A little knowledge before you head out into the wilderness is a good idea. Especially if you are new to hiking or in unknown terrain. Planning a suitable hike is a great first step is having a great hike. Bringing along extra clothing and food is a great idea and having a first aid kit will help you with any troubles you may encounter. Courtesy and hiking etiquette is an important factor as well. Leaving no trace and packing out what you pack in are paramount to keeping the wilderness wild. Clothing, gear and how you pack is not always straight forward and having a checklist to work from will avoid any mistakes in packing.
Find a hike that matches the exertion you want to put in. A steep and difficult trail may be enticing until you find yourself struggling to keep a pace. Wedgemount Lake is a wonderful destination, but difficult trail. We’ve seen at least one person crying on their way down after turning back two thirds the way up the trail. What might be a nice and fun hike into the mountains may prove to be a miserable endurance test for those out of shape or overloaded with a heavy pack.
Equally important to the steepness and difficulty of a trail is the length of the hike. Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Provincial Park is only moderately challenging in terms of steepness and difficulty, however its length makes it quite challenging. A 5 kilometre hike(each way) is pretty easy, a 10 kilometre(each way) trail adds up to 20 kilometres roundtrip and significantly more strenuous. Panorama Ridge is a 30 kilometre(roundtrip) hike and too much distance for most hikers to tackle in one day.
Use one of our hiking gear checklists to ensure you have everything to be prepared for a safe and enjoyable hike. Small things can ruin a hike, but can be remedied easily on the trail. A blister can make every step agony, however remembering to bring duct tape can stop a blister from getting painful. Having a toque and extra sweater in your pack can make a world of difference if the temperature dips below expected.
Hiking with an avid hiker or someone who has done the trail before is a great way to stay safe. An experienced and knowledgeable hiking partner will be prepared for known and unforeseen difficulties that you may overlook if alone.
Bring a map and GPS with you. All smartphones these days have GPS built into them and work without a cell signal. Compass apps and trail map apps are easy to find and often free to download and infinitely better than conventional GPS units. Anyone who has used their smart phone with a five-dollar map app next to a top of the line $650 GPS unit will be astonished by the difference. GPS units have remained stagnant while smart phones have lapped them several times in terms of usability and function. A smart phone map app will appear large, clear and astoundingly detailed. An expensive GPS unit will usually be inferior in every way with its tiny and pixilated screen. The common advantage touted by GPS enthusiasts of better power(spare batteries) and reliability(waterproof and drop proof), don’t hold up if you bring a small power bank and smartphone case. Waterproof smartphones are now being seen more often replacing the old and very effective hiker technique of saran wrapping their phone.
A paper map is great to bring along as it can’t run out of battery power and therefore foolproof in all weather conditions. Paper maps often provide tips and advice on hiking in the areas covered. A feature not usually found in map apps.
Always mention to a friend where you are hiking and return time. People have disappeared while hiking popular and safe looking trails. A note to a friend before leaving or a post it in your car at the trailhead can narrow a search dramatically. A simple one sentence note can lead rescuers to you quickly where without a note they could be wasting time and effort in the wrong places.
Drink lots and lots of water. This seemingly obvious tip is always the first one forgotten on the trail. Taking a drink of water when thirsty works well when sitting at a desk, but drinking frequently on strenuous hikes is essential. Dehydration leads to all sorts of nasty dangers. From irritability and fatigue to confusion and shock. You expel considerably more moisture during exertion and hot weather and must drink a lot to keep pace.
Carry a first aid kit and learn about it before you go hiking. The more you hike the more you see unusual and even bizarre accidents, and having some knowledge makes an immense amount of difference. From calmly and quickly covering a large wound can allow you to continue hiking. Being able to splint a broken bone can allow you to stagger back to safety or reduce that chance of shock while waiting for help. Be prepared with a good first aid kit that can deal with a 7 centimetre gash on your leg. Steri-strips are an easy and temporary alternative to stiches on the trail, while bandages and duct tape can make a dangerous situation manageable.
Protect yourself from the elements. Suntan lotion, sunglasses and a hat can make a hot sunny day manageable and comfortable. Hikers are always mystified at the blinding brightness of hiking on snow or glaciers. Not having sunglasses can make your hike uncomfortable or even dangerous. Not using suntan lotion can make your night at the camp a painful experience trying to sleep with a sunburn. A hat is an enormous luxury to have on a hot and sunny day and often an oversight for new hikers. Hours spent without sun protection inevitably lead to great discomfort and lasting pain.
Keep an eye on the time and know when the sun sets. Getting caught out after dark is one of the biggest causes of hiking fatalities. Getting lost in the beautiful scenery can make you forget about the time. The ease of looking at your wrist compared to taking your phone out of your pocket is considerable. Without a watch, you will often lose track of time. Having a watch allows you to easily keep aware of the time and timing your hike keeps you aware of how much further you need to travel.
Bring extra food and water. More food and water than you will need keeps you safe from unforeseen problems. Also, your exertion while hiking will give you a huge appetite. Having trail mix, granola bars or chocolate bars with you will keep your energy up and better able to enjoy the trail.
Take a break and enjoy the view once in a while. Taking a moment, once in a while to sit on a rock or fallen tree and take in the surroundings gives you a chance to rest, eat and drink. Keeping a regular pattern of hiking breaks will keep you hydrated and help prevent accidents resulting from fatigue.
Courtesy and Hiking Etiquette
Leave no trace and if you pack it in you should pack it out. Bring a plastic bag for garbage and keep it handy. Outhouses almost always have “do not dump garbage” signs on them. What’s obvious to one person, might not be for someone else. Picking up a piece or two of litter from the trail goes a long way to helping leave a place better than you found it. Reduce what you bring on your hike by leaving excess packaging behind.
Be courteous to other hikers by being friendly on the trail and not too loud at campsites. People hike to escape into peaceful and wild surroundings. The wilderness punctuated by music can do a lot to reduce this serenity.
Be friendly to other hikers. You will often encounter people from different parts of the world and a cheerful greeting may lead to an unexpectedly nice conversation. One time I dropped my camera with hundreds of precious photos on it on the trail. I wrote a nice note at the trailhead with my phone number to find it. I got a call the next day by nice guy who I chatted with on the trail. He recognized me from seeing the pictures and went out of his way to get it back to me. I always wonder if I was rude or obnoxious on the trail that hundreds of precious photos and a $500 camera would have not been returned and a reward of four twenties not given.
Avoid feeding or attracting wildlife. Encouraging bears to get an easy meal can quickly lead to danger. A little prevention at campsites can go a long way toward discouraging animals from entering your camp. If wildlife are not drawn to people by food, they will tend to stay away. Remember that you are helping your fellow campers stay safe by not attracting animals to campsites.
Clothing, Gear and Packing
Pack smart by putting heavier items close to your back and higher up your pack. Be organized and think of keeping important things easily accessible. Having an accessible sweater makes you more likely to not put off your comfort by difficulty in finding it.
Familiarize yourself with your gear before you go. Setting up your tent in the living room will ensure you have all the parts and know where to put them. Testing your stove at home will remind you that you almost forgot matches or misplaced a vital part. Also, you are less likely to forget a sleeping pad if you set up everything before packing.
Protect your gear from moisture by using a pack cover or bag liner. Sleeping in a damp sleeping bag on a cold night is an experience you will regret. Pack covers keep out the rain as well as keep your pack clean when taking it off in wet weather. A pack liner is simply a plastic bag inside your backpack with the contents inside. Another method is to put your gear in separate plastic bags which keeps everything dry and organized. You can even buy “pack cubes” from hiking stores for this purpose.
Use all the adjustable straps on your pack frequently. Loosen them all when you take off your pack and make sure they are loose when you put on your pack. Cinch up your waist straps first quite tight, and make sure they are over your hips and not on top of them. You should have your shoulder straps loose and barely touching your shoulders. Next tighten the two small shoulder straps below your armpits distributing the weight evenly between your waist and shoulders.. Finally tighten the two top straps above your shoulders. This brings your pack tight with your back and you don’t get any energy sapping rocking from your pack. Make any minor adjustments for comfort and even in the best quality packs you will have to frequently adjust all the straps to maintain comfort.
Bring extra layers of clothing and frequently layer on and off. If you can quickly remove or add a layer of clothing, you will ensure you stay comfortable and dry. Sweat soaking your clothes can become dangerous if the temperature drops. Get yourself a quality waterproof/breathable jacket. You will pay a lot for a good jacket, but it may become a cherished item for years to come. For those of us who have hiked or jogged in both waterproof/breathable and just waterproof jackets, the difference is astounding. A non breathable jacket will have you clammy with sweat almost immediately despite your efforts to open the pit vents(zippers under armpits). An expensive, waterproof/breathable jacket will astound you with its ability to keep you dry and comfortable in everything but heavy and prolonged rain. Being pounded with continuous rain will obviously render the breathability of the jacket useless, however pit vents will partially help vent moisture out.
Wear good hiking boots/shoes. It is hard to distinguish between hiking shoes and hiking boots. Some find the distinction between how high on the ankle they go. So boots that cover your ankles are hiking boots and shoes that don’t are hiking shoes. Whether you call them hiking boots or shoes, make sure that if you need them to be waterproof, get waterproof. Modern advancements like Gore-Tex have enabled shoes to reach extraordinary levels of comfort, durability, lightness and waterproofness. You can get away with hiking in normal walking shoes, however you will lack a hard sole, protection from wet weather and ankle support. With normal, non hiking shoes you will feel every rock underfoot. The much more rigid soles of hiking shoes provide a barrier against rough terrain.
New hikers often come prepared with outer layers and neglect the inner layers. Having an extra pair or two of hiking socks can be a wonderful luxury partway through the hike. When hiking with novice hikers, this is the most frequently borrowed item. I pack two extra pairs of socks for this all to frequent occurrence.
A spare shirt and a thin base layer shirt are a luxury on the trail and take up an insignificant amount of space. You will invariably sweat on the trail and when you camp and a dry new shirt and base layer are a lifesaver when the sun goes down. I have always brought a thin base layer shirt and pants. You could cram both into a coffee mug and they weigh almost nothing.
One important, yet often overlooked item to bring on any hiking/camping trip is a toque. The added protection from the cold you get from a toque are way out of proportion to its small size. Sleeping with a toque on is very comfortable as well and not just on cold nights.
Know before you go if you will need to purify drinking water. Many high alpine hikes have plentiful, fresh water that you can drink right away. Other, lower elevation trails may lead to sickness if the water is not treated or filtered. Always have water purification tablets in your first aid kit and you won’t get caught out unprepared. Most hiking information will blindly advise always boil or filter water, however encounters with locals will often prove these warnings absurd.