The Blog (archived)

All posts in chronological order, as originally published
Page 2

Spare A Thought For Gascoyne Junction

Saturday, February 7, 2009

South-eastern Australia has endured a lot of extremely hot weather recently. It’s also been extremely well reported by the national news media; so well that anyone could be excused for thinking it hasn’t been hot anywhere else. Not so - it has been hotter elsewhere, and for longer, but it just doesn’t make the news.

I don’t mean to downplay the heat in the east. Adelaide’s record six consecutive days over 40°C (104°F), with a peak of 45.7°, is very hot. Melbourne had a record three consecutive days over 40°C last week, and today reached 46.4°. That is serious heat!

But consider the small town of Gascoyne Junction, inland from carnarvon on the central coast of Western Australia. This is what the folks there have been quietly enduring over the last six weeks:

  • Over 40°C for 22 consecutive days, followed by one day of “only” 39.8°, then over 40° for a further 11 consecutive days.
  • Average overnight minimum temps for January: 26.6°
  • Average maximum temps for the whole of January: 43.3°
  • Hottest day: 48.6° (119.5°F)
  • So far this month: over 40° every day (average 44.3°)
  • Forecast temperatures for the next six days: between 44° and 48° each day (as shown below)
  • Relief in sight: none
  • National media coverage: none

Weather forecast for Gascoyne Junction, Western Australia, Feb 2009

The news section of the WeatherZone website has been swamped with reports of heat in the east, but heat in Gascoyne Junction and other places like it barely rates a mention - even though the above temperatures are considerably above average. Remoteness and small population could be a factor, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that most of our national news is generated by people living on the east side of the country, where most of the population is. I’ve often noticed this bias; even hot spells in Perth don’t seem to be as newsworthy as hot spells in Adelaide, despite Perth’s higher population and usually hotter weather (except recently).

Whatever heat we suffer in the capital cities, we should spare a thought for those in places like Gascoyne Junction … where the weather is even hotter, but not as newsworthy.

Update Feb 9th:
I must emphasise that my comments relate to purely weather-related news. Since writing the above, devastating bushfires fanned by the heat in Victoria have killed at least 131 people and destroyed over 700 homes - obviously heat-related tragedy on this scale deserves much attention, as well as our prayers and support.


How Green Is Your Nozzle?

Saturday, January 31, 2009

You may have read that you can save water and be environmentally friendly by converting to a water-saving shower nozzle - one which restricts the flow of water so you use less of it per shower. Is that true, or is it just a load of marketing propoganda used by tap companies to make money out of people’s concern for the environment? I have doubts about how green these low-flow nozzles really are.

I grew up with the old “water guzzling” shower nozzles, but when I moved into my current home I found it had a low-flow water saving shower nozzle. At first I thought this was a good thing - by saving water in the shower I’d be doing the planet a favour, and my green halo would shine brighter. Alas, it didn’t work like that.

A shower flowing fast enough to wash quicklyBy limiting the water flow to what seemed like a pathetic trickle, it was taking me nearly twice as long to wash properly. Even after much practice, this didn’t reduce much. The saving in water flow was nearly being cancelled out by the extra time I needed to have a proper shower! So much for slashing water usage.

But isn’t even a small saving good? Not necessarily, because it’s not just about the water … there’s the heating to consider too. My water is heated by an instantaneous gas heater, which heats on-demand as the water flows through it (for very low use this is more efficient than a storage tank). It’s either on or off, and burns gas according to how long it runs. If the shower takes twice as long, then twice the gas is burned.

To put it in numbers, I estimated that using a low-flow nozzle might have halved the water flow rate, but led to an increase in shower times from 6 minutes up to 10 minutes. The result: I was using only 16% less water, but burning 66% more gas!

That’s not what I’d call environmentally friendly. Gas is a non-renewable fossil fuel which can’t be replaced, and burning it adds CO2 to the atmosphere. Water, on the other hand, is comparatively replaceable. What goes down the drain ends up as groundwater or seawater, which can eventually be used again somewhere.

But wait, there’s more! Often overlooked is the environmental cost of producing all this shiny new tapware. Materials such as iron ore have to be dug out of the ground, transported to where they are processed into stainless steel and whatever else goes into tapware, transported again to a factory for manufacture, enclosed in packaging materials (which have undergone transport and processing of their own), then distributed to the retailers. Simply putting a new shower nozzle into a shop consumes energy, fossil fuels and finite resources.

This cost may be justified if buying a new nozzle or tap is the only option - when the old one has failed, or when building a new home. But if the old one still works, the environmental cost of buying a new one probably outweighs the questionable benefit of saving a little bit of water.

In the end, my inherited low-flow nozzle deteriorated to the point where I had to replace it. I reverted to a high-flow nozzle and noticed a substantial reduction in my shower times and gas consumption. I use slightly more water in the shower, but still have a green conscience because I save water in other ways, like washing my car only once per year.

So are low-flow shower nozzles any good? If you have solar heating or a hot water storage tank (not instant hot water), AND you can somehow shower just as quickly and effectively with a lot less water, AND you need to buy a new nozzle anyway, then changing to a low-flow nozzle might be worthwhile and green. Otherwise we’d probably be doing the environment a favour by sticking with the plumbing we already have and not buying so much new stuff. There are other ways to save water which don’t have environmental costs … and if you really want to shower with less water, just turning the taps down a bit can often work.


Augusta Bakery Takes The Cake

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Augusta Bakery and Cafe, Western AustraliaOne of my all-time favourite bakeries is in Augusta, a pleasant small town on the southwest corner of Western Australia. Having not visited that part of the world for about four years, I recently returned to see if the bakery is still as good as it was, or even if it was still there.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, as small businesses seem to close or change ownership with alarming regularity, and even when they don’t, high standards can sometimes fall. The bakery at Augusta has been around since 1948, and I couldn’t imagine it going downhill, but in today’s economic climate longevity doesn’t always mean a lot.

Inside the Augusta BakerySo it was with relief as well as joy that I found the Augusta Bakery to not only still be there, but still up to the very high standard it maintained when I first started eating there. In the interests of thorough research I sampled from across their range, and enjoyed their superb wholegrain rolls (without any fillings) just as much as the mini quiche and the perfect caramel tart. My original request for “One of everything, please” wasn’t taken seriously by the staff, which was for the best - the variety is large, as my belly would have been if I’d sampled everything!

The bakery has a small cafe attached which serves its own creations (which I didn’t try) as well as the bakery goods. As if the food isn’t enough, delectible edibles can be enjoyed with a coffee while gazing out the panoramic windows at the view over Flinders Bay. It’s a winning combination which deserves to succeed and endure.

Paper bag from Augusta BakeryThe only change I noticed is that the Augusta Bakery now uses paper bags with their name printed on them, rather than plain unmarked bags. As a collector of printed bakery bags, it was pleasing to at last have a decent bag from my favourite bakery to add to my collection. You could say it was the icing on the cake … or the chocolate on the eclair.


Hanging Onto Things Which Might Be Useful

Monday, January 12, 2009

Some people can easily throw things away. Others, like me, like to hang on to things which might come in handy one day - even if that day is a very long way down the track. I’ve just enjoyed one such example of delayed usefulness which justifies hanging onto things … for a long time!

Most years letterboxes in my area are graced with a few small promotional calendars given away by politicians or real estate agents. They are envelope-sized cards which have small magnetic strips on the back, for sticking on the fridge. I throw away most of the calendars, but not before peeling the magnetic strips off the back and saving them - because they might come in handy one day.

Fifteen years after I started collecting these little magnets, I’ve finally found a use for them.

Fridge-magnet bean stock indicatorAs shown in the photo, they help me to keep track of what types of green coffee beans I have in my cupboard, and roughly how much of each type I have left. Printed labels for each coffee are stuck to the magnetic strips, and positioned to indicate roughly how much is left in each bag. It’s much easier than sorting through a growing mountain of cotton bags piled on top of each other to see what’s there.

When I began collecting them I had no idea what the little magnets might be used for - just a conviction that their potential to be useful justified keeping them. Their usefulness may have taken many years to eventuate, but that’s no obstacle to a true collector. It just proves what I always suspected: as long as storage space isn’t an issue, nothing potentially useful should be thrown away in case it might be useful one day.

Even if that one day is a long time coming!


The Five Best Books I Read In 2008

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It’s the time of year for reviewing things, and after pondering the books I read in 2008 (48 of them - it was a good reading year), I’ve come up with my favourites. Here, listed in the order I read them, are the five books which were most memorable for me in 2008:

Book covers

1. Going To Extremes: mud, sweat and frozen tears by Nick Middleton
The author - a rather adventurous guy - describes his visits to the world’s hottest, coldest, wettest, and driest inhabited places. It was an enjoyable mixture of travel, adventure and science: fascinating to learn how people have adapted to living in hostile climates, both physically and psychologically, and why they bother. Oymyakon in Siberia is now on my travel wish-list.

2. The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett
I never imagined myself enjoying a historical novel, but my quest to read all of Ken Follett’s books led me to this one. Centred around the building of a cathedral in a 12th century English village, this epic tale is one of Follett’s most popular. After more than 1100 pages, and a story spanning several decades, I found myself totally absorbed in the characters and also the well-researched medieval setting.

3. In Praise Of Slow: how a worldwide movement is challenging the cult of speed by Carl Honore
The book’s blurb says “The Slow movement is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace; it is about living better in the hectic modern world by striking a balance between fast and slow.” Honore challenges our culture’s assumption that faster is better, and shares examples of the many ways people have slowed down, and lived better because of it. I’ve often thought that an obsession with speed was counterproductive, so it was reassuring to read a book that explains why.

4. To The Poles (without a beard) by Catharine Hartley
Catharine Hartley was a 34 year old Chardonnay-sipping London girl with no previous polar experience, who wondered if an amateur like herself could walk to the south pole. Not only did she do it, becoming the first British woman to walk to the South Pole, but she followed it up by trekking to the north pole as well. Reading this humorous account of what can be achieved with willpower was inspiring, as you’d expect. The candid way she shared what was going on in her mind and heart made it delightfully different from all the other polar exploration stories I’ve read, which were written by men (with beards).

5. Dirt Music by Tim Winton
This was the first novel I’d read by acclaimed West Australian author Tim Winton, and I found it hard to get into. The style was easy enough to read; it was just very different from other authors I’ve read. But it was worth persisting, and the vivid way Winton describes characters and landscapes made me feel like I’d been to the fictional coastal town much of the story is set in. Some of the impressions from this novel lingered long after I finished reading, a bit like the aftertaste from an intense and really good espresso


Happy New Year, Unless You’re Ethiopian

Thursday, January 1, 2009

If you live in a country which uses the Gregorian calendar - that’s most of us - today is January 1st 2009. Happy new year to you all! However, because the internet reaches all countries, and because I’m a little pedantic, I must point out that not everyone starts their year at the same time.

If you’re in Ethiopia, then today is Tahisas 23, 2001. Tahisus (approximate translation only) is the fourth month of the year in Ethiopia where the Julian calendar operates, and where new year happens on what most of us experience as September 11 (or September 12 in years prior to leap years).

Ethiopian coffee growers
Ethiopian coffee growers -
producing great coffee, but
not celebrating new year today

To people in east Asia observing the traditional Chinese calendar, today is just another day in the year 4706. The date of the Chinese new year varies with the new moon, the next one being January 26th 2009.

Residents of Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura are still plodding through year 1415 of the Bengali calendar, and won’t start their new year until April 15th (April 14th for those in Bangladesh). The rest of India uses the Indian national calendar which starts on March 21st.

The northern spring equinox - March 21st - is also used as the start date for the Iranian calendar. This is observed in Iran and Afghanistan, where today is nearing the end of the year 1387. The Bahá’í calendar starts on the same day, though for them the year is still 165. Just to be different, Assyrians are currently in the year 6758, and celebrate new year on April 1st, whereas the North African Berber people start their year on what to most of the world is January 14th.

These are just a few examples of the world’s calendar diversity, and to further complicate matters, countries such as China and India observe the dominant Gregorian calendar as well as their own traditional calendars … good for international consistency, but could cause some confusion.

Even if today is January 1st, pinpointing exactly when the year began isn’t always straightforward. Consider the folks at the Antarctic research base on the south pole … at the point where all time zones converge. They use New Zealand time for convenience, but midnight must seem a bit meaningless where the sun neither rises nor sets.

If today is January 1st where you are, then I wish you a happy new year. For anyone else, I’ll draw upon my training from when I once worked at McDonalds, and just say “have a nice day”.


More One-Sided Weather Reporting

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Back in September I wrote a blog post about some record cold weather in Australia, and how it was largely overlooked by news media obsessed with global warming stories (see "If Global Warming Worsens We Could Freeze"). A perfect example of this media bias popped up today.

WeatherZone News published a story titled “Global warming may be behind hot NT weather“, which began:

The Bureau of Meteorology says high temperatures recorded across the Northern Territory this month may be indicative of global warming.
Average daily temperatures were 1.75 degrees above the mean for October.

As before, I’m not commenting on the validity of global warming, just the lack of balance in reporting on it. Record, or near-record, cases of below-average temperatures are happening all the time. If they get reported at all, they are treated as natural variations which don’t mean anything, and without any links being made to climate change.

Nobody suggested that temperatures up to 2 or 3 degrees below average in much of Australia in August indicated global cooling. But when we get a similar variation on the warm side of normal, affecting one state in one month, our weather agency tells us it “may be indicative of global warming”.

Some people, including many scientists, believe the global warming issue is a hoax or conspiracy, at least in part. I’m undecided, but the blatant media imbalance is enough to make me wonder if there could be a hidden agenda … and the more one-sided news stories I see, the more I wonder.


Concord To A380 - Some Things Never Change

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Airbus A380 visiting Perth AirportWay back in the 1970s, the first flight to Australia by the Concord was a big event. I remember being excused from primary school by my dad to go to Sydney airport and see the arrival of this supersonic airliner. Three and a half decades later, some things haven’t changed much. I am once again a student, and again went to see the historic arrival of an impressive new aircraft - the Airbus A380 on its first trip to Perth.

The aircraft in question is the first Airbus A380 - the largest passenger plane ever built - purchased by Qantas. Yesterday it flew into Perth as part of a pilot training exercise and national publicity tour. As with the Concord all those years earlier, a large crowd turned out to watch it land and get a closer look at a groundbreaking aircraft which has been in the news. The photos show it parked at Perth airport yesterday.

Airbus A380 visiting Perth AirportIn perfect spring weather the plane flew low and majestically above the airport and across the city, then impressed the crowd with a neat and gentle landing. I should confess here that I find the landing of large aircraft to be a particularly stirring sight. Until now a Boeing 777 landing has moved me the most, but the A380 is at least as impressive. That such a massive and powerful vehicle, flying at high speed, can touch down so gently and precisely is quite remarkable, and a sight to savour … or at least it is for me!

Some boys may lose their fascination with cutting edge aircraft as they grow older, but not me. Judging by the size and enthusiasm of the crowd at Perth airport yesterday, I’m not alone.


Another Benefit Of Drinking Coffee

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Like other coffee enthusiasts, I see many pleasures and benefits in drinking quality coffee. Now I can claim another one, although in this case it’s other people who benefit from this drinking habit.

I buy green (raw) coffee beans through an Australian website known as CoffeeSnobs, and roast them myself. Last year Andy Freeman, the guy who runs the site, started a scheme whereby fifty cents from every kilogram of beans sold goes into a fund he calls “Fair Crack”. The idea is that whenever enough money builds up, it is spent on projects which directly benefit small growers of specialty coffee.

It’s a way for coffee enthusiasts to give something back to the growers of the coffee, who only get a small cut of the final price and sometimes struggle to survive. CoffeeSnobs members have overwhelmingly embraced the idea.

Tanzanian coffee growers
One of the CoffeeSnobs pulpers will be used
in this building in Njari-Rononi, Tanzania.
Outside are some of the 68 coffee growers
who will use it. Photo: Bente Luther-Medoch.

The first project has recently been announced (full details here), and the beneficiaries are small coffee farmers near the southern slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Two villages will each be provided with a pulping machine - processing equipment they would probably not have been able to access otherwise. Shared by all the independant farmers in the area, these will enable them to take a superior grade of bean to market and receive a higher price. Scales and fermentation tanks are also being provided for communal use.

There are a number of things to like about this:

  • Farmers should get a higher price for their beans, making their businesses more viable.
  • 68 farmers will be helped by the pulper in one of the villages. This also benefits their families, and their communities.
  • It contributes to the growth of the specialty coffee industry in Tanzania.
  • Admin costs are zero: 100% of the funds hit the ground in Tanzania

Although the money comes from the purchases of CoffeeSnobs members, it is by no means a sacrifice:

  • The contributions per kilo of beans are small change for us, and hardly noticed.
  • Even with the contributions, buying green beans this way cost only about one quarter of the price of equivalent commercially roasted beans.
  • We get to enjoy superb coffee, roasted just how we like it, as fresh as you can get.

It almost sounds too good to be true, but it IS true. It’s great to know that win-win situations like this can really happen. I’m also encouraged that the business world contains people like Andy Freeman of CoffeeSnobs, who not only runs an excellent business, but uses it to do something good for others.

By a small coincidence, I happened to be drinking a Tanzanian coffee when I read about this project to assist Tanzanian growers. My coffee was from a different area, but who knows - some day I might get to drink coffee which passed through the pulper my purchases helped (very slightly) to fund. The thought adds an extra level of enjoyment to my coffee drinking habit … and makes me want to buy more coffee.


How To Get 400000km From One Car

Monday, September 22, 2008

My car has just driven its four hundred thousandth kilometer. This is a great distance for any car to travel - much more than I expected when I bought it 22 years ago - and I was so pleased I took this photo of the odometer to document the occasion.

Odometer showing 400000kmWhy am I so pleased? Having a reliable car is a great blessing, and not needing to regularly update to newer models has saved me a bundle of money. There’s also the satisfaction of not conforming. In Australia’s consumerist society it’s common to trade in a new car for a newer model every 5 years or so, because we are told it is more economical than driving an older car. Driving one car for as long as I have is the opposite of this, and I take pleasure in rebelling against consumerism in this way - especially when it saves me money!

I confess that my current engine and gearbox are second hand replacements … but the originals both lasted over 376000km - and that’s excellent service! With these two replacements behind me, there’s no good reason for the car not to clock up half a million km or more without further major work. I suspect the body will fall apart before the car stops working.

So what is the secret of getting long service from a car? In my case there is no secret, just plain old common sense:


  • Buy something decent
  • Look after it well with regular servicing
  • Drive sensibly

That may not sound exciting or fashionable, but it worked for me. The following also help:

  • Avoid comparing your own car with others. Depending on how yours rates in the comparison, this can lead to either envy or pride, neither of which are healthy.
  • Avoid paying attention to new car advertisements and car salesmen. If your own car is mechanically sound and meeting your needs, why let yourself be tempted by the lure of something you have been happily doing without up to now?
  • Think about what you really need from a car. If its prime purpose is to get from A to B reliably and comfortably, and it’s doing that, does it really matter if there are scratches, dents, and rust spots? Duct tape can cover a multitude of cosmetic inadequacies!

If your car is unsound or uneconomical, replacing it can be sensible. But if you can be content with something functional but not necessary glamorous, you might be surprised, like me, to find how long it will last.


If Global Warming Worsens We Could Freeze

Monday, September 8, 2008

We’re told that global warming is a fact, and the earth is getting hotter at an accelerating rate. And yet … much of Australia has just experienced one of the coldest months ever recorded. Here are some facts about Australia’s weather in August 2008 which are unlikely to get a mention in any global warming news story.

[Note to foreign readers: August is winter in Australia, temperatures are in degrees celcius]

  • New South Wales - 2nd coldest August on record for minimum temperatures and 5th coldest for mean temperatures (statewide averages). Cold records broken in 29 locations.
  • Sydney - coldest August since 1944
  • Tenterfield - coldest August night on record (-9.5)
  • Glen Innes - coldest August night on record (-8.4) and coldest night (in any month) for 36 years
  • Orange - 10 consecutive days below 8 degrees for the first time in 17 years.
  • Tamworth - coldest night in 16 years of records (-6)
  • Murwillumbah - coldest night on record (-1.4)
  • Queensland - colder than usual throughout, minimum temperatures up to 3 degrees below long term averages in the south-east and nearby parts.
  • Burketown - temperature fell to 5 degrees for the first time in 24 years
  • Coolangatta - 10 consecutive mornings of 5 degrees or less (breaking the old record of six)
  • South Australia - temperatures significantly below average across the state; records for lowest August temperatures broken at Ooodnadatta and Leigh Creek.
  • Adelaide - second coldest August on record (only August 1951 was colder)
  • Launceston - lowest August average minimum temperature on record
  • Western Australia - mean temperatures below average (by up to 3 degrees) throughout, except for coastal strip in the west. Cold records broken in 11 locations.
  • Northam - coldest August night on record (-1.5)
  • Albany Airport - coldest August night on record (0.8)
  • Eyre - set a new record for the coldest temperature ever recorded in Western Australia (-7.2)
  • Mt. Hotham - 53 consecutive days in which the temperature didn’t rise above zero degrees: the longest unbroken stretch of subzero temperatures recorded in Australia

These cold extremes affected a large part of the continent, over an extended period - it wasn’t just a freak event in one place. I could also mention the great snow which has made this ski season in Australia one of the best in years. Snow records are likely to be broken in New Zealand. Further south, I’ve read that Antarctic sea ice has been more extensive than usual. You could say “If global warming gets any worse, we’ll all freeze!”

Lake Highway in Tasmania experienced
more snow, and for longer, when I
was there this winter

Of course one cold winter doesn’t disprove global warming (although there’s plenty more credible evidence to challenge it … but that’s another story). What this unusually cold month illustrates is the media’s lack of balance.

Whenever some unusually warm weather occurs, the media are quick to report it and associate it with global warming … often accompanied by that familiar footage of ice falling off the end of a glacier. However, news media are comparatively silent about all the unusually cold weather that also occurs. You may have heard the numerous predictions that Arctic sea ice would completely disappear by 2008. You are far less likely to have been told that, far from disappearing, there is instead up to 30% more Arctic ice at the end of August 2008 than one year earlier.

So next time you see a global warming media story telling us how hot it’s getting, just remember that we’re only being shown part of the picture.

Information is from WeatherZone News, Bureau of Meteorology and Global Warming Hoax.


Forced To Be Sociable In Church

Monday, August 18, 2008

Today I thought I’d have a whinge about the way many churches force people to be sociable in a widely disliked practice often referred to as “meet and greet”.

For those not familiar, it’s a brief time in a church service when the pastor says “turn and greet the person next to you” or “introduce yourself to someone you don’t know“, or something similar. The idea is to get people mingling, getting to know each other, forming relationships and building community. It’s a worthy goal, but the trouble is, it doesn’t work like that … certainly not in the minute or so allocated. Although some people like it, most find the forced sociableness to be contrived, superficial, unauthentic, awkward and uncomfortable.

Anybody capable of starting a meaningful conversation with a stranger is surely able to exercise this talent on their own, without any pushing. Those of us who are a bit shy and introverted (like me) are extremely unlikely to make a friend or have any meaningful social interaction with a stranger in less than a minute. Especially when the band plays loud enough to make conversation difficult without megaphones and ear trumpets! It achieves little for the non-outgoing (other than discomfort), and I cringe to think how visitors not used to the practice might feel.

I’m not the only one to express this thought, as commented on in another blog (here, 10th paragraph down). Even socially adventurous people may have their off days, when they can do without being forced to make small talk.

To get this gripe out of my system, I visited the Church Sign Generator website and came up this sign for a fictitious introvert-friendly church:

Fake church sign

In case the image doesn’t show, the sign text reads:
“Holy Hermit Church for Shy Folk
no meet & greet
no forced mingling
non-threatening for the timid and introverted”


Lightweight One-Bag Winter Travel Challenge

Monday, August 11, 2008

Travelling light is growing in popularity, especially using a single bag which qualifies as airline carry-on luggage. But is travelling this light really practical for a winter trip needing bulky warm clothing and hiking gear? To find out, I took up the challenge on a recent trip to Tasmania.

There are some good websites with great tips on one-bag travel (see links below). However they seem to be geared mainly to people travelling in mild climates (or in summer), staying in hotels, and doing typical sightseeing. They address challenges like keeping a smart shirt uncreased, but little is said about budget travel in winter, or how to travel light with bulky blizzard-proof hiking clothes. You could be excused for thinking that such travel is not considered lightweight.

My goal was to meet airline carry-on limits AND have sufficient gear to survive winter hiking in Tasmania. As well as personal effects for three weeks, I needed clothing to keep me warm in temperatures down to -10°C, plus protective jacket and pants to keep me dry in driving rain or snow and gale force winds. It all needed to fit Virgin Blue’s carry-on luggage restrictions of a single 105cm bag (19 x 13 x 9 inches) weighing up to 7kg (15.4 lb) plus one personal item.

Getting all the needed gear to fit this size was tricky … but it worked! In the end I took a total of 8kg. By carrying my wool jacket as a personal item, and wearing my camera and PDA in various pockets, the bag was kept to 7kg. I enjoyed temperatures down to -10°C, went walking in snowstorms, and had enough gear in my little bag to keep me warm and dry.

Warm clothing - looseSo how did it all fit? The key was squashing the bulky clothing in a compression sack - a small sack normally used to store a sleeping bag, with straps on the outside which enable it to be tightly compressed. I folded all the warm clothing (gloves, hat, thermals, jumper, fleece vest and pants, goretex pants and jacket), stacked it in a brick-shaped pile inside the compression sack, then pulled the straps very tightly to squash it into a small, dense package. Chucked in loose, this clothing would have filled most of my carry-on bag, but when compressed it neatly fit one end - the photos show the difference.

Warm clothing - compressedI confess that I didn’t need to take a sleeping bag, which helped (one was provided with the campervan). A sleeping bag could have fitted - but at the expense of a slightly larger carry-on bag (the maximum allowed), and the leaving behind of the goretex jacket and pants. Lightweight one-bag cold weather travel would still have been possible with a sleeping bag as long as hiking in wind and rain, or blizzards, wasn’t on the agenda.

Those interested/obsessed in the details can view my packing list (which shows item weights in grams). See it not as a packing guide, but rather just as an example of what worked for me. Your needs will differ from mine. For example, I am a short haired male with no need for hair care items or cosmetics. I grew a beard and left my shaver at home. My mobile phone also stayed at home (it is possible to survive without one!), and I didn’t go anywhere requiring dressy clothing.

Having found that cold weather budget travel can be done with one lightweight carry-on bag, I don’t think I could go back to carrying heavy loads … unless I needed special gear like camping equipment or snowshoes. Besides the practical benefits, it felt liberating to travel with such a small load and yet still have with me everything I really needed.

Some good websites about lightweight one-bag travel:
One Bag - the art and science of travelling light
One Bag, One World - tips & techniques for light travellers
The Travelite FAQ - travel packing tips

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