I spent Saturday morning hiking at McGillivray Falls in the Whiteshell area of Manitoba with my friend who I will section hike the Appalachian Trail with. I went to McGillivray once before, at the beginning of the winter with my daughter for lunch and hiked to a spot 10 minutes in from the trail head. Yesterday was my first time hiking the whole trail.
While still at the car as we were setting ourselves up for the hike, a man and his old and friendly black Labrador dog arrived to cycle the trail on a fat tire mountain bike. Our conversation led to finding out that he is part of a group that maintains a number of trails in the area and that McGillivray is his favorite.
He casually asked if we had a compass. I avoided answering the question about the compass, feeling a little embarrassed that I still don’t have one. I responded that we had enough gear with us to spend the night since we were training for an upcoming hike on the Appalachian Trail. I love to name drop the Appalachian Trail anytime I can.
As a volunteer firefighter he participates in search and rescue operations in the Whiteshell and is astonished by the amount of people who don’t bring something as basic as water and water filtration on a hike. They come into rugged territory unprepared with inadequate gear and supplies for what the environment will throw at them.
I’m guilty of running out of water once. I under estimated how much water my daughter, my two dogs, and myself would need on the trail. On a hot summer day with the sun at its peek, we made the 2 km hike back to the car where a 4 liter jug of water awaited us. 2 km wasn’t that far but it was uncomfortable with 4 bodies that needed water, especially a dog that wears a thick winter coat in the middle of summer. I was the one responsible for keeping us safe and I vowed that I would not make the same mistake twice.
I purchased a 3 liter hydration bladder and I started bringing a water filter on hikes that have water sources to ensure I don’t run out of water again. If I had my water filter when we ran out of water I could have easily pumped us clean water to drink. It was a very important lesson learned for a necessity when hiking, especially when others are relying on me.
A lesson that I learned on my hike yesterday has to do with proper footwear. I wore my everyday, multi-purpose hiking boots and I should have worn my winter boots that are intended for walking on snow and ice. Crampons would have made a world of difference as well and I plan to purchase a pair to keep in my pack for winter hiking.
I had a challenging time in a number of spots because of my inadequate footwear. There were a lot of up and down and very slippery spots. I fell a handful of times including sliding down a large boulder about 6 feet and my trekking pole got wrapped up in the bush as I fell. With the inadequate footwear lesson, I’m giving serious thought to what I will wear on the Appalachian Trail. My feet will carry my body and my pack for 10 days. Footwear is not a decision I want to make lightly.
The purchases that I make for camping and hiking are an investment into my mental wellness and part of my self-care. I hike first and foremost for my mental health and I ride the waves of physical activity and a boost to my mental health for days to come. There is a bounce in my step today and joy in my words that I owe to hiking.
Quality equipment means that I have comfort and reliability to take me to the giant backyard of Birds Hill Provincial Park or to the Appalachian Trail with confidence. In no particular order, here are my top gear investments:
Trekking poles. Four-legged animal power! Yes, that is what I pretend when hauling myself up an incline. Trekking poles are not just used for stability. They help with proper posture and taking the pressure off of knees and lower back. They are multi-purpose and can be used in a bind if a tent pole breaks and a shelter needs to be rigged, used as a splint for a broken leg, and to check the depth of streams and snow. I am in the camp of people who prefer two trekking poles to just one. I feel balanced with two and one shoulder and wrist is not over compensated with extra work.
Kelty Grand Mesa 4 is our family hiking tent. This tent has taken a beating in wind and rain and stood up remarkably well. The ease of setting it up is fast and painless. A four person tent at 7 pounds, 7 ounces that holds two adults, one child, one 100 pound dog, one 13 pound dog, plus hiking packs is pretty impressive. This tent opened up the back country to explore with my family and because of that my daughter has said, “I am strong like you when we hike.” That comment made the purchase worth every penny.
I love everything about my Gregory Deva 70. When the now discontinued version went on sale to make room for the new Deva’s, I couldn’t pass up a premium pack for a nice sale price. Gregory focuses solely on packs and it shows in their comfort and fit technology. The same goes for Osprey. I tried on a number of packs and nothing else for my body shape compared to how good the Gregory Deva felt.
At the end of last October I took my daughter for an overnight hike. My husband gifted me a MSR PocketRocket 2 stove as an early Christmas present. I had guaranteed hot food instead of relying on the fire pit that may have been out of firewood or was too wet to use. I am familiar with the landscape and knew there wouldn’t have been much fallen brush to collect for a cooking fire, nor was that something I wanted to do, unless of course it was needed for survival.
The options for gear are vast and the craze right now is going as lightweight as possible. I can definitely get on board with some of the lightweight gear but not at the expense of my confidence level when setting up a pole tent versus a tent using trekking poles. That is not something I want to compromise at this time. Yes, one day you will see me with a tent that uses trekking poles but not in the immediate future. For now, Kelty is my home on the trail.
I went from a 54 pound pack on my first overnight (since being a teenager in cadets) to a 30 pound pack now for just myself. I also don’t think I will ever forget the monstrosity of a bag that contained gear for three people last fall. It’s all part of the fun.