I spent a week tramping with my 17-year-old nephew, William, over the New Year in the Eyre Mountains/Taka Rā Haka Conservation Park, which gave me a chance to enjoy the Hills through fresh eyes. What did we learn?

Soup and mugs

On the second night William made up the instant soup by eye. Fortunately, we had had a hot, sunny day climbing up 1,000 metres of scree and alpine scrub, making us a tad dehydrated, so William’s very diluted soup was very welcome. Anticipating a less strenuous following day, I suggested that for soup packets – unlike computers and smart phones – it’s important to read the instructions. Puzzled as to how he was going to measure 600ml, I  advised that my ancient tramping mug holds one pint: in other words, just right. William has now calibrated his tramping mug, and took the lesson to heart. His carefully measured instant puds later in the trip were made to perfection.

Savouring savs

Short of time for the food purchases, we settled on raw savaloys for lunch for the first few days. A complementary pottle of Pancharanga Pickle (25% mango and 15% lime) let us feast like kings. How had I forgotten the humble sav for so long?! As an added bonus, the remaining pickle went nicely with lunch-time cheese and crackers later in the week.

Descending ridges

We pondered over a mathematical approach to ascending and descending ridges, especially rounded ridges obstructed by pole beech thickets. I recalled a control theory algorithm called the ‘Hill Climbing Method’ where you aim to always go up the steepest slope. Second order differential calculus pointed us in a promising direction, but it only went so far. I failed to comprehensively explain how to descend a gentle, rounded ridge with side-spurs in a generic rule. I wonder if any readers have an elegant explanation?


I don’t normally get unabashed marketing calls, but Brian Wilkins asked me to try his patented (I think) sunscreen, ‘Active Sunscreen’, which has been advertised recently in the FMC Bulletin. Brian developed it after teaching pharmaceutical chemistry students in the late 1980s.

Brian probably won’t get very rich selling this product, as you only need to apply it sparingly. One application worked for an entire hot, sweaty day, so one pottle will last a long time. Brian tells me that if your skin feels greasy, you have put too much on as it is non-aqueous. He also tells me that it works well as lip salve, and for skin waterproofing, i.e. to help ward off soggy feet, and has even been used effectively for cuts and abrasions. The downside is that you can’t see exactly where you have applied it, meaning missed spots won’t be revealed until later that evening. I normally hate the sensation of sunscreen and I found ‘Active Sunscreen’ a big improvement on anything else I’ve tried.

Pack volumes

John Madgewick of Cactus Climbing and I have been exchanging emails concerning pack volume rating. I can fit about as much stuff in my new 75-litre Cactus Foray pack as my old Macpac Torre with a greater rated volume. How do you measure a pack’s volume? With great difficulty: counting the number of beans you can pour in is one way, filling a plastic bag inside the pack with water is another. The latter, although easier, risks stretching the pack: after all 75 litres of water weighs 75 kilograms. No method takes any account of the mismatch between the pack dimensions and the shape and size of the things you want to stuff into it. Regardless, there’s no agreement about whether the volume includes the storm flap up or not. In short, treat any volume rating as a rough guide only.

Gas cannisters

If you had problems standardising your pack volume, it gets worse. William was given a gas cooker head for Christmas, the lightweight sort which screws directly into the gas cannister. It turns out that although they all have the same screw-thread, some cookers fit certain gas cannisters and others don’t: screwing a longer pin cooker into a shorter fitting canister will probably let gas escape (and so you should undertake the operation outside to avoid blowing up the hut), while the other way around ensures your rice won’t cook. Be warned.

The last word on battery chargers

Brian FitzPatrick of the Alpine Sports Club tells me that the Emergency Battery charger from the Warehouse under the Transonic label for $9.99 is his solution to flat cellphone batteries. This cylinder takes an AA battery, providing up to two hours talking time, or more for standby. The unit comes with a variety of plugs, suitable for most cellphones. AA batteries are often used in other devices trampers carry, such as head torches, so the charger helps avoid the need to carry spares.

Comfortable gear

Derek Alston and I swapped some emails almost a year ago about solo tramping and comfortable gear. We didn’t have much to argue with when it came to Goretex. Derek thought it was grossly overrated and over-priced and instead uses the much cheaper Sealflex from Farmlands, which is 90% as good. You get to a hut after a day of walking in the rain and the Goretex brigade are just as wet as the Sealflexers. Closer to the bone, he reckons Lycra underwear is the best thing since anti-chafing cream, though we agree that you should wear shorts over the top for modesty’s sake. He discovered fleece a few years ago, and claims it’s the best thing since Lycra. As it’s warm, cosy, light and handles moisture really well, Derek now knows why hunters use it so much. Well, that’s not quite the whole story: hunters also use it because it’s quiet.

These days, when it rains, I bike to work wearing a pair of Techniflex over-trousers. I bought them from RD1 on the basis that what works for farmers works for the rest of us. I would take them tramping except for the absence of side opening zips, which makes them completely impractical. Happily, last year I picked up a pair of modestly priced over-trousers with full length zips in Copenhagen from the Nordic equivalent of Kathmandu.

Hakili matagi,

Robin McNeill

44 Duke Street, Invercargill  


This column was originally published in the March 2013 FMC Bulletin. We will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column here on Wilderlife.