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 regularly guide groups on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.
It is essential to be well prepared for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, the weather can change quickly and often, and you hike through a myriad of different terrain during the 19.4km hike. One of the most essential pieces of equipment is your footwear, as regular guides of the Tongariro Crossing, we can give you the expert knowledge on the right boots to wear. Read on to find out precisely what boots or shoes are best for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing!
A few things to know:
Ankle support – During the Crossing there are lots of rocky, uneven sections along with loose scree slopes, this means excellent ankle support is a must, so we recommend at least a mid-height boot which will give you good ankle support.
Wet weather – The weather changes all the time on the Tongariro Crossing, and you may get rain, fog or wet ground during your hike which will make your boots damp or wet. By using a proper hiking boot, you will give yourself more protection from the wet and keep your feet warm!
Comfort – having a comfortable boot is a must, the Tongariro Crossing takes most people 6-8 hours, that's a long time to be wearing the same boots! Be sure to have a proper fitting, a worn-in boot that feels comfortable with thick socks.
Materials – Most hiking boots fall into the category of synthetic or leather, both of which can be great. Synthetic boots will often wear in quicker and be lighter, but it's essential to make sure they have good water resistance – usually in the form of a Gortex lining. Leather boots are often heavier and take longer to wear in, but they have good waterproofing, warmth and will become long lasting and comfortable after you wear them in correctly.
Our recommendation: For most summer and spring conditions, a synthetic, mid-height boot with excellent water resistance and tread will suit just fine. You will have the ankle protection and grip you need for the trickier sections of the trail while being nice and light on your feet with water resistance just in case you do end up with a wet day.
A few things to know:
Ankle support – During winter conditions, you need the best ankle support you can find, as the trail will often be wet or icy and therefore a higher chance of losing your footing.
Wet weather – There is a higher chance of wet weather during winter and autumn, even if it's not raining your boots will probably still get wet if there is snow, therefore it's crucial to have a warm, waterproof boot.
Comfort – Same as during summer, comfort is a must! The Tongariro Crossing can take even longer during winter conditions, so you want to have nice comfortable boots that are the right size and well-worn in.
Materials – Leather is often the best option during winter, they are warmer and provide proper waterproofing, just be sure to have them well-worn in before the hike! Synthetic boots can still be a good winter option, but you need to make sure they are fully waterproof and have a warm lining along with thick socks that will stay warm even if they get wet (see the FAQ's below for more info on socks)
Crampon compatibility – If you are hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing during winter, be aware that there will often be snow and ice for the majority of the trail which usually means you will need crampons. Therefore, it's essential to check your boots are crampon compatible, most full height, waterproof boots will fit a strap on crampon no worries, but only some dedicated mountaineering boots will fit a clip-on crampon.
Warmth – Being much colder during winter, it is essential to have a warm pair of boots. Be sure that your boots have a nice warm lining and you have the right pair of socks to go with them (see below for more info on socks)
Our recommendation: For snowy and icy winter conditions a full height, leather boot with excellent traction and warmth is a good option. This will give you the ankle support you need for slippery conditions while keeping your feet warm and dry and should be compatible with strap on crampons. You can still use some synthetic boots, just be sure to check they have an excellent warm and waterproof lining and make sure you bring the right socks (see more about socks below)
How important is it to wear my boots in?
Wearing your boots in is a must! While it can take a little more time and effort to wear your boots in properly, it will save you a lot of pain and discomfort (and blisters) in the long run. After first buying your boots, wear them around the house for a few days to make sure you are happy with the size and fit (most companies will allow you to return or exchange your boots if they haven't been outside). Then gradually start doing longer and longer walks outside that include hills and uneven terrain to mold the boots to your feet nicely, if you plan on wearing a pack with your boots, be sure to wear a pack (or the equivalent weight) with your boots as you will walk differently when carrying weight on your back.
Do I need different boots during winter or in the snow?
Yes, the type of boot you need will vary drastically during a warm summer Tongariro Crossing versus a cold, snowy/icy winter Crossing. Read our summer and winter recommendations above to find out what boots are best in different conditions.
Can I do the Tongariro Crossing in running or trail shoes?
People do hike the Tongariro Crossing in running or trail shoes during summer, but we don't recommend it as you have no ankle support and less grip, which creates a higher risk of injury. Additionally, you will likely get a shoe full of scree during some sections of the Crossing, and they also give you less protection against the wet and cold, wet feet are more prone to blisters!
What socks should I wear?
What socks you should wear also changes depending on the conditions, most hiking socks are made of wool, polyester or a combination of both. Merino wool socks are now commonplace, these are itch free, regulate temperature well and will still keep your feet warm if they get wet. Fully synthetic socks wick moisture well but often won't be as warm as woolen socks. During warmer, dryer summer conditions a light to mid-weight ankle (usually just covers your ankle bone), or crew (often landing a few inches above your ankle bone) socks made of either wool or synthetic material will do the trick. During wet winter conditions, a thicker, primarily woolen sock of crew or calf height will keep you nice and warm while protecting you against a heavier boot.
Read REI’s in-depth article on how to choose hiking socks if you need more information.
Check out our other blog posts about the Crossing!
• What is the Tongariro Alpine 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
• How hard is the Tongariro Crossing? Am I fit enough to hike it?