What You Need To Know About The Larapinta Trail l Women Want Adventure
The Larapinta Trail is a 223km hiking trail that stretches Telegraph Station, Alice Springs westward towards Redbank Gorge. The trail is broken up into 12 sections, and hikers can choose to walk any combination of sections.
Or, if they’re really looking for a challenge, they can hike end-to-end, which takes anywhere from 12 to 18 days of hiking.
Traditionally, the trail is hiked from west to east, finishing at Redbank Gorge, however the opposite direction is also possible and by some, preferred. Most of the trail is accessible by 4WD, while still remote.
Each day of hiking ranges from 5km to 30km per day, depending on walking speed and time restrictions.
Hikers must be self-sufficient, carrying their own tents, sleeping gear and food, although permanent shelters have been built at certain points throughout the walk, and food drop-offs can be organised in advance.
Hikers can choose to organise everything themselves; their own food, water, gear and transport. Or, they can choose one of the many tour companies offering organised and supported trips.
Not sure if the Larapinta Trail is for you? Read on to have all your questions answered so you can start planning your Larapinta Trail hiking trip today.
Photo: Meg on section 10 heading toward Glen Helen
What are the sections of the Larapinta trail?
There are 12 sections of the Larapinta Trail. When hiking from end-to-end, there are a few sections that will take 2-3 days to complete, depending on your pace. Only the extremely fit, well-prepared and ultralight hikers will be able to hike this in 12 days.
If you’re tackling just one or two sections, you might be able to push yourself a little harder. The below table provides the estimated average hours it will take to complete each section, as well as the difficulty. It’s important to remember while planning that 17km rated ‘Very hard’ may take longer than 30km rated ‘Moderate’.
If you’re walking from west to east, from Telegraph Station to Redbank Gorge (with a side trip to Mount Sonder at the end), the below
*The above table details are taken from larapintatrail.com.au
Photo: Decending down Mt Sonder // Section 12 (18km return)
Which is ‘the best’ section of the Larapinta?
We reckon the whole trip is pretty magical, but we love the sections that take you into the high desert country; sections 4, 5 and 9.
These sections involve a combination of steep inclines and declines (along with a few pesky false summits!), uneven and rocky ground, and dry riverbed rock-hopping - but we promise you it’ll all be worth it for the unparalleled views of Mount Sonder and the surrounding country.
Does Women Want Adventure have a Women’s Larapinta Trip?
We’re glad you asked! Yes, we run this popular guided trip twice a year, and we hike sections 1, 10, 11 and 12 which are the more scenic sections, including the 1380m sunrise climb to Mt Sonder.
This incredible Women's Larapinta hiking experiencehere will have you sleeping in swags under the stars, walking over 80km, learning about cultural significance and connecting with like minded women in the red centre.
We’ve designed and refined this trip over many years, and have taken over 200 women along for the ride. There’s a good balance of sweat-sessions, hiking through scenic desert country, combined with evenings spent with a wine in hand, getting to know the other women.
Hiking with 15 other like-minded women, as well as two female guides, we guarantee you’ll feel supported if you join us on one of the Women Want Adventure Larapinta trips.
Photo: Niki and Jess enjoying a rest break on Section 10 - Larapinta Trail
What should I expect while I’m on the trail?
No matter how experienced you are, something is bound to surprise you when you hike the Larapinta Trail. Whether that’s how cold it can get in the desert at night, or how many flies it was possible to accidentally swallow. Or perhaps that dappled sunrise light on the distant ridgeline. Or, how a mountain from afar looks uncannily like a marble cake, complete with fluffy pillow undulations.
No matter what, you will be challenged, astounded and speechless.
But as a rule of thumb, you should expect the following:
Huts and shelters aren’t available every night, although it is a nice relief when you do reach one. You should be mentally, emotionally and logistically prepared to camp in the wilderness. For most people, this will mean investing in some new gear and testing it before you go, and then when the trip arrives, packing very carefully and methodically. Forgetting the matches when you’re camping literally means you won’t eat anything warm or hydrated for an entire trip!
Rough and rocky terrain
The terrain you’ll be hiking over contains big, volcanic rock. This means that the hours of walking each day can wreak havoc on the soles of your shoes. It’s extremely common for E2E (end-to-end) hikers to have to pull out of the hike altogether due to destroyed soles.
Not only that, but hiking this rocky terrain can be very hard on one’s ankles. Rock-hopping down a dry riverbed sounds romantic at first, but give it a few hours and your fatigued ankle muscles will not be happy!
Therefore, it’s so important to ensure that you have good quality hiking boots. This means a tough sole, and enough height to support your ankles. Ask the people at the adventure equipment store - they’ll know exactly what you mean.
Photo: Section 10 - Larapinta Trail
Extreme weather conditions
While it’s easy to assume that the desert is always hot and dry, you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t pack appropriate clothing for all seasons’ weather. In one single day, you could be hiking in 35 degrees celsius, have a torrential desert storm soak you through and through, and you could wake up in the night (snuggled in your sleeping bag!) to minus degree temperatures! So, make sure to do your research pack appropriately.
*Different* hygiene conditions to what you’re used to
Now depending on what you’re used to, this point might really throw you. But it’s important to prepare yourself for the grim reality; no electricity and plumbing means your beauty and hygiene routine will have to wait while you’re out on the trail.
Toilets are composting drop toilets, there are no showers, no mirrors and you have to treat all your water before you drink it to kill any bugs that might be hanging around in the tank.
If you are camping off-trail, or between sections, you will need to go to the toilet in the bush. Make sure you’re responsible here and carrying out all your waste. If the ground is too hard to bury your business, you will need to carry it out.
Whilst the above might a bit dire, take it from me, you can get used to these conditions so quickly when you’re out in nature. Your worries will melt away. Plus, the rest of your group will be in the same boat, so there’ll be no need to feel self conscious.
How hard is hiking the Larapinta trail?
Everyone experiences the trail in different ways. How hard you consider the trail will depend on a range of factors, like your fitness levels, experience long-distance hiking, mental state, the weather, whether you’re hiking with injuries, and so on.
Roughly speaking, however, the trail uses a grading system; MODERATE, HARD and VERY HARD. You can see the sections gradings in the table above.
The terrain is uneven, with sharp, rocky surfaces, and there are inclines throughout the hike that can be very challenging, depending on the conditions, especially when hiking with a pack. The Mount Sonder summit is the highest elevation at 1380m.
The levels of fitness and mental preparation required will differ depending on which sections you decide to complete. If you’re hiking unsupported, you’ll need to be comfortable carrying a heavy hiking pack. If you’re supported (and therefore carrying just a day pack), you will need to be reasonably fit and most importantly, determined and enthusiastic. Having a regular training regime is essential for both supported and unsupported walkers.
On the Women Want Adventure Women’s hiking trip, you will be hiking up to 8 hours on some of the days, but we take this at a slow and steady pace to ensure that all women feel comfortable and safe.
When is the best time to hike the Larapinta trail?
The main consideration when choosing when to hike the Larapinta trail is the weather.
From around October until January, the daytime temperatures will be too hot for most people, and you may put yourself in harm’s way if you decide to hike. Access to water can be an issue at this time of the year, plus bushfire risk is heightened. Not to mention, the trail is very quiet at this time of the year, so if you get into trouble you may not have a kind passing traveller to help you.
The best months to hike are between May and August. The beginning of May and the end of August may get uncomfortably hot, and the flies can be in large quantities. Hiking in May or August will mean less hikers on the trail however, which means you will have a greater chance to nab a spot in the shelter after your day of walking.
The perfect time of the year to hike is between June and July. The day time temperatures at this time of the year are most likely to be ideal for hiking. As mentioned, the nights can get icy, but as long as you’re prepared, you will be fine.
June and July however, can get very busy on the trail, due to the primo conditions. The May/August shoulder season, for some, offers the best of both worlds - acceptable temperatures with less crowds!
What should I pack for the Larapinta Trail?
Packing for the Larapinta Trail should be planned far in advance, and all equipment should be tested out prior to heading out on the trip.
We provide a packing list for our participants, which you can find here, and you can find a generic packing list here.
Here are a few extra considerations when packing:
Water carrying capacity is an important consideration. How much you carry, and with what type of vessels, will depend on a few things:
- How fast you walk and what itinerary you’ve decided to stick to
- The weather
- Personal water preference (some people’s bodies need less water than others)
- How strong and fit you are, and therefore how much water you’re able to carry
Regardless of whether you’re hiking by yourself, or with a guided group, it’s important to carry your own water bottle to refill along the way.
On our Women Want Adventure trip, we recommend at least a 3 litre capacity, and we recommend a water bladder is the best option.
We’re also extremely mindful of the purchasing of bottled water, and actively discourage it. The production of a 1 litre plastic bottle takes 2 litres of water and 200ml of oil, and a large proportion of those bottles end up in landfill or are discarded in waterways and natural environments.
Head torch Considerations
A headlamp or torch is essential on the Larapinta Trail, as well as spare batteries, or a USB cord to recharge it (if your torch is fitted with this functionality).
You’ll need it for walking around the campsite and shelters at night, as well as for any night time hiking you undertake (planned or unplanned!).
Many itineraries involve summiting Mount Sonder at night, and watching the sunrise from the top. For this, you will need a head torch that will last you the entire summit.
Batteries & Power Considerations
All shelters on the trail are equipped with solar panels fitted out with USB charging stations. This means that approximately every two days, you will be able to charge your cameras, phones and torches.
That being said, it’s always a good idea to take some spare batteries for items you’re relying on for safety or comfort. If you’re keen on photography, it’s a great idea to visit the camera store before you go and purchase one or two spare batteries, charge them up before you go, and pop them in your pack, just in case. Hiking the Larapinta Trail is one of those moments you don’t want to run out of camera batteries!
Investing in a battery pack is also a great idea. If you’re willing to pay a little more, there are now battery packs available with a long life and low weight.
If you’re hiking the trail unsupported, you will need to invest in a good quality tent, sleeping bag and hiking mat, keeping in mind you’ll be carrying this the whole way!
If you decide to hike the trail supported with Women Want Adventure, we will provide you with comfortable sleeping swags, but you will still need to bring your own sleeping bag and inner liner. It is best to have a sleeping bag rating below 0 as nights get very cold in the region at certain times of year.
Also, packing a blow-up travel pillow is highly recommended and will add to your comfort on the trip.
Clothing & Climate Considerations
Winter (June, July and August) night time temperatures in the Red Centre can (and regularly do) reach below zero. While this is the best time to hike the trail for day time comfort, the nights can be hard for those who aren’t well-prepared. Even in the warmer months, nights can get cold.
This means you need to pack a warm jacket, thermals (for layering), as well as a woollen hat or beanie.
In the warmer months (September-March), temperatures soar, and can reach up to the 40’s. Hiking the trail between October and January isn’t advised and could potentially put you in a great deal of danger.
It’s also a good idea to pack a lightweight, waterproof and windproof jacket. In the desert, when it rains, it pours!
Photo: Claire enjoying the trail on section 1 (Alice Springs to Simpson Gap)
What kind of food should I eat on the Larapinta trail?
Planning your meals for the Larapinta Trail requires a lot of research and forethought, especially if you have special dietary requirements.
In fact, for many people, this is one of the main reasons they love going with an organised tour group. All food is planned and packed for you, taking the stress of planning out of the equation so that all you have to worry about is yourself.
If you’re planning your own trip, and therefore meals, here’s a list of options.
Everyone has different preferences, but on a challenging hike, having a quick breakfast that doesn’t require much preparation can be really helpful for those early morning starts. If you’re hiking in the hotter months, you’ll want to get hiking very early, to avoid the heat of the day, so a quick bar or pre-prepared oat parcels could be just what the doctor ordered.
- Oats in a ziplock bag, with milk power and some nuts or seeds (just add cold water and give it a mix and you have an energy-rich, fast-to-prepare breaky)
- Energy bars - here’s great article explaining the considerations
- Nut butters
You’ll want food that can be prepared quickly or even eaten while walking, in case there is nowhere shady or comfortable to stop for lunch. Preferably not something that involves getting out your cooking device. But, if you have the time sometimes a nice warm meal on the trail and a cuppa, is just the thing to help you power along towards your camp for the night.
- Long life cheese or hard cheeses
- Salami and other cured meats
- Sachets of tuna or salmon
- Hard vegetables like carrot
- 2-minute noodles
- Instant mashed potato
At dinner, you will have more time to sit down and prepare a meal fit for a queen. When you’re out hiking, this is the most important meal of the day. The main considerations when planning your dinner meals will be:
- How much fuel you’re bringing
- How much water you have access to
- What facilities you have access to (a couple of campsites, such as Ellery Creek, have barbeques that you can use)
Foods like rice and pasta, for example, will have longer cooking times and will soak up more water. So keep this in mind if you have limited amounts of either of these commodities.
The most important thing at dinner is to ensure you’re loading up on carbohydrate-rich foods. After everything your body has done during the day (not to mention everything it will do the next day!), it needs to be fuelled adequately. When you eat carbs, your body turns them into glucose, and then stores that in our muscles and liver as energy and is unlocked at the next large energetic output.
Dinner food options:
- Freeze-dried or dehydrated meals (just add water and eat from the bag!)
- Instant noodles
- Curries or stir fries
- Rice or couscous sachets (with flavours and spices included)
- Soup sachets, including ‘Cup a Soup’ or miso paste sachets
- Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils or soybeans
- Camp pizza/calzone (made from a wrap, add pasta sauce, cheese, salami, veggies, and cook on a fry pan or barbeque)
Try to pack light snacks that are rich in protein and nutrients. Snacks are also very important for morale, so adding in some sneaky choccies or lollies is a great idea as well. Also, don’t forget salty snacks - you’ll thank us later!
- Muesli bars
- Dried fruit
- Fresh fruit
- Nuts and seeds
- Salty snacks (french fry chips, salted nuts, beef jerky, twiggy sticks, etc.)
- Electrolyte tablets
- Tea, coffee and hot chocolate
Photo: Sarah relaxing by Glen Helen Gorge at the Glen Helen Campsite
What other preparation can I do?
As you now know, you’ll need to be reasonably fit for this hike. The training regime will differ person-to-person, but it’s worth consulting a professional if this is the first time you’ve embarked on something like this.
Importantly, you will need to combine:
- Hiking with a heavy weight on your pack, in your hiking boots to wear them in
- Strength and core training (hello HIIT classes at your local gym!)
- Stretching and self care for your body
Make sure you pre-condition your feet for blisters. The jury is really out on the best way to prepare your feet for blisters, and then how to look after your feet whilst out on the hike, but here are a few things you can try.
Ultimately though, you will need some trial and error to really find out what works for you, as everyone is different:
Before you go:
- Do plenty of practice hikes carrying a weighted pack (a sack of potatoes works well!)
- Harden your feet by rubbing methylated spirits on them
- Go out and buy the right socks, inner liners, shoes and ointment - and test them!
- Buy liners underneath your socks - a great brand is Injinji toe socks
- Shoes that are breathable yet water repellent
- Consider wearing boots one size higher than your normal shoe size
During the hike:
- Try to keep your feet dry
Alternative option: Rub Vaseline on your feet before putting on socks and/or liners
- Pad and tape your feet, and consider using a second skin or blister pack
- Address hot spots as they arise, not once they become a blister
- ‘Thread’ your blisters (using needle and thread, make a small prick in the blister to relieve fluid build-up and the uncomfortable pressure it creates)
Test your gear out
Every single piece of gear in your pack should be tested out - and when we say everything, we mean everything!
Don’t use a new face cream, or try a new type of coffee, without trying it before you go. Always make sure you have slept at least one night in the bush with your tent, sleeping bag and sleeping mat.
All your hiking gear, like shoes, socks, pack, and sun protection gear should all be tested and worn in.
When breaking in your hiking pack, make sure it has a significant amount of weight inside it, as this will change the way the pack interacts with your body - it will sit differently on your hips, will rub in different places, and will change the way you place your feet with every steps (thus affecting your blister hotspots, ankle strength and countless other things!).
Do your research, and join an online community
The Larapinta Trail is one of Australia’s most iconic hikers, and lots of experienced and uber passionate hikers have completed the trail end-to-end - some multiple times, and in both directions!
Consider joining this Facebook group and asking the brains trust any questions you might have.
As a tip, make sure to utilise the “Search this group” option located on the left hand side (on desktop computer), to type in keywords related to your questions. You will find a treasure trove of information using this method.
Reach out to a support company
If you decide not to go with a support company, and you don’t have a friend or partner who can drive you around, help you with food drop offs, and be on call for emergencies, you should highly consider paying a support company to help.
Our favourite is Larapinta Trail Trek Support (LTTS), a local company based in Alice Springs. They have a friendly and caring crew, the price is reasonable and they take the hassle and worry out of your trip. In an emergency, they are on call for you and will assist if they can.
Regardless of which company you choose, they will, at a minimum, drop you off at the start of the trek, and pick you up at the end (depending which direction and what sections you choose to walk). They will also give you large crates to store your food in, and will drop them in store rooms along the trail so that you can stock up along the way.
Organise travel insurance
It’s important to look into travel insurance Australians are not required to be covered for hospital care due to being covered by Medicare, however we strongly recommend that Australians have a domestic travel insurance policy which covers personal liability, cancellation, curtailment and loss of luggage and personal effects.
We’d also advise that you have current ambulance cover in the case of an emergency evacuation or incidents requiring ambulance transportation.
In case of emergency
If you are hiking without a support company, remember to pack a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). A satellite phone is also a good idea, but not essential.
Ensure that every person in your hiking party knows where the PLB is located (in whose pack), and how to activate it. They will also need to know what to do when it’s activated, and what to expect in terms of assistance.
A PLB that is fitted with GPS tracking ability will allow emergency services to locate you within a 120m radius in less than 20 minutes. There’s no way to know exactly how long it will take services to reach you after they have defined your signal location, which is why it’s important to be appropriately equipped for a first aid emergency.
If you are hiking without a support company, it’s important that you pack a comprehensive first aid kit and you’re trained to use it.
Before you head out on the hike, make sure to book in for a First Aid qualification. These are important in any case, but on a remote hike, it really will be a matter of life or death.
Ensure you can treat snake and spider bites, burns from hot water, grazes, lacerations, fractures, sprains, breaks, shock, hypo and hyperthermia, concussions, spinal injuries. You should also be comfortable performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
You should also pack pain management medication such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, blister management equipment, sanitary items and roll of toilet paper (just in case the toilets don’t have them).
WHY TRAVEL WITH WOMEN WANT ADVENTURE?
Women Want Adventure trips are a unique experience specifically tailored for women with a community focus.
All our leaders are qualified and experienced to ensure your trip is safe and enjoyable. Our services provide more than a travel holiday. Women Want Adventure trips connect like-minded women who want to try new things, push personal boundaries, make lasting friendships and have fun!
We make sure trip numbers are suitable for the terrain and all women feel welcome and comfortable on every outdoor encounter.
Ellie Keft - Digital Content Creator at Women Want Adventure