9 September 2015

Am I fit enough to hike Franz Josef Glacier?

by Tom at Franz Josef Glacier Guides

Glaciers are often described as a river of ice, constantly moving downhill (just very, very slowly). 

Because of this movement, no glacier tour is ever the same from one day to the next.  So, what does that mean for glacier hiking?  Will you be hopping your way through tumbling icefalls and jumping over bottomless crevasses?

Err… no.

No, you won’t.

The average speed of Franz Josef Glacier’s ice flow is around 50 cm per day, (but speeds of up to 10 metres per day have been recorded in the steeper sections of the glacier).  The movement is imperceptible, hikers walk safely on the surface of the glacier guided by a skilled glacier guide.

Glacier hiking is not an extreme sport but does require a moderate level of fitness and an ability to walk with crampons.

Tours are helicoptered about half way up the glacier where the hike begins amongst a spectacular icy landscape.  Read why we access Franz Josef Glacier by helicopter here.

Franz Josef Glacier Guides hiking tour

So, what level of fitness do you need to do a Franz Josef Glacier Guides’ hike?  Here’s your easy step-by-step guide to choosing the best glacier hike for you.

Franz Josef Glacier Guides - Ice Explorer

Difficulty Level:  Moderate
Suitable for: 12 years and over
Pace:  Tailored to suit client’s ability
Hiking Altitude:  600m
Helicopter: Short Heli Transfer
Duration: 4 hours in total, up to 3 hours on the ice
Includes:  Glacier Hot Pools access

Franz Josef Glacier Guides - Glacier Heli Hike

Difficulty Level:  Moderate
Suitable for: 8 years and over
Pace:  Relaxed
Hiking Altitude:  850m
Helicopter: Scenic Heli Flight
Duration: 3 hours in total, up to 2 hours on the ice
Includes:  Glacier Hot Pools access, Glacier Goodie Bag

If you don’t think you’re up for either of these tours, Franz Josef Glacier Guides offers a Glacier Valley Walk.  Less strenuous and not on the ice, this hike is suitable for the whole family.

Franz Josef Glacier Guides - Glacier Valley Walk

Difficulty Level: Easy
Suitable for: 6 years and over
Pace:  Relaxed Pace
Hiking Altitude:  250m (valley floor), no access directly onto the glacier
Helicopter:  No helicopter, transfer to the valley by coach
Duration:  3 hours 

When choosing a glacier tour, the main thing to consider is whether you are happy to walk over unstable, icy terrain in crampons for a period of two to three hours.


Franz Josef Glacier Guides provides a pair of high quality 10-point crampons for all hikers on the glacier.  Crampons have spikes on the bottom that give purchase on the ice. 

Don’t worry, you don’t need mountaineering experience to wear crampons.  We show you how to fit the crampons over your boots and how to walk in them.   It won’t take long to get used to walking with crampons.  They allow you to walk confidently in the ice steps cut by your guide. 


A big part of enjoying your glacier tour will be keeping warm.  After all, you’ll be on a frozen river of ice for a period of two or three hours.  Hiking will keep you warm, but don’t forget the weather can change quickly when you’re in an alpine environment.  We recommend wearing 2 – 4 layers of clothing and taking off a few layers if you get hot (better than getting cold).


If you’re fit, adventurous and able to spend around 3 hours hiking on the ice wearing crampons, then the Ice Explorer is the glacier hike for you.
Choose the Ice Explorer for the most time on the ice. 

If you’re fit, adventurous but would like to take things a bit slower, then the Glacier Heli Hike is the glacier hike for you.
Choose the Heli Hike for a longer helicopter flight.

If you don’t think you’re fit enough to hike on the ice, then the Glacier Valley Walk is the tour for you.  Slow-paced and suitable for children 6 years and up.
Choose the Glacier Valley Walk for a gentle walk suitable for the whole family. 

Franz Josef Glacier Guides tour