Walking 3’000km through New Zealand with your hiking gear is a pretty good way to test its suitability, quality and durability. In this blog post I share my thoughts on the most important parts of our Te Araroa hiking gear and describe how it coped during 4,5 months of tough testing on the trail.
Te Araroa Hiking Gear – Content
- Tent – Tarptent Strato Spire 2
- Sleeping bags – Cumulus Lite Line 300 on the North Island
- Sleeping bags – Exped Ultralite 700 M on the South Island
- Air mattress – Exped Synmat Hyperlite M
- Backpack – ULA Circuit
- Socks – Injinji Run Lightweight Mini-Crew
- T-Shirt –Icebreaker Aero Short Sleeve Crewe
- Shoes – LaSportiva Ultra Raptor
- Satellite GPS Messenger – SPOT
- Powerbank – Anker 20’ mAh
- Evernew Titanium Pot 1,3l (164g) + DIY Pot Cosy
- Short Notes
- Left Behind / Change
Tent – Tarptent Strato Spire 2
I’ve already written a detailed article about this tent during our preparations. But only the big test – the 3’000km – let me draw a final conclusion.
We still love the Strato Spire 2. It’s spacious, airy and stable and survived the Te Araroa without any holes or other damages.
The rather large footprint of the tent made it sometimes quite hard to find a suitable spot. Especially in the sections with forests it took us a while to set up camp. But we always found a spot in the end. If you don’t need a lot of space in your tent you might want to have a smaller one, so you get more choice when looking for a camp spot. We appreciated the space and (mostly) didn’t mind the search for a spot.
For me the main problem was the packing size of our tent. The design of the Strato Spire 2 requires two short poles in two corners of the tent. That entails a defined packing size of 41cm x 10cm (16 x 4 inch). I would have preferred to carry the tent inside my ULA Circuit Backpack. But my packing method and the compartment size didn’t allow it. Therefore I had to carry the tent alternately on one side of the backpack. Other storing places like the top and bottom of the backpack didn’t work out for me. As a result I always had a bit of an unbalanced distribution of weight, hence the alternation of the side.
The second issue in my view was that if you don’t have a waterproof stuff sack the tent gets soaked in rain. That means additional weight. And even if it’s good weather but you have a dripping tent your backpack and bottom gets wet. So exchange the included stuff sack or use a rain cover if you carry the tent outside your pack.
Lastly, we didn’t like the provided Everton stakes. They are quite big (6 x 8 3/4 inch / 22 cm). We often had problems to get them into hard and dry ground on campgrounds (compressed earth).
+Spacious, airy, stable, sturdy
– Packing size, included stakes
The next time we head out with the Strato Spire 2 for an overnighter, we make sure that we have a waterproof cover with us. We also swap the provided stakes for smaller Y-Stakes like the Mini Hogs from MSR.
Good to know
We added two extra stakes and lines for stability, which were really helpful during a few windy nights. To protect the floor we used a Tyvek groundsheet. After the North Island we left the sheet in our bounce box. We figured that the material of the tent’s floor is sturdy enough. And as it turned out it was. The only disadvantage was a dirtier tent floor.
More info in the detailed article Preparations Te Araroa Trail – Tarptent Strato Spire 2 + DIY Groundsheet.Back to the top
Sleeping bags – Cumulus Lite Line 300 on the North Island
We used the Cumulus Lite Line 300 (300g 850cuin down) together with a synthetic inlet (Sea to Summit, Thermolite Reactor +8° C). We had already used this sleeping bag for 8 months in Australia and knew the pro and cons, which we listed in a review.
And keep in mind that we are both cold sleepers and may not be the best comparative example.
Apart from a few colder nights we were comfortable with the Lite Line 300 and the Sea to Summit inlet on the North Island. If it got really cold we were wearing hats and our fleece jackets.
As we were waiting out Philippe’s injury in Wellington, we got freaked out by the snow reports on the South Island. So we decided to buy warmer sleeping bags (see next paragraph).
We wouldn’t use the Cumulus Lite Line 300 as a 3-season sleeping bag anymore. For enduring colder night temperatures below 10C° we’d go with more down filling. For example: Cumulus Lite Line 400 or Quilt 450.
+ Quality, weight
– Temperature rating optimistic
Link to our review: Cumulus Lite Line 300 Sleeping Bag
Back to the top
Sleeping bags – Exped Ultralite 700 M on the South Island
We bought the Exped Ultralite 700 (Limit temp -6C°, 650g 850cuin down) in Wellington because we weren’t sure about the snow reports and the delay of our finishing date. And with 980g it was about the same weight as the Cumulus Lite Line 300 and Sea to Summit Inlet together.
Going from 300g to 650g of down was quite a change. We were mostly warm; too warm. Especially in the huts it got toasty. Only during the last two weeks with frost until the late morning hours we were really happy to have such a warm sleeping bag. The rest of the time we used the sleeping bags as blankets.
The quality of the Exped Ultralite 700 is really good and we don’t have to criticize a lot. They saved some weight having plastic zippers, which makes the bag more delicate. With some care it’s not a problem. What I dislike is the reduced length of the zipper line (stopping at the knees). You can’t make a complete blanket out of the bag and are forced to have your legs inside the bag all the time. If it’s cold that isn’t an issue though.
+ Warmth/Weight ratio
– Delicate zippers, reduced zipper line length
With the Exped Ultralite 700 we bought a good sleeping bag for outdoor adventures in spring and autumn. As a 3-season bag it will be too warm in summer.Back to the top
Air mattress – Exped Synmat Hyperlite M
Before the Te Araroa we used to have an older model of the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir but it got moldy after storing it wrongly during our trip (never store it rolled up in a parcel for several months!). The price for a NeoAir in Australia and New Zealand is insane (350 NZD). So we decided to go with an Exped Synmat Hyperlite. With 350g its weight is the same as a NeoAir and cost only about 180NZD. To prevent the mattress from getting moldy inside we bought the Exped Mini Pump (45g). But in the mornings the mattress was wet inside anyway (condensation). Thus, I’m not sure if I’d carry the pump again.
I liked the Synmat Hyperlite and appreciated the widened shoulder part as well as the slightly raised outer tubes.
Nadine’s experience was different from mine, although she liked sleeping on the Synmat Hyperlite. The problem was its reliability. It is not uncommon that the tubes inside air mattresses burst. But twice on the same trip?! Her first mattress lasted until kilometre 1’100. Then she had to sleep for +400km on a defect one. Uncomfortable. In Palmerston North she bought a new one and even could make use of the guarantee despite having bought the Synmat Hyperlite in Melbourne, Australia. But it took some calls and emails to get the refund.
The second mattress lasted until Arthurs Pass (2’170 km). Then the chambers burst again and Nadine had to sleep on a misshapen sausage for the rest of the trail (+800km). Being a gentleman ( 😉 ) I slept on it one night and it was horrible. When she returned the mattress after finishing the trail, she got her money back but no new mattress because there was no Exped Synmat Hyperlite left in the whole country.
+ Comfortable, light, price, valve design
Was Nadine just unlucky? I’m not sure. I didn’t have any problems handling and using it the exact same way and continue to use the Synmat Hyperlite from Exped. But Nadine will probably buy the NeoAir Xlite from Therm-a-Rest for our next overnighter in a tent.
Amazon: Exped Synmat Hyperlite MBack to the top
Backpack – ULA Circuit
The ULA Circuit is a classic. Not the lightest option but sturdy, practical and highly recommended by experienced thru-hikers. And the price – 235 USD – is very reasonable.
We both bought them in March 2015 in different colours (black and orange/black). In addition to the special colours the fabric was different from the most common green/black Circuit as well. The second difference to the now available ULA backpacks were the elastic straps which are now made of Velcro. These minor modifications made a huge difference.
In comparison with Circuit backpacks made of the Dyneema Gridstop (Robic) fabric our material performed badly. The inner coating got recalcitrant and peeled off after some time. We could also compare the field performance with two friends on the trail, who had a Blue Robic Circuit. No problems there. I guess ULA Equipment noticed this problem because today you only find one edition (“Camo”) without “Robic fabric”.
The four elastic straps performed badly too. Some weren’t sewn in enough and most of them wore out quickly. And again ULA Equipment has changed to Velcro straps in the meantime.
Otherwise the ULA Circuit performed well. Nadine particularly loved the S-Curve Shoulder Strap. I liked the big hip belt pockets and the front mesh pocket. The opening of the mesh front was too tight though and we also had to loosen the elastic strap over the mesh.
The Te Araroa is quite an abusive trail (Hello Gorse, Hi Spaniard Grass) for your gear. The ULA Circuit mastered it well as expected. Besides the inner coating we only could detect some abrasion at the hip belt (holes in the mesh) and the pockets. Humidity also caused mildew. Whereas you can’t see it on the black fabric you clearly see it on the bleached orange of Nadine’s backpack.
+ Price, sturdiness, woman S-curve shoulder strap, front mesh pocket, hip pockets, size
– Black and orange fabric of lower quality, elastic straps
We are quite happy with the backpacks but the fabric and elastic strap issue lower the level of satisfaction a bit.
ULA Equipment: http://www.ula-equipment.com/product_p/circuit.htmBack to the top
Socks – Injinji Run Lightweight Mini-Crew
Never normal socks again. We love these toe socks. They don’t necessarily cause less blisters. We still got some now and then. The biggest advantage for me was the space between the toes. It prevents chafing and other problems caused by moisture.
Toe socks in general are more delicate than their all-in-one counterparts. But with some mending one pair of Injinji Run Lightweight Mini-Crew lasted me for 1’500 kilometres. And I’m still using the second pair.
Nadine used three pairs of socks in the same time. The foot form and walking style determine the life of socks tremendously.
We stick to toe socks and would like to try different models and fabrics.Back to the top
T-Shirt –Icebreaker Aero Short Sleeve Crewe
Merino Shirts are delicate and surely won’t last forever. In return they don’t stink and have a great heat exchange. Because of the material’s delicacy we bought Icebreaker Shirts with 10% Nylon (GT line). They stink a bit, last longer and are thinner (“feather light” according to Icebreaker). One Shirt served me until Wanaka (2’595 km) (with a lot of holes and stitching). Nadine again used three shirts on the trail. The last one was a pure Merino shirt, which she had bought in Queenstown.
+ Quality, thin, heat exchange
– Pricy, more smelly than 100% Merino
I’ll stick to the shirts as long as they last. But I’m not sure if I want to continue buying merino wool. Brands like Icebreaker or Smartwool only buy mulesing-free Merino wool (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulesing), but you still support overbreeding (the more skin folds the more wool) and industrial animal farming with its harmful causes.Back to the top
Shoes – LaSportiva Ultra Raptor
We used to wear Salomon trail runners for travelling and hiking. But when we stumbled upon the LaSportiva Ultra Raptors (700g m/w) we spontaneously gave them a shot.
The shoe has a wide toe-box, is very breathable and performs very well in wet weather due to its grippy sole. It’s a tough shoe and lasted me for 1’500km at a time. I exchanged my first pair because the sole was worn out and I wanted to have good traction for the South Island. The rest of the shoe was still okay.
The mesh uppers are quite vulnerable and Nadine managed to tear off the whole front of every pair. Her toes came out and debris started to fill up her shoes.
Good to know
We bought three pairs each in advance because the shoe prices are extremely high in New Zealand. You definitely should consider buying at home and bringing them with you.
+ Wide toe-box, breathable, grippy sole, robust
– Mesh uppers are delicate, standard insole caused blisters around the heels
For rough trails as you experience them on the Te Araroa we stick to the Ultra Raptors. If we hike less challenging terrain or mostly on existing hiking paths we’d change to lighter and sportier models.
Amazon: LaSportiva Ultra RaptorBack to the top
Satellite GPS Messenger – SPOT
SPOT or PLB (read my comparison here), it doesn’t really matter. The main point is that you’ve got one. I still can’t understand it, why so many people didn’t carry a satellite GPS messenger; especially if they were hiking alone.
But anyway, we were happy with the SPOT. Only in some densely forested areas we didn’t get a signal. But most of the time it worked and assured our parents of our well-being as well as it made it possible to follow us digitally. And we had the reassurement that we could call help in an emergency.
We exchanged the battery after approx. 1500km. The nice thing about the SPOT is that it shows the low battery status in the messages (text, mail) so that your anxious folk won’t freak out should you forget to bring new batteries.
Amazon: Spot Gen3
Back to the top
Powerbank – Anker 20’ mAh
As I already have mentioned in the electronics preparation blog post. I chose a Powerbank in favour of a solar panel because the weight and electricity usage wouldn’t justify the higher price.
We never used up the fully charged Anker Powerbank. The longest stretch relying on it was five days. It never failed us in this time. So we are very happy with it and continue to use it.
Amazon: Anker 20’mAhBack to the top
Evernew Titanium Pot 1,3l (164g) + DIY Pot Cosy
The 1,3l Titanium pot from Evernew was just the right size for us on the Te Araroa. It was enough volume even when we added some extra portions towards the last weeks. Together with my DIY Pot Cosy it was a perfect combination. I wasn’t sure if the Pot Cosy would survive the trail. But after 3’000km it’s in amazingly good shape and ready for the next few thousand kilometres.
We had stuffed some smaller kitchen gear inside the pot because a 230g-gas cartridge doesn’t fit in. If I would change to a different model it would be a higher one so that I can store the gas cartridge inside.
Amazon: Evernew Titanium Pot 1,3l
Back to the top
I highly recommend the use of hiking poles on the Te Araroa. The terrain on the trail can be very tricky or even dangerous. With hiking poles you not only take some load off your legs but you also gain stability and security.
Because the terrain can be very rough I think a pair of sturdy hiking poles are more suitable than a fancy ultra light carbon one. We’ve seen some broken poles along the trail and most of them belonged to the category ultra light. That doesn’t mean other models won’t suffer or break. I had a pair of aluminium Komperdell Trekking Poles, which developed a crack in the lower part of the pole. Luckily a saleswoman in Nelson discovered it while examining my broken pole tip. Another important tip: always carry replacement tips with you. And not in the Bounce Box.
Your feet are going to have a tough time on a long-distance trail. Besides a daily recovery treatment you should treat your feet with good shoe insoles too. We started with the standard insoles and paid for it with blisters. After changing to proper insoles we had fewer blisters and better performing feet.
Headlamp Petzl e+Lite (28g)
The Petzl eLite is probably the lightest headlamp around and commonly seen among hikers. We used the eLite during our travels and continued to use it on the trail. Due to the weight there are some cutbacks. The light isn’t the brightest (26 lumen) and you power it with expensive coin cells.
We used the eLite a couple of times for hiking in the dark in the morning. It’s okay if there is a clear path but otherwise the light is too weak. Nevertheless we exchanged our second headlamp (Black Diamond ReVolt) with a second Petzl e+Lite. Its light is sufficient enough around the tent and the occasional morning walk. And the battery lasted for 1’500km at least.
Amazon: Petzl – e+LITE
LeTouch 4 Ports USB Charger
We carried a lot of gadgets and thereby a lot of cables. With a 4 Ports USB Charger we saved us the adapters + a traveller adapter. The LeTouch 4 Ports USB Charger has a 4.8A output, which means that you can charge two high-powered devices like a tablet or a powerbank at the same time.
The charger was of great service to us especially in crowed campgrounds where we didn’t have a lot of charging options.
Amazon: LeTouch 4 Ports USB Charger
Sun protection – hat with neck cover
The sun in New Zealand is very strong. I burnt my lips three times. I guess most hikers will realise that right at the start, when they’re walking the 90 Mile Beach in good weather.
We were used to the scorching sun due to eight months in Australia and already had hats with neck cover (and 50+ sun protection). I think this piece of Te Araroa hiking gear was one of the most important ones.
Make sure you are prepared for the sun.Back to the top
Sea To Summit Ultra-Sil Pack Liner 50l
It’s highly advisable to waterproof your backpack on the Te Araroa. Rain and river crossings, you know. The pack liner from Sea To Summit costs a lot but soon developed a few holes, which we had to tape. I can’t remember when the first holes started but I remember feeling disappointed about the short operating life. If you pay 50 USD, you’d expect more.
Anyway, we added some trash bags to be safe and won’t buy any pack liner anymore.
Rain Mitts DIY
Well, rain mitts absolutely are practical and life saving in wet and cold situations for people like me, who don’t have proper body temperature regulation. Unless you made them by yourself with a non-waterproof material (Silnylon) and without seam sealing.
Next time we’ll make proper ones.
Rain jacket – Marmot Essence
There is no waterproof breathable rain jacket. And Gore-Tex is a nice marketing scam. We know that. But we hoped for more. The Marmot Essence jacket is incredibly light (180g) and breathable (two side vents). But that’s it. The jacket is a better windbreaker. Nothing more.
Firstly the inside of the jacket started to turn brown because of sweating. We tried to wash them but the stains stayed.
And after the first proper rain shower we regularly experienced only thirty minutes of dry skin. Then the material of the jacket gave up and leaked.
You’ll get wet from either water or sweat. That’s true for every rain jacket in the long run. But we’d have preferred having a better performing jacket in the rain.
As windbreaker the Marmot Essence did a good job in stopping the wind and being breathable enough for walking.
Weight is important on long-distance hikes but I think it’s worth to invest in a heavier jacket with better material and two pit zips.
Amazon: Marmot Essence Jacket
Nano Mosquito Headnet Permethrin Treated
I used the Mosquito Headnet once and after experiencing dizziness stopped using it. Sensitive people may want to try out Permethrin treated gear before using it on a long-distance trail.
On the Te Araroa it wasn’t too bad with mosquitos. The sand flies are the real pain. As long as you walk they won’t chase and bite you. But as soon as you pause or set up camp, they will come. To protect you from the sand flies you can wear long clothes or use insect repellent. Consider buying a environment friendly product. Otherwise you poison waters with every washing.
Flip-flops, thongs, jandals, slops, all the same and not very useful on the Te Araroa. After camping in very dirty, slippery and wet places on the first 600km on the Te Araroa we decided to change to Crocs and Teva Sandals. We tripled the weight but multiplied our comfort and stableness on shitty ground.Back to the top
Left Behind / Change
Black Diamond ReVolt
We like this headlamp a lot. The recharge option with USB is very handy and the lamp is bright enough (130 lumen) for the darkest places. But it’s kind of heavy (100g). Well, not really but we changed to a second Petzl e+Lite (26g) after Palmerston North.
Amazon: Black Diamond Revolt
Kindle Paperwhite (South Island)
I love to read daily but we figured out that we didn’t use the Kindles that often on the trail. In Wellington we decided to leave the Kindles in the Bounce Box and give it a try without reading. It worked. We spent a great deal of time with writing for the blog and the very little time left we spent with more hiking and talking to other Te Araroa hikers. In hindsight I missed the daily intellectual input (despite a lot of podcasts) and had to catch up on that during the following weeks. I’m not sure what I would do on the next long-distance hike.
Amazon: Kindle Paperwhite
We used the Aquamira Drops during the whole trail but weren’t too happy with the idea of putting chemicals in our drinking water every day. Especially on the South Island we became sloppy treating our water.
Originally we wanted to purchase two Sawyer MINI Filter but we couldn’t get them in Australia or ordering from the US.
I think the Aquamira Drops are better for short trips (weight) than for a longer trips. For our next longer hike I’ll buy the Sawyer MINI Filter.
I hate to hike in long pants and I used them on the North Island only on Zero Days respectively while washing. That’s why I bought a pair of leggings in Wellington and left the pants in the bounce box. It was the first time for me to hike in leggings and the few times I needed them I got hot very quickly. I may try a pair of zip pants in the future but my experience tells me that the zipper rubs.Back to the top
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Well, that’s it. Turned out to be a quite long article about our Te Araroa hiking gear. I hope you enjoyed it and if you have any feedback, questions or just want so say hi, you can do so with a comment below.