Equipment


This list is aimed at the novice hiker and is an overkill for seasoned professionals.


Good equipment can be expensive and will shadow the money you spent on booking the trail. The right equipment will however, make the hike a whole lot better. Many blogs and outdoor shops have comprehensive wish lists with a number of items. These lists are often an over kill, and many are duped into buying an array of equipment only to leave it behind just before the trip, mostly due to weight constraints.

As a beginner, I had no equipment barring my retired school bag which doubled up as a day hiking bag. Soon enough I realised this bag was not good enough. The professionals suggest that the weight of a backpack should not exceed a third of your body weight and if you unfit like me than its 20% of your body weight. Speaking to some professionals it seemed they all packed very light so I found it strange that they recommend a third or even 20% of your weight. ALL the hikers I spoke to agree a lighter backpack is the way to go. The magic target figure, I was told given the steep up hills and down hills of the otter trail was suggested at 13kg broken down possibly as follows:

Example of bag weight


This assumes you are able to share communal items amongst fellow walkers and excludes main wear on items such as your clothes, boots, hats, trekking poles etc. You can amend the list as you wish, and to that which you feel comfortable with. My suggestion however, is to do a trial day hike with a loaded backpack to see what weight you comfortable with. The best way to do this is include lots of water (1 lt is approximately 1 kg), and fill up as many containers as you can in the bag – say even 20 litres. On the hike you can empty water should the weight get too much until you get to a manageable weight. Aim for a starting weight of around 13kg, Co-hikers who carried above 18kg seemed to have had a tough time with the additional weight.
Okay, now that we have a target weight let’s look at many possible items to take along together with price estimates:


Equipment List - For Excel version see Links page
  
Above pricing are 2016 estimates in ZAR. Many of these items you may already have or don’t need at all.

Good dealers include Cape Union Mart, Due South, Outdoor Warehouse, Sportsman’s Warehouse, Trappers, Drifters, Mr Price Sport etc.


Boot or shoe

This is probably the one item you will need to get first. They need to be worn in well before the hike. Many people prefer boots instead of trail shoes or runners. However, some prefer trail shoes and will not use anything else. Boots provide great ankle support, traction as well as weathering, whilst trail shoes provide good flexibility and comfort. Generally, trail shoes are more suited to the agile and fit, but I would say that most hikers on the otter use boots. I guess it’s a personal preference. 
Fitting on a boot can be a painstaking exercise; you can use the following guidelines to assist


  • Do a fitting of the boots in the afternoon when your feet have swelled a bit more.
  • Generally get one size bigger (wider) as your feet will swell during long hikes. Half sizes are generally wider and may suit you better.
  • Wear double socks when fitting on the boot. When hiking some hikers wear two pairs of socks to prevent blisters – a liner and an outer sock. Good hiking socks include wool and are somewhat thick, so keep this in mind when choosing a boot.
  • Leather generally expands better than synthetic materials. Leather is also hard-wearing.
  • Synthetic material (gore-tex) is lighter than leather and wears in quicker. Many professionals prefer lighter weight on the feet.
  • Get a water resistant boot- you don’t want wet feet during rain or crossing through puddles. No matter how waterproof a boot is, water will seep through from the top during rain. A waterproof gaiter or waterproof trouser is useful in preventing this.
  • Do not take too old or worn out boots, the last thing you need is walking around with an unstable “duct-tape infested” boot. 


It may take a while to find the right boot, so don’t rush into buying one. Try many different types and brands before choosing the one for you. Also be careful when buying at online retailers as you cannot try them before purchasing.

Taking along extra shoe lace is a good idea.


Backpack

Many first time hikers are put off by the exorbitant costs of a good bag. 

I visited a number of shops to fit on many different type of bags and was advised that I need a minimum 50lt bag, but preferably 65lt. One opinion was getting a small bag so it will force you to take less, whilst the majority of opinions were to get a bigger bag just in case. Fitting on a bag can be a painstaking task especially without the right knowledge. Most salesmen have no idea on the correct way to fit a bag, but rather seemed focus on getting the sale. Ideally the bag should be filled with around 15kg of something and then tried on. Every bag has a different fit and depending on your physique you may need to try on a good number of bags to find the right fit. More details on the correct fit can be found here: Fitting and Knowlege 
  1. Bags should contain some rain cover, this is a must so if your bag does not have a built in rain cover, then please buy a separate one.
  2. Some bags have a separate easily accessible compartment at the bottom for your sleeping bag; this is useful especially if you don’t want to empty your whole bag to get to the bottom.
  3. Most modern bags are hydration compatible, implying that it has a separate water bladder compartment inside the bag with an outlet for the pipe. Obviously you have to take some precaution to prevent getting everything wet in the event of a leak.
  4. A good multi-day trekking bag consists of an internal lightweight metal frame between the back/shoulder straps and the bag to provide good support.
Again the bag should not be bought just before the hike, but rather trained with and adjusted accordingly prior to the Otter hike. When packing the bag, the weight distribution of the backpack is also important.


Bag weight distribution

There are a number of hiking clubs and companies which rent out bags should you not wish to purchase one.


Sleeping bag

Luckily, the Otter trail does not require specialist sleeping bags for extreme weather conditions. Any compact sleeping bag should do. Synthetic ones are somewhat cheaper than duck down, whereas the latter may be lighter and more specific for extreme conditions. Duck downs also take much longer to dry should they get wet whilst hiking. Many of the compact sleeping bags especially cowls are really narrow, so if you big or claustrophobic, make sure you comfortable with it.

The overnight huts on the otter trail have a 3 inch-thick mattress (gym type mattress) which is fairly comfortable. Should you wish to leave out the sleeping bag and opt for a decent light weight blanket this is also possible. The blanket must be fairly warm.

Get a dry bag for your sleeping bag, and keep it in there all the time- as you will not be able to sleep in a wet sleeping bag. Alternatively a dustbin bag or similar will work just as well.
For the pillow you can use  a blow up type or even your bag- particularly the back part which is well padded. Alternatively use your sleeping bag cover/ dry bag or even take along a pillow case and fill it with extra clothing. 


Toilet roll or wet wipes

Take whatever you feel comfy with, although it is said that 1 ply lasts longer :)  The toilets at each hut were surprisingly clean.


Survival bag

This is for placing your bag into when crossing the rivers to keep the water out. Ideally place your entire bag into this, then roll it up a bit trapping as much air as possible and finally roll the top and tie it up with elastic bands, string, tape, or cable ties (watch when removing) etc. for floating on the water when crossing rivers. Make sure there are no sharp objects or even trekking poles loose which can rip the bag. Should you puncture the bag, duct tape does not work too well, rather use box tape.

The K-Way type survival bags from Cape Union Mart are just fine or even use a really thick dustbin bag for this although this is not recommended. 

Headlamp

Any good headlamp will do. The common energizer type headlamps are slightly dim so rather go with a headlamp that has a rating of at least 100 lumens, but preferably 200 + lumens. The LED lenser and Petzl ones are good but expensive.  You may need to take along an extra set of batteries with. rechargeable batteries are good but you could take the disposable type which you don’t have to carry around once flat.



Night light idea: Wrap your headlight around your bottle of water for ambient lighting in the hut or anywhere outside.



Pocket knife or tool

You should take a lightweight and compact knife with. The Swiss type is fine but a small Leatherman type is even better with the added functionality of a scissors and other tools which could be useful.


 Water bottle or hydration bladder

You would need to carry a minimum of 1.5litres of water. Carry more if you get dehydrated quicker. Drinking water is usually available every few kilometres as per the official map; through rivers or at the hut through rain water tanks, so 1.5 litres carry on should be sufficient if you manage it properly. Its good practice to refill at every water point!

Bladders are useful as they fit into your bag and can easily be accessed through the water pipe whilst you walking. However, they can be difficult to fill up as you need to open your bag and empty a part of it to get to the bladder each time you need to fill up. This can be a daunting task at rivers especially if you don’t have a bottle to help you. Some brands of bladders have a small inlet which is difficult to fill up. There is also the risk of something puncturing it, and the water leaking into your bag. You can place the bladder into a plastic or similar bag to mitigate this risk. 

Two different salesmen recommended that a 3 litre bladder be only filled to a maximum of 2 litres for ease of use and to prevent bursting.  I also understand that you cannot use isotonic and other mixtures/additives in the bladder, although most co-hikers ignored this recommendation. I must say I am not a big fan of bladders as I bought a cheaper one while training and had endless hassles with it from leaks to difficulty in drinking and comfort. I opted then for 2 water bottles with an easily accessible side holster instead which was a pleasure.


Any type of water bottle should be sufficient so for 1.5 litres water, take a 1lt and a 500ml bottle. The Bobble brand provides filtration for any silt and can be useful together with water purification tablets or drops. There are some fancy bottles at the stores, with insulation features which will keep your water cool.

I have been told that the water is safe at most rivers and at the hut but take precaution and purify the water just in case. We had no problem drinking this water, although we used tablets or drops to purify. There are some rivers which pass through informal settlements and the water may be polluted- I was told the Elandbos River on day 3 is polluted. Certain blogs have accounts of hikers who picked up slight bugs from the water. There are purification tablets and drops at most retailers. Some tablets purify the water in 30 minutes whereas others in 10 minutes. Ideally you would want the tablets which take less time to purify. When you get to a river you don’t have the time to wait and just want to drink. However, the quick working tablets taste a lot worse than the long working ones (my experience), so I took a bit of both and only used the quick working ones when needed. 

Tip: Water bottles can be a mission to reach whilst walking as they usually kept on the side of the bag behind you. To assist get a pouch for the bottle which you can hook onto the hip belt of the bag which is on the front/side so it’s a whole lot easier to reach whilst walking.


Trekking poles

Some hikers say this is a must, and some feel it’s just unnecessary weight. With all the steep inclines and declines of the hike, I would recommend you take along at least one trekking pole, which doubles up as a weapon

Trekking poles relieve a lot of pressure off the knees and the back during the many steep ascends and descents. You should get use to walking with these beforehand. Most modern bags have a hook on the outside of the bag to keep these when you don’t need them- keep in mind they weight around 300 grams each so don’t plan on keeping them on the bag all the time. 

There are plenty different types of trekking poles, some with nifty features such as a camera mono-pod. Most of them fold up to a compact size which is needed for easy storage on the bag. 

The twist lock type poles can be problematic as they keep unlocking on its own, the flick lock type are better in this regard.  The carbon ones are much lighter and stronger but cost much more. I don’t think you need any of these fancy ones for the Otter Terrain- the normal and cheap Mr Price sport ones will do. 


Foam or cork hand grips are better compared to the standard plastic grips especially for blisters. If your poles come with interchangeable tips, the standard one will do. The steel tips together with mud stopper/ basket are the best for the Otter terrain



Steel Tip


Mud Basket

 

Some prefer walking sticks (with graffiti of all their hiking achievements). They are much heavier and cannot compact up easily. If you forgot your trekking pole of stick, pick up one on the hike. Look for one that is lightweight, sturdy and splint free.




  1. When hiking uphill: Shorten the poles by a few inches to increase load-bearing pressure.
  2. When going downhill: Lengthen the poles a few inches for better balance and control.
  3. On level ground: Your forearms should be parallel to the ground when you're holding the grips and the tips are on the ground.

Sunglasses


Polarised is better for clearer vision especially in the harsher South African Sun. Sunglasses also protect against the wind which can dry your eyes out.


Dry bags and ziplock bags

Dry bags keep clothes, sleeping bags and other sensitive items protected in the event water leaks into your bag from rain, accident or whilst crossing a river. These bags are available in light weight material and in different sizes. 


Dry Bags

Ziplock bags are good to pack many things from your medicine to your food and even your maps and cellphones.

Tip: to reduce bag weight repack all medicine boxes and other items into ziplock bags or bank packets.


Light towel

There are many swimming spots on the otter hike and showers at each hut. A conventional towel may be too heavy to carry. Lightweight towels usually made of microfiber weigh less than 100 grams for a medium sized one and around 300 grams for a larger one. They are not the same as your home towels but will serve the purpose.


Shirt and trousers


Hiking shirts and trousers are available from nearly all outdoor outlets. If you don’t mind spending a bit extra, get the quick drying, wicking and UV resistant fabric gear. The trousers also have zip-off convertible legs which can easily be converted to shorts and used for swimming as well. A long trouser will help to prevent grazing, so if you going to hike in short pants – consider getting gaiters which will also assist to keep water out of your boots during rain. The long sleeve shirts prevent sunburn and can be easily folded to short sleeve. They also have good ventilation.

Spend the extra bit here if you can, as good hiking clothes makes the hike more comfortable!Good brands include First Ascent, K-Way, Columbia, Hi-tec, Mr Price Sports and even Cape Storm.

Avoid cotton rich products.



Raincoat


The otter trail area experiences a fair amount of rain throughout the year. My opinion is to rather get a decent rain coat as opposed to a flimsy emergency poncho. The Otter terrain varies into lush forests and a flimsy poncho or raincoat will get torn in no time. The raincoat can also be used as a windbreaker and for effective warming when used with other layers of clothing.




Average Rainfall
  
Raincoats are water resistant which also means that your perspiration whilst hiking stays in. Get a raincoat which has some adjustable ventilation under the arms or on other areas which will make it more comfortable. A raincoat which is worn for long periods, encourages perspiration and can affect your hydration levels.


Socks


Getting a good sock will assist with preventing blisters. Many hiking clubs place a lot of emphasis on a good sock. Good hiking socks include a combination of various fabrics including wool (preferably mohair) which has excellent wicking properties. Avoid cotton rich socks which retain moisture. The idea is to keep your feet as dry as possible to prevent blisters.
  •  Wool and polyester has both moisture wicking and quick drying time properties
  •  Acrylic provides insulation, a soft feel and wicks moisture well
  •  Nylon gives elasticity as well as strength to the sock
  •  Spandex functions mainly as an elastic material to ensure a snug fit
  •  Gore-Tex is a breathable membrane
Another common option is to wear 2 pairs of socks - a lightweight inner sock and an outer sock to prevent friction and keep blisters away. Note that not all people suffer from blisters, so normal socks may work for some.

Tip:  To further prevent blisters, apply a coat of Vaseline or other anti-chaffing crème (Loobit, or even baby nappy rash crème) to your feet.  You can also use powder in your sock to keep your feet dry. We managed to get our boots filled with water during rain, as we did not have waterproof trousers nor gaiters.. Applying generous amounts of Vaseline to the feet seemed to create a liquid waterproof barrier preventing blisters.

Tip: Take at least two pairs of socks with on hiking. When you stop for a break take off your shoes and socks, and allow your feet to dry. Wear a fresh pair of socks when you start hiking again. In this way alternate your socks keeping your feet dry more often.


Cutlery


Any spork, plate and cup will do. I took a medium sized lightweight metal bowl with a lid instead of a plate. This allowed me to use it for cereal as well as store any left overs.

Any lightweight/compact stove will do. Ensure the gas canisters are the correct size and fit into your stove model. We took along 8 x 250gm canisters for the 12 of us for the 5 days. This was more than sufficient for 4 days of breakfasts and 2 suppers as well as some in between tea/ coffee breaks. We had braai’s (barbeque) for the first 2 days and used the hut fire for this.  Lunches were mostly snacks which did not require heating. Ideally, you do not want to do any cooking during the daytime whilst hiking.

Remember that many airlines do not allow flying with gas canisters, so you may have to buy these after landing. Also keep this point in mind if you have specific stove tops which require specialised gas canisters. General gas canisters should be available in Plettenberg (Cape Union) or at other larger stores.


Lighting fires at the hut requires a fair amount of kindling. We took along firelighters to assist with this. Also take along a good few lighters and waterproof matches, the wet conditions plays havoc on these. If you forget firelighters or candles to kindle the fire, ensure you gather a generous supply of twigs to start the fire. 


First Aid

You will need at least one first aid kit amongst the 12 of you. This kit needs to include a range of communal items but exclude personal medication. This following is a possible list but not a prescribed list. Please consult your doctor before taking any medication.

 
Tip: repack all bulky boxes into small zip lock type bags to reduce space and weight. All medication should be waterproofed.

Be careful to avoid injuring yourself especially during the first day while rock hopping and adjusting to your bag weight. Take the extra time to carefully monitor the terrain at all times. Do not hike alone. ALWAYS walk together with someone. Exit routes are well marked on the map in case of an emergency. We made a list of each hiker together with cell phone numbers, next of kin contact details and allergy /medical aid info just in case. Luckily we were injury free and came back with a largely unused first aid kit.

The terrain has some risks, especially when wet. There are many steep inclines and declines which take a toll on the body especially the knees, thighs, back, calves’ and feet. You may want to pay special attention in developing these areas before the hike. There is a fair amount of rock climbing particularly on day 4. Be prepared for this and take extra precaution especially when wet.

There are three dangerous snake types indigenous to this area, namely the Puff Adder, Rinkhal and Cape Cobra. We were (un)fortunate to come across a Puff Adder swimming along the rock pool at the waterfall. You should be aware that these exist but are not common. In summary, if bitten do not unnecessarily move the patient or try and administer anything. Keep the person calm and call for help immediately. Cell phone signal is erratic, but usually found at higher ground. If possible take a picture or description of the snake which could assist with anti-toxins at the hospital. 

The following numbers can assist:

Emergency - 112 (Cell), 10177 (Ambulance), 082911 (Netcare), 084124 (ER24) 021 480 7700 (W Cape Emergency), 10111 (SAPS)

Poison / Snake Bites - 0800 333 444 (National) , 021 931 6129 (Tygerberg) 021 658 5428 /689 5227 (Red Cross poison); 0431 491 077 (Eastern Cape)

SANPARKS 042 281 1607 (Park Headquarters); 072 917 4474 (Emergency Ranger- Natures Valley); 072 917 5079 (Emergency Ranger- Storms River)



Communal items

The more items you share amongst yourselves the better it will be for your individual pack weight. We were fortunate to have 12 friends who were willing to share items; this may not be possible for everyone.

Each person carried approximately 500grams of communal items, which include:




 Food

Our starting point was 3kg of food pp, excluding snacks at a further minimum 1kg pp. Avoid tin foods as these can be heavy. All foods should be instant with only water to be added. We created a menu and worked from there. Make your own menu.



Example of a food menu
Meat which is vacuum sealed should last till day 2. Keep it away from the sun, ideally tucked away in your sleeping bag.

Snacks can include energy bars- preferably low GI, protein bars (after a hike), trail mix, gums, sweets, biltong as well as chocolates. Too much simple sugar especially early in the morning is not a good idea; rather keep to low GI or high Carbs and space out your energy throughout the day. Protein is good after the hike to assist with muscle recovery.

Drinks can include Game, Tang, low GI powdered drinks and Rehydrate (sports). Go easy on the mixes especially if your body is not used to it.

Sometime ago, you could order food and drinks for the fourth night which was delivered by the rangers. We were advised that this is no longer the case. Very unfortunate :(

Although we had water at the huts every day, many people have suggested that this is always not the case, be prepared for this.


Camera


This is a must for recording memories. Take along a good camera, protected in a waterproof bag. Also take along spare batteries and memory cards. Lightweight, weatherproof cameras with a good optical zoom are more versatile than SLR’s. I was adventurous enough to take along my digital SLR but struggled with its bulkiness especially since it was most of the time in my backpack and strenuously accessible. However, the picture quality of a good SLR Camera cannot compare. 



Other

Goggles and snorkels were well worth the space it occupied. We found a place to snorkel at nearly every day of the trail. There are a number of beaches and rock pools, with a good amount of marine life.

You should take along one set of flip flops, aqua shoe or even crocs (as ugly as they are). After a long day of hiking and for river crossings you will need them. An open type sandal or croc) with a back strap is better to give your feet some air after a hike but good enough to cross rocky rivers with.

There are plenty “what if” scenarios that come to mind when packing. For example “what if it gets too cold, let me take some thermal underwear” or “what if I run short of food, let me take extra food with”. Do not indulge these thoughts too much as you will suffer more with the extra weight.



37 comments:

  1. Excellent information and details! very helpful

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  2. Awesome info guys love the info :)

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  3. This is an incredible account. Thank you for your momentous effort in compiling this.

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  4. Excellent. !!!! Jus fin. The tugela gorge & amphithere /drakensberg trails yesterday, this will prepare us 4da ultimate: "otter-trail" tnx a million

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  5. Great advise-- Thanks for all the helpful info!!

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    1. Glad you found it useful, please feel free to share your own tips

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  6. Hi any advice please on what temperature expected at night in May I am about to buy a sleeping bag??

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    1. Hi, There are some average temperatures on the bookings tab, may is fairly cool but rainy. However, weather can be erratic and unpredictable.
      I don't think you need a very technical sleeping bag (any mild temperature rating should do) as the cabins are fairly well shielded with a gym type mattress. Protect your sleeping bag from the rain.

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  7. Superb buddy..thanks very detailed and helpful..

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  8. Very nice info! Thank you for all the effort. One problem I would like to mention and warn people about is that they should not order through Deal Extreme. We ordered stuff through them, only to realize afterwards that it is being shipped via normal post ending up at the South African Post Office. As we all know, that is like throwing money in the water.. :-(

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    1. Thanks. Yes you are correct. Deal Extreme items does take a while to get to SA. They can be used if you are in no rush to get your items, depending on SAPO obviously. Thanks

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  9. Hey, we are thinking of doing the otter trail with our 13 month old? I have done it previously but want to do it again with husband and little one. Do you think it's advisable?

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    1. Hi Marlie, I think the minimum age allowed on the trail is 12 years.

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  10. Thanks for all this info, your blog has been incredibly useful!

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  11. Wow...you've gone the extra mile for us...your info has been invaluable and much appreciated-thank you kindly!

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  12. Hi All hikers, anyone that did the Otter Trail before, can i do the hike with a 60l bag , or do i need a bigger Camping bag?

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    1. Hi Kyle, Yes a 60l should be big enough. Try and carry light. All the best!

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  13. I am a first time hiker and just got back from the otter trail with some colleagues. Your packing list made it very easy for us. Thanks a million

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    1. Pleasure, please feel free to share your own experiences and tips

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  14. I like to commend you, this is awesome, You made my understanding of hiking the otter trail easy.

    Irsh

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  15. Good day evening. I hope you can help. I have been training with salomon and not a hiking boot. will this be a problem? I am leaving for my trail in 3 weeks. or should I buy a boot and walk in it for the 3 weeks.
    Also do you recommend me hiring the bag from hiking trail transfers or buying my own.

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    1. Hi Yolanda,
      Its a personal choice. Some prefer boots but the more agile prefer hiking shoes. Both will work.

      Hiring a bag is also an option, it should be sufficient for your storage (ideally 65l+) with a rain cover.

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  16. Great information! Thanks for the help. We are doing the trail in June. Any idea what the water temperature will be for river crossings? If you hit the river at low tides, how deep will you be in the water? I've watched some videos where the hikers are chest deep. Thanks!

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    1. The river crossings are somewhat unpredictable. The temperature on the rivers are slightly colder than ambient temperature but not too far off if that makes sense.
      Low tides are generally shallow, but it would also depend on the average rainfall over the previous few days. Generally most people who adhere to low tide times have ease crossing the rivers. Good luck!

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  17. Great advice! Thanks!
    I wanted to know which month you did the hike. I'm going next month and I'm thinking it may be too cold to swim /snorkel?...

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  18. Hi, May should be fine to do a bit of snorkeling.

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  19. Hi. I know you said 60l bag will do. How about a 55l? Thanks for all the advice !!

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  20. Hi. I know you said a 60l bag will do. I have a 55l. Is that ok? Thanks again for all the help!!

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    1. Hi, a 55l bag would be good enough, pack light

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  21. Hi there thank you so much for the simple practical guide!! We are doing Otter Trail next week for the first time and I have been feeling rather unsure, but with this information, I feel less worried.!
    Once again many thanks. Will let you know how we do!

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    1. Great, please let us know how it went.

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  22. Hi there thank you so much for the simple practical guide!! We are doing Otter Trail next week for the first time and I have been feeling rather unsure, but with this information, I feel less worried.!
    Once again many thanks. Will let you know how we do!

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  23. ok...now we know..let's do this☆♡☆♡

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  24. Very helpful. Thanks for posting. I was wondering if there was braai grids at the huts or did you take one along. Also, I was looking at the 35l K-Way Kilimanjaro '12 Daypack, but it seems I am underestimating the amount of lt required for the gear I need to take.

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    1. Yes, there are average condition grids available. a 35l pack may be a bit too small.

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  25. Very helpful indeed, hiking in Jan.

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