Below is my packing list which should see you through the track in one piece with only the tiniest hint of trench foot. I originally wrote this as part of my main Milford post but it turned into a bloody novel so here it is on its own. This list is by no means perfect or exhaustive but I’ve tried to cover the key items you’ll need and have elaborated on why I took the things that I did (and included the things I wish I’d had).
What you take will totally depend on what makes you feel your best, and that will be different for everyone. I encourage you to think about what makes you comfortable and happy and prioritise those items, for example, I wore a new pair of trousers every day whereas my boyfriend at the time wore the same pair all the way through (foul beastie). Think about how much space you have, how much weight you’re comfortable carrying and what the most important pieces of gear are for you.
Walking clothes – Wear whatever is most comfortable for you to walk in. If you’ve done some tramping before then you will know what this looks like for you, now isn’t the time to try something new and untested. I took a pair of exercise leggings for each day of walking (I can’t re-wear but some people can so go for it, just be aware that you won’t have a chance to dry anything out). Take cotton/comfortable underwear that isn’t going to rub anywhere or make a beeline for your bum crack. I also took a few merino tops of different weights and sleeve lengths, which I layered up depending on how warm I thought I’d need to be that day and what was driest. I also took gloves, sunglasses, a beanie and a sunhat.
Some specific things you’ll definitely need:
- Raincoat – Pick wisely young grasshopper. If it rains as hard as it did for us, then it’s not going to stop you getting wet but it will still protect you and provide a wind break etc. I was extremely glad to have a hood with elastic to pull it tight around my head and a peak to keep the rain off my face. It was long-line so that it covered my bum (important because I didn’t have wet weather pants) and had a zip that I could zip up from the bottom to give my stumpy legs more freedom to move. You’ll likely be wearing it for most of the trip so make sure it’s comfortable.
- Socks – I would strongly encourage you to invest in proper tramping socks that have padding in the right places to keep your hooves comfortable. Your feet are what will carry you through the track so if you’re going to invest in anything, make it the fleshy nubs at the end of your legs.
- Boots – For essentially the same reasons as above. Invest in your feet and it will pay dividends. Make sure they’re comfortable, broken in and not likely to break (one of our crew ended the walk with a boot held together by cable ties and desperation).
- Wet Weather Gear – Depending on who you are will depend on what you do here. I’m a sweaty beast in an awkward shape (short) that makes it hard to find wet weather gear that fits. I knew that I wouldn’t want to wear rain trousers so I didn’t take any and instead had a longline raincoat. Others in our party had tops and/or bottoms, overalls and plastic ponchos – take whatever you will actually use and find comfortable to wear.
Hut Clothes – Pack a separate set of hut clothes in their own dry bag that you can change into once you arrive at the hut. I took a long pair of snuggly possum socks, comfortable warm trackpants, two warm top layers and my Birken-crocs (plastic Birkenstocks) which are easily slipped on and off. There is nothing worse than putting your warm dry feet into cold wet boots when you want to whip out to the loo. All of the huts have some element of separation between loos, sleeping quarters and dining so you will find yourself doing this a lot.
Bus Clothes – For when it’s all over and you’re looking at a 5 hour bus trip back to Queenstown. Ideally you want to do this with a dry arse and feet that don’t require a hazardous goods declaration. When you reach Sandfly Point there is a shelter where you wait for the boat to pick you up. This is where we swapped into our final change of dry clothes, made cups of tea and generally tried to dry off and warm up. Our situation was a bit different, the huge visitor infrastructure in Milford Sound was basically empty because of COVID-19 so you may wait until after the boat ride and change here instead.
Food + Cooking Gear + Mug – You will know how much food you need to sustain yourself through a big tramp so pack according to your appetite. The first day involves very little walking so pack something heavy, nutritious and delicious for night one. I did sausages, mash, gravy, green beans and glass or two of wine. I swapped to freeze-dried meals after that which were fine but too big, luckily others in my group were willing to finish them but be aware that anything you don’t eat still needs to be carried out. There are gas burners in all of the huts and the shelter on the McKinnon Pass so if you don’t plan to have a hot lunch you don’t need to take a primus. I had two pans that I used to cook in and eat from along with a set of cutlery and that did me just fine. I took a bunch of snacks as well, I destroyed the dehydrated apple and didn’t touch the peanut butter sachets…sometimes you don’t know exactly what will spin your wheels but it pays to have a bit more than you need, especially if it’s not heavy or bulky.
Sleeping Bag – I’m a hot sleeper who has never enjoyed how restrictive a mummy bag is to sleep in. A few years ago I invested in a down quilt from Enlightened Equipment and never looked back. It’s super light, packs down teeny tiny and I love it. I took a flat sheet to go over the plastic mattresses and used my dirty laundry bag as a pillow. Cosy. Take whatever bag you have access to and you can vary your temperature/comfort by wearing different amounts of clothing to bed. The key is to pack it in layers of plastic so it doesn’t get wet.
Head torch – Pretty self-explanatory, take a head torch and a set of spare batteries for it.
Pack + Cover + Dry Bags – Ideally you will have a pack that you’re familiar with and have worn before. I took an Aarn frontpack which I had tried on a previous trip and absolutely loved. Whatever you take, make sure the frame fits your body, you pack it evenly and use all of the adjustments available so it sits comfortably with the weight on your hips. Waterproofing is the other really important thing to consider when you pack. Some things you will want to do are: Line the inside of your pack with a thick bin liner, pack everything that needs to stay dry inside dry bags, and have a pack cover to go over the outside of your pack. This is all about redundancy, one layer is not enough, a solitary pack cover will not suffice, you gotta double or triple wrap it.
Water Bottle – You’ll know what kind you prefer, maybe you’re a camelback kinda person or maybe you’re a bottle kinda person. I took a 1L bottle with an internal straw that I put in one of my front packs so I could easily reach it myself.
Again all of this will depend on what level of comfort you want or need but I took:
Hair Brush + Hair Ties – Absolutely essential for me as someone with long curly hair. The nape of my neck where it rubbed against my raincoat and pack turned itself into a matted mess by the time we got to each hut so a tangle teaser was well used.
Wet wipes – I know they’re an ecological atrocity so I don’t use them in my everyday life but on a big tramp I am more lenient with myself. After a day of walking I like to take myself off to the loos and have a full wet wipe shower before I put on my hut clothes, this extends the life of my hut clothes, makes me feel good and helps reduce the collective pong that starts to permeate the hut.
Insect Repellant – Sandfly Point is aptly named. We were ‘lucky’ that it was raining so hard they couldn’t wage any kind of war on us but otherwise, you will want to douse yourself in it before you get there.
+ Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, and all that good stuff.
Other Bits and Bobs
Earplugs – In case you struggle to sleep through other people’s snoring.
Book – I took a small paperback with me which was a nice distraction after others had gone to bed but I wasn’t sleepy yet.
Cards/Games – I always take Tutto which is a fun dice game that lots of people can play and is relatively easy to learn. I also pre-planned my own episode of No Such Thing as a Fish by asking everyone to bring a fun fact with them. It sounds super nerdy (it is) but this was a great way to have a laugh, learn something new, and ended up keeping us busy and entertained for a good chunk of our evenings.
Plasters – Plus some other basic first aid bits.
Pen and paper – Just in case you want to score points for a game, write notes, draw pictures etc.
Power bank + Cable – If you’re taking photos on your phone then you may want to make sure you have a battery back up for it. It can also be nice to recharge once you’re out of the track in case you’d like to listen to music or a podcast (or let your parents know you’re alive) on your trip back to wherever you’re staying.
Spare bootlaces – Plus other ‘trip savers’ like cable ties that can help fix stuff that goes wrong.
Things other group members had that I was envious of:
Thermos – Filled with noodles or soup or other warm delights in the morning and then enjoyed throughout the day on the track.
Rain poncho – Some folks had cheap plastic rain ponchos that they wore underneath their raincoats. It sounds a bit counter-intuitive but putting another layer between their dry walking clothes and their saturated raincoats was very effective at keeping their torso warm.
Blow up pillow – I might take one of these next time, when you turn 3o your body starts to hurt in weird ways it never did before and sleeping on my dirty laundry pillow didn’t reeeeeally cut the mustard in the end.
Down Jackets – They pack down small and weigh nothing, it’s a no-brainer. They make a great warm layer to wear around the huts and are nice and cozy to have at the end of the track. I went and bought one as soon as we were done and won’t do another trip without it.
I hope this was helpful, if there’s anything you’d add – pop it in the comments and share the knowledge.