Gear up for a great trail experience

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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

Footwear
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)

Water
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.

Sunscreen
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:

https://www.mec.ca/en/article/essential-gear-for-camping-in-the-prairie-provinces 
http://www.saskhiker.com/single-post/2015/05/13/Saskatchewan-May-Long-Camping-Packing-List
http://www.saskhiker.com/single-post/2016/07/20/What-to-pack-for-an-overnight-hike-in-Saskatchewan

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