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Explorers' Tales

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ShortList MODE’s Tom Bailey meets five of Britain’s most accomplished explorers and discovers that having hi-tech, protective clothing can be a matter of life and death

COLONEL JOHN BLASHFORD-SNELL, 76

Explorer and ex-British Army officer

The Darién Gap, Panamanian/Colombian border 7.9000° N, 77.4600° W

“In 1972 I led the first crossing of the Darién Gap, a 200-mile swathe of jungles, swamps and bandits. To speed things up we hired 10 murderers from the local prison – in return for a case of whisky. Anyway, I was upfront riding a mule – a bloody big animal – when it tripped and sent me flying into a tree. If I hadn’t been wearing my pith helmet, I wouldn’t be here today. It saved my neck again in 1994 when I was hunting marmots in Mongolia. A golden eagle landed on my head and I could feel its claws puncturing the cork structure; almost as terrifying as what it cost to repair the hat! Still, I’d rather repair it than my skull.”

LIFE-SAVING ITEM: Lock & Co pith helmet. It’ll protect you from the sun and birds of prey.

£195, lockhatters.co.uk

____________________________

LEVISON WOOD, 31

Explorer and former captain in the Parachute Regiment

The Grand Canyon, Arizona. 36.1000° N, 112.1000° W

“The Grand Canyon is one of hottest places on Earth and, despite being more than a mile deep in places, the temperature in August nudges 45 degrees. Never mind suncream, you can die without adequate water supplies. So when mine ran out during a trek in 2006, I feared the worst. The good news was that I was able to reach the Colorado River; the bad news was that it’s an undrinkable beast. I needed a filter so scooped some of the muddy water into my – admittedly sweaty – mid-thickness hiking sock. The result was hardly Evian, but it worked a treat – and saved me from ending up as a vulture’s dinner.”

LIFE-SAVING ITEM: Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew sock. A hi-tech, blister-free hiking sock. Suitable for rugged treks and filtering forebodingly brown canyon water.

£13.50, smartwool.com

____________________________

BEAR GRYLLS, 39

Explorer and survival expert

The Sumatran jungle, Indonesia. 0.0000° S, 102.0000° E

“As any scout will tell you, it’s essential to always be prepared, but in some survival situations, you get no forewarning. When this happens, you have to be resourceful. I once used my trousers to make a fishing net in the Sumatran jungle. I tied each leg closed and used vines to hold the waist open. It worked nicely, especially with sand dropped in over it to act as a bait stimulus. I soon had more fish than I could eat.”

LIFE-SAVING ITEM: Bear Survivor Trousers. Made from quick-drying, sun-protective material, they can double as a fishing net.

£30, craghoppers.com

____________________________

CHARLEY BOORMAN, 43

Explorer and travel writer

Ouarzazate, southern-central Morocco. 30.9167° N, 6.9167° W

“The Dakar Rally is the world’s toughest motor race; 16 days of madness across the African desert. I attempted it on a motorbike in 2006 – and was doing well until day five, when I hit a rock and lost the front end. All I could hear was a crunching in my right hand. Thankfully another biker saw me and helped me back on. I managed to hold on with my thumb and forefinger, but the other three fingers were crushed. The only thing holding them together was my Alpinestars glove. I rode another 400km to reach the doctor, who said, ‘You’ve broken both your hands, I’m not even sure if you’re going to be able to wipe your own arse.’ I managed a smile, but thank God for the gloves. If it hadn’t been for them, I’d still be picking up bits of my fingers in Morocco.”

LIFE-SAVING ITEM: Alpinestars Dual gloves. Made to withstand the thrills (and spills) of extreme rides.

£26, alpinestars.com

____________________________

LEO HOULDING, 33

Explorer and professional climber

Summit of Mount Everest, Nepal. 27.9881° N, 86.9253° E

“Clothing is a matter of life or death for climbers – particularly on Everest. In 2009, I was about 900m from the summit, shooting a film. I was in replica 1924 mountaineering gear: a First World War fighter pilot’s hat, goggles and layers of silk; not what I’d normally opt for in minus 25. It took ages to get the shot and by the time we got back to base, my lips were blue and my feet were white. I realised – to my horror – that frostbite was setting in. Thankfully, the crew had a Berghaus high-altitude down suit waiting – a onesie made from a duvet.”

LIFE-SAVING ITEM: Berghaus Ulvetanna Down Suit. Berghaus is launching this filled with goose Hydrodown in December.

£850, berghaus.com

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Blashford-Snell OBE, Boorman, Houlding and Grylls are members of the Champagne GH Mumm Cordon Rouge Club (ghmumm.com). Wood is an expedition guide; visit secretcompass.com

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