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November 2016 Issue
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Sneakers will do

Tramping in dodgy footwear, but still tramping. Photo: Ricky French
You don’t need to kit the kids out in the latest wonder-gear for them to enjoy the outdoors

If you’re a lover of the outdoors, you can’t beat that feeling of walking into an outdoors shop, tramping purposefully through the aisles and imagining how wonderful your life would be if you could buy everything. I’ll have that, and that, and that. And that.

As Shaun Barnett and Chris Maclean noted in Tramping: A New Zealand History, tramping is a predominantly middle-class activity. But that doesn’t mean we can all afford to kit ourselves up in all the flash gear. If you’re only an occasional tramper, how do you justify spending hundreds of dollars on equipment you might not get value out of? If you’re a family trying to clothe and equip multiple people, this headache is only amplified. And when you consider that children have this rather inconvenient habit of growing out of clothes…well, sometimes I wonder how we ever manage to leave the house.

I’ve often heard ‘I don’t have the right gear’, used as an excuse for someone to not go tramping. But what is the right gear? A delicate balance that exists between being prepared for the conditions, and making do with what you have. There’s no law in nature that says as soon as you step outside onto a piece of dirt, or start to walk along a track under trees, you will die horribly should you not be clothed head to toe in the latest Gore-Tex, seam-taped, PU, SPS, NGX, fully breathable dry-suit with armpit zips and an iPhone holder. It’s all about choosing the right gear for the conditions.

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in almost 30 years of tramping it’s that you’re much more likely to over-pack than under-pack. Most walks we do don’t require top of the range gear, yet we are constantly told – either directly, through well-intentioned warnings, or indirectly, through advertisements and enticing window displays – that before setting foot outside our front door we should first max out the credit card on gear.

Again, it’s about being prepared for the conditions. Yes, you do need a raincoat. No, you probably don’t need one that costs $600. If you’re walking a few hours through the bush to a hut for the weekend, then something shower-proof will probably do.

When it comes to children, this dilemma gets even worse, because as parents we don’t want to send our kids off (or at the risk of being slightly cynical, be seen to be sending our kids off) into the bush without the appropriate gear.

My nine year-old son recently got his first pair of waterproof tramping boots (a birthday gift from his grandparents, I should add). He now has a down sleeping bag, gaiters, lightweight jerseys; all things it took me well into adulthood to acquire. I’m almost embarrassed to admit I didn’t get my first pair of waterproof boots until I was 30. But I survived just fine, and I don’t remember a single occasion on a tramp when I rued not having top of the line gear. I was too busy enjoying the experience.

On a recent tramp in the Ruahines, one of the kids in our group wore Converse sneakers, because that was the best he had. Now, they weren’t the ideal, I’ll be the first to admit. He slipped a few times, ended up in the Waipawa River once or twice, but it didn’t seem to faze him in the slightest. He was such a bundle of enthusiasm that slowing him down was probably a good thing. The sneakers were about as waterproof as tissue paper, but they dried in minutes, while the adults’ Gore-Tex wonder-boots stayed sodden for days. If we were doing a winter, ridgeline traverse involving snow or ice there’s no way we would take anyone – let alone a child – wearing sneakers. But on this occasion they were acceptable for the conditions. That’s what it comes to: choosing a tramp appropriate for the gear you have.

You can’t nurture a love for tramping without first getting out there and doing it. The best part of taking our Converse-clad all-star on the tramp was seeing him gaze up the jagged peak of Te Atuaoparapara and hearing him say he’d like to climb that next time we come back.

Sure thing, kiddo. Just not in those shoes.