Every book needs its hook and, to be fair, when it comes to collections of exploration, there aren’t many original approaches left. Luckily TV-hardship pioneer Ed Stafford has found a peach. Rather than concentrating on the (often well-told) tales of derring-do from the likes of Reinhold Messner, Roald Amundsen and Stafford himself, here the lens focuses on dissecting the various items of equipment used by the great and good of exploration. Each ‘pack’ is laid out before us before Stafford recounts the tales played by the various essential (and sometimes not-so) bits of kit.
There is occasional stretching of the remit. It’s amusing to imagine Sir Ranulph Fiennes jamming a pair of 1970s Land Rovers and an ocean-going, 65m-long Polar icebreaker into his backpack, but reaching beyond the literal definition of ‘pack’ does prevent each entry being mere variations on the generic list of explorer ‘essentials’.
Nonetheless, it’s intriguing to witness the evolution of ‘adventure travel’ through Christine Berrie’s illustrated breakdowns of each entrant’s equipment. From Nellie Bly’s 19th century extravagances (travelling dresses, hairbrushes, bottle of Mumm champagne) to the rather more practical survival rations, satellite phones and machetes of the 21st century adventurer Laura Bingham (Stafford’s equally fearless wife). The amount of firearms displayed by early adventurers is also quite alarming when laid out like this, giving insight to just how different the world was back in the day.
Both women bookend the collection of adventurers’ tale and it’s gratifying to see a good representation of the genders throughout, and not always the usual suspects either. Oddly however, given how much Berrie’s artwork sets the tone for the entire book, she warrants barely a mention bar a brief shout-out in the acknowledgements. Of course, Stafford is the big-name draw here for the casual bookshop browser, but without Berrie’s gorgeously detailed recreations of what are, after all, the very core of the book, there would be a lot less to admire. A fault of a marketing-led publisher one suspects, but hopefully one that will be rectified with any subsequent print runs.