We had hoped to get this up in Wellington as we finished the North Island, but better late than never!
As we said in previous posts, we consider ourselves lucky when it comes to gear. We’ve met a lot of hikers on the TA who are unhappy with their gear (mostly because they want to go lighter), or have just had gear fail on them early in the hike. We have found the Te Araroa a true test for gear. The terrain can really give a beating. As some manufacturers have said, “the TA is not normal usage.”
Now, this is not to say that our gear is perfect. We have had things break and more signs of wear and tear than we’ve ever seen, and we are only halfway done! But, overall we are very happy with our choices and would like to share our reviews on what we’ve used and abused thus far! Our disclaimer is that gear is a very personal decision. As the saying goes, hike your own hike! A second disclaimer is that we categorize ourselves as semi-lightweight with base weights between 13-18 lbs.
We are using Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2. If you followed us on our AT journey, you’d know it is the same brand/type we used (just the updated version). We love this tent for our long-distance hikes. It gives us the headroom and personal space we want and is super easy to set up. Plus, it has 2 doors, 2 vestibules. We always joke that this is the key to our marriage on long-distance hikes. Even with all the “extras,” we are still ecstatic about the weight of 3lbs 2oz. Also, BA made some upgrades to this tent compared with our 2011 version, including more pockets (SIX to be exact! we love having an organized tent!).
We both are using the Therm-a-Rest X-Lite sleeping pads, and we couldn’t sing its praises enough. It has an R-value of 3.2 and weighs 12 ounces. It has been the lightest and most durable we have seen on the trail. People have had their pads popping left and right. J’s did spring a leak, but it is because a dog bit off the bite valve. So a very isolated case and nothing to do with the pad’s construction.
Patrice is using a Therm-a-Rest Antares HD 20-degree bag. The truth is, 20 degrees has been a little too warm. The nighttime temps haven’t gotten below 40, but for the most part they have been in the 50s. I (Patrice) always sleep with a liner (keeps my bag a little cleaner since I am only showering once every 5 days or so). Often, I will just drape my bag over me. However, I wouldn’t change my choice. I love the bag and its weight under (2lbs). The HD means it is hydrophobic down. When regular down gets wet, it does not keep you warm or dry. HD does. I can attest to this. The air here is so damp and sticky. We usually have our rain tarp on most nights because of this (making it hotter), but the few times we slept with it off, our sleeping bags were wet with dew. I didn’t feel the moisture!
Justin is using the Auriga 35 degree down blanket with a top sheet that covers the top of my pad. I (Justin) tend to sleep sleep warm and love to move around. With warmth from the pad reflecting my body heat back to me, the blanket is ideal. I usually just have it on top of me and can have it all the way up to my neck or just half on. It vents from either side and still keeps me warm. It the temps dip, I can attach it to pad to really keep the heat in. I tell you what, I think I am hooked on the blanket concept.
One of Justin’s favorite sleeping items at home and even on the trail is a pillow. No, not just one pillow, but many pillows. At home in bed, I (Justin) am surrounded by pillows. Well, on the trail I use three! Well, now two since Patrice took one–the Nemo Fillo pillow–because she thought I had too many. I use my dry bag with clothes in it as the base and then my Big Agnes Shovelhead jacket in my Therm-a-Rest pillow stuff sack. Patrice loves the Nemo Fillo pillow because it has some cushion and can inflate as much or little as you want. She always claimed she doesn’t need a pillow but she seems to be sleeping more soundly to me!
We are minimalist when it comes to cooking on the trail. We use a one-pot system, using GSI Outdoors Halulite MicroDualist at 18 ounces. The pot can hold 2.5 cups of water, which is usually the most we need. And even when we are cooking (noodles, etc) in the pot instead of just boiling water, the pot has been plenty big. It also comes with a lightweight bowl and cup each with lids. This all fits very nicely into the pot. We even put our MSR microrocket stove in one bowl. To shovel all our yummy food into our mouths, we both use and love our Kung Foons. The spice missile give flavor to our food as we are usually eating the same thing every night.
We are using the MSR microrocket stove, which is so tiny and lightweight. We love it. It uses butane/propane fuel combo for it and have been carrying the 230 gram size (medium canister). It was probably a little excessive for the North Island because you can get these canisters almost everywhere. We went through only 2 canisters on the North Island. But, we only cook at night (not in the morning).
If you’ve ever had a discussion with me about footwear, you’d know that I am prone to getting blisters, and I always will opt for a heartier pair of boots rather than trail runners to give me a little more protection. I went with the Ohios for this trek because they are a little lighter than a full leather pair, but still waterproof and high tops. I couldn’t be happier with my choice. Sure, I got blisters and lost 2 toenails, but I will NEVER be blister-free when starting out a long-distance hike and I blame all the road/beach walking from this hike, which was certainly harder on my delicate feet. What I love about my boots is that I did stay dry through all the mud, rain and river crossings. My feet also didn’t overheat on hot days. My first pair carried me 1680 kilometers or 1075 miles before needing a replacement!
I really wanted a camp shoe that was lightweight, but still could stand up to some terrain if needed. Hi-Tec’s Zuuks have been the perfect match. I wear them at camp, I wear them for certain river crossings/walking, I wore them for the canoe portion, I wear them on the paved roads sections of the trail and of course around town. They are fully multifunctional and I am so happy to have them.
I retired both pairs for new ones in Wellington. It was time! But they did great for 1600+K/1000+M!
Hi-Tec Altitude Treks
I, on other hand, have had no issues with my feet, in fact I think I could hike barefoot! But I will not attempt that. My Altitude Treks were like wrapping my feet in clouds. They were extremely comfortable, provided great support and traction. The Treks were low profile shoes which I prefer. No heat issues for me. The only trouble for wearing low profile shoes us getting debris in them if you are not wearing gators. I did have gators (Outdoor Research, Wrapids), but the velcro failed miserably and they would never stay on.
After the 1680Ks or 1076 miles, the Altitude Treks it is time for retirement, but I am excited to switch my shoes for the brand new Altitude Lite Waterproof high tops. The higher tops are good now that I am not using gaitors. Stay tuned for the trail report on these!
I can’t tell you how important camp shoes are. It is always good to get out of your walking footwear and let your feet breath. The Rio Adventures are great for that, but also have proved invaluable for crossing rivers and walking some of the pave roads. I echo Patrice in saying these shoes serve so many functions. Plus being so lightweight doesn’t hurt. ( under 1 pound for the pair!)
Added comfort in the form of insoles can always improve your hike. Superfeet is proven that in the newest form of insoles, with the Carbons. The combo of my Hi-Tecs and the carbons have babied the bottom of my feet and given me that added protection. No pain on the bottom of my feet at all!
I don’t really want to go through every piece, but want to make a few comments. I have 2 shirts–an old REI one and a brand-new Merrell one. I used the REI one on the AT. Guess which one is starting to fall apart? The Merrell! I continue to be surprised by the quality of REI brand clothing. I am also wearing a pair of REI Safari pants, and they, too, are holding up well. One feature I like about them is that instead of zipping the pant legs off, they fold up. As for socks, only one pair failed me (Fits) so far!
For me, I have to commend my Mountain Hardwear convertible pants. I bought these in 2003 in Alaska and have since put 4000 miles on them, including a thru hike of the AT. These pants rock! I also have to mention my new rain shell. The Marmot Crux is extreme lightweight and great stow and go jacket, plus it keeps me dry. One pair of socks down for the count for me too (Hi-Tec brand).
We are both using the Big Agnes updated Shovelhead Downtek jackets for extra warmth of the chilly nights and mornings. So lightweight, compact and comfortable. As I said, I even use it for my pillow at night!
There are no campfires in New Zealand and the moon is not always as bright as you want it to be, in which case, we are very pleased with our Princeton Tec Vizz headlights. Three settings including the red light, which is great for reading and not disturbing your tent mate. We also night hiked twice and it was no problem with our lights. We find that the battery life (lithium) on these is just amazing. After 1000 miles and we are still on our first set. The only sad part is when Patrice went to get hers and realized she left it at a hostel. Luckily, Kiwis are so kind that it was mailed to our next stop and back on her head!
We are honored to be one the first to use the new Gregory Deva 60 and Baltoro 65 packs. If you know us, we have been using Gregory for a while and thru hiked the Appalachian Trail with the Deva and Baltoro predecessors. We are loving the updated packs! Besides the weight reduction of about 1 pound, our favorite new additions are the waterproof hip pocket and reservoir bag that doubles as a day pack. The one funny thing about the packs is that when we both got them they were black/grey, but Justin’s had turned a shade of green with the strong sun here. We don’t know why mine has not?
They say the water in New Zealand is very safe to drink from the source, but there have been many times that the source have had cows bathing in it. We are worry warts and always filter our water no matter where we are. We don’t want to chance getting giardia and some bug from the water. That could be a trail-ending disaster. We are using the Sawyer squeeze mini filter that weighs just 2 ounces and easily filter as much as we want and on the spot quickly. This is great for us, as one way we cut weight is with water. Water is heavy and we want to carry as little as possible. Our only problem so far is that we have punctured and broke two of the Sawyer bags. But I know this is user error, as I am always squeezing a bit to hard! Blame my strong muscles.
I (Patrice) will always say I am a convert to hiking poles. I never used them, then I used 1 pole on the AT. Now I am using 2 and I couldn’t live without them! The steepness of this NZ terrain almost makes them a necessity, in my opinion. It is the piece of gear I can’t live without. We have both been using the Helinox brand of poles–the Passports, which are the lightest ones they have. Justin did break one of his at around kilometer 800 (roughly 500 miles), but then he fixed it and it lasted until Wellington (kilometer 1686/mile 1076)! He now has a brand-new pair for the South Island.