A Kiwi on a ‘hut bagging’ challenge
People make their adventures memorable in all sorts of ways - from saving boarding passes and claiming peaks, to tallying up backcountry huts known as ‘hut bagging’. We chatted with a Kiwi hut bagger, Benjamin Pigott (@wekas_adventures), to see what it’s all about.
He has ticked off about 300 Department of Conservation (DOC) huts, with the goal of getting to every single one (over 1,000). He shared with us his favourite huts so far, his motivations, and tips for good hut etiquette that he has learned along the way.
A range of Benjamin’s hut photos feature on our new app Plan My Walk.
The app includes more than 1000+ NZ tracks, weather forecasts, track specific alerts, interactive gear lists and other useful planning advice. Go and check them out!
What inspired you to hut bag?
My inspiration for ‘hut bagging’ came after visiting Herepai and Roaring Stag huts when I was 12. This trip prompted me to put a map of the Tararua Ranges on my wall, and this was when I decided I was going to visit every hut in the Tararua Forest Park. I had completed this goal by the time I was 19, and my hut bagging has increased exponentially since then. Last year I visited over 100 huts, and I’m only 24 now, so I’d say I’m on track to visit them all.
What started as a seemingly impossible dream has become my lifestyle as I now work with the Department of Conservation as an Inspector. This involves assessing the condition of huts, tracks and structures to ensure they are safe, and check that they meet our service standards for visitors.
So why do you hut bag?
I think it’s quite a simple answer; huts encompass everything it means to be in the backcountry.
They provide a safe place to stay in the wilderness and cater to a wide range of recreational pursuits. I think we can all agree, there is nothing like sitting by a fire, sipping on a cuppa, reading the hut book and reflecting on a trip with a group of friends.
Hut bagging isn’t just about adding another to the tally, it is about the whole backcountry experience that huts provide.
I’ve faced many challenges during my ‘hut bagging’ travels. There are many physical challenges, such as sore feet, sleep deprivation, freezing cold temperatures and achy legs.
Mental challenges occur too though, and given our ready access to technology, life’s problems seem to follow us into the hills. One way to combat this is to turn flight mode on your phone (unless you require reception for safety purposes), to avoid getting cornered by notifications and everyday life. Enjoy your time in the mountains, your mental health will be all the better for it!
What's your favourite hut and why?
That's a tough question but if I had to boil it down to a single hut it would have to be Bluff Hut, located in the Hokitika catchment on the West Coast. It's a fairly difficult tramp given the high chance of rain, but is a very rewarding spot to visit.
Hut etiquette + tips and tricks:
- Don’t burn tin foil rubbish in the fire.
Not only do tinfoil wrappers not burn well and leave a mess, the particles that get carried up the chimney end up settling on the roof. With the next rain, these particles can end up in the water tank.
It always pays to check the hut water source too (if safe to do so) as rats and mice sometimes crawl into water tanks. DOC recommends boiling all untreated water – even if you can't see any issues, it doesn’t mean the water is safe to drink.
- Be respectful of everyone.
It doesn’t matter who is at a hut whether it’s trampers, hunters, runners, climbers or packrafters, everyone is equally entitled to be there. Be respectful of everyone’s space and gear, just because you got there first doesn’t mean you own half the hut.
Boil a cuppa for any newcomers, they might have a good yarn to tell.
- Pay your hut fees.
While some people may avoid paying, this doesn’t help the future of huts in the long run. If you’re a keen hut bagger, consider an annual pass (nine nights in serviced huts and it pays for itself).
Find out more about passes here.
- Restock the firewood and clean the hut.
Leave the hut better than you found it. Yes, this takes time, but a good half hour spent on a hut can really add to it's longevity and help the next group of people.
Collecting more wood than what you burn ensures that stocks won’t run out quickly. Setting a cold fireplace up with kindling is a great habit to get into before you leave. If a group turns up in the middle of the night cold and wet, they have a nice fire all set ready to go, it is a literal life saver.
- Get in touch.
If you notice anything out of place at a hut you’ve visited, take photos, write a good description of what is wrong, and even gather measurements if possible.
Then jump onto the DOC website, find the DOC office responsible for managing that hut, or give them a ring or email.
If you want to get involved, drop your local office a line as well.
There are community management agreements for many backcountry huts, and some awesome hut restoration projects are occurring all around New Zealand.
- Plan My Walk – search for tracks, huts and campsites and build a plan to suit your adventure. Download the app or check out www.planmywalk.nz.
- Huts and bookings on Department of Conservation website.
- New to overnight tramps? – learn about multiday tramping here.
- Need inspiration? Check out our tramping video series and we show you around some pretty cool huts in NZ.
- Take some time to prepare for any outdoor trip by referring to the new New Zealand Land Safety Code.
Header photo: The Ngahiramai Hut in Te Urewera: "Located on the Whakatane river, it has a true presence about it." PHOTO/WEKA_ADVENTURES