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Outdoor Safety When Hiking in New Zealand


Walking in the wilderness!

The “great outdoors” was practically invented in New Zealand! Both locals and backpackers alike can spend days exploring the wilderness of this country made up of diverse landscapes. However, when it’s us against the elements, we need to look after ourselves by planning and preparing for activities in the outdoors.

This article covers the basics of survival skills for long hikes in the New Zealand backcountry, because delving into the subject would require courses and books. Anyhow, here is a guide on outdoor safety you need to be aware of.

We also recommend following AdventureSmart Outdoor Safety Code, which lists five simple rules in your own language.

Prepare for the New Zealand wilderness

The following article is a quick guide to keeping safe on a hike in the New Zealand wilderness. You can’t learn everything in a quick article, or else Bear Grills would be out of a job.

You can study New Zealand survival skills with the New Zealand Mountain Safety Council and read more on the subject on How to Prepare for a Great Walk.



Planning a hike

Where are you going?

Obviously, you need to know where you are going to go! Do you know what route you are going to take? Do some research before you leave, such as the route information on the Department of Conservation (DoC) website or asking at a local i-SITE or DoC centre. For backcountry hikes on unmarked tracks pick up a map and compass with you. It also helps if you know how to use them too! Also consider if you have the right fitness level for the hike you intend to conquer.

Check the weather

Look on the Met Service website to get an idea of the weather forecast. Be prepared for any weather scenario, as the weather can change quickly in New Zealand. However, you should also consider whether it’s worth going ahead with the hike if the forecast is heavy rain, strong winds or snowing. Not only can bad weather ruin the enjoyment of the trip but impact your safety.


Tell someone before you go

Tell a trusted individual your plans of where you are going, who you’re going with, what transport you’ll use, and the date you are due to return. That trusted someone needs to know what to do should you not return. They should contact you directly and the people you are with on the day you’re due to return. If they get no response about an hour later, then they should call the police at 111.

For a list of things to cover when telling your trusted someone when going on an outdoors adventure, download the Outdoors Intentions Form from the AdventureSmart website.


What Equipment to take on a hike

Of course, it depends on how long you go for and how many people are on your trip. One thing is for sure, you need sufficient supplies so pack a little bit extra food, liquid and clothing. The biggest task will be keeping the load to a minimum.

As for equipment you should take:

  • Shelter – make sure you book the backcountry huts or campsites. With a campsite, you’ll need a tent.
  • Warm sleeping bag.
  • Cooking and food preparation items. If you are taking a cooking appliance, make sure it is not faulty and use it outside to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning!
  • First aid kit, including sunscreen.
  • Torch and spare batteries.
  • Emergency survival kit, such as a whistle, matches and pocket knife.
  • Hire a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), find out where from here.
  • Food – high energy value containing proteins, fats and carbohydrates, such as cheese, bread, peanut butter, scroggin, muesli bars, chocolate and barley sugars.
  • Water.
  • Clothing – waterproof and windproof jacket, clothing made from wool, polypropylene or polar fleece. Avoid cotton.


During the hike

You may feel insanely organised with all the planning you have done for a hike, but there’s just a few things to keep reminding yourself while on the hike:

  • Discuss with others on your trip (and yourself) how you are feeling. You don’t want to continue into a situation where you will overexert yourself or do something you cannot handle.
  • Drink liquid frequently.
  • Allow time for breaks.
  • Don’t get too hot while moving – sweat dampens clothes and increases heat loss. That said, put layers on to keep warm enough.



With all this preparation and looking after yourself during the hike, issues like hypothermia should be slim but it still pays off to know how to deal with hypothermia should it occur. Hypothermia is when the core body temperature drops to 35 degrees Celsius or below. Severe cases can lead to unconsciousness or death. Bad times.

Signs and symptoms of hypothermia include deterioration of hand/eye coordination, speaking unclearly, and tripping or falling without reason.

If your travel companion has these signs, you need to:

  • Stop!
  • Find shelter from the wind or rain.
  • Replace any wet or damp clothes with dry ones.
  • Get them into a sleeping bag.
  • Give them a warm sweet drink (in cold temperatures, it’s worth taking a thermos with you on your hike).
  • Place them in the recovery position.
  • Start CPR, mouth to mouth resuscitation if breathing stops.
  • Call for help.

How to signal for help


In most backcountry locations in New Zealand, you will not get phone signal. If, by some miracle, you do have network coverage, call 111 in an emergency. There is also the option to hire a PLB to use in an emergency. If all hope is lost and you have none of those options, this is what you can do:

Stay where you are or move a short distance to open space where you can be spotted more easily.

By day: mark out SOS using rocks, sticks, logs and vegetation. Create smoke with a small fire. If you hear or see an aircraft, make big movements to catch attention.

By night: create light with a controllable fire, torch, phone light, etc.

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