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 a leisurely hike lasting only a couple of hours along relatively flat terrain or a route that continues several hours or days with significant 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 for your safety. Having someone reasonably experienced in hiking can make a huge difference both for safety and being ready for unplanned 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 and grade, kinds of terrain, hours of sunlight and the best seasons to attempt it especially for backcountry and higher elevations.
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 printed 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 reasonably accurate open source maps online you can download.
Essential 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 altitude throughout an entire trip. The loss is not counted in this quantity.
An example will 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 higher the elevation gain over a shorter range, 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 1300m of gain may take you anywhere from 3-5 hours or longer depending on the technicality of the terrain (roots, rocks to climb over). This can alter the amount of hydration, nutrition, and equipment you require and the amount of overall time you need for both ascent and descent.
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. When planning routes, make sure not to confuse the maximum elevation with elevation gain.
Terrain can vary considerably over different grades. A trail with only a small elevation gain 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. Difficult routes may need chains or ropes to help. 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 quickly change the trail.
The higher you go in the mountains, 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. Some trails may be closed by the local parks and should not be tried so that you do not put your own life at risk or the life of rescue crew should there be an accident.
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. You should always carry some form of illumination.
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 what not to 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 beneficial 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 planned route and details of your days with other people especially for longer journeys. 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. Always research your path correctly and take the necessary gear. You can never predict an accident or change in conditions that may catch you out. Make sure you pack the essentials and not put your life or those of the rescue services at risk.
Map, written directions, compass, GPS Watch, Phone, GPS
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. Always have a printed copy of your map and directions. I would always suggest relying firstly on using a physical map and compass and have your electronic devices saved only when it is necessary. This avoids draining the battery for something that could save your life.
Some GPS watches such as the Suunto Ambit Series allow you to plot routes and download them onto the device which will then navigate you.
A mobile phone can work reasonably well close to the city by pinpointing a location. However, the further you go out of signal reach a solo GPS navigation device would be very beneficial.
Some kinda of light should be packed for the chance you may get stranded overnight. Ensure your headtorch is bright enough and you have enough batteries. An emergency light can also be crucial to have on some trips.
Tip – Put the battery in the wrong way round to avoid draining it when it’s off or accidentally switched on.
Something that will attract attention to others such as a whistle, emergency light, torch or a mirror.
Having a phone on hand for emergency communication is pretty valuable. Having a small battery pack can help keep it charged. Consider putting your phone onto airplane mode to stop it searching for signal when there isn’t any, which can drain the battery. Another tip would be to have another device to take pictures on if you want to document your trip – this again would save the battery on your phone.
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.
A small first aid kit containing some essential items should be carried at all times and can include additional items such as blister plasters, Vaseline, bug spray, hand Sanitizer, Antibiotic cream, sting cream, sun protection, lip balm. There are some different sized packs available depending on the length of your trip, but you can quite easily customise them to your needs.
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. Having waterproof matches, or a lighter allow you to start a fire.
An emergency blanket or bivvy is small and light and can save your life if you are stuck overnight.
Hydration should be taken no matter how long the route is. The longer you are out and the more advanced 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.
Various sized flasks and bladders are available depending on how much you can carry.
If you are travelling for an extended period and unable to carry enough water, then you should use water purification devices or tablets. The Lifestraw selection offers a variety of choices to gain clean drinking water. 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 disease – 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 purified water for cooking.
Simple: sandwich, wrap, fruit, nuts, energy bars, chews, gels, liquid nutrition powder
More extended 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.
You should carry an extra set of layers for extreme drops in temperature or changes in conditions if you are forced to stop overnight. Socks, gloves, buffs and a warm hat are good ideas. Consider having a couple different options depending on where you are going and the temperatures during the night.
A waterproof and windproof layer should be packed for an emergency even if it isn’t required during the day. A system like Goretex allows breathability and protection.
For colder conditions, a synthetic or Down jacket can be especially beneficial for a warm mid-layer or outer layer.
Choosing a jacket that can squish down into a small space (Red Salmon jacket above and Rab Down jacket) can give you some added protection and easy packing.
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. Using a dry bag to store your clothing can be a good idea.
It’s wise not to choose clothing made of cotton which absorbs moisture such as sweat and contribute to hypothermia. You should try a layering system such as a base layer that is moister wicking, a couple mid-layers that keeps you warm (long sleeve warm top or down jacket) and then an outer layer for protection (Goretex jacket).
Sun cream, sun spray, SPF lip balm, sunglasses, cap
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 packs, which are big enough for all my essentials on shorter trips. For longer trips, I will take a different size camping bag.
Having some waterproof cases and dry sacks can keep electronic and clothing dry.
For more technical terrain or areas you may be travelling across the snow. Lightweight 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.
For icy and cold conditions a snow boot is ideal and taking some kind of traction is a good idea for slippery conditions such as Yaktraxs or chains.
If you need to get dry, especially feet to avoid blisters a small towel can be great.