Image of the February 2014 Wilderness Magazine Cover Read more from the
February 2014 Issue
Home / Articles / Wild People

Get into the groove

You too can look like this if you look after your body, lighten your load and keep tramping into your old age.


Keep tramping into your old age with these tips from West Coaster Pete Lusk

Worried that age is slowing you down? Sick of being last in the party? You don’t have to be. There’re lots of things you can do to improve your speed and confidence.

When I started tramping, it was often with very fit friends, the sort who excelled at marathons and cross-country running.

I was tall and skinny and pretty fit, but I often ended the day tired and not enjoying things as much as I should. I soon realised there were three basic things I could do to improve my speed.

The first was to develop a rhythm and stick with it. A regular rhythm is something the body likes. So keep to the same pace. If you’re going uphill this means taking shorter steps and more of them.

The second was to develop a good sense of balance. I practiced by walking along kerbs, garden walls or the boulders on riverbeds.

The third was to look ahead. Set your eyes three or four steps forward, glancing up regularly to look 20, 50, 100m ahead. This way you can pick up all those little shortcuts the leader will have missed. You can also see obstacles long before you come to them. If you’re going down a dip you can speed up and use the momentum to help you up the other side.

I started tramping in the 1960’s and on long trips we carried huge packs. We even lugged a small axe to cut firewood. We had big leather boots that doubled in weight when full of water and woollen gaiters that also got heavy. Nowadays there are lightweight fabric boots that are still sturdy enough for all but the toughest country. And modern day gaiters are light and waterproof.

Reducing the weight of my pack also gave me an advantage over my mates. I learnt never to carry glass containers, tins, heavy billies, or metal cutlery. I found that saving 100g here and there soon amounted to two or three kilos saved. And I stopped carrying drinking water unless absolutely necessary. Most creeks where I tramp are safe to drink from.

One of the easiest ways to lose weight is with food. Don’t carry anything that is more moist than salami or raisins. If I want something moist and luxurious I take dried apricots and soak them overnight. It does mean you might have to hunt around en route for free delicacies like watercress and native spinach.

Lately I’ve gone even further with my weight reduction as I try to protect my joints. By choosing good weather I can generally get by with a fly rather than a tent. This can save as much as a kilo. When I’m off the tourist trail and there’s plenty of wood I have a small fire. This way I don’t need fuel or a cooker. Where I do need a cooker I take the smallest gas bottle and on short trips it doesn’t even have to be full.

Come to think of it, you don’t have to be old to take up these ideas. No matter what your age, you’ll get more enjoyment from your tramping when you’re lighter, more nimble and keeping up with everyone else.

– Pete Lusk is a West Coast tramper and a member of Forest and Bird.