7 Tips for Safely Hiking in the Rockies

The Dangers of Social Media:

Just as a bit of a disclaimer, I really don’t see myself as anyone that’s particularly hardcore or well equipped for any extreme outdoor survival, but I have picked up a few really useful things on our hiking adventures. I also know the limits of what I’m personally prepared for and capable of, and I think that’s equally as important as having the right gear.

The problem with the accessibility of social media these days is that virtually anyone with a cell phone and the name of a hike can type it in and find their way to the trailhead. There’s virtually no barrier to entry for hikes, and unfortunately it’s leading to an increase in people finding themselves out of depth and in dangerous/life-threatening situations.

Instagram (for example) is this incredible library of mindblowing outdoor photos but it often almost seems taboo to discuss the reality of the actual setup. Nobody likes to shatter the illusion that any kind of effort or preparation went into the shots, and if you were new to the outdoors I’d imagine it could be easy to underestimate the preparation that one should put in. I’ve heard a few horror stories recently and it kind of prompted me to write this post (even if it’s obvious to most people!).

Newbies:

If you’re new to the outdoors and you’re planning a trip to the Rockies, this post is for you! We’ve crammed as many tips as we can think of into one post to make sure you’re as safe and well prepared as possible while you’re exploring the Rockies! It might even help with your packing list!

Veterans:

If you’re a hiking veteran then no doubt you’ll be banging your fist against the screen as you see how many things I’ve missed out, but hopefully I’ve covered most of the basics! Feel free to get in touch if there are any massive oversights, but for the most part, this is what works for me!

1. Navigation while Hiking

  1. Download the Topo Maps Canada app
  2. Download the area you plan to hike in – find the rough location of the hike you plan to do and then download that area of the map to the app (see photo)

topo canada hiking trail map3. Every trail I’ve ever searched has appeared on this map, and you simply have to download the area that your hike is in prior to leaving cell service. The accuracy of the trails are pretty amazing, and you should be able to tell if you’re on the trail or not super easily.

4. Sometimes you can find the GPS (.GPX file) to download and load into the Topo Canada app. For doing this on mobile I’d recommend downloading the Telegram messenger app because it lets you download .zip files.

So now you have your map and you’re ready to start your hike! But wait!

  1. IMPORTANT – switch your phone to airplane mode & charge it 100% – bonus points if you bring a portable phone charger on your hike. I have an iPhone and it can quite easily keep track of the GPS signal in Airplane mode. Most hikes will be out of cell coverage anyway, so not using airplane mode will just kill your battery.
  2. Make sure you understand how to read a topographic map (Skip if this is stating the obvious!) – grey lines/rings represent changes in altitude – so with this app, not only can you tell if you’re to the left or right of the trail, but also if you’re above or below it(saved us last week).

Brief explanation:

topographic map hiking trail

Red Arrow: Travelling within two lines means that you’re travelling roughly at the same altitude. In the example below, if you’re hiking below the yellow line then you’re at a lower altitude than if you’re above it. Knowing this can help you triangulate your position relative to the trail.

Blue Arrow: Travelling across a line means you’ve moved either upwards or downwards in elevation. Each line should have the altitude written on it somewhere so that you can tell if you’re going up or down. The closer the lines are together, the faster the rate of altitude change. The photo below is from the steep blue part of the trail!

Steep grizzly peak hiking

Purple arrow: Understanding this, you can see that the area with the purple arrow is a large flat plain on the top of the mountain (see photo below). The entire area is within a single line, so we know that there is almost no significant change in elevation at all. We can also figure out that once we get above the blue line the hike gets significantly easier.

Grizzly peak hiking

Understanding the topography of a hike before you get there is a great way to avoid any nasty surprises! Why not try looking up some of our favourite hikes before you try them out!

3. Extra points if you have an emergency sat phone like the Garmin Inreach Explorer+. But they are super expensive and probably only worth investing in if you’re planning to be away for an extended period of time or are planning on doing any extreme backcountry hiking.

Personally, I like to send a screenshot of the trail I plan to do to an emergency contact (if I’m going to be out of cell range) and give them a rough time to expect me to check in or come back into range. That way, if anything happens in the backcountry, someone will know where I am roughly. I can’t tell you how much piece of mind I have when I know someone at home is watching my back.

2. First aid kit

Always useful – not just having one, but knowing how to use it and when you might need more help – recommend taking a basic first aid course or even a wilderness first aid course.

3. Protection from Animals

Bear spray should be the thing you carry in case of emergency (I carry this pretty much everywhere I go).. Bear bells will warn a bear that you’re in the area, but they won’t help you in an attack.

hiking protection bearspray

Like the old joke goes, how do you tell the difference between black bear poop and grizzly bear poop?

“Black bear poop is smaller and contains a lot of berry seeds and squirrel fur. Grizzly bear poop has little bells in it and smells like pepper spray”

 

 4.Carry lots of Water:

Water is one of the most important things you can bring with you on a hike, especially on hot days. It sounds like a lot, but I usually bring 2-3L minimum for a 4 or 5 hour hike. Sometimes I even pack an extra bottle for a top up. It’s amazing how your performance can suffer if you start to run low on water. I definitely notice that I tire quicker and stumble more if I’m not drinking properly.

My preferred method of carrying water is hiking with a water bladder. I’m not particularly loyal to any brand in particular but have always found Platypus to be pretty reliable and easy to use (This is what I use right now – see below). Almost all hiking backpacks have an attachment/compartment for one of these and the best part is the convenience (I’m currently using a Gregory Baltoro 75 GZ for longer hikes).When I’m only carrying bottles, the hassle of actually getting the bottle out sometimes can be enough to stop me hydrating properly and constantly.

hiking water bladder platypus

Longer Trips:

If you’re going on a longer trip though, 2-3L might not be enough. You’ll probably need to make use of natural water sources to top yourself up. In Canada, you might think it’s possible to gulp from springs and lakes, but there’s a serious risk of catching waterborne parasites. Giardia’s the worst (otherwise known as ‘Beaver Feaver’…yes, it’s a real thing).

Any time you plan to use a natural water source, you’re going to want to either filter or kill anything nefarious swimming around in it.

Water Filters:

I carry a lifestraw around with me for emergencies, which is a pretty good solution for rehydrating if you’re running low on water. Only downside is that you can’t filter any large quantity for storage later. There are other filters and pumps out there that will let you do that though.

Purification:

The other option is to kill everything with iodine tablets, UV light, boiling it or another combination of chemicals. Obviously the filters are the more natural way of stopping parasites, but it won’t stop any smaller bacteria lurking in it in the way that these methods will.

5. Weather:

The phrase, “if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes” sums things up better than I ever could. Mountain microclimates can be unpredictable and can change without warning.

I like to think that most people would check the weather forecast for the area they’re planning to visit prior to setting off, but just in case step 1 is: Check the weather before you set off. Most weather is manageable, but let’s be honest it’s not really very fun to be at the top of a mountain in a rain storm so if we can avoid that, it’s probably a good thing.

Without wanting to state the obvious, if the forecast is thunderstorms, it might be wise to give it a miss. Being up a mountain during an electrical storm is a very bad place to be.

Predicting bad weather?

We’ve often found that if there’s a storm predicted for the afternoon, it usually visibly builds throughout the day and culminates with a storm in the afternoon. The heat from a hot summer day causes water evaporation, changes in air pressure and a buildup in static electricity. This causes storm clouds to form, a charge to build and ultimately a thunderstorm in the afternoon (For more about the really interesting science of storms in the mountains, read this awesome article!)

My rule of thumb is usually ‘if there are already small clouds forming at the peak of the mountain in the morning, there’s a good chance that there’ll be a thunderstorm or rain later on’. I think this is the ‘bro science’ version of the actual science behind it. It might be coincidence but it seems to be a fairly good predictor so far!

An afternoon thunderstorm usually doesn’t have to ruin a day of hiking if you start at the crack of dawn and are finished early on in the day, but if you’re not familiar with the area I would always err on the side of caution. Winter’s a whole different ball game and needs a whole other level of preparation that I won’t get into.

In terms of following the weather, Apple weather is good for a general sense of it, but I recently came across ‘the weather network’ app. It has location specific weather advice and gives push notifications for inclement weather systems. I also have several friends that rely on this app for work related weather updates and they trust it 100%. App is totally free.

6.Layers and accessories:

I don’t know how many times I layer up/down on an average hike, but it borders on the absurd. Walk at a fast pace and you might be down to a t-shirt. Stop for a break on a mountain top and you might find yourself quickly needing a down jacket, hat, gloves, a raincoat or even hand-warmers.

I’m usually the guy that looks like he’s massively overpacked for the hike. And yes, nine times out of ten I’m just carrying all of that extra stuff for no reason. But 1 in 10 times all of that extra stuff is a lifesaver. You never know when a snowstorm might blow through and having an extra pair of gloves might be a godsend. I don’t think I could’ve been happier last weekend to find some hand-warmers in my bag at Lake O’Hara.

Packing List:

Aside from the clothes I bring, I usually pack all these accessories with me in case the weather turns:

  • Toque – Any works
  • Thin Gloves – depends how cold it could be (winter hiking needs winter gloves obviously, but sometimes I wear neoprene gloves if it’s still cold and wet)
  • Raincoat (just a thin shell – I’m currently rocking a North Face one)
  • Down jacket (compressible)- Arc’teryx has some great ones that compact down – Currently wearing the Cerium LT Hoody .
  • HotHands Hand warmers – can buy these from Costco in bulk or here on Amazon
  • Garbage bag to cover my bag in extreme downpours. Most backpacking bags have rain covers too.
  • Headlamp- buy online or in MEC if in Canada.
  • Torch – handy back up in case the headlamp fails.
  • Oh and we also bring tons of food; granola bars, energy balls, dehydrated food, coffee etc.
  • Hiking poles can be super helpful for scree or uneven terrain

Check back soon for a full review of our favourite hiking equipment!

These are just some of the basics that I always carry with me in case the weather turns. Obviously there’s no extreme survival gear here, but this equipment makes me comfortable in most conditions (3 seasons). I suspect that other backpackers are better prepared than I am, so feel free to google other more comprehensive outdoor packing lists!

Note:I’ve put tons of MEC links in here because it’s my favourite place to shop for gear; I’m not getting any kickbacks for posting links and I’m not affiliated with them at all. Just love their stuff! There are some Amazon affiliate links here but only for products I really recommend, and hey, Quid Pro Quo!

7. Time of day

My advice is to not start a hike in the evening (unless you have the right equipment/expertise). Another super basic tip.. but it’s easy to underestimate how long a hike will be and even more importantly, how easy it’ll be to find your route back in the dark. If you’re going hiking within a few hours of sunset then it’s probably a good idea to bring a headlamp/torch along. Sunset on a mountain top makes for some incredible photo ops, but it’s not worth it if you’re not prepared. To echo another comment I came across recently,

“an iphone torch is great for finding your keys under the couch… not so good for finding a trail in a dark forest”.

Seriously.. if you’re hiking in the dark, you need a torch/headlamp..period.

Lady mac sunset

Lady Mac at Sunset: Yes we did have jackets and headlamps for the way back!

I’m hoping that some of these basic tips can be useful to any first timers planning a hiking trip! If there are any hardcore hikers out there with more tips, I’d love to hear them!

Feel free to get in touch with any specific questions!

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SAFE HIKING IN THE ROCKIES

By | 2017-08-31T03:38:46+00:00 August 31st, 2017|Banff, Canada, Equipment, Hiking, Summer Activities, Uncategorized|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. Andy September 13, 2017 at 6:58 am - Reply

    Great article! Now I am motivated to go hiking in the Rockies! 🙂

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