Larapinta Trail image

The Larapinta Trail is a long distance walking track that lies in the heart of Central Australia. It runs over 230km along the Tjoritja/West MacDonnell Ranges from Telegraph Saddle in Alice Springs to the summit of Mount Sonder in the west. Mount Sonder is the highest point of the trail at an elevation of 1379m. The best time to walk is between May to August with June/July being the most popular months. The track is divided into 12 sections and takes most walkers from 12 to 16 days to complete end to end.

The journey is filled with plenty of challenging terrain and beautiful vistas and is one of the best trails Australia has to offer. Here I will address some of the common questions I get on gear and how to successfully complete the Larapinta Trail.


Footwear for the Larapinta

Expect to see many rocks on the trail – big rocks, small rocks, loose rocks, slippery rocks, jagged rocks – you get the picture! Type of footwear is very personal and there is no perfect choice for everyone. Most walkers on the trail opt for mid- or high-cut boots and a small proportion in low-cut shoes or trail runners.

Your footwear (and you) will get a serious workout on the rugged terrain. It is essential that your footwear fits well and is worn in. No brand new shoes or footwear on its last legs on this trail, please! Even the most robust footwear will take a beating along the Larapinta, so users of lightweight trail runners beware. To help tackle the rough and rocky terrain I recommend a pair of supportive boots since you will be walking many days with a heavy pack.

Good quality socks will also help keep your feet happy over the many kilometres. See more about keeping your feet happy here. I recommend pairing your choice of footwear with medium cushioned wool or synthetic socks. My sock of choice for the Larapinta was the synthetic Mund Cervino, which is made from a mix of technical fibres. They were comfortable to wear and walk in, maintained their shape and were – shockingly – not too stinky after wearing the same pair for 12 days!

Blister prevention and care is also important so make sure your first aid kit is up-to-date and tape up any sensitive points on your feet before they become an issue. Having a pair of sandals or thongs as camp shoes is a welcome luxury, because they help air out and dry your feet after a day of walking.

Gaiters are not essential, but can be useful for keeping sand and grit out of your footwear and for protecting your legs from the spinifex. If taken, they should be the short, breathable style – everything gets hot and sweaty enough as is.


Ormiston Gorge.

Clothing for the Larapinta

During the day, sun and UV exposure on the trail is constant, so ensure you bring plenty of sunscreen. Even on a cloudy day, UV exposure is still high, so look for clothing with good sun protection, such as a wide brimmed or legionnaire hat and a lightweight wicking shirt (preferably long-sleeved). A neck gaiter such as a Buff can be useful for keeping the sun off your neck. You may not win any fashion awards, but your skin will thank you for it! Also, sunglasses are a must with the strong sun and the reflective ground.

Rain can occur anytime of the year in the Ranges. On a long distance walk, it is best to be prepared. You should take a rain jacket, which you can also use as wind protection. My Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket was perfect for this – at only 156g, it is lightweight, waterproof and windproof. I wore it most evenings to block the wind and was lucky to get no rain on my 12 days on the trail.

As the sun sets, the evening temperature drops remarkably and I was surprised at how cold it got in the Ranges at night and early mornings. A set of merino thermals and a fleece or insulated jacket is essential. I wore my Mont Zero Ultralight Down Jacket every evening – it is lightweight at 188g and was warm enough for the cool conditions encountered. Also, don’t forget your beanie!


Sleep and Shelter on the Larapinta

A 3-season sleeping bag rated for temperatures to at least 0 or down to -5 degrees Celsius is recommended, because freezing nights are not uncommon. Your tolerance for the cold and whether you are a hot or cold sleeper will determine what temperature rating is best for you. A down-filled sleeping bag is preferable as they are lighter and more compact. For the ultralight enthusiast, I recommend the Mont Helium 450 or 600; and for those who are more budget conscious, the Mont Zodiac 500 or 700.

It is equally important to pair your sleeping bag with an insulated sleeping mat to keep you toasty warm on those chilly nights. My recommendations are the Exped Synmat UL M for its comfort, small packed size and weight, or the Exped Synmat M if you are after a more robust mat.

The most common tent pads along the trail vary between dusty hard ground, sandy river beds, hard compacted shale and tent platforms at section heads. Due to this, on the Larapinta, your ideal tent is lightweight, freestanding or semi-freestanding, such as the Mont Moondance I or II. Non-freestanding tents will require some creative pitching with a combination of rocks and pegs to keep them stable. Luckily, there are plenty of rocks to help pitch your tent – a few metres of cord can also be useful in these scenarios. Sand pegs are not necessary since you can use rocks to weigh down your pegs on sandy tent pads. Tent footprints or ground sheets are helpful to keep the underside of your tent clean and in good condition.


Water

Water tanks are located all along the Larapinta Trail. Depending on your itinerary, you will usually pass at least one per day. These are maintained by rangers during peak season and are filled with town water from Alice Springs. Signs indicate that you must treat the water. I have an in-line filter on my Camelbak, but I wasn’t treating the water I was drinking from my Platypus collapsible bottle and didn't have any problems. There are some natural water sources; however, these are usually dry or soiled by roaming cattle and should not be relied upon.

The amount of water you need to carry relies heavily on where you plan to camp, how much water you drink while walking and how far away the next water tank is. Be prepared to carry up to 6L (or more!) of water if you plan on camping at a dry campsite. It is always better to carry a little more than you think you will need than to run out of water.

I used a 3L Camelbak bladder to sip on while walking and a 2L Platypus collapsible bottle to carry extra water when I needed it. This system worked well for me since the 2L bottle rolled up when I did not need it.


Navigation and safety

For me, a personal locator beacon (PLB) is an essential piece of kit for any outdoor adventure. There is very limited mobile phone coverage out on the Ranges, so a PLB is a must-have when walking the Larapinta. If you don’t own one, you can hire one from us, or locally in Alice Springs. It could save your life.

Some would consider a paper map and compass not necessary for the Larapinta since the trail is fairly well marked, but I carried them “just in case” and would recommend that you do as well. Not only are maps great souvenirs of your trip, but you can also practise your map reading and bearing skills! Most walkers I encountered used the Larapinta Trail guidebook by Chapman for their maps, which is adequate so long as you do not plan to go off-trail.

When in Australia, always hike with a snake bite bandage, so make sure to pack at least one in your kit!


Miscellaneous

Trekking poles are definitely an accessory you want to consider for the kind of terrain the Larapinta offers. My poles saved me a few times when a loose rock unexpectedly slipped from under my foot. They also made walking downhill easier on the ankles and knees, and improved my rhythm and endurance when walking uphill.

I had never seen so many flies in my life – during the day, literally hundreds would land on my pack, shoulders and hat, and hitch a ride off me. An insect head net was essential when I was walking in the end of June/start of July. Hopefully you will be lucky and the flies won’t be out in force for your walk!

Pack a trowel – some campsites do not have toilets so you will have to bring a trowel to dig your cat holes. My trowel of choice is the Helinox Deuce of Spades as it weighs only 17g and works better than a tent peg. Digging cat holes on the Larapinta did take significantly longer than usual due to the hard and rocky ground so I would suggest you dig your cat holes before you need them! As always, please practice the Leave No Trace principles.

Australia’s Red Centre is a magical place and the Larapinta Trail is no exception. The Larapinta may not be for everyone, but I found it to be a very rewarding and memorable experience that I highly recommend.

Tamara Pham,
Bogong Equipment



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Larapinta Trail image

Mount Sonder.


Larapinta Trail image

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