Are you ready for winter?
You can still get outdoors in winter, but planning trips takes a little more effort. It’s not the end when cold weather arrives, but getting outdoors does mean more effort, extra preparation and having the right gear.
This story was published in Wilderness Magazine June 2023 edition
Extra gear to pack
In any season and on any length of track, trampers should prepare for the unexpected. Warm layers, hat and gloves, a rain jacket and an emergency communications device are basic essentials for any trip. In winter, an extra warm layer or two and a winter-grade hat and gloves should be considered to cater for weather changes and shorter daylight hours.
A emergency shelter and additional food should also be on your gear list.
Choose the right trip
Chat to local DOC Visitor Centre staff, ask fellow outdoors people, talk to tramping club members; find out any changes and potential seasonal hazards the area could be prone to.
Check for any track alerts, see MetService weather warnings, and compile a suggested gear list that can be sent to group members and emergency contacts.
With fewer daylight hours in winter, you’ll have less time to reach your destination and may even be walking in the dark. Always have a Plan B and a turnaround point. Know when the sun sets and remember that cloud and mountains may cut the light even sooner.
Check the weather forecast
Checking the weather forecast before heading out is most important. Understanding the forecast, including what happened in the days before, and having flexible plans, are key for winter months. This creates a level of understanding of terrain and track conditions.
If you’re heading into challenging alpine terrain, check the avalanche forecast too. The New Zealand Avalanche Advisory (NZAA) forecasts for 13 regions of the country where the avalanche danger is heightened as the snowpack is not controlled.
Portions of the track may be affected by low cloud and snowfall, which could make it harder to navigate or see track markers.
Have a plan B
Always have a ‘plan B’ locked in. It doesn’t need to be complicated and could be as simple as:
‘We won’t cross the stream here as it’s unbridged. We’ll camp here for an extra day and do day walks.’ Remember, winter conditions are highly changeable.
Winter tramping and hiking tips
Layer your clothing to prevent getting too sweaty or too cold.
- Make sure your headlamp is charged and you have spare batteries (batteries can drain quickly in cold weather).
- Pack a double-walled drink bottle so it can be filled with hot water. Wrap it in a T-shirt to use as a hot water bottle in your sleeping bag.
- Pack a square of closed-cell foam sleeping pad to sit on during breaks to reduce heat loss when resting or eating.
- Pack an extra fuel canister. ‘Hot wets’ like soups, tea or Raro go a long way towards happiness.
- Restock the hut firewood supply when you leave.
Public holiday warning
King’s Birthday weekend typically sees triple the number of injuries and search and rescues (SAR) for trampers. The NZ Mountain Safety Council says it’s the public holiday weekend with the highest incident rate.