After years of regular hiking in BC and I’ve just about memorised everything I need to take with me when packing for a hike. However, having a hiking packing list written down just so I don’t miss anything when packing for hiking is definitely useful, especially whe you first start out as it can be confusing to know what to pack for a hiking trip!
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 tabs on 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 when you’re looking for essentials for beginner hikers or are an experienced hiker who just hates packing for hiking!
Packing for Hiking: What to Bring on a Hike
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 and hiking gear you’ll need. Use this checklist to make sure you’ve got everything if you’re wondering what to bring hiking.
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.
Where to buy hiking gear?
If you’re just starting out and not sure whether you’ll be in to hiking, then the best hiking gear is what you already have. You’ll be doing shorter hikes and having the latest backpack or fancy hiking pants isn’t a big deal. You should always have your 10 essentials though!
However, if you’ve been hiking for a while and are ready to move up to the next level, then here are some of the best places you can get new (or new to you) hiking gear.
- MEC: If you live in Canada then chances are you’re familiar with MEC. This one-stop shop for outdoor adventures is one of my favourites shops to visit. I love browsing all the new outdoor gear and MEC has a great returns policy so if something doesn’t work out quite how you hoped, you can (usually) return it.
- REI: REI is the American equivalent of MEC but some would argue it’s even better. When you become an REI member you become part of a cooperative and get money back on everything in the form of dividends. Online shipping to Canada is available apart from some brands but REI will let you know if it’s not possible.
- Valhalla: Valhalla is fairly new to me but I love their stores too. Similar to REI, you can also get money back on your purchases and their Squamish store in particular is super well stocked. Online shopping available too.
- Decathlon: Big in Europe, Decathlon does have a presence in North America too (though no physical store in western Canada!). Their prices tend to be a little on the lower end compared to other outdoor stores, especially if you’re not buying the big brands.
- Other great options: Atmosphere, Altitude Sports, Amazon, and specific brand stores such as Patagonia, Arc’teryx and more.
Backpacing Essentials: Hiking 10 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, experts and everyone in between 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.
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 will make you more tired 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, that’s why this is one of the important things to take hiking.
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 Biolite headlamp that’s rechargeable, but battery ones are fine too. Just make sure to include a headlamp in your day hiking packing list.
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. Some backpacks come with built-in backpack hydration so you won’t need to buy something separately, but it’s more common that they don’t.
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. Recently I’ve switched out to using my Sawyer Squeeze water purifier more but since the tablets take up very little space and weight I’ll still pack them when packing for hiking.
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. Snack are definitely one of the hiking necessities!
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 packing for a day hike, you should really take an emergency blanket.
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 fire starter blocks. Since backcountry fires in BC are prohibited, this should only be done in real emergencies.
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. A good hiking day pack can make or break your hike. You want to be comfortable while still having plenty of room for your gear, layers (& snacks!) in your hiking bag.
The size of your hiking back pack will depend on hike length and how much you plan to carry. Backpack capacity is measured in litres, based on the volume held in the body of the bag.
For a day hiking pack you should get a backpack, not a crossbody, or messenger bag. With a backpack you’ll be hands free and it’s just a lot more comfortable too.
My day hiking backpack is a 20L backpack which I use for pretty much every day hike. This is generally considered quite a small hiking backpack. Something between 15 – 30 litres will be sufficient for the majority of day hikes.
A high-quality backpack made for the outdoors is important. ie. not one of those ones that can’t be adjustable! I use a Lowe Alpine backpack, but my ski touring bag is Osprey and I find that super comfortable. If I need to upgrade, I’ll likely go for an Osprey backpacking bag as my camping backpack.
When buying a day hike backpack or backpacking backpack, 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; chest and waist straps to distribute weight away from your shoulders, and easy to reach compartments for snacks or your camera/phone.
It’s important to go to a store if you can and try on backpacking bags. Some brands make hiking backpacks for women, some are unisex. It typically depends on the legth of your torso and your size. You can try REI backpacks on in store, and the same with MEC and other outdoors shops. Backpacks are all made slightly differently and you won’t know what’s best for you unless you try them on!
Check out Osprey backpacks for hiking as they’re some of the best hiking backpacks out there.
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.
When it comes to what to take hiking, 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 and consider them a hiking gear essential.
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. For some hikes in muddy/snowy areas, this wlll likely be top your your list when it comes to what to take on a hike.
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 a while to dry but, if it’s all you have, don’t let that stop you from getting out hiking! Here’s what to pack hiking when it comes to clothes.
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 too much, as long as you’ve got something that’ll keep you nice and warm.
My day hike gear changes a little depending on the time of year and weather, but I’ll usually have some fleece type top and always a waterproof.
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!
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 pack for day hike nd 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.
Camera gear & electronics
I’ll usually add some form of camera to my hiking equipment list. Sure it’s 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.
Another thing to add to your hiking gear list is bug spray! 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 easy to forget but a must on a list of things to bring hiking. In popular areas pit toilets might have hand sanitizer but don’t count on it. It’s always best to take your own small bottle along with you.
Finally on this list of things to bring when hiking, 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.