British Columbia has an enormous network of trails that vary from easy to technical terrain. For any hiker or trail runner, you should always be prepared whether you are going on an easy hike lasting only a couple of hours along relatively flat terrain or a route that lasts several hours or days with major elevation gain and distance.
I have always enjoyed hiking and been fortunate to find friends at the same level to go on some relatively challenging hikes in Vancouver. I think it’s critical to hike or trail run with at least one other person if you begin to explore remote areas. Having someone reasonably experienced in hiking can make a huge difference both for safety and being ready for a route planned and issues that may occur.
Before undertaking a hike always plan and research the way you have chosen and become familiar with the distance, elevation gain, kinds of terrain and the best seasons to attempt it. There are a couple of great websites that list Vancouver Trails with everything you need to know about the hike. I would suggest having a copy of the directions and a decent map for the area you are going. You can find maps at Mountain stores such as MEC. Otherwise, there are some fairly accurate open source maps online you can download.
Key Things to consider when planning a Hike or Trail Run
Elevation Gain is a measurement of the accumulation of height travelled in meters or feet. This should not be confused with maximum elevation. Total elevation gain is the sum of every increase in height throughout an entire trip. The loss is not counted in this sum. An example would be, if you travel up a mountain from 600m to its highest point of 1500m your gain would be 900m. If you were to travel back down to the start and repeat the route your gain would be 1800m.
When preparing for a route you should understand the amount of elevation and what distance that covers. The greater the elevation gain over a shorter distance the steeper the gradient that you will climb. This can make a significant difference in how long a route will take and how difficult it will be. A 10km hike with 200m gain may only take 1-2 hours; however, a 10km trek with 1800m of gain may take you anywhere from 3-5 hours depending on the technicality of the terrain. This can alter the amount of hydration, nutrition, and equipment you require and the amount of overall time you need.
Maximum Elevation is the highest point you go measured from Sea level. If you are already in a mountainous region, you may be starting several hundred meters above sea level already, which may mean your elevation gain will be smaller than the highest point that you reach.
Terrain can vary considerably. Even a reasonably flat trail can have technical terrain. This can include hazardous rocks, creek crossings and tree roots. Steeper gradients don’t always result in technical terrain. Some routes can be relatively easy switchbacks where others can be more vertical that require the use of poles or hands to manoeuvre over boulders or loose roots. More technical terrain can make your descent last as long as the ascent, which should be considered when allowing for time.
Carefully consider the footwear and equipment you may need. Weather conditions can easily change the trail.
The higher you go, the shorter the season for accessibility. Higher altitude trails will become harder and more dangerous to access during the fall, winter and early seasons from snowfall. This should never be attempted without the correct equipment and experience.
Something to always consider when planning a trip is the amount of daylight you can use. The deeper into mountains you go, the shorter the day. Mountains and forests can reduce sunlight in the early and later portions of the day by a matter of hours. Always start early and allow yourself plenty of time for a return or a safe location to stop overnight.
Bears and Cougars
You should be aware if you are going to a region that can have bears or cougars. There is some useful information available online, which can provide you specific things to do and not do if you confront either. There are products like bear spray and bear bangers that can be extremely useful for your protection. Being loud on the trail can be a very effective strategy that will deter the bears, so you don’t accidentally creep up on them.
Check the weather conditions for the days you plan to hike and remember to check different altitudes as the conditions can vary. Weather in the mountains can change very quickly so you should be prepared for changes in conditions.
Communication and planning
Always communicate your planning with others for longer journeys and check in with them regularly. If you are hiking in a group, make sure everyone knows the plan and has the appropriate gear.
Other things to Consider:
Minimize your impact on the environment – camping and fires
Dispose of your waste correctly – take it home with you.
Be considerate to the wildlife and your impact.
Don’t feed the wildlife.
Keep food in containers and hidden away from Bears
Top essentials for hikes and trail runs
I have put together a list of the top essentials that you should have with you. Some items would not always be necessary for straight forward local hikes whereas others would be essential if you begin to go on challenging and long routes that venture into the backcountry. I’ve seen far too many people unprepared for hikes or heard reports of mountain rescues because hikers are not prepared for the routes they have set out on. Once again, research your route properly and buy the necessary gear. You can never predict an accident or change in conditions that may catch you out, so make sure you pack the essentials!
Hydration should be taken no matter how long the route is. The longer you are out and the more advance the terrain, the more you will lose through perspiration and general loss. You can work out your sweat rate and determine how much water you need to consume per hour and alter that for the conditions such as high temperatures, which would require more fluid.
If you are travelling for an extended period and unable to carry enough water, then you should use water purification devices or tablets. Although these don’t taste great, it is highly recommended to purify water from any running source to prevent illness (you can never be sure what is upstream that could cause illness – such as a dead animal in the water). Always take from a moving source and not stagnant water.
If you can manage the extra weight and space then a simple stove and gas canister will allow you to boil water and cook more nutritious meals.
Simple: sandwich, wrap, fruit, nuts, energy bars, chews, gels, liquid nutrition powder
Longer travel: Pasta, vegetables, packaged foods, freeze dried packs
You should consider roughly 200-300 per hour and additional calories for emergency use. Always take extra even if you don’t need it, someone in your group might.
Map, GPS, written directions, compass.
You should try to understand how to navigate with a map and compass in case you don’t have cell reception or your electronic devices run out of power.
4. First aid
A small first aid kit containing some essential items should be carried at all times and can include blister plasters, Vaseline, bug spray, hand Sanitizer, Antibiotic cream, sting cream.
Cell phone, mirror, torch, whistle, emergency communication device.
A couple of things for signalling for help should it be required. A device such as a Spot can send an SOS signal in an emergency. Although expensive, it could be critical to have on some trips. Having a small battery pack can save you at times. Consider putting your phone onto airplane mode to stop it searching for signal when there isn’t any, which can drain the battery.
A pocketknife or multi-tool can be a handy device for multiple procedures.
You should carry a couple of options to enable you to create heat or keep you warm. An emergency blanket or bivvy are small and light and can save your life if you are stuck overnight. Having waterproof matches, or a lighter allow you to start a fire.
8. Extra clothing
You should carry an extra set of layers for extreme drops in temperature or changes in conditions. Socks, gloves, and touk are good ideas. Choosing a jacket that can squish down into a small space can help with space and giving you some added protection.
It’s important to keep your extra clothes packed separately to avoid them getting wet which can be a contributing factor to hyperthermia if the temperature drops. It’s wise to avoid clothing made of cotton which absorbs moisture. Wearing breathable layers and having some kind of waterproof shell is a good way to dress.
Put the battery in the wrong way round to avoid draining it when it’s off or accidentally switched on.
10. Sun protection
Sun cream, sun spray, SPF lip balm, sunglasses, cap
11. Bear spray
This is a last resort method of protection only to be used if a bear comes too close. It should be readily accessible and sprayed in short bursts.
Things to Consider
Depending on the length of time you are travelling a daypack or larger camping bag would be ideal options. For day ventures I like to use my Salomon trail pack, which is big enough for all my essentials. For longer trips, I will take a different size camping bag.
For more technical terrain or areas you may be travelling across the snow. Light weight collapsible ones make for easier packing.
Shoes and boots
Everyone has preferences over what kind of shoe or boot they should wear. I’ve personally used hiking boots in the past but find them too cumbersome and heavy that I now tend to choose a trail running shoe with the right kind of grip and support for the terrain. They are far lighter and more responsive over a variety of paths that allow me to move much faster.
Bigger boots will offer more support if you have a lot to carry. Always break in your footwear before using them and use a good pair of socks to avoid blisters.