Wondering what to pack for a trip through the Canadian Rocky Mountains? As you’ll discover through your trip planning - it’s wise to be prepared for a wide range of weather and rapidly changing environmental conditions.
Generally, dressing for the mountains is all about layers, even in the summer months. This is by no means a specialized or exhaustive packing list for a specific activity, but more of a general checklist to get the wheels turning as you prepare for your quintessential Canadian summer road trip!
What To Pack For A Trip To The Canadian Rocky Mountains
WIND OR RAIN JACKET / OUTER LAYER
A windproof / waterproof outer layer is a must on any Rocky Mountain trip. Having an external shell that serves as a layer of protection towards the elements is the only way to be fully prepared on your outdoor mountain adventures. Even in the summer, weather can change on a dime!
Other important features:
- Stretchy or pliable fabric for active pursuits
- Adjustable hood
- Underarm vents for core temperature control
Whether you opt for fleece or down (natural or synthetic), these mid-layers are necessary for warmth and comfort. Snowstorms or sudden drops in temperature are not uncommon in the mountains, even in the heat of the summer. If you’re visiting in spring and autumn, odds are good you’ll wear it most of the day.
Merino base layers are great for all seasons as the fabric is soft, quick-drying, warm, and odourless. For sun protection in scorching weather, synthetic fabrics that offer lightweight UV protection and a breathable fit are ideal.
Whatever under layer you choose, try to avoid anything made with cotton. Cotton takes a long time to dry and pulls heat from your body. Wet clothing is a total drag and chills you to the bone, especially if your active adventure includes rest time.
Ladies: quick drying, wire-free sports bras are also a game changer.
PANTS / SHORTS
If you didn’t already know this: leave the blue jeans behind (or in the car for your evenings at camp or in town). Hiking pants are your best bet for a versatile, comfortable and practical choice for your outdoorsy pursuits this summer.
They’re lightweight and often made from various types of nylon, come with plenty of pockets, and are super quick to wash and re-use. This material can also be found in shorts form for those shorter hikes and hotter days. When the laundry facilities are scant, quick dry and easy washing materials are the road trip essentials.
Footwear is always a subjective area. It really does depend on the activity you’ve got in mind, trail conditions, and fitness level. For those that like agility, grip, and the ability to pick up the tempo: trail running shoes are a great choice for most outdoor adventures, and thrive on dirt trails. They’re comfortable and lightweight, quick to dry, rarely induce blisters, and offer great traction.
If the route you have planned includes a lot of rocky terrain or scrambling sections, you may want to have something with more support on hand.
If you’re an avid hiker, you’ve probably already made this assessment and have multiple options depending on the terrain and length of hike. That being said, hiking boots are a good option in this case.
For occasional visitors to the mountains, a classic hiking shoe with ankle support is a great place to start. Regardless of your final choice, it’s extremely wise to break them in and wear them outside well in advance of your adventure to avoid blisters and ensure a comfortable fit.
A small yet imperative item on any outdoor trip. The most crucial piece of clothing to get right may arguably be your socks. Shop for a sturdy hiking sock, minimal detailing to avoid blisters, an antibacterial material, a slightly higher cut to avoid ticks and scratches from bushes, and a reputable, highly rated fabric. Merino wool is one of our faves.
Sunbathing has its moments during the summer, however the sun can be powerful in the mountains. When you’re travelling in high elevation, the sun is strong, especially at mid-day. Having a hat makes a huge difference in preserving your energy, health, and safety. Don’t forget a hat and avoid getting heat stroke on your vacation (yay!).
The difference between an ill-fitting and a well-fitting backpack can make or break an excursion. It should be an ample size for all the items you need to be prepared, and fit securely and comfortably to your back.
For a day hike, something in the 20-35 litres range is appropriate. It’s always wise to try it on before buying so that you can assess the fit in regards to your back sizing and to see how it feels with a small load.
Other features to look for
- A balanced mix of inner and outer pockets
- Hip belt to distribute the weight of the backpack evenly from your shoulders
- A rain cover for unexpected (or expected) mountain weather
HYDRATION PACK / WATER BOTTLE
General rule of thumb for outdoor activities: carry at least 2 litres of water in a reusable receptacle. Elevation, heat, physical output and exertion… all of these demands come regularly in the Rockies.
Snacks are highly dependable on your preference and diet. The important thing to remember is always to carry more than you think you’ll need, and pack all waste out with you if you’re heading into the mountains. See the Leave No Trace principles for more information.
RAFTING ESSENTIALS to Pack for a trip to the Canadian Rocky Mountains
We may be biased, but a trip to the Rockies isn’t complete without a whitewater rafting trip penciled into your itinerary. If you're visiting Golden, BC, a day of rafting on the Kicking Horse River is a must. Here’s some suggestions on what to bring to make this thrilling activity even better.
Any polarized shade with UV protection is great! However, it’s important to note that depending on the rafting trip that you choose - there’s always a small risk of losing your sunnies. It may be wise to leave the $400 pair at home and bring your middle of the road, hearty and adventurous eyewear. We sell $10 shades if you don't want to risk losing your Gucci's.
With all the glacier fed rivers and alpine lakes to dip into, you’d be crazy not to pack a swimsuit on your next Rockies trip. If a river excursion is on the books, a swimsuit is a must have to best enjoy your day out on the water. You’ll also be provided with a wetsuit and all the other layers you need to make you as comfortable as possible.
SPF min 30 is a benchmark place to start for your Canadian summer adventures, especially ones that are water & sweat resistant. A natural mineral sunscreen is a great option to minimize environmental impact. Sunscreen sticks are also effective for high octane activities, as they’re easy to re-apply during the day without getting too messy.
SENSE OF ADVENTURE
A full day whitewater excursion will have you plunging, splashing and rolling left and right on the wildest whitewater in the Rockies. (Don’t worry, your expert guide will tell you exactly what to do!) If you are ready to experience the thrill of a freshwater rafting experience, you’ll need to pack your biggest smile and just enough courage to get into the boat. We’ll handle the rest.
Last but not least, it’s always wise to be prepared for the unexpected. Things happen in the mountains. Here is a list of safety items you should have if you plan to go off the beaten path at all (even on the beaten path, these items can be a huge help in a crisis).
GPS DEVICE / NAVIGATIONAL TOOLS
Whether you’re a traditionalist with a map and compass, or like to be up to date with the latest tech devices, having a navigational tool that's ADDITIONAL to your phone is highly encouraged. This is important for any backcountry camping, hiking, backpacking, biking, fishing, hunting….you get the idea.
These are incredibly useful on early mornings, ambitious evenings, around your camp, or just stashed in the car for unexpected events. Plus - they don't take up a lot of space in your backpack.
Carrying a thermal emergency blanket is truly a weightless way to offer yourself a crucial warmth option if things don’t go as planned. If a worst case scenario arises, or if someone gets hurt, this extra layer retains an incredible amount of body heat.
FIRST AID KIT
A simple first aid kit with a small variety of bandages and pertinent medications can provide relief in many incidents that may occur with your party, or other travellers.
An essential item in Canada. Note: you cannot take it on an airplane, but you can purchase it in most outdoor stores. Make sure you know how to use it, and keep it close if traversing outside.
Don’t let your outdoor plans get ruined by mosquitoes. Some people opt for DEET, however there’s plenty of reasonable options that are much less harsh on your body. Several options will come up if you do a quick 'DIY mosquito repellent' search online. Back at camp, there's many options for repelling bugs these days in terms of coils, incense and nets.
And there you go.
You no longer need to wonder what to pack for a trip through the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Spending the time to get gear that fits well and feels comfortable will make your trip to the mountains that much more enjoyable. If you find yourself in Golden, come by and say hello. We'd love to spend a day with you paddling down the Kicking Horse River.
Have fun planning for your Canadian summer road trip and if you're looking to pick up any gear, our Glacier Raft Company online store has lots of options for base layers, outdoor gear and accessories.
If you have any questions leave us a note in the comments below, or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy packing and cheers from all of us here at Glacier Raft Company!