A Woman’s Guide to Solo Tramping in NZ
A Woman’s Guide to Solo Tramping in NZ
This is a guest blog by Michelle Green, Long White Gypsy.
I wasn’t born a tramper. I grew up in a small town in the flattest part of England. The closest mountains were 3 hours away (an age in UK travel terms).
When I moved to New Zealand 20 years ago I had no idea that one day I’d be solo tramping across the North Island.
My solo journey began from necessity, as none of my friends shared my outdoor enthusiasm.
What started as day hikes with my Mum soon evolved into a solo journey on the Te Araroa, a challenge I took on without any prior overnight tramping experience!
That experience taught me so much about solo tramping as a female in Aotearoa, and shaped my approach to tramping in New Zealand. If you’ve been nervous about getting started, here are some of the best lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Specific Safety Measures for Solo Female Trampers
Here are three non-negotiable safety measures I take before and during my trips to mitigate the risks of solo adventuring.
- Be Prepared & Upskill Yourself
My Te Araroa thru-hike highlighted the importance of thorough preparation for a trip. A full year of meticulous preparation meant I felt confident and capable, and made it much further than other thru hikers.
Upskilling is crucial. The river safety course I completed before Te Araroa has proved invaluable. Next on my list is navigation.
Consider every trip (no matter how short) as a learning opportunity, and come back with a list of things you can work on for next time.
A great place to start is the NZ Mountain Safety Council’s suggested gear lists on Plan My Walk which I have used to prepare for countless trips. There’s also an extensive list of skills providers on the Training section of its website.
- Always, Always Make a Plan (& Leave it With Someone)
Despite my growing experience, I still face anxiety on the trails. What helps is knowing that a detailed plan is left with someone I trust.
I’ve transitioned from handwritten notes to using the Plan My Walk app. The app makes sure you don’t forget any important details, allows you to input your intended route, and automatically updates your emergency contact if you make any last-minute changes.
- Emergency Communication Devices
I’ve been called crazy, but I carry both a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) and a GPS device when I’m tramping. Let me explain why.
The GPS helps manage my pre-existing anxiety and PTSD by keeping me connected to the outside world. The PLB, which I hire, is my emergency communications backup.
My loved ones are reassured by being able to track my location, and strict communication rules (such as sending messages at specific times) ensure that any deviation from my plan is quickly noticed.
Strictly adhering to these practices, though sometimes seen as excessive, are essential for my confidence and safety when I’m out there.
Perceived Risks for Solo Female Hikers
Solo female trampers often think they’re at more at risk on the trails so it's important to be aware and plan for them accordingly. Here are three of the most common things I hear women worrying about before a tramp:
- Wildlife Encounters
While New Zealand’s wildlife is relatively benign compared to other countries, being prepared is still essential and will help you feel more confident.
Learn about the animals (wild pigs, goats, cattle or deer) you might encounter on your trip and how best to approach them.
I always carry trekking poles, mainly to make my walk easier but also as a defensive tool against any aggressive animals. During hunting seasons, I either avoid known hunting areas or wear high-visibility gear for safety.
- Getting Lost
Apart from upskilling yourself, this is one of the few tramping scenarios where practice makes perfect. The more you get out onto the trails and practice following maps, GPS routes, marked and unmarked tracks, the more confident you’ll become.
Planning and preparation are essential. You must know and understand the route you intend to take. If you’re unsure, ring the local DOC Visitor Centre or ask for more information on a tramping forum.
- Personal safety
Carrying personal safety items like a whistle and sleeping with a small knife provides me with a sense of security. Learn to trust your instincts and choose huts/campsites that feel safe and secure.ver time (and with more tramping experience) you’ll come to understand that while the fear is valid, it shouldn’t overshadow the empowering experience solo tramping can be.
The fear of assault, particularly at night, is a significant concern for many women. While incidents are rare in NZ, it’s sensible to plan for all situations.
Start Slow and Build Up
As a solo tramper, it’s important to know your limits and avoid unnecessary risks. For each new region that I tramp in, I start small with short day hikes before building to easy overnight and then multi-day options.
Joining a tramping club and seeking out more experienced partners to walk with can accelerate your learning curve as well as enhance your safety. You might even make some new friends along the way!
Dealing with anxiety and PTSD has been a significant part of my journey. I've turned my tendency to overthink into a tool for detailed planning, meaning I’m usually the most prepared person out there!
On Te Araroa I learned that the best way to fight fear is to face it head-on and not back down.
This remains the most valuable lesson that solo tramping has taught me. Yeah, it’s going to be scary. You might even hate it while you’re out there (I often do!). But when you get home, you’ll feel like superwoman and be raring to go for the next adventure.
Tramping solo, especially as a woman, can seem daunting at first, but with the right preparation, knowledge, and mindset, it can be an incredibly empowering experience.
If this article has inspired you to embark on your own solo tramping adventures, you can find 7 more tips for how to start solo tramping on my website.
Additionally, the NZ Mountain Safety Council has extensive free resources right here on this site to help ensure you're well-equipped and informed for safe and enjoyable tramping adventures.
Imagery supplied by Michelle Green, Long White Gypsy