DIY DCF tape

DCF Tape is pretty simple to make yourself! Whether you want to do it to save money, save resources, or just for the joy of making, there are only a couple things you need to know.

Fabric

DCF1.0 macro shot; open the image in a new tab and see the details!

First off, there’s the fabric choice. The predominant choice for DCF tape is the .51oz/y^2 version, since it is thin enough to flex easily around edges and corners if necessary. However, if you’re making your own, you can choose for yourself if you want thicker or thinner! At the time of writing, there is a pretty good DCF fabric shortage, so maybe you just need to make tape out of whatever you can get your hands on!

I bought my DCF on a roll to make things easier and to ensure there are no creases, but it costs extra to have it put on a roll if ordering through Ripstop by the Roll (and it makes shipping more expensive). This isn’t necessary, cut and folded is fine.

Adhesive

The next, trickier decision is the adhesive choice. Many adhesives aren’t meant to be used on low-friction surfaces, so finding the right one for DCF isn’t as simple as going to the local hardware store.

3M has specially formulated their 9485 Transfer Tape to work well on low surface energy materials, briefly explained here. I’ve found these distributors for 1″ wide rolls of this:

Digikey: 9485 1″ x 60yards

Extremetextil: 9485 20mm x 55m

You can also use some special liquid adhesives for extra strong bonds, but that doesn’t lend itself to tapes, so it is outside the scope of this post.

Additional info: https://backpackinglight.com/forums/topic/dcf-seam-strength-test/

If using this tape for stuff sacks, there is a chance it may fail at extremely low temperatures. Read the above link for more information.

Making

Making the tape is about as easy as you can imagine, just make sure you’re lined up properly on the DCF lines. Carefully place down the transfer tape about 6″ at a time, then cut it once you get to the end!

You can see here I’m making 1.5″ tape by cutting down the middle of a strip of 1″ adhesive

It’s really simple, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Be careful while applying the transfer tape, since it will stick instantly and won’t come off. I’ve messed up a couple strips of tape because I accidentally touched the fabric while repositioning myself. Practice makes perfect! While cutting the fabric, it works best with sharp scissors gliding along the fabric, rather than ‘chomping’ with the scissors.

Cost

Buying a half yard of 54″wide DCF should allow you to make 16 x 1″ wide sections. If each section is 54″ long, this comes out to 72 feet of tape, or 24 yards.

Buying a half yard of (.51) fabric from Ripstop by the Roll (currently) costs $17, and I’ll add $5 shipping onto that, or $22 total. That gives us $0.92/yard for the fabric.

If buying the digikey tape roll, at $52 for the tape and $5 shipping, that gives us $0.96/yard for the tape.

Together, that makes $1.88/yard for 24 yards of DCF tape, with an upfront cost of $74. However, you also have 46 yards of adhesive tape left over, which you can use for other DCF bonding projects.

Comparatively, there are a couple companies that make pre-made DCF tape. Duchwaregear has $4.00/yard (continuous) tape, or MLD has $3.50/yard (in 2 yard sections) tape.

professional graph

As such, you can get 18.5 yards of DCF tape from dutchwaregear for the same price, or 20 yards from MLD.

Conclusions

In the end, making your own DCF tape is relatively easy and fun!

Pros:

  • Can make tape whatever width you want!
  • End up with loads of extra DCF adhesive, which you can use on other projects
  • Cheaper if needing large quantities
  • It is fun and rewarding!

Cons:

  • $74 upfront cost
  • Extra work
  • Possibility of mistakes

I hope this little post has helped anyone looking to make their own DCF tape! Let me know if there are any questions!

–Cameron F

Perfectly custom gear

The biggest draw of making my own gear is that it allows for perfect customization. Often you can buy gear that works pretty well, or that surprisingly fits okay, but you can’t always find that for everything.

My first taste of homemade gear was quite delicious! –or at least, the stuff I prepared with it was. I found some plans online for the ubiquitous aluminum can alcohol stove, and whipped it up one evening after work.

I brought that stove on just one trip after I made it, since fire bans (and thus, open flame alcohol stoves) came into effect early that season. But I was hooked! It opened my eyes to the possibility of just…making things I needed.

Homemade alcohol stove, with pot holder behind

Staying with the food theme, another beginner-friendly MYOG project is the pot coozie. It is basically just an insulating sleeve that you put your pot in to keep it warm after you’ve been cooking. The coozie has changed the way I cook in the backcountry, since you can get your food to just boiling and pop it in there to finish cooking in the (very hot) water, rather than keeping it boiling to finish the pasta, rice, etc.

Pot all wrapped up!

Making it is simple enough. In the US, you can buy rolls of ‘reflectix’ branded aluminized bubble wrap in hardware stores, which can be cut up with scissors and taped together with either duct tape or aluminum tape. I just made a simple rectangle that I taped together into a cylinder, then two circles the approximate size of my pot for the top and bottom.

In the quest for reducing weight everywhere possible, I took aim at my headlamp. I was fortunate enough to have access to a 3D printer through my work, so I decided to use this for my next project.

The Nitecore NU25 is a really good lightweight rechargeable option, but I could never figure out a good way to wear the head strap with a baseball cap. If the strap was worn below the hat, the brim would be illuminated and destroy my night vision; above the hat, and the brim would cast a shadow over the things I wanted to see.

Thus, the hat clip was born! A way to attach the light to the brim of my hat, which could then fold up (more or less) out of the way of my vision when not needed. Plus, it was lighter than the strap, and it didn’t squeeze my head!

Hat clip 3D file

I did a couple iterations on this project, and eventually figured out that TPU filament in the 3D printer gave it just the flex it needed to fit over any brim we have.

The last small things we made before launching into bigger scale projects were a couple zipper kits from Ripstop by the roll. They were a great way to get reacquainted with the sewing machine, and they gave us a taste of some fun custom colors! On the trail, they work great for separating out smaller clothes in your bag, so we spend less time digging around for all the various hats and gloves that otherwise would get lost in the pack.

Zipper kit

Along the way there were a few failed attempts at gloves and mittens, but those are important for learning and we’re still experimenting with how to make our own rain mitts!

Mitteneering attempts…still getting there

This desire to create things we want has extended beyond just outdoor gear. Kadi was inspired to re-use an old blanket to make three fleece baby blankets for nephews! With some of the extra flannel, she then made a microwavable rice bag for heating sore sewing muscles.

Fleece baby blanket!

After all this creating, Kadi even designed and made a pattern for the skirt portion of her wedding dress that her Aunt was making for her!

Recently, Kadi injured her knee and her physio recommended using a hand roller to roll out her quads. Her muscles were still very tender and the thought of using a hard plastic roller was painful; plus, they are quite expensive here in New Zealand. I came up with a super simple and easy solution that we could get and make that night. Behold:

The Ultimate!

Super cheap muscle roller! Pool noodle and 22mm wooden dowel cut to desired size.

In the end, making our own gear has opened so many creative pathways for both of us, and we’re excited to keep expanding our skills and knowledge!

Thanks for reading!

–Cameron

Our first MYOG backpacks

MYOG: Make your own gear.

Backpacks are the most difficult piece of gear to figure out. As you first get into backpacking, an old hand-me-down will do the job as you fill it to the brim. When you go on your first few trips, you figure out which items come along on the next outing, and which are left at home. As Cameron and I got more into ultralight backpacking, we were having a tough time finding just the right size pack, so we decided to learn how to make our own. We could make them exactly as we needed them!

Version One

After a bit of searching (r/MYOG on reddit and #MYOG on Instagram), we settled on the Bag Buff Mountain Flyer 34L pattern. Stephen does an incredible job laying out the steps, explaining the process, and breaking it down in a way that complete beginners (us!) could understand. It was an excellent way to re-learn the sewing machine, familiarizing ourselves with stitches, bar tacks, and all the materials that go into making a backpack.

One of the most difficult parts of these packs was actually choosing the colors and sourcing the fabric! Since we would be making them totally custom, we wanted some color and flair on the trail.

Cameron chose white X-PAC VX21 for the main fabric, with gold and maroon accents. After purchasing and receiving the materials from Ripstop By The Roll and Seattle Fabrics, we got to work sewing the first backpack. We dubbed it ‘Gryffindor’ for it’s color theme.

We used Cameron’s mom’s sewing machine, which was still going strong from 1985! And we only broke a couple needles!

After completing the first backpack, Cameron took it on a quick weeknight trip to a backcountry site near Horsetooth Mountain. It was pretty incredible to suddenly have a functional backpacking bag appear out of paper patterns and sharpie marks on fabric!

In the wild!

It worked great! This particular pattern is low volume, meant to be used as an Ultralight bag with minimal amounts of gear taken along. On the downside, it didn’t have a hip belt or frame, so it couldn’t handle heavier loads if needed.

This meant we quickly moved on to version two: My backpack! With the knowledge and confidence of making one backpack, we launched into modifying the pattern to fit what we wanted.

Version Two

This backpack was going to be mine for New Zealand, so we knew it had to handle variable loads of multi-sport goodness! We wanted to add thick straps to the bottom to attach my DIY packraft to, a hipbelt for additional weight-bearing capabilities, and a minimal frame to help keep everything vertical.

We also realized that the main body fabric that Cameron used, VX21, was thicker than necessary. I used X-Pac VX07 on mine, which is quite a bit lighter, but still very strong and waterproof!

All the building blocks

Though we started with the same pattern, we modified it in a  few places; first, we changed the side panels to go all the way to the top to aid in assembly, since the curved seams were a huge hassle last time.

We added a stretch pocket to the bottom of the pack, to put trail trash in, and changed the over the top strap into a y-strap (rather than a single). We have a Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack, but we don’t love the velcro enclosure at the top. It’s quite noisy and it constantly snags our shirt sleeves when we reach into the pack. Because of this, we decided to use plastic KAM snaps on the top edge for closure on mine.

Another change involved the shoulder straps. They are a difficult part of the assembly, since they have a piece of foam inserted along the s-shaped curves after they’ve been sewn together. We decided to bind the edges (rather than sew them face-to-face and flip inside out) on my backpack to make assembly a little easier, and to add the color of this fun grosgrain ribbon we found online!

Shoulder straps assembled!

The most difficult part was the panel that goes against your back. We were adding so many things to it! Everything converged at the bottom: The hip belts we added, the bottom of the frame channels, and a small cushion to cover it all up.

Maroon frame channels, where aluminum bars will slide in from the top.

We spent many hours thinking and talking over the proper order of sewing things and adding things. We didn’t want to sew over the back cushion, but we also had to sew the channel webbing all the way to the bottom; The hip belt should be sewn underneath the cushion, but couldn’t go over the frame channels. We also added a mesh pocket on the inside to hold my water bladder. It was a great puzzle to figure out!

A custom sized waterproof hipbelt pocket, just right for my phone, wallet, and a snack!

In the end, we figured out the order and it turned out amazingly! After the back panel was assembled, final assembly of all the separate parts seemed like an easy task.

Covering up the end of the webbing

For most of the stretch pockets, we used some of my old yoga pants! They didn’t fit quite right anymore, but I still loved the pattern–and it fit perfectly with the color scheme! I made some little pockets on the shoulder straps just the right size for some chapstick and a tiny flashlight on the left, and some snacks on the right!

Back pieces together

On the top of this back assembly, you can also see where I added a water hose pass-through, which I designed as a simple overlap to keep it as rain resistant as possible.

Making your own pack means you can add as many (or as few) straps and features as you want. I added a small stretch loop for one of my favorite products–my Kula cloth!

Front pieces

After we had finished sewing it together, we of course had to pack it full of stuff and model it. I attached my DIY packraft to the bottom, put the oars into the straps we had made for them, and strapped our MYOG pyramid tent to the top!

Happy model!
All packed up with raft, oars, and tent!

New Zealand

We finished assembling my backpack just before Cameron and I moved to New Zealand, but we added a few finishing touches after we moved (using our sewing machine in the van)! We’ve had so many great adventures using it! From packrafting down the Clutha river to tramping half of the Great Walks, it has rained, snowed and hailed on me, and my custom pack has survived it all comfortably. Here are some highlights of the trips, featuring my backpack!

Kepler Track

Milford Track

Rakiura Track

Routeburn Track

Abel Tasman Coast Track

That’s all for now, thanks for letting me show off my pack!

–Kadi

We have a great relationship with RipstopbytheRoll so the material links are affiliate links, it hasn’t changed the content of the post.

The Kepler Track

Date of Adventure: 22-25 March 2021

Standing as still as we could, our eyes darted back and forth through the pitch black underbrush; stars and glowworms blend together as we spot a long line of satellites meandering overhead. We finally detect what we were straining to hear: the loud, rising trill of the South Island Brown Kiwi!

While we were pining for adventure in our MIQ hotel, I knew there was one place I wanted to return: The Kepler Track. Though I had walked it once before, I wanted Kadi to have the unforgettable New Zealand experience I had enjoyed.

The Kepler Track is one of the newer Great Walks, having been built in 1989. Though it’s often overlooked for it’s older brother the Milford Track, the Kepler enjoys many advantages: you don’t have to take an expensive boat ride to the start, you have the choice of which direction to walk it, and you have an entire day above the alpine treeline! Bookings are still required though, and it often fills up early in the booking season.

Map

The 60km (37 mile) walk is generally hiked in 4 days with 3 hut stays, but you’ll often see runners doing the entire thing in one day (another advantage to the Milford, which is more strict). There is even an annual race around the Track, called the Kepler Challenge, which takes place in December (summer here).

Kadi and I were able to get hut tickets for the middle of March. Still plenty warm, but starting to feel the cold of fall in the air. We spent a couple days in Te Anau preparing for our first trek, and finally departed on the morning of March 23rd!

Beautiful sunset the night before our start!
Packs all loaded up! This was the first real test of Kadi’s custom made backpack!
Start of the Track
Crown fern

The Track starts on the banks of Lake Te Anau, with lush underbrush and towering Red Beech trees as far as you can see. The crown ferns rise up above and around you as you hike within view of the lake for the first few kilometers.

Boardwalks covered in chicken wire, ubiquitous on NZ tracks

There are many introduced predators on the islands of New Zealand, including Stoats, Ferrets, Possums, and feral Cats, just to name a few. Trapping is a constant battle with these quick-to-breed mammals, since they pose a severe danger to the unique flightless birds endemic to these South Pacific Islands. Trap boxes were seen regularly throughout the track.

Spiky things!

Eventually the track departed from the lakefront, heading deeper into the humid podcarp forest. Our legs let us know that we were no longer on the flat part, as the path climbed steadily towards the blue skies above.

Elevation profile. We had just reached the big hill to Luxmore Hut.
Our incredible experience on the Kepler Track.
Our first view above the trees–Mt. Titiroa. Not snow, but a granite layer in the mountain makes it white!
Limestone bluffs on the way up the mountain

The tall, proud trunks of the Red Beech trees slowly gave way to the stout and twisted limbs of Silver or Mountain Beech, more appropriate for the whipping winds of the alpine. We knew we were close to treeline!

The trees started getting smaller
Into the alpine tussocks!

Most of the 900m elevation gain of the day was finished by the time we got above the trees, so we de-layered and wondered about what to expect at the hut.

First view of the Luxmore hut, with sunbathing hikers out front

We hadn’t been around such a large, social gathering in more than a year, so we were both a bit intimidated by the raucous crowd in the large hut. It fits 50 people max, one of the largest huts in NZ!

Boots off in the hut

We met a few people through the night, but many of the groups kept to themselves. In stark contrast to my previous time here, we were the only Americans and the demographics were largely kiwis!

Luxmore hut with Te Anau in the background

We decided to take an optional side hike to Luxmore Cave, a limestone cavern just 10 minutes away from the hut (you can see the path going off to the right ^).

Down into the depths
We didn’t go very far down, as it was getting dark outside, and our shoes weren’t quite the right footwear for it

When we got back from the cave, it was time for the nightly hut warden talk and warning about fire (which she did quite thoroughly). Many had already finished dinner by that time and started heading to bed! Our sleep schedule was much later than this, so we made dinner by ourselves, and I headed out to do some astrophotography.

Luxmore hut by moonlight
Mt. Luxmore, an objective for the next day
Sleepy Te Anau and surrounds

The next morning we woke up before sunrise to check out the beautiful cloud inversion in the adjacent valleys, one of the things the Kepler Track is famous for.

Sunrise cloud inversion
Ubiquitous aluminum-clad tables of DOC huts

After a quick breakfast, everyone started heading along the trail. Most people travel the Track Counter-clockwise, but there were a few who were heading back down to town that day.

Moving on
Alpine tarn with the path we took in
Mt. Luxmore: our next objective
Looking back from the top of the Mount

Though the hike to the top of Mt. Luxmore is an optional spur, we knew we had to hike to the top of the mountain. It was reminiscent of the last parts of 14ers back home: rocky and sandy, but this one wasn’t nearly as long or oxygen-deficient.

Classic Fiordland mountains
Emergency shelter with the Jackson Peaks in the background

The second day of hiking takes you along the shoulders of the Jackson Peaks, hanging on to the steep sides of actively eroding hillsides.

The trail is a small slash across the top of these bad boys

This day is almost entirely above the trees, so sun and weather protection is a must. We were lucky to have an entirely sunny day, but I got stuck in a rainstorm last time I had hiked it, resulting in a very cold Cameron.

Beautiful alpine tramping
Surveying the path we had taken so far, with Mt. Luxmore poking up on the left.

All too soon, the ridgeline starts to taper downwards as you see the dense forest approach from below.

Back down into the Beech
Saying goodbye to the hot, sunny ridgeline

Though the views are smaller, the shade of the woods were a welcome change after treking a dozen kilometers in the sun.

Old Man’s Beard on the Silver Beech
An example of the active erosion found in New Zealand

Walking through the wet, dark, south slopes of the valley felt much different than the forest we had hiked through the day before.

Descending into the Iris Burn Valley
The Iris Burn (Creek).

Our knees were thankful that we finally reached the valley floor, but the sandflies reminded us that not everything can be perfect. The Iris Burn hut sat welcoming in a large meadow, and we claimed our bunks for the night before going to the nearby Iris Burn waterfall.

Iris Burn Hut
Sunny meadow
Iris Burn waterfall

The hut ranger at this hut was a bit less strict about fire safety, but did give us the details of what would happen if you flush your wet wipes into the sewage system at the hut (not good things). Finally, she gave us some details on how and where to spot kiwi that night if you were so inclined!

Kadi and I were absolutely inclined, once it got super dark outside we grabbed our red headlamps and started walking back up the path we had come from.

Standing as still as we could, our eyes darted back and forth through the pitch black underbrush; stars and glowworms blend together as we spot a long line of satellites meandering overhead. We finally detect what we were straining to hear: the loud, rising trill of the South Island Brown Kiwi!

Handheld Starlink photo. Nice job Panasonic G9!

We saw SpaceX’s Starlink satellite array for the first time, a long row of lights lazily taking up the night sky between the steep valleys.

As we stood and listened, we saw another red light slowly bobbing along the trail coming back towards us. As it got closer, we realized it was our track mate following a kiwi walking down the path!

The kiwi didn’t seem to care that we were there at all! It walked right past Kadi, frozen on the side of the trail, and kept foraging for insects with its long beak. The kiwi breed that lives here, the  South Island Brown Kiwi, is one of the larger breeds. Even though this was a female (generally smaller), it still almost came up to Kadi’s knee! It felt very primeval to me, an ancient relic of New Zealand’s wilder times.

After this night adventure, we headed back to the hut for our new tradition; a cup of hot chocolate and Tim-Tams before bed (look up a Tim-Tam slam, it’s incredible).

The next morning a cheeky Kea was investigating the hut and it’s inhabitants. The weather was a far cry from the day before– it was foggy, misting rain, and all around dreary.

Kea – these alpine parrots are all around mischievous

We set off tramping down the Iris Burn valley. The cooler day made for nice hiking weather, and we made great time cruising downhill for most of the day.

Fog
Lush path through ‘The Big Slip’
More moss and lushness

Many of the birds of New Zealand evolved to not be afraid of things, since they didn’t have any land-based predators. This means that many of them will be very friendly, as you attract their lunch: sandflies.

Friendly Robin
Taking a break for lunch. I think I counted 30+ sandflies here alone! Be prepared for these guys, they bite!

With the cold and damp weather came hundreds of mushrooms! I had to stop and try to take pictures of all of them, of course. This certainly made the hike take longer, but it was absolutely worth it.

Tiny Mushrooms
Classic mushroom
Some sort of fungus, but probably not a true mushroom
Competing mushrooms

As we continued to lose altitude, we started seeing the familiar ferns we had seen on the first day, but in more abundance.

Fern covered forest floor

We were approaching Lake Manapouri, and the sun started breaking through the clouds. Looked like it was going to be a beautiful night!

The sun shining through
Manapouri in view
The final hut. Phew!

Though the Moturau hut has a prime beachfront lot, the sandflies there are as thick and big as we had seen (or have seen since). Kadi and I took a few minutes to walk down the beach, but ensured we were covered from head to toe with our long sleeve shirts, hoods, socks, and everything tucked in.

Beachfront views

That night was a great night of conversation and friendship. Most of the people staying there were the same ones we had been meeting and talking with for the last three days, so we could talk freely and joke with the others. I was able to get some free food that another large group didn’t have room for, and Kadi and I talked late into the night with a couple folks about New Zealand’s long pathway, Te Araroa. It felt a little melancholy; I wanted one more night with all these strangers turned friends.

The next morning was a little grey and overcast, but not raining like the day before. Looking at the map, it was a gentle, relatively flat walk back out to the van.

The tiny forests all around
Boardwalk through marshlands
Beautiful reflection

We caught up with a few people as we were hiking and had some good conversations with them, and many offered to let us stay at their place or property if we were traveling through. The generosity of kiwis is enormous!

Waiau river
The best signs
Big ol’ suspension bridge

The last few kilometers were also a little bittersweet, I kinda wanted to hike some more, and enjoy the simplicity of just hiking to the next destination. However, my feet were complaining, and I’m sure I smelled unpleasant enough to everyone around.

A friendly fantail, feasting feverishly on ferocious flies

We finally saw the signpost we had originally passed on the right fork, this time approaching from the left. We had made it! Kadi’s longest trip to date, and her custom backpack held up splendidly!

Not too worse for wear!

It was time to go back to our Holiday park in Te Anau and take scathingly hot showers to numb the searing itch of the sandfly bites. Yuck.

Sandfly aftermath

I hope I’ve convinced at least one of you that you should come tramp the Kepler Track, it is a world class track that takes you through some of the most diverse places New Zealand’s South Island has to offer. Let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for reading!

–Cameron

Cromwell Area

Date of Adventure: 16-17 March 2021

Cromwell doesn’t get the international attention of it’s neighboring towns. It doesn’t have a tree in a beautiful lake like Wanaka, nor an international airport for easy access like Queenstown. One thing that we love about it, however, is a large designated free camping area, complete with flushing toilets and free wi-fi!

Large, relaxed campsite next to the lake

It was the perfect place to settle down after the busyness of Queenstown and Wanaka. We ended up staying there for a few days, working on sewing the curtains and hanging our clothing cubbies on the ceiling, which you can see below!

It was one of the clearest nights we’d had yet in the country, so I took advantage to do some southern-hemisphere astrophotography!

You can see the large and small Magellanic clouds on the right!

The following day, Kadi and I went for a run on the aptly named ’45th parallel track’. For reference to the USA, the border between Wyoming and Montana is on the 45th parallel North.

There was a playground along the route we chose, and we took a short break to play on the teeter-totter! From there, we took the path directly up the hill to the top of a large plateau.

Stairs are fun to run?

Slogging up the steep hill gave us both time for reflection, and Kadi shared that she had been reading about the Te Araroa (‘the TA’), New Zealand’s long pathway from the north tip to the south tip of the country.

After the run she revealed that she desires to hike the TA! Between the book she was reading about it and the tramper we had met in Wanaka just a few days before, she felt a calling to hike it. This was a huge revelation for me, since I’ve always wanted to do a thru-hike and the TA was an obvious choice, as we now live here! We’re currently planning what that will look like coming up!

View of the lake below!

On our way out of town, we stopped in Cromwell proper to stock up. It’s well known for it’s fruit orchards and vineyards, which they proudly display with a group of large fruits on your way in.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, so Kadi and I took some time to throw a frisbee around in a park too! What a fun place!

Big tree

There are plenty of fruit stands around the outskirts of town, and the end of summer was a great time to find some interesting hybrids you can’t buy in grocery stores! We chose an apricot nectarine hybrid, as well as some fresh pears!

All stocked up! Fruit basket is full of fresh fruits from the fruit stands!

After this we headed south past Queenstown to Te Anau, where we would prepare for the Kepler Track, coming up next!

Thanks for reading!

–Cameron

Foray into Mount Aspiring NP

Date of Adventure: 15 March 2021

Fiordland National Park has been at the forefront of New Zealand’s mysterious wilderness in my mind since I first explored it in 2015. Giant, plunging fjords, dense forests with impenetrable underbrush, and torrential rainfall.

As such, a day trip venturing into Mount Aspiring National Park just west of Wanaka took me completely by surprise. Suddenly, I was in the land of Tolkien. Vast plains quickly lurched up into rocky mountains towering above, with milky glacial rivers appearing from valleys we couldn’t see moments before.

In our previous post it was mentioned that a storm system was rolling through the country; that was the day we decided to drive into the mountains for fun.

Water everywhere! Falling from the sky, rolling down the hills, pooling around the swans, you name it!

That didn’t keep the locals from going about their business though!

We had the privilege of taking Campi Schlabi through a number of Fords this day, each deeper and murkier than the last.

As we were contemplating if we could make it across a particularly wide one, a tour van plowed through it coming the other way and pulled up alongside us, rolling his window down. We were advised that the next ford had come up to his windscreen, and was only getting deeper; that was our turnaround point for this adventure!

The rain continued as we barrelled back through the fords, nervous they might swell at any moment.

After the final ford, we could relax a bit and enjoy the misty mountains around us. We found a herd of domesticated deer that were enjoying it as well!

We stopped for lunch and kept working on insulating our curtains as the rain plinked on the van roof. Eventually the sun came out and started baking the van, so we ventured out for a hike!

After the storm

We only saw one other person on this trail, but the views were phenomenal!

Phenomenal views

We finished up the day by finding an out of the way road to freedom camp on, our first real freedom camping!

Freedom camping!

Thanks for reading, stay tuned for a big post about the Kepler track coming up soon!

–Cameron

Wanaka

Date of Adventure: 12-14 March 2021

Having driven up and over the Crown Range from Queenstown, it was already dark by the time we drove into Wanaka. As soon as we had cooked and cleaned up from dinner, Cameron grabbed his camera bag, walked to the lakefront, and set up his tripod to capture the famous Wanaka lake tree under starlight.

After packrafting a couple times down the Clutha, we made our way to an interesting place on the edge of town called Puzzling World. We had driven by it each time we drove to the campground and we were super intrigued by it!

It was something else! They had little wooden puzzles at every table in the lobby for you to figure out.

Kiwi Puzzle!

There were hallways lined with holographic images! And the tilted room was really fun, though sometimes hard to navigate!

Tilted room
Impossible box?
The floor in the bathroom

Outside there was a very large maze. There were towers in the four corners of the maze, each with a unique color. The goal was to get to each colored tower before finding your way out! It took us well over an hour, it was so much fun!!

Yellow tower in view from the green tower

After escaping Puzzling World, we went back to the Wanaka tree to see it in the day!

It was still early afternoon, so we moseyed around town popping in and out of shops. Probably our favorite store in Wanaka was Racer’s Edge, an outdoor clothing and gear store! We overheard one of the salespersons talking about packrafting, so we decided to ask him about it. We all got to chatting about the recent places he had been, and we told him about our DIY packrafts. It was great!

Another one of our favorites we keep coming back to is Glowing Sky, a merino wool clothing store. We love their little half-gloves they sell! We also checked out The Theiving Kea, a super cute little souvenir shop!

Merino half-gloves, nice for winter!

We returned to the tree again at dusk, hoping for sunset colors. There was a storm rolling in that night, so the winds were whipping our face. We heard a small noise behind us, only to see a Jeep bearing down on us as they had a joyride along the shore. We scrambled to get our stuff as they zoomed around us, with the passenger shouting “Sorry, not sorry!” as they drove by. Must not have been Kiwis!

Stormy tree

Our final day in Wanaka we decided to drive down as far as we could to the end of the peninsula and go for a walk! During this walk, we found a tree seat, a tree swing and an apple tree. You could say the walk was in-tree-guing! What a beautiful sunny day!

Sitting on a big branch
Roy’s Peak in the background
Fresh picked apple!

After our walk we drove back to the lakefront, parked up, and got to work on our current sewing project. We had been working on winterizing our van, and the first thing we were working on was sewing insulation onto the backs of the window curtains. The lakeside in the sun was a perfect place to winterize the van!

Sewing in the van!

We’ve returned to Wanaka a couple times since then, but always as a stopover to go elsewhere, and it’s not quite as warm as it was then. We will have to return in the spring and see if the apple tree is in bloom!

Thanks for reading, see you next time!

–Kadi

Packrafting the Clutha

Date of Adventure: 12 & 13 March 2021

We finally reached the rocky beach where lake turns to river as day turned to dusk.

Wanaka is a beautiful town, and we find ourselves returning here often. The combination of accessible mountains and the small-town feel makes it an appealing stopover.

In this case, we stopped in for the A&P (Agriculture and Produce) Festival. It was just a small fair for the surrounding countryside to show off their latest products and livestock. It felt remarkably similar to the National Western Stock Show in Denver, except held outside. We even ran into the only kiwi we knew, proving how small of a country it can feel like!

After leaving the festival, we had to decide where would stay for the night. Having recently discovered the CamperMate App, we found the nicest low-cost option, Albert Town DOC Campground, just outside of Wanaka.

Albert Town DOC

Situated in a large bend of the Clutha River, the Albert Town Campground contained several rows of enormous trees to block the sun and wind, making it a very peaceful place! Crossing the bridge to get to the campground we remarked how wide – and packraftable – the river looked! After finding our camp site for the night we quickly consulted Google maps and found there was a footpath alongside the river all the way up to the mouth at Lake Wanaka!

It was a super short path, probably only about 5km one way, but that seemed like a perfect short start for the amount of time we had! Someday we will be back to raft more of the Clutha river!

Here’s a link to a fun little video of our adventure!

Though it was late afternoon and the sun would be setting soon, we decided it was worth the adventure even if we got benighted. We had been craving more river time since our first trip in October of 2020 and were itching to use the packrafts from the moment we packed them into our suitcases!

We hastily threw the packrafts, paddles and PFDs into the first backpacks we could find and took off down the path. Quick stop for the tree swing of course!

The golden rays of the setting sun illuminated the trees as we hustled down the gravel trail. Our pace was halfway between a walk and a jog, partially to get there with as much daylight as possible but mainly out of excitement.

The path followed the curves of the winding river, giving us ample views of our way back to camp. We noticed a couple of “rapids” and obstacles on our way, making mental notes of which line we should take once on river. We finally reached the rocky beach where lake turns to river as day turned to dusk. With no time to lose, we unfurled our packrafts and quickly inflated them. Within minutes we were ready to push off into the lazily flowing Clutha River.

It always feels weird when the river takes control of your raft; though you’re not adding any propulsion yourself, the trees on the banks swiftly whisper by, and the water’s surface belies your true speed.

The river valley cooled quickly without the input of the sun. We found ourselves paddling to keep warm, if not for speed. This quickly brought us to our small rapids. We communicated about our plans and cruised through the rocks with ease.

The choppy water we called our ‘Rapids’

Before long we recognized the tall trees of the Albert Town campground and knew our takeout point was soon approaching. We ensured we were on the correct side of the river and hugged the edge to make sure we wouldn’t get swept away in the strong current passing by. The far left side of the final bend featured the strongest current of the river stretch and we had to be certain to exit that current at the right time so we didn’t overshoot our camp site.

As the dark crept in, we stepped into the cold water to pull our rafts onshore. We heaved the boats overhead and climbed up the loose hill to our van. As I quickly tossed the paddle down, it hit the still inflated packraft and bounced off landing on my bare foot. Ouch!

On the shore at dusk

Didymo, a freshwater algae, is trying to make its way across the country. To prevent the spread of this, each water sporter is responsible for making sure all their wet gear is cleaned and dried out thoroughly before storing. We did our part by wiping everything down and leaving them out overnight to dry, tying the packrafts to the van so they would stay close by in the event of strong winds.

The next morning was a beautiful day! As we started to pack up our packraft gear, we looked at each other and checked the time. We had so much fun the previous evening, our stuff is still out and ready, let’s do it again! Off we went!

Beautiful day to be on the river!

This time we were better prepared; we had pulled out better bags, and they were packed more securely. We had our running shoes on, plus a better camera! Again we found ourselves on a time crunch, so we decided to run most of it!

All packed up!

About halfway up we ran into a tramper (hiker) and stopped to chat. She was walking the TA (Te Araroa)! I was awed; we asked her several questions and heard some of her stories as we all walked in the same direction. It was so inspiring!

The TA hiker, making tracks!

When we reached the mouth of the river, we unpacked, unrolled and inflated the rafts. As soon as I pushed off and sat down in mine my seat completed deflated! What a bummer! I spent the last few days in the states going over each seam meticulously with the iron to fix any known holes and ensure a complete seal all the way around. But the packrafts themselves still held their air phenomenally and that’s all that really matters anyway!

Inflating
Cameron surveying the water

As quickly as we ran up alongside the river, we floated back down the river. Soon enough we could see Cämpi and we were back at camp! Thankfully, the hot sun was beaming down, not only for the sake of our solar panel and charging our battery but also to help dry out the gear! Before long, the packrafts were all dried out and ready to be stowed. Once everything was tucked away, we drove off, heading toward our next adventure!

Cameron crafted this for me our last day at the Albert Town Campground ❤

Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed it!

–Kadi

Adventure to the Shotover River

Date of Adventure: 7 March 2021

Kadi and I had been craving movement. We were walking twice a day every day in quarantine, but it had been several been several days since our release and a few more before that since our last walk.

With that in mind, we decided to find a walk. It wasn’t supposed to rain, and the sun was out! What better place to go than down to the river?

We found a rough path that would take us down there, starting at the Holiday Park we were staying at, winding through a neighborhood and jaunting down what looked like a path on Google Maps.

Hope it goes through!

We crossed a couple streets, making sure to look right first, something new to learn with the opposite traffic here.

Heading down through the neighborhood, we could see the valley we were going down into. Progress! The dirt path we had chosen looked to be promising, and the sun was shining!

We walked past a small field of replanted trees with protective cardboard around them, and heard a dog barking at the kids he was playing with. As we rounded the corner, something caught our eye: small black beads glistening on the bushes?

Blackberries! I had grown up in the Pacific Northwest, where blackberry bushes were abundant and pesky. The taste of sun-sweetened blackberries brought me back to my childhood as the seeds got stuck between my teeth. Kadi said these were the best blackberries she had ever had!

The path soon descended beneath a thick cover of pine trees, darkening the area and enveloping us in a dank smell of rot. The perfect place for mushrooms! They were poking up through the leaf covered ground. Of course I had to stop at each mushroom and take not just one, but at least five photos of each one.

Good thing I brought my camera along!

Once we finally made it past the mushrooms, the forest floor kept grabbing our attention with it’s bright flowers and plants! There were a few more blackberries down a steep hill, but it seemed a bit too dangerous to get those.

Purple seemed to be the color of the day!

Desktop background for sure!

We finally made it down to the river (much later than anticipated)! Because of the mining history in this area, there are some old relics of that time 150 years ago.

Old thing
Perfect skipping rock!
Kadi staying warm

Though the forecast didn’t call for rain, it rained all the same. We decided we had had enough of the water and headed back to the van. What a beautiful short walk!

Back uphill

Thanks for reading!

–Cameron

The Van

Start date of Adventure: 4 March 2021

For years, we’d yearned for the perceived simplicity of van life. The minimal lifestyle was very appealing: travel wherever you want and see the sights along the way, and you have your home with you at the end of the day! When we moved to New Zealand, we decided this was the perfect time to find our perfect van!

While we staying in our MIQ hotel, we spent a lot of time looking at vans. When we came across ones we really liked, it was tough because we wanted to schedule a time to take a look at it, but we wouldn’t be getting out of quarantine for another week or so!

There are many camper van types out there, especially on the South Island. From camp cars (station wagon with fold down seats) to super basic camp vans (mini vans) to bigger trade vans that have been converted, we really had to figure out what we wanted to narrow it down.

So many choices!

We were looking for a Self-Contained van. This means that the van is fully livable, self-sufficient for up to three days. If you want the nitty gritty boring details of what is required for a Self-Contained Certification, click here.

Within the Self-Contained (SC) classification there are many different sizes and set ups. You can get a minivan size with a bed platform that might convert into a bench and a kitchen at the back, accessible only from the hatch (boot). There are longer vans that have the bed to bench conversion and the kitchen area inside, or taller vans that allows you to stand up inside. Finally, there’s the ideal combination of a taller and longer van that has the kitchen inside AND you can stand up in!

Kitchen accessible from the back only

Most of the typical trade vans converted into SC vans here in NZ are smaller than what we are used to seeing in the US, like the Sprinter vans. Then there are the even bigger, taller vans or what we might call small RVs back in the US. We have seen several bus conversions too; those are fun but way out of our price range.

Fun, but no

So many of the vans we came across and liked were diesel, which was fine, but were also manual. Neither of us regularly drove a manual car back home, we decided maybe it would not be the best idea to re-learn how to drive manual in a large van, with the steering wheel and shifter on the opposite side while driving on the left side of the road.

We both love to make things, our ideal van would be empty, so that we could convert and build it out ourselves. However, without a home base and tools to do so, we decided to look at ones that have already been built out. Or a super fun option if we didn’t have so much stuff would be a 4 wheel drive Mitsubishi Delica.

4×4 classic Delica

Budget wise, the minivan style was very appealing, and we almost got ourselves a Nissan Serena.

Nissan Serena

After many more hours of looking at vans online we really started considering what our “needs” were. We preferred the longer wheelbase to have the kitchenette area inside, and tall enough to sit up on the bed.

We considered a Nissan Vannette that had very low mileage at a good price and had dual rear wheels which Cameron really liked. However, it wasn’t very long and the kitchen was out the boot.

Nissan Vannette

There was a Mazda Bongo we really liked, which had a very nice interior and tall shelving unit built in along the inside. Unfortunately, it wasn’t technically fully Self Contained.

Madza Bongo

I really liked this Mitsubishi L300 that had a rustic feel to it with a big wooden countertop and countersunk hidden stove, lots of storage under the bed. The best part was it had a swing built in, so you could sit in the kitchen then swing outward. Unfortunately, we later found out that it was manual.

Van with swing!

The One

After searching for the better part of two weeks, we finally found her: meet Cämpi Schlämbi!

A 2003 Toyota Hiace long wheelbase with relatively lower kilometrage. Like the US, Toyotas here in NZ are also notorious for their longevity! The van was newly and beautifully converted from trade van to a SC camper van. She was ready to go!

The electrical set up is great! There is a large solar panel on top that charges a second battery and power inverter inside. The inverter feeds an electrical outlet and LED lights which are built in to the ceiling paneling!

With the longer wheelbase, the kitchen space is all accessible from inside the living quarters of the van, so we could cook inside or use the fold out table to cook outside. She even came with a mini fridge built in!

There is plenty of storage: the cabinets underneath the counter are nicely split up, and there are large storage spaces below the bed.

The bed easily converts to a bench and table, which is nice for sitting and working at during our non-travel days.

We really liked that it felt like a home with the additions of the wood panel ceiling, the curtains with tiebacks, the little details like “home sweet home” and the flags hanging down in the back! You could tell that the previous owners really loved her and took great care of her!

We bought her from a sweet German couple who had to return home before they got to use her too much, due to the COVID pandemic. The van was parked up at a friend of a friend’s house in Queenstown for more than half a year as they decided if they should sell her or not.

They named her Cämpi Schlämbi! When we asked them about the name, they said it was Cämpi like Camper, and then just a funny word that rhymed with it. We thought that was fun! We fell in love with her, the name, and the story of how we got her so we decided to keep her name.

It certainly made for some unique challenges buying her though! To start, we were stuck in quarantine while trying to negotiate. The van was listed in New Zealand Dollars, but we were using our US account to pay the German owners in Euros. Finally we had to arrange to pick up the van with their contact here in NZ, who happens to be an Irishman!

When we got out of quarantine we picked up our rental car, bought a sewing machine and ukulele, and headed out of town (more on those in future posts)! We pulled into the driveway in Queenstown around 9 pm that night to see Cämpi Schlämbi in person for the first time! While we were out chatting with the van man, his wife came out with the small cactus seen in the pictures. “No home is complete without a house plant!” she said. It was actually the German couple’s cactus they bought for the home, and she kept it alive all this time for it’s new owners!

Queenstown
Mount Aspiring NP
Invercargill

We’ll make another post later on modifications we’ve made to Cämpi Schlämbi and where she’s been!

Thanks for reading!

–Kadi

Coronet peak in the background