Monthly Archives: May 2015

Gear talk: Smile!


Dental care

Dental care is important, we all know that. Happily sucking away on energy boosting sweets and trail mix, it is doubly important. It is almost a cliché that backpackers in search of reduced grams will cut the handle off  their toothbrush. I must confess that I too, was once that soldier, no longer though.

Tooth brushes

I have experimented with a myriad of brushes. From brushes that slip on the fingertip (rubbish), through various folding and two piece brushes, to children’s brushes (adequate). Some of those I have used are shown below.

Selection of toothbrushes


Pink, on left (Superdrug) 23g
Blue and pink folding, bottom 15g each
Opaque white folding, bottom (Muji) 9g
White- two piece, centre 9g
Head of electric toothbrush, centre 4g
Clear- children’s brush, top 7g
Blue children’s brush, top 6g
Red, Full size,on right (Muji) 14g

I have now gone full circle and use the one of the lightest full size brushes that I have found. It does mean a handful of extra grams but I much prefer the larger option. In fact it is so comfortable that I use one of these at home too.

The full size Muji toothbrush. This small head toothbrush weighs 14g and is 180mm long

The full size Muji toothbrush. This small head toothbrush weighs 14g and is 180mm long

Purchased at Muji, a brand founded in Japan in 1980, each acrylic brush measures 180mm and has a small head with medium bristles. They come in a variety of colours and retail at £2.50 each. It is a bonus that the brand also embraces careful supply lines, simplicity, quality combined with good value and minimal packaging.



It is possible to buy small travel toothbrushes in which the handle can be ‘charged’ or filled up with toothpaste. These are right up there on my ‘gimmick’ list. While perfectly adequate for a week or so with care, what do you do when you want to refill? Buy a tube, refill the handle and throw the remainder away, or hang on to part emptied tube, thereby negating any advantage. Doesn’t work for me.

It is just as easy to buy a tube of toothpaste, either full size or mini travel size. Again, with care, a 20ml tube will easily last a week, eking it out will double that.

Travel sized toothpastes. Colgate with 19ml contents weighs 26g, Aquafresh tube contains 20ml of contents and weighs 28g

Travel sized toothpastes. Colgate with 19ml contents weighs 26g, Aquafresh tube contains 20ml of contents and weighs 28g

The small Colgate and Aquafresh tubes pictured here will both last a fortnight with twice daily use. But there is a lot of weight of superfluous plastic in relation to the contents.

75ml mini bottle of Theramed 'Cool Mint' toothpaste

75ml mini bottle of Theramed ‘Cool Mint’ toothpaste

The small, squat bottles containing 75ml of Theramed toothpaste are also a handy size to take with you, the greater quantity over the small travel toothpaste tubes is offset slightly by the less viscous (runnier) product, but, nonetheless, it remains a handy size product. It should be remembered that these are all pastes, therefore I am carting around a liquid. Time to look for drier, so therefore lighter, alternatives.

Eucryl toothpowder

Eucryl toothpowder

There are quite few tooth powders available, especially on-line. It is even possible to simply use a dash of bicarbonate of soda (baking powder). Fairly easily available on the High Street, the 50g tubs of Eucryl toothpowder can be used to pretty good effect, though they are not to everyone’s liking. The mildly abrasive powder has a minty taste and does a good job of cleaning stains and plaque. Some might worry that it is too abrasive to use over an extended period though. The plastic tub it comes in is useless to take out, being both heavy and insecure. I have found that laboriously spooning through a paper funnel into a mini dropper bottle, constantly tapping throughout, means that an enormous amount can be taken. Fitting a narrow nozzle to the dropper bottle means that a sufficient amount can be gently puffed onto a wet toothbrush with ease. This works well but don’t get the nozzle wet or it all gums up as a result.

One product that I came across a year or so ago seems to me to be the solution. I have long heard of people who will squeeze out long strips of toothpaste, dry them out over a period of days and snip them in to short, one use lengths and then bag them up (with a touch of bicarb to prevent them sticking together). All seemed a bit laborious to me and life is too short to be dealing with such nonsense myself.

However Lush have done the work for me. This ethical company have been making fresh, hand made cosmetics for years. While not my first port of call on the High Street, I have been known to pop in on occasion, most usually to buy one or two of their shampoo and shower bars, again, a dry product that eschews the need to take such a thing in heavy, bulky liquid form.

From the Lush product line, I came across Toothy Tabs. These are small solid tabs made from baking soda, kaolin clay and essential oils. Prices vary from £2 to £3 a box.

Toothy Tabs. Each small box contains 40 tabs on average.

Toothy Tabs. Each small box contains 40 tabs on average.

The small cardboard box they come in is useless. It gets damp easily and the tabs become congealed, coalesced and fit for nothing. At home, they need to be decanted into a plastic tub or similar, in the field, a small baggie suffices. There is a variety of flavours featuring ingredients such as fennel, wasabi, black pepper, coffee and ginger, though not all in the same variety…

Forty Toothy Tabs in baggies- 18g

Forty Toothy Tabs in baggie- total weight: 18g

The full box weighs around 25g. 40 x tabs in a small baggie weighs 18g. Brushing twice a day means this is suffice for twenty days. Use is simple; you put a single tab between the front teeth, nibble it to break it down, wet the toothbrush and brush in the normal fashion.

Some of the flavours are a little ‘out there’ and not particularly to my liking. The Ultra Blast and Dirty flavours are fine. Looks like I’ve found a solution.




Dental Floss

Dental floss

Dental floss

It is perhaps worth noting that for those who like to floss, two metres of waxed dental floss in a tiny baggie weighs less than a gram. Dental floss also doubles up as a perfectly adequate sewing thread if needed for repairs. If you can find them, look for the mono-filament teflon variety over the polyamide floss for strength.


Tiger, tiger burning bright


Tiger, tiger burning bright

in the forests of the night

   What immortal hand or eye

            Dare frame thy fearful symmetry

                                       The Tiger, William Blake


Tiger Balm

Tiger Balm, red ointment

19g jar of Tiger Balm Red ointment

We all get the occasional aches and pains. I used to run miles across country, rock climb, abseil, play footie and rugby very occasionally, even a (very) brief bash at boxing (though the training was far tougher). All that was years and years ago. Bruises and muscle strain were part and parcel of the activity and usually shaken off with the disdain and quick healing of a youthful body aided by copious amounts of alcohol, no more…

It seems all I have to do these days is get out of bed too quick, or stretch the wrong way after a long train journey and it hurts. I make as many groans and sighs sitting down as I do standing up. OK, all a tad over-egged, but you get the picture.

Certainly a long days trek with a pack can have the muscles and joints crying out for rest and relief. Plenty of rehydration, a good meal (plenty of protein), stretching and gentle massage, a good nights kip, all go some way to alleviating the pain.

Recently I have been using a balm to give some relief from minor muscular aches and pain. It currently comes in two formulations, both of which are non-prescription. Tiger Balm Red for muscular aches and pain and Tiger Balm White for the relief of tension headaches. I have used the Red which is a reddish-brown, oily ointment. Apparently ‘inspired by centuries of Chinese wisdom’ it is made from 11% camphor, 10% levomenthol, 7% cajuput oil, 5% clove oil, also cinnamon oil, dementholised mint oil, yellow soft paraffin and hard paraffin. One glance at those ingredients and you see why it smells like it does. It is not an unpleasant smell, but the cinnamon and cloves are very noticeable. It may go some way to disguise that long term ‘hiker funk’ as well. It gives a warming effect that aids in massage, it is also advertised as giving relief from bites (especially from mosquitoes apparently) and stings though I have never used it for such. There are the usual health and warning caveats, such as not to be ingested, not for use on broken skin, not for use on children under two years of age etc.

There are hikers that massage Tiger Balm into their feet at the end of the day but I prefer Gehwol Refreshing Cream for that, but, redundancy and all that…

5g of Tiger Balm in 5g sample pot, total weight: 10g. A worthy addition to a first aid kit or ditty bag.

5g of Tiger Balm in 5g sample pot, total weight: 10g. A good addition to a first aid kit or ditty bag.

A little goes a long way. Boots pharmacy sell the little glass jar containing 19g of the balm for £4.39 (£3.95 in May ’15). It only requires a small finger tip smear to rub on whatever part of the body is aching most, so I decant a small quantity into one of the small sample pots I have blagged, gratis, from the Body Shop.

It is worth noting that a small smear of this on a piece of cotton wool, or similar, is also brilliant as a fire starter; taking a spark from a fire-steel with ease and extending the burn time of cotton wool extensively.

More tea vicar?

1886 blend of Indian Assam and Keemun from China. A decent loose leaf black tea, but how to make a decent cup in the field?

1886 Blend Tea comprised of Indian Assam and Keemun from China. A pretty good loose leaf black tea from Whittard, but how to make a decent cup in the field?

Tea on the trail

I love a cup of tea in the morning, and a second one to follow that preferably. A decent cuppa in the p.m. goes down well too, come to that, for post hike rehydration, a pint of tea in the evening is also the perfect answer. But despite having made hundreds of cups of tea (possibly thousands) outdoors, I still find mastering the perfect cup of tea a bit of a struggle.

28g MSR Mug Mate, a useful tool for brwing up with loose tea or coffee

28g MSR Mug Mate, a useful tool for brewing up with loose tea or coffee

Brewing up a pint of water and a tea bag is no problem. I have dabbled with loose tea in the past and may yet again, but while saving on the problem of disposal of perforated paper etc, the accompanying mess of wet leaves produced by loose tea still proves a nuisance, both to dispose surreptitiously (leave no trace) and the cleaning of any filters etc that have been utilised.

So it remains the tea bag. Assam is my favourite, especially to get up and moving in the morning. This is an Indian tea obviously, though I will happily indulge in a decent mix of China teas such as Whittard’s Russian Caravan. Another pretty good cup of tea can be made from English Breakfast which is blended from teas grown thousands of miles apart. However, being mostly strong teas with a fair degree of tannin, they all require milk. Therein lies the problem. I weaned myself off full fat milk and sugar in tea decades ago, semi skinned is the way to go. Try and equate this to a decent milk powder and it becomes a struggle. The usual, thinner powders just simply do not produce a decent flavour while the better alternative, such as Nido, an excellent full fat milk powder that works great with granola, porridge and the like, makes a greasy, scummy cup of tea that makes me retch.

So, after thirty years of making, or attempting to make, my standard cuppa in the field, I am searching for a palatable alternative. It has to be either a more mild black tea that can be drunk without milk, such as a weak Lapsang souchong, or one of the green teas or infusions that proliferate these days. While many are ‘OK’, none particularly rock my boat and I have yet to find one that I truly enjoy, but the search goes on…

Tea bags

“Tell them about the Honey, Mummy”


Who recalls the above 1976 rallying call from the Honey Monster? A bit of nonsense really as the Sugar Puffs breakfast cereal (now called Honey Monster Puffs) that it advertised is mostly sweetened by Glucose-fructose syrup and sugar. The honey content was increased by 20% in 2015 and now provides a grand total of 3.6% of the ingredients!

The ideal breakfast, a pint of tea, porridge and honey

A pint of tea, porridge and honey. An ideal brekkie

Honey itself, is a product that sits at the near back of my kitchen larder to be pulled out on an infrequent basis, usually as an alternative to be scraped across toast or to sweeten porridge, more often to ease a sore throat when added to tea. It is a messy product that needs to be stored with a little care and as such, can be a tad awkward to take out as a meal additive when backpacking. However, it is possible and I would argue that honey makes a very useful addition to the food plan devised for the trail.

340g of Acacia honey in plastic squeeze bottle. 364g in total

340g of Acacia honey in plastic squeeze bottle. 364g in total

Honey is sugar, there is no getting away from the fact, some 53% is fructose, some nutrition experts suggest a daily fructose intake of no more than 25g; a teaspoon containing some four grams. Per 100g, Honey provides around 329kcal.

But that is not all of the story. It is well known that honey is one of the few foods that does not spoil in its edible state. Its antiseptic properties inhibit the growth of bacteria, also, being a sugar, it is hygroscopic. Few bacteria and micro-organisms can exist in the resultant low moisture environment and slightly acidic pH that averages 3.9.

For those that carry a minimal first aid kit, honey can assist in that regard too. While it is not my own personal first port of call, many swear by the effectiveness of honey in treating ailments such as athletes foot and pain from arthritis. It is excellent as a natural treatment for cuts, grazes, burns and as an anti-inflammatory, reduces pain and swelling. The digestive system is also aided by the antioxidant and anti-bacterial properties.

Disposable pouch of 100g Greek Honey. An ideal pack size. Total weight 108g

100g of Greek honey in disposable pouch. An ideal pack size. Total weight 108g

Some types of honey are more beneficial than others- there is the famed New Zealand Manuka, (the Manuka bush is a medicinal plant), Malaysia’s Tualang, Yemeni Sidr and European honeydew honey. All of these are noted for having higher anti-bacterial properties.  Another thing that can be found in honey is Clostridium botulinum, however this is no threat to anyone above the age of twelve months.

While it is possible to decant honey into one of the lightweight squeeze pouches available for liquid foodstuffs, a bit of searching can reveal some already ideally packaged in such a manner that the likelihood of spillages is much reduced. One method I have successfully used is to mix honey with peanut butter, a simply stunning mix.


Pooh bear


“The next morning we experienced our very first ‘full English breakfast,’ which consisted of tea, orange juice, cookies, oatmeal, granola, berries, bananas, croissants, grapes, pineapples, prunes, yogurt, five kinds of cold cereal, eggs, hash browns, back bacon, sausage, smoked salmon, tomatoes, mushrooms, beans, toast, butter, jam, jelly, and honey. I don’t know how the British do it.”

Jared Brock