Active anthropology – in the backcountry you are what you bring
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Active anthropology – in the backcountry you are what you bring

Flick through any geographic magazine and you’ll usually find a story about some poor tribesman who met an unfortunate end a few thousand years ago and has now been found in a glacier, peat bog etc. 

A big part of these stories usually focuses on what was found on the unfortunate person’s person: what they wore, what decorations they adorned themselves with and what tools were they carrying. The reason is pretty simple: the gear we carry and the clothes we wear say a lot about us – especially in a travel context when we’re forced to pare things back to the essentials.

With that in mind, I asked some of Active New Zealand’s guides what the most interesting piece of gear you bring into the hills to see what I could learn about the Active NZ tribe (without having to push anyone into a peat bog). The results are an interesting insight into the Active New Zealand ‘tribe’. I’ll let you draw your own anthropological conclusions.


Stripy “pollies”
You can tell a real Kiwi outdoors person by their stripy polypropylene “pollies” long johns. They’re not that posh; but they are warm, dry quickly and virtually indestructible (and cheap if you do manage to shred them). Expect to see these everywhere in NZ, from the summit of Mt Cook to the darkest forests of Fiordland – with colours like pink and purple stripes available, you certainly won’t miss them.

/>Okay, these are a little unusual on the packing – particularly for a guy – but the humble tampon is one of the more useful things to bring into the hills. Besides their obvious use, they’re also good for stopping bleeding cuts, lighting fires, padding blisters, washing out mud from cuts and supporting broken toe of finger. Plus, if you’re faced with a snoring hut companion they can be used as emergency ear plugs!


Duct tape
/>The old saying that duct tape has “a light side a dark side and holds the universe together” is definitely true in the New Zealand backcountry. There are literally hundreds of uses for the stuff, from fixing torn tents to strapping twisted ankles. But don’t bury it in the bottom of your pack, wrap a few feet of it around the top of a hiking pole so it’s ready to go when it’s needed.

Dark chocolate
Never go into the backcountry without a good block of dark chocolate. Given chocolate’s ingredients, it’s amazing the stuff is legal; theobromine (a bit like caffeine), anandamide (a cannabinoid also naturally produced in the human brain), tryptophan (a mood regulator), phenylethylamine (a neurotransmitter from which amphetamine is derived, sometimes described as a ‘love chemical’) as well as a big hit of sugar. When everyone’s tired and there’s one last hill to get over before the hut, there’s nothing like breaking out the chocolate to keep people in an adventurous frame of mind.


You can’t be an Energiser Bunny during the day if you don’t recharge at night. So it pays to come equipped for a good nights sleep. Everyone has a favourite approach, ranging from the trusty rolled up down jacket to a wheat bag pillow – to a giant teddy bear!

Thanks to Active New Zealand guides, Ange West, Christian “Lofty” Filius, Ken Dixon, Lauren Moyes and Mike Searchfield sharing their trade secrets with us.