Backcountry Hiking: Getting Started

The Elk Valley offers an abundance of adventures for all ages and types of fun. Whether you want to go for a quick bike ride during your lunch break, spend a day hiking the vast array of trails in the area or take on a multi-day adventure, Fernie has it all!

With the current climate emphasizing to #StayLocal, Backyard Adventures will be a four-part series in this summer’s editions that will provide the low-down on the best hikes, biking trails and sights in the vicinity, as well as some adventuring how-tos. Through trial, error and sheer unpreparedness, I’ve run into my fair share of obstacles over the course of my time in Fernie, so I’ll be sharing a few stories and experiences to pass on some learnings so you’re ready to tackle your adventure goals.

Biggest lesson so far: pack light!

With this column we will explore the basic gear you’ll need for an overnight hike such as the Three Sisters, which is a 30km thru-hike rated Hard on AllTrails. There is a small amount of scrambling at the last 50m.

The Three Sisters hike, or Heiko’s Trail, is one of the most beautiful and well-known hikes in the area; beginning at Hartley Lake Road and ending at Island Lake Lodge, where you can toast to your success with a nice, cold beer. It has it all – caves, waterfalls, meadows, beautiful peaks, and the chance to see the sunset and sunrise from the summit. The snow melts around the end of June and the trail can typically be hiked until October. You can complete this hike over one to two nights, camping on the saddle below the summit or at Windy Pass. I’ll go over some of the basic gear you would need for a hike like this.

Hiking boots: You will be wearing and sweating in these all day, so once you purchase a good pair of shoes you’ll be so thankful to have them. It is a personal preference as to which boots to wear. My preference is something with GORE-TEX and a high-cut for ankle support. The trail can be variable, so limiting the chance of a sprained ankle is key.

Backpack: These are measured in litres and sizes depending on your height and body shape. It is important to have a backpack properly fitted, to reduce the strain on your body on these long days. Waist straps are essential as they transfer the majority of the weight from your back and shoulders to your hips and legs. 50L is great for 1-2 nights. 70L for 3+ nights.

Sleep system: I hiked for a month with Lucy Barnard in Peru, who is undertaking the difficult task of hiking from Argentina to Alaska. She emphasized how important a comfortable sleep system is, because a good night’s sleep is often the deciding factor in your energy levels the next day. For a sleeping bag, I always suggest going with down feathers (mine is from MEC). They pack smaller, lighter and are warmer. Synthetic sleeping bags are significantly bulkier, which means you lose a lot of room in your pack. For a pad/mattress, a roll-up inflatable one works great. I place a Therm-a-Rest Z Lite foam pad underneath to make sure it doesn’t get punctured. It’s also great to sit on during the day!

Clothing: Merino clothes, GORE-TEX jacket and a thin down jacket. Cooking: MSR Pocket Rocket stove or equivalent. Mini-pot (I always eat out of the pot), spoon and foldable knife.

Others: Headlamp, lip balm, water bottle, sun hat, sunscreen and sunglasses.

Food: Oats for breakfast and Sidekicks for dinner. Gummy bears, snickers, trail mix and a beer for throughout the day. You can pre-make wraps at home and put them in zip lock bags for lunch. For help getting the right gear, speak to the friendly and knowledgeable staff at Gearhub and Guides Hut, which have a great selection of backcountry gear.

We’re surrounded by an awesome number of tracks in Fernie, so get out on the local trails in preparation for backcountry hiking this summer!

When backcountry hiking, ensure you take out what you bring in, and if camping you have appropriate food storage and know how to properly dispose of human waste.