Writing this as the skies darken outside, and the rain begins to fall with increasing urgency, it’s perhaps obvious that if I go outside, I’ll need a jacket. I suppose I could take an umbrella if I were to venture out to the letterbox, but this is Wellington, and umbrellas are nigh on useless in the wind. Better that I take my trusty – if old – GoreTex jacket I’ve had for far too long. It’s the one that’s been replaced in my tramping kit by a newer, lighter model but I still find this old tatty thing very useful for around town.
Growing up in New Zealand you get used to the idea that the weather is bound to change. As they say in countries like ours, “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” As Kiwis, we are perhaps more used to the idea of a dramatic and potentially very swift change in wind and rain, even on days that might have no rain in the forecast. Such is our geographical position in the Southern Ocean, in the lee of the Australian continent with one foot in the subtropical Pacific currents to the north, the other in the depths of a cold and bitter Southern Ocean that leads directly to Antarctica.
Ours is an island of contrast. Of dramatic fjords, towering alpine peaks, active volcanism, wild and windy tussock ridgelines, dense wet bush and calm sun kissed Pohutukawa fringed white sandy beaches overflowing with the thrum of cicada. It’s a country that is on the tick-list of many travellers, for good reason. The landscape is ever changing, the people are friendly, there are no snakes or bears or wolves, and the food and wine are exceptional. What more could you wish for?
So, what does this have to do with a tired old jacket at the front door and the usurper who’s currently in my pack? As with many Kiwi outdoors enthusiasts I struggle to leave the carpark without it. I’ll admit to feeling slightly vulnerable if a jacket isn’t in the bag on my back. While there are many pieces of equipment that come and go with the seasons – a good beanie for example – the jacket is a constant item that’ll be with me in the sunshine and in the wildest of south westerly storms. I’m not alone in this, and I think it’s important to work out why.
I wouldn’t mind betting that if you took a poll of the contents of the pack of overnight trampers at the beginning of the track you’d find a jacket in every bag. Regardless of the weather forecast having a ‘shell’ jacket is an essential. Contrast this with the day walker (or the trail runner) and you might find that those with a jacket are sometimes in the minority.
Why is this? What leads people to head into the Kiwi outdoors without a way to keep their top half dry? Surely people are familiar with the concept of a jacket and its ability to stave off the wind as well as rain? It’s difficult to think of the umbrella being the alternative, but, it does happen I’m told.
The most likely reason for the day-walker not taking a jacket is that their intention is to return that same day. In a matter of hours, they intend to be back at the place they started, full of happy memories and brilliantly adventurous selfies. If you began in the sunshine, you might be forgiven for thinking a jacket is not an essential item. Consider this though – if you’re injured or get lost, and you end up out there for the night, are you prepared? Does anyone know you’re out there?
While a jacket is only one item (of many) that might be very useful for the day walker in a time of need, it’s the one item that might just help you shiver through the night until first light. Hopefully, the search has already begun for you because you told someone where you were going and when you’d be back. If not, you can (slowly) find your way back in the morning. You’ll be tired, very cold, scared and not a little bit embarrassed. Hopefully, you found a sheltered place to settle in for the night. Hopefully, you had a jacket to pull your knees underneath zip it up tight and focus on staying calm.
It’s for this reason that regardless of the forecast or the length of trip, a jacket will always have a home in my bag. It’s certainly not the only emergency item I carry – head to our website for more hints and tips – but it’s the first on the list. If you’re heading out this Easter, wherever you’re going, whatever the forecast consider taking a jacket.
Mike Daisley, CEO Mountain Safety Council
For more information head to mountainsafety.org.nz