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Eva

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Using weather forecasts

What is ‘weather’ and does it differ to ‘climate’?

“Sunshine is delicious,
rain is refreshing,
wind braces us up,
snow is exhilarating;
there is really no such thing as bad weather,
only different kinds of good weather.” John Ruskin

Weather forecasts are a handy tool for predicting future weather conditions and packing appropriate gear on a bushwalk. Knowing in advance if the trip will be particularly cool, hot, wet or dry means you can tweak your gear to best meet your needs.

In Australia, we are a land of extremes, from snow-capped peaks to arid desert conditions. Bushfire awareness is a key part of weather forecasting for us, as well as knowing when to pack warm clothes for Alpine conditions.

Of course, no weather forecast will ever be 100% reliable, but as technology improves, experts are better than ever before at predicting conditions. And technology like weather radars, maps and satellite images mean that you can get a fairly good idea into what to expect. Long-term datasets also enable walkers to select walks based on typical seasonal weather patterns so you can avoid (if you wish) camping out in the rainiest months of the year! As a general rule shorter term forecasts are more reliable than longer term forecasts. Forecast for the next 24hrs from a reputable source (such as BOM or NOAA) tend to be very reliable.

Dive into this topic by first learning more about weather and then how to check conditions before and during a bushwalk.

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Bites and stings

How to manage unexpected wildlife interactions

Don't let the same dog bite you twice. Chuck Berry

The terms ‘bite’ and ‘sting’ refer to when an animal or plant breaks the skin surface, potentially transferring germs or venom that can result in anything from a minor irritation to a severe medical condition.

We generally use the word ‘bite’ when it occurs with teeth (e.g. a dog bite), and sting when it occurs with another part of the body (e.g. a bee stings with a barbed stinger; a plant stings with tiny hairs on its leaves).

In the case of insect bites and stings, while both hurt, the difference in the two terms refers to whether any toxic venom is transferred. An insect bite occurs when the insect pierces the skin. Often the insect injects anticoagulant saliva so they can feed on your blood. By contrast, an insect sting is when the animal transfers toxic venom into your system, often as a defence mechanism.

While both can result in a pain, itchiness, or even an allergic reaction for some people, the causes are quite different. For an insect bite, our bodies are responding to the potential infection by the breakdown of the skin barrier and potential transfer of infectious agents from the insect (e.g. malaria transferred to humans via mosquito bites). For an insect sting, your body in addition to potential infection is dealing with a foreign toxic substance, that may have severe medical consequences. The same is true for spiders, although they are not if fact insects – a general misconception for many of us!

In the case of snakes, however, the term ‘bite’ can refer to both venomous and non-venomous attacks, however, for practical purposes all snakes bites are treated as venomous until proven otherwise.

And in the plant kingdom, ‘stinging’ plants have tiny needles that break off and lodge into the skin, causing extreme discomfort.

Having said all this, the chance of being bitten by a snake or spider on a bushwalk is relatively low. In Australia there are about 3,000 snake bites per year, of which 200 to 500 receive antivenom; on average one or two will prove fatal. By contrast, spider-related deaths are almost unheard of:although approximately 2000 people are bitten each year by Redback Spiders, there has only been 1 spider-related death since antivenoms for funnel web and redback spiders were developed in 1980s.

To put this in perspective, there were 1290 road crash deaths and fatal road crashes in Australia during only 2016 And in 2015, there were 45,392 deaths attributed to cardiovascular disease in Australia.

While fatal outcomes of bites and stings by Australian wildlife is unlikely, nevertheless, it’s worth having the knowledge and skill set to deal with unexpected situations in the bush because emergency medical help is often delayed.

Although the likelihood of getting bitten, stung or scratched by an animal on a bushwalk by an animal that will envenomate (or similar) is fairly low, there are some simple things that you can do to reduce that risk further. The information here is based on current guidelines from the NSW Health Direct website.

Some general advice for avoiding wildlife bites, scratches and stings, and good for mozzies too!

  • Wear long sleeved shirts and pants and closed-top shoes to cover up your skin and reduce the risk of bites.
  • Follow the Leave No Trace principles and leave wild animals be. Do not touch, corner or startle a wild animals, especially for the sake of a photo.
  • If you notice a wild animal, warn others in the group. If you can, wait for it to move off on it’s own accord or make a wide berth around the animal.
  • Insect repellant is great for preventing insect and leech bites.

DEET is an extremely effective way of avoiding insect bites including mosquito bites, and is particularly important in areas with known mosquito-borne diseases. The DEET (Diethytoluamide) chemical conceals us to insects by stopping the detection Carbon Dioxide, which we emit from our skin, a stimuli for blood feeding [1].

The Department of Medical Entomology at the University of Sydney & Westmead Hospital released the following guidelines for using repellants:

  • DEET repellants = recommended, but in different strengths depending on situation.
  • Plant-based repellents = good, but need to be reapplied regularly.
  • Wrist-band and patch repellents = ineffective.

Always check the label before applying insect repellent for instructions on how to apply and how often to reapply, and test it first on a small patch of skin before applying fully.

MORE INFORMATION
Health direct is a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information:
https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/bites-and-stings

Free app on to help identify and deal with bites and stings: http://www.seqirus.com.au/bites-app

Resources at the Australian Museum website (e.g. spider bites and venoms)

SPECIAL THANKS TO THE FOLLOWING EXPERTS FOR REVIEWING AND CONTRIBUTING MATERIAL TO THIS ARTICLE:

JOHN TURNBULL
Author of Marine Explorer and Ex-President of National Parks Association of NSW.

MARGOT LAW
Citizen Science Officer
National Parks Association of NSW

Ticks:
HENRY LYDECKER | PhD Candidate
School of Life and Environmental Sciences | Faculty of Science
The University of Sydney

Spiders:
FRAN VAN DEN BERG
Citizen Science Officer
National Parks Association of NSW

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Personal Locator Beacons

What they are and why to carry them

The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today. H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Personal locator beacons (PLBs) are devices that transmit your location via satellite to emergency services. They are used in life-threatening situations to signal that emergency help is required (e.g. group is lost, someone is injured or very unwell), and usually only activate when other forms of two-way communication such as a phone call cannot be made (e.g. group is out of mobile phone reception). PLBs are an important safety backup for groups traveling through areas with poor or no mobile phone reception, and have been proven time and time again to be a life-saving device for bushwalkers.

Glasses

Using glasses as a bushwalker

Glasses are probably the most common piece of adaptive equipment you will see bushwalkers using on a bushwalk. Broadly speaking, people that uses glasses are either long-sighted (meaning that they can see well in the distance but not up close) or short-sighted (meaning that they can see up close well, but not the distance). So bushwalkers that are short-sighted will struggle to see views but are fine reading a map, whereas it’s the opposite for long-sighted people.

Loss of vision can vary from being minor, where the user can easily cope without their glasses, through to near-complete vision loss without glasses. Interestingly, people that wear glasses are to varying degrees dependent on their glasses to function, in similar fashion to a person that uses a wheelchair as a piece of equipment to solve a mobility issues.

The interesting thing here is that we are so accustomed to glasses that we do not tend to consider people that wear glasses as having a disability, however, it’s worth noting that if a person that wears glasses does not have them, it can become a problem. Hence, here are some pointers to ensure that glasses are well-looked after on a bushwalk and that they continue to serve the user well.

  • Secure your glasses well: If you only use your glasses intermittently for reading, or your glasses are a bit loose, make sure to tie a cord around your glasses so you don’t accidently misplace them.
    Pack them away safely at night: put glasses away safely overnight in a glasses case so they don’t get squashed, or in a side pocket of the tent.
  • Keep as much rain off as possible: glasses become tricky to see out of in the rain. Avoid rain landing on the lenses by wearing a broad-brimmed hat or hood.
  • Consider other options: For some bushwalkers, contact lenses may be an alternative option on a bushwalk. It’s also possible to get prescription sunglasses, so this could also be worth exploring to see if these work for you too.
  • Carry a spare pair of glasses: if your vision is truly compromised without your glasses to the point where you would feel unsafe walking without them, consider carrying a spare pair of glasses as a backup in case of damage or loss of your primary pair of glasses.

Unfortunately, glasses are fragile, so there’s a chance that they will break on a bushwalk. If you can carry an old pair or a pair that you’re not too worried about getting scratched, then that’s a great option. If you do break a pair of glasses in the field, it’ll be challenging to do a sophisticated repair job, but you should be able to do a reasonable job with what’s in your first aid kit. Carefully collect all broken parts and use tape to bind them together (back home, take it to your optometrist for future repair options).

If you do lose your glasses on a bushwalk, the main thing there is not to panic. Stop and think. Recall where you last saw them, and if possible retrace your steps through where you’ve been since you last saw them. If you have no luck finding your glasses, then make use of your group for assistance out. Buddy up with another person that can point out obstacles such as logs and edges. You may even find that physically linking arms with another bushwalker if the way that you feel most safe tackling the track.

Hearing aids

Using hearing aids as a bushwalker

Hearing aids are also a relatively common piece of equipment among bushwalkers. Great to hear other people and be part of the social experience of bushwalking as well as hearing all of the wonderful sounds in nature like bird calls, frog calls and so on.

Things to be careful about:

  • Keep them clean.
  • Adjust settings to suit surroundings and background noise interference – i.e. wind noise (see https://deserthearingcare.com/blog/hiking-and-hearing-aids).
  • Store them away safely at night and when you aren’t using them.
  • Carry spare batteries.
  • Keep them dry: water damage can be detrimental to hearing aids, so always carry something with you that you can dry hearing aids overnight (moisture build up from sweat and dampness during the day https://deserthearingcare.com/blog/hiking-and-hearing-aids. If you are caught in rain it is best to remove hearing aids and place them in a waterproof container. If you cannot do this, keep them as dry as possible using a broad brimmed hat and rain jacket with hood. It is possible to purchase water resistant hearing aids, so if you are frequently in wet conditions, this may be an option. Or alternatively using a protective wrapping.

HearingDirect recommends the following actions if your hearing aid gets wet:

  • Use a dehumidifier for hearing aids during the night when you do not wear them. There are plenty of types available and you can ask your audiologist to recommend you some if you are unsure which one to choose. Popular devices are Amplicomms Dry Boxes and the Dry & Store to remove moisture.
  • Open the battery door, take out the battery and leave it to dry naturally. You can use a soft tissue to absorb visible moisture.
  • Turn to your audiologist for advice or take the hearing aid to a specialist as soon as you can to prevent further or irreversible damage.

Under no conditions use a hair dryer or put your hearing aid in a microwave or an oven.

Other resources:
https://brentwoodhearingcenter.com/blog/tips-for-hiking-with-hearing-aids
https://www.whiteblaze.net/forum/archive/index.php/t-116904.html
https://hikeitbaby.com/blog/hiking-with-hearing-loss/

Wheelchairs

Bushwalkers using wheelchairs

Bushwalking using a wheelchair is a lot of fun and helps you ‘get away from it all’. It means thinking through things a little differently in terms of carrying all camping gear as well as food, water and backup supplies in case of unexpected changes. This requires a bit of thinking around gear suitability, including how heavy and bulky the gear is as well as whether it suits the conditions.

Here we run through various types of adaptive equipment, selecting, using it, and looking after it.

We also have a separate post on safely providing people that use wheelchairs with assistance.

Equipment Wheelchair equipment

Manual wheelchairs users may consider the following alternatives or adaptations:

Below we summarise the adaptive equipment we used and the pros and cons and things we learnt.

  1. FreewheelTM

    A front wheel attachment that lifts the front casters of a manual chair off the ground. Lightweight and portable, an excellent option for travellers. Price approximately $800.
    Pros:

    • Lightweight and effective way to convert standard day chair into all-terrain setup.
    • Relatively cheap.

    Cons:

    • Can be quite fiddly to set up.
    • Set-up must be set to a specific chair (can’t easily swap and share).
    • Can be hard to get used to using for some, ideally practice and training is needed before using over long distances.

  2. BatecTM


    An electric power assistive front wheel for his manual day chair. The device clips onto the front footplate to raise the casters and be used on moderately rough terrain. The device is controlled similarly to a motorbike for steering and throttle and allows speeds up to 20km/h. Battery life depends on how fast it’s going and the surface.
    Pros:

    • Can carry a lot of extra gear.
    • Easily manages fire trails.
    • Limited strain on body due to power assist.

    Cons:

    • Battery life limits the distance you can go – need to be prepared with spare batteries if going a long distance.

  3. All-terrain Tyres
    Large and wider wheels and tyres which can be attached to a manual wheelchair. These come come in various sized and can be adapted to fit almost all manual wheelchairs. Allow for smoother and easier access over rocky and uneven surfaces, less prone to punctures, and grippier over wet, slippery surfaces. Approx $700 a set.
    Pros:

    • Easy access over uneven terrain.
    • Can attach to almost all manual wheelchairs.
    • Cost effective way of adapting a regular wheelchair into all terrain chair.

    Cons:

    • Another piece of equipment to purchase in addition to having regular wheels.

  4. Handcycle
    Recumbent or kneeling equipment powered by arms, or attachment to manual chair.
    Pros:

    • Less strain on body by using a pulling action rather than a pushing action to propel the chair (with option of power assist also in the case of a hybrid model).
    • Ability to load up gear on the front of chair.

    Cons:

    • Expensive equipment e.g. Batec hybrid ~$10,000 (but may be affordable for people with NDIS support or Lifetime Care Insurance).

  5. Mountain Trike
    All terrain outdoor wheelchair, which uses a pushing action to propel the chair. It can be used on the beach, off-road trails, snow and mud.

    Movement powered by two levers for wheelchair user’s arms. It uses handbrakes like a bicycle. It turns by twisting wrist left or right on dominant hand.
    Pros:

    • Provides more power than push rims.
    • Can be operated with one arm (or with one strong arm and one week arm).
    • Lightweight.

    Cons:

    • Expensive equipment. ~$8,000

Manual and Electric wheelchair users may consider 4WD options, or sherper-assist solutions such as the Trailrider.

  1. Extreme X8 – 4×4 Electric Wheelchair
    All-Terrain powered wheelchair can navigate many steep and rough routes. It can be used on the beach, snow and also can be used on off-road trails and bushwalking trails.
    Pros:

    • Can go up or down one or two steps with assistance.
    • Able to maneuver easily (especially good for people who don’t have much upper body strength).
    • Wheelchair user has control of chair.

    Cons:

    • Battery life limits the distance you can go.
    • Can’t be driven into water (rivers, creeks, sea) because of electric motor.
    • Expensive equipment (>$10,000, but may be affordable for people with NDIS support or Lifetime Care Insurance).

  2. Trailrider

    Single wheeled all-terrain chair which allows access to tracks that are not wheelchair accessible, including tracks with stairs. The chair is has handles at the front and the back which allows “sherpas” to guide the rider up and down a range of tracks.
    Pros:

    • Can go up and down stairs.
    • Single wheel means the Trailrider doesn’t get jammed on obstacles.
    • Lightweight (23kg) aluminium chair with strong welded joints -Frame folds in half for easy transport.
    • Cargo compartment holds equipment and hiking gear.
    • Seat with a high back, foot and arm rests for comfortable sitting.
    • Can hire Trailrider for free from some National Parks in NSW.

    Cons:

    • Wheelchair user isn’t in control of Trailrider.
    • The TrailRider required a minimum of two “sherpas”, with up to four needed when going up steep inclines.
    • Some people wouldn’t have enough friends suitable to be “sherpas”.
    • Expensive equipment (~$7000).

Selection Selecting a wheelchair

  • Main message here is – Talk to your Occupational Therapist, Physio or treating clinician (if you have one).
  • If battery powered – Check the battery life of any assistive devices will last the distance, plus additional movement (e.g. firewood collection etc).

Trial, practice and tweek Trial, practice and tweek a wheelchair

Test out equipment before tackling an overnight bushwalking track. Pushing over rough terrain for any length of time is quite unusual in an urban context, so test out your endurance on some similar tracks near home first. The more comfortable you are with your gear and the better your fitness, the more you will enjoy the bushwalk.

Two good options for day bushwalks near Sydney that cover (somewhat) similar terrain to the Old Gibber Road in Myall Lakes include:

  • Narrabeen Lagoon – an 8.5km circuit around Narrabeen lagoon. Practice the south section a few times, as this is unsealed and more typical of the pushing effort expected in Myall Lakes National Park. Roughly two-thirds of this track is on sealed pathways, so this gives you a good sense of what a long distance feels like to push, but be aware that the Myall Lakes tracks are all unsealed.
  • Lady Carrington Drive – a 10km through trip all along an unsealed road. We suggest tackling this starting from the south side and ending at the north side near the cafe and visitor centre (this means the first hill is a big downhill – not a big uphill). This track condition is typical of what you might expect at Myall Lakes, but far more undulating. You could consider doing a shorter section of this track as an out-and-back for say 2km starting at the visitor centre to get a sense for what a ‘firetrail’ terrain feels like.

It may be wise to talk to your health professionals about appropriate gear and training/tests that best prepare you for this trip.

Some things to practice include:

  • Pushing on gravel paths/roads and getting comfortable with all-terrain adaptive equipment additions (e.g. FreewheelTM).
  • Loading up your chair with gear and pushing it while loaded.
  • Setting up tent, sleeping mat and bag and getting into it (e.g. floor to chair transfers). For people prone to skin and pressure injury, it’s very important to test if sleeping mats are appropriate for comfort and support, and do not create or aggravate any skin or pressure injuries.

Lastly, think through appropriate assistance that you as a wheelchair user might request and practice what this assistance looks like, making sure to minimise injury for the person providing assistance. For instance, using the handles of a wheelchair to push someone for an extended period of time may become uncomfortable with a heavy pack, so consider alternatives such as using ropes or raising the pushing handles of the wheelchair.

Optimise chair set up
With carrying additional gear on a bushwalking trip, a wheelchair can easily become unbalanced, making the journey extremely challenging, unpleasant and potentially dangerous. Hence, it’s worth spending a bit of time thinking through your chair setup and attachments and testing out what works well for you at home.

  • Try to distribute gear weight around chair so not all the weight is at the back.
  • Can you load some gear on the front? E.g. Freewheel rackTM.
  • Cargo nets can support surprisingly heavy weights, and are great for storing heavy items such as water bottles.

It may make sense to adjust the ‘tippy-ness’ of your chair for this trip. If your chair axel is set further forward, the chair will be more tippy and prone to flipping even with a small amount of additional backpack weight. Setting the axle back can alleviate this to some degree (but there will still be a limit to the total weight you can load onto the chair).

For overnight trips – floor to chair
Floor-to-chair and chair-to-floor transfers are one of those relatively unusual movements that you have to do regularly when camping to get in and out of the tent. Find a technique that works well for you that is reliable and minimises the risk of injury.

Some options to ease floor to chair transfers include:

  • Use a push-up handle to increase height of push and reduce pressure on wrist.
  • If using a FreewheelTM this can be used to assist with a transfer. Video link.
  • Ask someone to ‘lend a knee’ to add additional height for you to push off from.

Consider working with your health professional to find a technique that works well for you and anyone that is providing assistance.

Check and Pack Check and pack your wheelchair

Make sure you’ve got all the parts and repair kit.

It’s a good idea to carry spare parts and be comfortable dealing with likely mechanical failures.

Unfortunately, wheelchairs (and adaptive equipment like the FreewheelTM) can have quite specific parts, so it’s not always easy to share repair kits and tools. It’s worth putting together a small repair kit that meets exactly the needs of your chair should anything break in the bush.

Repair kit component could include:

  • Puncture repair kit (tire levers, patches, glue).
  • Spare inner tubes (correct size to for wheelchair and FreewheelTM).
  • Spanners, allen keys etc. specific to your chair (Note: you may be able to use tools on your penknife for some repairs to save carrying two items).
  • Screws, bearing etc.


If unsure, chat to the service provider that maintains and services your equipment and find out how best to prepare and prevent typical mechanical issues.

Use in the Field Using your wheelchair in the bush

  1. On trail
    Toileting
    Many longer bushwalking tracks will not have toilets along the track. However, there will very likely be many places along the track behind a tree where wheelchair users can discreetly do their business (including catheterisation if this works best for you).

    Some wheelchair users find that using a temporary indwelling catheter can be a great way of reducing the stress around toileting on bushwalking trips (make sure to carry spare backup intermittent catheters though, and syringe to remove indwelling catheter in case of blockage).

    If nervous about toileting, start with a shorter walk and work your way up to doing longer trips as your confidence to manage these concerns increases.

    Stay hydrated and adapt to weather conditions
    Carry plenty of water to stay well hydrated on the track.

    Wheelchair users may be more susceptible to hot and cool weather. If hot weather conditions are forecast, wear light loose clothing that protects from the sun, and consider pouring water over legs and core during the trip to prevent overheating. If cool weather conditions are forecast, wear several layers, a warm hat and gloves. In rainy conditions, as well as using a rain jacket, consider rain pants as a way of keeping legs warm.

    Assistance
    Getting a little assistance on a bushwalking track can go a long way to making the trip far less exhausting, more social and enjoyable and give you time and energy to actually enjoy your surroundings. For more details on assistance techniques see post on providing assistance.

  2. In camp
    Setting up tent
    A few things that wheelchair users may find helpful when pitching their tent at camp include:

    • Pitch tent on firm ground, or at least ensure that the entrance is on firm ground. This is the area that you will typically wheel over most often.
    • Store gear and other equipment near the front of the tent for ease of access.
    • If wheelchair is stored outside the tent overnight, remove cushion and take into tent to keep dry (it may rain, or condensation will form overnight).

    Cooking & campfires
    Campfires are great fun. A few things that wheelchair users may keep in mind include:

    • If possible, raise up your stove or campfire. This provides an easier working space for wheelchair users to add wood and cook on the fire. At some campsites, there are designated campfire grates for this.
    • Think about ways to organise gear to prevent you from going back and forth between the fire, your tent and your bags. Consider keeping all food and cooking equipment in a calico bag that can be hung from the back of your chair or stored underneath.

Care and Maintenance Care and maintenance of your wheelchair

Look after yourself and your gear when you get home. If you notice any recurring pain or injuries from the trip, don’t leave it to chance, get a medical professional’s opinion.

For your equipment, do a check when you get home, remove mud, sand, oil the parts, do any repairs. Get it serviced regularly.

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Assisting People with Disability

Safely providing assistance to other bushwalkers on the track

Providing assistance to other bushwalkers including those with disability can make a trip far more enjoyable for everyone involved. For bushwalkers that use a wheelchair, a little assistance can go a long way to making the track a little easier and allow them to take in the scenery and enjoy the trail.

When providing assistance, do so in a way that is respectful of the person you are providing assistance to and yourself. This means that you must ask the person first before you provide assistance, and how best to do it for them, as well as thinking about how to do it without injuring yourself.

Below we describe a variety of ways that you can provide assistance.

Manual push How to manualy push wheelchairs

Bushwalker assists wheelchair user by pushing their chair.
Good for when sections of the terrain are steep, or the wheelchair user is feeling tired.
Best if there are a few bushwalkers who can take turns assisting.

People who are assisting can push with two hands from behind (less social) or with one hand alongside wheelchair user (more social but wheelchair user needs to correct steering more).

Pros: Less strenuous on the wheelchair user than pushing on their own.
Cons: People who are assisting may find pushing a wheelchair difficult when wearing a full pack, or for extended periods of time – to reduce this adjust pushing handles of wheelchair to a optimal level.

Huskying How to husky a wheelchair

Bushwalkers assist wheelchair user by pulling their chair with a rope. They attach one end of a rope to their waist strap and the other end to the frame of the wheelchair.

Helpful technique for going up and down steep terrain.
When going uphill, people who are assisting pull from in front. When going downhill, people who are assisting pull ropes from behind to slow wheelchair user down.

Pros: Wheelchair user still has control and can contribute a lot in terms of direction and extra power while not busting a gut to do every inch of the trail.
Cons: Works best if there are a few people to assist.

E-huskying How to e-husky a wheelchair

Roping up a manual wheelchair user to another wheelchair user that has an electric power assist device, and both taking advantage of the electric power assist.
Can be used on smooth sections of trails, where both wheelchair users have good control of their chairs.

Use a slip knot when attaching the rope to the manual wheelchair to ensure there is a reliable quick-release. This is so the wheelchair user can disconnect if they want to.

Establish hand or vocal signals so manual wheelchair user can communicate when they need to slow down.

Pros: Manual wheelchair user can still push, but it is a lot easier for them.
Really enjoyable and easy assist for both the person giving e-huskying assistance and for the manual wheelchair user.
Cons: Electric power assist device uses up batteries significantly faster when having to pull two chairs – so bring spare batteries.