One of the biggest barriers I hear from people wanting to get active outside is “I don’t have any equipment, and I don’t know where to start”. There’s also the budget factor, since money is tight or we don’t want to overspend and then find we don’t use it enough.
The great thing about trails around Greater Vancouver is that most of the simply require comfortable walking shoes, a water bottle, and a rain jacket. Nothing else! But read on for some info on what to look for as you build up your gear closet.
Really, whatever shoes feel comfortable for you are the best ones. Even road running shoes or “walking shoes” will work well for the most part, unless you’re going on trails that have a lot of slippery roots or a steep incline (which are mostly on the North Shore or Manning Park). If you can afford waterproof shoes, those are ideal, but not necessary if you are planning on walking mostly in good weather. Different brands will have different fits as well, so it’s best to ask the store staff what will be best for your feet. MEC, Atmosphere, and Valhalla Pure Outfitters are all good places to start.
I personally am a big fan of Salomon shoes as I find them to be pretty durable, lightweight, and a good price. However be forewarned that they do tend to fit a little large, both in terms of width and length. If you have narrow feet, look into a European brand such as Scarpa or La Sportiva.
Later on, if/when you’re ready to tackle some harder hikes, look for shoes with good “lugs” (aka the tread on the bottom), ankle support, and extra coverage on the toe which will protect the front of the shoe from getting damaged from rocks.
Hiking poles come in different materials and lengths, so again it’s best to speak to the store staff about what will suit you. There’s a great video from REI (posted below) that does a great job of explaining the different types available. Don’t feel the need to overspend at first, especially if you are using them on beginner trails.
I’m partial to Black Diamond as their poles are very good quality, there are lots of attachments available and they offer many replacement parts on their website. The ones I have are the basic Trail Trekking poles which I can use all year round by switching out the standard basket for a snow one.
Lastly, to carry all your gear you will need a good backpack, or day pack. The name “day pack” can be a bit misleading, because your type of pack really depends on what you want to bring with you, the size of your gear/equipment, and how long you will be out for. Larger daypacks (~35 litres) can be used as overnight or weekend bags by some people. Most day packs are around 15-22 litres. For hikes within the city, I use an old MEC sling pack, like this one. If I need to bring more than just a water bottle and a snack, I bring my Gregory Jade 28, so that I can fit my first aid kit, enough water for both Bacon and I, food, an extra layer, and maybe a bird book and binoculars. The 28 litre size is probably a bit overkill, but I am often bringing gear for the whole group!
Before shopping for a day pack, make a list of all the things you’d like to bring with you, such as:
- Extra layers, like a rain jacket or sweater
- Bandaids for blisters
- Small book (map, guidebook or bird identification, for example)
- Rain cover (useful for Vancouver!)
As you venture out onto longer or harder trails, you may choose to bring more snacks and water, a small first aid kit, extra pair of socks, and so on. Some people also choose to purchase a pack with a water bladder built in, so they can sip their water from the small hose attachment rather than stop and remove their water bottle each time. Again, these are all extra features that aren’t necessary at the beginning. In fact, most people could use their usual school or commuter backpack to get started.
If you do decide to purchase a new pack, try to bring as many of the above items as possible to the store to see how it will all fit. Don’t feel awkward – this is normal and store staff are used to it! They may also have advice on other things you may have forgotten about, or ways to use the special pockets in the pack. Rain covers are sold separately, so if your current pack doesn’t have one, you can purchase one for under $20 at places like MEC.
And there you go! Experienced hikers, what else did you need to get started?