Story: Tramping

Page 3. Equipment and food

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Boots and backpack are the most important tramping gear. Until the 1940s, boots in New Zealand were heavy, leather-soled and hobnailed. In the 1950s moulded rubber replaced leather soles, but boots remained heavy. By the 2000s lightweight synthetic and leather types were popular. Puttees or gaiters (canvas leggings) are often worn over boots and socks to keep out keep out mud and stones.


Packs evolved in the 1940s and 1950s from frameless sacks (nicknamed ‘kidney rotters’) to European-designed frame packs. New Zealanders started making A-frame and H-frame packs to suit local conditions in the 1960s. Packs such as the Mountain Mule, with an external lightweight metal frame, were an improvement but still relatively heavy.

Macpac, a Christchurch company, developed the Torre Egger pack in the 1970s. Its innovative internal frame had aluminium rods sewn into the pack to keep it rigid. It also featured a new harness system in which the pack straps were padded. These features were soon copied by overseas manufacturers, and have become a standard design. Improved designs and lightweight materials have made pack-carrying more comfortable.


Warm clothes are essential as New Zealand’s weather is extremely changeable. In the early 1900s men wore woollen trousers and suit jackets. Social pressure meant that women had to wear impractical skirts, to conceal trousers or riding breeches beneath. By the 1930s more comfortable baggy shorts and woollen shirts were being worn by all trampers. Men’s bush shirts (also known by the brand name Swanndri) and black woollen shearers’ singlets were popular between the 1950s and 1980s.

In the 1970s nylon shorts appeared, allowing freedom of movement and quick drying. After that synthetic but heat-retaining materials such as polypropylene and polar fleece largely replaced wool. Wool enjoyed a revival in the 1990s in the form of very fine merino garments.

Girls in shorts

In the late 1920s female trampers faced a challenge finding suitable clothing:

‘Tramping was then regarded as a disreputable hobby and trampers as queer cranks or of a rough type [and] shorts were unheard of … But tramping is not walking and freedom of movement is essential. In 1929 one brave girl – Lou Coakley – appeared in a pair of her brother’s football shorts. Within a year or so, most of the girls were wearing shorts.’ 1

Oiled canvas rainwear known as Japara was the standard material for jackets for decades. Plastic (PVC) parkas, popular from the 1970s, kept the rain out but allowed condensation to form. High-tech synthetics such as Gore-Tex, which claims to be impermeable yet breathable, are now popular.


Before the Second World War topographic maps covered only part of the country. National coverage at a scale of an inch to a mile began in the 1940s, but was not completed until the 1970s. Early maps often did not show tracks, or placed them inaccurately.

Maps at a 1:50,000 scale now cover the entire country, with 20-metre contour intervals. They are prepared from aerial photographs, but as tracks are often not visible they are identified with the help of trampers. With vastly improved accuracy, topographical maps are the tramper’s essential companion.


Tramping food must be light, and high in calories. Most people carry staples such as oats for porridge, bread for lunches and pasta, beans and rice for main meals. Dehydrated foods, chocolate and nuts are also useful.

Food is so important that the Federated Mountain Club’s Bulletin has for many years featured Uncle Jacko’s Cookery Column, in which trampers share culinary tips, as well as opinions on tramping gear.

Food should also cook quickly (to save fuel). In the 1960s it was common to carry an axe, and meals were often prepared on open fires. By the 2000s most trampers used lightweight stoves fuelled by gas or white spirits.

  1. ‘”Puawai”, tramping fashions.’ In Twenty one years of boot and pack: history of the Auckland Tramping Club, 1925–1946. Auckland: Auckland Tramping Club, 1946, p. 34. › Back
How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Tramping - Equipment and food', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 July 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 24 Sep 2007, updated 1 Jul 2015