We recently hiked the La Cloche 80-kilometer loop in Killarney Provincial Park, and it was our first foray into proper back-country camping, so our gear situation was… mixed. On one hand, we’re both obviously super sporty, so we have a ton of running and biking gear, but neither of us really had proper backpacking stuff. We got packs at MEC a couple weeks before and practiced with them at Blue Mountain with weights in them, and I had an awesome Quarter Dome tent from REI that we could cram into, as well as a really compact sleeping bag from REI, but Peter only had an older, heavy sleeping bag.
I’ve been thinking about this post for a while: I don’t want to belabor it by listing everything we packed, but I wanted to highlight a few of the best things and a few of the really dumb things that we brought with us. We speed-hiked, don’t forget, so this list isn’t really for the long-term hikers looking for serious comfort.
Best Hiking Gear
- Bug netting for over hats: Will you feel like a dork? 100%. But when we were literally running down the trail trying to escape a swarm of mosquitoes, I was SO happy to put this on.
- 1 liter collapsible water bottle: We both had 2 regular bottles, but having this collapsible one to constantly be refilling in lakes and dropping purifying tabs into was really key. I didn’t realize how difficult water could be!
- REI Quarterdome Tent: Peter and I are pretty small people overall, so we actually both fit into this single-person tent… It wasn’t the roomiest with both of us in it, especially since we were also eating in there to avoid bugs, but it was super small and light, and SO easy to set up!
- Garmin with loaded route—even though La Cloche is signed, it was really helpful to be able to see where we were on the loop and make sure we were on the trail for the few bits that weren’t as easy to follow the markings (the cairns on top of rock faces were confusing at times)
- Extra socks/underwear: I didn’t think I’d need to wear leggings both days, so I didn’t think I’d need to use extra underwear (my shorts have built in briefs) but after Day 1 needing to switch into leggings, it was nice to not feel super gross the next day. And with the wet and the rain, being able to change socks once each day was SO nice. Definitely worth the space to have both pairs!
- Nuun tablets: Like I said, we had to purify water with tablets and honestly, that doesn’t taste great. Having nuun tablets to go in the water improved the taste + added electrolytes, so it was a win-win.
- Buff & handkerchief: By Day 2, I was so happy to have a handkerchief and a buff (Peter ended up using my buff because his neck was getting eaten by bugs, while I was having slightly better luck on that score). When it got hot, it was nice to soak them in the lakes along the trail and put them back on, and even just having the handkerchief to wipe my face a bit was fantastic. (My handkerchief is also a hand-me-down from my grandpa so it’s a little sentimental.)
- Frozen Snickers & 2 small cans of Coke: I brought these as sort of my ’emergency rations’ and with the speedhiking we were doing and ALL the bites that I had by Day 2, my stomach was screwed. (I think I was almost a little shock-y from the inflammation caused by the bites, honestly.) I barely could eat breakfast, so halfway through the day, being able to dig into this stash was a freaking lifesaver. (Another huge win: I had some Clif Gingerbread bars I got this winter, and when my stomach was a little picky on Day 2, they were a welcome change from the chocolate/nut taste of all of our other bars and trail mix, and I swear, the ginger settled my stomach a bit!)
Most Pointless Hiking Gear
- Peter’s BIG sleeping bag. It was super heavy, and we could have gotten away with a much lighter blanket since it was pretty hot out.
- Leggings. I didn’t understand hiking pants until this trip, to be honest. I thought they were just ugly and cumbersome, but after getting my legs bit to $hit THROUGH MY TIGHTS while Peter’s stayed unbitten in his long pants, I will never go out on a hike without a heavier, looser pant. So frustrating, since I ended up both overheated and eaten alive.
- Real food. This would be debatable if we had done a longer, more chill-paced hike, or even if we hadn’t been in bug country, but for our situation, we carried WAY too much real food like rice and canned salmon that was more cumbersome than anything.
- Gluten-free bread. Just a TERRIBLE idea. It was frozen, too, so it was just a mushy, torn up mess. (I had wanted corn tortillas, but no grocery store in Collingwood carries them. WTF.)
- Second pair of shoes: I made the mistake of bringing a fairly new, relatively untested pair of shoes with me and using them on Day 2 because Day 1 shoes were soaked. It wasn’t my smartest move, that’s all I’ll say.
- *Some* of the extra clothing: I realized that shirts and pants can go a couple days, as long as your underwear and socks are dry and clean. I don’t think I OD-ed too badly on clothing, and I was prepared if weather had turned (and we did get rain and the temps really went up and down), so I did use most of what I brought, but could have run it a bit lighter.
Didn’t Need, Glad We Had
- Battery charger + cable for phone
- Backup flashlight (we also had a headlamp that we used)
- Waterproof matches
- Waterproof Killarney Park map
- First aid kit
- Some extra food—we had a ton of trail mix and a few protein bars left at the end, but we also made it back to the car at 9PM after 23 hours of hiking, 34 hours on trail. On day 2, we weren’t 100 percent positive we’d make it all the way back that night, and I was happy to get back with some food, knowing we would have been OK to go another day.
Let me know in the comments if there’s any MUST HAVE hiking gear that I’m missing for next time!
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