Overland Track Lighter Pack Tips

Published on Sunday, June 2, 2019

Background


My wife and I recently completed the Overland Track in Tasmania, and she posted a picture of our packs on a related group on Facebook. There was an overwhelming response, ranging from good job! to you're a liar or you surely didn't have a tent or you must be on a tour and didn't bring food.

I can understand the skepticism. Upon inspecting what people brought, and never used, there is definitely a preference for people to pack their fears. Considering this track seemed to be the first time many people have done a multi-day backpacking trip, there were a lot of things they likely would not pack after gaining a little more experience.

The consequences were very real. Most people had knee or foot problems by the time they reached Narcissus Hut, and I was one of only a few people able to hike out (~18km) when the ferry was cancelled (made it in about 3hr 45min and made my transport). One of my more lasting memories from the hike was stumbling on a couple hiking and one of the people being unable to cross a fallen tree because their bag was too heavy, and their partner had to help push them up.

The track was likely especially scary for newcomers given the weather we encountered was "the worst so far this season", according to our track transport. A week before we went the weather was supposed to be six days of glorious 5 - 10 C temperatures with only a little drizzle. The night before we flew out of Sydney it was forecasted to snow 1 - 2 mm one of the days. The actual weather was non-stop rain or snow, temperatures ranging from -2 to 3 C, and we only saw blue sky once. Once. I don't remember ever seeing the sun from start-to-finish. It felt like we spent more time walking in streams or mud than on actual dry soil.

The Overland Track. Plan ahead and say goodbye to mobile reception.

Given we encountered just about the worst the trail could throw at us outside of winter, how do we know we brought just the right amount of stuff?

1) We were one of only two parties from our van transport that even stayed in our tent
2) We never shivered a single time, nor did we think we were ever in any danger
3) The ferry was cancelled when we rolled in to Narcissus Hut, so 16 extra people had to stay overnight; about five of them didn't have enough food, and we were the ones giving them food because we had plenty of food remaining (that said, we were also 1 1/2 days ahead of schedule)
4) People routinely borrowed our lighter, as the piezo on their stove was broken
5) We had hot meals every night, coffee twice a day, and still had fuel left over
6) We let three people charge their phones at NH so they could sort out travel arrangements, as they didn't have a spare power bank

Suggestion From What We Saw


Here's a list of things that we saw people bring, but with suggested substitutes that would reduce overall weight while not reducing safety or comfort. You might think "that's only 50g savings", but it all adds up. We had by far the lightest bags with a total pack weight of around 8 kg (with 1 litre of water), and the heaviest in our van was 23kg. Most were around 15kg.

Camp Shoes

Seen Brought: 2nd pair of sneakers for camp shoes
Better: Crocs/Flip-Flops or hotel slippers
Best: Plastic bags

A lot of people brought a 2nd pair of sneakers just for walking around the huts. Many people were a little more wise and brought a lighter pair of Crocs (good for socks, but mine weight 349g) or flip-flops (mine weigh 155g), but I'd argue that hotel slippers (mine weigh just 39g) serve the same purpose. Or bring two bread bags and when you get to the hut take off your wet socks, put them immediately on or near the heater, put on your sleep socks, and put on bread bags on top of them. You can then wear your wet shoes without getting your sleep socks wet.

Fresh Fruit / Veggies

Seen Brought: Fresh Fruit/Veggies
Better: Dried fruit / dehydrated veggies
Best: None

Feel free to bring a fresh apple for lunch the first day, but fresh fruit is extremely heavy for the calories they provide. We saw people four days in giving away cucumbers / zucchini. To put this in perspective, 100g of cucumbers have 72 calories vs. 100g of peanut m&m have 516 calories.

Tinned Food

Seen Brought: Cans of tuna
Better: Starkist tuna packets
Best: Jerkey or biltong or just nuts or peanut butter m&m

On my first multi-day hike with my wife my shopping instructions where: if it has to cook, then it needs to be able to be done in less than 3 minutes, and no cans or jars of anything. Bringing in a can of tuna, which isn't even that calorie dense to begin with, means you have to keep carrying that tin your entire hike. If you must bring in a tuna packet, but do a little research, as you can save significant weight by paying attention to the food you bring. Please see Skurka's post for some overall tips, and then over at Greenbelly for some actual food/weight breakdown. Please see below for our food breakdown. We deviated a little bit in what we ended up buying in TAS (e.g. no banana chips), but it was plenty. If you have the time, and like planning, then consider doing the same. Alternatively, and this is the guideline I follow if I do not intend to do much planning, then try to buy food at Woolies or Coles that is as close to 2000kJ per 100g as possible.

Initial food planning for two


Tools / Kitchen Stuff

Seen Brought: Small cast iron skillet, hunting knives
Better: Not a cast iron skillet

A lot of people were cooking pretty elaborate meals, which is pretty impressive. They also brought four pans and three canisters of fuel. I hesitate making recommendations on food, but I'd probably suggest getting some dehydrated meals from Snowys a few weeks in advance, and you won't need all those pots and pans. Another nice thing is you can use the package as a container, so one less bowl to bring and clean. Bring one spoon with a long handle (sporks might sound nice, but if you're eating cous cous or something small, then you can't easily scoop it up, and I would hesitate that you might pop a hole in a dehydrated bag).

Duplicate Clothing / Cotton

Seen Brought: "I'm wearing four fleeces" or duplicates of every item

TAS Parks provides a list of minimum gear that you need to bring, but I don't think you need to bring more than what is on it. Even better would be to read the article by Andrew Skurka on the Core 13 items he suggests you bring. We surprisingly saw quite a bit of cotton shirts / pants being worn, which was a surprise.

Big Trowel

Seen Brought: Metal garden trowels
Better: Deuce of spaces
Best: Nada

I typically carry a 'deuce of spades' on any overnight, but in the case of the Overland, if doing it again, I'd probably skip bringing it. There are toilets at every site, and the ground was pretty moist, so digging a cat hold wouldn't be a problem.

Water

Seen Brought: People carrying 5L of water
Better: 2L
Best: 1L + Sawyer Squeeze (filter)

When we went there was water everywhere, like, it felt like most of our time was walking in streams. If you aren't in a stream, then you are no more than 1km away from crossing some stream. Our van driver / ex-guide said she didn't filter often, but for some reason I have a fear of water, so I tend to always filter unless high up in the mountains. I brought a 1L balance water bottle and a filter, and never once needed more than that. Most of the time I just filtered at the huts and filled up there.

First Aid Kits

Seen Brought: 1kg kits from Big W
Better: make it yourself

It seems like quite a few people thought "huh, I need a FAK, I'll get the next one I see" and end up with something that has a million bandaids and big gauze pads, but nothing you actually need. You can see what is in my FAK, which probably still has too many wipes, but I can deal with the most common issues: blisters, and soreness. It weights about 60g / 2oz.

Books

Seen Brought: several hardback books
Better: Kindles
Best: skip books and chat with people or Audible

One lady opened her bag and pulled out multiple books, read for 20 minutes, then chatted with people. Bring a kindle. Or realise it is only 4 - 6 days, and leave the books at home and chat with people. I tend to load up my phone with books on Audible or podcasts.

We Wish We Brought...


You can read above that we had planned more for the experience than most people, and we have done several other multi-day hikes previous. I am immensely glad I read one of Ray Jardin's books back in ~2002 to learn how to prepare for backpacking and stop packing my fears.

There wasn't much we wish we would have brought, except for perhaps some type of mittens that would have blocked the wind. When hiking on the ridges the temperature ended up dropping significantly, and when combined with the wind, it made my hands quite cold. We kept moving and that kept us generating heat, but stopping on a ridge would have been uncomfortable.