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Hiking 101: What Should I Pack for a Day Hike?

The thing is – once you invest in a few essential items, you don’t have to think about it anymore. I keep the essentials in my pack and just add what I need for the day. If you don’t hike often, between hikes you can keep the first-aid kit in your car glove compartment for emergencies. I actually keep an extra one in my car because you never know when you’ll need to treat a wound or maybe you’re stranded on the road and need an emergency blanket to keep warm while you wait for help.

If you’re hiking with others, I recommend that each person carry their own first-aid kit because even if you’re hiking together, you might get separated. When I was hiking The Crack at Killarney Provincial Park, I had a major fall that luckily wasn’t as bad as it could have been. With a few surface scratches – I quickly grabbed my kit and treated my wounds right on the spot and continued along the trail.

As I mentioned in my confessions – I hate carrying things, so what I have in my pack is minimal.

Here’s what I keep in my backpack at all times:

1) 3-litre waterproof bag (Seems odd to have this? Read why I won’t leave home without it below)

2) Emergency Bivvy and blanket

3) Compass

4) Whistle

5) Matches

6) Flint for sparking a fire in the absence of matches. Plus matches may not light if wet, defective or if it’s too windy outside.

7) First-Aid kit with adhesive bandages (i.e. Band-Aids), polysporin, alcohol pads, stick-free gauze pads, adhesive tape, tweezers, single-use eye drops, small scissors and hand sanitizer). Tip: I personally don’t like store-bought first-aid kits. They aren’t cheap and often the quality of the items are bad – for example bandages that don’t stick and tweezers that don’t pinch together. I think that you’re really just paying for the bag it comes in. I bought my own pouch which happened to have First Aid written on it (you can use any pouch) and bought my own supplies. A water resistant or waterproof bag is best.

8) Gloves. Even if it’s not cold outside, gloves are great if you need to grab onto trees/rocks for support. Often trees and rocks are coated with moss/algae/lichen – which I personally would rather not touch with my bare hands. The surfaces may contain bacteria as well. When I was at the mini falls at Niagara Glen Nature Reserve I put on my gloves. I saw that others were disgusted by touching the wet slimy rocks while I was perfectly content.

9) Snack bars. I keep extra in my pack in case I get hungry or need a boost of energy on the trail.

Before I head out I’ll add:

1) Portable charger. Your phone battery can drain quickly if it’s cold outside and/or used for taking videos and photos.

2) One-litre bottle filled with water – my personal choice is the Nalgene brand because their bottles are made with heavy-duty plastic (I can pile stuff on top of it and it won’t get crushed), they don’t leak and have a handle (great for being able to hook it onto the outside of my pack if there’s no more room inside).

3) Coconut water for extra hydration.

4) Fruit/lunch/extra snacks

5) Extra clothing such as a rain poncho and accessories such as a hat, as applicable.

6) Trail maps, if needed.

What I’ll be adding:

1) Kinesio tape – great portable support in the case of a sprained ankle. I bought a foam sprain board, but it’s just not practical to carry it around.

2) Swiss Army knife. Haven’t decided on one yet.

What I keep in my car:

1) Phone charger

2) Extra bottle(s) filled with water

3) Full change of clothes

4) Extra pair of shoes

5) Life jacket (if there’s ever a chance that I might be near water). Rental jackets are usually slimy and nasty in my opinion. I’d much rather have my own where possible.

Monica's shadow on cedar
Monica Ng

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What’s in my pack

what to pack

Why I won’t leave home without my 3-litre waterproof bag

When I was at Point Pelee National Park, they were selling these bags for $20 each at the canoe rental place. I debated if I should buy one but decided against it. It was a sunny day, but suddenly dark storm clouds rolled in while I was in my canoe and the rain started to fall in sheets. I started to panic that my cell phone and car remote would die. I was far from home and my car cannot be started without the remote (there’s no key – genius eh?). There was no visibility, the strong currents were pushing me in the opposite direction and the canoe was filling up with water. Though I was already drenched with water, I put my phone and car remote in my underwear to try to save them. It’s funny the things that you’re thankful for in critical situations – in this case I was happy that the cards in my wallet were plastic and that Canada changed its bills from paper to plastic. Eventually, the storm died down and I found my way back to shore. After that day, I vowed to buy and keep this small portable waterproof bag with me at all times. Whenever it’s raining, I put my valuables inside then put the bag into my backpack. I also use my bag whenever I’m kayaking or around water.

Fast forward to a drier day…

When I went to Elora Gorge, I thought that the river tubing season was over (because the website showed that it was done) so I wasn’t prepared to go tubing. When I saw people floating in tubes in the river, it was obvious that the season was extended. Spontaneously, I decided to go tubing in the Grand River. I grabbed my life jacket (which as I mentioned above – that I keep in my car) and grabbed my waterproof bag. I put my wallet, keys and cell phone inside the bag, sealed it and clipped it onto my life jacket clasp…and coasting down the river is where I went. Ok, so you wonder – didn’t my clothes get all wet? Yes, I was soaked and shivering but smiling knowing that I had a full change of clothes in my car. Being comfortable in nature is number one. Always plan ahead. Going back to my special waterproof bag – without it my river tubing adventure would not have been possible. It’s not really possible to carry a backpack on a tube. That day, there was a lady that dropped her car key into the river. She had to call a tow truck. Lucky for her, she lived only 45 minutes away.