), but in Iceland, located in the far north, it is between 10° and 14° to the west. This means that compass needle will point 10°-14° westward from the real north and you will need to take this into account, when calculating your direction.

A map and a compass are enough to navigate inside the highlands. Unless you climb a glacier or walk completely without the roads, a GPS won’t be necessary.

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Photo equipment

I’ve been using mirrorless Olympus OM-D EM-5 with some lenses. I find mirrorless lighter and more handy than a SLR, while giving very nice results.

My lenses were: Zuiko 12-50 f/3.5-6.3 and Olympus 40-150 mm f/4.0 – 5.6.

I took 8 BLN-1 batteries (enough for 20-25 days), Gorillapod Compact tripod, filters, USB charger and 2 memory cards.

Electronics

Apart from the photographic equipment, these were simple phone + USB charger and SPOT satellite messenger. SPOT allowed me to track my progress served as a emergency beacon in case of an accident. SPOT works on 4 lithium batteries, which are sufficient for many months of expedition.

First-aid kit

This included: plasters and simple dressings, elastic bandage, painkillers and poisoning tablets (loperamide and nifuroxazide), rubber gloves and a tiny resuscitation mask.

Useful items

Trekking poles – I’ve used my favorite Black Diamond Trail. They are lightweight and robust. When carrying heavy loads, they are useful even on straight roads. They were also helpful in mountains of Eastern and Western Fjords, when crossing the wetlands and, above all, they are absolutely essential when crossing streams and rivers. On Iceland, poles are obligatory!

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Source Liquitainer 1L bottles – 3 pcs. They’re lightweight and fold down when empty, so they don’t take up space in your luggage.

Waterproof bags – JR Gear 5 and 8l. The smaller one for the sleeping bag, a bigger for food.

Cord – approx. 15 m of climbing 0.9 mm cord; to repair equipment and stretching the tent.

Mosquito net – in summer I didn’t meet mosquitoes on Iceland, but in river valleys I met some small flies. They don’t bite, just being annoying and going into your eyes. I took a small mosquito net to protect my face, but never used it. The presence of insects was unpleasant during 1 or 2 days, but. I did not meet mosquitoes, so characteristic to arctic tundra environment.

Power, batteries, powerbanks – in the interior, there is no chance to charge your phone or camera. The only exception are the shelters, but they do not always have a generator. Take plenty of batteries. Also small powerbank might be helpful to keep your phone working. Ironically, a solar charger could work well on Iceland. Despite its far north location, I found the sun quite strong. And, of course, summer days are very long there.

Eyes cover – sound a bit weird, but when the day lasts 22 hours, you may need something to cut off the light and make it easier to fall asleep.

Headlamp – I’ve heard this advise many times: “light is not necessary in Iceland”. Sure, in June/July days are long and nights are so clear, that you can read newspaper at midnight. By mid-August, however, the night became longer and you will need some extra light during evening in the tent or hut. If you come to Iceland, take a small headlamp, like tiny Petzl e-Lite.

Cosmetics – toothbrush, small paste, scissors, small soap, razor, UV lipstick.

Documents – passport, national ID, debit and credit cards – even in the distant towns and villages paying with card is common. However, you will not pay with a card in the shelters, in the depths of the interiors – only cash is accepted there.

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