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Wilderness Survival Essentials 


Hiking in the backcountry of the Canadian Rockies can be the most amazing experience of your life, as long as everything goes as planned, and that you are prepared for the worst if it doesn’t. The following is based on summer hiking and considering that the temperatures in the high mountains will be cool and can fall very quickly.

Most trips to the mountains go very well leaving the visitor with the most amazing experiences of their lives. This article is about being prepared for the worst so that you can leave having enjoyed the adventure of a lifetime.

There are a number of essentials that backpackers should carry when hiking in the backcountry, items that most don’t bother with, items that can save lives if things go bad.

People that are prepared, fair better than those who are not.

So what do we need to do to prepare ourselves to survive in the wilderness?

The first thing is to do your research when planning your trip. Where are you are going to go? Plan for trails that are suited to your abilities. If you are an intermediate or beginner hiker then you are not to take on advanced trails that may lead you to locations that can push you far beyond your physical capabilities to safely navigate. Call ahead to check on trail conditions and alerts.

If you are a beginner or even an intermediate backpacker and are planning to camp in the backcountry for the first time, then be sure to travel with someone who has done it before. Do not travel alone until you are an advanced-level backpacker. If you do intend to backpack one way or the other then at least hook up with some other trekkers on trail.

If you find yourself off-trail and become injured in the backcountry, and are completely alone, there is a very good chance you may never come back out again, unless you have the wilderness survival essentials.

Be sure that you leave a trip itinerary with a trusted emergency contact, including a map of your intended route, departure, and estimated return times.

Alltrails is an excellent, very affordable app to have on your phone. See details here for the Pro version so that you can have downloaded and printed maps for offline use. Set your start and estimated finish times. Alltrails’s Lifeline feature will alert your emergency contact if you go overdue. And if you happen to start following a goat trail by accident rather than the hiking trail, Alltrails will alert you before you end up on the side of a cliff wondering why in the world the trail would lead there.

Survival Essentials



Bring a Compasses,

MEC-Compasses REI

GPS Locator

MEC, GPS Locator REI Test these and know how to use them before going out.

You want to be sure to check for info on the local emergency contacts in the region. Provincial and National Parks will often have emergency contact numbers for helicopter rescue if needed. Print it out and take a screenshot or picture on your phone.

Canada Parks Search & Rescue:

Check and recheck the weather forecast before leaving but don’t expect it to be right as the weather can change in a moment in the Canadian Rockies. In other words be prepared with Layered Clothing, fleece, polyester and wool. These retain heat even when wet and lift moisture away from your body during heavy sweating.

You may need thermal underwear, a comfortable, but Light Top, and Sturdy Pants, for a

REI-Noncotton Wicker Base Layer.

MEC- Base Layer

NO denim or cotton clothing. They do not retain heat nor dry quickly when wet and can cause your core temperature to drop quickly possibly leading to hypothermia.


In hot weather protect yourself from dehydration and heat exhaustion or hyperthermia by staying hydrated, wearing a brimmed hat, and pacing yourself.

MEC-Brim Hat

REI-Brim Hat



Stay hydrated! Consider

REI-Hydration Bladders

MEC-Hydration Bladders

with water treatment supplies. Don’t drink the mountain water without a treatment to kill bacteria and possible parasites.


Best All Weather Clothing for the mountains. For your insulating mid-layer: a warm Jacket, Fleece or Polyester.

REI-Mid Layer Clothing

MEC-Mid Layer

Make sure you have the right Footwear for the area you are planning on hiking, along with appropriate, (non-itchy, moisture-wicking, leaving your feet dry- great for warm or cold weather), Marino Wool Socks, NOT cotton.

 Hiking Boots with good ankle support and nonslip traction are preferred rather than shoes when hiking in steep trails that involve scrambling over broken ground or scree. If you choose Hiking Shoes then be sure that they have good traction and strong ankle support.

Best Hiking Shoes and Boots

Never go hiking with new shoes or boots. Break them in first on some local trails or walks. Blisters in the mountains can be very painful and if you do end up stuck out there, an open wound on your feet can fester faster than you think. Bring a Blister Kit such as Compeed or Second Skin.

A Poncho or Waterproof Breathable Rain Jacket and Pants are essentials in case of rain.

Protect yourself from heat, rain, and cold. 

REI-Shell Layer Clothing

MEC-Shell Layer

Buzzzz. Bug Spray!!

MEC-Protection from Bugs

REI-Protection from Bugs



Don’t get caught in the dark. Pack an extra set of,



for your phone and a,

MEC-Small LED Flashlight

REI-Small LED Flashlight

and a good



Pack a lightweight

MEC- First Aid Kit

REI-First Aid Kit

Don’t forget your

REI-Firestarters in a dry pack.


A good

REI-Tactical Survival Kit


MEC-Survival Kit

can include a wire saw, a multifunction knife, Firestarter, Whistle, an emergency thermal blanket, a flashlight, spork, first aid kit, and a good multitool, but be aware of the overall weight. Purchase one or build your own.

Backpacking Essentials


MEC-Bear Spray

and know how, and when to use it safely. See article on Protection From Wildlife

Have some easy-to-carry extra food sources like protein/power bars.

Shelter in place with an

REI-Ultralight Durable Tent

MEC-Ultralight Durable Tent

Don’t forget the best

REI-Ultralight Sleeping Bag

MECUltralight Sleeping Bag

and pad for your weather conditions.

Make sure to pack an extra set of clothing, extra water, and extra food!

And last but by no means least, the most awesome of essentials an

REI-Ultralight Backpack

MEC-Ultralight Backpack

to carry everything.

Be aware of weight when gearing up. A loaded backpack should not weigh more than about 20% of your body weight, hopefully not more than 30 lbs.

Start by measuring the distance between your iliac crest, the top of your hips, to the c7 vertebrae, determined by looking to your toes and feeling the vertebrae on the back of your neck. The C7 is the one that sticks out the most. The distance between the two will determine your torso length and what sized backpack will be best suited for you, a measurement backpack manufacturers use for sizes. Most backpacks have a strap adjustment for how high the pack is carried according to your torso length.

Your backpack should rest comfortably on your hips. 80% percent of the weight should be supported on your hips, with the rest on the shoulders.

The pack waist belt should be adjusted to rest directly above the iliac crest, the high point of your hips. The clip should be centered as you snug up the tension on each side simultaneously.

Pull your shoulder straps down toward your hips so they hug your shoulders, not dig in.

Adjust the load lifter straps on the top part of your pack to about 45%, or just snug. Overtightening will pull the weight too far forward.

Adjust the sternum strap to rest about an inch below your collarbone. Once again, just tighten slightly for a comfortable fit.

Now that you are outfitted, take the time to test out all of your equipment. Become familiar with everything! Go for a good long walk in one of your local parks, break in those new boots and test fit that nice new backpack. Maybe even camp in your backyard a few nights, rain or shine.

Now you’re ready to do some serious backpacking in the Canadian Rockies.

Stay Safe and Have Fun!


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