It's the most wonderful time of year! It's hiking season!
For those reading this around the world, let me just brag about where I live for a minute. I live in the most beautiful place on earth. The Rocky Mountains are an hour away from my house. These mountains are filled with the most spectacular views, challenging trails, and amazing restaurants. I just can't get enough of them!
And as soon as the mercury rises above 15°C, it's time to start gathering my hiking gear, so it's always on standby, ready to hit the trails whenever the opportunity arises.
So what is always in my hiking bag?
I'm a novice hiker. I just bought my first pair of hiking boots last year, and I haven't used them yet. I don't have hiking poles - yet. Nor do I have a fancy backpack that has a built-in water bottle.
But, there are a few things that aren't necessarily gear related that I always make sure I have on me when I go hiking. Whether you are new to hiking or are an experienced hiker, here are five essentials you should bring with you.
I feel like this should be obvious, but there will always be one person in a group who forgets to bring a bottle of water. Depending on the trail, hiking is work. It can either be a little or a lot. The point is to avoid dehydration, especially when hiking during the summer, make sure you have plenty of water. I always bring one bottle of water (500ml) for every 2 hours on the trail. If the hike is four hours long, I will bring two bottles of water. It can get quite heavy, but I would rather suffer from sore shoulders than dehydration.
One of the best parts about hiking is enjoying a simple peanut butter and honey sandwich on the peak of a mountain. Because hiking requires quite a bit of energy, you need replenish that energy. Maybe you're like me and you ALWAYS have snacks on you because you are always hungry. I usually pack a really simple lunch if the hike is longer than a couple hours or has a high elevation. I also like to pack healthy, energy-rich and nutrient-dense snacks to sustain me during the hike. Some of my favorites include bananas, bell peppers, Larabars, and apples.
Depending on the hike, you might be able to get away with no hiking boots. However, the more hikes you do and the more you challenge yourself, the more you will want to invest in a pair of hiking boots. There are many varieties of hiking-appropriate footwear, each with a different purpose. For instance, if you plan to stick to shorter, more well-defined trails, you may consider a hiking shoe, which is lighter, but less supportive than a hiking boot. Hiking boots are appropriate if you are covering longer trails or carrying more weight.
For more information on choosing the right boot for you, check out Backpacker.com.
Sun, Bear and Bug Protection
When hiking in the summer, the sun can get quite intense so having appropriate sun protection will save you from a whole lot of discomfort and potential later on. This includes sunscreen (err on the side of caution and opt for a higher SPF), sunglasses, lip balm and a hat.
If you are hiking in the Rockies, you are hiking in bear country. And if you take appropriate precaution, you reduce your risk of something going wrong. I carry a can of bear spray with me at all times. You can stay safe by hiking in groups, making lots of noise and just staying alert.
For more information on bear safety, check out Alberta Parks Be Bear Smart.
I know by this time it seems like your pack is 100 pounds, but it's important to bring a few first-aid supplies with you to take care of any small injuries that may happen along the way. Your kit doesn't need to be extensive, but it should include the basics. I like this checklist from Real Simple.
Of course, you need something to put all this stuff in! Choosing the right backpack is important. If you choose one that has poor support, you will be hurting for a while. However, if you choose a backpack that has good support and enough room to fit everything you need, you'll be singing when you come 'round the mountain. I really like this guide from Rei Co-op to help you choose the best backpack.
There are a few more things I would pack: If you are planning to hike where there is no cell reception, I would pack a map and compass. If not, your cell phone and whatever apps you like are good enough. I may pack a flashlight, just in case things go awry and I'm stuck somewhere and it starts to get dark. I also like to dress in layers. You can always remove layers as it gets warmer and you get sweatier.
Happy trails, my friends!