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Three years of regular hiking in BC and I’ve just about memorised everything I need to take with me on a day hike. However, having a hiking packing list written down is definitely useful to make sure you don’t forget something important. Usually, for me, it’s a headlamp and I find out when I return home I left it charging! Luckily this is something on my packing list for hiking I don’t always need to use but it is important to take it with you since it’s one items of the 10 hiking essentials list for safety. If you’re struggling to keep taps of everything you need or are wondering what to pack for hiking in BC, then be sure to check out the rest of this post. It’s useful to run through this every time you’re packing for a hiking trip.
Day Hiking Packing List
Everyone has their own personal thing they like to add (maybe it’s a beer for the summit or your camera of choice), but these things focus on the day hike essentials you’ll need. No one wants to have to call Search and Rescue and doing so is often easily avoided by making sure you’ve planned and prepared well before going on your hike and making sure you don’t forget these things to bring on a hike.
The Ten Essentials
The most important part of going hiking is making sure you come back safe. The ten essentials for hiking include gear that will help keep you safe if your hike takes longer than expected. While you can go budget on hiking clothes, these hiking essentials for beginners shouldn’t be missing from your pack.
Perhaps the sunset quicker than you thought or you couldn’t tear yourself away from that sunset and now you’re hiking in the dark. Or, maybe you’ve heard your ankle and can’t walk and it’ll be a while until Search and Rescue can come help. With the ten essentials, you’ll be much better prepared for instances like these and have a much greater chance of survival if something bad happens to you.
When I lived in the UK, I’d never heard of the ten essentials. That’s partly due to lack of knowledge on my part, but also because you tend to be a lot closer to civilisation in the UK than you do in Canada and the US. It’s pretty uncommon to go for a 2-hour hike in the UK and not see anyone, but in North America, that’s extremely easy to do. And don’t even get me started on having to think about bears and other wildlife over here! But really, these items should be on your day hike packing list regardless of where and how long you’re hiking for. Most of them can be picked up pretty cheaply too, so there are no excuses.
In addition to the items below you should also make sure you leave a trip plan with a friend. Let them know where and when you’re going, and what time you expect to be back so that they know when to raise the alarm should they not hear from you.
No matter how well tracked or marked out you think the trail is going to be, you must take some form of navigation with you. Ideally, this is a compass and map that doesn’t rely on battery power, but usually, a GPS app like AllTrails will suffice. I’d recommend putting your phone on airplane mode so that the battery doesn’t run out on you.
If you do take a map & compass, make sure you know how to use them. I attended a free session at MEC a while back to refresh these skills and found it super useful. If you live in the US, I’m sure REI do similar courses. Or, you could find plenty of Youtube tutorials too.
Fair-skinned or not you’ll want to take sun protection with you. Being out in the sun tires you out quickly and can lead to heat exhaustion and sunstroke both of which are really going to ruin your hike.
When considering things to bring on a hiking trip, sun protection means taking sunblock as well as a hat and sunglasses.
Weather in the mountains changes super quickly and often when you least expect it. Even on a hot day, it can be windy and chilly up at the summit or by a lake. Take extra layers with you that are easy to strip on and off as needed. If you do end up getting stuck overnight, having some extra layers could literally save your life.
Illumination / Headlamp
A headlamp takes up a small amount of room in your day pack but is an important item to take on a hike. I’m currently using a Biolamp headlamp that’s rechargeable. Fully charged rechargeable ones are useful for day hikes as long as you make sure they’re not going to switch on in your pack!
If you have one using batteries, take on battery out, or put it in the wrong way to make sure that the batteries don’t run out before you need to use the headlamp. It’s a good idea to take spare batteries, or a battery pack and charging cable for rechargeable headlamps too.
Hydration and nutrition
Perhaps the most important things needed for hiking is a water supply. I take my 2L Platypus bladder with me on every hike no matter how long it is. If I’m going on a particularly long day hike in the middle of summer, I’ll also throw my Nalgene 1L bottle into my pack. My first aid supplies include water purification tablets so that I can purify water from a stream or lake on the go if I really need to.
Make sure you’ve packed plenty of snacks too and more than you’ll need for the hike. Including a couple of Clifbars is a good idea as they’re great things to bring on a hike. I also love taking dried mango on hikes for a nice little energy boost and something sweet.
Basic first aid supplies
Another of the essentials for hiking is a basic first aid kit. You can buy these “ready-made” or you can make up your own. I bought this small, lightweight adventure first aid kit and then added a few bandaids, antiseptic cream, water purification tablets and some blister plasters too.
If you’re doing an overnight backpacking trip or a multi-day hike then you’ll be packing some form of shelter with you. However, even if you’re day hiking, you should really take an emergency shelter. I take an emergency blanket that should keep me warm enough overnight should I end up stuck somewhere. You can get these pretty cheap and they don’t take up much space in your pack.
If you’re stuck outside overnight, the ability to make a small fire to keep warm is going to make things a lot more pleasant. The easiest way to make a fire is to bring a couple of small lighters, a few stormproof matches and a few small firestarter blocks. Since backcountry fires in BC are prohibited, this should only be done in real emergencies.
A whistle or a signalling mirror can increase your chances of being heard or seen. It takes much less energy to blow a whistle than it does to yell, and the sound carries more. These days, a lot of day bags will have a whistle attached to them, but it’s a good idea to get a separate one as they tend to work better.
When you’re getting together everything for your packing list for a hiking trip, you’re going to need somewhere to put it all. The type of backpack to buy or take with you depends on how long you’ll be hiking for. If you’re doing a shorter day hike (1-4 hours) you’ll easily get away with something smaller (around 20L capacity). For longer hikes or hikes where you’ll need more gear like spikes, layers or snowshoes, you might want something bigger. Having said that I use my Lowe Alpine 20L backpack for pretty much every day hike as having several different bags is just plain expensive. Something around 26L is likely going to suit you for every day hike you’re going to do.
When buying a day bag, a few things I’d consider essential are: comfort, you won’t want to use it if it’s not comfortable!; the ability to add a hydration bladder, most bags will have a separate compartment and toggles to put the tube through so it’s not flapping about; and easy to reach compartments for snacks or your camera/phone.
This hiking backpack list is a great place to start. You can see more great backpacks for hiking here.
This is covered a bit more above, but it’s super important so I’m mentioning it again. I’d always recommend taking at least 2L with you. If you’re hiking in the desert or on a sun-exposed trial in summer you’ll probably want double this. You can usually find out if there are water sources along the way before you go and plan accordingly. As I said, I like to use my Platypus 2L bladder and an extra Nalgene bottle or two if it’s a particularly long hike.
I also highly recommend getting a cover for your platypus to avoid it getting covered in dust and dirt.
Having the right footwear will make your hike so much more enjoyable; wet feet and blisters make you miserable and ruin the day.
Hiking boots, shoes and socks
When it comes to hiking footwear, there’s no one answer as to whether you should use hiking boots or hiking shoes. I’m currently using these Keen Pyrenees Boots which are great for muddier or winter hikes where conditions are more slippery and wet. In the summer I tend to use hiking shoes. The best thing to do is head to an outdoors shop like MEC or REI and try on several different pairs to see what works for you.
In winter, and the shoulder season, you may find you need some extra traction underfoot. Even in June and July, there’s often snow and ice at higher elevations and so it’s a good idea to pack some microspikes just in case. I use Yaktrax to prevent me from slipping over.
Hiking poles can also be a good idea, particularly on longer hikes when your legs get tired. They’re super useful for coming downhill just giving you that extra stability and helping prevent sprained ankles.
While I don’t personally own gaiters, I know people who swear by them. Gaitors wrap around your lower leg and top of your boot or shoe to help prevent water and mud from getting to your feet. If you’re hiking in winter, or know there will be snow and mud on the trail, you may like to take some gaiters with you to keep your feet dry.
The most important thing to know when it comes to hiking clothes is that it’s all about layers. You want lightweight, quick-drying layers that are easy to take on and off to regulate your temperature. Cotton is often considered to be no-go since it takes ages to dry but, if it’s all you have, don’t let that stop you from getting out hiking.
You should always prepare for wind and rain when going on a hike. This means packing a lightweight waterproof jacket and an insulated layer too. The insulated layer can be a puffy jacket or a fleece. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’ve got something that’ll keep you nice and warm.
Moisture-wicking tops, or merino wool tops, are great for hiking. They’ll wick away the sweat to keep the top drier and you warm or cool as needed. They also tend to smell a lot less than your standard cotton t-shirt which is always an added bonus!
Chose hiking bottoms based on whatever you’re comfortable in. If that’s workout leggings, great! If it’s hiking specific trousers, also great! I usually wear leggings, or shorts in the summer. Get leggings made for running as they’ll usually have some sweat-wicking properties, rather than those used for yoga.
If you’re going for trousers, something with some zip-up pockets is always super useful. You can also get ones that zip off at the knee or roll up to turn into shorts in case it’s hotter than you expected.
A few other things to take on a day hike and add to your hiking supplies list and hiking checklist include the following.
Toilet paper & trowel or a Kula cloth
While some of the most popular hikes in Provincial and National Parks will have toilets periodically along the trail, not all will and it’s important to not leave waste on the trail. This is for numerous reasons but predominantly because it’s bad for the environment and the wildlife in the area.
If you’re taking toilet paper, also take a ziplock bag or something similar so you can pack it out with you. Yes, I know it sounds kinda gross but you know what’s more gross? Walking along and finding someone else’s used toilet paper on the trail. If you don’t want to carry out toilet paper then use a Kula cloth. If you’re pooping, remember to bury it using a small trowel. I highly recommend reading “How to Shit in the Woods” for more information on how to, well, shit in the woods!
Camera gear & electronics
Not essential, but it’s always nice to have good photos from a hike. I like to take my GoPro because it’s so small and lightweight, but if I’m going on a hike I know I really want to get good photos on, I’ll take our big camera.
Some other good things to pack for hiking are a battery pack and cable with you too in case your phone runs out while you’re hiking.
Whether you’re a mosquito target or not, bug spray is another item that can make your hike a whole lot more enjoyable.
In case you need to stop for petrol, or want dinner/beers out at the end of the hike.
Don’t expect taps or stocked up hand sanitiser at pit toilets along your hike. It’s always best to take your own small bottle along with you.
If you’re hiking in bear territory, bear spray is a MUST. Make sure you’ve got a holster or an easily accessible side pocket to put it in since it’s no use if it’s at the bottom of your bag. Take a read of this post for other bear safety tips.