After many years of hibernation, the little echidnas from Monotreme Extreme came out of retirement to cobble together some gear for Kim and Gayle’s most awesome adventure. It has been quite a while since Kim’s little friends have had anything to do.
The first bits of kit off the production line were front roll bags to strap to the handlebars of our bikes. The goal was to come up with a light storage solution for our sleeping gear that mounted on the front of our bikes. After a bit of time flitting around the web looking at what was available on the market, the decision was to make a double ended bag that strapped directly to the handlebars. The dual end was chosen to allow the load to be balanced evenly across the bars. Like all good projects there was a bit of design and construct as we went along. This included little things like making sure that the seam in the bag faced down when finished and that the ends of the bag had a Velcro seal to help with closing the bags for rolling up. There was only a small amount of blue language and unpicking required before the first bit of Monotreme Extreme Munda Biddi gear was rolling off the production line.
The great thing about setting up two bikes for the adventure was been the chance to do everything at least twice. This usually resulted in a slight improvement in design or technique, but was not always the case. There were times when the end result on the subsequent bit of gear didn’t look quite as good as the first.
The second big ticket item to be built was an ultra light down quilt. In our searches for ways to reduce weight for the trip, we kept seeing that quilts were all the rage in the ultra light weight camping fraternity. Gayle thought that a quilt might be a solution to her temperature fluctuations throughout the night too. So Quilt Design 101 was undertaken. We soon learned that there were many parts to a quilt that determine how it performs in the wild.
One of the most important parts of a quilt is the amount and style of insulation that will be used. There are basically two types of insulation to consider – synthetic or down. Synthetic has the advantage that if it gets wet it is relatively easy to dry, while Down is very compact, lightweight and able to loft (get all puffy and keep you warm). We have had Down sleeping bags for years without any issues so thought that would be the way for us to go this time. There are some cool equations on the web that give a rough correlation between how much loft you have in a quilt and what temperature you might be able to tolerate in it. Sourcing Duck or Goose Down in Far North Queensland is a bit challenging (Gayle’s ducks started to look very nervous). After reviewing a lot of blogs, I found several sources of “Treated Down”, mainly in USA and one in Australia.
The next most important part of a Down quilt is a shell to contain the down. Again our trusty search engine pointed us in the right direction. It is imperative that the shell material be calendared (a process that seals the fabric to prevent the down making a great escape). Quilt shell fabrics come in various weights. As we were to learn, lighter weight fabrics are softer and more delicate, while heavier fabrics offer slightly more warmth.
It wasn’t until we started sourcing materials that we encountered the question of what sort of “Footbox” to use. As the name implies, the Footbox is the area at the bottom of the quilt where your feet go. We had initially thought that a quilt would be like that heavy woollen bit of gear we pull out each winter and throw over our bed (ie – flat). We learned that the Footbox has a very important function in a light weight quilt in that it stops the quilt slipping away in the night not to found again until morning. The weight of a set of legs also helps to pin the slippery little devil down and makes defending ownership from fellow tent dwellers a bit easier. So the quest for the ultimate Footbox began. We settled for a Footbox design that would allow the quilt to be used flat as well as closed up like a sleeping bag. We made our Footbox close to the knee with OmniTape, a style of Velcro that has both hooks in loops in the one tape which is not as scratchy as the hooks only part of regular Velcro.
With all the technical stuff sorted, Kim set off on the adventurous task of building quilts. With a little bit of planning, the quilts were quite simple sewing (all straight seams), with some fiddly techniques like stuffing the whole sleeping quilt into the last baffle before being turned right side out. There were a few anxious moments, especially working out how to get the fluffy down stuff from the plastic packet into its nylon cocoon without filling the house with floating bits of down. The solution – use the vacuum cleaner. The end result was two quilts that are much too warm for tropical use, but should be just fine in the sub Antarctic regions of Southern Western Australia.
The other major items that were built were the rolls for on top of the rear pannier racks. These were similar to the front rolls, but only opened at one end and had a round base with a tail light strap.
The total gear making count was 2 x Front Rolls, 2 x Back Rolls, 1 x Map pocket, 2 x Ultra Light quilts, two sets of trouser alterations, countless stuff sacks and many more webbing straps.
With all of the sewing completed, and a few road tests, all of the gear seemed to work as planned. The only thing that remained was a thousand kilometres of product testing.
The Monotreme Extreme echidnas are very proud of their work.