I received some interesting correspondence arising from my observation in the last UJCC that titanium has sufficiently high thermal resistance to make it a terrible choice for a billy. Robyn Scott wrote to say that she has been using a titanium billy for some years. Having read my comments, she googled ‘titanium v aluminum heat transfer’ and on the basis of that result, bought a Macpac aluminium billy set.

She then conducted a nice experiment by comparing the time it took to boil a cup of cold water on her gas cooker. Her aluminium billy boiled the water two seconds faster than the titanium billy, taking 107 seconds, which is well within experiment uncertainty. So much for saving on cooking gas, she writes. I’m not too surprised with that result as in each case the metal thickness is quite small.

Another experiment someone can conduct is to boil up porridge or custard without stirring and see which metal performs best. My money is on the aluminium billy having the least burnt area. Why? – because the aluminium, with its better conductivity, will dissipate hot spots and reduce the likelihood of burning.

Ken Mercer of the Manawatu Tramping and Skiing Club takes no chances with burning his lips with a hot drink from a titanium mug. He had a slightly sunburnt lower lip when his titanium mug arrived from AliExpress and he thus found drinking hot tea unenjoyable. Sunburn wasn’t a good start, but the thin hot metal was still a problem on a later trip, as the poor conductivity doesn’t count when there’s only minimal thickness and little heat capacity, he writes. He glued a strip of thermosetting plastic to fit under the rollover of the mug. He didn’t buy a clip-on lump of rubber like I did, and he thinks his solution outperforms mine. I must have a thicker mug, purchased from RER, because I find that my lip never feels in danger of being burnt and I have lost my rubber lip protector.

On the last Occasional Patunamu Tramping Club trip, Geoff introduced me to titanium windshields for cookers. At 17 grams including its wee nylon bag, my $22 titanium windshield is a full 40 grams lighter than the MSR-provided aluminium shield. More importantly, it is also a lot less bulky and appears not to work-harden (i.e. crease and break over time). I am still to be convinced that it won’t tear, it is so flimsy, but Geoff’s one did sterling service on the trip and, I believe, it is still in use.


Over the last 18 months, technology has got good enough that if you can carry around half of the periodic table in your pocket in the form of a smartphone, you have all your navigation needs in the form of a compass, GPS, route tracker, topographical map, peak identifier (with Peak Finder or similar app) and altimeter. The smartphone also can be a virtual magnifying glass, a high-end camera and a torch.

When things go wrong, as from early this year, an iPhone 14 and later models can function as a satellite distress beacon; next year 5G smartphones (I am guessing they will have to be 5G) on One NZ service will have satellite texting ability and so replace Mountain Radios. Smartphones will play songs and if you really need some warmth and are really, really desperate, you can put a knife through the battery and (I speculate) light a fire. I would use someone else’s smartphone for the latter! Yes, I’d bring a battery bank to supplement the smartphone’s battery and a plastic bag to keep it dry.


Kerry Clapham of NZAC Southland Section makes the case for potato crisps for tramping snacks. He argues that the salt and carbohydrate content is just what you need. For a more balanced diet, he uses the crisps to supplement chickpea extrusions. Instead of paying twice as much for a flavoured extrusion than a plain extrusion, he uses flavoured crisps to do the job. I’ve been experimenting with raw carrots for snack food. They are basically indestructible in my pack, which is a good start, and the fresh crunchy texture makes a nice change from nuts and chocolate.

Tramping snacks, Norwegian style

Other Snacks

I spent a few days enjoying some alpine tramping near Tromsø in June as a side trip from a work meeting. A snack available in the supermarket is Tørrfisk (store fish), which seemed to me to be dried fish in a sealed plastic bag. We got nicely sandbagged by Stein Tronstad (president of the Norwegian Alpine Club) who assured us that there would only be ‘a couple of patches of snow’ on a one-day jaunt around Tromsdalstinden, which he recommended to us.

Technically Stein was correct, but this rather overlooks that the second patch of snow was 14 kilometres long. We were also hampered a little on our journey by Stein filling us up with Aquavit the night before, which was very good at the time. But suffice to say, even a bag of Tørrfisk wasn’t enough sustenance to keep my tummy from grumbling at 10.45 p.m. when we finally made it to the bus stop for the ride home, and by the time we returned to Tromsø and a kebab shop at midnight, I was starving.

Tramping around Tromsø late at night is not a problem at this time of year as the sun never sets. This is not quite true though, as when we got on the bus, we were a bit smelly in our mountain boots and the locals were dressed up to go into town for a spot of night-clubbing and so we felt a bit out of place.

Perpetual sun also means that the snow stays wet but it doesn’t freeze, so you don’t need crampons. On the other hand, notwithstanding it was early June, the ‘daytime’ temperatures struggled to reach double digits (and failed to do even that on occasion). Let me make myself clear:  summer in Tromsø is cooler than winter in Invercargill! However, the scenery is gorgeous, the mountains have New Zealand-style alpine huts and there aren’t too many people. And the people we did meet were wonderful – but isn’t that usually the case with people you find in the mountains?

What I did like was that in the Hollendaren alpine hut, very comfortable sealskin hut slippers are made available. You just have to rummage through a big box inside the door to find a matching pair. For anyone heading off to this neck of the woods, note that the huts are locked, so you do want to organise a key (one key rules them all) in advance. And you should return any hut key you borrow before you head back to New Zealand – sorry about that, Celia, but thank you for the loan!

Ka kite,

Robin McNeill

This article was re-published from the August 2023 issue of FMC’s Backcountry magazine. To subscribe to the print version, please visit www.fmc.org.nz/aboutbackcountryWe will be regularly re-publishing a number of stories from Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column here on Wilderlife.