Five Ways to be Hiking Season Ready

The beautiful and well-Instagrammed waters of Joffre Lakes.

Hiking and exploring the great outdoors has become an immense passion of mine over the past three years. Starting from my first hike up to Garibaldi Lake in my old runners, I have learned something new about hiking and myself with every new trail. Aside from the amazing scenery and quality time spent with good friends, I've strengthened my understanding of mental and physical perseverance, as well as the importance of quiet meditation away from the hustle of city life.

Hiking can be full of joys and disappointments-- I can't tell you how many times I've done a 20+ km hike only to be faced with a giant cloud at the summit obscuring my hard-earned views. More recently, we went on a 18 km hike up Swan Falls Loop and we had to halt our hike just one kilometre away from the summit of Eagle Mountain due to crazy snow levels and a terrible lack of visible trail markers. It was the first time that my hiking bestie and I did not complete a hike-- trust me, it was a tough pill for us to swallow. 

Nevertheless, the trials that we've faced are most heavily outweighed by the spectacular memories that we've been blessed enough to experience. While I enthusiastically encourage hiking to anyone who expresses interest, there are certain aspects that I like to highlight before those individuals think about heading out on the trail. 

With that in mind, I made a short list of my most important tips for the hiking season:

On a quick photo break before tackling the Hollywood Mountain trail in the blazing heat of the LA desert, 

1. Training:

While hiking is an enjoyable activity for all fitness levels, you will want to train hard if you wish to tackle the most stunning summits and steepest trails. As hiking is primarily cardio, simply running is a terrific way to train. My bestie and I usually run distances of 5-10+ km (with hills added in) to build up our endurance. When the winter months come around, I usually begin running on the treadmill and pushing myself through fast intervals on the stairmaster. After cardio, the strength (mostly in your back, legs, and core) to carry yourself and a heavy pack are necessary requirements to survive a hard hike and prevent possible injury or prolonged soreness. To improve my strength, I focus on exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and pilates-inspired core supersets.

At the summit of the Sulphur Skyline trail during our recent Jasper trip (post coming soon).

2. Safety and Navigation:

The feeling of being lost or unprepared on the trail is most certainly not a pleasant one. In all honesty, this tip should probably be number one rather than training (oh well, I don't feel like changing the order). First off, all to-be hikers should be aware of the ten essentials, such as flashlights; extra food, water, and clothing; matches; and maps. A portable battery charger for your phone is also a great idea. It is truly disturbing when I see happy-go-lucky individuals in jean shorts and Converse sneakers somehow scrambling up a snowy trail (while, in stark contrast, I am using microspikes and trekking poles).

With regard to navigation, always, always read the trail instructions carefully! If there is a detailed description of the trail anywhere, screenshot it on your phone and keep it for later. Also, try to search up recent trail conditions so that you will be prepared for large amounts of snow or mud. There have been several trails in which we could have saved ourselves many moments of grief if we had read the instructions more closely.

Lastly, always tell someone else where you are going-- whether it be your significant other or a responsible family member. If you get lost on the trail, do not keep on wandering further in the woods. Rather, it is best to stay put and wait for search and rescue to find you. Encountering bears (either black bears or grizzlies) is a very real possibility if you go hiking enough. If you see a black bear, make yourself look as large as possible and back up slowly (if it attacks, try fighting back and punching it on the nose). For a grizzly, avoid eye contact and back up slowly (if it attacks you, play dead by lying on your stomach and use your pack to protect your back). For extra protection, try to obtain bear spray or a bear horn.

The very challenging Crown Mountain hike, which we completed after finishing the Grouse Grind (to save money).

3. Nutrition and Hydration:

When it comes to the trail, you want to pack a mix of high-energy and protein-rich snacks that will give you both immediate and sustained bursts of energy. My favourites include hard-boiled eggs, protein bars, pepperoni sticks, trail mix, fruit (apples and bananas), chicken, and yogurt.

During the hot summer season, hydration becomes increasingly important in order to avoid heat exhaustion. For longer hikes on very hot days, I might pack up to 3 L of water in my hydration pack and even add in a Gatorade bottle for good measure. The extra weight is well worth the initial exertion and your pack will soon lighten after you finish drinking all of that H2O.

On our amazing overnight adventure up to the Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park.

4. Clothing and Gear:

As previously mentioned, I started hiking with very inadequate clothing and gear. However, over the years, my hiking buddies and I have slowly built up our arsenal of expensive but very practical hiking supplies. For instance, I invested in good hiking boots at MEC, a good overnight backpack, snowshoes, snowpants, thermal base layers, bear spray, hydration pack, first-aid emergency kit, thinsulate jacket, trekking poles, and microspikes. While I believe I have all of the basics more than covered, the wishlist never seems to end with outdoor gear-- there always seems to be at least one more "necessary" thing that you need for a future hiking trip.

A brief break during our hike up the Bald Hills in Jasper.

5. Sun Protection and Bug Season:

Although this last section is very important, it is incredibly easy to neglect! Don't forget that all of those hours in the sun can be extremely damaging to your skin (ie. painful sunburns, not to mention wrinkles and skin cancer). We always carry extra tubes of 50 SPF sunscreen and reapply lotion at least every two hours.

While the bug season is thankfully short, hiking through it can be a terrible experience. During our most recent trip to Jasper, we were not prepared for how bad the mosquitoes, gnats, horse flies, and other blood-sucking insects would be. Naively, we thought that our drugstore bug spray would do the trick; however, the labels don't tell you that the spray is ineffective on clothing and will do nothing to prevent bugs from biting your legs. As a result, I have about twelve bites on one leg and eleven on the other (and my friend had about twenty on one leg alone!). Don't underestimate bug season, friends.

Top tips when hiking during bug season: buy strong bug spray with at least 25% DEET, wear thicker hiking pants, and tuck your pants into your socks. Perhaps even think about buying a bug headnet (looking lame is well-worth the lack of bugs buzzing into your ears, mouth, and nose).

Well, I believe those are my top bits of advice for being hiking season ready. However, sometimes even the most experienced hikers can be absent-minded and forget simple things. To avoid such situations, pack for the trail the night before and create a checklist of necessary items. Don't forget to bring your ID and credit cards to buy a well-earned meal or ice cream after your hike (my favourite post-hike tradition).

Happy hiking, everyone!


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