Testing My Camping Gear – First Overnight Hike

Camping in Rotorua

Testing my camping gear on an overnight hike

My second gear test for Te Araroa Trail took me further afield than my garden, for a hike and overnight stay in Rotorua. My goals were to:

  • Test my fitness over a distance of 35kms.
  • Walk for the first time with a 12kg pack.
  • Play with my Backcountry Navigator phone app.
  • Check whether my tent was waterproof.

Before the trip, I found the appropriate map section on Backcountry Navigator, and overlayed it with a gpx file of the route from The Trailrun Project. This gave me a topographic map with a route to follow. I downloaded it to my phone which meant that I could use aeroplane mode an conserve battery.

My pack Lowe Alpine Airzone Trek weighed 12kgs when loaded for the night, including change of clothes, sleep and cook system, food and 2.5 litres of water (1.5 in my bladder and 1 in a plastic bottle).

I set off at 5.30am, and arrived at The Redwoods Whakawerawera Forest for a 7.30am start. I looked for the ‘black circuit’, fired up Backcountry Naviator and strode off into the misty forest, following both the signposts and my position on the map (with my phone offline).

Heading off…

A while later I decided to give my Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork trekking poles a try. After about 15 mins of trial and error, adjustment and re-adjustment I found a comfortable length. I felt weirdly self-conscious like I was cheating somehow, however they really came into their own at the next uphill, where I discovered they helped pull me up, and on the downhill where they helped me keep balance on the rough, muddy pathway. Eventually I fell into a nice stride.

The time passed and I checked my phone a few times to have a play with the Backcountry Navigator app, and to navigate when there was no signage. I was amazed how simple and easy to use it was. My pace was around 5kms per hour.

I was enjoying myself so much that 5 hours later when I noticed myself stumbling a little, I realised I should have eaten something. of course I had been sipping water throughout the morning but had only eaten a handful of nuts to eat. I stopped for lunch, put on my down jacket so I didn’t cool down, and ate my leftover pizza – fabulous!

Shortly after lunch it started to rain. The forecasted storm was coming in. I donned my Outdoor Research Aspire raincoat and AntiGravityGear rain kilt. Never having worn a rain kilt/skirt before, it took a couple of adjustments to get right.

I decided at some point that I’d like to try listening to an audio book I’d downloaded earlier Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. My first foray into audio books lasted approx 30 seconds, as the narrator wasn’t English, so it didn’t quite sound right.. sigh. Seething with disappointment and hating myself for being quite so picky, I plodded on.

Blisters

Around the 30km mark I started to get a nagging hot spot on the underside of my heel in both shoes. The shoes were broken in, but I’d never worn them on such a long hike, whilst carrying such a heavy pack. It was only then it occurred to me that I hadn’t packed a first aid kit for ‘just an overnighter’ which was a huge mistake! I limped and grimaced my way to the end of the trail, where I was extremely glad to take my shoes off.

The camping experience

I camped overnight in the Lake Okareka DOC campsite – a beautiful spot. Funnily enough on this winters’ night I was the only tent. Given there was going to be a huge storm, I wasted no time in pitching my tent, and setting up my bed.

Having sorted the basics I took great pleasure in dealing with my two very large blisters. Luckily I had a safety pin with me, but without a first aid kit I couldn’t sterilise it. I took the risk – knowing I’d be home tomorrow and pieced the blisters in a number of spots, allowing the fluid to drain completely.

Later I set up my Jetboil flash stove outside the tent, and cooked and ate my dinner. Then I spent an hour with some lovely French girls who had just completed the Santiago de Compstela in France. They gave me some ointment to protect my feet, and gave me some great thru hike tips in exchange for my tips on places to visit in NZ… everything is meant to be.

The predicted storm really got going just after 8pm. Even though I had picked this night to test my Hilleberg Enan tent’s ability to survive this very scenario, I spent a good part of it awake worrying about the howling winds and immense downpour. In the morning everything was still intact however, and I was perfectly dry and warm – a triumph!!

Lessons Learned:

  • Have your route/navigation/maps sorted well in advance and use it offline to save phone battery. If tramping in the wilderness don’t rely on your electronics and carry paper maps and a compass.
  • Give walking poles a try!
  • Eat and drink regularly,and before you get too hungry or thirsty.
  • Break in your shoes.
  • Always take a first aid kit, even for an overnighter, and at the very first sign of a hot spot, apply blister protection.
  • Check you’re happy with the person narrating your audio books
  • Be sure to meet the neighbours

Click here for my Te Araroa Trail gear list

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