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15 things to remember before your first tramp

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January 2023 Issue

Giving consideration to this 15-point checklist will help trips go smoothly so you can enjoy the trail time.

Tramping is one of life’s simple pleasures. Setting off into the hills, carrying just what’s needed to survive and be comfortable, gets you back to basics and away from the distractions of everyday life. But every backcountry trip takes thought and preparation.

1 Plan where you’re going

Everyone in the party should know what’s involved in the trip: the distance, whether there is significant elevation gain/loss and the expected track times. If the route is on a mapping app, accurate distances and elevations can be determined. It’s good practice to write these down along with the expected times for each day and share it with the group. Source information online and in guidebooks. Many popular track times and huts are on the Department of Conservation website, and tools such as Plan My Walk help with planning, checklists, keeping tabs on the weather and sharing your plan with an emergency contact.

2 Will rivers be an issue if the weather is bad?

Think how the weather could impact your trip and hinder safe travel. Are there unbridged rivers? Even small side streams can become impassable with heavy rain. If the forecast is bad, consider making alternative plans, such as a route that is fully bridged or avoids the tops.

3 Take a locator beacon

If there’s a serious accident, help will be needed quickly. A PLB, InReach or Spot device should be carried, even on short trips or well-used tracks. Many places rent PLBs. You can initiate a rescue with communication and tracking devices such as InReach or Spot, but PLBs use a dedicated rescue frequency, have better battery life and are more accurate. 

4 Tell someone where you’re going

Share intentions with someone. They should know your trip plan, contingencies, party members, your overdue time and date, and whether you have a locator beacon or communications. 

5 Be observant as you walk and know where you are

Knowing where you are is key for navigation, even if you’re not lost, as it helps you make decisions, especially when plans don’t work out as intended. Mobile phones with a mapping app or a dedicated GPS can be used to fix a location, but only as long as they have power. A paper map and compass, and knowledge of their use, are also essential navigation tools. Tip: GPS still works even if the phone is in flight mode, but you’ll need to cache maps beforehand.

6 Eat well and often

Calorie- and nutrient-dense foods are best. Don’t skip breakfast. Snack regularly and make sure lunches and dinner are robust. Food is good for morale, so take what you enjoy. Carry a bit more than may be needed, and pack a light extra dinner in case you get stranded by a river or have an accident. 

7 Cotton clothing? Forget it

Clothing should be functional in all weather, or don’t take it. Cotton clothing can absorb up to 2700 per cent of its own weight in moisture and is slow to dry. Clothing that dries fast if you’re caught in a downpour, or fall in a river, and that wicks well when worn under a rain shell is the best choice. Wool, nylon and polyester all work well and needn’t be expensive to be effective.

8 Keep your gear dry

Few packs are genuinely waterproof. Pack liners are more effective than pack covers as they can’t blow away or rip and will better protect pack contents. Putting spare clothes and electronics into separate dry bags is good insurance and also makes organisation easier.

9 Travel light, but be safe

Packing the kitchen sink is pretty common for first-time trampers. Your pack might feel fine during a test at home, but will it after a few hours tramping? Spread out all the gear on the floor and consider where you can save some grams or substitute items. Ask a more experienced tramper to check your packing list. They may see unnecessary items, or suggest adding necessary gear.

10 Carry spare headlamp batteries

Carry lighting for the worst-case scenario, not the best. Sometimes you may not make that hut or campsite during daylight, and have to walk in the dark for a while. Or maybe there is an accident, the PLB falls in the river and you have to go for help in the dark. Aside from spare batteries, is your torch bright enough for night walking and route finding?

11 Always carry a rain shell

Experienced trampers always pack a shell jacket and often overpants too. Even if rain isn’t forecast, strong winds can make shell garments necessary, and they’re good backup if you become immobile.

12 Hat, gloves and sun protection

Like the rain jacket, hat and gloves always go in the pack and in their own dry bag for protection and easy access. Carry a good sun hat too, and use high SPF sunblock.

13 Carry emergency shelter

It’s not needed until one day it is. Space blankets or emergency bivvys are light and occupy little pack space. They offer protection from wind and rain and help preserve body heat if you become stranded or are injured.

14 First aid kit

First aid kits needn’t be comprehensive but they should contain the basics, including a variety of plasters, tape, large wound dressings, steri-strips, a stretchy bandage and pain relief. A small pocket knife, ideally with scissors, is invaluable.

15 Carry blister prevention and treatment

Blisters are the bane of trampers and can ruin a trip. Break in your boots before you go using the same socks you’ll tramp in. Sweaty socks increase the chance of blisters, so if you are new to tramping, change socks daily. Leukoplast Sleek tape and hiker’s wool can protect aganst hotspots or blisters after they have developed.