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Gear Report: Trevor Frost Tests the Airbender in the Ethiopian Highlands
Posted on December 22, 2014

Sunset over a valley within a plateau in the Ethiopian highlands. In the distance are farms, which belong to locals who grow potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables that do well in cold weather.

We’ve followed the trips and travels of Eddie Bauer adventure travel guide and National Geographic photographer Trevor Frost from Borneo to the Outback to the Serengeti. His stories are always compelling, and the locations he lands in are the true definition of adventure travel, whether deep in the jungle or isolated in the desert. So when Frost sends us a gear report, we trust his word on how our product performs. This is his detailed take, with the images to prove it, on how our Airbender survived for five rainy weeks while he was living in a tent in the Ethiopian Highlands.  —LYA Editor

Trevor Frost at work in his Stargazer tent in the Ethiopian Highlands. Each day Frost was taking between 3,000 and 5,000 pictures, so he spent a lot of time when not in the field working on photo editing. Was happy to have a comfortable place to work.

Words, Images and Captions by Trevor Frost

As a photographer and adventurer, I spend a fair amount of time dreaming of my next project, the next place, the next thing. A big part of that includes what gear to bring, whether cameras or tents. I need to make the adventure a reality and to bring back the story. I want gear that I don’t have to think about, gear that works.

Several months ago Eddie Bauer handed me an Airbender, a new sleeping bag with a built-in sleeping pad and water-repellent down. Most of my year, however, was spent in warm areas—the forests of Indonesia and the swamps of Australia—so I never had the chance to see how it performed.

Cue Africa, my favorite continent, where my latest adventure unfolded in Ethiopia. The scene: five weeks living in a remote research camp at 12,000 feet on a vast, windswept plateau along the edge of the famous Rift Valley.

The camp, composed of two large canvas tents for cooking and relaxing, was quite simple, even in comparison to the places I was living on assignment for National Geographic this summer in the jungles of Borneo. Because communal space was limited, and electricity nonexistent, most of us spent a good deal of free time in our tents.

My weapon of choice on the tent front was the Stargazer 2 Tent. On one side of the tent I placed the Airbender and the other held all my gear, which included a Maximus 150 Duffel, two Pelican cases with 4 cameras and 11 lenses, and a big Tahoma 75 Backpack.

 

During our first 15 days we had more rain than had ever been recorded during the entire month of October. Large pools of water formed under my tent, the vestibule became a mud pit, and condensation formed on the tent walls. It was an assault.

And at that altitude the rain was so strong—and at such an angle—we didn’t leave camp for three days. Everything was wet. There was no stopping it. The best tent in the world couldn’t have kept you dry. Just walking from my tent to the kitchen tent and back again soaked me to the bone, which in turn soaked everything inside.

I went to sleep in a wet bag each night, which I’d done before on other trips, only this time I have no other memory of the nights because I woke up each morning completely rested and ready for the day. Not long after the flooding, the rain stopped as abruptly as it started and we were back to work. When you’re taking photos, especially when National Geographic is watching, your mind is devoted, obsessed really, with combining light and moments in a rectangular frame. Sounds simple, right?

A casualty of this is that your tent and gear and clothes are neglected, because nothing else matters. Things are destroyed, with the exception, one hopes, of cameras and hard drives. Naturally, I was skeptical of the built-in sleeping pad. I looked it over carefully when I was packing, so I could determine whether I should bring an extra pad. This wasn’t unfounded worry either, because on every trip I find myself either patching a Therm-a-Rest or needing a new one. They always deflate on me in the middle of the night.

In the end, I brought just the Airbender, and after 35 days of abuse (three people sitting on it looking at photos, mud, rain, sharp sticks, camera gear, small rocks, etc.): not a hole, not a problem, which was good because after Africa I spent a week in Paris, where I slept on the floor in my Airbender so my mom could have the bed in our hotel room. From the remote reaches of Africa to a hotel on the Champs-Élysées, the Airbender outdid itself, and I’m looking forward to my next trip with it, which will be the Indian Himalayas with a good friend in the new year. Stay tuned.

 

Author: - Monday, December 22nd, 2014
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