The satisfaction at the top of a summit after an 800m elevation gain is greatly effected by a well stocked day pack that doesn’t weigh you down. While it is important to be prepared for what nature can throw at you, it is still possible to be over prepared and end up paying for it when you’re lugging 20lbs up the mountain side. There are a few essential items that you should always have in your daypack (for safety purposes) and some items that are weather dependant. Here are my top 10 daypack essentials you won’t find me without.
1. First Aid Kit
Safety should always be a number one priority. It’s not uncommon to have to deal with blisters, twisted ankles, and scrapes in a hiking party. Nothing could be more miserable then hours of hiking ahead of you and an aggressive blister on your foot. On scree slopes or trails with lots of roots, it’s easier then you think to roll an ankle. Carrying a small first aid kit will be your best defence in these situations. Among other items, make sure your kit is well stocked with moleskin, tensor bandages and various bandaid sizes. Remember to restock it after each use so your not caught on the trail with low supplies. MEC has a great assortment of first aid kits, from small to large, you won’t be left hanging with one of these in your pack.
2. Water Bottle/Hydration Pack
Staying hydrated is not only important for your health and safety (dehydration the main cause of heat and sun stroke), but it will also greatly improve your enjoyment while out and about. Most people underestimate the amount of water they’ll need or will sacrifice water to reduce the weight of their pack. I always remind myself and friends, that the best place to carry water is in you, so go ahead, bring that extra water bottle, if it gets too heavy, drink it, you probably needed it any way. Nalgene makes great water bottles that come in a variety of cute colours (even glow in the dark!) and are so indestructible, they come with a lifetime guarantee (available at most outdoors stores, including MEC). An alternative to bringing multiple water bottles is a hydration pack. Usually coming in 2L sizes, it sits along your back in your pack and a hose extends out over your shoulder for easy drinking. Not only are these great for their extra volume, but you don’t need to stop and take off your pack to grab a sip of water!
3. An Extra Layer
I always carry an extra layer to put on for when stopped on breaks and/or at the summit. You’re always the warmest while you’re moving, so you should not be wearing all your layers then. The sweat you generate while trekking will chill you when stopped and your heart rate settles. The extra layer is there to throw on to prevent these chills, as once you get them, it’s hard to get rid of them. As well, when taking on trails with significant elevation gain, the higher you go, the colder the air is. It’s not uncommon to start a hike in shorts and a t-shirt, to reach the summit and find snow and wind gusts as chilling as Dementors. Depending on what time of year it is will determine how intense of a layer you’ll need to bring. Shoulder season (spring and fall) requires something more insulating then a sweater. My go to jacket is the Dual Degree Jacket by MEC, its super light, packs up into a small pouch and breaks the wind and insulates like none other. Not to mention its pretty fabulous looking. On warm summer days, I usually find a simple sweater, like the yoga sweater from Lululemon, will suffice.
Continuing with the Dementor chilling winds found on mountain peaks, I always pack a cute toque (or beanie for our American friends) or a headband if you want to accentuate a high ponytail. Having something cover your head and ears keeps most of your body heat in and prevents ears from aching.
5. Rain Jacket
Rain + no rain jacket = wet clothes. Wet clothes = chilled to the bone grumpy girl. Weather in the mountains can change rapidly. Pack your rain jacket even if the weather man says there’s only a 30% chance of rain. It also can double as an extra layer. Pack your rain jacket, enough said.
6. A Snack
Anybody who has hiked/backpacked with me knows how hungry I can get! There must be something about that mountain air and high elevations that makes stomachs growl. After some very hungry experiences I’ve learned to always keep a bag of trail mix or granola bars on hand. I have a go to trail mix recipe that I’ll be sure to post later. It’s hard to climb a mountain on empty (trust me), so pack a snack.
Whether its a DSLR or your iPhone, you need something to document the adventure. If you’re going to sweat it up, you better have something to support your bragging rights.
8. Sunglasses & Lip balm/Lipgloss
At higher elevations the sun can be brutally powerful. Just like you wear sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, you need sunglasses to protect your retina, plus it’s nice to not be squinting all the time. Lip balm is essential to keeping those kissers moisturized when exposed to the elements. Combined these two things will keep you safe and looking great. IMPORTANT: Snow, water and altitude each double the level of sun exposure, therefore significantly reducing the time in the sun before you start burning. I’ll post about sun protection and what the UV index really means in terms of what kind of sunscreen you should be opting for soon.
9. Bear Spray
You are in the wild, therefore you are in the home of wild animals. Depending on where you are, different animals will be the king of the land. Here in the rocky mountains the grizzly bear or any bear (black bear, brown bear) are to be feared and don’t forget about the infamous cougar, which likes to stalk its prey. Now before everyone becomes terrified, in most cases these animals are scared of you. They smell/hear you and the chatty kathy bunch you’re with and take off for the hills before you can see it. Very rarely do these predators seek out humans for food, it’s just not in their nature. On top of other pre-emptive measures for avoiding wildlife encounters, bear spray can be effective but should be considered a last resort. I always carry bear spray on my hip belt for quick and easy access. Check out this Bear Spray Fact Sheet to learn more about bear safety. Bear spray and alternatives can be bought at most outdoors stores, like MEC.
10. Toilet Paper (TP)
Sometimes, a girl just has to go, and the only available lavatory is the bush 5m away. Or maybe you got to the outhouse before the warden was able to restock it. To avoid having to use leaves and other natural wipers, carrying a small pack of kleenex or reduced roll of TP can make life a lot more enjoyable. I like to carry a reduced TP roll and a small bottle of hand sanitizer in a ziplock sandwich bag.
And that’s it! With these daypack essentials your pack should not be full and definitely not heavy. Hope this list helps you the next time you’re wondering what to bring for the day! Happy hiking to the backcountry beauties!