As promised (threatened).A few caveats.I hiked the Overland in mid-February, in summer, the time for the most stable weather conditions in Tasmania. Parks information tells everyone to be prepared for any kind of weather at any time of year, but this is what I’m used to in the NZ South Island and sub-Alpine areas anyway. However, my expectation of benign conditions lead my gear choices. Doing the Overland in winter or shoulder conditions will require different considerations.I am not an ultralight hiker, but I do use lightweight techniques that are not necessarily prevalent in Australia. I am an experienced walker and know my physical limitations and my gear well, but my choices may not necessarily be for everyone – and that’s ok! If you are accustomed to and happy hiking in boots and knee-high eVent gaiters – go off! Prefer a hooded mummy-style sleeping bag to a quilt? That’s up to you! I love nerding out about gear, but I don’t believe in being prescriptive about it. This is just what works for me. Got questions? Drop a comment!I also hiked as part of an organised group, from my bushwalking club. I’m a member of Sydney Bushwalkers, and as much as I love a good solo or duo mission, I also appreciate having access to the support and enormous knowledge base that comes with being a club member.I’d also like to add – as much as we all love to hashtag #outsideisfree on the Gram – hiking the Overland is NOT cheap, even when not signing onto a full-service guided walk. The combination of the $200 track free, transport to and and from the trail heads, flights and accommodation, a parks pass etc can quickly add up, even before you factor in the cost of hiking gear. This excellent and detailed blog post written by Christine Zelezny (who walked the OT in the off-season, independently, and therefore offers a different experiential viewpoint) delves into this in more detail, but a quoted stat that I found interesting and extremely telling is that 60% of OT walkers describe their job as a manager or working professional, and the majority of walkers have a university degree. Upon completing the Overland, I see many people reflecting on the positive effect that connecting with nature and disconnecting from materiality/consumerism had on them – but we ought to acknowledge that most people hiking the Overland are likely to live their everyday lives at the intersections of multiple privileges (as I do). Travel and its costs, the ability to travel and move across borders freely, and the ability to walk 65km+ and carry a self-sufficient pack load create significant barriers to accessibility.I also feel it’s important to mention the often completely omitted fact that when we walk the Overland, we walk on the traditional lands of the Palawa and Pakana peoples in what was once known as Lutriwita. Australia has a complex and violent colonial history, and much of the Indigenous population of Tasmania was wiped out following a period of martial law imposed by white settlers and the ensuing ‘Black War‘ from the 1820’s onwards. Aboriginals in Australia continue to experience significant social and economic disadvantages, as well as reduced life expectancy as a direct result of entrenched colonial attitudes, and from the ongoing effects of racist policies enacted by a paternalistic white government.When we say #outsideisfree, please also take some time to think about who exactly it is free for, and who has the freedom to enjoy it – especially given the history of displacement and incarceration of Aboriginal people in Australia.With that said, let’s go.
Planning – bookings, transport and costs
If you are hiking ‘in season’ as I did, your first step is to book and pay for a track permit from Tasmania Parks, for your chosen departure date. Bookings open on the 1st of July each year, for the season from the 1st of October until the 29th of May. If you hike the track between these dates, you must book, and you must walk the track from North to South. People will tell you to book as soon as possible, but if you are a solo walker you can generally bag a spot at short notice. No, you cannot arrive at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre and purchase a permit and depart on the Overland on that same day (a policy that is in place for safety reasons, and that was instituted after the death of a hiker in 2014 who ended up on the track, underprepared, in exactly this fashion – and who perished of exposure before reaching Waterfall Valley).You will also need to pay for a Parks Pass to enter the Cradle Mountain area. This costs $30 for individual walkers and can be bought here. If you are travelling in a group, it is worth looking into options for a group/vehicle pass, via your shuttle service. The good folks at Overland Track Transport (more on them below) were very helpful with advice on this.I flew in and out of Launceston because it was just easier to book return flights from one port. If you are spending extended time in Tasmania, it may suit you better to fly into Launceston and out of Hobart. I was able to get a significant discount on flights by cashing in some frequent flyer points, but generally you can expect to pay around $300 for return flights from other major cities in Australia.I booked shuttles with Overland Track Transport to and from the start of the track. They are happy to coordinate pick-up and drop-off at your accommodation in Launceston or Hobart. Going with the shuttle can seem expensive, but it takes a lot of uncertainty out of the process of getting to and from the Cradle Mountain area, which is very isolated. This company also has some items available for purchase or hire (e.g. I ordered a canister of fuel for my stove from them, since you cannot fly with fuel), and they will also store a small separate bag of your non-hiking items for you while you complete the Track. The price for my return service was $155.There are plenty of accommodation options in Launceston and Hobart to suit a range of budgets. Because I am a tightwad I was quick to hit up some other women in the group and suggest splitting a room to share costs. For what it’s worth I can recommend the Cornwall Boutique Hotel in Launceston for a basic option with tea and coffee making facilities and tv in room, and an ensuite bathroom – it’s only a few bucks more than a backpackers.Our walk leader also asked us to book our final night for the walk at the Lake St Clair Lodge. I opted for a berth in a four-share bunkhouse at a cost of $55, because I knew I’d be keen for a night indoors especially if we had wet weather during the hike. The Lodge also has tent sites available for cheaper, and private rooms for more. Share facility showers are coin-operated.Our experience with booking the Lake St Clair Lodge was messy. I strongly recommend contacting them directly by phone as soon as possible, once you know your itinerary. We were waiting for bookings to open via their website, until one of our party rang them to ask when this would occur, only to be told beds for our intended date were almost completely sold out.There is also bushwalker accommodation available at the Derwent Bridge Hotel, about 5km away from Lake St Clair. Their budget rooms are priced at $45.The final option, which is not particularly well advertised, is that there is a free campsite (tent only) at Lake St Clair available for Overland Track walkers, and free five minute showers are available at the Visitor’s Centre between 10am and 4pm.Costs at this point, assuming you are flying in from mainland Australia and seek out budget accommodation options, will sit around $700-$800. Keep in mind that if you need to hire equipment (it’s strongly recommended to hire a personal locator beacon if you don’t have your own), plan to take out travel insurance, or book the ferry back across Lake St Clair to finish the track rather than walk the last 15km around the lake shore, your necessary hard spend will push out very quickly to over $1000.
You can see my gear list here, through my Lighterpack.I believe this is all pretty self-explanatory, but I will make a few additional comments.I’m a big fan of all of my clothing being layerable. I can pretty much wear everything at once for warmth, and my clothes also form part of my sleep system. I am also a big fan of a good merino garment. Merino is less stinky than synthetic fabrics, and also stays warm if it gets damp. With that in mind I (controversially) use comparatively cheap hard shell/rainwear – yes, I do sometimes get a bit of egress but not to the point it has ever presented any concern (I see a lot of emphatic advice that the climate in Tasmania and NZ necessitates Goretex rainwear, but it’s expensive and heavy and also… I hiked the entire length of NZ using a rain jacket that cost me $60 and I did not die, your mileage may vary etc etc). My approach has always been to ensure I have the means to get warm and dry at the end of the day, rather than staying completely dry in heavy weather. I also run quite hot while walking, and prefer to be slightly too cool than to be overheated. So yes, I fucking well did hike the entire Overland wearing a purple miniskirt (hiking in a skirt is the best, I reckon everyone will be doing it in a few years).Yes, only two pairs of undies. One on, the other washed and drying on the back of my pack. I don’t have an issue with wearing the same pair for a few consecutive days because I am, evidently, disgusting. Same with socks – but I do always carry one pair of fluffy possum fur socks for hut/camp wear only.Do take earplugs. Mine are stashed in with my inflatable pillow – they only weigh a few grams and you’ll get a better night’s sleep for using them, especially if you end up sleeping in the huts.Also a note for the menstruators amongst us – I use a menstrual cup/disc, but I’ll also take a few pads to guard against leaks on heavier days. To dispose of these, I use a snaplock bag with a black teabag in it in my potty kit – the teabag completely disguises odour. Fortunately I didn’t have to deal with my period on this trip, but please keep in mind that pads and tampons cannot be disposed of in the composting toilets on the Overland, and must be packed out.All this gear talk too much? Are you doing the Overland as a one-off challenge to yourself, and don’t see yourself partaking in the outdoors life on a regular basis? Hey – kitting yourself out can get expensive, and it may not make economic sense for you to invest in this stuff if you aren’t likely to get continued use out of it. There are operators who will provide you with a backpack and rental gear and look after the entire experience for you, and this might be worth looking into. For camping based trips, check out Australian Walking Holidays or Tasmanian Expeditions. For a hut-to-hut walk, The Tasmanian Walking Company gets excellent reviews, and will put you up at private huts every night and cook you dinner and you can have a hot shower and a glass of delicious, delicious red wine at the end of your walking day. There are some elitists out there who like to maintain that this isn’t ‘real’ bushwalking, but those people can go and get fucked and you should absolutely not listen to them. As a way of experiencing the outdoors it is not accessible to me because I don’t have a spare $4000 to spend on one week of walking; but it might enable access to the outdoors for other people who have the money but lack the confidence or physical ability to rough it a bit more. Access is different for everyone!
There are a lot of different approaches to nutrition while hiking. Even amongst the group I hiked with, there was a range. Some went with catered packages from outfitters like Strive Food and Three Capes Gear and Gourmet; some stocked up from freeze-dried meals at the camping stores (Backcountry Cuisine, Campers’ Pantry and Outdoor Gourmet brands are all readily available in bricks and mortar stores in Australia, while Absolute Wilderness and Radix can be imported from New Zealand via online outlets); and others did home prepared dehydrated meals.These days, I have a good idea of what food works for my body, and what I won’t get sick of eating. I did a bit of dehydrating at home prior to this trip, to at least prepare dinners. I don’t own a dehydrator – I just spread food very thinly on a baking sheet and put it in the oven on its lowest setting and with the door propped open for a few hours.I have hiked with people who do cold-soak or no-cook methods (hi Spoons!) and it’s just not for me. I’ve had some very wet and miserable days when the only moment of blessed redemption has been the hot meal at the end of it, and dammit but I need a coffee in the morning. However, I’m pretty chill about mostly eating the same thing on a daily basis, and my menu looked like this…
- Breakfast; overnight oats (rolled oats, LSA, craisins, dried blueberries, shredded coconut, brown sugar, cinnamon and milk powder), a big spoonful of peanut butter, and an instant coffee sachet (I brought some of my favourite Avalanche brand instant mocha back from NZ)
- Lunch; fruit crackers, Colby cheese, jerky
- Snacks; Tasti brand peanut butter muesli bars, cashew nuts, dried baby figs
- Dinner; instant noodle cake with either homemade black bean taco soup mix (topped with cheese Doritos), or homemade red lentil laksa soup mix (topped with peanuts and fried shallots)
- Dessert; vanilla instant pudding, piece of chocolate, dried nectarine
My general pro-tip is to look for calorie dense foods that contain a minimum of 1600kJ per 100gms. It’s also wise to think about cooking time. Dehydrated soup mixes can be left to soak in cold water in your pot for a bit when you get to camp, and then just reheated at dinner time. Instant noodles and couscous both make good carbohydrate bases for a meal, don’t need a lot of cooking/fuel, and can also be consumed cold.On this trip, I also wanted to think carefully about packaging and single-use plastic (aaargh the snaplock bags are so convenient though!). I used compostable paper sandwich bags to carry noodles, and also put my breakfast oat mix in an empty and washed bag for frozen fruit, and measured out my serve each night for soaking. I also carried peanut butter in a screwtop plastic jar rather than taking slugs or pods. There are some things I’m still trying to figure out with this – instant coffee sachets are convenient, and my favourite brand of muesli bar comes wrapped in individual foil packets. At any rate, my girl Caro Ryan has an excellent piece talking more about ways to cut down your waste while hiking and I strongly suggest giving it a read if you, too, have been giving some thought about bringing a little more nature consciousness into your nature adventures!Being an island, Tasmania does have biosecurity restrictions in place around food that you bring in. Raw fruit and veggies and any kind of shellfish are a big no-no, and you need to be careful about peas and onion-type foods. Please follow the link for more detailed info, and if in doubt either leave items in their commercial packaging for your incoming flight or buy once you arrive.A note here about water… It is recommended to treat all water on the track, and most of my party did, either with tablets or through boiling. Three of us, however, lived our lives on the edge and did not treat at all. All of us have spent a significant amount of time out of doors and know our own tolerances very well, so this was a calculated judgement call. Know your own body, and do what you feel is best. Your health on track is your responsibility.
Tenting on the platforms
I took a freestanding tent on this trip, which made pitching a lot easier, but I did have to get a bit creative with using some extra guyline, some spare linelocks, a few different peg options, and rocks. You should keep in mind, though, that cold air circulating under the platforms can create significant chill coming up beneath you. Make sure you have an insulated sleeping mat.
How Hard Is It, Really?
The Overland in itself is not particularly difficult walking, in summer conditions. The track is maintained, easy to follow, and distances between hut nodes are entirely manageable. However, the walk can definitely be made as hard as you would like it to be, by adding in side trips, and this ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ aspect of the Overland is part of the beauty of it. Cradle Mountain, Barn Bluff, or a foray up the Acropolis from Pine Valley present some decent challenges for the very fit and keen. I enjoyed side trips to the waterfalls, the Labyrinth in Pine Valley, and to the summit of Mt Ossa, as I am only averagely fit and surprisingly quite lazy, and a big old scaredy-cat when it comes to exposure.Should you train for the Overland? If this is your first foray into a multi-day hiking attempt, then yes. You do need to get used to what your pack weight feels like and walking with it on for a good five or six hours. Identify any physical niggles early and consult a physiotherapist if needed. Consider joining your local bushwalking club, and take your gear out for a weekend or three and get to know it. A reasonable standard of fitness will definitely add to your enjoyment of the experience, but also – there isn’t any ‘winning’ at hiking, there is plenty of room on the track and at hut nodes for everyone and not just the fastest who get there first, please don’t think you need to be able to run 20km or deadlift your own bodyweight to be capable of doing the Overland.
Do I Really Need Gaiters?
It depends on the conditions at the time you go. I would say definitely yes in winter, but in summer… Personally, I hike in trail runners* that aren’t waterproof anyway so knee-high gaiters serve no real purpose. Mud on the track was easy enough to step around, and you are walking on maintained trail and not exactly bush-bashing. By all means, if you have gaiters and are used to them and like them then go on and bring them – but don’t feel like you have to go out and purchase another thing. This is a very long-winded way of saying – you do you.*Trail runners are absolutely fine for the Overland, but it very much depends on what footwear you are used to and your pack weight etc. I have hiked thousands of kms in my trail runners (not actually the same pair, natch – but same brand and model) and they feel right for me. If your pack is going to be more than 15kg for most of the trip then boots are probably a better choice. But whatever you decide on – wear them in! Blisters can very quickly turn your trip into a bloody misery.
Any Other Advice?
Take more toilet paper than you think you will need. But also – once you’ve done your preparation, try to let go of the stress of stepping out into the unknown and just relax and let the experience unfold. The Overland is a beautiful track with unique geology. Remember to stop and breathe it all in. Take the photo. Chat to others. Try to camp outside as much as you can. Remember that if you’ve already made the decision to do this, you are probably capable of doing so.