Hiking in NZ & Wet Boots

Hiking in the NZ backcountry, particularly the South Island means you really need to cope with getting wet feet! Here's some great tips from the experts.

Hiking in NZ - get ready for wet boots!!

If you've done any hiking on the trails of NZ Great Walks you'll know that unless it's raining really heavily you can pretty much keep your feet dry.  These tracks are beautifully prepared and drained and any significant water courses have bridges.   

However.....if you want to venture beyond the well known & busy NZ hiking trails and trek through the NZ backcountry wilderness - get ready for wet boots!     In these wilderness areas of our National Parks you will enter a world of rough tracks and minimally marked routes with few bridged rivers and streams.  Whether you wish to see this part of NZ independently or with a trekking guide on a hiking trip with our Wild Walks team is up to you.  But whatever your choice - to enjoy this wilderness, understanding how to safetly cross rivers is essential.  Part of this river crossing safety is to become accustomed to hiking in wet boots!  Also see further our advice section on River Crossings.

Wet Feet Phobia - a dangerous condition!!

Our Aspiring Guides & Wild Walks guiding team have been working in the NZ Backcountry for over 25 years and during this time we regularly see inexperienced hikers take totally disproportionate risks to avoid getting wet boots. For those hikers who are used to trekking in dry environments or who have never hiked in wet boots before we have observed an extreme reluctance by these hikers to "get their feet wet".

Making bad river crossing choices

We often see people choosing fast flowing steep sections of rivers where they believe they can jump from boulder to boulder to avoid getting their boots wet.  One slippery or wobbly rock or a misjudgement will result in injury and/or being swept into a fast flowing & dangerous section of the river.   This seems non-sensical when hikers can cross in perhaps a slightly deeper slow moving section on the river with only a risk of wet boots!     Injury & drowning vs. Wet boots - we think the choice should be obvious!!

Don't go barefoot

Other than for the shallowest, sandiest bottom river crossing, taking your boots off is a really bad idea. Firstly the water in NZ South Island is often snow-melt and rarely above 5 - 8C causing pain after even a few minutes of immersion.  As the pain increases people to rush to complete the crossing, stumbling and slipping on rocks, increasing the risk of cutting or bruising their feet or even worse losing balance and falling fully into the water and being swept away.

Your hiking boots will protect your feet from damage, give you good grip and for the time taken for  most crossings the retained heat in the boot will reduce the pain from the intense cold.

Changing shoes

While this is certainly an option, the shoes must still be fully enclosed, with good grip to protect your feet from cold & rocks.   But you will never see experienced independent NZ trampers with a pair of "river crossing shoes"!   Firstly - they don't want to add additional weight to their packs & secondly they don't want to waste time changing shoes at every river crossing.  For example on our NZ guided trek - the 8 day Gillespie Rabbit Pass hiking trip there are 3 major river crossings and over 30 minor river/stream & slip crossings.  In our experience stopping to take change shoes takes approximatley 15 minutes.  This would add another 8 hours to the trip!!

Advice to minimise the impact of wet boots

Wear Gaiters

Gaiters that snugly cover the upper instep of your boot and come up to your knee are surprisingly effective at reducing the amount of water that enters your boots when crossing shallow water courses.  They also signficanlty reduce your boots from getting wet when walking through long grass during heavy dew as well as protecting your lower leg against scratches and scrapes.

Use composite hiking boots

While traditional full leather boots are extremely robust, they are also usually heavier and much slower to dry than leather/synthetic composite boots.

Squeeze your boots & wring your socks

This is just a personal tip.  If I know for sure that after a major river crossing that there are no other deep crossings coming up soon, I will often take off my boots, fully wring out my socks, and squeeze my boots as dry as I can.   However, if I know that in 10 minutes I have more river crossings to deal with - or it's raining heavily I won't bother but rely on the walking motion to remove most of the water from my boots.

Start each day with dry socks

This is a bit of a luxury and will depend on the length of your trip and how heavy your pack is.  Certainly on short trips, this can ease the pain of slipping your feet back into wet boots first thing on a chilly autumn morning.  But a better tip is to always have a dry pair to change into at the end of the day.  And in the morning put on your damp rung out socks to warm them up before you put on your boots. 

If you're susceptible to blisters

In some cases, wet feet can be more susceptible to blistering than usual.  Make sure you have blister tape with you.


If you have any questions at all about hiking in and around the Mt Aspiring National Park - please feel free to contact us for local conditions or advice - whether or not you book a trip with us.  We're happy to help you with your plans if we can. 

Andy Oxley
Wild Walks by Aspiring Guides