AAWT FKT Gear List (2.7kg/5.9lb) & Analysis
In January 2022, Paul Cuthbert and I (Tom Bartlett) set the Fastest Known Time (FKT) for the Australian Alps Walking Track (AAWT). We set a self-supported and overall fastest known time of 10d 23h 14m for the ~680km route. Our attempt was categorised as self-supported as we didn’t have a crew and relied entirely on ourselves and our pre-placed food drops.
In this post I outline the gear I used. This includes the gear that Paul and I shared, carrying half each. This was my first attempt at a FKT and I used my ~7000km of hiking experience to get my gear as dialled as possible. This post is a companion to AAWT FKT Tactics, where you can find our non gear-related strategies.
The FKT attempt was an interesting challenge as it required me to rethink my usual gear choices. Normally I focus on enjoyment, provided by the balance between a light pack and carrying enough gear to be comfortable. For the FKT attempt, speed was the main goal, with comfort sadly taking a backseat.
Below the gear list you can find my reasoning for important gear choices. I also discuss what did and didn’t work so well, along with changes I would make next time should I forget the suffering involved!
Total weight in list: 4091g/9.02lb
Shared gear: 780g/27.51oz
Worn weight: 1014g/35.77oz
Individual base weight: 2687g/5.92lb
|Foam mat (torso length)||Thermarest Z Lite SOL||Cut to 6 panels. Use pack for legs. Doubles as pack frame.||178/6.28|
|Water resistant bivy||Borah Gear Ultralight Cuben Bivy||Side zip long/wide. Adds warmth.||140/4.94|
|Quilt||Zpacks Quilt 2°C (35F)||Older model. Long/slim. Didn’t take straps. Temperature rating a little bit optimistic but pretty close.||401/14.14|
Shelter – Shared Weight
|Two person DCF tarp||Terra Rosa Gear 3.2m x 2.6m (10.5′ x 8.5′)||1.3 mm Zpacks Z-Line Cord with CL266 Mini Line-Loks.||217/7.65|
|DCF stake bag||Tarptent||Doesn’t work very well – stakes fall out and bag gets holes easily. I think 34g/m2 (1oz/yd2) DCF is too thin for a stake bag.||1/0.04|
|Tent stakes||DAC J Stake||8 at 10 g each. Length 160 mm, width 11 mm. Only stake I haven’t broken at 10g or less.||80/2.82|
|Synthetic jacket||Cumulus Climalite Pullover||Synthetic for use in wet weather walking. Climashield Apex insulation. Super warm.||240/8.47|
|Rain jacket||Zpacks DCF Challenger||Old DCF model. Would prefer a Shakedry jacket but already had this.||156/5.50|
|Rain pants||Montbell Versalite||For warmth – adds a big mental boost for me in wet weather. Not super durable but good enough.||98/3.46|
|Wind jacket||Montbell Tachyon||Adds a surprising amount of versatility and warmth for the weight. One of my favourite items. For sleeping in if everything else is soaked.||45/1.59|
|Wind pants||Montbell Tachyon||Adds a surprising amount of versatility and warmth for the weight. Not as nice as Montbell U.L. Stretch Wind Pants but lighter for FKT. For sleeping in every night.||48/1.69|
|Gloves||Zpacks Possum||Possum is warmer than fleece and durable enough. Any possum gloves will do but I like that these are touchscreen compatible.||33/1.16|
|‘Waterproof’ gloves||Plastic kitchen gloves||Adds a lot of warmth in driving rain and keeps possum gloves pretty dry for their weight.||2/0.07|
|Buff||Outdoor Research Echo Ubertube||Very thin and breathable. Keeps ears warm under hat whilst walking and sleeping.||20/0.71|
|Bug net||Sea to Summit Head Net – Permethrin Treated||Stops bugs bothering you. Primarily used for protecting feet from mosquitoes when airing them or sleeping in the day.||10/0.35|
|Underwear||Montbell ZEO-LINE Cool Mesh Trunks||I only used short running tights on the FKT instead of shorts. These trunks serve as a different type of underwear if I get chaffing problems.||28/0.99|
|Hiking pack||KS Ultralight KS3 (30L)||LS07 + a dodgy seam sealing job by me. Includes a webbing hip belt and 2 x 1L bottle holders (by Justin’sUL).||329/11.61|
|Dry bag||Zpacks DCF Large Food Bag (14L)||For quilt and clothes. Could get a lighter option but I really like the shape. 54g/m2 (1.6oz/yd2) DCF is a bit overkill but I’m sick of thinner DCF degrading so quickly.||40/1.41|
|Stuff sack||Ultralight Hiker DCF Mini||For keeping wind gear, gloves and buff in side pocket showerproof.||3/0.11|
|Water bottle||Balance 1L bottle||Carried 2 at 41g each. Nice shape (Smart water equivalent in Australia). Swapped out lids for push pull tops.||82/2.89|
|Water filter||Katadyn BeFree 600mL||So I can carry less water by drinking at water sources. Use Aquatabs if filling up lots of water to avoid filtering lots of water.||63/2.22|
|Spoon||Toaks titanium short handle||Won’t break.||10/0.35|
|Toothbrush||Bamboo and cut. Brush at least 4 times a day to avoid mouth/throat issues.||3/0.11|
|Lip balm||Carmex Squeeze Tube||SPF15 and stops lips/under nose cracking.||14/0.49|
|Phone||iPhone 13 mini||Waterproof case. Good battery life, battery efficiency, screen size and camera.||190/6.70|
|Headphones||AirPods Pro||Maybe the most important item in my pack? In ziplock bag for waterproofing.||46/1.62|
|Headlamp||H600w Mk IV Zebralight||1400 lm. XHP35 Neutral White LED (nicer on eyes than cool white). With original headband as lots of night walking. Excellent battery life. Super bright. Can swap batteries.||69/2.43|
|Headlamp Battery||18650||NCR18650GA 3500 mAh 10A drain. Good high capacity cell with enough drain for 1400 lm.||48/1.69|
Electronics – Shared Weight
|Satellite device/safety beacon||Garmin inReach Mini||For safety, texting, weather forecast and FKT verification.||100/3.53|
|Powerbank||Nitecore NB10000||King of the power banks currently. Two outputs is very useful.||150/5.29|
|iPhone cable||Generic||5g each. Carried two for redundancy (USB A and USB C). Short 10cm length.||10/0.35|
|Microusb cable||Generic||7g each. Carried two for redundancy. USB A. For inReach Mini and NU25.||14/0.49|
|Garmin cable||Garmin||Using Garmin Forerunner 945 for tracking and navigation.||15/0.53|
|Backup headlamp||Nitecore NU25||360 lm max. Homemade cord headband.||33/1.16|
First Aid – Shared Weight
|Pocket knife||Swiss Army Knife Wegner||Knife, scissors, tweezers. Better scissors than classic.||21/0.74|
|Snake bandage||Aeroform 10cm x 4.5m||Good pressure guide for snakes.||44/1.55|
|Needle + thread||Also for popping blisters.||2/0.07|
|DCF repair tape||Zpacks||For tent. Generally also sticks well to non DCF materials.||0.5/0.02|
|Alcohol wipe||2 wipes. For Paul’s inflatable air mat and bad cuts.||0.5/0.02|
|Super glue||For big cuts and repairing stuff.||2/0.07|
|Backup water purification tablets||Aquatabs||1 backup tray of 10x5L tablets.||1/0.04|
|Antihistamines||x10. Each lasts a day. For mosquito bites etc.||3/0.11|
|Anti-diarrhoea Tablets||Immodium||x6. Bad gastro could stop an FKT.||2/0.07|
Consumables – Shared Weight
|Water purification tablets||Aquatabs||10x5L tray (separate to backup in first aid kit).||1/0.04|
|Ibuprofen||For pain relief and inflammation. 24hrs of max recommended dose. 200mg x 6.||2/0.07|
|Paracetamol||For pain relief. 24hrs of max recommended dose. 500mg x 8.||3/0.11|
|Caffeine tablets||No-Doz||100mg x 6.||3/0.11|
|Sunscreen||In ziplock bag.||15/0.53|
|Toothpaste||In ziplock bag. Would do toothpaste drops next time.||6/0.21|
|Duct tape||3M||Fixing stuff and blister prevention.||5/0.18|
|Wet wipes||For hygiene and to prevent chaffing.||5/0.18|
|Blister lubricant||Gurney Goo||Good stuff. Apply every morning and then every 6 hrs or so.||12/0.42|
|Breathable tape||Fixomull||For blisters. Stretches well to get smooth application on feet. Sticks pretty well but doesn’t do great when wet.||3/0.11|
|Kinesiology tape||Rock tape||For blisters. Stretches well to get smooth application on feet. Make sure to rub when applying as the glue is heat activated. Pretty good when wet.||7/0.25|
|Hikers wool||Another alternative for blisters.||0.5/0.02|
|Gel toe cap||Scholls Toe Protector||For toe blisters if they’re getting ugly.||2/0.04|
|Hydrocolloid plaster||Compeed, Scholls.||Only for torn roof blisters (except for on the last day).||5/0.18|
|Long sleeve shirt||Rab Pulse LS Zip, OR Echo LS Zip||Good collar. Zip for ventilation. Super breathable. Thumb holes.||100/3.53|
|Running tight shorts||Nike Pro and others||Prevents chaffing.||70/2.47|
|Brief underwear||ExOfficio Briefs||23/0.81|
|Socks||Icebreaker Lifestyle||Thin merino socks.||32/1.13|
|Shoes||Nike Vomero 15, Nike Invincible||Both road running shoes. Lighter than trail shoes and more cushioning. See footwear discussion below.||280/9.88|
|Legionnaires Hat||Outdoor Research Sun Runner||Stylish. Also use cape as towel for drying things.||80/2.82|
|Trekking poles||Naturehike ST10 Ultralight Telescopic Poles||130cm. Carbon. Telescopic. Flip lock. Super light. Carbon is strong, but I broke the straps (fixable in the field).||312/11.00|
|Smart watch||Garmin 945||Good battery life and topo maps. For helping us stay on track and reducing wasted time getting phone out for most situations. Charge 1x per day.||50/1.76|
|Sunglasses||Julbo Shield M||Cat 2-4 photochromic sunglasses. I like them a lot.||27/0.95|
|Gaiters||Dirty Girl Gaiters||Great for keeping dirt and stones out of your shoes. Increases the lifetime of socks.||40/1.41|
So what worked well? For the most part, I was extremely happy with the gear choices Paul and I made.
The main concept behind our gear choices was that we needed reliability and redundancy, at the lowest weight possible. A lot of cutting weight with ultralight gear often hinges on taking exactly what you need for the conditions you are prepared to walk in. E.g. you might decide that you don’t want to walk for long periods of time in the dark so you can take a lighter headtorch that works well enough for camp chores (or a head band that is made out of cord rather than the heavier stock headband). You might decide to take fewer warm clothes and accept you will set up your tent and hop in your sleeping bag if you encounter seriously unlucky cold/wet conditions. You could also carry less rain gear and decide to stop and dry our your gear when the sun comes out or when you pass through the next town.
For most walks, these are measures I take to reduce weight within my risk tolerance. However, for an FKT, stopping for bad weather or waiting for the sun to come up is usually wasting time. A bright, reliable head torch is faster rather than one that it just good enough. For the FKT attempt, this meant I chose heavier gear than normal to ensure I could walk at any hour of the day, in any conditions the ‘Australian Alps’ could throw at us.
On this trip Paul and I each carried a water resistant bivy and shared a two person tarp. This worked well for saving time and provided the flexibility we needed to camp in some pretty dodgy spots. We were both grateful to be able to set the tarp up in inclement weather. It provided a lot more space compared to fully waterproof bivies, allowing us to look after our feet properly and down as many calories as possible when in camp. A tarp + water resistant bivy has much greater breathability compared to a fully waterproof bivy. This meant our sleeping bags stayed dryer/warmer and we weren’t carrying as much excess moisture.
One change I would make is to take a sleeping bag instead of a quilt. I took a Zpacks quilt (400g) and never managed to get rid of the draft at night with my half length foam mat and pack elevating my legs. Whilst normally a big fan of quilts, I think for an FKT it’s just too much messing around. Paul had the right idea when he took a hoodless, zipperless sleeping bag (basically a sack of down). I’ve since replaced my Zpacks quilt with a zipperless 356g Cumulus X-Lite 200 sleeping bag with 30g extra down.
Overall, I was happy with the clothes I wore and carried. Initially, I felt a bit silly for taking a wind jacket, rain jacket, wind pants and rain pants for an FKT. However, I knew from last time I walked the AAWT that it can get very cold due to the exposed nature of the track, even in summer. In the end, I used all of these layers, had dry sleeping clothes, and can’t think of an equivalent option that is lighter. I wouldn’t say I was super toasty, but I wasn’t uncomfortably cold very often.
Taking a Climashield Apex synthethic jacket was a good choice and kept me warm in some of the nastiest conditions I’ve been in. The Cumulus Climalite model I took was a 1/4 zip pullover, however, it would have been better to take a full zip jacket for extra breathability. I have since ordered an Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket in 7d materials. Since the 7d materials are significantly more breathable than the 10d and 20d fabrics offered (breathability ratings of 35 vs 10 vs 1 cfm respectively), I am hoping this will turn the Torrid into a better active layer compared to my Cumulus jacket.
Our navigation system was a combination of using both our phones and watches. Paul suggested we load the GPX file onto our watch to help us stay on course. Initially, I was sceptical as I hadn’t used this feature before and didn’t want to carry/manage another electronic device. However, after some testing on an overnight hike up Mt. Bimberi, I was sold. From my perspective, the main selling point was that your watch would buzz as soon as you wondered off the course you were navigating.
During the FKT, this feature meant that we only took one wrong turn on the entire trip (wondering down the wrong spur after descending Mt. Macdonald). The watch didn’t save us because that section of the walk had no distinct track, and so we weren’t always on the GPX file to begin with. This meant the watch didn’t buzz when we went even further ‘off course’. Apart from that isolated incident, this feature saved us probably a dozen times, especially as we became increasingly sleep deprived.
Another incredibly useful feature of the watch is being able to quickly glance at its map. Whilst the map isn’t super detailed, it is good enough to tell you which way to turn at the junction just up ahead, or to check that you are still on track. The map is only useful for your immediate surrounding area as it is cumbersome to change the map view with the watch buttons. I suspect a touchscreen on new smart watches could vastly improve the usefulness of navigating by a watch. It’s hard to quantify how much time the watch map saved, but I was pulling my phone out significantly less than I normally would (also saving battery life).
When navigating a long walk on your watch (>100km or so), it’s important to break down the GPX file into multiple sections. If you don’t do this then Garmin will not sample enough points to capture the finer details of the track. We broke the track into sections between each drop box (60km on average). Splitting the track into smaller courses also means you have an easy-access elevation profile to know if there is a big climb or descent coming up (if you want to know!). My Garmin Forerunner 945 drained about 75% each day (no heart rate), and Paul’s Fenix 6 Pro drained about 60% (with heart rate on).
One final thing to note is that the usefulness of the watch is determined by the accuracy of the GPX file you are following. 95% of the time our GPX file was correct, but we definitely wasted a bit of time in more vague sections of the AAWT by trying to follow a poorly defined GPX file.
In situations like this, the map on the watch isn’t detailed enough to be useful and we ended up pulling out our phones. We primarily used MapOut ($8 AUD), but I also used Gaia GPS (subscription based). Note that these apps seem to be better on iPhone compared to Android. My favourite feature of MapOut is how easy it is to determine the distance between two points on a GPX file when offline. It also displays the elevation profile and ascent/descent between those two points in realtime. I am a long term user of Gaia and think it is a more developed platform compared to MapOut. However, I think it is lacking a quick and easy offline method of determining the distance and elevation gain between two points on a GPX file. They have recently introduced some features to partially address this problem, but Gaia still can’t match the ease and speed of MapOut in this aspect.
On the FKT, the main reason I used Gaia was to have access to various types of satellite imagery and topographic maps. This comes in handy as the OpenStreetMap (OSM) route isn’t always correct (since the AAWT isn’t a very popular track). For some reason, the Google Maps route can often be correct when OSM is wrong. Sometimes they are both wrong. I liked that I could use many different types of topographic maps and satellite imagery in Gaia to help determine what is most likely the correct route. Using various GPX files of past hikers and overlaying the Strava heatmap also helped. All of these strategies helped us avoid wasting time when the track disappeared (as it likes to do on the AAWT).
Paul and I spent a long time questioning the best way to recharge our head torches and other devices. We decided on taking a 10000mAh powerbank for recharging our phones and watches, along with picking up head torch batteries for the coming night at each drop (Paul and I used AAAs and 18650s respectively). We also had spare powerbanks in occasional drops, and swapped the 10000mAh bank we were carrying twice. Suffice to say we never ran out of power.
Overall, I think it was a good setup, but not optimally lightweight. It didn’t involve buying a lot of new stuff as we already had most things, and it had good redundancy which was important.
The lightest setup probably involves only taking 18650 batteries (about the same amount of charge as a smartphone), and using them as a powerbank and your head torch battery (the Zebralight I took ran on an 18650 cell). However, we couldn’t think of a simple and reliable way to do this as it can be finicky and unreliable to recharge phones from 18650 cells using the lightweight chargers we knew of (Nitecore F2, Olight UC, Xtar PB2).
For this trip we primarily relied on Aquatabs for water purification. At the last minute I decided I wanted to take a water filter to supplement the Aquatabs and so that we didn’t have to wait 30 mins for purification. The idea was that the weight of the filter would easily be offset by carrying less water overall. It also meant we could also take more risks with carrying less water as we could instantly filter any water source we came across (apart from stagnant brown puddles).
After doing some research I ordered a Platypus Quickdraw and was excited it was compatible with the water bottles I was taking. However, I received a faulty product and didn’t have time to wait for the warranty replacement to arrive (this was a known issue and there was a replacement at my door before I finished the AAWT).
Sefan De Montis kindly gave me a 600mL Katadyn Be Free to take instead, and it ended up being surprisingly useful. I didn’t carry any water when there were lots of streams up ahead, often carrying 300-500mL less than I would have otherwise knowing I could drink as soon as I got to the next water source.
This strategy backfired a couple of times when I underestimated how much water I needed but it never became a big deal and overall was well worth it for an FKT.
Paul's gear choices
I thought it would be good to add a brief section about the different approaches Paul and I took when it came to gear. In general, Paul was significantly more spartan than me.
Paul’s approach was to have the minimum set of gear to keep him alive so he could focus all his time and energy on taking that next step forward. He left behind waterproof gloves (-2g), sunglasses (-27g), a head net (-10g), a wind jacket (-45g), ear plugs (-0.01g?), and head phones (-46g). He also took less warm gloves (-10g), and took thermal pants instead of wind pants+rain pants (+8g). I think that Paul is naturally a warmer person than me, but he certainly also has a higher tolerance for being cold and wet.
I wanted to highlight that Paul’s choices weren’t only driven by saving weight. Paul didn’t save much weight by ditching the ear plugs, however, he definitely saved time by not looking for them each night and not having to put them away in the morning. Paul didn’t have to consider where to put his sunglasses when it got dark, and never worried about breaking them. He didn’t have to stop to put on rain pants because he didn’t have any. There is obviously a counter argument for all of these things: ear plugs help you get better sleep, sunglasses reduce mental fatigue, and rain pants helps you stay warm and push in bad conditions. It’s just a matter of weighing the pros and cons about whether a given item will help get you to the finish line faster given your personal preference.
The interesting overall trend was that my gear choices tended to align with thru hiking, whereas Paul’s choices were adventure racing oriented. In fact, Paul’s adventure race experience permeated into every action he took. He was noticeably faster in just about everything he did. He was in race mode, whereas I was in ‘hike hard for a long time but not in a big rush’ mode. I wasn’t exactly wasting time, but I was afraid that being in race mode for the entire 11 days would cause mental drain, make me rush things, and lead to mistakes. As with all things, I suspect the optimal approach is somewhere in the middle and that is why we worked so well together.
If you have made it this far well done! Those are all the important gear choices I can think of. If you have any questions I didn’t answer feel free to send us an email on the Contact Us page. If you are keen to read about our strategy for the FKT you can find that here: AAWT FKT Tactics.