How to plan an overnight hike

Here’s what I love about backpacking: you’re so present to the beauty around you and so removed from your everyday reality.

You put one foot in front of the other, carrying everything you have with you on your back. As the sun or rain beats down, you sweat, stop for water, and take in the wild beauty of nature.

You savour the taste of a hard earned dinner, the sparkle of shooting stars and the warmth of hot tea at the end of a long day. You cozy up in your sleeping bag and fall into a deep sleep.

The next morning, you enjoy every bite of your hot oatmeal before packing up and heading back down the mountain. At the end of it all, you feel an overwhelming sense of accomplishment! It feels so good to have done something so hard!

If that sounds like your idea of fun, you should definitely try backpacking if you haven’t already! Here’s my advice for making your first backpacking trip a success:


Depending where you live and which hike you want to do, you may have to book it several months in advance. I did this for Garibaldi Lake and for Elfin Lakes, both located near Squamish, BC. Check your local online booking system!

If you don’t know which hike to choose, research the trails in your area, join a hiking group on facebook, and look up trail reports for the one that’s right for you! Not all hikes require booking in advance, just make sure you know if that’s the case for your hike.


Take advantage of the end of season sales, Black Friday, Boxing Day, etc to gather your gear.

If you can’t afford new gear, borrow or rent from a friend who has what you need.

You can get gear at MEC if you’re in Canada, or REI if you’re in the US. They often have “garage sale” events where you can buy used gear at a reduced cost, so make sure to find out when those are and go check them out!


Always plan out your route beforehand and share it with someone who you’ll keep updated whenever possible. If you’re going outside of cell service, I strongly recommend getting a gps device you can use to make sure you’re staying on the trail, and to update your contacts.

A great resource for trip planning is – you can fill in the blanks and provide the contact info for your emergency contacts. Adventure smart will send them updates based on the information you provide.


Bring extra food, extra flashlight batteries, a fully stocked first aid kit, water purification, and rain gear and warm clothing even if it’s not supposed to rain.

Bring safety gear like bear spray and bear bangers, and know how to use them. Make sure you know how to identify the different types of bears and what to do if you encounter one.

Pack like the worst case scenario is going to happen, and then use common sense to avoid mistakes like getting dehydrated, getting lost, or getting heatstroke. If your senses are telling you not to continue, turn around.


Pick people who you know will have fun regardless of the weather!

Make sure everyone understands the level of difficulty of the hike, and communicate about who’s going to bring what. You could put each person in charge of a different meal, or assign gear to different people – like the tent, the stove, the water purification, and the first aid kit.

Check if the place you’re going has a minimum or maximum group size requirement. If you’re heading into bear country, a bigger group is better to deter bears. Tell stories, sing songs and play games to distract you from your sore muscles and to keep animals away!

Here are my backpacking must haves:

  • Good hiking boots or shoes
  • I use a 65L hiking backpack from North Face
  • Rain gear – jacket, pants, pack cover
  • First aid kit
  • Water purification
  • Whistle
  • Knife
  • Bear spray, bear bangers
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Warm hat, gloves
  • Sun protection – hat, sunglasses, sunscreen
  • Long pants
  • Sweater
  • Warm socks
  • Good sleeping bag
  • Hiking pillow
  • Sleeping mat
  • Rope
  • Mug and spoon
  • Cooking stove, fuel, and lighter
  • Quick dry towel
  • Yummy hot drink for evenings and morning
  • Bowl or plate
  • Bags for hanging up food
  • Camp shoes
  • TP/tissues
  • Garbage bag to pack out my trash
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Biodegradable soap, wash cloth

A few final tips:

Make sure you store food and any scented or flavoured items AWAY from your tent!! Some hikes have designated areas to hang up your food and items with smells. Don’t cook by your tent either.

Always pack out what you pack in – don’t ever leave garbage or toss your leftovers or TP into the woods. Bring a garbage bag or two so you can pack it out and throw it away when you get back to the parking lot.

If you’ve never done this before, it’s always a good idea to go with someone who has! Find a friend who can help ease your fears with their expertise, or sign up for a guided hike.

If you want to make sure you think of everything, this post by MEC has some excellent tips.

If this resource was helpful to you, share it with a friend who loves hiking!

Here’s to hiking and going on unforgettable adventures!

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