Five things to consider before tackling a winter tramp

Department of Conservation —  27/05/2019

This is a guest blog by Ashlyn Oswalt. Ashlyn is an American expat who’s been living in New Zealand for a year. She’s a keen tramper and has noticed that not all visitors to New Zealand are properly equipped when they head into the outdoors. Safety first is her key message and to make sure people are properly prepared, she’s put together a list of things to consider before tackling a winter tramp.

Kepler in snow.jpg

Kelper in the snow. 📷: DOC


Tackling a winter tramp can be a great way to beat the seasonal blues and cross a trail off your bucket list. Winter tramps can often mean less crowds on trails and spectacular views unrivalled by warmer months. New Zealand’s winters can be harsh, so we must plan and prepare for a myriad of conditions. Here’s a few tips how;

Plan and be realistic. Before choosing the winter tramp you want to tackle, be realistic about your tramping ability in the winter. A tramp that might take you four hours roundtrip in the summer could double if the track is covered in ice or snow. Being realistic about both your physical fitness and your ability to stay warm and comfortable in cold conditions is key to an enjoyable tramp. Additionally, plan the route ahead of time and study maps and track guides. Oftentimes, winter conditions can leave less obvious tracks more difficult to find, making a tramp even longer than expected. Finally, remember to check track alerts on DOC’s website or call the local DOC Visitor Centre ahead of time to make sure the track’s access road is open and that your car can safely get to the trailhead. Many New Zealand trailheads can be up steep and slippery roads at the best of time, so be realistic of your vehicle’s ability as well! As always, if you’re uncomfortable, it is okay to turn back and save the tramp for another day.


Snowy Mt Tongariro. 📷: Jimmy Johnson (DOC)


Check the weather, then check again. Being prepared in the winter means knowing exactly what the weather forecast is calling for, and then preparing for worse. Be sure to investigate precipitation, avalanche warnings, and freezing temperatures before tackling a winter tramp. Considering the terrain of your tramp (is it loose gravel, paved, rugged and unkempt?) will allow you to mentally and physically prepare with the right gear. If the weather is taking a turn for the worse, postpone your tramp for a fairer weather day.

Layers, layers, and more layers. When considering how to dress for winter, layers are a great place to start. Finding comfortable, natural fibres like merino wool for your undergarments and working up to thicker, wind and water-resistant materials will keep you comfortable and warm for the long haul. Don’t forget the importance of dry, warm socks, hats, and gloves. Heat can escape from the tiniest areas of your body, so it’s important to stay covered up, have minimal skin exposed, and be prepared. You can always peel back layers if you become overheated, but you can’t add layers on.


Tackling a winter tramp in Fiordland. 📷: Ashlyn Oswalt


Bring goggles or sunglasses. Protecting your eyes while on a winter tramp is often a tip that goes unheeded. Light can reflect off snow, causing serious and irreversible damage to retinas, even in low light. Pack sunglasses or goggles that will keep your vision crystal clear.

Stay hydrated and bring snacks. The cold can often lower hunger and thirst levels, meaning we take less frequent breaks and can become hungry or dehydrated quicker. Be sure to pack ample water, preferably in a water bottle over a reservoir in case it freezes and take frequent snack breaks. Dried nuts and fruit provide a great source of energy and little preparation time, which means you can eat on the go!

Kime Hut in the snow.jpg

Kime Hut in the snow. 📷: DOC

Winter tramps can be incredibly rewarding, especially when following tips to keep you comfortable and safe. Plan, prepare, and enjoy your time in the serene outdoors. For more tips, visit DOC’s website.


5 responses to Five things to consider before tackling a winter tramp


    I would suggest carrying a tent especially if river crossings are required to reach a hut. If the river is flooded spend the night in the tent rather than risk drowning


    A locator beacon costs $15 for a day & up to $40 for 7 days. The latest person to die in the Tararua’s was said to be well prepared, problem is he’s dead & no he was not carrying a locator beacon.
    Over the years I’ve met some bloody idiots mostly from overseas who seem to think our national parks are really easy to navigate any time of the year, well they are not, for example, I’ve seen snow on the Tararua tops in the middle of summer.

    Barb Cahalane 14/06/2019 at 10:23 am

    Excellent five things to consider BUT I would add – TAKE an EPIRB!
    if you get lost, break your leg – you need to be able to give your rescuers all the help they can – what is $600 when it could be your life
    saves time, rescuers lives as well


    Goggles can make the difference between being stuck due to wind/snow/hail effectively leaving you unable to see a thing! Have a clear or yellow tinted pair that you can wear over your sunglasses, that way even when it’s getting dark you can still protect your eyes.

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