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Crystal Brindle, backcountry explorer

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October 2020 Issue

Crystal Brindle has been exploring the New Zealand backcountry since 2014 when she moved from the US and became a hut warden in Golden Bay. Since then, she’s racked up a fair bit of on and off-track tramping in the South Island. Crystal’s landscape photography interest encourages her to plan trips to include spectacular alpine country and means that her camera and tripod are always along for the ride.

Sunrise shoes
My ‘sunrise shoes’ are an essential piece of kit. I do a lot of high camping that results in frozen boots and I cannot bear putting them on first thing in the morning. Cue, sunrise shoes. My Altra Lone Peak 3.5 trail runners can get me up almost anything at sunset or sunrise without having to don
a pair of boots.

Down jacket
During my first winter in NZ, I got a RAB Women’s Microlight Alpine jacket and took it out for its maiden voyage in Paparoa National Park. While traversing a ridgeline, an unexpected blizzard developed and I had to wear this jacket as my outer layer. I thought I would surely ruin the thing but its water-resistant qualities were up to the task. I still use it today on every trip and wear it over all my other layers for impenetrable warmth.

My tent is a relatively vintage MSR Hubba that was given to me in 2013. I love it for its ease of set-up and trusty durability. It received a few holes last January thanks to kea at Homer Hut but with the help of Gearaid repair patches, it has a new lease on life.

I just welcomed the Osprey Aura AG 65 to my kit in January and so far, I love it. It is just the right size for squeezing in everything I need for five days or more of camping or a week-long hut mission.

Patagonia puffer
Tied for my oldest piece of gear still in use, the Patagonia Nano Puff is one of my favourites. I bought this jacket early in my tramping career (2012-ish) after being impressed by its brilliant maraschino cherry colour. It is just as vibrant today as the day I bought it despite constant use and washing. I’ve even burnt the sleeve substantially while cooking falafel in Mt Brown Hut, but it’s still the absolute best.

First and foremost, I pack my Fuji X-T2 mirrorless camera along with two lenses to allow both wide-angle and telephoto photography. My current lenses are the Rokinon 12mm F2 Fujifilm X Mount and the Fujinon XF 18–135 mm f/3.5 – 5.6 R LM OIS WR. I’ve used this set-up for four years and it’s still going strong.

Despite the weight and sometimes inconvenience of a tripod – it regularly gets caught in scrub and even fell out of my pack on my last trip resulting in a 30-minute detour to retrieve it – bringing one is critical to enable crisp low-light photography. I use a Sirui T-025X CF.

Sleeping bag
Last year I upgraded my bag to a zipperless Sierra Designs Cloud Women’s bag which gives me six degrees more warmth for the same weight and size of my previous bag. The first trip I used it on saw me camping on the Mataketake Range in winter in -6℃ and it kept me warm.