Magazine article Geographical

Keeping It Simple: For More Intrepid Adventurers, Getting Back to Nature' Means Precisely That, as They Eschew the Technological Trappings of the Modern World in Favour of Robust, Uncomplicated Gear. Bushcraft Expert Ben McNutt, a Firm Believer in the Low-Tech Philosophy, Shares His Expedition-Kit Checklist

Magazine article Geographical

Keeping It Simple: For More Intrepid Adventurers, Getting Back to Nature' Means Precisely That, as They Eschew the Technological Trappings of the Modern World in Favour of Robust, Uncomplicated Gear. Bushcraft Expert Ben McNutt, a Firm Believer in the Low-Tech Philosophy, Shares His Expedition-Kit Checklist

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

All our eyes were fixed, with a measure of urgency, on the impenetrable jungle foliage along the banks of Belize's Macal River, which snakes its way through the Chiquibul Forest Reserve. We were looking for an opening to serve as an egress point, where my party of four could pitch up for the night. As the light faded, the intense noise of the jungle began to escalate. Finally, with just a few minutes of tropical twilight remaining, we found a potential exit point.

Earlier that day, I had discovered two things: first, that our' guide' had never been down this crocodile-infested river before, despite emphatic assurances that he had; and second, that the canoe that I had been given had a hole in the bottom. It had taken six gruelling hours to reach our access point, and we were already on the river before these small details surfaced.

As we paddled towards the small gap in the dense vegetation we noticed a log raft. This was evidence that locals known as xateros were regularly using the route for smuggling xate leaves from the forest reserve. The leaves are taken over the border into nearby Guatemala, where they are sold on to middlemen, eventually making their way into the Western floristry markets. The xateros are essentially poor Guatemalans trying to scratch a living by gathering these fishtail palm leaves.

However, the Chiquibul Forest is a protected reserve, so the Guatemalans aren't welcome, if caught stealing the flora, they usually face jail. We had heard stories of the tension between the Belizean Defence Force and the xateros; the latter were rumoured to carry guns and rob Westerners. But as far as we were concerned, they were just rumours, and with no other option, we pitched camp. I ran some repairs on my canoe with a glue stick and gaffer tape, hid the boats and collapsed into my much-loved Clark hammock.

At sunrise, we found our boats as we had left them and swiftly struck camp. I clambered over to a small limestone rock-kettle to purify some water for the journey. I had my Pre-Mac PWP water purifier with me. Once assembled, it looks like a small rocket-propelled grenade (RPG). For years, I had remarked on this similarity, but on this particular morning, my observation was going to pay off.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

As I hunkered down, I heard strangers moving through the jungle just above me. I knew there was no way to avoid being seen, so I waited for them to appear on the limestone streambed and then gave a friendly wave and a cheery 'Good morning!' The four plant smugglers immediately melted into the undergrowth, muttering to one another.

A moment later, the leader re-emerged. Grinning, he slowly levelled his shotgun at me. Before I really knew what I was doing, I reached down, picked up my plastic water purifier, placed it on my shoulder like an RPG and aimed it back at him. His initial predatory look turned to one of confusion and then of fear. He slowly backed off into the jungle and disappeared with his friends.

ROUGH STUFF

When travelling through areas of wilderness for extended periods, you need to be able to rely on your equipment. It all needs to be tough, durable and versatile, but it doesn't have to be expensive or complicated.

Although you want to avoid looking like a soldier in certain parts of the world, it has to be said that military-style bags are very robust and won't tear easily when you're pushing your way through thorny environs. An internal-frame bag can be chucked on and off buses and rammed under seats, unlike the external-framed pack, which is more cumbersome. Very few rucksacks are completely waterproof; lining your backpack with a canoeists' dry bag (with a fold-top closure) will help to ensure that your kit stays dry.

In order to keep weight to a minimum, I usually opt for a tarp to sleep under. I use a lightweight bespoke flysheet made from an ultralight silicone-impregnated nylon. …

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