Hiking can see intimidating if you haven’t grown up with family and friends who are familiar with the Rockies, but it is really an activity with a very low barrier to entry. While there are many outdoor specialty stores that sell gear specifically for hiking, most of what you need to hit the trails is probably already in your house.
The necessities for hiking can be split into 3 main categories. Food, gear, and knowledge. If you have these categories covered, you’re guaranteed to be prepared in the mountains.
Food is really dependent on your own preferences. My suggestions are many snacks rather than a larger meal-like option. Try to bring foods that contain protein and will give your body energy. Some popular options are trail mix, beef jerky, and granola bars. Personally, I often opt for hardboiled eggs, as they travel well and fit my protein requirement as a vegetarian. Apples, bananas, carrots and snap peas are also good options for a quick and healthy snack that travels well. Sometimes, however, you just don’t have to time or energy to prepare a lunch for hiking. A crowd favourite amongst my friends is Subway, which we all agree tastes best on a mountain. Regardless of what you decide to bring, follow this main rule: pack out every piece of garbage you bring with you, every wrapper, napkin and even apple core. Even organic materials such as apple cores or orange peel are not natural to the environment and can cause harm by conditioning wildlife to associate humans with food. The trail is not a compost bin!
Always bring extra snacks, just in case, and more water than you anticipate needing. I usually bring 2 litres of water on the trail, and extra water and snacks for the car, but adjust this based on your personal needs. (2 litres should be more than enough for a beginner hiker on a moderate hike).
Buying gear can quickly get expensive. Luckily, most of the high tech outdoorsy gear has affordable alternatives that you already own. This will allow you to slowly invest in gear as you get into hiking, without needing to buy everything all at once.
Most important are your shoes. Make sure you are hiking in proper running shoes not style shoes such as Vans or Converse. Your feet will thank you. Hiking boots or trail runners are certainly a worthwhile investment if you plan to hike more regularly, they provide greater support, grip and protection for your feet, but you can hike without hindrance in running shoes as well. I hiked in running shoes for 4 years before I made the investment in hiking boots. While the boots have made a great difference for me and I am glad to have them, they are not strictly a requirement to get out in the mountains.
Next you will need a bag to carry your food, water and other gear. You can use any backpack, as long as it has two straps. Choose a bag that sits evenly on both shoulders to distribute the weight. This will be more comfortable for you and keep you balanced on uneven terrain. If you have a backpack with a hip strap, this would be a good choice as the belt helps to remove some of the weight from the shoulders and keeps the bag secure, so it does not pull you off balance.
Always bring extra layers. Weather changes quickly in the mountains and you want to be prepared. If you have to buy any one item to start hiking, I would recommend a waterproof rain jacket. This is key to keeping you warm and comfortable in the event of a sudden weather change. Otherwise bring one jacket and one sweater or fleece for warmth. If you wear shorts while hiking, a longer pant layer is a good idea. NEVER WEAR JEANS! Jeans are not comfortable to hike in, and they stay wet the longest. On cooler days, bring gloves and a toque, on warmer days make sure to pack a sun hat. Sunglasses, sunscreen and bug spray are always good to have as well.
Bear spray is the last piece of gear that I would recommend purchasing if you are a first time hiker. In Canada you need to be over 18 to buy bear spray, as you will need to sign a waiver. Ensure you ask how to use the bear spray when you buy it, as it is a weapon and only effective if you use it correctly. Hopefully you will never have a close enough encounter with a bear to need it, but it is better to be safe!
This leads us to my last recommended category: Knowledge. It is important you are aware of the potential dangers in the Rockies before you embark on a hike. Many hikes are outside of cell service so you will need to be able to manage without outside help for the duration of the hike. ALWAYS STAY ON THE TRAIL! There are two main reasons for this. The first is conservation of the area. It is difficult for the plants to grow if they keep getting stepped on, so stick to designated trails. The other is to prevent yourself from getting lost. I have heard stories of hikers getting lost and having to stay overnight on a hike because they left the trail and couldn’t find their way back.
Next, always read about the hike before you begin. Sites like AllTrails can be good resources to learn about recent hikers experiences (check the comments), as can official websites for the area you are hiking in, to check for closures or animal sighting. Blogs also provide a good resource as they explain the trail in greater detail, so you know what to expect! Heed warnings and bear closures, these signs are always put up for a reason!
Familiarize yourself with what to do in an animal encounter, speak loudly or sing on the trail to warn wildlife of your presence (they will usually try to avoid humans), and hike in groups.
Below is a table you can use as a checklist for hiking!
|2 litres water||Shoes to hike in||Good (long) socks|
|Lunch||Shoes for the car||Pants or shorts (not denim)|
|4 extra snacks||Backpack||T-shirt|
|Sunscreen/ Bug spray||Fleece or sweater|
|Bear Spray||Rain jacket|
|Sunglasses||Sunhat or toque and mitts (weather dependant)|
Feel free to ask questions in the comments! Happy Hiking everyone!