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How to prepare for the Tongariro Crossing and what to pack

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 Alpine Crossing winds through exposed, high altitude environments and has significant weather changes between seasons. In this post, we talk about what features to look for in your key pieces of equipment and how we recommend packing for summer and winter Crossings.

Key equipment for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing (some only required during winter conditions):

Warm headwear - Having nice warm headwear is a must when hiking the Crossing, there is nothing worse than feeling the cold wind biting your ears! There are numerous options available, but a nice warm woolen or fleece beanie is the most common option for most, something that you can easily pop your jacket hood over the top of if it gets rainy.

Waterproof jacket - A good waterproof jacket is one of the most essential pieces of equipment for the Crossing, the weather varies a lot so you never quite know what you'll get, but even if it doesn't rain you'll be glad to have a jacket to protect you from any wind chill you encounter. There are plenty of options available, but the most versatile is a waterproof shell with no lining, that way you can have as many or as few layers as you like underneath. For example, you might have a beautiful warm day but get a bit of rain, so you'll want to stay dry without overheating. The most common material for a good waterproof shell is Gortex, but there are other options available.

Warm under layers - Under layers vary greatly, some layers lose their insulation properties when they get wet, so be sure to wear a waterproof jacket when it's raining, so you keep your underlayers nice and dry. Wool and fleece are probably the most common materials, fleece dries very quickly, and wool still has good insulation when wet, so it often comes down to personal preference. Down layers are super warm but will be next to useless if they get wet, so be wary of sweating into them or getting rained on, often we carry a down layer to pop on when we stop simply because they are light and easily stuffed in the top of your pack. Leave the denim at home, it's heavy and no good in the wet.

Pants outer layer - A good pair of hiking pants can be a great addition to your hiking kit if you have heavy rain forecasted and are still going ahead with the Crossing it's best to have a fully waterproof pair of pants similar to your outer jacket lining. In better weather people will commonly wear a full-length water-resistant pant, these come in many different types but are great for keeping warm, preventing sunburn, keeping you dry in quick showers and helping keep your boots dry.


Base layers - Warm base layers are essential, they pack down light and don't take up much space but can make a world of difference in bad weather, so it's always good to bring them along. Different types of synthetic base layers are warm and will dry quick, wool is an excellent option as it still provides good warmth if wet and merino wool, in particular, is a star performer. Merino base layers don't itch like traditional wool, they have excellent insulation properties and perform when wet, but they do come at an extra cost.


Pack or bag - Naturally, a good backpack is a must for the Crossing as you need to carry food, water, clothing, and other equipment. Pack sizes are expressed in liters, and a 20 – 40L pack will do the trick for the Tongariro Crossing depending on how much gear you are taking. As with most hiking equipment you need to be able to keep your pack, or at least the inside of it, dry. We highly recommend taking a pack liner, a pack cover, or both – a pack liner is a waterproof layer that lines the inside of your pack, you can buy a proper one, use a dry bag, or simply use a small rubbish bag to keep the contents of your pack dry. Alternatively, a pack cover is designed to go over the outside of your pack to shield it from the elements, much like a raincoat for your body. It's best to use both a liner and a cover if you know it's going to be rainy as this will ensure that both your pack and its contents will stay nice and dry.

Food and Water - The Tongariro Alpine Crossing takes most people 6-9 hours to complete, so you will need a good amount of food and water during this time as you will burn a lot of energy and need to stay hydrated. We recommend a minimum of 2 liters of water in either bottles or bladders, bladders can be a great option as they are more convenient, and you can drink on the go with no trouble. It's best to take pre-prepared or snack food as it gives you the option of eating in a hurry if necessary, this might be the case if it's cold, windy or wet when you stop to eat, nuts, trail mix, muesli bars, etc. are great for when you want something while you are walking.

Gloves - In colder conditions gloves can be a great accessory, it means you can stay warm while using your hands for hiking poles, cameras or simply to steady yourself in places, during winter a good pair of gloves becomes essential.

Hiking Poles - Hiking poles are often underrated as a hiking accessory, they can be particularly helpful on the Crossing as they provide an extra point of contact with the ground, giving you more stability and confidence in the uneven and slippery sections. The second half of the hike is also a long downhill wind that often gives people sore knees or hips, hiking poles significantly reduce the strain on your legs by putting some of the load on your arms instead and can be a huge help to those with sore joints or muscles. If you are quite a slow walker, they also tend to increase your speed as they distribute the load and provide added stability.

Boots and Footwear - Deciding what boots or footwear to wear for the Tongariro Crossing takes into account a lot of different factors and is very weather dependent, so we’ve written a whole article just for that! Check it out here.

 

Getting your key equipment right can be essential!

Packing list for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing during summer conditions

Naturally what you take on any given day for the Tongariro Crossing depends on the conditions on that day, but at a minimum we recommend taking the following during summer conditions:
•      Hiking boots or sturdy trail shoes (we highly recommend a proper pair of hiking boots)
•      Warm hiking socks
•      Thermal base layer top
•      Thermal base layer bottoms
•      Under layer top
•      Rain coat
•      Hiking or rain pants (not track pants or jeans)
•      Warm headwear
•      Backpack 20 – 50L
•      Minimum 2 litres of water
•      Sunhat
•      Sunglasses
•      First aid kit just in case

A nice sunny day on the Crossing!

Packing list for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing during winter conditions

Again what you take on any given day for the Tongariro Crossing depends on the conditions on that day, but this is our minimum recommended gear list for hiking the crossing during winter conditions – we highly recommend going with a qualified guide during winter unless you have extensive experience in crossing alpine environments:
•      A warm, full height pair of waterproof trekking or mountaineering boots
•      Long, warm hiking socks
•      Thermal base layer top
•      Thermal base layer bottom
•      Under layer top x3
•      Under layer Bottom x 1
•      Rain coat
•      Waterproof pants
•      Warm headwear
•      Backpack 20 – 50L
•      Minimum 2 litres of water
•      Sunglasses and sun protection
•      First aid kit just in case
•      EPIRB or emergency locator beacon
•      Any specialist equipment you will need for winter conditions in an alpine environment (Ice axe, crampons, helmet etc.)
•      Other equipment, clothing and protection needed for the given conditions

Hiking the Tongariro Alpine Crossing during winter is very different!
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