When it comes to choosing a way to enjoy everything Banff National Park has to offer, hiking should definitely top your list. Its selling points are as endless as the trails in this mountain park: it is as simple as walking (with a bit of oomph!); it is accessible to nearly everyone; and it gives you the pride and satisfaction of reaching a goal or high point on human power alone.
Yet, as simple as hiking is, trekking your way through the mountains can take some planning and preparation. Beyond reaching your destination, the ultimate goal is to stay happy, healthy and safe at all times on the trail. Here’s what to load into your pack the next time you venture out:
WHAT TO WEAR
I like to say “dress down, but brings layers”. What does that mean? You don’t want to be overdressed for a hike, since temperatures in Banff can exceed 25 degrees (and you’ll be breaking a sweat!), but you want to have layers ready to add on. Most days the weather will change (that’s one thing you can count on)!
Here’s what’s always in my kit:
- T-shirt or tank top (preferably a wicking material; not cotton)
- Long sleeve shirt (preferably a wicking material; not cotton)
- Zip-off pants (that give you a shorts or pants option)
- Fleece or insulating mid-layer
- Waterproof/windproof shell or rain jacket
- Rain pants, if weather is particularly inclement
For footwear, a pair of light hikers will be sufficient for most hikes in Banff National Park. For more rigorous or backcountry hikes, consider a mid-height, sturdy hiking boot with good tread.
Use a comfortable backpack to store your belongings, and take time to adjust the straps and ensure a proper fit.
WHAT TO PACK
What do I put in (or on) my pack in addition to my extra clothing?
Bear spray - It’s essential to have a can of bear spray amongst your hiking group (more if you won’t be hiking in a tight group) and that you all know how to use it. Carry this on the exterior of your pack or hip belt.
Sun screen - The UV rating in Banff is generally high. Pick a sunscreen with a good SPF, and preferably one that won’t stop working the moment you break a sweat.
Bug spray - Chances are you won’t have to use it, but it can’t hurt to bring it along. To keep ticks at bay, consider a natural bug spray with essential oils like lemon eucalyptus or citronella (and do a proper “tick check” when your hike is complete).
Water - Always pack more than you think you’ll need. If you have a water pump/filter, you may find streams along the trail, but this should not be relied on.
Food/extra food - Bring enough high-energy snacks and fuel for your hike and then some in case you’re delayed getting back. See below for some easy-to-grab options!
Flashlight/headlamp - You need a way to light the trail if you choose to start your day before sunrise or end up hiking in the dark. Have fresh batteries on hand.
First Aid kit - You should have a well-stocked First Aid kit amongst your group. A blister kit will definitely come in handy since even the smallest blister is enough to ruin a hike.
Optional, but Highly Recommended:
Hiking poles - This one makes my personal “essential” list, but it is, of course, optional. Hiking poles take the strain off your knees and gets your upper body involved in the action. Once you’ve tried them you may never leave them behind again!
Cellphone - Cell service is patchy in the national park, but in the case of an emergency it may come in handy. If you’re headed into the backcountry or on a more advanced hike, consider purchasing a SPOT device (or similar), which allows you to communicate no matter where you are.
WHERE TO GET GEAR
Whether you’re looking to buy or rent outdoor gear for your mountain hikes, stores in Banff and Lake Louise are ready to outfit you:
WHAT TO EAT
You’ll want high-energy food for the trail, plus some much-deserved treats (I love gummy bears)! In addition to a well-rounded lunch, I also love “grab and go” food that is easy to eat as I move, such as nuts or trail mix, dried fruit, and homemade granola bars. If you can’t prepare your own food, a number of take-out options are available in Banff and Lake Louise: