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:
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:
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:
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).
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.
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.
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
There are times when you seriously need this. “Off” is a good option; you can buy it in virtually any grocery store in Canada.
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 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),
Slow release energy fruit like apples
Sugar in the form of candies like M&M’s
Protein Balls (homemade are best)
- 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.