Hiking boots in NZ are being bought, broken in, and laced up as the country’s outdoor enthusiasts get back onto our walking tracks, into our forests and up to our mountains. Many of these enthusiasts are relatively inexperienced and, in their excitement to enjoy everything Mother Nature offers us, occasionally overlook the basics of outdoor safety. As an experienced hiker or climber will tell them – slow down and make sure you’re fully prepared before you go anywhere.
New Zealand’s Department of Conservation would only agree. Their website is a wonderful resource for climbers and hikers of all experience levels, and they urge all outdoors lovers to sit down and take a good read of it before they set off. One of the best resources is also a very simple one: an Outdoor Safety Code that covers the basics of hiking in New Zealand and could save a life. Some of the more important points it covers includes:
1. Trip planning
A simple step you would think, but one not followed as often as it should be. The Outdoor Safety Code suggests that trip planning should involve seeking out tips and advice from local hikers, comprehensive route planning (and sharing that route with as many people as possible in case you get lost) and allowing enough time to complete the route before emergency services are called in.
2. Tell people what you’re doing
In the excitement of getting out there, this is one that is easy to overlook. People rush off without telling anyone what they’re doing. Big mistake. It is vital to let someone know your plans and when to raise the alarm if you haven’t returned within a set time. The contact can be in New Zealand or overseas. If they’re in New Zealand, they should call the Police on 111 if you don’t return before your deadline. If your contact is overseas, they can call the alternative emergency services number, +64 4 381 2000.
3. Check the weather
Check the forecast before you go. At the same time, don’t rely on that forecast to be 100% accurate. New Zealand’s unpredictable weather can see a fine morning turn into a stormy afternoon, particularly in mountain country. Make sure you have warm and waterproof clothes in your pack, regardless of the forecast, and check that forecast every hour before you go.
4. Don’t overdo it
While a hike should be a challenge of your physical capabilities and get the heart pumping, you certainly can’t afford to overdo it. Stay within your physical limits and hiking experience, and don’t take on adventures that you’re not yet ready for. Allow for the conditions too; good weather makes for easier walking but will you be able to stick with it if conditions become cold and wet?
If the walk is proving too difficult, if the weather is worsening, or if time is against you, you might want to think about turning back, staying an extra night, or making your route shorter or easier. If you do change your plans, communicate that change to your trusted contact if you can.
5. Take enough supplies
You should always ensure you have enough food, equipment, clothing and emergency rations to see you through. Plus – and this is a huge PLUS – an appropriate communications device in case of the worst-case scenario and you have to contact the outside world. Relying on your cellphone is not wise, as there isn’t coverage on many tracks. For a long trip, or if you’re hiking by yourself, take a personal locator beacon which can be hired from outdoor supplies stores.
It’s recommended you take an extra day’s worth of food and water, and warm and waterproof clothing if the weather conditions deteriorate. Don’t forget your torch, first aid kit and navigational equipment, especially if you’re going into an area you’re unfamiliar with.
It’s all simple advice but New Zealand’s emergency services will tell you as they make yet another rescue, that it’s advice not heeded often enough. Our great outdoors are truly great, but they can be less than welcoming when not treated with the respect they deserve.