Trail Tuesdays: 3 W’s of Hiking in Crappy Weather

Not all hiking days can be blue skies and sunshine.  Particularly here on the west coast, regular hikers are going to encounter inclement weather, everything from low cloud to absolute downpours. Let’s be clear here, hiking in heavy rain sucks. Today’s tips are more for those days when weather is unsettled, the kind of day when you know the clouds are never going to part and it’s probably going to rain here and there, but not the kind of all-day-rain-fest that can happen in the mountains. No one wants to hike in that.  Though it can be tempting to avoid hiking in iffy weather, sometimes you just want some fresh air, scenery and the healing power of nature.

The problem with hiking in crappy weather is that you’re probably not going to see a whole lot from the top of a mountain.  Trust me, I’ve hauled ass up many a trail to see nothing but cloud.

Exhibit A: No view after hours of hiking uphill.

Sure, it makes for a good workout, but it’s far better to save the epic mountain viewpoints for sunnier days.  On a crappy days, the three W’s can help you keep your hiking mojo even in less than ideal conditions:

1. Wildflowers:  Unlike mountain tops, wildflowers aren’t going to be obscured by clouds. On a crappy day, a hike through fields of wildflowers adds a pop of colour and some visual interest even if all the surrounding mountains are obscured by clouds. As a bonus, wildflowers actually photograph better in cloudy conditions than in full-on sunshine. If you get to know your area’s wildflower season and hot-spots, these become great destinations for less-than-perfect days.

Exhibit B: it rained for this entire 18 km hike and I never saw a mountain, but I think we can agree this is pretty damn beautiful.

2. Water: Select a trail that leads to a waterfall or a jewel-toned lake. Similar to wildflowers, jewel-toned lakes pop in grey conditions. Because they’re often found at the base of mountains, those pesky clouds won’t get in your way either. As for waterfalls, they tend to be underrated even though they can be simply stunning.  They’re also more likely to be found at slightly lower elevations, meaning good visibility even in the worst of conditions.  Seeking out both these destinations will keep you from slogging along a ridge line during a torrential downpour.

Exhibit C: Crap day, stunning lake.

3. Waterproof: I’ve written about having the right gear for hiking, and about an epic hiking weekend in which Mount Rainier decided to bestow upon me almost nothing but torrential rain. In other words, I have suffered through a lot of ill-prepared hiking in the rain.  Regardless of the type of trail you choose, the number one most important thing is some high quality, waterproof gear. In particular, you’ll want a waterproof jacket and hiking boots.  All the waterfalls and wildflowers in the world won’t save your hike if you’re soaking wet and cold.

So get out there no matter what the weather and remember your three W’s: water(falls and lakes), wildflowers, waterproof. I promise you it’ll help you make the most of an iffy day.

Trail Tuesdays: being bear aware

On a mini road trip this weekend, had the good fortune of seeing a fuzzy little friend from the safety of our car. There, directly on the edge of the highway, munching on a rather large clump of grass, was a juvenile black bear.  We slowed down enough that he wouldn’t get frightened and potentially bolt onto the highway, and we drove past him so slowly that I could see how very large and very terrifying his claws looked. Eek! It got me thinking about being bear aware in the mountains.

I have a deeply rooted fear of bear encounters, coupled with an absolute fascination with reading about bear attacks. It all started with watching a supposedly educational short film in an outdoor amphitheatre in a relatively secluded campground in the Canadian Rockies at night. Why they would show these types of films to campers at night is beyond me, especially when it featured a bear attack survivor who had quite literally done everything right.  What did he get for his bear savvy? Half of his scalp was torn off in the middle of the night, and the bear accomplished this feat through the camper’s tent fabric (!!!!!). And so, my healthy fear of bears/bear attack fascination was born.

I’ve spent all of my hiking years since desperately trying to avoid running into bears while hiking, which included a lot of reading about what does/doesn’t work. Today, I share the wisdom of my years of hiking, research and reading. The goal is to keep you from unintentionally surprising a bear on trail since the element of surprise is most closely tied to bear attacks.

Full disclosure:  I’m not an expert by any means, but I’ve also never been attacked by a bear so…I must be doing something right.

Don’t let this adorable-ness fool you. Mama bears need their space! Be bear aware!

Do’s and Don’ts: Keeping Bears Out of Sight (but not out of Mind)

Don’t rely on bear bells: This is likely one of two controversial statements I’ll make in today’s posts. I think bear bells are a waste of time. Not only is the incessant tinkling annoying as hell when you’re trying to enjoy nature, but there is a lot of research that suggests they are not loud enough nor jarring enough to warn bears of your presence. This is particularly true around rushing water.  My father insists on using his bear bell often, and sometimes I can’t even hear it one or two switchbacks away from him even without running water. They just aren’t loud.  If you choose to use one, fair enough, but know that you may need to make extra noise in certain trail environments.

Don’t rely on bear spray:  Yup, this one’s probably controversial too. But hear me out: I am not saying don’t carry it if it gives you some peace of mind, but I am saying don’t rely on it so much so that you’re not following other bear-aware basics.  Personally, I don’t carry bear spray. It’s partly because I’ve tended to hike relatively popular and well-travelled trails, but it’s mostly because I know myself well enough to know that I would not be able to hold my shit together well enough to deploy it if it were necessary.  If a bear is charging me, I’m going to panic. My better option is to do everything I can to minimize an encounter. The reality is that bear spray is a last resort and works to the extent that you can calmly aim and fire at the right time and distance. If you’re cool under pressure, you’re a better man/woman than I.

Do use your voice:  Loud, frequent human voices seem to be widely recognized as the best way to avoid unwittingly surprising bears.  This isn’t just talking to your buddies, though. It’s actually yelling. Back when I worked at a mountain lodge, the hiking guides were trained to get their groups making noise by yelling out “heeeeey bear” to which the rest of the group would yell at the top of their lungs “bear!”.  Is it embarrassing? Hell, yes. Is it louder than a bear bell? Also, hell yes. I used to be mortified at the thought of someone hearing me yell to myself, but I just remind myself of things like the scene in The Revenant where my dear Leo becomes a chew toy for a grizzly.

Do heed bear warnings and closures: Bear warnings and area closures are put in place because there have been bear sightings and potentially even bears exhibiting aggressive behaviours. It’s best to wait until warnings and closures are removed. If you choose to hike anyway, make sure you’re fully prepared and, preferably, travelling with others.

Don’t assume that a lack of bear warnings means there aren’t bears:  A couple summers ago, the rest of my family was out hiking on a very crowded, very popular trail on the Icefields Parkway.  Despite hordes of people, they rounded a bend only to see a giant grizzly up ahead. They were able to back away slowly and safely, and no other hikers were harmed that day.  The moral of this story is: bear encounters can happen any time/anywhere, even when there are no posted warnings.

Do pay attention to your surroundings: Keep an eye out for diggings, scat, bear prints, or carcasses. Any of these signs could mean a bear is in the area. Depending on the how fresh the signs are, you may want to hustle a bit faster or even retreat. I was once hiking a slightly more remote trail with zero other cars in the parking lot when I encountered one pile of fresh-looking scat, followed by another, followed by another, the last of which was literally steaming in the cool morning air. That was the end of that hike. Also be extra vigilant when hiking through berry bushes, particularly when berries are in season.  It’s not just obvious signs, though.  Anywhere you could unintentionally sneak up on a bear warrants some extra caution–shoulder high scrub, sharp turns in the trail, or hiking alongside raging creeks and rivers are all good environments in which to make some extra noise and keep an eye out.

Do hike with others as much as possible: There’s safety in numbers.  A lot trails in Banff National Park actually have restrictions for groups of 4 or 6 hikers because attacks on groups are much less common. Even when restrictions aren’t in place, it’s better to hike with others (not just for bear safety, either!).  People are natural noise makers, and even two humans looks more physically intimidating than one human.

I likely sound like a paranoid bear-phobic (I’m sure there’s a correct term for this, but I’m too lazy to look at up). I assure you that’s far from the truth.  My fear of bear encounters has never caused me to avoid hiking and, really, as much as I call it a fear, it’s more of an incredibly healthy respect.  Still, I’m going to do whatever I can to avoid ending up like that guy from the campground amphitheatre video…or poor Leo in the Revenant. Yikes.

Hike safely, friends.

 

Trail Tuesdays: walking in the spiderwebs

Can I tell you about something that fills me heart with even more terror than the thought of being attacked by a 500 lb grizzly bear, that has caused me to abandon hiking plans a full 2.5 km into a trail, and that makes me look a crazy, skittish, jumpy freak on the trails?

Ready for it? It’s walking through spiderwebs.

I know it’s ridiculous for a grown adult/outdoor enthusiast to have such an irrational fear of not just spiders but also their empty webs. I live in a place where there are incredibly, incredibly few (in fact, I’m not sure there’s really any) deadly spiders. Those empty webs are just as bad as they serve as a powerful reminder of terrifying spiders’ existences. Plus, I loathe that feeling of wispy strands of spiderwebs clinging to my flesh, invisible to the eye, harmless, and yet so incredibly icky.  I try to remind myself that spiders are good for the ecosystem, that they mean me no harm, that their webs are just their way of catching a mid-day snack.  All of that works only as long as they stay off my trails.

Particularly in early mornings, when few if any hikers have passed through a trail, the risk of spiderweb encounters is at its peak. But even when trails are crowded, I have been amazed at how quickly new webs are spun. It’s like spiders don’t learn that it’s not really worth it to work their magic across well-trodden paths. As a result of this unpredictability, I’m always on watch and always at risk of making an utter fool of myself. Here are just a number of ways in which I have embarrassed myself when encountering spider webs on trails:

–Forced my father or friends to walk ahead of me for significant portions of the trail for the explicitly stated purpose of knocking down spider webs.  The taller the person, the more likely I am to rope them into lead hiker/spider-web-killer.

–Walked for several kilometres swinging my fully-extended hiking pole up and down in front of me like a crazy person to try to knock down any spider webs that may be in my path.

–Shrieked such that friends have been certain I was actually being attacked by a ferocious forest beast. In fact, once when I was a child, my father actually got angry with me for doing this. I was off playing in the woods by our campsite when I passed through a spiderweb and screamed bloody murder. My father ran through the woods convinced I’d suffered some legitimate injury or attack only to find me perfectly fine (aside from the emotional trauma, of course). Apparently it’s super uncool to cry wolf in the woods.

–Repeatedly thrown small branches or rocks at the spider and his web in an effort to knock it down so I can continue without fear of the spider/web potentially landing on me.  This sounds simple and straightforward, and yet I’m so afraid of getting close to the web that I end up throwing both rocks and branches from such a distance that the branches don’t reach the web or the rocks veer off target. You do not want to know how much time I’ve spent employing this tactic.

–Stood there for five minutes having an internal argument with myself about whether I can possibly continue on the trail. I am embarrassed to admit I have turned around before…after hiking 2.5 steep kilometres…when I only had one day for adventuring in the area. In my defence, this was a mammoth spider smack dab in the middle of the trail and about the fourth of its kind I had encountered in the last kilometre alone, all of which I’d had to “clear” with the aforementioned stick/rock throwing technique and under extreme emotional duress.

–Had a minor panic attack and proceeded to spend the next ten minutes furiously trying to dislodge a spider from my person (with no evidence to confirm that a spider was even on my person). Imagine something akin to the running move in Flashdance.  Actually, let me provide a better visual, which is Chris Farley doing the Flashdance dance in Tommy Boy.  In other words, it’s not pretty.

What I’m really getting at here is that, if I could have a super power, it would be to make spider webs in my path magically disappear, without harming the spiders of course.  Also, I would happily accept a permanent hiking lead/spider-web-knocker-downer to be at my beck and call for the remainder of hiking season.

ps. One last sad fact: I was going to insert a picture with this post but even the Google image screen of spiderwebs was too terrifying a prospect.

Monday Musings: the long and winding road

We have had an absolutely amazing couple of weeks weather-wise. For me, any time the sun shines for days on end, I start to feel guilty at the thought of staying indoors or working out at the gym. The trails begin calling to me. Once I answer their call, once I taste that first trail of the season where there is actually a view, where the air’s aroma is that perfect mix of dry pine needles and all the greens of Spring, where the tree canopy offers just the right amount of shade from what’s starting to become a sweltering sun, I am a goner for the rest of the season. I’ll see you on the trails.

This is the state I’ve found myself in these last couple of weeks.   I want to hike. I crave the terrain, the search for ever-higher viewpoints, the familiar rhythm of my steps up steep slopes. The only problem is that my body hasn’t caught up with my mind. Instead, my body is like ‘holy f#^@, girl, you are way too outta shape for this!”

In recent years, a large part of my identity rested on being ‘the hiker girl’. I loved that I was fast on the trail, that I could cover so much ground in a day, that I rarely felt that even the steepest of trails were all that difficult. Now, trails that I would have deemed too easy to even warrant my time leave my lungs winded and my legs sore and exhausted.  In the last four days, I’ve hiked three times, a combined total of 32 km on easy to moderate trails. That was often a one-day distance tally for me and, even spread out over three days, it has left me sluggish and ready for a break. I have used this word before, but ‘humbling’ is the best word I can think to describe it.

No matter how much I want to jump right back into the types of trails I’ve been accustomed to, I won’t be able to do so right away…at least not without accepting that it will be slower, feel harder and, because of this, lead to some frustration. It doesn’t feel good to be in the position where things that were once so easy and natural feel impossibly hard again. The road to injury recovery truly is long. It has highs, it has lows, and it involves many, many (many) rough patches. Even though I am moving forward, ever-so-slowly regaining my hiking mojo, it often feels like two steps back (bonus points for anyone who has that classic Paula Abdul song stuck in their head right now…and I’m sorry).

Every time I push myself on more challenging, steeper and longer trails, it feels like I am right back at square one. I have been here before, though, a decade ago when I took up hiking and made it a mainstay in my life. I have just conveniently forgotten what it felt like to work hard to gain trail legs, growing complacent as my fitness plateaued at a high level. If I pause and reflect on the past, I know that what I’m going through now is just a part of the process, and that every journey has its valleys and its peaks. I’m just looking forward to getting back to one of those peaks some time soon. Until then, I will find solace in the fact that the tired legs and overly laboured breathing are exactly what I need to get me there.

TWIR #61: sunshine!

Omg, Spring has finally arrived in my neck of the woods. It has been warm. There has been sunshine. I know it’s banal to talk about the weather, but seriously we’ve had the wettest, greyest, most thoroughly depressing Fall/Winter season so this is news worth celebrating. What about my workouts, you ask? Well, they’ve been okay too:

Saturday
Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 65 min (I think?)
Observations: To be perfectly honest, I forgot to make note of my workouts throughout the week and I cannot recall exactly what I did. It’s possible there was a pre-strength-training cardio component.  I remember the important things from Saturday, though, things like going for a walk through the old ‘hood with my friends and their little ones, and going for fish n’ chips at the beach. Doesn’t that sound more fun than details of my workout?

Sunday
Activity: planned rest day
Relevant Stats: 8 km river walk with patio refueling break
Observations: There’s this wonderful trail near our place where we can walk 4 km in one direction, encounter a charming little heritage town, and then walk 4 km back to our car. What’s wonderful is that little town half way along the trail has all manner of sins to encourage you to stop. There’s a delightful bakery, there’s a craft brewery, and there’s a riverfront pub with a patio. We opted for cider (well, for me) and nachos on the patio. Now, there’s no real need for refueling after 4 km of leisurely walking, but…dammit, it was sunny and sunshine calls for patios.

Monday
Activity: semi-planned rest day
Relevant Stats: pitch & putt + driving range
Observations: I contemplated an actual workout after our morning round of pitch & putt but we were just having too much fun. I know that’s a pretty flimsy excuse and I don’t care.  Instead, we walked to the driving range, hit some balls, and chilled out on the patio with some beer and appies. Seriously, it hasn’t been sunny in what feels like months. There was no sense wasting perfectly good long weekend patio weather.

Tuesday
Activity: personal training session + short cardio
Relevant Stats: 60 min. training + 20 min. spin
Observations: I have a love/hate relationship with my trainer. I dread our sessions because I never know what new cruelty she will unleash on me, but I also love seeing the gains. This week’s torture was a new variation on prior hanging exercises, wherein I was told to slowly lower myself from above the bars to an active hang over the course of 30 seconds. Ugh.

Wednesday
Activity: Run
Relevant Stats: 8.75 km!
Observations: Finally! A decent run.  It started off rocky, but by the time I got onto the farm country road, I was feeling like if I just kept my pace slow and steady, I might just have a good run. I was right. I did my full “farm loop” as I like to call it, and even survived the final hill, which really isn’t that big a hill but feels big these days. I did forget to stretch upon my return, though, which led to some seriously tight hamstrings by evening.

Thursday
Activity: strength training
Relevant Stats: 70 min.
Observations:  Too lazy to drive to a trailhead for a hike, I opted to get my strength on. I upped some of my weights for some extra challenge…well, and because my gym sucks and bars and weights mysteriously go missing all the time. You never know what equipment you’ll have access to. I cannot wait to find a new gym when my membership expires.  I also decided to keep my phone on me all day to see how many steps I take just doing random house work throughout the day. Though I occasionally forgot to put my phone in my pocket, it was interesting to see that I walked just shy of 2 km just doing housework!

Friday
Activity: hike
Relevant Stats: 8 km + bonus km when I decided to see if the logging road was faster than the bottom part of the trail. Not only was it not faster, it led to a dead end. Ugh.
Observations: Finally, I got off my lazy ass and drove to a trail. It turns out my recent lack of motivation to drive to trailheads may not have been pure laziness.  Prior to my car’s recent $2000 service, any time I drove the highway for extended periods I felt like my engine might explode at any second.  As it turns out, I should have been more worried about my wheels suddenly flying off and/or losing total control of the vehicle, because since the ball joints and struts and something else related to that was fixed highway driving feels fine. Yay to driving safely to more hikes!  But enough about driving. As for the hike, it was both painful and lovely in the way that only happens when you’re out of shape for hiking. To be honest, I didn’t want to keep going past the 2km point, but I kept bargaining with myself (“I’ll just walk another few hundred metres and see how I feel”) and somehow made it to the top. I was dreaming of beer the entire time.

Today’s hike has also confirmed that, though my legs are just as strong (if not stronger) than in the past, my hiking fitness is way, way off. Today’s trail is one I used to hike all the time as an easy maintenance hike. I use to fly up the trail whereas today I felt like I was moving at a snail’s pace.  Sigh. Still, nothing is going to get me down because this has been a good week of workouts and I have an entire weekend of sunshine ahead of me. And somewhere (like inside my fridge), a bottle of rose is calling me.

Trail Tuesdays PSA: be prepared!

Warning: this may border on preachy. Being adequately prepared for your outdoor adventures is one of my hot button topics. I’ve written about safety supplies and suitable gear before.  This weekend I was irked to hear of yet another series of search and rescue expeditions to retrieve hikers from local mountains. All of these trails were front-country, relatively easy half-day hikes in regular hiking season.  The common factor among these rescues: individuals were underprepared for conditions, which included snow at higher elevations.  The toughest part for me to swallow is that this will be the first of far too many similar rescues in the early season. There is enough that can go wrong in the outdoors even when you’re prepared, so why take the risk of going out unprepared and uninformed?

So as not to sound all negative, I’ll add that I actually think it’s great that people want enjoy nature, and I encourage people to get into hiking. However, I get quite riled up when I hear stories of hikers heading out with minimal gear, unsuitable clothing and footwear, and with little knowledge of what to expect in terms of trail conditions, including the intensity of the hike relative to one’s fitness level.  One of the beautiful things about our information age is that there is a ton of information out there to help you know what to expect on a trail. For the love of God, use it!

If you’re going to hit the trails this Spring season, make sure that you’re prepared for conditions:

1. Read up on trail reports: Early season hiking truly is some of the most risky for casual hikers. Warm temperatures and sunshine in lower elevations do not translate to higher elevations, where snow and ice are likely to linger for a long time. Not only that, the snow becomes less stable, which causes a lot more slipping, sliding and post-holing, all of which can cause sudden and unexpected injuries. Trickier conditions can also cause your casual hike to take way longer than expected, which can mean changing conditions and fading daylight can become risks. These aren’t things we tend to think about when it’s 22 degrees at the base of the mountain and yet we should. Provincial, federal, state and national parks have trail reports that are updated fairly regularly, and there are also a number of hiking websites where comments sections are used to provide recent trail conditions. Google is your friend.

2. Pack your gear: I wrote a whole post on being prepared for shoulder season, so I won’t repeat myself here except to say temperatures drop quickly and suddenly in the mountains.  If you get stuck waiting for help because of an injury, or even if it’s just that it takes you way longer than you thought to finish your hike, extra layers may save you from discomfort or even mild hypothermia and a headlamp may help you find your way back to the trailhead safely even in the dark.

3. Know your limits: If you hit snow and you’re not comfortable, or your footwear isn’t giving you enough traction, just turn around. I see people labouring (i.e. slipping and sliding) up and down snow-covered trails in street shoes all the time. My completely obvious pro-tip: if it’s hard for you to get traction going uphill, it will be ten times worse coming back down. It’s not worth it.  Just because others are easily navigating the trail does not mean it will be easy for you. If you encounter terrain that makes you uncomfortable, do not proceed just because others have no issue with it. We all have different experience levels with various trail conditions. Other hikers may be well-versed and geared for their snowy journey. If you’re not, don’t go.

4. Make sure you have route descriptions or a screen shot of a trail map: Most trails are really well marked, but in snowy conditions trails that are usually obvious may be less so. If you’re not sure you’re on the right track, don’t just keep going. Backtrack to the last time you had a clear trail marker or visible sign of trail. From there, if you cannot identify the actual route, do not keep going.

5. Hike for your fitness level: Particularly in early season, conditions may cause hikes to take longer than you think as well as make the hike more physically draining. There is a big difference in energy exerted on a dry, dirt path vs. post-holing through snow. If you’ve ever had to post-hole through crappy Spring snow, you know this. To add insult to injury, you’re probably less fit than you were at the end of last hiking season. Hiking time estimates are just that. A two-hour hiking time estimate assumes good conditions and average fitness.  That could mean you might take 45 minutes or you might take four hours, depending on your fitness and trail conditions. Keep track of your time and don’t assume it’s always faster descending a trail. Turn around if you think you won’t make it back safely during daylight hours.

Okay, I think this concludes my slightly patronizing rant. Like I said, this is a hot button topic for me. Most search and rescue teams are volunteer-based, which means these individuals are often working day jobs and then getting dispatched in the evenings and overnight, giving up their time and putting themselves at risk when searching for hikers. Let’s not put others into greater risk for no good reason.  Accidents absolutely happen on trails and we can’t always prevent them, but we can do everything in our power to be informed and prepared.

*end rant*

 

Training Tuesdays: Trail Snacks!

Let’s talk trail snacks! Snacks are fun regardless of where and when they’re eaten, but snacks become essential on the trail. Hiking burns a lot of calories and you can easily bonk if you don’t find some way of refueling along the way. Trust me. I used to hike all day without any snacks only to absolute crash and burn once I got home. I’m talking laying on my couch from 5 pm onward with no energy to do anything. It made for a riveting social life. In other words, you gotta fuel yourself on the trail.

When it comes to hiking, you’ll want to be extra thoughtful about what you bring along. Here are a few simple rules to help you pick the best hiking fuel for the trail. I’ve also followed up the general rules with links to some of my favourite products and recipes (and no, I haven’t been compensated for product suggestions–my readership is nowhere near what it needs to be for that!).

Trail Eats 101: snacking right for a hike

1. Keep it Compact and Resilient: You’re going to be carrying whatever you have to eat, along with all your gear, and your water. That’s a lot of stuff. What you don’t need to add to the mix are giant tupperware containers or large-sized snacks. Keep trail snacks small. And, if you’re anything like me, your snacks will quite literally be crammed into your backpack.  This is not the time for rice crackers in their foil pouch nor a pillowy soft coffee cake in a baggie (yes, these specific examples come from experience).  They will only end up flattened and crushed beyond recognition.  Choose foods that can withstand the pressure of a full backpack.

2. Watch out for thirst makers:  Heat and exercise already make you thirsty enough, so don’t pick a snack that’s going to add unnecessarily to your thirst.  If you do, you could burn through your water supply way faster than planned. Plus, it’s just unpleasant to be parched.  Salty nut mixes are your enemy. Instead, look for raw, unsalted trail mixes.  They’ll also be less delicious, which means you won’t eat an entire family sized bag before you even reach the summit. Peanut butter sandwiches are also on my no-go list. Peanut butter mouth is the worst even at the best of times so you know throwing dehydration into the mix is going to make it downright intolerable. As a rule of thumb, if foods make you really thirsty when you’re not even exercising, you probably want to steer clear when you’re sweating up a storm.

3. Sugar + carbs are your friends (but do both wisely):  Oh, how the world likes to villainize sugar and carbs.  Let me tell you, if you’re going to hike 20+ kilometres and gain a bunch of elevation, sugar and carbs are a great source of energy.  That said, this doesn’t mean packing chocolate bars and candy. Sure, those snacks are fine every once in a while, but they’re going to make you hella thirsty (see above) and won’t provide more than a quick energy boost. Plus, there are so many fantastic products on the market that make use of dates and other natural ingredients for sweetness, as well as great recipes for home-made trail cookies and bars (I’ve included one of my favourites below).  Look for products with a handful of ingredients (all of which you can easily pronounce), with fruits as sweeteners, with minimal additives, and with healthier grains.

4. Make sure they don’t need to keep their cool:  Anything that would normally be kept in your fridge is probably not ideal for hanging around in your hot backpack all day.  Forget food safe rules and just imagine being absolutely starving and having to dig into a lukewarm, wilted salad.  Even a simple meat + veg sandwich can be rather unforgiving after a few hours in a backpack. Don’t even talk to me about anything with mayonnaise…

5. Avoid big smells: This one is pure paranoia, but I have a long-standing and largely irrational fear that if I take any food with a strong odour on the trail, I will surely be attacked by a bear. Like I said, I know this is irrational but, when it comes to bears, my philosophy is that one can never be too careful. I keep my snacks relatively neutral in the odour department and live to hike another day.

If you’re wondering what I most often carry in my backpack, here are my top 5 trail snacks, including some home-made options!

1. Cashew Lara Bars: My stomach does not handle any of the Lara Bars with almonds, but the cashew bar is stomach-approved and absolutely divine. The ingredient list is short and they will give you a quick sugar hit when your energy reserves are low.

2. Prima Ginger + Pistachio: I am a sucker for anything ginger. And these have the added boost of brown rice crisps and quinoa flakes for some staying power.

3. Trail cookies: I make quite a few modifications to this recipe, usually adding coconut, chia seeds and dried (unsweetened) cranberries in place of the chocolate and cacao nibs (because not once in my life have I had cacao nibs on hand).  You can also sub peanut butter for the almond butter if you don’t want to pay $9000 for a jar of almond butter (seriously, how has it gotten so expensive?!?). Your end result will be a crazy dense and filling cookie, perfect for on-trail energy boosts.

4. Green smoothie: Okay, okay, this is totally going to look like it violates my ‘no refrigeration required’ rule and my ‘compact foods only’ rule, but hear me out. I bought this great small, super-insulated thermos years ago and it fits perfectly on the outside pouch of my backpack AND keeps things cold for over eight hours.  Here’s the trick: I make the smoothie the night before and freeze it overnight. For the smoothie, use a high-power blender to blend: 1 whole apple (peel and everything, which is why you need a really good blender), juice of one lemon, 1/4 of a cucumber, 2 TBSP chia seeds, and 1-2 cups of frozen kale.  Blend and add water to get to desired consistency. This has almost no sweetness so it’s not for everyone but it is ultra refreshing on a hot day and full of vitamins and minerals!

5. Sierra Trail Mix: The link is for a local drugstore house brand, but any raw mix will do. This one is heavy on seeds, lighter on nuts, and doesn’t have any of that pesky, thirst-making chocolate. I’ll save my chocolate binges for post-hiking, thank you very much.

Snack wisely on those trails, friends!