How Hiking The Kepler Track Made Me Appreciate The Practical Importance Of Well-Made Clothes

by: Courtney Sanders | 2 months ago | Features

Clockwise from top left: Courtney; Hannah and Alex on the ridgeline between Luxmore Hut and Iris Burn Hut; Teva sandals in a river near Iris Burn Hut; Courtney and Marina from Ovna Ovich on the ridgeline between Luxmore Hut and Iris Burn Hut.

In early 2020, as the reality of international travel restrictions became clear, I convinced a bunch of my mates to hike the Kepler Track (we’re all based in Aotearoa New Zealand).

So when the Department of Conversation’s booking website opened, at 9.30am some time in June, we all logged on, navigating slow-loading pages and payment gateway time-outs like we were trying to buy tickets to the 1995 Big Day Out, and reserved the requisite huts to spend four days hiking through forests and across ridgelines in Fiordland.

Two lockdown pregnancies and one lockdown break up later, and our large group had become two. Without safety in numbers, I was unsure whether our experience as fashion designers and fashion marketers, and my experience with irregular exercise, would be sufficient for four days hiking, largely uphill, in Fiordland’s changeable weather.

It turns out that spots in the huts on any of the Great Walks of New Zealand during the Great Walks season are hot property, and, after floating the invitation with a few people who couldn’t commit, we asked a couple of close mates whose enthusiasm about being offered sold-out hut spots was matched only by their enthusiasm for packing.

A list, or more specifically a Trello board, was created, detailing things like the best food to take with us, courtesy of parents who had recently hiked the Kepler (‘Back Country dehydrated Thai Chicken Curry’; ‘wine decanted into bottle’). A transportable scale was acquired so we could weigh everything and adjust our loads accordingly. Said close mates provided the organisational chops and gear-borrowing capabilities that made us feel pretty comfortable about our endeavour.

Something else that’s really important for feeling comfortable? Clothes. I have never discussed the relative merits of items of clothing more, and I work in fashion and I’ve also had a particularly energetic disagreement with a friend about their wedding shoes. The Kepler is in Fiordland and is subject to changeable weather, so we had to be prepared for nearly everything, and while we didn’t have to be as prepared as Colin Haley who wrote 6,000 words about his alpine climbing clothing kit for Patagonia’s blog (super interesting read though, especially the deep-dive into socks), we did have to ensure that every layer was guaranteed to be fit for the purpose we brought it for.

We chose Merino wool leggings, tees and long sleeve tops, which work when it’s cold or hot because they keep you warm when it’s cold and breathe when it’s hot. They also wick sweat which means they don’t smell as much as synthetics, important to consider when sharing a bunk room with 70 other hikers. We chose the lightest-weight waterproof jackets, which came in handy when it started to rain while we were navigating the ridgeline crossing in 90km winds. We spent ages trying on and choosing good quality hiking boots and hut footwear, and our feet came off largely unscathed. I definitely chose the best hut footwear, Tevas, which I wore with socks in the hut, which were super handy for visits to waterfalls and rivers, and which I would not stop talking about.

With every clothing decision we made (whether we borrowed or bought, and we borrowed a lot), we discussed whether we trusted the quality of the item and whether the components of the item – be that the fabric composition or the technical attributes – would work for what we needed them for.

It was a great reminder to take this approach with all my clothing purchases: to analyse the construction, the fabric components, the technical components, and the price, then compare these with alternatives, then determine whether that option is the best option. Because if it is the best option, I’ll like it more and I’ll wear it more, which is better for me – and which is also better for the environment.

The Kepler Track taught me a lot of things: that Keas are both more awesome and more annoying than I thought; that Back Country dehydrated Thai Chicken Curry is delicious; and that we should have brought more decanted whisky for the last night. It also reminded me of the importance of investing in truly well-made clothes.

Here's a little photo diary of our time on the Kepler Track:

Image: Courtney on the ridgeline between Luxmore Hut and Iris Burn Hut on the Kepler Track wearing Patagonia.

Image: Courtney and Marina from Ovna Ovich on the ridgeline between Luxmore Hut and Iris Burn Hut.

Image: Organisational champs Hannah and Alex and on the ridgeline between Luxmore Hut and Iris Burn Hut.

Image: Tevas! In the water! Near a waterfall! Near Iris Burn Hut.

Image: Marina by the river between Iris Burn Hut and Moturau Hut.

Image: Hannah in front of Lake Manapouri outside Moturau Hut, where we went swimming on our last night on the Kepler Track.

Image: The team! We're sitting on the lakefront of Lake Manapouri outside Moturau Hut. We're all very happy because we've just finished eating Back Country dehydrated Thai Chicken Curry.

Image: The garden at the Sherwood, where we spent some time after the hike.

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