Overland Track : Preparation

The Overland Track in Tasmania constantly rates amongst the top 10 trails around the world.  Marianne and I have done the track twice now and it is easy to see why it justifies its place in the top 10.  The track itself is located in the heart of Tasmania stretching from Cradle Mountain in the north to Lake St Clair in the south. Most hikers take the route from north to south due to the net altitude loss and in fact, this is the only permissable route during the peak hiking months between November and March. This is the route that we have taken on both occasions. The trail itself is well signed, well worn and in many places, boardwalked. Even between visits in 2004 and 2008 there were areas that had been upgraded and one entire hut rebuilt (Bert Nichols or the old Windy Ridge hut). Don’t get me wrong, despite these relative comforts and the increasing number of trekkers each season, the wild environment has been remarkably well preserved. The ecology ranges from barren mountain plateaus, to cascading waterfalls, peat bogs, mountain tarns, dolomite peaks and tall forests. It’s all there in the one trek and therein lies its alluring charm.

Our main reference for preparation in 2008 was learning from the mistakes of our 2004 effort. Back then, we were of the opinion that those pricy names such as One Planet, Macpac, Mountain Designs etc were all just for show and not worth the price. Unfortunately, much to the detriment of our wallets, we have learned since that in most cases, cost does equate with better performance – unquestionably. The only question is whether you are getting value for money and whether a little skimping here and there won’t result in too much discomfort.  Here’s a comparison of of how some gear upgrades helped us enjoy our trip the second time round.

Tip 1: The backpack

If you’re planning on doing the Overland Track, you’re planning on walking for 5-7 days for 4-7 hours a day with close to 20kg on your back. You absolutely NEED a pack that is comfortable, weather resistant and accessible. In 2004, we used 2 travelling backpacks (one of which was bought for 20 dollars in a market in Ho Chi Minh City a few years back). These were not weather resistant, were not particularly adjustable and to make things worse, the shoulder strap of Marianne’s bag began to tear off during the track.  The net result was sore backs requiring a back rest every 10 minutes or so, and some damp clothes as we were only using garbage bags to store our clothes in. Circa 2008, a few treks in other parts of the world later and Marianne had acquired a One Planet Styx 2 backpack for a hefty $350 and I had bought a Doite backpack in South America for half the price. Carrying the load was far easier, our clothes dry (with the assistance of some drysacks within our backpacks) and the limit on our pace was not our joints but fitness alone.

Tip 2: The Outers

In 2004  I was convinced that my $20 “Goretex” North Face jacket given as a gift from China, would keep out the elements. Marianne also thought that a zipless Goretex jacket (albeit genuine) would suffice. I was proven wrong after 20 minutes of rain and Marianne was wanting a zip after 20 minutes of walking. We also had no waterproofs for our legs which meant cold wet legs in the rain. Once again, 4 years of travelling wisdom later and a lighter wallet, we had reasonable windproof /waterproof jackets that have done us well in all sorts of environments ranging from the Himalayas to Iceland. We have 2 sets of waterproof leggings now – a cheap light version and a heavy duty set of Goretex pants. At the risk of sounding hypocritical, the lightweight 20 dollar rainproof leggings did the trick in Tassie for us. The main issue is usually overheating within them but we were ‘lucky’ in the sense that the entire trek was done in sub 10 -15 degree weather meaning that we happily kept them on. The Goretex versions were undoubtedly more effective and easier to remove but also substantially heavier, hence the lucky compromise. When walking the Overland, parts of the trail are through stretches of mud, bog and the occasional shallow stream. Our gaiters again did the trick and I did not feel that I was in any way inconvenienced from having bought some relatively cheap ones for 30 dollars.  A good warm beanie and possibly a neck warmer also are good value. The bottom line from our experience ( though some will disagree ) : go nuts on the jacket, you can compromise a little on the pants and gaiters.

Tip 3: Boots

Not much to say here. Get a pair that fits and that you’ve worn in. Make sure they are waterproof. Make sure they have strong supportive soles. Marianne and I have both owned the same pair of boots for coming on 5 years now and even though mine needs a resole, they have simply kept our feet comfy, warm, dry and blister free in the last 4 years of hiking. Circa 2004 : those Goretex boots on special from an outdoor store seemed a good idea at the time but resulted in bruised toes, blisters and severe achilles tendonitis. As a reference , mine are Aku Boots with Vibram soles and cost about $350 a few years ago. It seemed a heap of money at the time for shoes, but I haven’t had to replace them in 5 years which speaks for itself.

Tip 4: The inners:

I guess in 2004 we were wondering why those snobby hikers were looking at us strangely when we turned up in trackydacks and hooded sweattops into the huts. At the time, we took offence to their looks and we still do but now at least we understand how we must have seemed a little odd and underprepared. Over the years, more lessons learned in layering meant that for this trip, we packed 2 sets comprising of: 1 thermal top, 1  quick dry T-shirt , 1 polar fleece lightweight top , 1 thermal pants, 1 pair of hiking quickdry pants and the outer shell on top. We also brought a pair of thermals just for sleeping in. If any item of clothing became particularly soiled, after a rinse and some hours on the back of our pack during rare sunshine (or in front of a hut stove at night) and it would be dry. Cotton stuff and those heavy sweaters never really dried- funnily enough. Wearing all of this kind of gear of course makes you look rather stereotyped but conformity in this instance is a small price to pay for comfort. For sitting around the camps/huts , we also packed our down jackets which could be doubled up as pillows overnight.

Tip4 : Food

Plan the menu , plan what you need , then add more!! A lesson we learned even from our 2008 trip where we thought ourselves well prepared, was that food is something you should not skimp on. Cold weather, trudging through mud and snow – it burns those calories like you wouldn’t believe. At 60kg, who would have thought I could lose weight but during the trek I actually lost 3-4kg in total. The example of our food for the trip is not one you want to follow for quantity but the type of food and ease of preparation were ok.

– Breakfast: A few kilograms of muesli and Just Right cereal squished as tight as we could

– Lunch: Enough packets for 2 Cup-a-Soups a day for each of us (the types with the crunchy bits)

– Dinner: Enough packets of instant noodles ( straight variety for space) for about 1.5 packets each a night and 1 chinese sausage each per night

– Snacks: Enough Muesli bars for 3 each a day, 750g of sultanas/dried fruit, 750g of M&Ms, portions of premade milo/sugar/powdered milk for 1 with each meal.

In retrospect – that’s how much I eat a day at a minimum when I’m not doing any exercise let alone hiking wtih 20kg  on my back for 6 hours a day. I think we should have multipled our calculations by 1.5 and we would have been more comfortable. Also, dehydrated solid food worked well for alot of the other hikers we hiked with. These seem worth the weight too, though we have no experience with these types of meals.

Tip 5: Photographic Equipment

If you’re serious about photographing the Overland Trail and not just wanting some snapshots for documentation of the journey, bring along what you think you can carry and make sure that you’ve walked long distances carrying the gear. Assumptions that you can and will manage to carry that extra 5-10kg  are dangerous and will often lead to curses after the first few hours of walking. Despite the best intentions, if you’re fatigued and sore, chances are you won’t be bothered getting that tripod out and ND filters to take an image like you would if you were shooting on a drive by location. The nights are freezing and believe you me, it is FAR more tempting to stay rugged up in the sleeping bag than to get up , don damp boots and head out for a dawn shoot. With this in mind, Marianne and I carried the following between us : Gitzo 2531 tripod legs and 1278M ballhead, Canon 20D body, Canon 40D body, Sigma 10-20mm lens, Canon 24-70mm F2.8 lens, lots of spare batteries, CPLs for the lenses, 1x 77MM circular ND filter and an assortment of P-size Singh Ray filters. The total weight of those was not insignificant but we had been tramping up and down Adelaide’s only sizeable hill (Mount Lofty) with backpacks of similar weight.  Summary : if you’re going to carry the gear, make sure it’s not going to cause you injury and put the darn pieces of gear to use! If I ever go back there, dammit I’m going to take more opportunities to shoot than what I did in 2008.

Tip 6: the other stuff

A tent is a necessity on the trail as the huts will often fill up in peak season. The only way to ensure a place in the hut is to make sure you arrive before everyone else does. Rushing through the trail however, seems to defeat the purpose of being there in the first place. As it turned out, we only used our tent on one night. There are tent platforms at most of the designated hut stop points so bringing a footprint is not necessary. We brought a 3 season tent and two inflatable sleeping mats for a total weight of about 3-4kg. A lightweight tent is not inexpensive, and I feel that to this day, we haven’t really used it enough to justify spending all that money on it. Apart from this trail, we’ve tended to use our other bulkier 3 man tent. Having said that, shaving off 1.5kg from the load probably did ease some of the strain. Cooking gear is essential-  we really brought the bare minimum : a pocket rocket MSI stove and cooking set, some matches we kept dry in ziplock bags and 1 coleman fuel canister (which lasted us for the 7 days we were on the trail).  Any kind of lightweight footwear for campsites is a bonus just to get out of those stinky boots at the end of the day (we have some soled booties for this purpose).  Insect repellant is very helpful for your sanity at a few of the huts (Kia Ora and Waterfall Valley) though sometimes even these felt quite ineffective. If you are doing the trek at any time other than summer, there will be long hours of twilight and night. A good reliable LED headlamp adds very much to the ease of cooking dinner or even playing cards to while away the evening hours. I chose to sleep as much as possible though since I was getting up for as many dawn photographic opportunities as possible.

So…….now that our backpacks were filled, our bank accounts that much emptier over the years, we set out for our adventure of 2008. 

Taking a break in Kitchen Hut



Posted on March 22, 2010, in Photography, Tasmania and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. First of all, great picture of Kitchen Hut! Were the resident quolls around looking for food?

    I liked your comparison between what you took in 2004 and 2009. I agree, for outdoor gear, quality does usually equate to price.

    Have a few different Overland track stories filed away to use in a combined post about different peoples experiences. Will definitely refer to this post!

    • Thanks Frank – we didn’t see any of the quolls around at the time here – there were however plenty of suspicious sounds at Windemere lol.
      I hope to get our day to day account of the trip up with images later this week .

  2. Awesome blog, but I was wondering where exactly you acquire your articles from.
    Do you outsource or do you write it all your self?

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