How to Prepare for the Kokoda Trail

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Dec 12, 2016

by HANA JO

Preparation is key when it comes to trekking and the historic Kokoda Trail is no exception. It’s a tough proposition for most people who attempt it so to give yourself the best chance, you need to be ready physically and mentally.

If you’ve trained as well as you can, you’ll be able to push yourself when necessary (but also know your limits). And as you go through your paces, you’ll start to comprehend the significant challenges posed by the track and acknowledge the courage and endurance of those who embarked on it 74 years ago under such different circumstances. The following tips will make sure you’re ready when you arrive in Papua New Guinea.

Kokoda Track

Image AJ Milla Del & Sean CC BY-ND 2.0

First things first 

Get a health check – it’s the green light you need to start preparing for your adventure. Next, ensure your passport is up to date, with at least six months before expiration. Be aware that you may need to provide evidence of your return or on-going ticket, proof of funds and details of your tour or itinerary.

Do your research 

Although it’s possible to do the track independently, going with a trekking company is a safer and much more convenient option and will also support the local communities. Start by looking into companies that have a Commercial Operations License. Find out about their accreditations and expertise; what’s included in the price (equipment, fees, porters, food, transfers etc); what is expected of you (what you’ll carry, how long you’ll walk for each day, chores you might be assigned); the time it will take to complete the tour (from six to 12 days); and read any online reviews before making your decision.

Kokoda Track

Image Alistair Kitchen CC BY 2.0 (also top)

Start training

Ideally, you should begin training six months out from the trip. Get your heart rate up with work-outs at least four times a week. Add short day hikes wearing your boots and carrying a light pack, gradually increasing your weekly distance and weight until you’ve reached your goal with at least a month to go. Aim to be walking up to nine hours a day with whatever you’ll need to carry, plus an extra quarter of the weight on top of that. Ask the company you’ve chosen for a guide and if it’s not included in the price, think about supporting the local workforce by hiring a porter to carry your equipment.

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Test your gear 

It’s very important to not only wear sturdy, quality hiking boots but to thoroughly break them in before you go to prevent blisters and pain while you’re on the Kokoda Trail. While you’re training, wear the socks you plan to take (a combination of a thin inner pair with a thicker pair on top will help blister-prone feet). Make sure you’ve also got your weighted pack so you can adjust the straps and wear them in.

Practise pitching your tent 

Depending on the trekking company you choose, you may need to carry a tent. If you do, assemble it and check for damage to the floor, seams and zips and ensure you have the correct number of pegs. If your tent is new, practise pitching it and packing it. Most tours will provide cooking equipment but if you’re taking your own, make sure you can get fuel for your stove and that everything is working properly.

Gather your equipment

The operator should provide you with a list of what you need to pack. Bear in mind that keeping things dry is key – the last thing you want is to find that your sleeping bag is wet when you unpack your bag. Prepare for rain and river crossings by ensuring you have proper dry bags for your spare clothes, a fast-dry towel (don’t take a regular cotton one – it won’t dry fast enough) and a sleeping bag.

Consider buying a waterproof pack cover and/or a liner for your bag (a heavy-duty garbage bag will also do the trick). It’s definitely worth investing in a head torch to keep your hands free when getting about at night, plus a silk sleeping-bag liner to protect your bag (silk dries faster than cotton) and to sleep in when it’s hot. Trekking poles will help you get through some of the tougher sections (seasoned hikers swear by them) and if you’re fussy about your water bottles or bladders, take your own (plan on carrying two litres at a time).

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Consider your outfits 

It’s going to be hot and humid along the track. When packing or buying clothes, remember any layers that touch the skin should be made of fabrics that wick away moisture; for everything else, go with light, quick-drying layers. Clothing from specialty outdoor brands will have features that come in handy: zip-off pant legs, more storage or pockets and a fit designed for carrying a pack. Wool-blend hiking socks are a great option. You’ll want to keep your feet dry and comfortable, too, so while packing lightweight sandals or shoes in your dry bag might be considered an indulgence, your feet will thank you for it!

Ioribaiwa Kokoda TrackIoribaiwa Kokoda TrackIoribaiwa Kokoda Track

Image Alistair Kitchen CC BY 2.0

Stay hydrated

It’s essential to keep up your energy and hydration all day when you’re on the trail. Your rations or food might be included with the tour but take along a selection of your favourite packaged high-energy snacks to boost your enthusiasm and happiness factor. Use hand sanitiser or antibacterial wipes before you eat and treat water with water-purification tablets or a SteriPEN (a tool that uses UV light to remove impurities) before drinking. Adding Gastrolyte or Hydralyte powder or tablets to your water is a good way to top up your electrolyte reserves.

Protect your skin

Take a broad-brimmed hat and a collared shirt or neckerchief (as well as sunscreen, of course). Long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, in conjunction with a DEET-based insect repellent, will keep mosquitoes off you at night. Invest in a pair of gaiters to stop rain, debris and bugs from getting into your boots.

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