Showing posts with label Tramping Skills. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tramping Skills. Show all posts

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

Tramping Equipment: What knife do I need for New Zealand conditions?

My history of outdoor knives....

You do see some strange and curious sights when you are out tramping.

I was up in the Abel Tasman National Park a couple of weekends ago and was people watching while I was there. If you have been there you know that apart from the Inland Track it is the most gentle front country experience you could wish for...comfortable huts and campsites, wide accommodating track...filtered water and flushing toilets...certainly not a wilderness experience. 

Typical track conditions on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track...

While there I stopped to talk to a British couple I passed on the track to Whariwharangi Hut...they were very pleasant and seemed like they knew their stuff BUT the guy had a massive survival knife attached to his pack strap. I'm talking a ten inch full tang blade...serious steel if you like and it got me thinking.

How much knife do you need for New Zealand conditions?

Using the criteria of need to select gear

I think the best way to decide what knife you need is by applying a criteria of need: What will I use it for? What conditions will it need to endure? Is weight a factor and if so how much is to much? Do I need one knife or several? What is your tramping style?

You alone can decide your criteria....

Your tramping style...are you a 'Great Walker', Milford Track.... in betweener...Travers Valley track, Nelson Lakes NP...

...or a hard core bush pig?...Lake Christabel (non) Track, Victoria FP

You really need to answer these questions before acquiring any equipment. The answers must reflect your own personal tramping style, your perceived needs and requirements. 

What will I use my knife for?

You are going to need a heavier blade if your knife will be used for survival type jobs (cutting wood, splitting wood, skinning animals, shelter construction etc.). If it is going to be used for cutting tomato, cheese and salami you can go with a lighter blade.  What other functions will it serve...screwdriver....can opener....wood saw? Obviously choose a knife with the functions you require. What you don't need it for is fighting off wild animals like bears and crocodiles because we live in perhaps the most benign country in the world. Except for the weather....

What conditions will it need to endure?

Cold, wet, hot or humid...which weather will you use it in....stainless steel is good in wet or humid conditions but forged steel is easier to sharpen. Plastic handles work better that rubber or wood in a lot of wet New Zealand bush. Keeping your knife clean and lightly oiled also protects against hard wear. Choose a hard wearing knife regardless of the conditions for added longevity and one that can easily be sharpened. is often a little damp in New Zealand....

The weight calculation...

Weight matters when you have to haul gear for umpteen miles...the lighter the better should be every trampers go. Why carry a heavy survival knife just because you might need it one for as light a blade as possible which does what you need it to do.

One knife or multiple knives?

Ideally the knife should work for all conditions you are going to find yourself in but this is asking a lot of any piece of equipment. Sometimes you might need a different knife for a particular trip you are undertaking so this must be taken into account. Try to only carry one knife if humanly possible.

Jon's individual criteria of need

So...what is my particular criteria of need?

I am primarily a tramper of the front country...moderate to easy tracks, Great Walks and civilized walkways with the odd trip into real wilderness. I am not a hard core bush pig living off the land and making natural shelters every night. I stay in huts for 90% of the time and camp 10% of the time.

Awapoto Hut...the kind of place I like to stay outdoors....

 I do equal numbers of short day trips and longer overnight trips. I am an occasional Te Araroa long trail trekker so I am weight conscious when it comes to gear. I have a moderate/high degree of bush skill which negates the need for excessive equipment and provides insight into the gear that best suits my tramping style. 

Day tramping in the Bealey Valley, Arthur's Pass

All of these factors influence the knife I carry...what I am looking for is a light weight, limited function, hard wearing, practical knife that is suitable for food preparation, easy cutting and easy repair work. This points me to a lite multi function, folding knife with a short blade and some tools added to it as my ideal candidate....

What my knife mostly does..lunch prep!!!

Need more guidance settling on a is a great article about choosing the perfect knife for your own trips...

Jon's cornucopia of cutlery.....

Here is a selection of the various knives I have used in the past and present while outdoors...

Knives I have used in the past

I have used a variety of different knives over the years for climbing, camping, tramping and when I served in the New Zealand Army. Here is a selection of different knives I have utilised and the purposes to which I put them.

I sometimes carry my knife on a lanyard around my shoulders...

Steyr AUG rifle bayonet

We used both SLR rifles and M16A1's rifles in the New Zealand Army but the weapon I used for most of my military service was the Steyr AUG assault rifle. With the rifle you got a rather nifty bayonet which as well as being used to stick people with had a number of general functions.

A bayonet for the Steyr AUG assault rifle

Obviously it was supposed to be a fighting knife and the bayonet and scabbard could be used as a set of wire cutters. Additionally the knife was designed as a more general purpose outdoor knife so it was used as a cutting, sawing, scraping and trimming tool. I never used mine in combat but it sure chopped up a lot of wood and opened many a can of food. As a outdoor knife I give it a 2/5. 

The Gurka style Kukri knife

The mother of one of my Army colleagues had a business importing military surplus gear into New Zealand, as well as clothing and camping gear she also imported knives. Almost everyone I knew brought a cheap version of the Gurka Kukri knife from her business and carried them on our web gear. Obviously these are fighting knives but they are also excellent general purpose field knives.

Nepalese Kukri knife similar to the one I carried in the Army

 They were heavy...about 700 gms but if you are willing to carry the weight these make awesome survival knives. They can be used for cutting & they are also great for chopping wood and shaping it...many is the time I cut down a small tree with a half dozen swings of the blade.

Never used in anger but as an impromptu axe it excelled, sadly gone now as I gave it to one of my buddies when I left the Army.  It scores 3/5.

The Rambo knife

You know what I'm talking about...back in the 1980's Rambo was the king of machismo and we all remember the ridiculously big knifes he carried. It was big, it was bad and it was defending 'merica....excessive as only the 1980's could be!!!

John Rambo wields his tiny paring knife...

My version of the Rambo knife was a Gerber...awesomely good knives but really..who needs a foot long knife. I carried this when I went outdoors for a number of years because I thought I need it, but really its not like I was going to have to "get me some commies". It was too much blade, too much weight and too damn much it had to go!

A Gerber 'John Rambo' style pig sticker....

Best you don't try breaking into my house as I have this bastid in the draw next to my bed......3/5


"It's a long road
When you're on your own
And it hurts when they tear your dreams apart
And every new town
Just seems to bring you down
Trying to find
Peace of mind
Can break your heart
It's a real war
Right outside your front door,
I tell ya...."

John finally makes it home...the proper end to the saga of Rambo....'merica....

Over time I found that I did not need to carry a large and heavy knife like the ones above as I was spending more time in huts and less time camping. It makes no sense to carry a 700gm full tang knife when all you use it for is cutting salami and cheese.

So I went for something less imposing and lighter.

The Victorinox Collection

I have been using Victorinox knifes in the outdoors for much of the past 20 odd years...they are now my go to knife manufacturer. Switzerland based Victorinox make good general purpose knives....they use quality components, they are strong and they also look stylish and chic as only the Europeans know how. I currently own five Victorinox knives. 

Victorinox Alox Swiss Army 1

I can't remember where I got this blade...I think someone gave it to me as a gift at some stage for my birthday or Christmas. I carried this knife as my main outdoor knife for nearly 10 years and never had a problem with it.

Victorinox Alox Swiss Army 1

I found that a basic knife like this fills all of the jobs I need it for....cutting cord, slicing salami and cheese, opening food packets. I can make a fire stick with this type of blade and it is good for filleting fish on the odd occasions I have one to cook. What else do you need a knife for? 4/5...

Victorinox Bantam

The only problem with the Alox knife is that it only has a blade and no other tools. Sometimes you need a can opener, or a hole punch or a screwdriver. I was researching a replacement when I found this beauty in my junk drawer. I was given this Bantam knife as a freebie when i worked a function back in my hospitality days so I though...why not!!!

This knife has 7 functions: knife, flat screwdriver, can opener, bottle opener, tweezers toothpick, key ring and wire strippers. That is all I am ever going to need when I am tramping or camping...I carried this from 2015-2019......4/5

What knife am I currently using...Victorinox Swiss Army soldiers knife

My current knife is the old reliable Swiss Army soldiers knife made by Victorinox. Swiss soldiers have been given an example of this fine knife on the first day of their military induction for the last 100 years. They have molded plastic handles now and more functions but they still have the blade, reamer and flat head screwdriver of the original. 

Victorinox Soldier, 2018 model

The modern version has nine functions: knife, saw, can opener, reamer, Phillips screwdriver, bottle opener, wire stripper and two flat head screwdriver blades. The blade is serrated and has a one handed opening action using the finger grip on the blade. The blade is much larger than that on the Bantam as I was finding that one too small for some cutting and slicing jobs. 

Victorinox Soldier, 2018 model...9 functions...larger blade...

I have had this knife for a couple of months now and have taken it on a couple of trips so far. I hope to get many years of service out of it and I'm sure it will continue to preform as these knives last for ever. No score yet, too soon...

Gerber Paraframe mini

I have a 60 mm long Gerber Paraframe mini knife in my individual survival is a blade into handle folder...super sharp!!!. Gerber knives are quality workmanship...nice easily sharpened blades and excellent as an emergency back up on day trips when I don't carry a larger knife in my kit. 

The Gerber Paraframe mini....

This beastie would only get used if I opened the emergency kit but it feels good knowing it is there. 

Other suitable alternates....

There are many, many other knives out there but here are a couple of other Victorinox products that would work just as well.

This is the Victorinox Adventurer which is of a similar size and function as the soldiers has a straight blade without serration.
Victorinox Adventurer...multi function knife

This is the Victorinox Ranger which is also of a similar size and function as the soldiers knife...this one has a corkscrew and a para cord attached which can be unravelled and used as a lanyard to prevent loss. 

Victorinox Ranger, 2018 model

Another option is the Trailmaster with a different shaped handle but the same functions as the Soldier knife. This one has the one handed opening serrated blade, tweezers and toothpick... 

Victoronix Trailmaster

If you like a wood finish how about the Forester Wood....same functions but with a non slip wooden handle.

Victoronix Forester Wood

Here is the knife we should probably all be carrying...the Victorinox Table. This is a simple paring fancy functions, one sharp as blade, plastic handle and no fuss. They cost about $25 at any good cutlery store and I have even seen them for sale at Hunting and Fishing, Macpac and Bivouac before.

Victorinox Table...cuts a good tomato slice!!!!

Whatever knife you decide to carry make sure it meets your criteria of need and be aware of carrying excessive weigh when it is not warranted. Above all be safe around those sharp blades....


Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Tramping Theory: Following Leave No Trace principles in the outdoors

"...take only photos, leave only foot prints..."

I have a keen interest in nature and the environment so I thought it would be a good idea to discuss how I incorporate environmental concerns into my tramping. To that end I practice the principles of Leave No Trace while out in the back-country.

© 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics:

Lets have a look at Leave No Trace and discus how it impacts my style of outdoor adventures

What is Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace is an ethical framework which provides us with a way of interacting with nature. The movement started in the United States in the 1990's but has since spread to various  areas of the globe. The framework is based on the realisation that the environment is fragile and under increasing pressure from mankind, we as outdoors people must all play our part in preserving it.

Irish version of the Leave No Trace principles
Leave No Trace means engaging with nature in its natural state, not altering it to suit your own purpose.Obviously there are few if any places around the world mankind has not impacted in some fashion. Following the Leave No Trace guidelines mean we can minimise our individual and collective impact on the extant environment.

The seven principles of Leave No Trace theory:

Leave No Trace has seven guiding principles, these are meant to shape the actions of practitioners while in the back-country. They promote a sustainable way to co exist within nature. 

These seven principles are:

Principle 1: Plan ahead and prepare

Principle 2: Travel and camp on durable surfaces

Principle 3: Dispose of waste properly

Principle 4: Leave what you find

Principle 5: Minimise camp-fire impacts

Principle 6: Respect wildlife & farm animals

Principle 7: Be considerate to other visitors

My approach to Leave No Trace

While I am no expert on Leave No Trace I have made a conscious effort to incorporate the seven principles into all of my outdoor activities. I also talk to people about the principles to disseminate the information as widely as possible. This is an approach we can all easily incorporate, together we can work to change everyone's attitudes.

Jon in his natural environment...

 Here are a few photos demonstrating aspects of the seven principles of Leave No Trace and how they impact on the environment.

First up...if you are camping try to camp on a durable surface like rock, sand or mineral dirt. If there is a pre-existing camp-site on these type of surfaces use it. Rather than damaging virgin bush use one of the over 200 DOC camp-sites scattered around the country.

One of the nearly 200 DOC camp-sites in New Zealand: Torrent Bay Camp-site, Abel Tasman NP

My Luxe tent set up in the established camp site at Cowshed Bay, Marlborough

Plan and prepare your itinerary and gear before undertaking any outdoor adventure. In the Army we had a saying Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance- if you plan thoroughly your performance in the outdoors will be much better. The Mountain Safety Council has a wealth of resources on planning a trip into the outdoors.

Plan thoroughly to prevent accidents...
Always, always pack out what you have packed in, do not leave litter in the natural environment. Don't burn plastics in a camp fire or wood burner. If you have space take any rubbish you find with you. Trying to minimise the packaging you use is also a good general method of environmental care.

Lucky Jon carrying the rubbish bag...

If you must start a fire make sure it is on a durable surface like rock, sand or bare mineral earth. If a pre-existing fire ring or fireplace is available please use it, try to avoid a multitude of ugly fire circles.

Firing up the billy on sand minimises its long term visual impact...
...or use an existing fire pit!

 Better still, forget about that fire and use a small embers, no smoke and no trace left behind!

Brew time on the bed of the Blue Grey River, Victoria FP in 2016

If you find some kind of historic structure or artefact please respect its scientific, cultural and historic values and leave it in place! Often its importance is tied to the location...removing it or vandalising it devalues its worth. This is especially important for Maori artefacts...they represent the history of their people and should never be touched.

Historic boat wrecks, Quail Island, Banks Peninsula

When I'm out tramping I stay on the tracks whenever possible, obviously this is not always possible but if there is a choice between track or virgin bush always use the track. Do not go around muddy spots on a track, doing so will encourage others and widen the track.

Following the St James Walkway in 2015, nice dry track, use the stiles and bridges provided
A muddy track...go through it not around it!

You should avoid building shelters in the outdoors unless it is an emergency. Moving the materials for these shelters can damage the local ecology by removing a natural home/food source and are visually offensive. If you must build a shelter make sure you return the materials to their original location afterwards.

Don't build shelters of natural materials unless absolutely necessary!

In New Zealand we do not have a lot of the larger mammals you find in other back-country regions of the world. Therefore our interactions with them are limited.

St James wild of the few large wild animals we have in New Zealand!

What we do have are birds...when you are out on your adventures ensure you interact with our native birds in a careful and responsible manner. Do not feed them, do not interfere with them and respect their boundaries.

Kea or New Zealand Mountain Parrot at Arthur's Pass...don't feed them!
A Weka or native Wood-hen, fearless scavengers of human detritus

When you are tramping do so in either a small group or solo. Large groups are far more likely to disturb any resident wildlife as well as causing greater cumulative damage to the flora they pass.

Tramping in a small group is less invasive to the environment

Educate yourself about the Leave No Trace principles and try to put them into use whenever you are in the outdoors.

Final thoughts on Leave No Trace

At heart I am an environmentalist, I believe that man is the most dangerous threat to the natural world. Nature is to be enjoyed but we must strive to minimise our impact upon it. For that reason I wholeheartedly approve the Leave No Trace framework.

Waimakiriri River Valley...the type of rugged beauty we are trying to preserve

When I am in the back-country I put these seven guiding principles into practical use at all times.  I would rather expend a bit more effort than deprive future generations of the right to experience the majesty of mother nature.

Me enjoying quiet commune with nature, Travers-Sabine Circuit 2018

If you would like more information about the Leave No Trace movement then check out the Leave No Trace website or look for a related programme in your local area. There are also many educational courses available which will allow you to educate others about the principles of Leave No Trace, check your local University, Polytechnic or Outdoor education provider.

The next time you go tramping I would urge you to follow the general principles of Leave No Trace, play your own small part in preserving our natural environment.

...take only photos, leave only footprints!

Useful Links: Leave No Trace

Here are some links that you may find useful:

Department of Conservation: Leave No Trace care codes

Leave No Trace.Org:  Leave No Trace Centre for Outdoor Ethics

Mountain Safety Council of New Zealand: Trip planning resources 

The New Zealand Leave No Trace site: Leave No Trace New Zealand

Wikipedia: Leave No Trace