Beginner Tips

Essential Gear to Get Started

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”. And money is often a factor as well, since either people don’t have a big budget to spend or they don’t want to overspend and find they don’t enjoy getting outside.

The great part about the 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.

Shoes

Salomon OUTline Prism Shoes

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). 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.

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

Hiking poles may seem like they’re only for people scaling a mountain, but they’re really useful for just about everyone. The biggest advantage they offer on flat ground is the ability to get into a walking rhythm, just like a skier would use their poles. When going up or down hills, they offer extra support for your knees and ankles too. Many hiking poles come with different attachments so you can use them on pavement, gravel and dirt trails, and in the snow for snowshoeing. If you are engaging in activities like birdwatching or photography and won’t be carrying a big pack, just one hiking pole is probably enough and will keep your other hand free. 
 

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. 

Day Pack

Lastly, to carry all your gear you will need a good backpack, or day pack. The name can be a bit misleading, because pack size 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.

Before shopping for a day pack, make a list of all the things you’d like to bring with you, such as:

  • Waterbottle
  • Extra layers, like a rain jacket or sweater
  • Snacks
  • 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?

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