Trans-Rift equipment test – what worked, what didn’t

For three weeks – a one-week recce and two-week safari – we put three vehicles and a bunch of ancillary equipment through a working test in the African bush. Roads ranged from 40 kilometers of the worst corrugations I have ever personally encountered (the Meshanani Road to Amboseli) to stretches of bull dust that raised clouds thick enough to change climate.


We had three Land Cruisers: an HJ45 with a 2H diesel, an FJ43 (think slightly stretched FJ40) with a petrol F engine, and an HJ75 with a 2H diesel (I believe Toyota stuck with the 2H in the 70 Series in Africa for some time before transitioning to the more modern and powerful 1HZ).

The diesels ran perfectly throughout the trip (although the 45 had serious smoking issues on ascents). They barely sipped fuel—when we filled tanks the petrol 43 took as much as both diesels despite the fact that they were much heavier vehicles. The 43 had two incapacitating incidents. The right rear drum brake, which had received new shoes prior to the trip, was adjusted too tight and slowly seized solid on the first day out as heat expanded the assembly, so we pulled the wheel and backed off on the adjusters.

On the third day the 43 would not start; investigation revealed a broken points spring. I replaced the points from the spares kit, set the gap by eye (long experience, but a matchbook cover works well for this, too) and the engine ran perfectly the rest of the trip. However, I noticed a lot of play in the distributor shaft, a common problem on old F distributors, and we later heard the new points had also broken after we returned the vehicle, so I suspect that could be the cause. I suggested to the owner that he replace the F distributor with the later, and vastly superior, large-cap 2F distributor.

The only other vehicle issue was a set of spectacularly degraded door seals on the 75 Troopie, which sucked in clouds of bull dust, especially on the passenger’s side. At times my view through the windshield was noticeably obscured, and Roseann resembled a silicon-based life form.

Other equipment

Our Filson medium duffel completed its—let’s see . . . seventh?—trip to Africa in fine style. Ground-in bush patina has all but erased its original olive color, but it continues to function perfectly. If you need a simple, one-compartment carryall that can take a beating, you can’t do better.

I carried a Leatherman Charge Ti multitool, which offers a near-perfect compromise between useful size and strength and reasonable weight. I did some tasks with it I would normally not consider, just for evaluation, and it did well on all.

I even tightened the nuts on a rear axle shaft on one of the Land Cruisers; they had worked loose and were flinging axle grease all over the wheel. When I checked the nuts later with a wrench, they were still perfectly tight.

(See Overland Journal Gear 2008 for a review of multi-tools.)

I had two Surefire flashlights along for review—a compact, lithium-powered (2 CR123) E2L Outdoorsman and a rechargeable, dual-reflector monster called the 10X Dominator.

The E2L has two settings—a three-lumen beam perfect for walking or reading, and a 60-lumen beam that proved bright enough to use on night game drives to look for eyeshine that reveals the proximity of animals. Since the run time is 100 hours on low and 11 on high, a single set of batteries was more than enough for the entire trip.

The Dominator recharges from either mains AC power or 12 volts. On low it has a 60-lumen beam equal to the high setting on the E2L, but twisting the body switch another 180 degrees unleashes a blistering 500-lumen searchlight function. A scattering of starlike eyeshine points discovered with the low beam turns into a starkly lit herd of 50 zebra on high. It was brighter, and displayed a much better pattern, than the “gazillion-candlepower” handheld spotlight used by the carnivore researchers we accompanied one night to look for a radio-collared lion.

For a sheath knife I carried a superb bushcraft design called a Skookum Bush Tool, made in Whitefish, Montana, by Rod Garcia. This stout, micarta-handled blade in A2 steel has a simple Scandinavian grind, which creates an extremely strong edge that is easy to sharpen, since the broad bevel lies flat on a stone to maintain a consistent edge. The knife is strong enough to split kindling using a technique known as batoning (using another piece of wood to hammer the blade into the end of the section you’re splitting, or even across the grain to cut it), and the flat pommel, which is TIG welded to the tang, allows the knife to be driven point first into material if needed. There is presently a waiting list for this knife, for good reason.

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