4 Hiking Mistakes We All Make

Making mistakes is all a part of the adventure. It’s how we learn, improve, and end up with funny stories to tell our friends. While trial and error is a big part of adventuring, maybe this list can save your feet a few blisters.

1. Improper Foot Care

After my first overnight hike I swore that I was going to burn my boots if I ever made it back to the parked vehicle. I tried to save some money and bought an inexpensive pair online, but I ended up shelling out three times as much for a good solid pair of boots that I love.

Foot care is one of the most important things to get the hang of if you want to truly enjoy your adventures. It is not worth it to ‘tough it out’ with uncomfortable shoes and blisters. Here are some ways to keep your feet feeling great.

  • Try on many different styles and brands of hiking footwear before you decide on a pair, make sure that you don’t feel discomfort or pressure that could cause blisters
  • Stop as soon as you feel rubbing or discomfort and put second skin or tape over the area
  • For multi-day trips, make sure you have a few pairs of socks and let them dry out completely between wears
  • Take your boots off when you stop for longer breaks
  • Tape your feet beforehand if you know you have blister prone spots
January 4, 2020 Pike Lake

2. Over-Packing

Everyone wants to be prepared for anything in the outdoors. When packing I always find myself throwing in plenty of last minute additions, and while some of them may be useful, they are also adding weight. Thru-hikers often do ‘shakedowns’ along their journey to cut out unnecessary weight, and while you may not feel like ditching your deodorant just yet, there may be other things that you can leave at home.

If you are going on an overnight trip, you maybe don’t need as many ‘just in case’ items. If you check the weather beforehand, you my be able to leave some layers behind (and use that saved space for candy bars). I have noticed that I tend to over pack first aid supplies. The problem with these giants kits of bandages and supplies is that I don’t know how to use most of it, which isn’t helpful on the trail. I saved myself a fair bit of weight by making a custom first aid kit filled with stuff that I know.

It is good to be prepared, but think critically about what you really need, you may save your back some stress. Try making notes of which items you used often and which were left untouched after each trip.

Pretty full pack here. 😛

3. Not Doing Enough Research

I once led myself and two friends the wrong way up a mountain because it seemed like the right way to me. I could have saved myself a few hours of time, and some less than enthused friends if I had simply looked up the hike online beforehand and read that the best way to access the peak was on the other side. Fortunately, most websites or apps (like AllTrails) will tell you the best route to take, and you can usually even download the trail maps to use out of cell service range.

Comparing this experience to my week on the West Coast Trail, which I had meticulously planned down to the kilometer, I know for sure that good research can make your trip. With a full trail plan, I was way more confident with decision making and time management. I could tell my hiking partners what to expect down to each kilometre.

Save yourself the stress and look at reviews or guides online from past hikers, there is often important information like washed out bridges and trail closures.

July 22, 2019

4. Forgetting That You’re Supposed to Have Fun

Your feet are sore, pack weighing down on your shoulders, trekking through wind and rain, you hope that your stove will light and the water you filtered from the lake is safe. You stop and wonder why you even put yourself in to this situation to begin with.

A negative mind set is one of the first obstacles you may have to overcome, and also one of the hardest. It isn’t easy to go from a warm, comfortable home to a small tent and rehydrated meals, or even to leave the safety of your couch to trek up a mountainside in a day. It is, however, important to try your very best to stay in a positive headspace. Here are a few ways I keep positive…

  • Remember that you are doing this for fun, it is okay to turn around, to take a break, or do whatever you need to make it a positive experience.
  • Mentally prepare yourself for the worst (i.e. what if it rains the whole time?), if the worst happens then you’ll be ready, if not, yay!
  • Stop and enjoy. Take lots of pictures, stop and write in a journal, sit and listen to music, this time is for you.
  • Bring good company, positivity is contagious.
  • Celebrate your accomplishments. Pack a beer for the summit, bring delicious snacks, go out for a nice dinner. Congratulations, you’ve earned it!

When we are doing something difficult or new, my friend Lindsay always reminds us, “Your body is made to do hard things.” You may be tired and sore, but wow will you ever be happy when you climb that mountain. Thanks hiking buddy, I love that.

Stutfield Glacier

How I stayed warm for 12+ hours in the cold as a dog sled tour guide

Metallica has enough fluff to stay warm

I never believed that I was a ‘cold weather’ person. I spent most winters hiding inside and dreaming of days that my car had no trouble starting. This mind set changed pretty quickly when I began working as a dog sled tour guide and suddenly found myself outside chipping away at frozen dog poop at 6 am. Some days were trickier than others, and occasionally I would spend extra minutes standing in the on-site porta potty because it heated up a few degrees warmer in the sun.

Average temperatures for running tours were usually around -15°c (5°f) to -27°c (-16.6°f). On colder days we would cancel tours for dog and guest safety, but there were still chores to be done even if the weather was dipping in to the -30°c range.

First and foremost, the dogs were looked after. Smaller, older, or shorter haired dogs have jackets put on in between every tour on cooler days, and during cold nights. Also, along with regular food in the morning and evening, each dog gets a warm soup in between every tour that is mixed up with delicious treats. Lastly the guides are always checking paws and ensuring that dogs with sensitive feet get booties to protect them.

Eventually I got used to the routine and learned how to prepare for my day and dress accordingly to make even the coldest days bearable. Here are some of the things I learned from my experience..

Plan your snacks

A great way to keep your body warm is to keep it fuelled. If you are planning a long day outside, you need to make sure you are drinking lots of water and eating meals that will give you plenty of energy. For work days, I would pack snacks like trail mix, crackers, and beef jerky so I could eat all day without the disappointment of finding my lunch frozen solid in my bag (Mars bars and Oh Henrys may freeze solid, but a Kit Kat is delicious at all temperatures). I would also bring one Nalgene bottle of water and an insulated water bottle filled with hot tea or an electrolyte drink. I tried to get my fruits and veggies in before and after work simply because they would have frozen solid on site, but would usually pack an apple or orange for the drive.

Don’t wear cotton clothing

Clothing keeps you warm by keeping the air near your body warm. Cotton fabric will absorb moisture from sweat or precipitation and keep it close to your skin, making you colder. Choose fabrics that will wick away moisture and maintain their insulating properties. Good options are merino wool, fleece, and various synthetic fabrics. Down insulation is great for very cold days, but note that it does hold moisture, so opt for layers with a synthetic insulation on wet days.

Be choosy about your socks and mitts

The first step to keeping your hands and feet warm is to keep them dry. A nice pair of merino wool socks will do wonders for cold toes. I always changed my socks at least once during the day and carried extra pairs in my pack just in case. The first mistake I noticed that guests made was wearing cotton socks, and the second was that they would wear multiple pairs at the same time. All of those extra layers jammed in a boot will likely just limit your circulation and make you colder. For mitts I would try to choose waterproof over knitted options, and switch out between 2-3 pairs during the day. I often wore a thin pair of gloves underneath because I needed to use my fingers to do up snaps and untangle lines.

Layers, layers, layers

The day of a dog sled tour guide consists mostly of running and lifting, but we also needed to be warm if we weren’t moving. It’s important to always have layers to add or take off to control your body temperature. On a typical work day, I would wear a t-shirt, long sleeve, fleece, and a winter jacket with a down puffy and wind-proof outer shell. For bottoms I would often opt for a pair of fitted athletic pants under my snow pants. A buff around your neck and a warm toque will also keep your head nice and toasty. I always carried an extra sweater and extra base layer in my bag in case it got cooler than expected or if a guest was cold. Its also a good idea to keep a stash of neck warmers, toques, and mittens in your pack.

Move

The best way to warm yourself up outside is to get moving. Guests often figured that sitting in the sled with a blanket would be the warmest, but the real heat comes from running uphill with the dog sled. Run, do some jumping jacks, wiggle those fingers and toes, and get out there and enjoy the winter!

Winter is too beautiful to pass up in fear of being cold. If you’re prepared, you will enjoy the snowy season to its fullest potential. Happy trails!

Don’t forget the propane (or do, if you want to make friends).

In May 2018 my sister, a friend, and I set out on our first overnight to Grey Owls Cabin in Prince Albert National Park . I packed my bag in a hurry, eager to see the trail and less enthused about the idea of packing up all of my gear. The trail was beautiful and we decided to trek all of the way in to the cabin on the first day, making our day a 23 kilometre foot-blistering adventure. As the sun began to set and we returned to camp, we could not wait to settle down with a hot meal. My sister unpacked her camp stove and asked me to grab the propane.

“Sure.” I said, “Where is it?”

She looked up from her stove with apprehension , “In your bag…because you packed it.”

I did not pack it.

After going through my bag twice to confirm that it hadn’t somehow magically appeared, we pondered our options. Earlier in the week we had picked up some pre-made hiker meals to try and they all required boiling water. We couldn’t start a camp fire because of the dry conditions and we were already surrounded by the haze of a forest fire that was burning across the park near the Narrows campground. We could add filtered water and set the meals aside for a while in hopes that a cold soak would rehydrate them, but nothing about cold noodles sounded appealing to us.

Much to my chagrin, the best option was to swallow my pride and ask some other campers for help. Fortunately as we were setting up our camp, other hikers were filtering in to do the same thing. The first group that I approached had boated in to spend the night and they joked that they had to decide between packing beer or a stove and they chose the beer. The next campsite was occupied by two women who we had seen on the trail that day. When we passed them earlier they were miserable, exhausted and with feet covered in blisters. I passed by their quiet tent as they must have decided to go straight to bed.

Lastly, I meekly approached a couple that already had water boiling on their stove and explained myself. I joked that they might be able to help save the relationship between my ‘hangry’ hiking companions and I. With a smile, they kindly offered me the rest of their nearly empty propane canister. I thanked them profusely and made my way back to camp, getting thumbs ups along the way from the first site for my successful mission.

We quickly boiled the water with just enough propane left and poured it in to our pre-made dehydrated meals. At last we had hot meals on our picnic table and it was finally time to eat.

We took our first big bites… and they were awful. We each ended up eating about 1/3rd of our packets until we couldn’t stomach them anymore.

I learned two things that weekend.

  1. Hikers are usually willing (and happy) to help each other out, so don’t be afraid to ask.
  2. Don’t buy those fancy looking dehydrated backpacking meals from the outdoor stores (‘mac and cheese’, my ass)

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