Gear Kits

All-Star Women’s Gear for Tramping the New Zealand Mountains

The gear you need to reach off-the-beaten-track locations and photograph inspiring landscapes. ​

Curated by Crystal Brindle

More than likely, New Zealand is at least half a world away from anywhere you’ve hiked or backpacked before. Even if it’s closer to home its differences cannot be understated. The two islands of New Zealand make up one of the most isolated significant land masses in the world and were some of the last to be inhabited. There’s a wild world of unique trees and flowers, unusual flightless birds, and incredibly uplifted topography to draw any curious adventurer. Embarking on a multi-day “tramping” trip through the hills and jagged mountains of this country is the best way to get to know its wonders. Since everything is a little different in New Zealand, it pays to consider adding to or subtracting from your normal arsenal of backpacking gear before setting foot on a trail or navigating a route. I’ve been living in and exploring the New Zealand mountains for three seasons and have learned a few tricks of the tramping trade. Below are my favorite all-star items I use to reach off-the-beaten-track locations and photograph inspiring landscapes.

So what’s different about the backcountry of New Zealand? If you leave the Great Walks you’ll find the terrain rougher than what you might be used to on manicured trails. Expect slippery tree root ladders, mud, boulders, sand, moss and more. And, if you decide to leave the track you’ll find all of this and more in extreme concentrations. It takes a tough boot to bite into surfaces like these and give you traction when you need it most. Also, with the Salewa’s waterproof leather uppers you’ll have the best chance you can get against the inevitable wet tramping foot. Plus, these boots edge nicely across slippery snow grass and have a lip to make them crampon compatible for when it’s time to sidle a snowfield.

In the New Zealand bush, there’s no sense trying to keep your gear dry with a pack liner. It will most likely get blown off your pack, snagged on a tree, or left in a hut. Do yourself a favor and anticipate rain in this country of maritime moisture and line your pack with a sturdy liner. A yellow pack liner from the Mountain Safety Council is also large enough to double as an emergency bivvy bag and comes printed with survival tips.

A good pair of socks is like gold when you spend a lot of time in tramping boots. Wool is a must for retaining heat even when wet and merino is especially effective. My socks have a hard life and I decided early on that this was one area worth splurging on. Don’t underestimate the importance of having a reliable and comfortable pair! Icebreaker makes fabulous socks which are available easily in both New Zealand and the USA.

Another essential to keep warm is a long sleeve merino wool top. I typically change into this upon arrival to camp and wear it under another layer and Patagonia Nano Puff to stay warm as the temperatures drop and night arrives. It’s my favorite to sleep in as a next-to-skin layer.

Over the last year, I’ve discovered that I’m far more comfortable tramping in shorts rather than pants as long as the weather allows. Shorts are a lot more functional for many reasons and I’m pushing their season through autumn at the moment and loving it. A recently found favorite – the Women’s Ridgeline Shorts – are incredibly comfortable and great fitting. They move so much better than what I had been using in the past and have a great water resistant finish. I’m excited to keep these as my go-to outdoor shorts for the future!

To keep it all as dry as possible when out in New Zealand’s inevitable wet conditions I trust the Outdoor Research Enigma Rain Jacket. I love the large and customizable side vents, thick and robust material, taped zippers, and super cinchable hood. I’ve worn this jacket from ash and rain storms in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes in Alaska to running in a downpour on the Heaphy Track in New Zealand and have always been impressed. This jacket is an older model but I’m sure new versions share its great traits.

This sleeping bag is the bees’ knees! I’ve used it from Alaska to New Zealand in all conditions. My favorite thing about this bag is its small size. I bought it after struggling for years with a large synthetic bag and immediately fell in love with its compressible down. It is warm enough for spring, summer, and fall missions to the mountains yet takes up hardly any space in the pack. It is a pretty tough bag that tolerates my common practice of sitting in it on rocks around the cook stove and has even lived through a few rash nights of tossing it onto snow grass to make a hasty and unprepared camp!

A reliable favorite of mine for cooking is the GSI Soloist Cookset. I’ve used this lightweight yet durable pot for years now and find that it cooks for one or two people well. I love that a standard fuel canister, mug/bowl, and spork all fit nicely inside the pot so that its bulk is efficiently used.

If there’s one place that the GSI Cookset could use improvement it’s with the included spork. I broke the plastic one pretty quickly while trying to stir some sort of thick concoction and haven’t looked back from titanium sporks since. I love Snow Peak’s colorful and sturdy sporks and always have a few lying around. I carry two or even three in my pack and find that I’m often lending them to friends who have forgotten their own or break a plastic one. A must for cooking in the hills!

A good, stable tent to keep out the elements is absolutely paramount when camping in New Zealand. Different strategies work best for different types of camping but for my typical usage of above-treeline tenting I find the MSR Hubba fantastic when traveling alone. I was given an older model of this tent years ago and still use it as my go to for solo camping. I love that it is easy and simple to set up, light, and designed well enough to keep out substantial rain. From camping on top of a 2000 meter peak in Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park in a summer rainstorm to days of wet weather in the forest – this tent has always fit the bill for me.

Speaking of rain, it is no secret that the terrain you’ll travel through in the mountains of New Zealand will be wet. Whether it is actually raining or the vegetation is covered in morning dew, you’ll appreciate wearing gaiters over your boots to keep out moisture and debris. I find the closure system on the REI gaiters especially effective and while all straps beneath the boot on any gaiter eventually wear out, the hook and closure keep these gaiters functional long after.

Of course, a great pack to stuff all of the above gear into is massively important! That’s why I use the Gregory Deva 60 pack – the perfect size for even my heaviest loads with a waist band and lower back support that fits comfortably for my shape. I struggled in my early years of backpacking with packs that hurt my lower back. I learned when fitted at REI for a pack that my torso size is an XS and choosing a pack with this size is essential for comfort. The Gregory comes in an XS and suits me well with its super-adjustable straps and padded hip belt.

Much of my time spent tramping is in search of brilliant landscapes to photograph to help share my love of the New Zealand mountains with the world. I carry my camera equipment on every trip – no matter what. I switched to a mirrorless camera system in November and have enjoyed the slighter weight in my pack and superior color tone reproduction. More than likely I end up dragging myself and my camera through some pretty difficult situations, so, if I can keep the weight to a minimum then I’m able to travel more efficiently. If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of this system check the following post by a photographer friend.

I take this lens with me every time to capture wide landscapes and slightly tighter perspectives with sharpness and clarity. It is my go-to in almost every situation and the one I never leave home without.

When I want to compress a landscape to convey scale and detail I use the Fuji XF 18-135 mm lens. It has a great range despite its relative light weight and small size. An easy inclusion in my pack that has huge rewards for varying the shots I get on a trip.

This tiny lens is always in my pack too just in case I manage to snag an opportunity to photograph the night sky. At f/2.0 and 12 mm this lens is well-equipped to capture a wide view of bright stars.

Possibly my favorite piece of camera gear, this neoprene case is a life-saver! I don’t carry a camera case or bag so my camera only has this neoprene to protect it from the contents of my pack and the trees and rocks it slams into. Thankfully, it does the trick and is incredibly easy to pop on and off. Get one and see how it changes your life!

A tripod is a must if you intend to shoot at low light so I carry one with me on every trip. Thankfully the Sirui is very light and compact so it is a huge improvement from what I’ve had in the past! Those who are tall may find it a bit short but for me it is perfect!