It’s hard to know where to start when packing for a Great Walk like the Milford Track – you want your pack to be as light as possible but you don’t want to forget anything important, either. Have no fear! Follow this tried-and-tested guide to get you on your way so you don’t end up like me in this photo.
I’ll be going in to some detail, but for a super easy list of everything below there’s a Milford Track Packing List to download.
How to start packing
When deciding what to bring I always pack the absolutely necessary items first. Once I’ve packed them all I’ll check the weight of the pack. If it’s still light I’ll then consider those things that are useful but not essential and go from there (listed as ‘Useful Additions’ in this post). It’s always a good idea to test out how much weight you can comfortably carry over a longish distance and pack lighter than it. I’ve never regretted losing a few items, it means you can spend your time enjoying the views and less time being in pain.
——————— THE BARE MINIMUM ————————–
Waterproof Jacket and trousers
I can’t tell you how much better your hike will be with waterproofs. Seriously. They’ll save you from getting wet, cold, sore and soggy. It’s definitely worth investing in a good set!
Reviews and recommendations:
I bought a pair of Berghaus Deluge Overtrousers for £30 on amazon. They are awesome! For their price I can’t recommend them enough; they were the only part of my gear that kept me dry after walking for 10 hours in the rain. They’re light and easy to slip on an off.
In light of how awesome my trousers were I also bought a Berghaus rain jacket for £60 (Womens Calisto II 3-in-1 Jacket). I wasn’t as impressed. The material is thinner and it gets wet through after a while – as opposed to the trousers, which stay dry on the inside. In day-to-day life it would be fine, but in very long periods of rain it doesn’t hold up so well. There are a lot worse jackets out there, but there are also better.
Good pair of boots/trail runners
It’s hard to say whether boots or trail runners are better for this hike. I had waterproof boots. The good thing about them is that you don’t have to worry about walking through water, and there is a LOT of water on this hike. They cushion your feet better which is helpful when carrying a heavy backpack, too. The bad thing about them is that they don’t let your feet breathe so they will get sweaty and stay like it. In the cold this isn’t really a problem, but it’s a different story entirely in hot weather. And, when they finally do get sodden all over from water (because waterproof boots still won’t stop water coming in through the top), they will take a VERY long time to dry out. Mine took 3 days to dry completely, meaning that I had to walk in wet boots even when it was gloriously sunny – my feet did not enjoy this!
TIP: Wear in your boots before you hike. It sounds trivial but your feet will thank you for it – blisters are a hiker’s worst enemy.
At least two pairs of hiking socks
One pair are guaranteed to either smell or get soaked. Spares are a must!
Comfort is everything, and giving that everyone is a different shape and size it’s worth going to a shop and trying them in person. I spent a long time in an outdoor shop doing this. In the end I went for the OEX Vallo 70+10L*, a cheap and pretty compact backpack for its size, which is perfect for me as I’m only 5 foot 3! I used this backpack for the whole 6 months I was travelling, too. It was incredibly comfy, distributed the weight nicely and overall did the job well. There are lots of clips and pockets too, which are so useful. My only complaint is that its finish is fairly cheap; after a few months of use some seams were already fraying and the elastic on the back had broken. Really comfy, perfect for short stints, not so good for long term backpacking.
*A 40-60L backpack is a good size if you only need it for this track.
TIP: It’s also good to try out your backpack before you go. Put some weights in it (or some bags of potatoes/sugar) and take several long walks.
Waterproof cover for your backpack
Because no one wants wet belongings! Make sure your cover fits well, otherwise water will leak through the gaps or puddles will form.
The huts have plastic mattresses so a sleeping bag is a must. It should be able to deal with fairly cold temperatures, especially in the shoulder seasons – my sleeping bag’s comfort rating was 16 C and it was not enough in March!!
For me it’s a must – sleep is too important, especially when hiking. If you’re tight on space you can bring an empty pillow case and fill it with your other clothes, or else inflatable pillows are a good bet.
A 1-2 litre one will do as there are lots of places to fill up on the way – all water in the Fiordland is drinkable! I prefer a bladder as I can have a drink without taking off my backpack (which gets tiresome very quickly). You can pick them up on amazon. I bought a cheap one for £10, which lasted me a whole 6 months backpacking and is still going strong. The only bad thing is that it does make the water taste plasticky.
I used ziplock bags for small things and bin liners for larger, which worked just fine. If you’ve got the money you could invest in some backpack liners or even dry bags (totally waterproof but quite bulky/heavy).
x4 Days of underwear
x5 Pairs of normal socks (I always bring a spare!)
x1 Jumper (whilst it feels cold when you start in the morning, usually you’ll warm up enough to not need a jumper. This was the case for me in late March, at least. You will, however, need one on Day 3 at the summit or if you’re going off-season – but that’s a whole different story..)
x2 Long-sleeved tops
x2 T-shirts/strappy top (layering is everything!)
x1 Night clothes
It’s a good idea to have quick-drying trousers/tops. Though if you buy the Berghaus waterproof trousers (listed above) you won’t need to worry about the trousers.
Overall this is a reasonably light packing list. If you want to pack REALLY light then the duplicates can be taken out, and equally if you’re feeling strong you can add in extras.
x4 Days of meals and snacks (see below for a detailed breakdown)
x1 Spoon/knife/fork (you can buy cool all-in-one versions inexpensively)
x1 Pot (all the huts are kitted with hobs and gas in the main walking season, so technically this is all you really need cooking-wise. It also doubles up as a plate!)
Don’t judge me for this list being so small; remember there are no showers so most toiletries are superfluous! That’s why deodorant is a must if you want to make friends ;) Check out the ‘Useful Additions’ for more.
First aid kit with lots of plasters
Torch (a head torch is best as then your hands are free to rustle around in the dark)
Camera (okay, as a photographer I’m biased, but the views are stunning)
Spare camera battery (don’t be that person whose camera battery dies after all your effort!)
Debit/credit card and some notes (for when you reach civilisation again)
Bin bags (there are no bins so you will have to carry your rubbish with you)
Tickets (you’ll need these for each night in the huts and for the boat. You get them when you check in at the DOC visitor centre)
DOC Milford Track small guide
And finally, but certainly not least: Insect repellant!!!!
———————– USEFUL EXTRAS ——————————–
If your bag is still looking and feeling manageable you could also consider the following:
Some extra pairs of clothes (with all that rain, spares come in very handy. But don’t go overboard – weight is always the priority)
Light shoes/flip flops (for the evenings)
Pack of cards/book (evening entertainment)
Ear plugs (you can guarantee that at least one person will be snoring loudly)
Mobile phone (it’s an alarm clock if nothing else)
Cooking stove and fuel (it’s not necessary but does give you flexibility for when/where you want to cook. I brought my Jet Boil with me and loved it)
Toilet roll (all the places are kitted out and there are quite a lot of toilets on the track, but it’s always useful to have spare)
Swimwear (there are some lovely swimming spots en route)
———————– FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD ———————–
In order to organise and plan my meals I first do a breakdown of what I’ll need:
Breakfast*, lunch, dinner
Breakfast, lunch, dinner
Breakfast, lunch, dinner
* It’s likely that you’ll have breakfast before starting the Milford Track and won’t need to carry it – this means you can be extra indulgent for this meal!
** If you’re fast it’s possible that you’ll be in Milford Sound by lunch and won’t need to bring it
This is an absolute minimum of 9 meals, but if weight and space allows it’s not a bad idea to bring a few extra – it’s not unheard of for people to get stranded whilst on the hike.
It’s then an idea to carry 4 days of snacks. This is when you can go crazy at the supermarket and buy things you’re told to avoid – sweets, chocolate, nuts. You’ll be burning a lot of energy, remember! Energy bars are another good option.
TIP: Remember that there are no bins on the hike, so it’s a good idea to avoid canned foods and stick to things that have minimum packaging/waste.
A typical day’s food (for me)
Breakfast – Porridge / pita bread with nutella
Snack – Nuts / sweets / fruit
Lunch – Instant noodles* / pita with veggies, salami and humous
Snack – Nuts / sweets / fruit
Dinner – Freeze-dry meal / instant noodles
Chocolate for dessert
*There are only cooking facilities at the huts (apart from the shelter at Mackinnon Pass on Day 3), so if you don’t have your own cooking equipment you won’t be able to have hot meals at lunch
You can pre-cut a selection of vegetables and put them in a little takeaway box to save space and keep them fresh/protected. Peppers and carrots are perfect as they last quite a long time even when cut. Baby tomatoes are another good option. I then bring a chilli to add to any bland meals!
Companies like Backcountry Cuisine make pretty balanced freeze-dry meals that just need hot water added to them. Apart from one – the spaghetti bolognese – they weren’t bad at all. I would go as far to say that I enjoyed the Thai Curry one!! You can buy them in most supermarkets. They’re quite expensive, though, so I alternated them with instant noodles.
On balance I would say that I had fairly basic meals compared to the other hikers (I was trying to counteract the fact that I had to bring 9 days of food with me – I did two Great Walks in a row!), but it got me by just fine.
————————- READY TO GO! —————————
And there you have it! You’re all set for an amazing hike on the Milford Track. You can apply this same list to the Routeburn and Kepler tracks, which are in a very similar environments. And with a few tweaks you’ve got the basis for many other South Island multi-day hikes, too.
I hope you find this useful, feel free to contact me if you have any questions or you think I’ve forgotten something!