The benefit of tent life is the views you get at the base of Observation Mountain in Kluane National Park
By no means do I consider myself an aficionado about hiking, but I love it most of the time and learn something new every single hike – either through an experience or meeting someone who does it better.
Slowly, over the years I have accumulated new techniques, gear and tips to manage hiking and camping trips. A new type of camping I learned in the Yukon last summer is car camping, which was an interesting experience for me, but a lot more fun than carrying everything you need on your back.
There is always an element of weight versus need even when car camping. Do you need that book to read or can you handle a week with your own thoughts? Sometimes it can be tough, especially when you can’t afford the latest and greatest lightweight gear or you go alone. From my experience, here are the top 10 items you must have when camping:
1. Excellent hiking boots
The most important aspect to any outdoor adventure is taking care of your feet, because no matter what type of camping trip you do, having waterproof, durable hiking boots it’s a must. If you have ill-fitting boots, you will get blisters and be uncomfortable and in pain and you won’t enjoy your trip.
Since it can be rainy and boggy and there are many creeks in the Yukon, waterproof boots will prevent you from getting cold, wet feet and getting sick.
I have Salomon Gore-Tex Quest 4D hiking boots that I have never received one blister and they are the longest-lasting boots (1 year) I’ve had that haven’t disintegrated. Usually the record is about six months for expensive boots, with either the seams ripping, the grip underneath eroding into the shoe, or the whole sole coming off.
Depending on the type of camping you do, a tent is going to be important for those overnight trips. It’s going to keep you dry and protected from the annoying bugs.
I have Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC) Camper 2 tent that can sleep two people.
My must-have in a tent is a vestibule area. There is nothing worse than putting your drenched boots inside your tent – until you get home and can thoroughly dry it out, your tent will stay wet. So having an outside, but protected area, is key to keeping dry.
However, a lot of great trails are accessible by road, so I also have a bed in the back of my van that gives me a very comfortable sleep for a weekend of hiking.
3. Sleeping bag
Being too hot or too cold can determine how much (or little) sleep you will get. The mountains, particularly up high or near lakes, can get very chilly at night, very quickly.
You need to make sure your sleeping bag is going to keep you warm enough at night. I have a Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag classified for extreme -22, it’s comfortable in -10 and way too hot in about +5. It’s bulky, which is a big downside for hiking, as it takes a lot of room. The more you spend, the more lightweight and compact, but still effective, your sleeping bag will be in extreme temperatures.
Having hiked for many weeks in the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia, I can vouch for how important a well-fitted rucksack can be – and even if it is well-fitted, it can still batter your body.
Make sure you have a waist and chest strap and can adjust the back according to your height. Make sure to pack your bag with the heaviest items at the bottom and lightest at the top. Your legs have the most strength and you need to distribute the weight around your body to best utilise your strength.
It can be tricky sometimes, because you don’t want to repack your bag every time you need something. So sometimes your 1-2 kg water bottle will be at the top of your pack. Let’s just say you develop really good back muscles after a few trips in a summer.
Hiking around for weeks with 30 kg on my back leads to bruised hips and shoulders from the weight of the pack, but surprisingly, the human body can withstand a lot. I’ve had my pack for eight years and it has travelled all over the world in all types of climates and environments. It’s a Berghaus “60L +10L” rucksack.
5. Hiking poles
Without hiking poles, heading up with a heavy backpack is near impossible. The hiking poles give support and help with balance. They also shift some of the weight of the rucksack to your arms instead of just weighing on your legs.
I have hiking poles for summer use and for winter use. Usually the baskets at the base will determine which pole I take. The bigger baskets would be for powder ski days with smallest or no basket for hiking in dry summer.
6. Camping stove and fuel – and matches!
Being able to have a warm meal after a long day is definitely a satisfying treat. After years of having a big stove and pot I recently upgraded to the tiny, backpacker-friendly system GSI Halulite Minimalist Cookset and MSR Pocket Rocket 2 Stove. It’s lightweight and can pack it all into one small container, including a small MSR Isopro fuel canister.
Don’t forget to keep track of how much gas you use, because there’s nothing worse than running out when you need it the most. Also don’t forget to have dry matches – lighters won’t work if it’s too cold. Also be prepared for inclement weather….what happens if you run out of gas, or matches. or the weather prevents you from cooking?
7. Food, snacks and water!
There’s nothing more important than keeping your body fuelled up as you burn through your hiking days. There are so many suggestions to have the best foods and snacks on your trip, it’s really up to you.
For long trips I’ll take the dehydrated, pre-made Mountain House meals for breakfast and dinner, and then have things like cheese, wraps, jerky and dried fruits for lunch. I also bring tablets for the gastrointestinal problems you may encounter with this dietIf it’s a short trip or I have access to my vehicle, I modify this. But mostly after 10 to 12 hours of hiking solo, the last thing I want to do is make a meal from scratch and carrying all your food yourself, the lighter the better. There’s no right or wrong way, as long as you keep your energy levels up and prepare for potential bodily reactions you will be fine. It’s always better to have a little more food than not enough. Clean drinking water is also important, some people have a pump, I take water purifying tablets.
What clothing to wear is an important issue, and it’s often tricky – particularly in the Yukon. The weather can change instantly and if you aren’t prepared you could get in trouble.
In spring, there will still be snow at the summits and the winds are strong and cold. So bring a windproof shell to put on. I wear light Arc’teryx gloves; Outdoor Research brand quick dry hiking pants and gaiters; knee high Darn Tough brand socks; a long sleeve, quick dry hiking top; Columbia brand puffy jacket; and, of course, my Yukon Built brand cap and sunglasses.
Only once have I not had to wear a jacket while hiking in Yukon, and that was when we had the one week of 30ºC. Otherwise, even at 20ºC, once at a summit, the wind, rain (sometimes sleet/snow) can come in and it’s cold.
9. First aid kit and other bits
I have a pretty extensive first aid kit, which includes things like glucose tablets, antihistamines, medications for diarrhea and constipation, pain relief tablets. I also carry water purifying tablets, insect repellent, toilet paper, plastic bags and sunscreen. Bear spray – just don’t mace yourself with it!
10. A little nip is well deserved
Nothing like a well-deserved nip of Fireball whisky after a long hard days hike sitting by a fire. It’s totally worth the weight!