Gear up for a great trail experience


Packing for the climate, weather conditions, and topography is essential. In this post, we’ll review some items that you won’t want to forget on your travels. It’s better to have them and not use them (in many cases) than to need them and not have them!

One exception to this rule is the temptation to bring the kitchen sink… “just in case.” You won’t need to worry too much about bringing rope for scaling mountains in Saskatchewan, for example, so weighing yourself down needlessly will only contribute to early exhaustion. It’s important to remember that you’ll be carrying all of this on your back – both your back and your stamina have to hold out to destination and back. Remember to listen to your body at all times, and to be mindful that your back, hips, and knees are not indestructible!

We’ve put our recommendation together after scouring many sources and asking around, as well as using our own experience on the trail to guide us. You’ll want to put together a pack that works for you based on your preferences, load-bearing capacity, and hiking experience.

Let’s start with the 10 essentials for survival

1) Navigation (map and compass)
2) Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
3) Insulation (extra clothing)
4) Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
5) First-aid supplies
6) Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
7) Repair kit and tools
8) Nutrition (extra food)
9) Hydration (extra water)
10) Emergency shelter

Most responsible hiking blogs will suggest that you pack these ten essentials for every trip, on the off-chance that you might get lost (and we’re no different!). The ten essentials list has undergone revision over the last 50 years – your grandfather’s boy scout list isn’t the same list as the one that we’ll list below, for good reason. These essentials are considered to be crucial for survival should you get lost or wounded in the woods – items like “extra water” have been added to the list now that we understand the importance of hydration. It never hurts to be prepared, even if you don’t use everything in your pack.

Here are some more areas you should focus on when packing for your next trail outing:

Appropriate clothing
Nothing can darken high spirits like being cold and wet, especially for extended lengths of time. Damp clothes (especially socks) can be more than discomfort and can lead to damaging conditions like blisters. At the extreme, wet and cold conditions can cause insulation to fail and hypothermia to set in. Are you afraid enough to do as your parents told you, and to dress warmly? GOOD. 😊 Here’s a list of ways to stay warm on the trail and to avoid discomfort and illness.

• Make sure that you prepare for the conditions to become both hotter and colder, wetter and windier. You might unexpectedly step in a mud puddle or encounter a surprise downpour.
• Cotton is to be avoided. There are many superior materials that are lighter and warmer. Synthetic fabrics are also more resilient to dampness, and will not break down like natural fibres when wet.
• What to wear/bring
– Moisture wicking t-shirt and underwear for warm weather
– Long-sleeved and long-legged bottoms for cold weather
– Extra socks (and maybe even an extra extra pair. I’ve learned to pack a thin, throwaway pair of socks “just in case”)
– Pants/shorts that dry quickly (skirts are lovely, but snag easily and leave you open to ticks. Be forewarned that jeans tend to dry somewhat slowly)
– Sun/rain hat
– Headband, bandana, or Buff (seamless, stretchy neck/headband)
– Rain jacket/slicker

We’ll discuss foot concerns at length in another blog post. For now, it’s important that you just remember the basics to prevent you from having hurt kickers. One of the fastest ways to ruin a good trip is to develop blisters early into the trek (trust us!). You’ll add miles to your hike by bringing along good foot gear. You’ll want:
• Hiking boots or shoes (at minimum)
• Gaiters (if you expect to fish or wade through streams)
• Flipflops (in case your shoes get wet or for around the camp site)

Bringing plenty of drinking water for everybody is key to happy trekkers. Even kids in carriers will need to stay hydrated. Remember, that everybody’s liquid requirements increase on hot days! Juice boxes can be a fun treat, but some hikers find them bulky and heavy to carry – your patience with carrying drinks other than water may come down to personal preference, distance, and how much other gear you have with you.

Food. So much food
Food breaks can be fun and rewarding. It isn’t uncommon for meltdowns to happen on long walks, and unhappy hikers can be distracted by cereals, crackers, dried and fresh fruit, and softer nuts like cashews that can be easily broken up. If your little one is old enough to recognize checkpoints or to understand time/distance intervals, snack breaks can be used as motivation. While we don’t advocate using food itself as a primary reward (let’s keep our relationship with food healthy!), some parents restrict certain fun foods to the trail to encourage healthier physical activity. Sugar-free gummy worms or coconut chips are a healthier alternative to higher-calorie snacks.

Tools for exploring
The types of tools that you’ll want to pack will depend on the type of topography that you’ll encounter. Is the ground sandy and soft? Maybe a bucket and shovel are your best allies. Expecting a field of flowers? Perhaps other curiosities may be found along the way. Containers for safekeeping will prevent them from being crushed and wilted in small fingers. Make sure you keep some pockets free for the extraordinary rocks that just HAVE to follow you home.

Day pack
Plan for the day ahead! It might be a good idea to pack a carrier, even if you are confident that your little one can walk the trail alone. A blanket (with plastic backing to guard against wet terrain) is nice for sitting. Does any of your food require spoons? Maybe a spray bottle to keep cool? Should you bring diapers, or perhaps tissue paper for the trail? As much as we would all prefer to wait until convenient bathrooms appear, it might be advisable to pack some toilet paper to prevent the “trail tragedies” that might come from being ill-equipped.

Weather-appropriate clothing
Hiking shoes or boots for you both are recommended and are preferable to open-toed shoes or sandals. Dressing in layers is recommended for adult hikers as well as for younger ones. Layers can come off or on as the person/environment warms and cools, and this adaptability helps with comfort and endurance. Also, long sleeves and pants can help to ward off insects without having to resort to repellents and can offer protection from the sun. Brimmed hats help to keep sun off faces and necks for both you and your little one, although we’ll forewarn you about wearing a hat with a wide brim in the back if you have a child in a back carrier – this is a fast way to a cranky passenger.

We probably don’t have to tell you that it is advisable to keep babies younger than 6 months old out of the sun, or to use sunscreen (sparingly) if that is not possible. Kid-friendly sunscreens exist and are less irritating if your little one should get some in his or her eyes.

Bug repellent
Saskatchewan contains beautiful wildlife. Unfortunately, its insect life isn’t always so beautiful. Mosquitos can be unrelenting, and ticks can be unwelcome hitchhikers on little legs. The additional concern is that ticks can carry diseases. Clothing may be the best protection against bugs if they are not bad. Kid-safe repellents are always an option too, although there have been concerns with repellents with high DEET concentrations. It is important also to make sure that hands and eyes are avoided.

As a final note, we should mention that campers and overnight/thru-hikers will want to bring additional items (shelter, sleeping bags, additional food, etc.). Great lists of camping gear can be found at:

Chloe Hunchak wins Trail Story Contest

Congratulations to Chloe Hunchak for winning our Trail Story Contest. She is the winner of a free STA t-shirt. Her entry can be seen below. Keep exploring trails and sharing your stories with us!


Submitted by Chloe Hunchak

It was my idea. I basically forced them all to do it. I said, “Come on guys, don’t you want to be immersed in the beauty of Mother Nature?” They just grumbled. I exclaimed, “It’s only summer for 2 and 1/2 months here, we must go out and frolick in the forest!(!!)” They only rolled their eyes.

Finally they gave in to my ceaseless begging, and all 6 of us piled into my mom’s 97 corolla wagon. We made an unlikely but lively hiking group and set off for a trail I had chosen, proclaiming it as the easiest one in the Prince Albert National Park.

But alas, nothing done right is going to be easy.

This mish mosh group of hikers was made up of me, my mom, her boyfriend, my mom’s two friends and one of their daughters who was also my friend. We had all stayed a few days in a large, newly renovated cabin that gave us prime lakeshore access to Christopher Lake, and I thought we should at least try and act like we were in nature when really what we were doing was even more removed from nature than “glamping”- the cabin was more like a comfortable home in the suburbs-so hiking it was.

Of course we had already done all the usual lakeshore cabin activities: me and my friend had taken bikini pics for the instagram on the dock; we had drifted out on the glassy placid lake on an 8 seater floaty; we ate too much spaghetti and had a lot of day naps…the usual.

So we set off with no bugspray and one water bottle, faintly intrigued for what was to come. We were all in the car, driving up the beautiful scenic route that leads to Waskesiu, everyone chattering and me in the very back with the map yelling up to the front the directions and other info my demanding group wanted, when all of a sudden one of us let out a bloodcurdling scream. The car screeched to a stop, and we were all silent as we watched a small but husky black bear mother lope across the highway directly in front of us with her cub galloping away in front of her. We had just been reading from a pamphlet about what to do if we came across a bear, and now we were within a few meters of one. We stared wide eyed and slack jawed from the protection of the car until all that was left of the two bears was the light rustling of the leaves they had brushed past. We continued on our way, visibly shaken but also struck with awe at seeing the revered beast we had just been talking about. After a bout of silence we all thanked the driver, my mom’s boyfriend, for his quick reflexes. This was only the beginning.

We missed the turn onto the teensy trail I had suggested we take at first that led to a lookout spot and would have made our hiking time a total of 15 mins. Snap boom done. Instead, we drove up a little bit farther and parked at the next trail on the way. Our hiking time ended up being about an hour in total, which doesn’t seem so long, but us being somewhat unprepared ninnies, it took a lot more energy out of us. We screamed at small garter snakes and recoiled from the tiny leeches hidden around the rocks in the clear lake that ran beside the trail as we walked like a large encouraging symbol of the nature we hd enmeshed ourselves in. We saw many different colored mushrooms like we’d never seen before, and helped move some kind of black slug resting lavishly in the middle of our path with a long stick out of the trail’s way. We tasted wild raspberries, nature’s natural candy, and complained loudly and longly about the insane amount of mosquitoes feasting on our sweet bare skin. At one point, the path was so overgrown that we could barely see our shoes under the lush green leaves tickling our ankles as we walked. But we trugded on, sometimes gaining momemtum then having to stop and wait for the stragglers in the group. We sang a bit as we walked, weary for bears, but grew so tired from walking uphill that we would have been toast if we’d been forced to run from a bear.

Finally, after much encouragement from all of us to finish the trail and get ice cream after, and even losing one member from the group for a while- my mom’s friend was completely done with the mosquitoes and ran up ahead-we were all overjoyed to finally reach the Height-of-Land lookout tower that reaches 15 meters up into the sky from the forest.

We huffed and puffed walking up the stairs, my mom too afraid to look down because of the height. When we finally reached the top, all the previous complaining and exhaustion was forgotten as we gazed upon the expansive view of where the waters to the north flow into the Churchill River and waters to the south flow into the Saskatchewan River (I had to look that up to make sure). We had to snap some pics, and behind our big smiles there was no trace of disgruntlement, only the pride and accomplishment one feels after completing a task they thought neverending. But pictures still didn’t do this beautiful view any justice, because they can’t relay the depth of how far the land goes until the sky and the ground blend together, or the topography of the trees and valleys and tiny blue lines that make up the rivers winding through it all.

The drive out of the national park was silent, as we were well exercised, very hungry and quietly reflective of the awe inspiring adventure we’d had just 2 1/2 hours outside of our home city, Saskatoon.

And that’s the story of how this modge podge group made up and down the Shady Lake Trail in the Prince Albert National Park.