Basic Preparation


Keep your pack as light as you can. For adults, pack weight should ideally never exceed one third of your body weight and children’s packs should weigh much less. Remember that one litre of water weighs one kilogram – about the same weight as food for one day – so don’t fill your water bottle unless you need to and even then, no more than required.

The easiest way to keep you gear dry is to line your pack with an FMC plastic pack-liner, or plastic survival bag. Check it each night for holes, which can be patched with tape. Any water that does get in will pool at the bottom so don’t pack your sleeping bag at the very bottom unless it is in its own plastic bag.

Other than ice-axes and crampons, stow everything that you do not want to lose inside your pack.


Before leaving civilization, parties should leave written intentions, complete with the names and contact details of all members in the party, routes and escape routes to be taken, and the ‘panic’ date and time, with a trusted person who will alert Police if the party does not contact them by the ‘panic’ date. Just as importantly, parties must promptly report back at the end of a trip to avoid precipitating an unnecessary search and wasting goodwill, money and volunteer effort.


Check the Walking Access Mapping System to see if your route crosses private land. If it does, you need to contact the land owner to obtain permission, especially if you intend to take a rifle.

DOC publishes a wide range of pamphlets describing access to public conservation lands as well as information on huts and tracks at These are also available in paper form from DOC offices.


Leave gates as you find them. If the gate is locked, climb over the hinged end. If there is no gate, or style handy, climb through the fence, or climb the fence at a strainer post, but not at a fence batten.

Follow the marked route and leave farm equipment alone. Keep dogs, if allowed, on a leash.

Don’t disturb stock, but advise farmers of animals in distress. Avoid crossing sheep country during lambing (mid August though to late October) to avoid mismothering lambs.

When cattle appear excited, especially in steep country, go slowly, edge away and make a detour if necessary. Do not walk between a cow and her calf.

Writing and thanking landowners builds good relationships.

The New Zealand Walking Access Commission publishes the New Zealand Outdoor Access Code, which is a trove of information about of access rights and responsibilities for both farmers and trampers. It is practical and informative.

Weather forecasts and road conditions

  • Weather forecasts are available from:
    RNZ National (check for frequencies)
    Long-range: 12:32pm on weekdays and 1:04pm on weekends
    Mountain: 4:05pm
    Extended range five day: 12:30pm
  • DOC hut wardens, 8:15am
  • Mountain Radio Service, 8:30am, 7:30pm/8:00pm/8:30pm

Detailed weather maps are available at:

Avalanche conditions are available at:

Up to date road conditions are available at:


Cellphones require line of sight to a cell-site to operate. This is often possible from the tops of mountain ranges and usually from the slopes of hills overlooking the plains. It is very rare to find cellphone coverage in inland valleys.

Locator beacons, or PLBs work best if they have clear views of the sky in all directions. Do not activate them unless there is a life and death emergency.

Mountain radios operate in the short-wave band and provide the opportunity to pass messages to, or from parties in remote areas as well as receive comprehensive weather forecasts, which are broadcast at the start of each daily schedule. Always run out the two 20 metre antenna wires completely and string them as high as possible off the ground as the radio transmitter will otherwise work poorly. It makes no difference which way the antenna is orientated, but run the antenna wires out in as close to a straight line as possible. If you have a message to pass, write it down beforehand to aid clarity.

Canterbury Mountain Radio Service
Central North Island Mountain Radio Service
Wellington Mountain Radio Service

Travel times

Time to leave a hut after getting upAllow 1 1⁄2 hr
Time to leave a camp after getting up Allow 2 hr
Well formed tracks4 – 6 km/hr
Well formed tracks, with children2 – 3 km/hr
Tramping tracks2 – 3 km/hr
Off-track, open bush1 – 3 km/hr
Off-track, scrub100 – 400 m/hr
Off-track, rugged country6 – 10 km/day
Climbing on tracks, or open countryAdd 300 – 350 m height/hr
Descent, open country300 – 600 m height/hr
Use these times with discretion and experience.

Heavy packs can easily halve progress. Depending on depth, crust and type, snow can assist travel, through to making progress impossible. You are going too fast if you cannot maintain a conversation without losing breath.

Typical tramping grades

EasyUp to 4 hours per day; leisurely pace; predominantly on tracks.
Medium4 – 6 hours per day; standard walking pace; some off-track travel.
Fit6 – 8 hours per day; pace faster than Medium; off-track and above bushline travel to be expected.
Fitness EssentialMore than 8 hours per day; pace faster than Fit; predominantly off- track.

These grades provide a guide only. Bad weather often can increase the difficulty.

This page is a reproduction of FMC’s Safety in the Mountains booklet, first published in 1937, and still in print today, 11 editions later. You can buy your copy from the FMC website, at near giveaway price. More than 130,000 copies of this distilled mountain wisdom have found their way in to packs, huts and collections of generations of outdoors enthusiasts.