Get ready to be wet
I mean really wet. Like waist-deep wading through water wet. Now sure, this doesn’t happen to everyone on the Milford track but it happens WAY more than you expect it to.
- DRY BAGS/PACK LINER (the and/or there is a suggestion and I always do both!), PACK COVER, RAIN JACKET, WATERPROOF BOOTS, WATERPROOF PANTS.
You get the picture. It can get bloody WET!
I read the following written by an anonymous tramper back in the early 1980s, now on display on the wall of one of the huts, it's hard not to commiserate with this person.
It rained and it rained and rained and rained
The average fall was well maintained
And when the tracks were simply bogs
It started raining cats and dogs.
After a drought of half an hour
We had a most refreshing shower
And then the most curious thing of all
A gentle rain began to fall.
Next day was also fairly dry
Save for the deluge from the sky
Which wetting the party to the skin
After which the rain set in.
Anonymous Tramper, 1984
While it’s always best to avoid getting your feet wet at all, sometimes it’s simply impossible. This isn’t because your boots have failed, it's because there is just too much water for too long. It’s coming in over the top of the boots and your socks are likely wicking that water down into your boots. Look, sometimes there's just no way to avoid it. You can rock hop if you're confident the rocks are stable and not slippery, you can take your boots off for river crossings, but you don’t always have the time.
So what do you do when the inevitable happens? A little tip I picked up from Kokoda: when you’ve had a day of boots full of water, the best way to dry them out is to remove the inner soles to dry separately, then unlace your boots to about half way. Take the laces and make a knot under the arch of the sole. With the remaining laces tie them upside down to a hook or rafter. On the Milford the ranger will often light a fire for you to dry your clothes, and once everyone's gone to bed you can sometimes bring your boots in and put them above the fire. Needless to say, you mustn't put them too close as you’ll melt them! The soles will fall off and you’ll have to walk the rest of the way barefoot or with gaffer taped boots.
WATERPROOF JACKETS - Without getting too much into the technical side of Gore-Tex, for which there are mountainloads of blogs and videos already, I just want to say these few little things.
- Your jacket is no good to you if you haven’t got the right layering system underneath. Read up on what fabrics work together and which fabrics soak up sweat and don’t dry at all (ahem ... cotton)
- Just because the fabric is waterproof doesn’t mean the pockets are! Over the years I’ve heard countless people devastated that their camera is completely ruined (my very own mother being one of them) because they expected the pocket of their jacket to be waterproof. If you’re worry about a phone or camera put it in a dry bag! It is the only way.
It goes without saying with rain comes mud and muddy tracks are slippery tracks - Walking Poles are essential! Never go anywhere without them!
Pack Liner AND a Pack Cover! Yeah, you heard me right. “Oh, but what about the extra weight?” I hear you ask. Well!
- Pack liner without the pack cover - the outside of your pack isn’t going to be waterproof and the fabric will take on water and you know what water is - IT’S HEAVY! You're now dragging around that extra water that's soaked into your pack.
- Pack Cover without the pack liner (or at least a system of dry bags) - the BIGGEST mistake any trekker can make is assuming that because there is a pack cover sitting on top of their pack like a shower cap that their gear is protected, HA! Water will still find its way in if it's relentless enough, usually down the back of the harness.
PUT YOUR SLEEPING BAG IN A WATERPROOF BAG!!! I can’t stress this enough. Your sleeping bag, whether synthetic or down (even the treated down), once it comes into contact with moisture it will act like a sponge and soak up the water. After a LONG day walking in the rain, your feet soaked through, cold and by now hungry, you’re going to be miserable if you have to try to dry out your sleeping bag, and now you’re sleeping in a damp bag, yuck!
Have your spare set of camp/hut clothes in a dry bag too. If you’ve been in wet clothes all day tramping along, the energy you've been producing has been hopefully keeping you warm enough. Once you stop, it's time to get off any wet gear, whether its wet from rain or sweat. It's much harder for you to warm up if you have wet clothes on so ditch any wet gear and put your spare set of dry camp/hut clothes that (yeah you guessed it) were kept dry in a DRY BAG!
Hut etiquette - take your boots and rain jacket off before you stomp into the hut in search of the always elusive bottom bunk. There are loads of hooks to hang up your gear so don't drag and drip it in throughout the huts. Once everyone’s gone to bed the rangers recommend bringing in your boots, jackets and pack covers (now hopefully semi dry) to avoid the very cheeky Keas from stealing them or pulling them apart at 4am. It’s somewhat irksome to wake up in the morning to find one of your boots stolen by a large intelligent parrot.
The cooking situ: trust me when I say there are loads of stoves in every hut, enough for everyone, so you don’t need to take your own. You do however need to take everything else: pot, cutlery, plate/bowl (or eat out of your pot, whatever). Just be aware that the gas rings do put out a large flame. I didn’t notice this and melted a chunk of the neoprene cosy from around my Jetboil pot. Didn’t smell great but the pot survived. PHEW.
TAKE TREATS TO SHARE - seriously, offer them around. Your new best friend or the next love of your life could be quietly sitting at the table next to you. Offer them some of your cookies and get chatting. You’re going to be sharing the huts with these people over the next few days, so be friendly. Plus, you never know who has greater self restraint than you and saved their chocolate until the last night to share with you. Or fancy cheese or even wine!
Water - Aussies are pretty good when it comes to carrying excessive amounts of water. We’re used to the idea that we need at least 3L to survive the day. Calm Down fellow countrymen/women - this is Fiordland. Water is abundant! I had a 1L water bottle that I insisted on carrying around filled to the brim the whole time, while I actually only ever drank from my lovely stainless steel mug, kept clipped to my sternum strap, that I’d dunk into the countless flowing streams.
Getting a good night's sleep
Ear plugs ear plugs ear plugs (did i mention you need earplugs?). There is something about listening to people snore all night that really brings out the murderer in people. I have been known to resort to throwing heavy items at people in dorms for snoring.
There are mattresses on each bunk bed in the huts so you don’t have to carry a mat, but you do need a sleeping bag (plus something to keep the sleeping bag dry) and if you’re a bit of a princess like me, a pillow too. I’m madly in love with my Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight pillow. Carrying an extra 70 grams for a good night's sleep? It's not even a question.
If you’re doing the Milford Track in summer you ought to be aware that the sun sets really late and it remains light for a very long time! So if you like to hit the hay early you might want to think about some sort of eye mask. I use my Buff over my eyes to block out the light to get my beauty sleep.
It's called fashion, look it up
Yeah, yeah so there's no hiding from the fact that outdoor clothes aren’t the most fashionable. It always has and always will be pretty daggy and this is with good reason.
- The outdoor industry is committed to sustainable manufacturing. This means making practical clothing that will last and will do the job. Outdoor clothing just can’t and won’t keep up with the fashion industry because it's neither practical not sustainable. This means that the clothes are made to fit a range of people for a wide range of activities. This means that the pants are baggier and might be more high-waisted than you prefer, but trust me this is way more practical for climbing over rocks and carrying a heavy load on your hips.
- Your out in nature; no one cares about what you look like. The trees don’t care, the mountains certainly don’t and if you're hiking with people who do, start hiking with nicer people or better yet hike alone (oh the joy of solitude!). You’re out there to enjoy nature, not for nature to enjoy what you look like.
- There's not a great range of colour because the colours available are usually the most practical. Greys and browns generally last long and show the dirt less. Not everything is made in a multitude of colours because most of the outdoor clothes are made in small batches. By producing less and producing in the most practical way for the intended use they are trying to create a smaller impact.
Clothing for the Milford Track needs to be practical and I’m thinking of only ONE really good reason why…. Those goddamn SANDFLIES!
Three Fun facts about Sandflies:
- Sandflies are the most annoying bite known to mankind (only a slight exaggeration) BUT the good news is that they can’t really bite you through clothing. So COVER UP.
- Long-sleeved clothes and long pants (quick-drying, needless to say). Keep in mind these buggers will bite you literally anywhere and anytime they can (ahem, we’re talking about the bathroom here). Keep ankles protected with long socks, neck covered with a Buff, hat or beanie (I got a bite on my head where my hair parts!) and excess skin you need DEET.
- They only really bite if you are stationary. There are unfortunately loads at the huts and toilets along the way. So use DEET when you stop. Keep in mind that DEET is strong stuff, it can melt plastic, so wait for it to dry before touching your phone or anything else you value.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of fashion it's time we started embracing socks and sandals (there, I said it!) Ok maybe not in the cities, but come on people! Camp sandals that double as river crossing sandals are the future. My fashion faux pas number one choice is a pair of Bridgedale Merino Socks and some Original Teva Sandals (oh, that Velcro gets me every time).
This walk is NOT CHEAP. The way the walk is set up, you need to purchase all three nights at all three huts. Now this is nice because it forces some of us with big egos to slow down, but it's also frustrating to only walk an hour on the first day. There are also additional costs to get there and back. Most people bus in from Queenstown or Te Anau or park their car at Te Anau Downs, from where the ferry leaves. Then the ferry costs a fair bit too (and it's the only way to start the track). At the other end you need to have booked the ferry across Milford Sound, another cost, then you’ve got another bus back to Queenstown, Te Anau or Te Anau Downs. All in all the costs are up there. Don’t get me wrong, the DOC work hard to keep the huts and track well maintained and it's good to see the money being put to good use by DOC, but just be aware that it's not a cheap walk and there are additional costs in getting there.
Finding a booking for the time you actually want to go can be a nightmare. Most of the hikers I walked with were on the DOC website at 8.59am on June 1st 2018 to secure their spots for the coming season. A few of us were lucky to spontaneously nab a last minute spot, although this is never guaranteed.
Is it worth it?
Totally worth every penny and every boot-filled-with-water squishy step! It is regularly named one of the World's Top Ten Hikes (including by us!) and with good reason. You really have to be there to experience the remoteness, the stunning dramatic walls, the rainforests, the community life in the huts, the waterfalls and all sandwiched between the stunning Lake Te Anau and Milford Sound. There is nothing else like it in the world.