Ask Me: What Gear Do We Need for Backpacking in New Zealand?
My buddy Nolan and I are backpacking the Te Araroa Trail in New Zealand starting in January, and I’ve got a few gear questions I’d like to ask you. We’re just graduating high school and will be selling ourselves into slavery for the next six months to make money for this trip, so we’re certainly on a budget but I think we can still afford the middle/lower end of the high-end gear spectrum. We’ll be in hostels/huts about a quarter of the time.
I’ve got a 65-liter REI Flash backpack. I read your review of the Flash 45, but I’m uncertain whether the 65-liter is enough to carry all the gear a four-month journey will require. Nolan and I would have to stuff up to 10 days of food in our packs, as well as tent, clothes, sleeping bag, first aid, cook set, stove, etc. Is this possible on a 65-liter, or should I look for a 75/85-liter pack?
I was looking at getting a Tarptent Double Rainbow—do you know anything about this tent? It’s $275 and light (3 lbs.), but as we are anticipating running into some snow (shouldn’t be much, but it’s best to expect the worst) on the South Island, do you think we should bite the bullet and buy a heavier, four-season tent?
What kind of boots would you recommend, or how much money should I budget for boots? We’ll be hiking 1,800 miles in all kinds of conditions (river crossings, thick mud, snow, sand, rock scrambling, heat) and I want a pair that’ll last the whole journey. Looking at your blog, most of the boots you recommend are ~$200; would I be able to make do on a less-expensive pair, or should I expect cheaper shoes to fall apart after 500 miles?
A sleeping bag: I have a 0-degree Kelty down bag, but it’s pretty big (even in a compression sack) and I’m concerned about the down not drying if it gets wet. Should I worry about down sleeping bags getting wet?
I’m planning on buying a Canon G16 Camera (but saving purchasing it until last in case I run low on cash).
Good on you guys for undertaking such an ambitious adventure. It’ll be amazing and something you’ll remember for your entire lives.
A 65L pack may be big enough for your gear and up to 10 days’ of food, but that really depends on how lightweight and compact your bag, tent, and pad are, and to a lesser degree whether you have a really bulky puffy or fleece jacket and rain shells. Packing food smartly matters, too. Thru-hikers on long trails like the PCT, where they often have to carry seven to 10 days’ of food, use packs 65L or smaller (although you probably want a more sturdy tent for New Zealand rain and wind than a typical PCT thru-hiker needs). You guys have to think like thru-hikers and go as light as possible for such a big trip. You don’t want a 75L or bigger pack because that means you’re carrying too much stuff. You might find my tips on ultralight backpacking helpful, and my reviews of backpacking boots, backpacking tents and sleeping bags, as well as my reviews of stoves.
I’d look for a sub-four-pound tent with a good rainfly, vestibule, and reasonable living space, given that you might spend a lot of waking hours inside it in the kind of weather you’ll encounter at times. There are few places in the world where I’ve seen rain and winds as severe as in New Zealand (and I’ve been to Patagonia, Iceland, the Alps, Norway, Nepal). I’ve used some Tarptent models (they’re nice ultralight shelters), though not the Double Rainbow, but I just looked at it online. Don’t expect a low-to-the-ground rainfly to keep bugs out. I’d get a tent with interior mesh walls for breathability and bug protection; the sandflies in New Zealand will be some of the nastiest biting insects you’ve ever encountered. You don’t need a four-season tent (which wouldn’t ventilate as well as you want), but you do need a tent that’s sturdy in strong wind or a wet summer snowfall.
I’d also use a 30-degree bag (unless you get cold very easily) that’s under two pounds and compact, expecting that you can supplement its warmth by wearing clothes to bed if needed. The newer, water-resistant down bags are ideal for your trip, where you’ll get wet but want a bag that’s compact and light. You might also, instead, find a synthetic bag that’s fairly light and compact (PrimaLoft is the best synthetic for warmth-to-weight ratio) but not as expensive as water-resistant down. Get a waterproof stuff sack for your bag; I use the Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sacks.
With light gear and two pounds or less of food per day per person, a load with 10 days’ food shouldn’t exceed about 35 pounds. I think that’s pushing a bit past the max load an ultralight pack like the REI Flash 45 or Flash 65 is designed for (25-30 pounds). Ultralight packs like that have a minimalist suspension to them, and especially on that long a trip, overloading a pack could risk blowing out stitching and having to buy a new one.
I’d look at a pack with a bit more support that’s still fairly lightweight, like The North Face Banchee 65, the Black Diamond Element 60, the Osprey Atmos 65, the Gregory Savant 58, or the newly updated Osprey Exos 58, which I think set the bar for a supportive yet lightweight pack when it first came out. That said, you can take a test drive trip here with your NZ gear in the Flash 65 and see how it feels, and possibly avoid the expense of a new pack. But keep in mind that the Flash is not as tough as a heavier pack, so you’d have to be careful not to abuse it too much in NZ, and I wonder whether it can handle that long a trip if you’re often packing more than 30 pounds.
If you’re keeping your pack load to a max of about 35 or even 40 pounds, use a midweight boot (2.5 to 3 lbs./pair) that’s reliably waterproof and breathable, and that usually means partial or all-leather uppers. I find that all-synthetic uppers, even with a waterproof-breathable membrane, soak through more easily. Less-expensive, synthetic boots tend to have more seams, which means more places for water to penetrate. The lightest boots will also wear out faster, within 400-500 miles; a well-made, midweight leather boot costs more at face value but may also last twice as many miles. Thru-hikers on U.S. long trails may go through four or five pairs of low-cut shoes or lightweight boots, whereas with some luck, you might only need one or two pairs of high-quality, midweight leather boots for the entire Te Araroa. I really just review gear that I think is high quality and a good value for the buck, and I do think that, in most cases, boots that are $200 and up are going to last a lot longer than boots that are $150 or under. They’ll also keep your feet drier, and often fit better (though that requires you spending some time trying on different models to find a good fit).
In NZ, where you’ll walk through wet vegetation frequently, gaiters are mandatory gear (and a better investment than rain pants, which can just get too hot and clammy when you’re backpacking; though if you forego rain pants, you’ll definitely want good, high gaiters and a rain jacket that comes below your butt).
I know you’re trying to outfit yourself within a budget. Look for clearance items at discounted prices. With a backpack, spending less probably means only compromising some comfort; if you’re fairly careful and as long as your pack is made for the weight you’re carrying, an inexpensive pack should last your entire trip. Cheaper boots won’t necessarily save you money in the long run. Tent prices are driven by materials, and lightweight materials are expensive but you don’t necessarily want the lightest materials because that sometimes means a compromise in durability. Still, you might find yourself having to replace a cheap tent that’s not sturdy and durable enough for the trip you’re taking, and buying a tent or any gear in NZ will probably be a lot more expensive than buying it here.
I hope that’s helpful. Let me know if you have other questions, and I’d love to hear how your trip goes. Good luck.
Thanks a ton for the email Mike! You’ve given me a lot to think about—I hadn’t considered gaiters or waterproof stuff sacks.
In Ask Me, I share and respond to a reader question. Got a question about hiking, backpacking, gear, or any topic or trip I write about at The Big Outside? Send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, message me at facebook.com/TheBigOutside, or tweet it to @MichaelALanza. I will answer the ones I can in a post, using only your first name and city, with your permission. I receive a high volume of questions, so I cannot always respond quickly.