A guide to Hiking BC safely

A Instagram-worthy Vancouver Island Mountain range. đź“· Kelly Whiteside
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By contributor Kelly Whiteside

Vancouver Island saw a spike in activity on its hiking trails this past summer, as did most of BC, and, probably, the rest of the world, and it appears that the winter weather hasn’t deterred as many people as it used to.

Thanks to photo-sharing websites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr, people are seeing more photos of gushing waterfalls, stunning mountain peaks, and pure blue lakes, and these photos aren’t necessarily taken by fancy photographers or backcountry hikers—they’re just your friends’ photos. These photos have inspired many people to get out in nature even though they may not be the outdoorsy type, and that’s great! Nature is arguably the best thing about Vancouver Island, so the more people enjoying it the better.

However, the number of people I’ve seen hiking grossly unprepared is terrifying. If you want to hike Mount Benson, explore the maze of trails, and take in the astonishing views, I highly encourage it, but please, be prepared. Even if you’re only planning on going on an hour-long hike that you do every day, you never know what may happen. You could get lost or injured. You need to be prepared for the worst case scenario. So, I present to you: A guide to getting that perfect Instagram photo, and returning to civilization so you can actually post it.

Communication

When going on a hike, whether it be a half hour or eight hours, you should always tell at least one person where you’re going, when you’re going, and when you plan to be back. This way, if anything happens, you’ll be reported as missing sooner and rescue teams will have a better idea of where to search. In the case you need help, having a two-way radio, a satellite alerting device, and a whistle is also a smart idea.

Footwear

Many injuries occur from wearing inappropriate footwear for the hike you are doing. In the summer, when you’re hiking to a lake, you may be inclined to wear flip flops. However, flip flops have no ankle support, arch support, or traction, and can cause back problems over time. Instead, opt for hiking sandals. In the winter, you have the option of using accessories for your footwear: crampons, microspikes, and snowshoes. Knowing when to use them can save you a bad fall. Crampons are most useful on high-angled ice to give you a deep bite and solid footing for climbing slopes. Microspikes are like tire chains for your feet—they provide a little more traction than your boots. They’re best used on level hiking trails with packed snow. Snowshoes prevent you from sinking into deep, powdery snow. They also have crampons integrated for extra traction.

Many injuries occur from wearing inappropriate footwear for the hike you are doing. In the summer, when you’re hiking to a lake, you may be inclined to wear flip flops. However, flip flops have no ankle support, arch support, or traction, and can cause back problems over time. Instead, opt for hiking sandals. In the winter, you have the option of using accessories for your footwear: crampons, microspikes, and snowshoes. Knowing when to use them can save you a bad fall. Crampons are most useful on high-angled ice to give you a deep bite and solid footing for climbing slopes. Microspikes are like tire chains for your feet—they provide a little more traction than your boots. They’re best used on level hiking trails with packed snow. Snowshoes prevent you from sinking into deep, powdery snow. They also have crampons integrated for extra traction.

Navigation

Google maps is great…until your phone dies. In the case that you’re out longer than expected and your battery dies you want to have a backup map and compass. And make sure you actually know how to use them.

Clothing

Conditions can vary drastically during a hike, especially in the backcountry and alpine regions. It can go from sunny to wet to windy to snowy, so you need to be prepared to conquer all types of weather. When you’re packing extra clothing, consider bringing a layer of underwear (tops and bottoms), an insulating hat, a pair or two of socks, gloves or mittens, an insulated jacket, and raingear. Avoid cotton clothing as it dries slowly and has poor insulation. Sun protection is necessary in both summer and winter. Sunglasses shoul have UV protection, and sunscreen should have an SPF of at least 15. If you get stranded, you also want some sort of shelter, such as a tarp or a space blanket to keep your warm and covered at night.

Light

Though you may have planned on arriving back at your car before it gets dark, shit happens. Maybe you took a wrong turn or got distracted or injured or simply lost track of time. Flashlights are handy for not only lighting the way, but also sending out emergency signals. Headlamps are also a great choice, as they are small, lightweight, and hands-free. Either way, bulbs and batteries can run out, so make sure you have spares.

First aid

There are many first aid kits you can buy pre-assembled, though it’s always useful to personalize it to suit your own needs. All first aid kits should include adhesive bandages in a variety of sizes, gauze pads, adhesive tape, disinfecting ointment, pain medication, blister treatment, insect repellent, scissors, gloves, paper, and a pencil. Take the extra step and get your first aid certificate so you can better help yourself and others in an emergency.

Nutrition

A single day’s supply of extra food is reasonable for shorter hikes. The ideal snacks would require no cooking, be easily digestible, and store well. Suggestions include jerky, nuts, granola, and dried food. If you’re hiking with a dog, make sure to bring a day’s food supply for them as well.

Hydration

Bring at least one water bottle, as well as a way of treating water, such as a life straw or purification tablets. Identify possible water sources on your map ahead of time. And again, make sure to bring extra water for your pup.

Tools

Multi-tools such as a Swiss Army knife are important for gear repair, food preparation, first aid, and kindling. Your multi-tool should have at least one foldout blade, flathead screwdriver, can opener, and scissors. Duct tape is also useful. Duct tape fixes everything, right?

Fire

Creating a fire serves two purposes: warmth and signaling. You must be able to not only start a fire, but to sustain one. If you choose to carry a lighter or two, make sure they are full before heading out. If you prefer matches, make sure they’re waterproof or in a waterproof container. You also need firestarters, such as candles, steel, Vaseline-coated cotton balls, or lint. If you’re hiking in high altitudes without firewood, then carry a stove.

Now, to carry all of this, you’ll also need a day pack. Depending on the length and terrain, you’ll likely need a backpack between 25 and 40 litres. For hikes up to four hours or in urban areas, you can get away with a smaller backpack. If you’re hiking upwards of four hours or in rough terrain, you’ll need something larger. External pockets and a protective rain cover are other great features to look for when shopping for the right hiking backpack.

This may seem like a lot to drag along on your daily hike, but unfortunately emergencies cannot be predicted, and the majority of missing hikers are the ones who only planned on going on a short hike and didn’t bother to prepare properly.