I don’t know about you but when my day-to-day backpack is heavy it makes me uncomfortable…and it only weighs a few kgs. Now imagine you have at least 14kgs strapped to your back, you’re tired, it’s dark and you have to climb up a hill that you can’t see the top of, that’s why packing for the Otter Trail can make or break your trip.
There’s quite a lot of literature out there on what to pack for the hike and I found these two posts quite useful: Otter Trail 101 and The Definitive Otter Trail Guide. I learnt quite a lot along the way and thought I’d share my top eight picks on what to pack when it comes to what you’ll be wearing and what you’ll be eating along the way. I’ve also included a packing list at the bottom of the post for you to check off as you go along.
The first thing you learn, a little too late along the trail is that you’re not going to need half the things you thought you did, so lay out what you thing you need, halve it and then you might be on the right track. Another realisation I came to along the way that would have taken some weight of of our backs is splitting toiletries and other extras amongst the group. For example you’ll only need one bottle of sunscreen or you can share a mug with a food buddy! I also wouldn’t worry with shampoo etc, it’s nice to have but not necessary and just adds weight.
1. Trekking Poles
Don’t do the Otter Trail without these, my hiking pole was the most useful thing I had on the trip, I loved it so much I think I might just start using it in every day life! The night before I was set to head off to start the trail I headed to Cape Union Mart to pick up a pair, and to my dismay I found out that they average about R900 a pair so i decided not to buy them and make do.
Luckily at the beginning of the hike my friend (I’ll be forever indebted to you Craig R) only wanted to use one and let me his extra pole, by the end of the first day almost everyone had picked up sticks and fashioned their own poles. The amount of weight that it takes off of your back and knees is invaluable and I can’t tell you how many times I stopped myself from falling over by catching myself with the pole.
Just remember that you’re not allowed to break any branches off trees in the reserve so if you do find yourself in need of a stick make sure it’s already dead.
You can look at a good range of poles here.
2. Sports Bras and Long Pants
If you’re male you can skip this paragraph, if you’re a woman, like me I’d suggest you carry on. Your pack is going to be heavy, even if you packed well, having a heavy pack cut into your shoulders while you’re wearing a ‘normal’ bra is not fun. Most of the other women on the hike suffered from this and either had to take their straps off or wear their swimming costumes. It may seem small and insignificant now but trust me it won’t while you’re out there.
My second clothing choice that I was super happy about was my decision to only pack long, tight quick drying pants. They protected me from scrapes and bruises (aside from a few heavy falls), dried quickly after river crossings, kept me warm and cool and most importantly because they were skin tight there was zero chafe.
I train in Cotton On active wear so it made sense for me to wear their gear on the trail. Their COAR range has a great selection of crops that held their own…they’re also really pretty! I had a few other items from Cotton On that kept me comfy along the way, they’re a great option for functional sportswear that looks good.
3. Trail Shoes
Once again, I’m no hiking expert but the thought of going from shoes I’m familiar with to clunking around in huge hiking boots does not sound like fun. After a little research I discovered that quite a few places recommend that you wear trails shoes instead of clunky boots at they allow for mobility and they are light. I’m sure actual hiking boots have their place in the hiking world I just don’t think they are necessary for the Otter Trail.
I happened to have a pair of Hi-tec trail shoes on hand from their Badwater range, I couldn’t recommend these shoes more, I got them a little while ago so they might not have the exact same shoe but I’m sure they have something similar if not better. A few blogs recommended water shoes but they just ended up taking up space and I wouldn’t recommend carrying them.
A few of my hiking buddies didn’t have proper shoes on and that partnered with a few existing injuries meant they couldn’t finish the trail, so make sure you have the right gear.
My brother-in-law taught me a little hiking sock trick before I left to ensure that I didn’t get any blisters along the way. Wear one pair of tight cotton socks and then a pair of hiking socks over those, this ensures that there’s no friction between your skin and the shoes/socks.
4. The Right Pack
Like I said, everything you need is going to be in your pack, on your back. Make sure you have the right pack for your body and that it has a waist strap so that your back isn’t taking all the weight.
There are loads of packs around, I had a Thule one from our backpacking holiday last year that was great because it’s completely adjustable and has a hip joint that moves with you as you walk. If you don’t know much about packs I’d suggest heading to your nearest camping goods store and asking for some advice.
5. A Bladder
While it’s not vital to survival, carrying a bladder in your backpack is great for two reasons. One you don’t have to stop and reach for or unpack your pack every time you need a sip of water and two it carries more water than your average bottle, most people who only had bottles finished their water supply well before the end of the hike each day.
Take sachets of Game along with you, it’s great for restoring electrolytes and it tastes really nice, sometimes you just need to get the taste of hike out of your mouth!
6. Trail Mix
If you read my guide to the trail itself you’ll remember I mentioned that eating a huge lunch during the day isn’t a great idea because a bloated stomach pressed up agains your waistband isn’t fun. I found that trail mix was a great (and light) way to eat and keep my energy levels up each day, I think lunch was the least important meal of the day (with dinner being the most important) so if you can get away with eating trail mix and perhaps some biltong you’ll save yourself a lot of admin.
If you’re still hungry most hikers tuck into their leftovers from the night before for lunch, we did this and it worked really well.
7. Different types of food
An easy option for food along the trail would be to pack 5 packs of two minute noodles and a couple of energy bars but after a long day on the trail and your third day eating noodles you might be a little fed up. One of the best things about the menu we had on our hike was the variation in food, it gives you a little something to look forward to. Pick ‘n Pay has a great selection of ready mixed and easy to cook pastas and don’t forget about the ease and beauty of Futurelife or Oats So Easy in the morning. If you’re looking for a day by day menu this blog has a pretty good one.
8. A Treat
You’ll get used to the Otter Trail life pretty quickly, but having a treat to look forward to at the end of each day can do wonders. I packed a small piece of fudge for each day and others packed a couple of beers, whatever you pick it really does help to have something to look forward to and reward yourself for a day’s hard work.
This list includes the basics, although some items aren’t 100% necessary, for instance you could just wear one set of clothes for the entire hike.
All clothing items featured in this post are from the COAR range at Cotton On.