On the Milford and Routeburn tracks, hikers can experience four seasons in a day. Though we hiked in New Zealand’s early fall and hoped for mild days, we also knew the passes could receive feet of snow at this time of year.
This made it difficult to strike the right balance. We wanted to pack light enough to be able to move quickly and have energy for side trips, but we also wanted to be comfortable regardless of weather. Fortunately, we’ve acquired a good set of layering gear over the years, which we could draw on to assemble our packs.
Our notes on packing for the Routeburn and Milford Tracks are part of our posts about our 2019 trip to New Zealand’s South Island.
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In addition to our individual gear, I carried the “information” (guidebook, map, Garmin inReach) while Kyle carried some of the other resources (e.g., sunscreen, water filter). Because the huts on the Milford and Routeburn Tracks are self-service, we also had to carry cooking supplies. For us, the only shared cooking gear was an MSR pot (Moosejaw | Amazon), along with our food.
We decided to bring much of our food from home. This helped us save time (less shopping and re-packing). It also meant that we knew we’d enjoy at least some of the dehydrated meals we brought, rather than taking a risk with new brands.
For breakfasts, we make our own mixes of oatmeal (a mix of instant oats and steel cut), dried berries (cranberries and blueberries), and nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds). We supplemented with dried fruit we bought in New Zealand.
For dinners, we used a mix of Good to Go (Amazon | Moosejaw), AlpineAire (Amazon | Moosejaw), and Mountain House (Amazon | Moosejaw). Good to Go has always been reliable, but their selection is limited. Alpenaire and Mountain Home have been a bit more hit or miss.
For lunches and snacks, we brought a mix of bars from home. We like Cliff Bars (Amazon), Cliff Builder Bars (Amazon), KIND Bars (Amazon), and NatureValley (the chewy kind; Amazon). A variety keeps us from getting bored. We supplement with fresh fruit (apples or oranges), dried fruit, mixed nuts, and trail mix. When traveling internationally, we also supplement with the cheapest, most interesting chocolates and cookies we can get in the grocery store.
One challenge with bringing food from home is that New Zealand has strict regulations about what you can bring into the country. To avoid the risk of having food confiscated or bringing in threats, we cross-checked each item with the list. We found regulations on meat and fish the most confusing:
- Backpacking meals can contain max 5% meat, but more might be okay from the US
- Cured pork can only come from Australia, Finland, or New Zealand
- Other cured meats: beef okay from the US.
- Canned chicken is okay
- Shrimp are allowed so long as they are dead.
This ruled out several freeze dried meals we like. For others, we printed the relevant regulations, highlighted why the food was allowed, and taped it to the package.
In New Zealand, we were surprised to find how much cooking others did in the huts. About half of the people each night were part of large, local family groups. They took advantage of their numbers to specialize meal preparations into multi-course events that smelled — and looked — fantastic. I don’t think we would have done anything differently, but it did make us drool a bit.
Sean's packing list
For my bag, I used an Osprey Kestrel 48 (Moosejaw | Amazon). It’s a great size for hut-to-hut hikes where I don’t need a heavy sleeping bag, tent, or stove: enough room to store everything and to get stuff in and out, without being too big.
- Printed copies of reservations, Passport (if international), wallet, and cash in a small SealLine waterproof case (Moosejaw | Amazon)
- iPad mini (as an e-reader, in lieu of books) and a map in an XL SealLine waterproof case (Moosejaw | Amazon).
- Garmin inReach Explorer+ satellite communication device (Amazon). I bought it as a device I hoped to never use. Now, I like running in the background as a navigation aide and to use the GPS traces to help tag my photos. See our notes on why we bought the inReach and what it’s been like to use it for a year.
- Clothing in a stuff sack.
- Short sleeve shirts: Smartwool – Merino 150 short sleeve shirt (Moosejaw | Amazon) and one polypro wicking short sleeve shirt (e.g., Adidas Climapro). The Smartwool resists odors better than the the polypro shirts. It is, however, very expensive, so I am slowly adding them to my wardrobe.
- Long sleeve shirt: I carried 1 long sleeve wicking shirt and 1 Smartwool quarter zip (Moosejaw | Amazon)
- 1 pair of REI Endeavor zip-off pants. I love these convertible pants. Sadly, they are starting to fall apart, and so this was probably their last trip. Unfortunately, REI discontinued them. I’ve since switched to a combo of Prana Zion Convertible pants (Moosejaw | Amazon) and North Face Convertible pants (Moosejaw | Amazon).
- 1 pair of Outdoor Research Ferrosi pants (Moosejaw | Amazon). There were my backups for hiking and my morning/evening wear.
- 1 half-zip fleece (Moosejaw | Amazon). This was part of my layering strategy for the trail and for evenings/mornings.
- Eddie Bauer Downlight StormDown Jacket (Amazon). Another one I carry for layering. It folds delightfully small, but it does shed down.
- Sleep stuff in a zip loc bag
- A cotton t-shirt
- Gym shorts
- Earplugs (Amazon). Snorers are unavoidable. I carry spares too, because they inevitably fall out.
- A sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner:
- A summer sleeping bag. I have an old REI 45ºF bag that I picked up on sale. It collapses pretty well, though I wish it had a full length zipper to manage temperature. It’s been discontinued.
- Sea to Summit Traveler liner (Moosejaw | Amazon). The traveler version of the liner is a bit bigger than their mummy liner, but it has the benefit of having a pillow pocket.
- A pillow. I also carried a compressible Therm-a-rest pillow (Amazon). Any bit of extra comfort helps offset the noise of snoring bunkmates.
- Socks and underwear in a stuff sack.
- Buff (Moosejaw | Amazon): Good for when I don’t want to wear a hat, as a backup if my hat ever blows away, to keep my neck warm, and to keep bugs off.
- Sun hat: I use the Outdoor Research Transit (Moosejaw | Amazon); it offers reasonable coverage and breathability.
- Rain coat: I use an Arc’teryx Beta Lt Hybrid Jacket (Amazon). It’s pricey but lightweight and effective.
- Utensils (Amazon). Yes, an entire set is totally unnecessary, but, shrug, I like them.
- SeaToSummit bowl and mug (Amazon | Moosejaw): I used to carry regular plastic mugs as both my bowl and my beverage container, but I eventually got tired of how much space they took up. I bought a collapsable SeaToSummit bowl and mug for this trip, and I love them. They’re much easier to pack. Judging by how many we saw at the huts — and how many we’ve since seen elsewhere — others love them too.
- Gaiters. I’ve been very happy with the Outdoor Research Crocodiles (Moosejaw | Amazon), though happily we did not need them on this trip.
- Standard trail stuff, in a mesh sack:
- First aid kit
- Headlamp: I use a Petzl Tikka (Moosejaw | Amazon)
- Fire starter: we thought we would need this for the stoves in the huts, but they all ended up being self-igniting. Still, an important element of the 10 essential, and useful if the self-igniters had failed. The one I have, the Spark Force (Amazon), seems to be pretty reliable, though my main annoyance is that the design works better for right-handed people.
- Trowel (Amazon) & toilet paper / zip lock bags. The Milford and Routeburn both had lots of toilets enroute, but it’s still best to be prepared.
- Knife / multitool: I use a Leatherman Wave (Amazon)
- Utility cord, which we used as an ad-hoc clothes line.
- Water bladder – I used a 2L Platypus (Moosejaw | Amazon), plus a spare 1L bladder.
- Electronics pouch: battery (Amazon), charging cables, and an Anker Solar Charger (Amazon).
- Toiletries: deodorant, nail trimmers, hand sanitizer, toothbrush, toothpaste, and backup sunscreen.
- Towel: I use an REI Large pack towel.
- Sandals: Teva Hurricane 4s (Amazon). I use these as shoes for the refuges and hotels in the evening. Some refuges provide slippers for use inside; most hotels do not. The Tevas also double as my plan for fording any rocky streams.
- Camera. I carried an Olympus OMD EM-5 Mark II (Amazon) with a 12-100mm (24-200 equivalent) lens, on a Peak Design Capture Clip (Amazon). I also carried spare batteries and a USB charger.
- Trekking Poles. I’ve been very happy with my Black Diamond collapsible poles (Moosejaw | Amazon)
- Clothing in a stuff sack.
Kyle's packing list
- Passport, wallet, cash, and iPad Pro (as an e-reader) in an XL SealLine waterproof e-case (Moosejaw | Amazon)
- Stuff sacks: Sea to Summit eVent Compression Dry Sack in 6L and 10L sizes (Moosejaw | Amazon)
- Clothing in 2 stuff sacks:
- 1 synthetic wicking short sleeve shirt, e.g., Marmot Windridge (Amazon).
- 2 Smartwool NTS Micro 150 combo short sleeve shirts (Moosejaw | Amazon). These resist odor far better than any synthetic shirt, and they dry very quickly.
- 1 half-zip fleece (Moosejaw | Amazon). This was part of my layering strategy for the trail, but warm days meant I wore it as a cozy layer at night and in the morning.
- 2 long sleeve wicking shirts. I probably should have packed only one. The Smartwool PhD Ultra Light LS (Moosejaw | Amazon) is my favorite. It resists odor far longer than the Mountain Hardwear Butterman Crew (Moosejaw | Amazon).
- 1 pair of Mountain Hardwear Right Bank shorts (Moosejaw| Amazon). I bought these on sale a year ago and have worn them as my primary hiking shorts ever since. They are incredibly lightweight and comfortable, and very easy to wash and dry in your room.
- 1 pair of Arcteryx Lefroy pants (Moosejaw | Amazon) as a backup for cold days. I love these pants for their durability, stain and water resistance, and comfort while wearing a pack, due to the integrated belt.
- Icebreaker Oasis Leggings (Moosejaw | Amazon) in case of cold weather. These were fantasic for hut lounging — I wore them under my lounge shorts to keep sandflies away.
- A comfortable t-shirt for evenings/sleeping: the Patagonia S/S Nine Trails Shirt
- Lounging shorts
- Underwear: 1 Icebreaker Anatomica merino wool boxer (Moosejaw | Amazon), 5 synthetic. As with my shirts, I enjoy the benefits of merino enough to buy more in the future. The Anatomica is a bit snug after washing and drying, so you may want to double-check the sizing.
- 3 pairs of hiking socks. I love socks from Darn Tough for their comfort and durability. They win hands down over any other hiking sock I’ve tried. I packed a mix of the “Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion” (Moosejaw | Amazon) and “Hiker Micro Crew Cushion” (Moosejaw | Amazon). I was able to keep at least one pair clean and dry each day.
- Sock liners
- 5 primary pairs. I really like the FoxRiver X-Static liners (Amazon) since they are lightweight, have minimal seams, and produce minimal friction with merino wool socks. I also packed a pair of REI Co-op Merino Wool liners, but they are thicker and not as comfortable after a long, hot day. And lastly, a pair of REI Co-op CoolMax EcoMade Liner Socks that I like and have worn for years (these are slightly shorter than the FoxRiver).
- 2 backup pairs. I also packed a pair of REI Co-op Merino Wool liners, but they are thicker and were not as comfortable after 8 hours. The other pair is Smartwool Hiking Liner Crew Sock (Moosejaw | Amazon), which tend to stretch out over time. Fortunately, I did not need them as my base pairs survived and did not develop any holes.
- 1 pair for hut lounging. I bought Injinji Liner Crew Socks (Amazon) for a previous trip, but now I wear them with my Tevas while lounging at huts or at camp. These have individual toes which some hikers find uncomfortable.
- Buff (Moosejaw | Amazon): This is useful on rainy days to keep my neck warm, or for when I don’t want to wear a hat (or as a backup if my hat ever blows away). I usually spray this with permethrin before the trip to help deter bugs.
- Sun hat from REI
- Sunglasses + cleaning cloth
- Synthetic insulated jacket (REI puffy) just in case of really cold weather. With the warm weather we had, I could have omitted this or the fleece altogether, but I always feel better traveling with both.
- Rain coat: I use an Arc’teryx Alpha FL Jacket (Moosejaw | Amazon), which is expensive but incredibly lightweight and effective.
- Other gear:
- Gaiters: We bought Outdoor Research Crocodiles for our trip to Scotland. I brought them for the Tour do Mont Blanc, but, like Sean, I didn’t end up using them on this trip.
- Standard trail stuff, in one of my pack pockets:
- Sandals: Teva Hurricane 4s (Amazon) for evenings and mornings at refuges and hotels.
- Water bladder – I used a 2L Platypus (Moosejaw | Amazon). Like Sean, I also carried an auxiliary 1L bladder that I didn’t end up using.
- Food & Toiletries:
- Snack / energy bars: one per day. I snack frequently and carried a mix of Nature Valley, Cliff Energy Bars, and Cliff Builder Bars (see above). I also ate much of Sean’s bar supply because he (a) is over-prepared and (b) knows that I get hungry.
- Sun protection: 1 large Sawyer Stay-Put SPF50 sunscreen (shared; Amazon) and 1 chapstick. Over a two-week trip, the two of us will use at least 75% of the 8-ounce bottle. This sunscreen goes on thick but, as advertised, seems to last longer than other suncreens we have used.
- Personal care: body powder (for foot emergencies), deodorant, face wipes, laundry detergent sheets, nail trimmers, hand sanitizer, shampoo, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste
- Towel: Packtowl Ultralight large (Moosejaw | Amazon), now 3 years old but still going strong
- Bowl and mug. I’ve used the GSI Outdoors Ultralight Nesting Bowl and Mug set (Moosejaw | Amazon) for years and love them. They are not collapsable, but they fit perfectly inside the MSR cooking pot we carried for this trip so I had no wasted space.
- Spork. The MSR Alpine Collapsible Utensils spork (Amazon) has a folding handle and fits neatly inside my nesting bowl and mug set, which fits neatly inside our cookware.
- Electronics pouch: USB charging adapter, battery, 2 lightning cables, headphones, earplugs
- A sleeping bag and sleeping bag liner:
- A 3-season sleeping bag. I wanted a lightweight sleeping bag specifically for this trip, but already had to purchase other gear. So I settled on bringing my existing Mountain Hardwear Lamina Z Flame (Amazon | Moosejaw, new version), which is somewhat bulky and too much insulation for most New Zealand huts during summer months.
- Sea to Summit Mummy liner (Moosejaw | Amazon). This mummy-style liner works well with my sleeping bag to help keep the bag’s interior clean.
- Trekking Poles. Black Diamond collapsible poles (Moosejaw | Amazon)
Though we emphasize the rain — and being prepared for it here — we overall had some gorgeous weather. Being ready with layers and quick drying clothes helped us enjoy both the grey and the sun. Read more about planning our trip.