Ultra light-weight tramping—an ultra high risk strategy

2.8kg?

That’s right, her pack base weight, all she was carrying except for the weight of her food, was 2.8kg. For her pack, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, clothes, wet weather gear, cold weather gear, camping gear, tarp, etc, everything needed for a couple of months on Te Araroa.

Gee, my pack on its own weighs more than that.

So there’s no cooking equipment. Her food load is similarly minimal, lots of muesli bars and peanuts.

When that works it’s great, you don’t need to lug much on your back and you can crack out great distances every day. Then catch up on eating back in town.

It may not be apparent to trampers from overseas how high risk strategy this is for New Zealand conditions. There’s a few issues to consider:

The standard tramping tracks outside the manicured Great Walks are more akin to jungle tracks than what you might find, say, in North America or Europe. Many of the DOC tracks have not been actively constructed, there’s just some markers attached to trees and over time the trail is defined on the ground by trampers’ boots.

You can’t crank out vast distances due to the undulations, bridge-less river crossings, tree roots, tussock, and the general limitations of the terrain.

Elevations seem low in comparison to what is common in similar walks in the USA, for instance Travers Saddle in Nelson Lakes National Park is just 1787m, that’s only 5863 feet, surely that can’t be so bad.

New Zealand doesn’t have the same stable weather patterns you find on a continent. It is a string of islands with a relatively high mountain range along the spine to block whatever weather is coming from the west. Just because it’s currently blue skies doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be horizontal rain in 20 minutes time.

Summer? That doesn’t mean it won’t snow in January or February down to 1000m or lower.

For these and other reasons you can get yourself in a heap of trouble. Unexpected rainfall, trapped on the wrong side of an unbridged gnarly river, rain still pelting down, actually horizontal, it won’t be long before that down jacket, the only warm clothing carried, becomes waterlogged, hypothermia not so far away.

There’s a reason many New Zealand based trampers traditionally have carried a lot, a serious raincoat, over trou, a beanie, cooking equipment, proper meals, a big yellow polythene bivvy bag sized pack liner, etc: they recognise that conditions on these islands can change remarkably rapidly, turn really nasty in an enormous hurry, and while it’s inconvenient at times, it’s worth carrying stuff that may save your life.

How much is your life worth?

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