This is the 2nd article in a series produced in partnership with Kananaskis Mountain Rescue, and in particular, thanks to Morgen Funston of KPMR for her wisdom and suggestions.
Heading out to the wilderness? Here’s what the fine folks at Kananaskis Mountain Rescue (“KPMR”) recommend you carry. Since they’re the ones who will rescue you if you get in trouble, and this list is based on the people they rescue, it’s probably great advice.
A pack to carry what you need to carry
It’s really hard to be prepared for any adventure without an actual PACK of some kind. For any trek of more than about 20 minutes, it’s impossible to have what you need on you in your hands. We’ve seen people starting an ascent of Grotto Mountain – a 7 hr scrambling adventure – with just one tiny pack for 4 people, while the other three were carrying 500 ml water bottles in their hands. Getting used to carrying a pack gets you used to carrying the right gear.
A good pack is light, has air ventilation so your back doesn’t sweat, has at least 3-4 pockets to stay organized, comfortable shoulder straps (with a chest strap) and a good waist belt, and a rain cover to keep contents dry. It moves with you, not by itself (because a swinging bag can readily throw you off balance). Messenger bags are great for the city, not for the mountains.
In case of emergencies
The first thing that goes in your pack is your EMERGENCY KIT. We have a separate page dedicated to a simple kit here, so just will summarize the minimum contents here, without explaining why and how much:
- A space blanket
- A foam sit-upon pad
- A plastic rain poncho
- A windproof lighter
- An LED headlamp
- A map and a compass
- Toilet paper
- A first aid kit, plus extra bandaids
- A water filter
- A 2,000-calorie food pouch
- A Swiss Army knife
- A whistle
- Emergency warm clothes including a hat and gloves
Remember that your emergency gear is just for emergencies and you probably won’t touch it for the day (except your sit-upon and your map).
Mountain bikers really need to carry a TIRE REPAIR KIT and AIR PUMP; flats can happen anywhere. We got a flat on the Legacy Trail in 2018, and on the Watridge Lake trail in 2015. A TOOL KIT helps a lot; we were once stranded when one of our pedals fell off. We had to push our bike for almost 5 km all because we didn’t have a wrench.
Water, water everywhere
You need to carry WATER, and probably more than you think is necessary. Most everything you do in the outdoors will make you thirsty. As it gets warmer, you’ll sweat more and will need to stay hydrated. Count on at least 1.5 litres per person for a day hike, more for overnight trips, more for really hot days, more still for big vertical climbs or very long trips.
Some people like hydration packs that fit in your backpack and have a little hose to suck on. We’re fans of just plain $2 plastic water bottles, because we partially freeze them and carry them in home-made insulated bags. We have ice-cold water all through the day. We also have an extra litre (usually fully frozen in the morning) in the car for the end of the day.
Want to drink water that you find in the wilderness? We recommend treating it no matter where you are in K-Country. Read why, and how to do that here.
You may not have cell service, but…
Always carry your PHONE — and a little more. Ten years ago, phones weren’t nearly as useful as they are now. There are many apps that can help you with navigation, they could be a lifeline to help if you can get cell service, their GPSs work even without cell reception, they have built in (better than nothing) flashlights – the list goes on. Phones don’t like water, so carry a ziplock sandwich bag for it if it rains. Program your phone in advance with the Kananaskis Mountain Rescue number: 403 591 7755.
But we strongly recommend that if you’re going to bring and rely on your phone, splurge $20 on a BACKUP POWER PACK for it. We use our phone’s apps to track our progress all day and will have 40% or more battery life at the end of the day. But Kananaskis Mountain Rescue is full of stories of people whose phone batteries ran out, sometimes while lost and trying to be rescued. Our phone has a 1,850 mAh battery, and our back up power bank has 5,000 mAh, enabling us to re-charge the phone almost 3 times. The power bank does weigh more than the phone, and we have to remember to keep the correct charging cable with it in our pack.
If you can afford them, emergency satellite locator beacons are awesome. Devices like SPOT X, inReach, Bivi Sticks, Zoleos and SomeWheres – or even a full fledged satellite phone – dramatically reduce the time for people to find you if you need help. The two-way communication capability of these devices, or a sat phone, are FAR preferred by KES over just pushing the “SOS come get me” button on a SPOT device. These devices, though, are not at all cheap to own or maintain. The higher the risk of the activity you’re doing, or the more remote it is, the more you should consider carrying one. Here’s our (long and detailed) comparison of all the devices available on the market, including a detailed analysis of what they cost.
Can you navigate?
Don’t show up at a trailhead or boat launch without the ROUTE INFORMATION you got during your “know before you go” exercise. Carry the map mentioned above, plus a description of the route you’re going on. We’re old school and tend to carry Gillean’s entire guidebook describing our hike or bike route. We find it fun at lunch to look at other routes in the area, reading their descriptions to see if we would like to do them.
But if you want to save weight, you can always take a photo on your phone of the page of the guidebook for the route you’re going on, or carry just a printed photocopy. We learned the hard way that ink jet printer ink bleeds when it gets wet, so shy away from printing single pages any more.
Your emergency kit has a compass, but in case it doesn’t, carry a compass (and put it into your emergency kit. Problem solved).
You must, of course, carry your BEAR SPRAY everywhere in K-Country, and know how to use it. It needs to be on you, not in your pack, and you need to be able to get at it within 2 seconds. Everyone over the age of about 10 should have their own; kids younger than that should be between 2 folks with bear spray, and everyone needs to be within a tight group of 6 m or less. Hiking solo? Consider carrying 2 cans.
You need to CARRY:
- A proper pack for each person;
- Your lightweight emergency kit;
- Mountain bike tire repair and tool kits
- More water than you think you need;
- Your phone, and an extra power supply. Consider an emergency locator beacon.
- Your route information;
- Your bear spray;
- Food and extra clothes
<– Back to What to KNOW before you go
Onward to What to WEAR to make your day great –>
To see how to modify this for the winter, head here –>