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

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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.

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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.

Hiking 101: Tree Identification (South Eastern Ontario)

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Hiking 101: Tree Identification (South Eastern Ontario)

Trees are incredible. They do way more than make the landscape beautiful. Among other things, they absorb deadly carbon dioxide and provide us with oxygen and shade. They also help reduce soil erosion and give shelter to living things.

Here’s a quick recap from high school geography class – at least that’s when I first learned about Canada’s trees. There are two main types of trees (in Canada) – coniferous and deciduous. Coniferous trees are often referred to as evergreens. They have needles (such as firs, spruce and pine) or scale-like leaves (such as cedar) and pine cones. The main characteristic of an evergreen is that they keep their needles/leaves in the winter months. A larch is an example of a coniferous tree that loses its needles in the fall. Deciduous trees like maple, oak, poplar and birch lose their leaves in the fall to prepare themselves for winter. However, beech trees are known for keeping some of their leaves throughout the winter.

While it may be difficult to identity every type of tree in Ontario, it’s nice to be able to recognize some of the most common ones in our forests. Keep in mind that there are so many varieties of each type of tree, so one picture may just represent a broad category.

An excellent tree ID reference can be found on the Ontario government website: www.ontario.ca

Eastern hemlock

The most distinct feature of this tree are the soft flat rounded needles. The needles are shiny and are a medium green colour, while the underside is matte and lighter green. The needles are flexible and soft to the touch. The bark has a thick coarse texture that looks like the crusted top of freshly baked brownies. You can tell that I think about food while I’m hiking!

eastern hemlock
eastern hemlock

Red pine

The bark is smooth, yet flaky and has a tinge of red. Each cluster of needles has two needles. To see the branches on a mature tree – you’ll often have to look way up, as the tree can grow very tall.

red pine needles
red pine

Eastern white cedar

If you ever walk past a section of a forest filled with cedars, you’ll know. The smell from cedars is rich and delightful. The bark of a mature tree looks stringy and feels rough like sandpaper.

white cedar


Typically, you’ll find birch trees with a distinct white bark, but there are other varieties such as yellow birch (which at maturity, has a brownish colour). The bark has layers that looks like paper and most often you’ll see this tree “peeling”.

White pine

The “prickly” tree. The needles are usually long and grow directly out of the branch in clusters of 2 (red pine), 3 (yellow pine) and 5 (white pine). The Georgian Bay is famous for its leaning eastern white pines.

pine bark

Sugar maple

Canada’s iconic maple leaf belongs to the maple tree. Famous also for its sap which we make maple syrup from . Leaves usually turn yellow or orange in the fall.


Red maple

Leaves turn red in the fall. Like other maple trees, the seeds are inside “keys” (aka helicopters). In the spring they have beautiful unique red buds (pictured bottom right).

red maple flower

White spruce

The branches may look similar to hemlock, but the needles on the stems are short, stiff and pointy at the tip making them prickly. If you pick off a needle and try to bend it, it will crack easily. The needles grow singly out of pegs (vs. directly from the branches) and the stems are more flat than firs. The bark is crusted in a circular patch-like pattern.


American beech

In the winter months, you’ll be in awe when you see these orange/yellow leaves blowing in the breeze and glowing magically in the sunlight.

beech leaves

Balsam fir

O’ Christmas tree, O’ Christmas tree…

Firs are commonly used as Christmas trees because of their fullness. Their needles are flat and have blunt vs. pointy tips (spruce). Fir needles grow directly from the smallest branches and form a spiral at the tip of them. If you put your fingers around one of the stems it will feel like a cylinder shape.

Learn more about the differences among fir, spruce and pine trees: www.blogbalsamhill.com

balsam fir


Varieties include red (pictured here), black, white and bur. Oak leaves are unique and easily to identify. The leaves of a red oak are edgy , while white oak leaves are rounded. Even if you’ve never seen an oak tree before, you’ll know there’s one around because you’ll find acorns on the forest floor.

oak leaf

I absolutely love trees and spend a lot of time photographing them. I’ve been learning more about them while doing research for this post. Because I can now identify some trees – I see the forest in a whole new way. There are a few other trees that I see often, but don’t have any pictures of the leaves and the bark together. I’ll be updating this post when I do. As I am writing this post, it’s wintertime in Ontario and I can’t seem to get a photo of any leaves – other than beech leaves…

Hiking 101: What should I wear for a day hike?

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

Heading out for a day trip? It’s hard to balance packing what you may need for varying weather conditions and carrying too much.

What to wear?

Wear comfortable clothes.

For shirts, avoid cotton. Cotton is absorbent and will retain all your sweat making you feel wet and uncomfortable. Look for quick drying fabric.

For pants, I don’t recommend wearing jeans or anything too baggy. You want to be comfortable for a variety of terrain, such as climbing up onto rocks. Also, baggy clothing is not great in general because it may get caught on tree branches and thorns when you’re in tight spots. I personally like to wear leggings.

For socks, avoid cotton. Having wet feet on a trail is not a good thing. With cotton socks, you may also notice that you’re getting blisters on your feet because of the friction. You’ll want to invest in a good pair of socks that keep your feet dry (typically wool socks, but there are lots of cruelty-free options available from Wrightsock and Balega). When I first started hiking, I wore cotton socks and would always end up with blisters.

For boots, a good pair of hiking boots is the best investment you can make. Don’t be shy to try on every single pair of boots at the store. It’s the same thing with regular shoes – if they don’t feel comfortable immediately, they never will. Your feet will thank you for your kindness. For great cruelty-free hiking boot options check out: Merrell and Columbia.

Dress in layers. If it’s warm outside, you can throw a sweater into your pack. If it’s cold, you can wear a thermal base layer underneath your shirt, then add a fleece sweater and vest, then a jacket on top. Don’t forget to wear your hat, scarf, gloves/mittens. I love wearing a vest because if I get too warm, I can remove my jacket and still retain the heat in my core. I love my Columbia Thermofoil jacket – it’s cruelty-free, warm and compact enough to squish into my backpack. If there’s rain in the forecast, throw a compact rain poncho into your pack.

For the trunk, I highly recommend keeping a full change of clothes in your trunk (including socks and extra shoes). Worst case, if you get wet on the trails, you can change before heading home. If you’re going on a longer hike, I suggest that you pack your extra clothes in a waterproof bag and put them inside your pack. Never know when you’ll need it along the way – muddy trails are awfully slippery.

Happy trails!

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Monica Ng

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Hiking 101: Side Effects of Being in Nature

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Hiking 101: Side effects from being in nature

There are so many benefits that you can experience from being out in nature. You may believe that “side effects” are a bad thing because they’re commonly associated with drugs. But what happens when you can get a natural high and be healthier with minimal effort?

Here are few side effects:

1) STRESS REDUCTION. Being surrounded by nature can reduce your stress level and calm your mind. These days, life is so hectic with work, obligations, family, etc. The COVID-19 pandemic has added to our mental health problems – people losing their jobs, feeling isolated from others while being trapped indoors, etc.

It’s important to get outdoors and relax yourself. Chronic stress and poor lifestyle choices can lead to preventable diseases such as strokes and heart attacks. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, stress and physical inactivity (among other factors) are risk factors for stroke and heart disease. Based on their findings 9 in 10 Canadians have at least one of these risk factors. In my opinion, these are pretty gloomy stats.

Focusing on nature’s sounds (like birds singing, tree leaves rustling in the wind or the gentle flow of the river), taking in the views provided by Mother Nature and planting your feet on the earth will help ground you and calm your mind.

2) ENDORPHINS are released during exercise. According to Healthline, endorphins have many positive effects including reducing depression, lowering stress and anxiety and increasing your self-esteem.

3) REGULAR EXERCISE DOES THE BODY GOOD. In case you’re wondering – moving your eyes and fingers during screen time doesn’t count as physical exercise. According to the Government of Canada, “Children and youth should get at least 60 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity involving a variety of aerobic activities. Adults, including seniors, should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week.”

In addition to getting fit and maybe even losing weight – walking is a great weight-bearing exercise that can help to fend off osteoporosis by increasing the muscle mass supporting your bones, which in turn keeps bones healthy by applying good pressure to them. According to NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Research Centre, “Weight-bearing and resistance exercises are the best for your bones. Weight-bearing exercises force you to work against gravity. They include walking, hiking, jogging, climbing stairs, playing tennis, and dancing. Resistance exercises – such as lifting weights – can also strengthen bones. Other exercises such as swimming and bicycling can help build and maintain strong muscles and have excellent cardiovascular benefits, but they are not the best way to exercise your bones.”

4) BODY, MIND AND SOUL. These are not separate from each other. When I was hiking “The Crack” trail at Killarney Provincial Park for the first time, I was working my body by ripping through the forest and climbing up massive rocks. Then I was rewarded with an absolutely spectacular view. My whole body was alive and I was bursting with joy and happiness.

Being outdoors can truly stimulate your body, mind and soul. There’s no doubt that surrounding yourself with nature is beneficial to your physical and mental health and overall wellness.

Chop, chop – get out there!

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Monica Ng

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Hiking 101: For Women Only – Is there a Washroom on the Trail?

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Hiking 101: For women only

Is there a washroom on the trail?

Is there a washroom on the trail?

Ok ladies – this is probably a huge concern for you. I know, because I used to worry about it too. Sure…maybe you won’t need to pee if you avoid drinking water, but staying hydrated on the trails is very important. Dehydration can be dangerous for your health. Plus, why be uncomfortable trying to hold it in?

In the past, I found that planning my trips often revolved around the presence of plumbing or at the very least – a portable toilet. And if no toilet available, the duration of the trip had to be short. As women we’re programmed to relieve ourselves privately, so by peeing in the forest, we’re exposing ourselves. Maybe it’s the fear of soiling our pants if we have to squat.

I overcame the mental hurdle of peeing outdoors by close “accident”. I was on the Nokiidaa Trail in East Gwillimbury. I held “it” in for as long as I could, but I knew the trail back to the car and the drive home would take too long. It became a matter of wetting my pants or going in the forest. I made my choice. I haven’t looked back since then. I even did a two-night camping trip at Algonquin Provincial Park. What’s funny is that my male companions were asking me where they should pee. I told them to pick a tree.

Let me be the one to tell you – learning to pee outdoors is completely natural, empowering and liberating. It’s an action that may seem small, but it’s a monumental gain! It gives you the freedom to roam any forest and see the world as you please.

Here’s what to do:

1) Hide behind a big tree away from the main trail – preferably find a spot with loose soil and leaves (my preference is pine needles) on the ground. Compact dirt can cause splashing.

2) Squat as low to the ground as you can with your feet apart. If you have trouble squatting low, I recommend finding a sloped area where you can place your butt at the higher point – then squat. I suggest pinching the fabric of your pants between your legs together to avoid them getting wet.

3) Bring tissue, wipes and a small plastic bag in case you need it.

4) If you don’t want the hassle of disposing of tissue/wipes, I recommend simply wearing a panty-liner or pad. I had this stroke of genius recently lol.

5) You can pack spare clothing in your backpack if you’re really worried.

Have to poo? Well…I’ll save that for another post.

p.s. if you’re a guy and you’ve read this post – I’m glad you did, because now you can help empower your female hiking partners by sharing this post.

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Monica Ng

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Hiking 101: Is it Safe to Hike Alone?

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Hiking 101: Is it safe to hike alone?

Is it safe to hike alone?

Short answer: Yes.

Being a natural introvert, I enjoy and seek time alone. When I tell people that I often hike alone, they freak out and automatically ask “is that safe?” With gender stereotypes, I’m sure that a big part of their concern is that I’m a woman. However, I’m not afraid to venture out on my own and actually take pride in relying on myself. That being said, it’s important (regardless of gender) to take some precautions.

General Precautions

Tell someone where you’re going and the approximate duration of your trip. Where possible, text them when you arrive and leave.

Bring a fully charged phone and keep a charger in your car. I also recommend keeping a charged portable charger in your backpack. If you’re like me, by the time I take tons of photos and videos, my battery gets drained.

Don’t rely on your cellular phone data. Print off a hard copy of any maps that you may need, including directions to and from your destination and trail maps. There may not be access to a data network and sometimes it could just be your provider’s network that’s down.

Bring some cash in addition to your bank/credit card. Never know when you may run into trouble with cards.

Being prepared for an emergency. Make sure to pack some essentials in your backpack. Read Hiking 101: What should I pack for a day hike? for more information.

Always be aware of your surroundings. Listen for sounds (for danger) and try to remember landmarks along your trail. If you have a bad sense of direction like me, turn back occasionally to check the landmarks looking the other way as they don’t look the same. I can’t read a map, so it’s a bonus for me when I take photos. By observing the details of my environment, I recognize the trees, flowers, rocks, etc. that I have passed by already. It’s especially helpful to know when I’ve walked around in a circle. While these things may sound trivial, they give me confidence knowing that I’m going the right way.

Avoid wildlife. Wildlife are unpredictable, so it’s safer to stay away from them. I saw about fifteen deer at Lynde Shores Conservation Area in Whitby, and guess what? They saw me too. At some point a few of them started to run slowly in my direction while looking right at me. That was my cue to quickly duck back into the forest.

Trust your gut. If you ever get to a point on a trail where you no longer feel safe, turn back. Sometimes we can make poor decisions when we’re stressed.

Don’t panic. If you find that you’re lost, take a deep breath and stop where you are. Look around and try to retrace your steps to the point where you were last on the right track. This happened to me on my adventure at Sheffield Conservation Area. I suddenly found myself going in circles on the Canadian Shield rocks and everything looked the same. I calmed myself down and finally found the trail to get back.

Safe trails!

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Monica Ng

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Hiking 101: What Are Trail Blazes?

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Hiking 101: What are Trail Blazes?

When I first started hiking on longer trails, I didn’t really understand what the blazes (aka trail markers) represented.

Not all trails are well-marked, but if they are, they generally follow certain principles. Main trails are typically marked with a strip of white paint and side trails are marked with blue. Usually, you’ll find the markers on trees, but sometimes they’re painted on rocks or even fallen tree trunks. So, if you’re not sure you’re on the right trail or on a trail at all – look around first before panicking.

Main trails tend to be longer in distance and have wider paths, while side trails are generally shorter and have narrower paths. If you’re worried about getting lost, I suggest that you stick to the main trail. Also, keep in mind that not all trails are loops – so if there’s a trail map, take a look. Sometimes markers are covered with snow in the wintertime, so don’t rely on them.

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Monica Ng

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I was lucky to find this helpful sign on the trail at Hockley Valley Provincial Nature Reserve. It’s a great summary of what the blazes represent.

blaze sign

To give you an idea of what these markers might look like on an actual trail, see below. The two parallel lines with a marker on the top right means that you go right and vice versa if the top marker is on the left. A single marker tells you that you ARE on a trail – white usually means a main trail and blue means a side trail. “T” means the end of a trail.

Hiking 101: Trail Etiquette

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Hiking 101: Trail Etiquette

Outdoor experiences should be positive. Everyone needs to work together to take care of and preserve nature.

Here are a few key things to keep in mind while you’re on a trail:

1. Leave no trace. Take your garbage (including doggy bags, coffee cups and water bottles) home with you. Leaving your garbage behind is disrespectful to nature and others.

2. Take only photographs and memories. Leave your environment in tact and don’t remove anything like rocks, plants, animals, etc.

3. Respect others on the trail. Keep excessive noise to a minimum and walk to one side when people want to pass. My biggest “trail peeve” is when people see me coming at a fast speed behind them, but don’t allow me to pass. I don’t like to be rude and demand that they move, but I am very tempted to do so.

4. No graffiti or property damage. Resist taking out your spray can and markers.

5. Stay on the trail where possible. Reduce damage to your surroundings. There could be fragile growth such as trilliums, lichen and moss all around.

6. Respect wildlife. Wildlife are unpredictable and can pose a physical threat to humans. Also, wildlife needs to rely on their natural environment for survival. If people feed them, they will get accustomed to it and approach you for food. While bears, raccoons, chipmunks and other animals may be cute, they can present a physical danger or become pesky.

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Monica Ng

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Below is a video of Banff National Park’s rules. The rules are practical and apply everywhere.

Learn about the “leave no trace” initiative. Leave No Trace Canada.