Tongariro Alpine Crossing: Part Two – What To Wear

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing

What To Wear On The Tongariro Alpine Crossing


Layers, Layers, Layers!

When you’re heading into the North Island’s most changeable alpine environment, you need to plan what to wear. Wearing adaptable layers of clothing is the best idea. Good quality fabrics and construction are always money well spent. You don’t have to head out and purchase a brand new top of the line hiking outfit, but a little attention to detail about what you choose will stand you in good stead. To really get to grips with layering, here’s a handy guide to outdoor wear.


Your socks and footwear matter! Good quality hiking boots are recommended. If you don’t find these comfortable, sports shoes or running shoes can be okay as long as they’ve got enough sole depth to protect your feet from the 200m scree-run down to Emerald Lakes and the black plastic track stabilisers on the descent (These nasty black hexagonal mats are in place to keep loose stones and gravel contained but they can start to hurt your feet in the final few km’s if they’re too worn down!)

Wear good socks, not cheap socks. Socks need to wick away any moisture effectively to stop blisters forming. Don’t skimp on this and as soon as you feel a ‘hot spot’ develop on your feet, stop and apply a blister remedy immediately.

Bottom half

Start the day with hiking shorts or long pants with legs that zip off. Merino or polypropylene ‘long-johns’ are a good idea to have in your backpack though it can be a challenge to find a secluded place to change into them when you’re on the track, so most folks wear long-johns or merino leggings under shorts.

Gaiters are not absolutely necessary but if you want to sail past the queue of people sitting down at the bottom of the scree-run to clear their boots of debris then perhaps invest in some gaiters. This track is wide and exposed with very little low to medium height bushy vegetation to warrant wearing gaiters and the sections of the track that cross alpine meadows have wide timber boardwalks to walk on so there’s no dewy vegetation brushing up against your calves.

Walking poles are a great idea. Any added stability you can get for the 200m downhill scree run to Emerald Lakes will serve you well! The kind of poles that breakdown into smaller parts, kind of like tent poles, are a great idea, if you have them.

Top Half

Wear a thick, outer layer. Goretex or similar is great. A softshell outer layer is probably not going to be warm enough if the wind picks up at the peak, especially if that wind is a southerly or is rolling off any snowy patches. As you climb up and get a feel for the conditions at the peak you can remove or add your outer layer as required. If you prefer not to wear merino in the summer, cotton or bamboo is just as good, but keep a warm layer in your day pack just in case.

The first layer of clothing next to your skin should ideally be polypropylene or merino wool – anything but cotton! Here’s a handy explanation of why ‘cotton is rotten in the outdoor environment.

It’s worth experimenting on what’s most comfortable for you in a range of environmental conditions and temperatures close to your home area before you embark on an outdoor experience in New Zealand.


Pack a warm woollen hat, even in summer. These don’t weigh much but are handy if bad weather strikes, and it does, frequently and without warning.

For Rain

Always pack a light raincoat, even on sunny days. Waterproof overtrousers are also a great idea. There are some brilliant lightweight pants at most outdoor stores and you’d get lots of use out of them, not just on this track.

For Sun

Always pack a wide-brimmed sun hat and sunscreen. Take great care under the hot New Zealand sun, it is unforgiving. Use sunscreen liberally and if you can, cover as much of your body in light, breathable layers. There are almost no trees to shelter under, you’re very exposed as you pass over the saddle and climb up to Red Crater and the Emerald Lakes.

For Dark

You’ll only need a headlamp or flashlight if you’re starting early or planning to finish after sundown. A few years ago we used to start out on the track early and enjoy the sunrise, but quickly realised everyone else had the same idea!

For Sustenance

Bring lots of drinking water, a nutritious packed lunch and lots of snacks! At least 2 litres of drinking water, or more if you can carry it comfortably. There is no access to fresh, clean drinking water while you’re on the track. Ketetahi Hut used to have drinking water available, but the hut has been demolished. One 500ml bottle of water, or even a 750ml bottle is not going to be enough. It’s not a good idea to drink from the streams and creeks, so stay away from those.

Always have extra snacks. Set aside what you need, then add a couple more. Try to minimise the plastic packaging, whatever rubbish you take – you’ll be carrying out again. Leave no rubbish on the track.

If you’re on a guided walk with us, we take care of all of your food! Easy, right? We’ll have fresh, packed picnic lunches ready to when we meet you each morning with lots of healthy, delicious snacks to keep you going.

For Safety

A personal first aid kit is always a good idea. If you don’t use it yourself, you might come across someone else who needs help. Chuck some electrolytes in it too, these come in handy tablet format to put in your drink bottle. Hikers wool or a blister kit is a must!

A personal locator beacon is a good idea if you’re walking independently and ALWAYS tell someone where you’re planning to and what time you expect to finish. If you’re coming with us on a guided walk we’ve got that covered. Our lead guides always carry a satellite personal locator beacon and maintain regular contact with Walking Legends head office.

Cell phone coverage is patchy in places, particularly as you begin the ascent up Devils Staircase. There is a small area of coverage at Red Crater, but you’ve got to know where to stand! Luckily our guides know the best spots and in an emergency they can make contact with emergency services.

Go Guided For The Best Experience!

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is an amazing, unique environment to walk in and an unforgettable experience, but it is not an environment we want to underestimate. A walk on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing is best experienced under the safety and guidance of an experienced New Zealand guided walking company like Walking Legends. We’ll make your visit easy, safe and as comfortable as possible.

Check our Walk Calendar for available departure dates for the Tongariro Hiking Tour for the 2022/2023 season. For more information just give Cathy a call on 0800 WALK NZ (0800 925 569) or send an email to [email protected]

For an in-depth guide, check out this excellent, informative blog on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing from our friends at The Hiking Society, Australia.

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