The art of hiking in Canada
As we roll into summer and the outdoors pulls at us, this is a great time for hiking. What to know and what to look for.
Hiking can be great alone, as a family or couple or a group of friends. Small groups are best though, giving you a chance to inhale the scent of the forest, pause and reflect when you come across a lake or great scenery, or marvel together at some discovery. While some trails, closer to urban centres in Canada can be flat and easy, others can be more complicated.
Guide to planning a hike
Every province and territory has online resources for finding trails. One of the best is AllTrails and they include top trails, local ones and ratings for difficulty. When planning a hike, think first about the level of difficulty you’re looking for and capable of, how long you plan to be out and how long it will take you to get to the start of the trail. If you’re not an experienced hiker, look for easy to moderate trails first. Find out how long the trail is an expected time to complete. The more difficult the trail, the longer it will take you.
Check Google Maps for teail details as well. Most trail websites will link to a Google Maps as well. Use the satellite view to check it out. You may find images and comments from hikers as well. This can help you plan. Be sure to have enough daylight time unless you plan on overnight camping and that’s a whole other set of preparations!
What to take on a hike
You may only be going out for a couple of hours, but if you get turned around on a difficult trail deep in the woods, especially if there are overlapping trails, you may end up lost or taking a lot longer. You may also end up following a game trail instead of the hiking trail. It happens. So what should you consider to take? Here’s a basic checklist
- Suitable backpack with waist and chest straps and either waterproofed or a rain cover you can put over it if you need to.
- An emergency blanket. These are made from ultrathin foil and can be found in Canadian Tire or MEC stores among others. Lightweight and perfect if you get stuck overnight to keep you warm.
- A metal mirror. Just a small one. If you get lost, you can use it to flash in the sun at search helicopters.
- Waterproof matches in a waterproof container. Easy to find and they can be useful if you need to light a fire. An alternative is a ferrous metal fire starter that uses sparks to get a fire going.
- Water. Lots of it. Especially in the high heat of summer. You can take a camel pack or refillable water bottles. Take a little extra just in case! As you drink it, the weight in your pack will lessen.
- First aid kit. It shouldn’t be big and is best to have a triangle bandage, elastic bandages for a wrist or foot sprain and some moleskin in case you get blisters. Maybe a few bandaids for minor scrapes.
- Tick repellant. This of course, depends on where you are in Canada and the time of year. Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, southern Ontario and Quebec have severe tick problems. If there are ticks, when you get back from your hike, do a body check. They can be sneaky! A natural tick repellent is AtlanTick, made in Nova Scotia and health Canada approved. It’s natural and has no chemicals. They have a line for pets too.
- Compass. But only if you know how to read and use one. If you’re taking your smartphone, chances are, it has a compass app already.
- Smartphone: Besides taking great pictures for memories, have the Google Maps app ready. Apple Maps is good, but not near as detailed as Google Maps, which can show you where you are to within a few metres.
- Back up battery. For your smartphone! If you get lost, you’ll have extra juice, even if you’re out of cell tower range.
- Energy bars. This is extra to any food you make take along with you. A few energy bars can be stuffed into a side pocket and great if you get stuck somewhere to keep your energy up.
What can seem like an easy hike can turn into a longer one. Especially if you take a difficult trail with lots of roots and rocky climbs, which can lead to sprained ankles. So make sure you have good hiking sneakers or boots. If it’s a difficult trail that is twisty, wear hiking boots that will give you good ankle support.
If you pack it in, make sure you pack it out! Take along a baggie to put in waste such as tissue paper, wrappers or other garbage. Don’t toss it in the woods. Animals can eat it and get sick and it’s just disrespectful to treat the woods that way!
What to wear hiking
This all depends on the time of year and the terrain you’ll be hiking. It’s best to layer your clothes. Check the forecast ahead of time. If you’re hiking mountains, the weather can change quickly from warm to cold if a system comes in, same for along the coasts. The higher you go, the cooler it can get. if no rain is forecast or light showers, take a lightweight packable poncho. If it’s cool starting out but will warm up, start with multiple layers and remove them as you get warmer and vice versa.
Dealing with wildlife
Depending on where you are and how deep into the woods you go, you may encounter wildlife. From moose to bears, lynx or cougars. About 99.95% of the time, you’ll never know they’re even there. They’re more afraid of us than we are of them. Cougars rarely if ever hunt humans. Same with bears. Lynx and bobcats will leave you alone. Coyotes can be aggressive if they’re in a pack. For most animals, making yourself seem larger and making a lot of noise will send them scampering. Don’t ever turn your back on a wild predator. Ever. Don’t stare them down either as that can be a sign of aggression. Move away from them slowly and make a lot of noise. Moose can be quite cranky and you’re actually better off running into a wolf or a bear than a moose. Keep your distance from them and they’ll leave you alone. Never offer food. Or hugs. Wildlife aren’t into hugs.
Look up and look down!
There’s so much to see! From interesting fungi (don’t touch or eat them!) to colourful birds in the trees. Look around you, breathe in the forest air, pause every now and then to just soak it all up. Even if you’re on a speed hike. Most of all enjoy!
Author: Giles Crouch is the Group Publisher for HUM@Nmedia, the parent brand for Optimyz and Silver magazines. He’s been an avid outdoorsman since his teenage years and hiked trails in the Rockies, around Atlantic Canada, South Africa, Wales, Scotland, Colorado, California, Oregon, Montana, Ghana, Namibia and parts of Latin America. He’s kayaked and canoed around Canada and done deep wilderness expeditions as well.