We have a wide range of subjects in this column ranging from food to folklore. We also follow up a few threads from previous columns.


Everyone knows that trampers are hirsute blokes with hairy legs, right? The truth is that in fact most trampers in clubs are middle-aged women, who don’t have moustaches and who may or may not have hairy legs. I was a little amused to meet a couple at the start of the Routeburn Track over New Year who had difficulty reconciling some sort of imagined hard-man Uncle Jacko with the reality who was wandering up the track merely for a picnic lunch at Routeburn Flats. But it made me think – we too often develop stereotypes for trampers, which we may or may not be able to measure ourselves against, and for which planners as well as ourselves end up being fooled as being the norm. 

This has implications. I remember talking to one very famous tramper who complained that he had trouble finding people to do trips with. He said that most people thought he would only be interested in gut-busting epics, for which they would probably expire on if attempted. In fact, while he does enjoy fast, fit trips, he also enjoys laid-back strolls and easy club trips where gossiping and food is as important as getting to the hut or campsite in a reasonable leisurely time. 

Sticking sticking-plaster

I recently read in some outdoor magazine that to get sticking plaster to stick to your skin with the fierceness needed for patching feet, first apply Friars Balsam, otherwise known as compound tincture of benzoin. You can, says Sue, but it stains everything yellow and it smells. Even better still, she adds, is to apply liquid Mylanta to the skin, let it dry and then apply the sticking plaster. At any rate, this is a favoured technique among physiotherapists. Mylanta is generally used to deal with indigestion and is readily available from chemists.


Paul Marcussen, a Christchurch pharmacist responded to my call for information on using superglue to join wounds. He thought that there may well be a few nasties in the commercial superglue mix that may well make you feel crook if you use it to glue yourself back together. Paul sent me a paper on wound management which concluded that “evidence-based practice in wound care has not kept pace with the number of products marketed and there is a great paucity of reliable information about the effectiveness of individual products…”. I am not sure that that really helped me.

The paper did also note that since ancient times, silver metal has been used to purify water, which it turns out has an antimicrobial action. In the 1800’s American settlers routinely placed silver dollars in their water tanks to help sanitise it. So, maybe you punters who take water filters into the outdoors can substitute a lump of silver instead?

Franz Hubmann, a GP, writes that he has personally used Superglue for deep skin cracks in his heel (sole) and found it helpful. The crucial thing is that you don’t actually put it into the wound, but you pull the skin edges together then apply some glue across the joined surface and wait till it dries while still holding the wound closed.  Thus it does the same job as Steristrips, though is a bit messier to apply. Fritz thinks Steristrips are great and the only advantage he can see in using Superglue is its possibly greater strength if used on the soles of the heels, where Steristrips may not stand up to the pressure of being walked on.

Shelf life of drugs

As anyone who has replenished a first-aid kit knows, drugs are expensive. Worse, a lot of drugs have pretty short stated shelf lives, especially antibiotics. An American Department of Defence “Shelf Life Extension Program” has been looking at shelf lives of drugs and the good news is that a lot of the common drugs are still good well after they have passed their use-by dates, by up to ten years in some cases. However, this may not be true should you store your first-aid kit in the bathroom where the drugs can get hot and damp, instead of somewhere cool and dry. Incidentally, to be safe with antibiotics, you need to keep them below 30°C so that they don’t lose potency. It would also appear that the drugs don’t become harmful when they deteriorate, they just slowly stop working. So if you find yourself in the Hills with expired antibiotics only, then take them by all accounts, though there is no guarantee that they will work.

Post-operative Tramping

Elizabeth Norton of the Hamilton TC writes that with more than 1500 women each year being diagnosed with breast cancer each year, there has to be some who subsequently carry on or start tramping. The trouble is, writes Elizabeth, that after a mastectomy, backpack straps and weight can no longer be allowed to put pressure on the armpit area due to the real risk of developing lymphoedema. In short, day trips can be tackled by using bum-bags and similar work-arounds, but Elizabeth has still to find a way to convert pack straps so that they connect to the front of the waist belt to take pressure off the arm so she can continue with long trips without off-loading weight onto others in the party. Can anyone help here?

Cheap Boots

Sue made me throw out all my worn-out and partly worn-out tramping boots before Christmas. I compromised and bundled them off to the STC gear auction. The trouble then was that I only had left a pair of Reichle’s for alpine tramping, which are too expensive to wear out on everyday tramps, some very old Super-RD’s for climbing in the Darrans and some slightly less old plastic Koflachs for winter climbing. What to wear for easy tramping and tracks? I now own some new $114 Skellerup “Hiker” boots that Mike Bourke has long championed. I found that they are somewhat more comfortable than Ashleys, and lots more comfortable than Bullers, though I worry how much water the padding will absorb. They seem to work well on rock, tussock country and well graded tracks. I like them.

More uses for GPS

Alan Radcliffe writes that you can use your GPS to check your car’s speedo – place it on the dashboard with a view of at least 4 satellites and drive down the road at 100km/h. Try to avoid curves and you should come up with a very accurate calibration. You may be quite surprised how far out your car’s speedo is.

I have also been trying to deal with the fact that GPSs don’t work well under wet Fiordland bush canopy. The Garmin Etrex seems to be the standard unit used by most trampers, and it unfortunately doesn’t have an external aerial connector to allow for a booster aerial. I note that you can buy external aerial/amplifiers for GPS units, which re-radiates the signals, allowing the GPS to be inside a vehicle out of sight of spacecraft, and these look like being useful to this end as they don’t need connectors. Has anyone had any experience that they would like to share?


Jill Ruthven read the UJCC on dehydrating food. Jill has had great success dehydrating mince stew: she makes a good, tasty mince stew (onions, garlic if you like it, tinned tomatoes well mashed or tomato puree, etc, but NO other vegetables as they dehydrate at different speeds).  Use good quality mince and make a good stew with the mince in small bits. Gently cook it until it is very thick, cool it and then spread on the solid dehydrator sheets.  Break lumps into even sized bits for even drying and dry slowly.  It will need turning and may be able to be moved onto mesh sheets for the final stage.  When really dry, it can be broken up into even sized bits again and bagged in meal sized quantities. Jill makes a large amount and stores it in the freezer for convenience. Re-hydrate in hot water with any of the instant gravy or sauce mixes (curry, brown onion, etc) to vary the flavour.  It goes a treat with dehydrated rice and Surprise peas (prepared as Sue King in an earlier UJCC suggests).

Meat other than mince is too thick and takes too long to dehydrate right through and then to rehydrate. Jill has tried adding vegetables to the stew, but variable dehydrating times are a problem.

Jill’s son observes that dehydrated rice is not only lighter and faster to prepare, but there is no pot to be scrubbed afterwards!


I am reminded by Geoff Chapple that if you want to illuminate the inside of a tent and you own a Maglite torch, the trick is to screw the lens completely off, exposing the bulb. It’s pretty obvious once you have thought about it, though not so obvious that everyone would think of it! This trick comes into its own when you are trying to put a contact lens into your eyes and don’t want strong shadows.

Following ‘Obvious Deer Trails’

The classic last resort instruction in Moir’s Guide is to “follow the obvious deer trail”, and depending on who is following such advice, this can lead to either deep despondency or unbridled merriment. There is practically no commercial deer recovery going on at the moment, thanks to some poachers who passed off some 1080-ed venison as being clean about a year ago. This means that unless there is intervention, deer numbers will double over the next five years, and then double again in the subsequent five years. The sort-of good news is that if this continues, deer trails will again become super-highways and DoC can get out of the track maintenance business.

However, I assert that those deer trails are pretty good right now, and have been for ages. Ever since the mid 1970’s, trampers have been bemoaning that the “deer trails are now harder to follow than they used to be”. Not being able to find deer trails in general is nearly always merely proof only that the tramper in question is not well skilled in bushcraft. Sure, it takes some practice to learn how to follow deer trails, but it’s not too hard.

Guides and tracks

Late last year I was an expert witness at an Environment Court hearing. As part of my evidence I had to provide a definition for tramping. I ended up with a definition that I liked, namely ‘tramping is a peculiar form of tourism in which the participants walk and, if necessary, climb in a self-sufficient manner for durations which require at least an overnight stay in Conservation Lands’. To me, a day walk is not a tramp and neither is a guided walk:  a day walk does not entail an overnight stay while guiding removes an important element of being self-sufficient. I don’t tramp over farmland either.

Lack of a guide need not guarantee self-sufficiency. Some years ago I led a trip into Fiordland with a bunch of keen tyros. The trouble was that they were dependent personalities and I found myself doing all the route-finding, cooking and decision making. I came out exhausted and felt that I deserved a guiding fee. I am certain that the others in the party had no real clue as to our route or were much wiser at the end of the trip, though I had tried. 

With old age I find I get a bit finicky about only using my own preferred knots for my tent, which leaves me with less than sufficient patience to let others learn what to do at the end of a long day. However, I have been teaching myself to truly lead from the back and it is by far the best for everyone concerned, even if we are a bit slower. As a result I get to go into bits of gorges and bluffs that I wouldn’t normally go to anymore, and the others get first-hand experience in route-finding. I hate to say it, but learning from mistakes works best as the lessons are vivid. Being at the back is fine as the others get to do all the hard work, and if you are slow enough you can meet the faster members of the party back-tracking and so save a lot of effort. So there is something in this for everyone. When things start to look really desperate I charge to the front and try and find a better route. Sometimes there isn’t one, of course!

Olden-day technology

Fed up with the unreliability of my 12 year old MSR cooker, over Christmas I resurrected my old Primus 70 that my father had bought second-hand rather a long time ago. I soaked all the disassembled components in dishwasher powder dissolved in boiling water for half an hour, cleaned the bits and put it all back together. It went like a rocket first time and has provided faultless service ever since its makeover. Let’s hear it for olden-days gear, especially as old Primi sometimes go really cheaply at club gear auctions.

Next time

I would be keen to start a discussion on the merits of different clothes for tramping. I confess that my wardrobe hasn’t changed since 1986, during which time I know there have been some major advances in cold weather, wet weather and windproof gear. I should be grateful for correspondence on this subject.

Hakili matagi,

Robin McNeill
44 Duke Street
Invercargill 9812

This column was originally published in the March 2004 FMC Bulletin. We will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column here on Wilderlife.