Better Preparing for All Your Outdoor Adventures
*This article was originally published in NZ Outdoor Magazine
The New Zealand wilderness is unlike most places on earth. We all know that feeling of tramping through the bush, feeling invincible as we wade between the tree trunks and ferns. Not worrying about what’s behind that tree or around the next corner as we push on towards our destination with dogged determination.
This may be second nature to most kiwis, but it’s worth noting that in NZ we are blessed with the fact that there are very few things that can or actually want to hurt us. Unlike other countries that seem to offer up a smorgasbord of deadly or noxious pests and predators, we are left to worry about a little black sandfly that is more of a risk to our sanity than our health.
I have spent the last 6 years of my life (prior to Covid) as a professional full-time Fly Fishing guide in the South Island, which allowed me to spend my off-seasons exploring the Northern Hemisphere and all the outdoor adventures it had to offer.
Fishing trips into the bear ridden backcountry of Wyoming and alligator laden marshes of Florida have given me a true appreciation of how good we have it here in NZ.
It’s also allowed me to recognise that because of this, growing up with the New Zealand outdoors has inadvertently emblazoned us as Kiwis with a certain sense of complacency and blasé attitude when it comes to outdoor safety and preparedness.
Hiking through the USA backcountry certainly had me on my toes, snakes, scorpions, bears, mountain lions... it was a bit terrifying!
Rather than adequately prepare for our adventures many of us all too often waive the ‘she’ll be right’ white flag and just set off on our trips with little thought to the consequences should something really go wrong. Imagine if the Moa and Haast Eagle were still around, maybe we would think differently!
The fact is, our biggest external threat is actually the land itself and the weather that unforgivingly batters it on the regular. Most of us are all too aware of the real possibility of ‘Four-Seasons in One Day’ in most parts of NZ. Being a long, thin landmass, sandwiched between the warm north of the Pacific Islands and freezing south of Antartica, we are often at the mercy of unpredictable weather. Understanding weather and forecasts seems like a lost art these days as we are fed ‘emoji’ rich reports that do not explain much more than if you should hang washing out or not.
So what can we do it make sure we are prepared? The answer is in the question, Prepare. This can take many forms, from the planning you do, to the gear you pack, but it’s important to look at any trip objectively and prepare for the worst case scenario, not the best.
Before we get into it, there is a growing perception that a Beacon/PLB is the be all and end all of your preparation, ‘just chuck one in the pack and you’ll be fine’. Without doubt they do play a key part in being prepared, but they are not the sole solution. All too often when things go wrong, the weather is bad and flying into search for a triggered beacon is not always immediately possible. If you're not prepared to hunker down, sometimes for several days, there is a very real possibility that you will not be alive by the time the helicopter comes for you.
With that said, I like to break down my trip planning into three sections: Prepping, Planning & Packing. Each has an important role to play in ensuring you are adequately prepared for any scenario. So let’s break them down:
Some call New Zealand 'Godzone' or 'Eldorado', nothing can hurt you here so room free! But you should still be prepared...
Every adventure should start with Prepping. It’s not the ‘build a bunker’ in your backyard kind, instead it’s better understanding the where, what and when and how. Once you have these parameters in place, you are best placed to make informed decisions about the viability of the trip under certain circumstances.
When deciding on the location for your adventure, its important to consider not only the conditions, but your ability and experience. For instance, hiking an unknown exposed mountain ridge for the first time may be well within your skill level, but is it safe to attempt after a fresh dusting of snow or in low visibility?
This is just an example for the sort of question you should be asking yourself before you embark on the adventure, not as you are standing up on the mountain and thinking “She’ll be right”.
The weather conditions should also be front of mind whenever you are prepping, ensuring you account for the effect it will have on the landscape. Do you have to cross a river to get to/from your destination? If so consider what is the normal flow and how much rain can it take until it becomes impassable?
Most incidents can be avoided by just taking the time to step back, look at the big picture and view the trip objectively. Remember, it is probably not going anywhere and if this time seems a bit hairy, why not just keep the trip in your back pocket for next time. It may be the best decision you ever make.
It's important to be mindful of your intentions and the decisions you need to make to ensure you return safelyPlanning:
Now that you have considered the fundamentals of your trip, next up is the fun part: Planning. This is the nitty-gritty detail and can easily be the difference between returning home safely versus being lost in the wilderness for days, or worse.
This can be anything from researching the valley you are heading into, the track you will take, what time of day you will depart and return or what resources you will need to carry. This will change for every trip and it’s important not to just assume it will be the same as the last one. Study maps, weather reports and understand your intentions.
Once you have laid out your plan and are confident you can do it safely, it is now vitally important that you inform someone of your intentions, where you are going and when/who they should call for help should things not go to plan or they do not hear from you.
This is one of the most effective failsafes you can put in place. Just think, if you fell and knocked yourself unconscious and couldn’t activate your beacon, how would you be found? Or if you don’t have a beacon, the chance of rescue teams finding you in time is greatly increased if they understand your detailed trip intentions.
Last but not least, we come to packing. This is where you bring together all of your detailed prepping and planning and make informed decisions on selecting the right gear to suit your intentions.
Do you need that extra pair of warm clothes? Do you have a sufficient water/food supply? Are you carrying all the essential safety gear to get you through should you become lost or injured?
Packing can also come down to personal preference and ideology (think comfort vs ultralight). Regardless of your preference, just make sure you never compromise on your safety.
We will not go into too many specifics here because what you pack will depend on the detail of your trip and specifically relates to the where/what/when part of your planning.
When I was a guide, one of my core frustrations was trying to pack all the essential gear that I needed to carry to keep myself and clients safe. Either on a day trip or a multi-day backcountry trip, I needed something that kept all my essentials in one place.
For years I looked around for a piece of gear that would solve this problem and was not just another flimsy, gimmicky survival kit full of stuff you’ll never use. I found nothing…. So, I decided to build one myself and that’s when the KEA KIT was born, the Ultimate Outdoor Survival System.
I built the KEA KIT to suit my need for versatility and also as something that would protect my gear, keep it organised and contain all the essentials. It took over a year of development and testing to get it right, but we now have a kit that we believe is the best on the market.
The organised/modular design allows you to take just what you need, when you need it and the compact case features durable, water-resistant fabric to keep your gear safe and dry.
If you’re already decked out with gear or just starting from scratch, the KEA KIT is available in 2 versions to suit. ‘Build Your Own’ is for those who want to pack their own gear and ‘Fully Stocked’ includes over 30 items of the most essential safety & survival gear so you are ready to hit the trail.
Just remember, preparation is the key to survival, no matter how good you think you are. So before you embark on your next adventure, remember to consider the 3 P’s of preparation: Prepping, Planning & Packing. They will allow you to explore with the confidence and peace-of-mind that you are ready for anything.