Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Women Heading South - Waaaay South

Photo by Harry Kikstra,

I recently came across this website about a new expedition planned for 8 women from Commonwealth nations to ski to the South Pole. They're still looking for some of the women, so if you think you'd like to try out, check out the criteria.

I have a not-so-secret desire to visit Antarctica. I think the emptiness of it is fascinating, and the wildlife amazing. The landscape in hundreds of shades of white blows my mind. So needless to say, this new expedition got me thinking - am I up to that sort of challenge?

I think the short answer is 'no'. I have serious doubts about my ability to get into the kind of physical shape the trip would require. I'm also not sure that I have the determination to stick it out through what could be pretty extreme conditions.

Last but not least, I shudder at the idea of having to find sponsorship of the kind this expedition will require! Asking corporations for thousands of dollars is not my idea of a fun time.

On the other hand - I would love to be on hand to record what happens down there. So if they're looking for some communications support from an Antarctic base - sign me up!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Magic Wands for Water

I'm not really a big 'gear' person. (I'm not really a big person in general, but that's another story.) I don't rush out and buy the latest gadgets to take camping with me. I like to keep it simple out there. I figure the more gadgets I have, the less time I'll spend enjoying the simplicity of the wilderness.

However, I do recognize that certain technology can make life easier out there. I'm thankful that simple, reliable stoves have replaced open fires for cooking, and that water filters can save us from a nasty case of Giardia.

And now and then, the technology of camping changes significantly. Like the internal-frame backpack replacing the old clunkers. But it can be hard to tell sometimes whether the latest gadget is going to be one of those revolutionary changes. Two "magic wands" (my term, not the marketers') have recently joined the outdoors tech-fest. I find myself wondering if either or both will be standard-issue in the near future.

The first to appear was the UV water-purifying stick, the Steri-PEN. Just wave it around in your water for less than a minute and - presto! no nasty bugs. Faster than a filter and tastier than iodine (or chlorine). You can even recharge it with a solar cell. At around $100 US (without the solar charger) it's certainly comparable with the price of a filter. So, will it replace them completely?

The newest wand to wave is the Heatstick. Originally developed for the military (well, isn't everything? unless it came from a James Bond movie...) this wand heats water to boiling point without using an open flame. You just submerge the element in your water (it conveniently screws onto a Nalgene bottle) and it heats up and automatically shuts off when it reaches the right temperature. Then you can use the water to rehydrate meals, make a hot cuppa, or even wet your washcloth for a quick bath.
I don't think the Heatstick could really replace the camping stove with its limited purpose, but for the Freezer Bag crowd or the ultra-lighters, it could become the preferred option.

Has anyone out there bought themselves either of these? (Actually, I don't think Heatstick is on the market just yet - but maybe there's a soldier out there who tried one.) I'd love to hear your thoughts on whether either of these is the "next big thing" in camping gear!
(photos via and

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Playing "Spot the Tramper"

Does this jacket make me look fat?

Have I mentioned that it's winter here? Well, this week it's raining buckets. Rain and more rain, and just to break up the monotony, we occasionally get a bit of thunder and lightning.

This is not so unusual for winter in Wellington. We don't get snow, but we get rain. We also get wind. Strong wind. Gale force wind. Which means that umbrellas are pretty much useless, unless you like to watch them get turned inside-out and fly away.

So you'd expect people to take other precautions - maybe have a good raincoat. And yet, you'd be surprised how many people don't seem to own any waterproof outerwear (or underwear I presume) at all.

During a good rainy spell, I like to play "spot the tramper" on my way to and from work. It's not hard. The trampers are the people wearing waterproof breathable jackets. They've got the hoods up. Heck, they may even throw a pair of rain pants over their workwear if they're walking far.

Other folks may have rain jackets, but you can tell that they're either plastic, or not really waterproof. But here and there you spot the Mountain Hardware, the Arc'teryx, the Earth Sea Sky. Sometimes the colours are questionable, sometimes they look like they've seen a few too many storms. But the trampers' jackets are unmistakeable.

I'm happy to wear my tramping rain jacket in the city. It's a delightful red colour, and actually looks pretty snappy. But I chose the colour as much for the fact that it would make me easy to spot wandering lost in the woods, as for its ability to complement my wardrobe.

What's good for the wilderness (bright colours, full coverage) doesn't always look right in the city. So do you shop with both uses in mind, or do you buy another jack for city use, or do you just wear something ugly, hold your head high, and say "I own this ugly jacket because I'm a rugged, outdoorsy person!"

I'm not sure I could hit the streets in blaze orange, but for those of you who can - good on ya!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Trekalong With Me

Recently there was a merger between Wilderness Press (publishers of Sex in a Tent), and Menasha Ridge Press. They are now a force to be reckoned with for wilderness literature and guidebooks in the US!

One of the things that has come from the merger is an invitation for WP authors to write posts for the blog.

So as a habitual blogger anyway, I have committed myself to posting over at Trekalong now and then (but probably not as often as here - gotta keep my own blog going first!)

If you haven't heard of Trekalong - hop on over sometime and check it out.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Arthur's Pass - South Island

Looking a gorgeous summer photos on other bloggers' sites in the northern hemisphere has me pining for summer! So rather than stare out my window at the rain and cloud, I thought I'd look back at some of the gorgeous summer photos I took earlier in the year.

Arthur's Pass is a village on New Zealand's South Island. The highway running through the pass is one of a few places where you can get through the Southern Alps to cross between the west and east sides of the island.

We spent a couple of days there, enjoying the scenery back in March.

Along the highway, there are areas where limestone boulders are artfully strewn across the mountainscapes. Some of these areas are hugely popular for bouldering, and they have tried to limit the number of bolts getting put into rocks by directing people to specific areas.

I thought this particular boulder looked like a part-man part-pumpkin. What do you think?
Here's G showing off his climbing skills. (Yeah, ok, I rotated the photo by 90 degrees...)
This is a view of the tiny village of Arthur's Pass, taken from the track up to Avalanche Peak.

This is the Arthur's Pass post office. How cute is that?

The track up Avalanche Peak is the only one in the area that's marked above the bushline. So most tramping in this area is for experienced alpine trampers only. We stuck with daywalks.

Here are some folks tackling the ridge to the summit of Avalanche Peak. I got this just before the clouds descended on us.

There are tons of keas around Arthur's Pass, so they're very careful about leaving stuff outside since the birds have a habit of tearing things apart just for fun.

Ah, the lazy days of summer... I can't wait until they return to my hemisphere!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Camping Recipe Competition

Okay, all of you campers who've been hoarding your secret recipes for "dehydrated tofu รก l'orange" - now is your chance to shine!

The American Hiking Society is holding a competition for the best frontcountry and backcountry recipes - and the grand prize is a shiny, new outback oven.

The best recipes are going to be compiled into a cookbook. I have to admire AHS for finding a way to publish a whole cookbook of great camping recipes without actually paying anyone for any of the content! And the role of the author is diminished once again... sigh.

Anyway, if you're keen to be included with your recipe for "roasted banana splits" or whatever, get a move on. Entries have to be in by July 31, 2008. E-mail entries to

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Paperback Survival

Whenever I have a look at the bestsellers list for camping (not that I'm obsessively checking my ranking or anything - OK, maybe a little) without fail the #1 book is the SAS Survival Guide.

Presumably, this means that a ton of you outdoorsy folks out there own a copy. You've invested in its detailed instructions on how to survive in the most extreme and remote conditions you could possibly encounter. You've studied how to desalinate water if you're lost at sea, how to trap your own food in the woods, and how to make a fire when all of your matches get wet and your lighter falls down a cliff.

What I want to know is - have any of you actually done any of this stuff? Have you set up a snare to catch dinner? Have you succeeded in starting a fire without a flint or matches? Have you found yourself so utterly lost that your normal camping skills just won't cut it?

I find it interesting that so many people feel that they need to learn these techniques. Sure, they could come in handy when all else fails. What I can't quite be sure of, however, is that I'd remember what I learned at the crucial moment. Odds are I won't have the manual with me (OK, I don't actually own a copy, but G does) so it would be a matter of not just reading this stuff, but retaining it. It's a lot to expect of someone who can't remember a new person's name 30 seconds after being introduced! What are the odds I'd remember how to desalinate water?

I guess it would be a matter of "practice makes perfect". So, have any of you practiced your survival skills? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Live on Vancouver Radio -- ME!

Yep, I'm going to be interviewed live on Vancouver's "The Beat" on Tuesday morning (July 8) at 6:40 am on the Kid Carson Show. And if the interview doesn't suck, they may play it again after 9am. We'll be discussing "Sex in a Tent" of course, since Vancouver is one of the best places in the world to pitch a tent! (Well, not right in Vancouver, but many nearby places are awesome.)

For those of you not in Vancouver, you can still catch the interview on the web. Go to The Beat's website and click on the "Listen Live" tab in the top right corner of the home page. If you're not sure what time 6:40 PDT is in your neck of the woods, you can check here.

As for me, I'll be trying to pretend I'm perky and quick-witted at 1:40am!! It's gonna be a stretch, especially since I just started doing one of those full-time job thingies.

Wish me luck!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Smooth as Silk

I don't often post gear reviews. Probably because nobody has offered to let me try out gear without actually buying it. (Hint, hint.) But when I do pick up a new toy or bit of clothing, I like to share my opinion, so here I go...

There's an outdoor clothing maker here in NZ called Earth Sea Sky, who we like to support because they are the last local company still manufacturing their products in New Zealand, rather than getting them made at some sweatshop in China or Malaysia. Also, they make some nice stuff!

G practically has a whole outdoors wardrobe from them. I have a smaller collection, including my lightweight, breathable rain jacket, a mid-weight thermal top in sporty red and black, and a bright pink merino wool top. But my favourite products from their line are definitely the silk weight shirts.

I've checked out a few other silk weight products from other makers, but this is the only one that I've found that is actually as light, soft and, well, silky as silk itself. It's polyester, which means it wicks better than real silk, and for those of you who count every gram of weight, it's extremely light at 100 grams/square metre. You can throw and extra shirt in your pack and not even feel it!

I already owned a dark blue short-sleeve silkweight, and a paprika (the colour of the shirt pictured) long sleeve that G bought me as a lovely surprise. But today we went to the Earth Sea Sky clearance sale in Wellington, and I thought I'd check and see if I could add to my collection.
As one would expect at a clearance sale, there were slim pickings. Only two colours available - a light pink that looked a little odd (and wasn't available in my size anyway) and a rusty orange colour called "Sahara" of which there was a large selection. Obviously "Sahara" had not been a big hit, and they were trying to clear out the stocks. Despite the large number of shirts in that colour, there was only one in my size - another short sleeve. Surprisingly, the colour is not bad on me. So I picked up my bargain for the day.

So now I have three shirts in different colours. It may sound like overkill, but they are not only great for hiking, they're also very comfy for sleeping in, and they're awesome for travelling because they pack down to practically nothing!

Most of you who, sadly, do not live in New Zealand probably won't have the opportunity to buy from Earth Sea Sky (although a few retailers in Australia carry their stuff) but if you're ever passing through, do check it out!