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Survival kit catches on

When Matt Butler’s guiding job fell through, he took a gamble and designed a survival kit. Photo: Matt Butler

When Covid struck, Wānaka fly fishing guide Matt Butler changed tack and designed a comprehensive survival kit which he has successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter. 

I understand Covid was a game-changer for you?

My clientele was 99 per cent foreign tourists. Covid struck near the end of the season so all was not lost, but I quickly realised things would not be back to normal for many years. So I finally decided to tackle a problem that’s been bugging me for years: how can I pack all my essential survival gear in an easy, organised and compact way? Looking around, it was obvious this problem had never been solved, so I began to develop the Kea Kit.

Are Kiwis lax about outdoor safety?

If anything, Kiwis just under-prepare. Our ‘she’ll be right’ attitude is a hard one to shake and we seem to just do the bare minimum.

Which gear was essential to your kit?

I kept coming back to my founding idea of including ‘just the essentials’. So I stripped everything back, doubled the size of the first aid kit and focussed on the five pillars of survival: medical, shelter, water, fire and tools.

Have you ever been in a survival situation?

A mate and I were trying to cross a large West Coast river when he lost his footing. We were linked up so he ended up pushing me under and because we were at the tail end of a large pool, the next thing coming was some serious rapids. We just managed to make it to shore but were both drenched. It got serious when the chill set in, so we had to strip down and wrap up in emergency blankets while I lit a fire. We had spare dry clothes to put on top and we just hunkered down for six hours until our planned helicopter came. 

Why go down the crowd-funded route?

Creating the Kea Kit has been a long and expensive process. I have funded the whole thing and spent over a year in research and development. However, manufacturing is another ball game in terms of investment, so I decided to launch on Kickstarter to test the product demand and raise enough funds to do a full-scale production run.

How’s the response so far?

I spent a lot of time over the past year building my community, making connections and sharing the story, so to see this pay off has been very humbling. I hit my minimum of 100 units on the first day and then raised $100k in the first week. I’m hoping now to initially manufacture around 2000 units. 

You’ve diversified, but how do you see the future of the tourism industry?

I think guiding will take three to five years to recover, but that’s after the borders open. My business was about 80-90 per cent US tourists so without them it’s a long shot to make it viable, and I can’t see them returning in volume anytime soon as they are very cautious travellers. I would say quite a few guides will move onto other things but the ones that stick with it will get the rewards as tourists bounce back.