A Beginner’s Guide To Backpacking In Alberta

Posted on: August 20, 2017

Backpacking in Alberta–especially the Lakeland–is a great place to get started. Since it’s relatively flat you don’t have to worry about the strain of going hundreds of meters uphill, and although there’s plenty of open space you’re never too far from a supply centre. However, you’re not going to have a good time by just stopping your car and walking into the bush- you’ll need a little equipment and some preparation. Our site has plenty of information on hiking trails like Alberta’s Iron Horse Trail, so you can start to plan your trip, but what about the equipment you’ll need?


1. Backpackers Need Backpacks

This is step one and is vitally important. A bad backpack could leave you with back pain and blistered shoulders, whereas you could walk a hundred miles with a good backpack and barely know it’s there.

Mountain Equipment Cooperative has backpacks from $89, and you can get camping backpacks from Wal-Mart for $50 or less. You’ll want to spend a little more though, and definitely want to try them on in a store. A backpack is a major investment if you plan on taking up backpacking or hiking, so it’s worth paying a little more not just for comfort, but for the storage space to bring equipment with you to make backpacking easier and more fun.


2. Boots On The Ground

The second most important item you’ll need to bring, and another major cost. Again, paying more for a great pair of hiking boots is worth it- your beat-up tennis shoes aren’t going to be comfortable and could even fall apart after a day’s hiking. Hiking boots can be as much as $500 for a truly great pair, but you don’t need to spend that much- go with what feels good and don’t assume that they’ll ‘break in’ after a few miles. Also give some attention to socks- breathable cotton with some sort of hydrophobic (water-repelling) layer will pay off no matter what the weather.


3. The Big Tent

Unless you’re planning to spend the night in hotels or bed and breakfasts you’ll need a tent, and this is another big investment- especially if you’re camping in winter, where you could pay anywhere from $400 to $1700 or a tent able to stand up to Albertan winters (you’ll also need all-weather sleeping bags and a whole host of other equipment.) Summer campers won’t need to spend as much, but you’ll still need a solid, lightweight, waterproof tent that can stand up to changing conditions- the weather can change at the drop of a hat.


4. Avoid Bear Hugs

In many places, you’ll need to be wary of bears. Bear Spray, bear bells and bear-resistant food storage containers are all necessary if there’s a chance of bears in the area. Parks Canada has some great advice on avoiding (and surviving!) bear attacks.


5. Food For Thought

You’re going to need to eat, and there’s nothing better than a campfire barbecue under the stars- except for a campfire barbecue under the Northern Lights. Food is light, but it can take up a lot of space, especially if you’re bringing condiments, so consider what you can do to keep to keep the size of the food down. Bring single-serving condiment packets instead of bottles, put food in Ziploc bags instead of bringing boxes and if you’re already over-burdened consider energy bars- you can fit 2000 calories in the space in a very small space- and even more if you look for survival food, which has the added bonus of being able to stay in your pantry for decades.


6. Hydration Is Key

A single water bottle might be light and convenient, but it won’t last a full day’s hike. There are backpacks with large water bladders available and plenty of other water storage options, but you can save space and weight by finding your own water- though there is a lot you’ll need to get right to make sure that you don’t make yourself sick. Even running water can contain pathogens, as can snow and ice.
A Lifestraw is a small plastic tube that can filter up to 1,000 litres of water, removing 99.9999% of viruses and bacteria. It’s small, light and a basic version only costs $25. The same company makes larger and more powerful versions for groups. You might also want to look at UV purifiers if you plan on backcountry camping often.

One piece of advice: boiling water isn’t 100% effective. It will kill most protozoa, bacteria and viruses, but if there are particulates in the water they won’t be destroyed, and some can be as harmful as pathogens.


7. Weigh Out The Options

You’re not a pack mule, and although camping gear is getting smaller and lighter all the time it can still weigh you down. The recommended weight for most people is 35 pounds, but you can go over that if you have significant muscle mass and no problems with your back or shoulders.

Travelling light is always an option, but at a certain point you won’t be able to trim the fat without getting rid of something vital. Lighter weight gear can either be more expensive or less effective. One easy way to lessen your load is to share it: a small group only needs one set of cooking utensils and one water purifier, so you can split the one-off items between a group and reduce the weight on everyone.


The Lakeland is a great place to get a start backpacking in Alberta, and for more experienced backpackers there are longer and more challenging routes. If you’re going on a Lakeland hiking trip remember to tag your pictures with #adventurefulalberta and you could see it on our site!

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