Have you ever gone out hiking, only to be utterly and helplessly unprepared?
Don’t worry, we’ve been there too.
We’ve gotten soaked in a torrential downpour with no raincoat and only packed one granola bar for an 8-mile hike. We’ve even carried too much in our backpacks and really paid the price the next morning.
But how do you avoid these blunders, and know how to prepare for them in the first place? Let’s just say we learned the hard lessons of hiking in the Pacific Northwest so you don’t have to! In this post, we’re covering the 10 essentials for hiking in the Pacific Northwest you may need on your next trail!
Pacific Northwest hikes are some of the most beautiful in the entire world. Washington state hikes provide stunning views, Oregon has beautiful hidden PNW hot springs, and Canada boasts both epic and easy hikes that attract millions every year!
In this post, we’ll share everything you need to know about hiking in the Pacific Northwest, which trails to choose from, and what to pack for your next adventure on the PNW trails.
Read on for juicy details on how you can stop scrolling and start strolling! (Bad joke! haha)
Packing The 10 Essentials For Hiking (Pacific Northwest Edition)
You’ve probably heard of the classic 10 essentials for hiking. Well, we wanted to make our own catered list of necessities specifically for hiking in the Pacific Northwest because we think this place requires a little more specificity and nuance for our unique, rainy climate.
If you’re looking for tips on how to be prepared for the trail without taking yourself too seriously, keep reading!
1. Sun Protection
Yes, we know. It rains here.
However, you still need sun protection, because that cloud cover still lets in those rays! If you’re like me, I don’t like to carry around a big bottle when I know I’m only going to use a little bit of it.
Therefore, my go-to’s are in teeny bottles. You can buy the small travel-sized packs specifically for adding to your day hiking essentials kit. Alternatively, you can buy reusable squeeze bottles and fill them up with sunscreen from your full-sized bottle at home.
This way, there’s no excuse not to pack it because it takes up practically no space. I also like to use this tiny sunscreen stick and keep it in my backpack for an easy and convenient application.
2. Light Layers / Extra Clothes
When considering what to pack for your 10 essentials for hiking, extra clothes should be a priority!
Hiking in the Pacific Northwest, it’s always a good idea to have a rain jacket (and we’ve listed our favorites here!). In rain jackets, Berty and I look for actual waterproofing (rather than just water-resistant) and a jacket that has inside pockets to keep gear dry.
Seattle averages about 152 days of rain a year, totaling 37 inches annually. While that may not seem like a lot compared to other places, it’s more of a consistent wet and humidity here.
To keep warm and dry, it’s important to dress in layers and keep an extra layer in your bag. We’ve written several articles on how to dress for hiking, and we’ll list them all below!
- How To Layer Clothes For Winter
- How To Find Discount Outdoor Gear
- The Beginner’s Backpacking Gear List
Headlamps are helpful if you are trying to accomplish a sunrise hike or are waiting at the top for sunset (and will be hiking down in the dark). It’s also helpful if you took a bit longer than you anticipated, and need a little extra light to get back down the trail.
If you are not wanting to distort your night vision, try and find a style that has a red-light feature. The Biolite 330 Headlamp has several features, including long-term use, red light, flashing, and extra bright!
4. First Aid Kit
It’s strange to pack something that you hope to never use, but it’s VERY important when you do need it! A first-aid kit is one of the most important 10 essentials for hiking that you should be packing. Adventure Medical Kits makes these in several sizes, from one-person/1-day packs to one for multiple days and people.
Pacific Northwest Hikes that are a little bit on the dangerous side:
- Hiking Mount Storm King Trail in the Olympic National Park
- Backpacking To Sahale Glacier Camp in the North Cascades
- Exploring the Keyhole Arch at Cape Kiwanda (low-tide only!)
- Exploring Caves in Bend, Oregon
5. Extra Water
“A hydrated camper is a happy camper” – Cheesy, I know. But I used to work at a summer camp and we always told the kids this phrase. It rings true for adult campers (and hikers) too!
Staying hydrated gives you energy and keeps you alert on the trails.
Something we like to look for in a water bottle is a skinny barrel like this Hydroflask 24oz bottle. That way, it can fit into practically any backpack side pocket. We also look for some kind of hook-ability so I can latch it on a carabiner for easy storage.
It’s very important to have navigation as one of your 10 essentials for hiking, and it can be catered to any budget! Here are some examples of responsible navigation below:
Budget-Friendly Hiking Navigation: A good ‘ole paper map! You can follow a hiking guidebook or print out your own to keep track of the trail. For communication, make sure to text a few friends/family members where you are going, and when you plan to be back.
Middle-Tier Hiking Navigation: Download one of these hiking apps to keep track of the trail with your phone’s GPS! You can download the trail on your phone, and even share your location or route with a loved one.
Splurge Navigation: Invest in a Garmin inReach for navigation on multi-day trips or long, technical hiking trails. These devices have lots of features, including satellite communication, SOS signaling, maps, and more! Grab the Garmin inReach Mini to connect with your phone, or use the regular Garmin inReach for full communication right from the device.
7. Fire / Heat Source
If you find yourself in need of warming up, it’s important to have the tools to do so on the trail! Depending on your trail length and difficulty, there are different heat sources we recommend. For example…
If you are taking a short trail close to your home, pack a pair of hand warmers and a hot drink to carry with you!
For a little more distance and difficulty, it could be useful to pack a compact backpacking camping stove. Not only is it great for meals, but products like the Jetboil Flash can rapidly heat up water for warmth too.
If you are opting for a longer trail or a deep backcountry adventure, consider packing all of the above, including matches, a firestarter, and possibly a space blanket. These items can help you stay warm in dangerous situations, and keep you safe if you get into a scrappy situation!
8. Knife or Multi-Tools
Why do you need a knife when hiking? It’s actually a lot handier than you might expect!
A knife or multi-tool is one of the 10 essentials for hiking because it can be useful in a variety of situations. Use a multi-tool for repairing gear. You can also use it to escape scary situations like if you’re caught somewhere and your backpack strap is stuck. You can also use multi-tools to make supplies on the go, like whittling a stick into a spoon as a last-minute utensil!
Other repair items you should consider bringing inside duct tape, scissors, or gear patches. Make sure to cater this to your specific excursion, as they can look different depending on your environment!
9. Hiking Snacks / Extra Meals
It may feel excessive to bring more than you need, but proper nutrition and energy on the trail are really important! You need to be prepared for the possibility of changes to your trip plans, especially in volatile weather.
The best kind of extra food to pack are things you don’t need to cook, and are ready to eat. This can look like granola bars, trail mix, and nuts. Salty foods or things that are easy to digest can bring you quick energy!
Yes! It’s one of the 10 essentials for hikers because it can make a huge difference in life-threatening situations. It doesn’t have to be a bulky tent either. It can be as simple as a tarp, space blanket, or bivy sack.
It’s especially important to pack shelter if you are venturing out into extreme weather conditions. It can help block exposure from the elements, and keep you dry until help arrives.
*Bonus* 11. Friends!
The most important part of any adventure is the people you spend it with. We know people aren’t one of the classic hiking essentials, but they really can make a difference for morale and camaraderie!
We wrote a post on the best PNW locations to go with your friends based on your Myers-Briggs Personality Test. It’s definitely worth a read! Hiking with friends is a great opportunity to make memories together and get to know someone a little bit better!
Read More: 8 Vital Reasons To Travel With Your Friends
*Bonus* 12. Camera
This one varies for everybody. Your phone camera can be sufficient enough (helloooo less weight!) or you can choose to pack a mirrorless camera like us.
The great thing about using a smartphone on the trail, is that you can download hiking apps to enrich your hike too. You can use them for GPS tracking, route planning, and have tons of information about the trail at your fingertips!
If you’re curious about what gear we pack for our travel photography adventures, read this post here!
*Bonus* 13. Good Hiking Shoes
Shoes are probably the most important item you need to consider when hiking in the Pacific Northwest (and really anywhere else, too).
We’ve learned from experience that shoes can make or break a good day on the trail.
Also, it’s important to know that you don’t need $300 expert mountaineering shoes just to take your 2-mile lake hike.
It’s most likely the case that your favorite pair of tennis shoes will work just fine too. Just make sure they are comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
If you are looking to buy a pair of good hiking shoes, we recommend finding some with good ankle support and making sure to try them on with a thick pair of socks to get the right size fit.
Here are some essential posts to read on hiking boots for the Pacific Northwest:
- The 12 Best Hiking Boots For The Pacific Northwest
- Exactly How To Break In New Hiking Boots
- 7 Features To Consider When Choosing Hiking Boots
The Ultimate Guide To Hiking In The Pacific Northwest
Hiking in the Pacific Northwest is one of the best ways you can experience the true beauty of this unique area.
There’s something about the combination of our fresh air, the unpredictable weather, and an ever-present moodiness that makes for great experiences all over this region.
Helpful Resources For PNW Trails
First of all, let’s get you started on some essential knowledge.
Read some of our past posts and other helpful tools to familiarize yourself with the places you want to go and things you’d like to see when hiking in the Pacific Northwest.
There are so many things to see and do…trust me – it will help you if you narrow it down and really zone in on a specific area of the PNW!
Some Of Our Favorite PNW Adventures:
- 101 Things To Do In The Pacific Northwest
- 20 Jaw-Dropping Hikes In The Pacific Northwest
- Hiking Mount Storm King, Olympic National Park
- 10 Insanely Beautiful Washington State Trails
- 12 Epic Day Trips From Seattle
Best Pacific Northwest Gear Posts:
- Perfect Winter Coats For Those Cold PNW Hikes
- Beginners Backpacking Gear List (For Your First Trip!)
- What To Pack For The Washington Coast
Crazy Beautiful Photo Locations In The PNW:
- Best Photo Spots In Washington State
- Soak In This Hidden Washington Hot Springs
- Hiking Colchuck Lake in The Cascade Mountains
- Best Places to Visit in the Olympic Peninsula
Have you ever been hiking in the Pacific Northwest? What has been your favorite trail? We’re always looking for new routes to take so I’d love to hear what has been your favorite!
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Want More PNW Travel Tips? Read These:
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