Hiking rules. Granted, it doesn’t get the media accolades or energy drink sponsorships of biking or skiing, but that’s because it doesn’t need them. Hiking is the oldest, purest, and least complicated outdoor activity in human history. It’s a perfect mix of simplicity and self-reliance—go outside, walk around on some dirt, look at some beautiful nature, enjoy being alive, and voila! You’re hiking.
Of course, just because you can throw on pair of ratty sneakers, grab a water bottle and head out into Whistler’s hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails doesn’t necessarily mean that is the best way to do it. Hiking has been around since the dawn of civilization and since then we’ve managed to come up with some pretty cool hiking gear. Whistler Village has plenty of great shops selling hiking stuff but The Escape Route has been around the longest so The Insider strolled in to get the scoop on ten things that will elevate your Whistler hiking game this summer.
EPIC GEAR FOR WHISTLER HIKING
Granted, mellower trails like those around Lost Lake can easily be hiked in running shoes (or sandals even) but one of the tenets of hiking is heading out to explore new terrain and no one wants to suddenly end up on an alpine scree field in flip flops. Good hiking boots are an investment that pays off for a lifetime.
Investing in some proper hiking boots is especially important if you plan on carrying a heavy day or overnight pack. As we get older our ankles get wobblier (so does the rest of us.) The crew at Escape Route recommend the Salewa Mountain Trainer—a lightweight boot with a firm sole and good ankle support.
Hiking without water not only sucks, it can also be dangerous. The old school method is to just throw a water bottle into you pack (please ensure it is a reusable one) but technology definitely offers a better way. Hydration packs like the Nathan HPL #020 stow a refillable water bladder right inside the pack with a handy straw that attaches to the shoulder strap. This means hands-free hydration at anytime. Which is great unless you like using the old excuse of, “I need to hydrate, we better stop for a rest.” For most Whistler hikes 2 litres of water is probably plenty (take more if it is extra hot or the hike is extra strenuous).
Twenty years ago the only people who hiked with poles were eccentrics and Europeans but lately the rest of the world has caught on. They are definitely unnecessary on most of Whistler’s half-day or shorter hikes, but for longer hauls or overnight trips poles will literally take tonnes of weight off your feet over the course of a day and are integral as extra balance points on loose or uneven terrain. If you’re carrying a pack weighing more than 1/10th of your body weight, poles are probably a good idea. Be sure to get telescopic collapsible ones as they can be used as extra tent/tarp poles or collapsed and stowed when not needed.
Your eyes get to enjoy all the scenery on a Whistler hike, but your feet do all the work so spend the extra money and pamper them. Escape Route staff are unanimous on this: “Start with a Merino wool hiking sock. It really is the only way to go.”
Merino wool, shorn from a special mountain breed of sheep found primarily in New Zealand, is a naturally breathable fabric that helps prevent blisters, doesn’t stink and keeps your feet as cool as possible on sweaty summer hikes. They had me at “won’t stink.”
5. First Aid Kit
Mellower Whistler hikes such as the Valley Trail or Lost Lake trails are so close to town (and within cell phone range) that a first aid kit might be redundant but it’s never a bad idea to be prepared. A little kit can hold everything needed to deal with scrapes, blisters and light puncture wounds. (If you’re allergic to insect stings be sure to toss whatever you need in the kit as well).
6. Bear Bell
Whistler black bears are not so different from the rest of us—they don’t like being surprised in the middle of a nap or meal, and they don’t want to be walked in on during a toilet break. A small bear bell strapped to your pack or belt will ensure the bears can hear you coming and that will help prevent unpleasant surprises.
7. Lighter and Whistle
Night gets cold in the mountains and if you ever have to stay up there it will be a lot easier to make a fire with a fancy windproof butane lighter than it will rubbing sticks together à la Survivor. The sound of a whistle travels much further than just yelling so if you need to attract attention, essential for aiding rescues, this is one of those tools you carry but hope to never use.
8. Weatherproof Shell
The old saying in the mountains is: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” and while that is only half-true (sometimes it takes ten) the moral of the story is clear: bring a weather-proof jacket on any hike in the Coast Mountains or coastal rainforest. And ideally it’s a lightweight one. The Escape Route crew recommends Arc’teryx’s “Squamish Hoodie” which is wind-and-water resistant and weighs only 5.5 ounces (155 grams). And it’s made right down the road in Vancouver.
The Whistler Visitor Centre has excellent maps and up-to-the-day information on all of Whistler’s hiking trails, plus there’s these online maps and The Insider hiking archives. If you do want a book though, local authors Brian Finestone and Kevin Hodder have penned a pocket-sized guide called Whistler Hiking, or Escape Route also has a smaller, weatherproof brochure style map available.
10. A Sense of Calm and Adventure
Hiking is not a race. It’s about finding new places while also exploring the inside of your head. A good day of hiking in Whistler is the ultimate mix of nature, exercise, meditation and peace of mind in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Enjoy it.
Whistler hiking is always fun but the mountains are not to be taken lightly, it’s best to let someone know your planned route and return time BEFORE you leave. Whistler.com also offers guided hiking tours for all skill levels and lots of last-minute accommodation deals too.