Pisupo for Lunch

Recently reading a personal reminiscence of the World War II desert campaign, I was reminded that bully beef and hardtack biscuits were once the main field rations for New Zealand soldiers. Hard tack is, as far as I can make out, a closely related, but much harder version of Cabin Bread and the much softer, but solid enough, Cream Cracker. Bully beef is better known as tinned corned beef, or for those of us with Pasifika connections, pisupo (named for the first tinned food to arrive in the Pacific, pea soup).

If soldiers in the desert could survive on a diet of this stuff, I reasoned, so could I, at least for lunch. Before my last few longer tramping trips, I have spooned a tin can of corned beef into an empty 250 gram honey jar for lunchtime consumption and packed a couple of packets of Cream Crackers. Transferring the pisupo into a jar is important, as otherwise I have to eat the whole lot at once to avoid grease flowing through my pack. I have to say that I found pisupo for tramping lunches pretty satisfying and I can see why British soldiers got upset in 2009 when it was attempted to withdraw it from their field rations. I did find that cheaper, store-brand corned beef wasn’t as good as Hellaby’s corned beef and I find Pacific corned beef a bit too greasy for my palate.


On recent trips, I have been eating Harraway’s ‘Easy Cook Oats’ for breakfast. The packet claims that they are ready in 90 seconds – a timing that is only true if you can bring the ingredients to the boil in 30 seconds, which seems a bit optimistic to me. While they are okay and pretty fast, I instead prefer their Creamy Oats, both of which are rather more palatable than Uncle Toby’s instant concrete porridge.

Resealable Bags

‘Easy Cook Oats’, like many other packaged foods, come in resealable metalised polymer bags. Such bags, as Jane Morison demonstrated on a recent trip, are perfect for protecting your smart phone from the rain when tramping. The bags are tough and the seams and sealer seem just as tough. I wondered if the aluminium in the film would conduct electricity – no it doesn’t, well not at low voltages. This means you should be able to keep your spare batteries in these bags. I did some tests and a cellphone inside a sealed bag still works okay, so clearly these bags won’t stop your cellphone or GPS unit working if they are inside one. You may get some strange looks as you wander around the supermarket holding your phone against different bags of food to see if it would fit while finding the perfect bag. Jane kept her cellphone-GPS-map-camera multi-machine in a roasted nuts bag in her inside parka pocket.

Alpha Centuri

Gaz tried explaining to a fellow tramper that we could expect a dew overnight as he could see Alpha Centauri. He was right, though for two wrong reasons. The first was that, like me, when pressed he couldn’t identify Alpha Centauri. The other was that it is the other side of Alpha Centauri (or any star) that is important when it comes to dew – somewhere where the sky temperature is at the cosmic background temperature of -270°C. Warm objects radiate heat (energy) to colder objects and any object on Earth is going to be a lot warmer than -270°C and so will radiate heat to cold dark sky.

On a crystal-clear, windless night, a surface can easily become quite a few degrees cooler than the surrounding air due to this effect. If the surface gets cold enough, moisture in the air will condense on it, which we call dew. On the other hand, compared to the cosmic background temperature, clouds are comparatively warm at -10°C or so, and so the cooling effect is very much attenuated to the point that you won’t get dew. Of course, too much cloud leads to mist or rain, with the same net effect on your tent as dew. It works the other way during the day:  when our 5,778°C Sun shines on it, your black bush singlet will heat up to well above ambient air temperature. Note that Alpha Centauri itself is 5,790°C and while it is doing its best to warm you, there is a whole lot more cold sky than hot stars to be seen, so the net effect is perhaps a bit disappointing if you are feeling chilly and want to warm up. [Gaz – I hope you read this section carefully as I don’t want to repeat this stuff to you yet again!]


Who doesn’t want a good weather forecast? I’ve been using www.yr.no (which I pronounce as ‘yeah-nah’) and while its precision and user interface is fantastic, the accuracy can sometimes be way off the mark. Metservice’s offering for mountain areas is too clever by half – I would much sooner know the air temperature than the windchill temperature they provide, because that way I can work out what height to estimate the snowline, among other things. Just as irritating, their location search engine is woeful and they hit me with advertisements.

Windy at www.windy.com shows exactly what its name suggests, and in glorious technicolor. Their rain maps look pretty good, too. I can put up with rain and cold, but for me it is wind I really dislike, so this website gets points for that alone. Windy and Yeah-nah have really nice apps. The now somewhat dated looking, but perfectly functional www.metvuw.co.nz remains my gold standard for useful weather predictions, presented in a sensible manner.

PLBs, SPOT and Garmin Inreach

John Kennedy of Southland TC was telling me of a recent search, where a lost solo tramper on a day trip didn’t activate their PLB until midnight, though the tramper knew they were lost much earlier. The tramper was first noted as being overdue and so the dilemma was to decide if not getting an SOS was an indicator of serious incapacitation, or just the lost person being safe and hunkering down. Then, when the SOS was sent so late, was there a need for an urgent night-rescue, because otherwise why was the SOS sent then and not earlier?

My view is that you need to have thought through how a PLB is going to be used and make sure that the contact person at home knows how you intend to use it if you have to. When there is more than one person on the tramp, you can be very confident that the PLB will be activated if needed and so if you’re just caught out for the night, I suggest you need not activate it. Indeed, I thoroughly recommend an unplanned night out, because it is actually quite empowering, so enjoy yourselves no matter how miserable you may feel.

Solo trampers may become sufficiently incapacitated – or worse – to the extent that they can’t activate a PLB and no-one would know. The SPOT and Garmin Inreach services solve that problem two ways: the tramper’s device can send ‘breadcrumbs’ showing where the tramper is, with two-and-a-half minute to one-hour updates, and they can send messages. The entry-level user devices can only transmit pre-loaded messages as well as an SOS, but that is sufficient. The simple SPOT unit we are testing at work has ‘I’m okay, so don’t worry’ and ‘Please arrange pickup at our last GPS location’ as the two messages we have programmed. We think these seem adequate to go with the breadcrumb posting and ability to activate an SOS. The trouble is that the user devices aren’t very cheap and the monthly service connection fee isn’t any better.

Adapting Glacier Shirts

I have long been a strong proponent of glacier shirts for my summer tramping base layer. These shirts are also known as retired poly-cotton office shirts. They have long sleeves to prevent sunburn, and are cool and dry quickly. For a recent Patunamu Tramping Club trip, Geoff had decided that perhaps I was on to something and, being Geoff, improved on the idea. His upmarket glacier shirt is a $2 op-shop office shirt, from which he had removed the cuffs and collar to further minimise water retention. He was pretty happy with the result.

Ka kite,

Robin McNeill

This article was re-published from the June 2022 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.