Considered one of Australia’s most spectacular and challenging multiday walks, the Larapinta Trail runs for 223km west of Alice Springs from Telegraph Station to the summit of Mt Sonder. It can take anywhere from 20 days to as little as 4 days (that would be for ultra runners), but the average is between 14-16 days for independent hikers.
Tackling the challenging terrain of the West MacDonnell Ranges for two weeks requires a decent amount of preparation. I’d done quite a bit of hiking overseas prior to my solo Larapinta Trail trek but I’d never carried everything on my own back over such a long distance before. If you’re thinking about undertaking the trail as an independent hiker, this guide will explain how I went about preparing for the Larapinta, as well as, what gear and food I packed.
Here is my Larapinta Trail preparation guide as a solo hiker.
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Training for the larapinta trail
My Larapinta Trail preparation was far from extensive or professional. Looking back, I really didn’t train much. However, on the trail, I met people who hadn’t trained at all, as well as, people who had trained a lot. It really comes down to how fit you are and how quickly you adapt to situations.
So, what training did I do?
I trained on a trail not far from my home up to Mt Riddell in the Yarra Ranges National Park. It was a steep and steady climb along a dirt road to a peak and then returning the same way. It wasn’t too long at 12km return but it was the steepness of the trail that I figured would help me build the strength that I would need.
I did this Mt Riddell trail around twice a week for two months before leaving for Alice Springs.
I also went for a run a couple of times a week, which was a normal routine for me anyway.
After completing the Larapinta, I now realise that I didn’t really train properly for the long distances and walking for over six hours a day. I also didn’t train at all with my backpack and I only did one walk with my actual 70L pack that I ended up using for the Larapinta.
Still, I discovered that my body adapted pretty quickly once I began the trail and as long as you have a decent level of fitness, it’s doable. However, there a few tips for your training that I think would have helped me a lot.
Training tips for the larapinta
- Train for long ascents and descents | Find a decent hill climb near where you live and try to do it at least once a week in the lead up to your trek.
- Train for rough and rocky terrain | Try to train as much as possible on dirt, uneven tracks. It’s difficult to find somewhere that replicates the Larapinta, but anywhere that requires you to keep your eyes on the ground and watch your footing should be enough,
- Train for time on your feet | Depending on how much ground you plan on covering each day and how quickly you move, you can walk anywhere from 3-8 hours per day on the Larapinta. This means that your feet and legs need to get used to walking continuously for hours on end. Although your body will naturally adapt pretty quickly on the trail, it’s a good idea to do some long walks around the 20km mark in your training to get the time and distance into your legs.
- Work on balance, strength and agility | The Larapinta is as much about strength and agility than fitness sometimes. The rough, rocky terrain is a constant challenge and often forces you to slow down. If you’re interested in adding in strength training or yoga, it would be beneficial.
- Break in your shoes well | This should be a no-brainer but you should break your shoes in well and know that they are comfortable for hours and days on end. You should choose shoes or boots that you know work well for your feet and that you have tried and tested before on other trails. Problems with shoes are the number one reason people don’t finish the Larapinta!
- Give yourself time to train and prepare | Unless you’re already fit and have plenty of long-distance walks under your belt, I recommend giving yourself at least 3 months to train and prepare.
The Larapinta Trail website states quite prominently that only fit and experienced bushwalkers should consider undertaking the trail end to end. I was certainly fit by the time I left for Alice Springs, but I was lacking in serious experience. It was my first solo, independent multiday trek. It probably would have been smarter to start with something like the Southern Circuit in Wilsons Prom, but I don’t tend to do that. I like challenges.
Still, I had spent plenty of time solo travelling across continents and I was used to overcoming challenges on my own. I had also hiked a lot, just nothing that required self-sufficiency like the Larapinta.
I think if you’re an adaptable and resilient person, who has experience overcoming situations and getting through things when the going gets tough, you can certainly tackle the Larapinta. However, I would say that some prior hiking experience is, of course, ideal. The Larapinta is no walk in the park.
Read next: 10 Tips for Your First Overnight Hike
I spent a few months pouring over maps and reading blogs on people’s Larapinta itinerary and what to pack for the Larapinta lists. However, I discovered that my planned itinerary changed quite a bit after I started walking. It really came down to how I felt each day and what I thought I was capable of doing.
Still, I needed to decide on my end date, because I arranged the Larapinta Trail Trek Support crew to take me back to Alice Springs from Mt Sonder. So I settled on 15 days for my whole trek but, in reality, I could have done it in 13 or 14. But, I was glad I wasn’t rushed or stressed about time.
The interesting part is that many of the individual sections didn’t really mean much to me while I was planning the trek. It was only after I started hiking and meeting other trekkers coming in the opposite direction that I quickly realised which parts were most memorable and more difficult. The richest source of information comes from other trekkers you meet along the way.
Read next: How to plan your food for hiking
How much my pack weighed
I’m proud to say that I didn’t overpack and I did use everything that I took (which really wasn’t that much). I carried around 18kg at the heaviest, which included four days worth of food and a day’s worth of water. It got lighter as I ate but then got heavier again the few times I had to carry extra water for dry campsites. Of course, I met people with as little as 12kg and as much as 25kg; it really comes down to luxuries and how lightweight your gear is.
It definitely makes a big difference being a solo hiker. If you are hiking with others you can easily share things like a gas cooker, pots, food and extras like camera gear. Being alone, it meant I needed to carry everything without sharing the load with anyone else. The people I saw on the trail with smaller and lighter packs were always couples or groups of two or more, so you need to factor this in when you’re thinking about pack weight.
I started compiling my food and gear weeks before I was set to leave. I spent a lot of time thinking about the food I would require but which also had to be lightweight. Being gluten and dairy-free also presented other challenges but I ended up putting together a pretty good stash of food.
I also found that my body certainly adapted to the weight of my pack quicker than I expected. The first couple of days was definitely a challenge but from day five onwards, the weight of my pack felt almost like nothing. My body had become strong enough that my pack no longer bothered me. Still, that doesn’t mean that you should carry more than you need. Try to be realistic as what you think you’ll need and then cut it back some more.
Read next: A Complete Guide to Solo Hiking
Arriving in Alice Springs
So with my new 70L Osprey backpack fully packed, food sorted, maps memorised, too many training walk/runs up Mt Riddell to count, I left for the airport in Melbourne.
I stayed in a private room at Alice Lodge Backpackers in Alice Springs and soon had the entire room covered in all my gear and food as I tried to organise my three food drops into the large plastic containers Zak from Larapinta Trail Trek Support had given me. When I went out to meet Zak, one of the first things he said was, “Nervous?” and my answer was, “Pfft, no. I’m excited!”.
I’m sure people doubted me and thought I was a little mad, but I’m well and truly used to that. I wasn’t nervous. I was going to finish the Larapinta, there was no plan B. Zak assured me that as a solo hiker, he and his team fully looked out for us on the trail and are well prepared to pull us out if something happens. “But I’ll be picking you up at Redbank in 15 days time though, right?”. Absolutely.
Read next: 10 best things to do in Alice Springs
Larapinta Trail Trek support
My Larapinta Trail preparation was made a lot easier and smoother by Larapinta Trail Trek Support. The crew at LTTS offer packages which include food drops, transfers, PLB hire and personal support if you need it out on the trail. Zak is incredibly good at his job and most independent trekkers use his team for some part, if not their whole package.
The day before I left Alice Springs, Zak arrived with three empty containers which I filled up with my food and other supplies. I left them behind at the Alice Lodge Backpackers and he then dropped them at the designated food drops along the trail so that they were there for me when I arrived. I also rented a PLB off them in case of emergency. It was also nice knowing that someone was looking out for me on the trail and I saw Zak a couple of times along the way and had a chat about how I was going.
I highly recommend you contact them or use their service for your Larapinta Trail Trek.
Packing List for the Larapinta trail
- Tent (OzTrail Lightweight Hike Tent)
- Sleeping bag (Macpac Latitude 700)
- Thermal sleeping liner
- Inflatable sleeping mattress (Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Mat)
- Inflatable pillow
- Solar lantern (Luci EMRG)
- Foam sitting mat for walking breaks (literally a square piece of foam from Kmart)
- Hiking poles (Helinox)
- Water bladder 3L (Osprey Hydraulics)
- Water bottles x2
- Backpack (Osprey Xena 70L)
- Small daypack (Kathmandu 15L pocketpack) (I put this in my last food drop and just used to hike up Mt Sonder and back from Redbank Gorge)
- GPS Watch (Garmin)
- Solar panel (Goal Zero Nomad 10)
- Battery pack (Goal Zero Venture 30)
- GoPro and charger
- Phone and charger
- Notebook and pen
- Rope (my dad suggested I take it for some of the sections that required a lot of rock scrambling but I never needed it, only used it as a clotheslines a couple of times)
- Thermal headband (Macpac merino wool)
- Gloves (Macpac merino wool)
- UV resistant long sleeved shirt (Mountain Designs)
- Hollow yarn long sleeved shirt (Mountain Designs)
- T-shirt (merino wool is ideal, read my review on Ottie Merino Hiking T-Shirts here)
- Zip-off pants (Kathmandu Clarks)
- Thermal tights (Kathmandu) (only used to sleep in)
- Jacket (Aldi merino wool)
- Wool blend socks x3 (x2 Aldi and x1 Wigwam)
- Plastic poncho (never needed it!)
- Hiking boots (Mammut Trovat Goretex)
- Packing cells (Kathmandu)
- Travel towel (Liveventure)
- Multipurpose wilderness wash (Sea to Summit)
- Aloe Vera
- Toothpaste and toothbrush
- Lip balm SPF15
- Facial wipes
- Hair ties and comb
- Small sewing kit (didn’t use, but good repair kit to have)
- Toilet paper (every campsite that had a toilet had paper too!)
- Tape x2 rolls (Elastoplast)
- Taping strips
- Acti-Bliss wool (didn’t need, what a miracle)
- Antiseptic cream
- Emergency blanket
- Gauzes, bandages, alcool wipes and band aids
- Hydration tablets
- Insect repellent (didn’t need)
- Foldable kitchen sink (Sea to Summit 5L)
- Cup and bowl (bowl wasn’t really necessary I ate out of either the packet or the pot)
- Cooking fuel (100g Jetboil) (had 5 with one in each box and two with me but only used roughly two and a half without knowing for sure)
- Jetboil Zip Hiking Stove
- x1 cooking pot 2L (Sea to Summit)
- Bliss balls (Carmen’s x1 packet)
- Leda Banana Bars x8
- Kez’s Kitchen Lamington Bars x4
- Loving Earth chocolate x4 blocks (my dessert after dinner)
- Home made trail mix (x4 bags of cashews, almonds, walnuts, coconut, dried mango, dried banana, goji berries, dried apple)
- Forbidden Foods Brekky Rice 125g x10
- Carmen’s porridge sachets x6
- So Good Almond Milk 250ml x3 (I didn’t carry these but they were in my food drops for the next morning’s breakfast)
- Table of Plenty rice cakes with dark chocolate x2 packets
- Local Legends beef jerky x3 packets
- Organ quinoa crisp breads x1 packet
- Health Discovery savoury crackers x2 packets
- Sweet Potato chips x1 packet
- Mayver’s peanut butter (I spooned some into three small containers and divided into my food drops)
- Back Country meals x12
- Hart & Soul soup x2 and microwave rice 125g x2 (I didn’t carry these but were in my food drops for dinner that night)
- Tea bags (Green and Chai)
- Coconut water x3 (I put these into my food drops as a treat)
Read my trek report on the Larapinta Trail, including a day by day breakdown:
- Hiking the Larapinta Trail End-to-End Solo: Part 1
- Hiking the Larapinta Trail End-to-End Solo: Part 2
Check out my video from the Larapinta Trail here.
If you’ve never done an overnight hike before, read my 10 tips for your first overnight hike.
If you’re thinking about tackling this trek solo, read my complete guide to solo hiking.