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Guest Blog: Tom “The Blowfish” Hird

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Tom “The Blowfish” Hird is a marine biologist, broadcaster and author. He is an Ocean Ambassador for the Marine Conservation Society, spokesperson for the Shark Trust UK and has recently also become an ambassador for the South African Shark Conservancy. Through filming work with the BBC Tom has been lucky enough to travel the world and visit some extreme locations. His passions lie in the water, with sharks being a key element of Toms life and conservation work. Follow him on Twitter @TheBlowfish

The world is a big old place, which paradoxically… couldn’t really get any smaller.

Within 24/36hrs you can be anywhere, with anyone, doing anything! Yes, you can just take it easy on the Costa del Sunburn, but travelling to somewhere new and unknown is far more rewarding IF you can overcome the challenges that await.

I’ve been to some far-flung places, not as many as some, maybe a few more than most, and the one thing that makes the difference in the trip is the gear you travel with. It’s the old, old story, fail to prepare… prepare to get your arse kicked!

Travelling to far-flung places

Now without oversimplifying things, I basically prep for two different climates. The bloody cold or the bloody hot. With that in mind, I tailor my kit to fit wherever I am heading. It’s also worth saying that while I have spent time away from the ocean, I’ve always got my eyes on the prize of getting wet in a different time zone, so there is some kit that never changes regardless of where I am going.

But I have often found that it is the smallest items that make the biggest difference wherever you travel. Here’s a little tale: A couple of years ago I travelled to Kenya, and my trip involved a spot of camping. Now, setting up camp in the African bush is an incredible experience: it’s amazing to be in such a terrific environment that is doing all it can to cook you, bury you or sting you in some way.

Travelling to Kenya

While I managed to avoid heat stroke and the stinging scorpions that seemed to frequent the path from camp to the latrine, one thing that did try my patience was the sand flies. These minute, buzzing specks of black would haunt any light source, big or small, once the sun had disappeared over the horizon. Due to the seemingly magnetic draw of artificial light to this fly plague, using a head-torch at night was a swift and dynamic affair. Switch on, check where you were, and off again before your face became a scribbled mess of wings.

Travelling to Kenya

My head-torch technique worked reasonably well, right up until the time when the rains fell on us in the night and I was required to leave my tent and deploy the cover flaps for the windows. Head-torch on and in the storming African rain, speed was the key ingredient, but my attempts to swiftly untie the cords binding the flaps were thwarted. Earlier, I’d had the superb idea of using those very same cords as a makeshift washing line, and had tied all my wet clothes to them so they’d be clean and dry in the morning.

Camping in Kenya

The socks, boxers and T-shirts were now blocking my goal of dropping the damn covers and getting back inside before the torrential rain made its way through to my intestines. And yet, it was at this moment of crisis that somehow, someway, the sand flies returned! Drawn by my head-torch, which was critical for task completion, the buzzing plague appeared like thick television static in front of my face. It was then, as I was being pummelled by rain, fingers pleadingly working at knots that refused to budge, that the flies started to enter my facial orifices like cowboys stampeding through a saloon door. I looked over and saw a friend performing the same task as me… but with a RED light coming from his head-torch, and 100% fly-free.

In that moment I realised just how important the small bits of kit could be, so my first purchase on returning home was a new head-torch, complete with red light option.

 

Petzl ACTIK multi-beam headlamp

Petzl Actik Head TorchSo the moral is to never underestimate the power of that small but mighty piece of kit. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it doesn’t have to be the latest tech, it simply needs to fill that critical niche for making your life that little bit easier.

Alongside my now fly-free head torch are a few other items that also always seem to fill that sweet spot between necessity and comfort.

 

Tusa Freedom HD MaskTuca Freedom HD Mask

I never travel anywhere without my mask. I think all divers would say that a comfortable mask is the holy grail of kit. You can always seem to muddle through with any old mashed-up set of dive gear, as long as you have a decent mask. Not to mention that this bad boy has a huge lens, so you can see things coming from as many angles as possible.

 

OverBoard Waterproof Phone Case

OverBoard Waterproof Phone Case

Another thing I don’t travel without, and let’s face it, not many of us even seem to be able to sleep without, is my phone. It’s an on-the-go office, a lifeline to emergency services, camera, compass and (most importantly) gives me access to updated cricket scores – you simply have to have a working phone when on tour.

OverBoard Waterproof Phone Case

Considering the amount of time I spend near, in or under water it would only be a split second before my phone went kaput, were it not for my waterproof case. This small bit of kit earns its keep on every trip, keeping my phone safe from salt water, rain, dust, sand, mud and even mysterious gunge from the bottom of my bag.

 

Collins SeaShore Guide

Collins Complete Guide to British Coastal Wildlife  

My copy is old, battered, and frankly I probably need a new one, but I always travel with a seashore guide. Collins has never let me down. Taking a nature guide with you, wherever you go, is always worth it, and I don’t think enough people do it. You wouldn’t go to a restaurant and just order something basic without looking at the menu – after all, who knows what wonders are available. It’s the same with a guide, be it flowers, trees, birds or insects, it doesn’t matter! It opens you up to the area you are visiting and allows you to really experience the world around you.

 

OverBoard Waterproof Dry Tube

OverBoard Waterproof Dry Tube

This simple but incredible tube has never failed me. It was strapped to my back as I swam in Lake Turkana, it’s travelled over the Arctic, been thrown around on the deck of a Peruvian squid boat and been happily filled with sandy kit after many a splash in South Devon. I bloody love it. Whether it’s protecting my kit from sand, or keeping wet cozzies and towels contained post-swim, it has always done the job. In fact, when we had to strip down to our most basic items for more extreme short trips, it has all gone in here. IF my little tube does one day give up on me (so far it’s nearly seven years old and been round the world twice) I intend to give it a Viking funeral befitting any worthy warrior.

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