I spent a lot of time getting my gear together for this hike. Researching it all became a borderline obsession for a while… Gear lists for thruhikes abound on the interwebs and you can spend hours poring over this stuff.
Now I’m done, I feel like I can pretty confidently pass on some opinions and advice on the whole shamozzle. My main points would be…
1. There is no magic formula or perfect set-up that will make carting all of your shit on your back for 3000km easy. Or at least, it will be easy some days and some days it will be hard. Just make your best choice according to your resources and priorities, and get on with it. I was one of the smallest and weakest hikers on trail in my season, and while my pack wasn’t that heavy it was by no means the lightest one out there. I still found a way to make it work.
2. Other thruhikers can be full of shit. Seriously. There can be a lot of bluster and dick-swinging around what gear choices are the right choices, how to get one’s base weight down by another 200 fucking grams, a lot of people only too happy to tell you the various ways in which you’re Doing It Wrong. I got asked what my base weight was more times than I could count, and to shut down that line of questioning I would simply say that I didn’t know – that I had what I needed to have a safe and comfortable hike and had the lightest gear I could afford. This mostly worked. But remember that this is your hike, not some other person’s hike. For instance, I get chilled quite easily and can find it hard to warm up again, so I needed more layers and heavier rain gear than some other hikers might recommend. Compared with others I had a lot of clothes, but I had no regrets about the things I brought, and they all got used and used well the entire way.
Anyway, here goes.
The Big Ticket Items
Usually I’m a tarp girl, but I bought a tent new for this trip and went with a Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo. It was one of my favourite pieces of kit – it’s cheaper than a lot of better known brands, weighs well under 1kg, has loads of room inside and held up really well in crappy weather. It didn’t come with a footprint, but I just used a piece of tyvek as a groundsheet (this also came in handy for sitting on, writing on for hitch-hiking signs, and putting down on dirty floors occasionally when sleeping on them). I pitched it using one of my hiking poles, and had MSR groundhog mini tent stakes.
My sleeping bag was a 30F degree down hybrid quilt from Zpacks. I already had this, from when I was able to pick it up from the bargain bin section of their website – it’s in the older style with horizontal baffles. It was warm enough for NZ and is super light and suited my purposes just fine. Given the amount of condensation in NZ though, I may have chosen a synthetic or Downtek quilt if I could a) have my time again and b) have unlimited funds for buying single purpose items!
I also used a sleeping bag liner, even though plenty of people were happy to tell me it wasn’t necessary. My liner is a Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor and it’s made out of soft t-shirt type material and it’s the warmest coziest fabric to sleep in. At one point when I had to do massive food carries for long stretches between resupply in the South Island I took it out of my pack to get some weight down, and posted it ahead. I was very, very happy to get it back. It might have been a luxury item, but it was nice to have.
I found a good deal online on a Thermarest Neoair XLite sleeping mat – pretty much the gold standard in ultralight. It was super comfy to sleep on, just like a mattress (except narrower and crinklier) and another piece of kit I was extremely happy with.
My pack was a ULA Circuit which I mostly bought because I could order it with a child sized harness. No joke. Was it the best possible choice? I have no idea. It wasn’t always as comfortable as I might have liked but on the whole it fitted everything I needed and held up to some pretty rough use. I used a pack liner (the heavy duty yellow plastic kind you can buy from DOC offices and outdoor supply stores in NZ) rather than a pack cover.
Clothing and Footwear
I had two shirts – one short and one long-sleeve. Both were merino, from Icebreaker. They both got holes in them, which is a regular criticism with Icebreaker stuff, but nothing that rendered them unwearable. I also had a woollen buff, a small woollen beanie and a pair of basic woollen gloves from the same brand. My socks (2 pairs) were also Icebreaker (multisport minis) and I loved them. They held up perfectly and apart from Ninety Mile Beach I never got blisters.
I started out with a pair of polyprop leggings but swapped them out pretty quickly for a merino pair that I got on sale at Macpac. The polyprops were heavy and smelt bad really fast. I usually wore my leggings as pyjama bottoms.
I had a pair of shorts and a pair of long hiking pants. The shorts were just a thrifted pair of basic Under Armours and I wore them most of the time. I wore my long pants (Marmot Lobos) less but I was very grateful for them when I was hiking in exposed conditions at altitude, and when I was on schist. I fall down a lot and long pants prevented me from ripping myself to shreds.
My rainwear was a pair of Marmot Minimalist Goretex pants, and a Helly Hansen Loke jacket. I carried the pants for a loooooong time before I needed them, but when that time came I REALLY needed them. Apart from wearing them in rain and high winds in the Tararuas, I also found them fantastic for walking in long wet grass and tussock in colder conditions in the South Island. My jacket was just a cheapie that I got on sale. It would leak a bit after being in rain all day but so will anything in those conditions. It was light, it had pit zips and decent sized pockets and a drawcord around the hood, which was really all I wanted.
I was able to pick up a Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer down jacket as a second-hand buy on eBay which was well worth it. I had some cold evenings and mornings in huts and I really appreciated the extra warm layer.
For undies, I took two pairs of ExOfficio briefs. Did exactly what they say on the box. I started out with a bra as well but ditched it after Ninety Mile Beach when I developed some nasty sweat chafing, and free-boobed it through the rest of the country.
For sun protection I had a UPF fabric buff, and my favourite peaked cap which is nothing special (it’s a souvenir cap from the Military Aviation Museum in the unhusband’s home town and I always hike in it).
I used La Sportiva shoes. I stocked up before coming to NZ because sports shoes are outrageously expensive there. I was able to buy a bunch through an eBay store (Shoomerang, it’s called) that flips very lightly used shoes and just bought as they came up in my size. I started out with Ultra Raptors, then switched to Bushidos halfway through the North Island, and went back to a second pair of Ultra Raptors for the South. I preferred the Raptors as they had a better structure to them and gave me more arch support, and were a bit cushier. You cross such a range of terrain in New Zealand from tarmac roads to rivers to muddy forests to exposed rocky ridges it’s hard to find the perfect footwear for all conditions, but the Raptors were definitely a solid all-rounder. I paired them with Dirty Girl gaiters.
I had camp socks and shoes as well… I have a pair of possum fur socks – easily available in NZ (where the only good possum is a dead possum) which are soft and toasty warm. My camp shoes are a minimalist water shoe from Vivobarefoot.
Hiking poles… Yep, I took them. I used Black Diamond aluminium poles that are pretty much their basic women’s model. They were chunky and on the heavy side but I saw plenty of other types break and bend on the trail, and mine are still intact and good for use. And that’s after two seasons of training for and completing the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker event, as well as one whole TA.
Cooking and Eating
I used a 360 Furno gas burner that attaches to threaded gas canisters. I started off with the pot set it comes with but soon swapped it out to a 700mL Toaks titanium pot which was lighter and a more appropriate size. After my plastic spork snapped, I bought an anodized Sea to Summit long-handled spork. I used a sil-nylon dry bag as a food sack.
For water treatment I had a Sawyer Squeeze mini. I used two 1L plastic bottles for carrying treated water and a 2L platypus soft water bottle for use as a dirty water bag. After a while I got dangerously casual about filtering, and I do have a pretty solid gastric constitution but also I was lucky. I found it telling that DOC workers who run maintenance on the huts try to avoid drinking water from the tanks. If in doubt – treat your water.
Finally, I had a classic Swiss Army Knife that I used for slicing cheese, cutting athletic tape, and opening cans, beers and occasionally wine. It was heavy, but it was the one thing belonging to the unhusband that I took with me – so it was a connection to home and sometimes that’s just worth more than saving grams.
Electronics and Safety
I used my Samsung Galaxy S7 in a Lifeproof Case for literally everything. It was my camera, my entertainment centre via podcast and ebook apps, I used the WordPress app to blog/diary on trail (my writing process was really good for mental focus through my hike, and at this point I’m happy to have this blog as a record of my experience), and it was my navigation tool. (The Guthook app isn’t perfect, but I do recommend it highly. The GPS was accurate and it’s very intuitive to use.)
Because I used my phone for so much, I carried a BIG powerbank… an Anker 20100maH which never, ever saw me run out of charge, but damn I hated that thing. Size for weight, it was the heaviest item in my pack. Seriously, it feels like it’s made out of fucking dark matter.
I just carried a small charger plug and one cable, a pair of cheap sport earphones, and a Black Diamond headlamp… Black Diamond Spot? Storm? I can’t remember the exact model.
I took a PLB because a) common sense and b) I made a promise to my family and the unhusband that I wouldn’t go without one. I had an ACR ResQlink beacon which is a reasonable price, compact, and is also the standard issue PLB that DOC rents out.
Health and Hygiene
The usual. Toothbrush and comb cut in half. When I could get them, I carried Lush toothpaste tablets which were compact and light and which last for aaaaaaages. Sunscreen – hugely necessary in NZ. Tweezers. Hand sanitizer. Multivitamins. Ibuprofen. So, so much ibuprofen. A few Imodium tablets and a few sachets of hydrolyte. Bandaids. My Mum also gave me a dozen or so heavy duty codeine tablets, which did come in useful a couple of times. If everything goes to shit in terms of illness or injury, they are very good to take the edge off and I recommend having them to hand.
For that lady stuff – a Lunette menstrual cup. Cups are excellent in many ways, but the first two days of my period are reliably bloodier than the Red Wedding episode of Game of Thrones, and my cup could be reliably guaranteed to runneth over at the worst possible moment. When you’re on an exposed piece of track going over a pass with hands so cold you can’t fold the damned thing to re-insert it, your bare arse going pink and mottled purple from contact with the sleet and the whole scene looking like you’ve amputated a limb in a field hospital… Well, there are times I felt like tampons would have been easier.
I used an MSR snowstake as a poo shovel, and I also had a large size GoToob for a post-poop bidet. Just fill with water and give your bumhole a good squirt. Worked a treat to cut down on use of toilet paper, and was otherwise also good for long showerless stretches to give the general area a pleasant freshen up (I call it the ‘crack and flaps wash’).
I variously carried castile soap or wilderness wash for any and all cleaning purposes.
I have appalling eyesight and carried daily disposable contact lenses and my eyeglasses. I could and would leave my lenses in for two or three days at a time, which oft-times seemed safer for ocular health than poking around in my eye with grubby fingers.
After I injured my ankle I started carrying a roll of stretchy physio tape, as well.
I didn’t bother carrying either a razor or deodorant and let me tell you, I thoroughly enjoyed just completely letting myself go for six months. I started stroking my long leg hair like it was a cute fluffy pet by the end. Mmmmm, furry.
Repair and Miscellaneous
Not much. A tiny tube of Gorilla Glue, a piece of Tenacious Tape, repair patches for my Thermarest, darning needle and dental floss, a length of nylon cord. Probably the deadest weight I carried. I used the needle to dig some gorse spines out of my hand, once, and never needed the rest. I’m just one of those people who is easy on my things, I guess.
I also carried a small notebook, a pen, a Sharpie marker, my passport, and a tiny zip-top wallet containing cash, my hut pass, my travel money card and one spare credit card.
Because I’m a superstitious hippy asshole, I also carried good luck charms in the form of my friend B’s lucky coin, and a pouch of chakra crystals given to me by my friend A.
And… there you go. That was literally everything I owned for the entirety of my TA adventure. Take from it what you will, keeping in mind that I was content to do shorter days and spend more time in camp hanging out and shooting the shit with the many lovely people I met along the way. My gear kept me safe, it kept me relatively comfortable and it kept me happy.