Thursday, 28 February 2013

Tramping Food: Choose your poison- tramping drinks

You are what you drink, or a tale of many beverages!

Does your beverage of choice say anything about you? Trampers have a diverse range of preferences, some people like tea, others coffee, or some other variety of hot or cold drink. I have seen people drinking soup for breakfast, liquid jelly for dessert and you often see tramping parties having a quiet tipple as well. Tea seems to be the leader with coffee, fresh or instant, a close second.  


Hot drinks for tramping...

My preference runs towards Early Grey tea, black with sugar and in large quantities. I don't care if it is bagged or loose just so long as it is hot and sweet. My brand of choice is Dilmah but even the roughest gumboot tea will suffice in an emergency.

My choice of tea, Dilmah Earl Grey
I sometimes take packets of instant hot chocolate or cappuccino mixes with me as they make a nice change from tea at every meal. If I can find them, I like the Nestle Hot Chocolate with marshmallows the best.

Nestle brand hot chocolate
I usually carry either Nescafe or Jarrah coffee and cappuccino sachets, both are freely available here in New Zealand. The individual sachets weigh 5 gm's and make a perfectly acceptable version of a coffee.

Nescafe Cappucino sachets- 20 per pack

I'm also partial to a mug of hot Raro or Vitafresh fruit powder drink with dinner. I know this sounds strange but its really good!

Classic Raro Sweet Navel Orange

Water, iced tea and a hot coffee, Lake Isabel Hut, 2014

Sweeteners and condensed milk...

I used to carry sugar for my hot drinks but now I use Splenda sugar substitute. One tablet is equal to 1 teaspoon of sugar, the packet below holds 100 tablets or enough for 50 cups of tea/coffee. The packet is the size of a matchbox and weighs only 22gms, by comparison 100 teaspoons of sugar weighs 640gms.

Splenda sugar substitute

If I have a instant coffee it would be sweetened with condensed milk. This is a drink I picked up in the Army, it dates back too before WW1, the only way to drink coffee in the outdoors IMHO. It is also excellent in a brew of tea as well.

Update: Since I posted this in 2012 I have struck several people who also carry condensed milk for their coffee. It really is delicious- no need for sugar or milk with this product. In fact I have seen Ray Mears the survival expert using it on his TV programs.

Forget stupid syrups, classic old timer coffee additive

Condensed milk is still a part of both New Zealand and Australian Army field rations to this day.
Having a coffee at the Davies Bay campground, QCT in 2016

Cold tramping drinks...

.....(actually cool as you have no refrigeration to chill your drinks)
There is nothing better than water for quenching your thirst, but sometimes you want something different.
Powdered fruit drink packets are very popular, there are a wide range of flavours and several brands. My preferred type is Vitafresh especially their Peach Iced Tea, Orange Mango, Blackcurrant and old fashioned Lemonade.
Orange Mango Vitafresh

Raro is the other well known range available here in New Zealand. 
A Raro drink powder three pack

I also use isotonic drink powders, these are basically fruit flavoured mineral replacement drinks. Vitasport is one of the more common brands available here. 

Vitasport isotonic drink powder

I will generally carry one packet of Vitasport/Raro/Vitafresh (12 gms) per day and have it with my evening meal.

Beer,  spirits, wine anyone?

A quick snort of something is as old as tramping itself, and is a Kiwi tradition. I would imagine even the sainted John Muir carried a flask of something to make the evenings more convivial.

The outdoor 'Saint'- John Muir, father of the US National Park movement!

Personally I am of two minds about alcohol and outdoor activities, I like a drink as much as the next person but in the right place and at the right time.  A glass of a nice red with your freeze dried meal is good, a litre of Vodka with lunch not so much.

I'm partial to a river cooled can of beer and have taken several with me in the past. Nothing like finishing the day with an ice cold brew in your hand! Oh yeaahhhh!

Using nature's beer chiller....

I also enjoy a snort of whiskey or rum normally in a coffee. Leave the hip flask at home and carry it in a tightly sealed plastic bottle- hey, its not going to compromise the quality any worse than humping it around in a pack for a couple of days.

Just a final word; carry out your empties! Nothing worse than arriving at a hut to see a pile of empty bear cans or wine bottles cluttering up the bench. If you carry it in, carry it out.


Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Magdalen Hut, Lake Summer Forest Park: December 2012

A trip to Magdalen Hut, Lake Summer Forest Park

I went up to the Lewis Pass area for an overnight trip in to Magdalen Hut on the St James Walkway, it was 9 km (4 hours walk) from the Boyle River Outdoor Education Centre. The centre offers a car parking and shuttle service, I left my car in their care and followed the St James Walkway back up the valley,  this is the opposite direction from those walking the complete walkway.

DOC sign at start of the track
   The track is in excellent condition, wide and easily followed, as befits one of the Te Araroa tracks.
Sidle track, St James Walkway
You cross over two swing bridges on the way to the hut. As you can see the rivers were high, as there had been a week of hard rain before I visited. Classic kiwi tramping, single track and swing bridges!

Lower swing bridge over Boyle River
 You pass a number of meadows as you walk along, they were all covered in these beautiful yellow flowers , quite idyllic.

Forest meadow, St James Walkway
 The walkway follows the forest edge most of the way up the valley, the Magdalen valley is a part of the Glenhope high country station.

View up Magdalen Valley from mid way point

 There are occasional sections of track through the bush, some were quite muddy, but it had been raining for the previous week so its not surprising.

St James walkway, the highest point this trip
The river was bank to bank near the second swing bridge, normally you can ford this river lower down but only an idiot would have entered it that day.
Upper Boyle River swing bridge

I stayed at Magdalen Hut, which is 30mins from the second Boyle River swing bridge. You access it via a short track heading down the true left of the river. It is an excellent hut, with plenty of space around it for tenting, but the sand flies are atrocious. Beware!

Magdalen Hut
 Built in 2010, it is one of the new breed of 6 bunkers, spacious, insulated and with a top notch log burner and rain water tank. This would make an excellent family trip destination. Thanks to the Hanmer scouts who had visited and dropped off a load of dry wood for the hut fire.

I shared the hut that night with Phil, an American academic and hiker in New Zealand for a conference. It was interesting to share details about hiking/tramping culture and recent political events (just after the US election). An enjoyable evening.

Inside Magdalen hut, 2012

The route out followed the walkway back down valley, it was another beautiful day to be out tramping

Magdalen Hut, Muritana Stream

St James walkway, heading home
 The track follows the edge of the forest over river flats for some distance in the middle of the valley.

Magdalen Valley, about halfway to the BOEC

Another meadow on the St James Walkway
  This is the track just before it emerges near the Boyle Education Centre, as you can see it is quite civilised for a New Zealand bush track.

Track end St James walkway

An excellent track, with a fantastic hut to stay in, I had a lot of fun on this trip. I would like to walk the whole St James Walkway and would definitely make the effort to visit the hut again.

Access: Via the St James Walkway, from the Boyle River Settlement off SH 7, Lewis Pass
Track Times: 3-4 hours from Boyle Settlement
Hut Details: Magdalen Hut; standard, 6 bunks, wood burner, water tank
Miscellaneous: Muritana Stream can be a problem in heavy rain

Monday, 25 February 2013

My Tramping Gear:Vaude Astra 65ltr + 10 Hiking Pack

The Vaude Astra Pack: 65 liters of fun!

When you go out into the outdoors you need to carry a certain amount of gear with you. This is too keep you warm, dry and safe. You need a backpack to carry this gear in, it needs to be strong, comfortable and fit for the task you set it. 

I use a variety of packs depending on the type of trip: small sub 35 liter for day walks, a 55 liter bag for overnight and a larger 65 liter version for multi day trips. 
My Vaude Astra 65+10 mulit-day pack

My current multi-day pack is a Vaude Astra 65ltr + 10. It is slim, almost like a mountaineers style pack but still large enough to carry 3-7 days worth of gear in. This pack is made by Vaude, a well regarded German company who produce a range of excellent outdoor goods.

Its a touch (just a touch?) heavy at 1.9 kg, but the harness setup is excellent, so far I have had no trouble with it at all.

Harness setup on the Vaude Astra

I have an ongoing project to get my base gear weight down to 10-12 kg without water and food, I'm currently around 14 kgs (2016 Update: now at 10.5 kgs!). When I get my base weight down I may look at buying a lighter pack for shorter overnight trips.

The Astra on the Casey Binser Loop, 2012
Wearing the Vaude pack on the Wharfedale Track 2014

I brought this pack from Complete Outdoors, a Christchurch outdoor retailer. The pack cost me $275 NZ dollars, a fair price for a pack of this size/type.  

UPDATE: Feb 2016

The Astra on the Queen Charlotte Track, 2016

I've been using this pack for nearly 6 years now and it has proven to be one of the best pieces of kit I have invested in. It is very comfortable even with a moderate-heavy load and over distance. It has worn well, hardly any wear at all really, 

I am really attached to it as we have shared many an adventure over the years. I expect it will be with me for years to come.

My Tramping Gear: Sleeping bags: Domex Packlite, Marmot Trestles 15, Macpac Escapade 700 XL

Different sleeping bags for different conditions...

I currently have 4 different bags, usage depends on the conditions I expect to strike and if I am staying in huts or camping out.

Considerations regarding weight and down vs synthetic

Usually I find I am far too hot in a closed sleeping bag so I usually use mine unzipped as a quilt.

There are two types of bags: down and synthetic. Down is lighter but losses all of its insulation potential if wet. Synthetic will lose some of its warmth if wet but the water can be squeezed out more effectively and is much easier to dry.

Goose down sleeping bag fill

Synthetic polyester sleeping bag fill

New Zealand is wet, so I generally favour synthetic bags but it is impossible to overlook the weight savings using a down bag. The Packlite is about as lite as you can go in synthetic and still have a decent bag, but there are down bags with the same or better insulative qualities that weigh in at 600gms!

Domex Packlite XL (2013- )

My summer bag is a synthetic Domex Packlite, 1.2kg, and compresses to a very small size. It is, as the name implies light, so only for warm weather and hut stays. With a thermal bag liner it is good down to 0-5 degrees.

Domex are the original kiwi sleeping bag manufacturers they have been around for nearly 60 years now and make quality products. When I was in the Army back in the late 1980's we used Domex sleeping bags and I believe they still do today. 

I will eventually replace my Packlite with an equivilant down bag, as finances allow, something around the 600-700 loft level and less than 1kg.

The Packlite in use, Wharfedale Hut, 2014
Laying in my Packlite, QCT in 2016
As I mostly tramp in the summer and stay in huts this bag is used 80% of the time. Retail these go for around $150 NZD.

Marmot Trestles 15 (2012- )

My first multi-season bag was a Marmot Trestles 15, rated to -9 degrees C. It is significantly heavier at 1.8 kg, but it is beautifully warm, and long at 6'6". I would use this in very cold conditions and if I expected to be tenting in snow, it is overkill as I will never be in -9 degree conditions, but man is it comfortable.

The Marmot Trestles 15

These normally sell for $300 NZD, there is also a Marmot Trestles 30 which weighs 1.4 kg and is good down to about -2 degrees.

Magdalen Hut, Marmot Trestles waiting for Jon

Update 2016: This bag is awesome but too heavy for my evolving style of tramping so has been relegated to a base camp role, at which it excels.

The Marmot bag being used at the campsite near Ryde Falls

Macpac Escapade 700 XL (2015- )

My cold weather bag is a Macpac Escapade 700 which I brought in 2014, it is an XL size, rated to -5 degrees and weighs in at 1.25 kg. Normally these retail for $485 NZD but I got this in an Autumn sale for $275.

This is my Winter bag and was used several times from 2015-2017.

Macpac Escapade 700 XL

This bag is very nice; it is warm, light, roomy and comfortable to use, my only concern is the weight which at 1.25 kgs is moderate.

Using the Escapade at Mid Robinson Hut, 2015

Exped Lite 500 down bag

My newest bag is another down filled one the Exped Lite 500. I brought this bag as a lighter option when section hiking the Te Araroa trail and for more moderate spring and autumn weather.

My new Exped Lite 500 down sleeping bag

This bag weighs 1.02 kgs, packs down very small and is rated to -2 degrees. I often find my Macpac bag too hot unless it is very cold and wet. This gives me a lighter option while still providing some warmth.

Exped bags come with a sil-nylon stuff sack and a large storage bag
I managed to snare mine for $330 dollars in a sale at Bivoauc outdoor, these normally retail for $460 NZD.  Always, always buy new gear when there is a sale on as the normal prices are usually 20-30% higher than the they need to be.

Care and storage of sleeping bags

I have my sleeping bags hanging in a dry, dark closet which is the recommended way to store them. It is also ok to store them in a large mesh bag if one has been provided when you buy your bag. If you store them rolled into their stuff sacks you are compressing the fibres which degrades the insulation very, very quickly. 

Acceptable ways to store your sleeping bag

Here is a very informative article from Outdoor Gear Labs about choosing the right sleeping bag for your needs.

My Macpac bag airing in Magdalen Hut in 2017

So there you have it, three different sleeping bags for very different conditions.