Packing List: What to Bring to the Mountains

Nov 3, 2017 | 2 comments

Being in the mountains isn’t just about beautiful views and delicious hiking snacks… although who doesn’t love celebrating with treats after a long, hard hike?

What you bring with you in your backpack could potentially save your life; at the very least, it’ll keep you warm. This is our comprehensive gear list for the mountains, created in partnership with Sporting Life .

Don’t be that guy

You’ve probably been on a hike where someone shows up with just a plastic water bottle and skate shoes (or maybe you’ve even been that person yourself). Then 5km in, they suddenly realize they’re hangry, cold, and their feet are killing them. That person is miserable and ends up slowing everyone else down. Don’t be that guy!

With so many great options for gear out there, there’s no reason your 1st (or 50th) mountain experience shouldn’t be as pleasant as possible!

1st Rule: Bring layers

If you don’t read anything else, remember this…pack layers!

It is absolutely crucial to bring layers into the mountains, because of the rapidly changing weather and because your body temperature will fluctuate with the activity you’re doing (i.e. stopping and starting again on a hike). You can read our winter guide to layering here

There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Packing List: What to Bring to the Mountains for a Day Hike

Water bottle or 2L Camelbak

It goes without saying that this is one of the most important things you should bring with you. Always bring more than you need just incase you get lost, or someone else in your party runs out. Getting momentum again after you’ve stopped for water can also be killer, so I always prefer having a water bladder to sip on as I walk.

Day hiking bag 10L or more.

Usually we hike with 20-30L for a day hike. You can usually fit a water bladder, some small snacks, a camera and a couple of layers in there. It’s really all you need for a day hike.

What we recommend:

 Gregory Women’s Maya 10 bag,

Gregory Sula 28 bag for longer hikes

Hiking Boots

Good hiking boots will make or break you. Get some shoes with good cushioning and your joints will thank you for it.

High ankle support will prevent you from rolling an ankle on uneven ground. Lighter trail running boots will save you energy, but you have less support.

Getting boots that fit well are critical for avoiding blisters as well, but you should also pack moleskins or blister tape just in case.

Waterproof or Goretex’d boots are a bonus that’ll allow you to go anywhere and keep your feet dry at all times (just don’t forget that water can still pour in the top!).

If you’re planning to walk on lots of rock and scree, look for thick rubber soles. Some shoes barely last a season if you’re pushing them hard week in, week out.

Over the years we’ve been through many brands, but I always seem to come back to my old Merrells. I’ve also found trail running boots like Hoka One’s to be the most forgiving on joints.

What we recommend:

 Timberland Women’s Norwood Hiking Boot, 
Merrell Men’s Moab 2 Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot

Base layer:

A good base layer is really important for your layering system. This should be a light t-shirt, long sleeved t-shirt or light thermal layer that you wear against your skin. It should be a thin material and sweat wicking. You can even get anti-bacterial lining on materials now if you’re prone to being a bit stinky.

What we recommend:

Nike and Under Armour do great jobs of making light, breathable base layers, suitable for winter or summer. Here are a couple of examples:

NIKE Men’s Base Layer Long Sleeve Training Top

Under Armour Men’s Packaged Base 2.0 Crew

Mid Layer (optional)

Depending on the season and the forecast, you may want to pack an extra mid layer. This is just a small insulating layer to give you a little extra heat. In winter this might be a fleece or a thermal layer.

I’ve recently been using the Columbia Omni-Heat range; clothes with a layer of shiny, reflective dots to keep heat trapped. They’re brilliant.

I use the Columbia Men’s Midweight Half Zip Omni Heat Top Black Shirt and it’s awesome.

Louise likes the Arc’teryx Women’s Kyanite Jacket, 

Light-weight Jacket /Down

This is a light-weight, packable layer that you can throw on when the temperature drops or when you stop for a break. Bonus points if you can stuff it and compress it into a backpack. Real or synthetic down jackets are generally the best option here.

I’ve been using the Arc’teryx Cerium Jacket for years and it’s going to take something fantastic for me to consider switching.

Arctery’x has got to be our favourite brand when it comes to hiking. It was designed by professional climbers so it can really take a beating and it’s also beautifully form fitting. It looks so much less boxy than other brands like North Face (which we also own).

Rain jacket:

Packing a shell means that you’re guaranteed to stay happy in all weather. Getting a thick waterproof coat is always an option, but having lots of thin layers is usually preferable. Hiking is always very stop/start, and I find that being able to easily layer up and down is better than bringing one big layer. When it comes to shells, I really like the boxy North face shells, because they fit over virtually anything.

I currently use the North Face Venture 2 Jacket.

Hiking socks

Not all socks are the same! I’ve found that (perhaps unsurprisingly), buying ‘hiking socks’ has actually proved to be a good investment. If you’re wearing hiking boots, having sweat-wicking, long socks is what you want to look for. These are pretty close to what we use.

Darn Tough socks are also pretty awesome.

Hat for sun protection

Nothing will end your day faster than heat stroke. If it’s a seriously hot day, you want to be keeping that head nice and cool under a cap. Also, having a sunburnt scalp sucks. Personally we like trucker caps and snapbacks but there are plenty of more functional options out there.

Shorts or leggings

It’s impossible for us to wear trousers on a hot day (or even a mild day). Louise basically hasn’t worn trousers since 1998, so you’ll always find her in leggings or “Fashletic” gear. Lulu lemon is great, but Glyder Apparel has won her heart for the past few seasons.

For men, the choice is pretty straightforward. I like to wear Arc’teryx shorts like the Arc’teryx Russet Short 12″ , and if it’s really cold I’ll probably throw some Lulu lemon athletic trousers on.


Not an issue for everyone, but one of us is pretty pasty and gets a little overcooked without it (cough..Robin..cough). SuperGoop or P20 (if you’re in Europe) are our go to brands

Bug spray

There are times when you seriously need this. “Off” is a good option; you can buy it in virtually any grocery store in Canada.

Bear spray

Not to be used like bug spray, FYI. Keep it close-by on hikes and hope you never have to use it! You can rent this in most rental stores in the mountains. Don’t try and fly with it.

Hiking poles

Hiking Poles are great if you have bad knees like us. There are tons out there; these are a good starting point. You want telescopic poles if possible; Short poles on the way up, longer on the way down!

Proper hiking snacks

What we recommend:
Energy bars (PowerBar Plant Protein Dark Chocolate Sea Salt is my favorite),

Electrolyte dissolving strips

Slow release energy fruit like apples

Sugar in the form of candies like M&M’s

Protein Balls (homemade are best)

Other Accessories

  • We usually wait until we’re back in civilisation before we start thinking about a proper meal, but if you can’t last a day without a hot meal, dehydrated meals are an option. Backpacker’s Pantry is a good brand we’ve often used.
  • Weather dependent: toque, mitts and scarf or face warmer for the peak. Robin likes to bring gloves and handwarmers on almost every hike and sometimes they come in pretty handy!
  • Headlamps are always a good failsafe to have with you.
  • Sunglasses are good for a good long day out in the sun, and they’re also a great windbreaker when it’s dusty or snowy.
  • Swimsuit.. huh? Yes sometimes it gets pretty hot and sticky out there and all of a sudden those icy lakes get a little more inviting. (+microfibre towel)
  • GPS SOS beacon. I have a Garmin InReach Mini and bring it with me everywhere. I hope I never have to use it but get a lot of peace of mind by bringing it with me everywhere. Read our post on it to find out more!

Staying safe in the mountains

Bags packed and ready to go? Make sure you read up on how to stay safe in the mountains. This article goes more in-depth into things like GPS, route planning and the essentials for keeping safe.

Written byRobin

About us

About us

Hi, we’re Rob and Louise! We’re obsessed with travel and love to share our adventures! We’re a UK/Canadian couple that currently lives Banff, Canada.


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  1. Darryl

    Is there any specific backpack brand that you guys would recommend? Something spacious but comfortable?

    • Robin Tuck

      Hi Darryl, thanks for the question!

      We’re brand ambassadors for Gregory Backpacks (full disclosure), and as a result we’ve had a chance to try a ton of their bags. We’ve found them to be fantastic for all of our needs, be that day hikes, multi-day hikes, ice climbing, skiing, photography or whatever, and will definitely be sticking with them for the foreseeable future. They have spacious and comfortable bags if that’s what you’re looking for, but that’s still a fairly vague criteria if you’re trying to narrow it down a specific company. Gregory’s bags are tough and many of their bags are pretty stylish (as well as functional). I’m currently running around with the Gregory Targhee 35L, which is a backcountry winter bag, but as the snow melts I’m likely to switch to something less heavy duty and more functional for summer hiking.

      For the sake of fairness though, I should also mention that I’ve used Arcteryx, Osprey, Dakine, and Black Diamond and have no complaints about any of them. Ultimately I think they all make great bags but you may find different brands feel more comfortable to you personally. The best way to figure it out unfortunately is going and trying on a bunch and seeing what feels best.I’m not sure where you’re based, but you could try REI in the US or MEC in Canada to test drive a variety of different options and brands.

      If you have a specific purpose or size range in mind then I might be able to give you some more targeted advice.

      Hope that helps!


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