Authors: Cole and Sam Johnston - Why should you listen to us? We are a pair of adventure-loving kiwi brothers with a lifetime of experience in New Zealand's outdoors and in more recent years guiding visitors on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
The Tongariro Crossing is one of the most spectacular day hikes in the world, so there's a lot of people wanting to give it a go. As a result, one of the most common questions we get is: Am I fit enough to hike the Tongariro Crossing/how hard is it? In this post we do our best to answer that question and explore a few different factors including an overview of the track itself, what it's like during different seasons, your normal activity level, previous experiences and more. Lastly, we finish off with a few tips to make the Crossing easier!
The Tongariro Crossing winds over mountainous terrain, past active volcanos, steaming craters, vivid Emerald Lakes, ancient lava flows, around the base of Mount Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom) and so much more. Most of the track is a well formed trail, the exception being two rocky and slippery (if wet or icy) uphill sections, and one steep downhill scree slope with loose footing.
It’s 19.4km (12.05mi) long, you start out at 1,120m (3,600ft) from Mangatepopo and climb up to 1,868m (6,199ft) on top of the Red Crater before dropping down to 760m (2,490ft) to finish at the Ketetahi Carpark. The trail is all uphill or flat until the top of the Red Crater and then mostly downhill from there, making for a relatively simple up/down contour. This means that while it is a reasonably long day of hiking the track passes quickly, not to mention you’ll be too engrossed with the incredible views to notice!
The vast majority of people hike the Crossing between November – April, there is less chance of having significant snowfall, the days are longer and there’s a better change of good weather! Naturally if there is bad weather or you decide to hike the Crossing during winter when there is snow and ice present you can expect the Crossing to take you longer. If you want more info have a quick read of our blog about Tongariro Crossing Weather and the best time to hike.
In our opinion if you have a moderate fitness level, in summer conditions you’ll be fit enough to hike the crossing, some parts may be a challenge but it just adds to the reward!
Average walking time (including stops):
18 – 40: Most people should be able to hike the crossing in 7 hours or less
40 – 60: You may find the Crossing a challenge but completely doable if you have a normal level of fitness
60+: If you have a moderate level of fitness you should be able to complete the crossing in 7 – 8 hours
A few factors to consider:
What we define as ‘moderate’ fitness:
- Make a regular habit of exercising 2 – 4 times a week
- Able to happily walk for a few hours on uneven terrain
- Don’t mind walking/hiking up hills
Personal fitness level: If you consider yourself to be ‘above moderate’ you will find the crossing easier, if you think your ‘below moderate’ you will find the crossing more of a challenge but will find it very rewarding if you’re up for it!
Age: Naturally age does take its toll so the older you are the harder you’ll find the crossing
Previous experience: If you have done a bit of hiking/tramping previously you will be surer on your feet and therefore be faster
Weather: Naturally if it is bad weather the track can become wet and slippery, therefore talking longer than usual.
Hiking in a group: Hiking as part of a group may take add a little time to your hike, the larger the group the longer it will take. However this can be a great thing! It gives you more time to enjoy the hike, take in the views, get plenty of great photos and make the most of this once in a lifetime experience
Good footwear: Having a supportive, worn in pair of shoes or boots with plenty of tread can make all the difference! You will feel surer on your feet, less likely to slip, and even if you do it won’t bother your ankles. If you want to know how to choose the right footwear read our post all about it here.
The right food and drink: Make sure you have plenty of water (at least 2L), and some real food that will keep you sustained throughout the day. There’s nothing wrong with a sugary snack to get you up a steep section, but it won’t keep you going for 7 hours so take some nuts, muesli bars, fruit etc for snacks and something substantial for lunch.
Hiking poles: Not many people use hiking poles but they can make a huge difference, especially for those with sore knees or hips. By using poles correctly you can transfer a lot of your weight to your arms, provide much greater stability, speed up and reduce the impact on your joints. We highly recommend hiking poles for the Tongariro Crossing!
Bring the right clothing: You don’t want to end up wet or cold on the Crossing as it will make your day harder, so come prepared with the right clothing so it’s not an issue! Read our post about how to prepare for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing for more info.
Pick a good weather day: Be sure to check the weather and hike at the right time of year!
Check out our other blog posts about the Crossing!
• How to get to the Crossing and where to stay
• What is the weather like on the Crossing and when is the best time to hike it?
• How to prepare for the Crossing and what to pack
• What boots or shoes should I wear for the Crossing?
• What is the Tongariro Alpine Crossing?