Equipment

As described in the section How is this trip possible? I have chosen not to have sponsors, so I’m not going to make a long list of recommended brands and companies. Instead, I will share my approach to buying equipment and afterwards mention a few very good and bad experiences.

What to buy

Most importantly use quality equipment. As equipment is expensive, try to borrow as much as possible the first time you travel to find if you like the equipment and if it fits your requirements as well as you expect to travel and use it again. Quality equipment is more expensive but has many advantages:

  • It has a longer durability so the price might be lower than replacing cheaper stuff many times. Also duration is crucial as there's nothing as annoying as broken equipment while travelling especially to remote regions where there’s no chance of replacement.
  • It is usually easier to repair and because of the design/fabric, it’s often as good as new after repair. For most quality equipment you can find youtube instructions for proper maintenance and repair (and equally important how not to)
  • The warranty is usually much longer and it’s often easier to claim – for the best brands/companies sometimes also after the warranty period and often directly with the manufacturer without involving the (web) shop where you bought it.

Before leaving for a long trip, make sure you know how to maintain/repair your equipment including a check-up on necessary skills, patches, tools, etc. Travelling for a long time to remote areas, you might also benefit from researching the easiest way/location for replacing crucial equipment including (web) shops shipping abroad or arranging for somebody to buy and ship it. Be aware that sending replacement equipment around the world might be very expensive, time consuming and bureaucratic – always pay attention to toll rules and fees in both departure and arrival countries.       

Where/How to buy

Competent and friendly service in the buying process is of course always appreciated, but it’s likely biased towards some brands and always for profit so get trustful recommendations from friends, reviews, etc. When buying – for me - unknown brands or in unknown (web) shops, I always spend time reading many independent expert and user reviews beforehand. These are readily available on the internet, so it’s about finding the independent and trustful sites. When reading reviews, I amongst other things look for:

- Shops

  • If there is a physical shop, phone number and email address
  • Reviews of Customer service – accessibility, willingness and ability to help
  • Reviews of products e.g. variety, range, fake, etc.
  • If the shop is recommended for safe (web)trade by trustful consumer organisations, etc.

 - Products 

  • Reviews from expert as well as users (pay special attention to the negative reviews)
  • Reviews comparing the product to similar products
  • Reviews of the manufacturer’s willingness to honour warranties. Be aware the warranty and the willingness to honour it might be different (even for the same product) depending on the country and (web) shop you buy it in

 A few positive recommendations

Based on the above, I have a simple rule for measuring the quality of a company, brand and shop. Not by the sales process but by their willingness and ability to help when I later have a problem. Promises are cheap but useless if not followed by action. Below are mentioned a shop and a few brands that I’ve had great experiences with over the years:

Friluftsland (outdoor shop Copenhagen, Denmark)

It is always a pleasure shopping in Friluftsland, because they have a wide range of products/brands and competent staff with lots of outdoor experience. They are also helpful and quick to get products home that are sold out or not normally part of the stock. But most importantly, I treasure their incredible customer service the times I had a problem with a malfunctioning/damaged product – never questioning if the problem was related to wear-and-tear or my fault, which many other shops do to avoid the hassle of getting involved.

Osprey

I like my Osprey backpack because it’s comfortable, adjustable, light and with many features. Over the years, I’ve had some problems, but before you’re scared off, take into consideration that I have backpacked extensively (numerous years accumulated) and done countless long hikes (heavy bag, bad weather, etc.). Two times, I had a broken aluminium frame and a few times I had problems with straps and zippers. However, I never had any discussions about warranty – once my damaged bag was replaced and the other times it was repaired - always free of charge. Without an honourable manufacturer, I might have considered another brand.

Therm-a-rest

Over the last 30 years, I’ve had many different mattresses from foam to the current air mattresses. I like the model (NeoAir XLite and XTherm) because it’s fairly light/small, comfortable, well insulating and easy to patch should it puncture - considering I camp most days of the year and often in rough terrain, I’ve had very few flats. However, I’ve had problems with a several mattresses beginning to deflate after 1-2 years (without a hole) requiring re-inflation every 1½-2 hours all night not to sleep on the ground. This is of course quite frustrating and uncomfortable when travelling for a long time, but to their credit the manufacturer has always replaced the mattresses without any questions asked or discussions of warranty. Most notably, I wrote the company when biking across the USA in 2013 asking for a replacement despite having bought it in Denmark. Not only did they offer to send a new model to any address in the US, I was even “upgraded” to the more expensive winter model for free despite offering to pay the difference. They never asked for proof that I owned a mattress, let alone documentation for purchase or warranty. With an honourable manufacturer like that, I’ll never consider another mattress brand.

A few negative recommendations

Below are mentioned a shop, a company and two brands with which I've had recurrent bad experienced:

Koga Center, Frederiksberg, Denmark

Spending hours on the bike often in remote areas, two things are essential when buying a touring bicycle – comfort and reliability. Before buying a bike, I therefore did a lot of research to find the best bike also taking into consideration the expected luggage, terrain, road conditions, availability of spare components, etc. In the end, my choice was a Koga Miyata Worldtraveller but unfortunately, there was a long backlog so I had to settle for the Lightrunner. Despite being an avid bicyclist most of my life, I’d never heard about Koga before, but my research revealed it was famous and reputable amongst long-distance bike travellers.

The owner of the Koga Center on Frederiksberg, Jonas, is a very gifted and competent seller and during the sales process, he made countless promises always with the comment “we’ll find out if later there’s a problem”. However, once the money was paid there was no service or courtesy e.g. blaming me for the bike problems and charging me to have them fixed as well as charging me extra for an extensive service check-up before a long trip but doing almost nothing (several screws were loose, the chain was dirty, the gears not properly adjusted, etc.). Exactly the same feeling many people have when paying a garage to check or fix their car and afterwards they are charged for a lot of work that wasn’t done. I was surprised with his very short view on business when I was a potential good customer for life but being a cheater and a liar – and in line with my above principles – I had to end the relationship.

Koga Bicycle Company, Netherlands

The Lightrunner was a good bike being comfortable and fairly reliable. I of course had some problems but it’s unavoidable biking so many kilometres as I did. The big problem arose when the frame broke after about 55,000k in the Nullarbor Desert in Australia. I patched it with gorilla tape and cable ties and miraculously made the 1,800k to Perth. Having a lifetime warranty on the frame, I assumed the company would ship me a new bike and wish me a great trip – ensuring an ambassador for life. Was I naïve and very wrong! Because I was on the other side of the planet with no Koga dealers close by, I contacted the company directly to speed up the process. Four wasted weeks waiting for a reply where they insisted, I had to go through my dealer, taking the bike to Denmark to let him assess if the damage was my fault. It would cost much more than a new bike to bring it to Europe for inspection and they declined paying even if they after inspection acknowledged their warranty. During endless long correspondence (with the company through my dealer), they suggested I should have it welded – on my own account and despite common knowledge that sustainable welding of aluminium is almost impossible requiring special skills, equipment and alu-composition. On request, they revealed to refuse honouring the frame warranty on a welded bike. I finally managed to convince them to look at some photos that clearly documented the damage. Still delayed by my dealer who had little time and no interest in this correspondence, and the company being incredibly slow to return mails, they required more photos. After 3 months they finally accepted the warranty and offered to replace my frame with outdated and completely different models – one with suspension which I hate and the other a city bike! I refused and my dealer refused to spend more time, so I once again (against the rules) had to contact the company directly. The warranty department assessed my claim for an identical frame for a while and then sent it to customer service just to have it returned 4 weeks later unaddressed as it was a matter for customer warranty. Despite an identical frame being part of the current product line, they still refused to give me one and after 5 months, I’d had enough. I wrote them, I would send the case to the Danish Consumer Agency for a verdict and then suddenly a new frame was no problem. I now know why it’s called “go Dutch” except they prefer not to pay at all - allegedly a common practice for Dutch businesses. I got the feeling, it was a deliberate tactic to procrastinate so long that the customer finally gives up. A strange strategy for a company who does little advertising and claims to live of customer recommendations – in me they could have gotten an ambassador for life but instead they got an adversary - all this for a few hundred Euro, can you can believe it! To sum up, Koga is a good bike but the company is terrible unless you break down in front of your dealer. If you break down anywhere around the world (which is the typical since touring is the purpose), you’re basically on your own requiring endless time and perseverance to get your contractual rights. Based on this, I can’t recommend to buy the bike or not, but hopefully it provides a more nuanced picture of an otherwise reputable brand. 

Heino Cykler, Denmark

For years I bought much of my bicycle equipment at Heino’s having a wide range of products at fair prices. They were always friendly and helpful in the sales process, so I had no doubt they would also help should I have a problem.

When I finally got my new frame from Koga in November 2015, I refurbished the bike before resuming my trip in Singapore. Part of this was buying a new derailleur and to avoid gear problems, I had mechanic Jesper at Heino’s adjust it with the new cassette and chain. Only 25k out of Singapore, the chain overshot and broke 8 spokes, so I had to return to Singapore to have a new wheel built. Quite a shock as the wheel was brand new and therefore expected to make it all the way to Europe. Heino refused any responsibility for the problem claiming they would never make a mistake like that. They said, it happened during plane transport to Singapore, which is a long shot as a screw doesn’t undo itself. Theoretically it could have been valid had the bike box been damaged, however there was not a scratch on the box and as always on flights, the derailleur was detached and taped to the frame to avoid being bend. A new wheel is around Euro 200, which they declined together with any courtesy (e.g. a couple of tires). Ending the relationship was not so much the value of the broken wheel, but the fact that they distrusted me despite our long-time relationship.    

And by the way, if there was ever any doubt Heino made the mistake, it was later confirmed when taking the unboxed bike on two different long-distance buses where especially the first from Luang Prabang to Kunming entailed endless bumpy roads – and still the gears worked perfectly.              

Panasonic Lumix tz (zs in North America) cameras

I’ve had various models of this camera over the last 8-9 years. I like the camera because it’s small with good battery life, a big zoom and taking good pictures even at full zoom in very windy conditions. The downsides are too strong a flash and problems taking good pictures in overcast weather.

The first model tz3 was the best taking almost 30,000 pictures without any problems. The more functionality added over the years, obviously the more fragile a camera. Except for the first I’ve had zoom problems with all of them – sometimes after only 500 pictures and sometimes after 5,000 but never again did one of they live to take even close to 30,000 pictures. I’ve read countless reviews of the different models, all praising the camera and none mentioning zoom problems. However, if you google “Panasonic Lumix system error zoom” you will encounter endless complaints about this problem that has existed since 2010-11 and kept occurring in newer models.

So why did I keep buying them with this recurring problem? The second and third camera (one as backup), I bought in Denmark after my good experience with the first model. When broken, I shipped them to Denmark and though honouring the warranty, they were never properly repaired soon after entailing new zoom problems. Being in the USA, the old Lumix models (that I preferred) were very cheap so I bought five cameras knowing they wouldn’t last long and that Panasonic in North America never honoured their warranties. My reasoning was that if a camera could last around a year (remember I use it a lot every day), I could throw it out instead of bothering with warranty and repair. It would still be cheaper than buying an expensive newer model or another compact camera brand (all of which reviews also mentioned having zoom problems).

Besides the camera I currently use, I have one left as backup, but next time I plan to buy another compact camera rand. Please let me know, if you can recommend a compact camera comprising the requirements mentioned in the first paragraph above.  

Terra Nova Laser Competition 2 tent

I first bought this tent in 2010 being the only 1½-person lightweight (1 kg) tent long enough for me (230 cm). Many other brands were almost long enough but unlike the Laser Competition, they had sloping walls at both ends making me touch with the head/feet. It has one pole in the middle and two smaller poles at the ends, however to minimise weight only the middle pole is made of sturdy metal. The end poles are made of graphite and extremely fragile, braking very easily in frost, snow and windy weather. Other recurring problems are weak zippers and sometimes poor stitching.

Over the years, I’ve been looking for another tent, but I never found one long enough unless I buy a big and heavy 2½ person tent. I bought the first tent in Denmark, several times claiming the warranty and having the tent fixed. However, being a long-term traveller far from home the warranty is quite useless – I need the tent every day and shipping the tent back and forth for repair is both expensive and time consuming. Instead, I took a similar approach as described with the camera above. I bought 3 tents at less than half price in the USA and whenever they break, I throw it out and use a new one. In all fairness, my tents don’t have an easy life being used every day in some of the most extreme environment and weather conditions, but still I find the lifespan disappointing especially because it’s the same recurring problems.

Despite the European prices on the tent dropping significantly, the poor durability is still not sustainable, so I’ll keep looking for another brand. Please let me know, if you can recommend a tent comprising the requirements mentioned in the first paragraph above.

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