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Expeditions Unpacked: Discover what the great explorers took into the unknown

  • Written by  Geographical
  • Published in Explorers
Expeditions Unpacked: Discover what the great explorers took into the unknown (Image: Pete McBride)
18 Sep
In this unique and enthralling new book, explorer and survivalist Ed Stafford curates 25 great expeditions through the lens of the kit these remarkable explorers took with them.

In an environment where lack of preparation could mean certain death, the equipment carried, ridden and sailed into uncharted territories could mean the success or failure of an expedition. Was it simply a case of better provisions and preparation that helped Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole? And how has the equipment taken to Everest changed since Hillary’s first ascent?

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Through carefully curated photographs and specially commissioned illustrations we can see at a glance the scale, style and complexity of the items taken into the unknown by the greatest explorers of all time, and the impact each item had on their journey. How it potentially saved a life, or was purely for comfort or entertainment, and how these objects of survival have evolved and adapted as science advances, and we plunge further into the extremes.

Ed Stafford (Image: Pete McBride)Ed Stafford (Image: Pete McBride)

Ed Stafford says: ‘Sometimes, a piece of kit comes along that enables a complete re-evaluation of what is physically possible and it’s very exciting. In 2006, I was introduced to the inflatable packraft in Patagonia. I immediately saw the versatility of this craft and an old dream expedition of mine started bubbling to the surface. I’d dreamed about walking the length of the Amazon River for years but always drew a blank when it came to crossing the hundreds of tributaries. There were simply too many, they were too fast-flowing to swim with all my kit and building a raft every time with a machete was a ridiculous concept. Suddenly, technology evolved, and here was a boat that packed down to the size of an old sleeping mat and didn’t weigh much more. With carbon-fibre four-piece split paddles it meant I could cross any water body in my path. A previously impossible journey could now be attempted.’

On the same expedition, a very different piece of kit also revolutionised Stafford’s trip. ‘About a year into the walk, I ran out of money,’ he recalls. ‘Without it I could no longer buy food, pay for insurance, hire local guides or afford website maintenance. In days gone by, I would have had to hold my hands up and admit defeat – expedition over. But on this trip I was carrying a BGAN (satellite Internet link). I uploaded a video, cut to a Coldplay soundtrack (for maximum tugging of heartstrings) and put a Paypal link next to it asking people to help fund the expedition. The response was extraordinary and over the course of the next year, the video raised over £40,000. To be able to communicate with the outside world from the depths of the Amazon saved my expedition – and enabled me to achieve a Guinness World Record.

Expeditions Unpacked

As much as Stafford admires the theodolites and sextants, the oilskins and the water drums, it’s the frivolous items that he finds himself drawn to. ‘Sir Robin Knox-Johnston sailed around the world with Tennent’s Lager, whisky and Bovril, whereas Jason Lewis pedalled, rowed and paddled across oceans with Castle Eden Ale, whisky (again) and Marmite,’ he says. ‘But can we even call these items whimsical? On the face of it, it’s not too hard to imagine that the gruelling days and nights would have been impossible to survive without a nightcap and a tiny slice of home. But digging deeper, perhaps the very items that make me grin are the ones that reveal a mischievous character: “It’s my expedition and I’ll take what I bloody want!” And why not? Could it be that this two-fingered salute to common sense is in fact the bolshy character trait that made the expedition happen in the first place?’

From accordions to pianos, canines to camels, Stafford found the mix of essentials and extraordinaries over the centuries a fascinating subject to research and write about in a manner that lays bare these explorers’ remarkable minds. ‘Whether you read it from cover to cover or simply dip into it on a coffee break,’ he says, ‘I sincerely hope that I’ve managed to capture the sense of wonder at these astounding feats of human endeavour and how each explorer’s own personal kit selection helps us to get inside the minds of those who have chosen a life less ordinary.’*

Here’s a peek of some of the amazing expeditions included in Expeditions Unpacked:

roald amundsen(Image: Granger Historical Picture Archive/Alamy)

Roald Amundsen, race to the Pole: Norwegian expedition (snowshoes, Primus stove, piano, violin, gramophone… )

amelia earhart(Image: Ian Dagnall Computing/Alamy)

Amelia Earhart, first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean (Bendix radio direction finder, parachutes, emergency life raft, rouge… )

tim slessor(Image: Jaguar Land Rover Limited)

Tim Slessor, first overland from London to Singapore (machetes, crowbar, typewriter, Remington dry shaver, tea… )

nelly bly(Image: Science History Images/Alamy)

Nellie Bly, around the world in 72 days (Mumm champagne, accordion, silk waterproof wrap, dark gloves… )

Sir Ranulph Fiennes praises Ed’s book as: ‘A fascinating and unique look at these celebrated expeditions. Ed Stafford knows all too well how important an explorer’s kit can be and this brilliant book gives great insight into the role it plays.’

Expeditions Unpacked by Ed Stafford is available to buy now from all good book retailers and online.

*Extracted from Expeditions Unpacked by Ed Stafford, White Lion Publishing, RRP £30

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