Whether you're out for a quick afternoon of hiking on the Sunshine Coast or gearing up for an overnight hike, your motto should be the same: "Get the selfie." Er, wait, we mean: "Safety first."

The West Coast wilderness is a magical place, but the truth is, it can also be dangerous. A wrong turn, a misstep, a change in weather, and a pleasant stroll can turn scary. 

But if you're prepared for the worst, you're set up for the best — which is why pro hikers never leave home without the 10 hiking essentials packed into their knapsacks.

hiking essentials

10 Things You Should Bring On Every Hike

1. Light

Here's a bright idea: a flashlight or headlamp is essential in your hiking safety kit. Even if you've got a flashlight app on your phone, pack a secondary source — phones tend to run out of power quickly and aren't quite bright enough to be effective in the dark woods. Bonus points for packing extra batteries.

2. Signalling Devices

The humble whistle will do you well if you've wandered off the trail (no batteries required for this one). A signalling mirror can also help turn your emergency light (see above) into a search-and-rescue tool.

3. Food and Water

Unless you're a pro forager, it's probably a good idea to pack an energy bar or two and some water: more than you would consume on the hike itself. Feel free to feast once you're back in the parking lot in one piece, but don't dip into that emergency trail mix too early!

4. Extra Clothing

If you had to sleep outside, would you be prepared? What you pack will vary by season and region, but generally speaking, something warm and something waterproof will serve you well if you get stuck in on an accidental camping trip. (Don't forget some good socks!)

what to bring on a hike

5. Sun Protection

Weather can change on a dime, so even if you're heading out on a cloudy day, it's a good idea to take along sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses. Being lost in the woods and suffering from heatstroke? That's going to be pretty embarrassing to explain to Search and Rescue. 

6. First Aid Kit

You can buy pre-stocked first aid kits, or build your own, but at the very minimum it should include band-aids, splints, gauze and tensor bandages and blister dressings. Tossing in ibuprofen and antihistamines may be helpful too: you do you!

7. Pocketknife

A Swiss Army Knife or multi-tool can be a lifesaver in an emergency, and doesn't take up much room (that's the beauty of the "pocket" part of the design), so it's probably wise to just keep one packed in your hiking bag at all times.

hiking essentials to bring on a hike8. Shelter

You don't have to bring your six-person tent and air mattress with you on the Grouse Grind, by any means — a lightweight emergency thermal tarp or bivvy will do just fine to get you through a tough night in a pinch.

9. Navigation and Communication

Sure, your phone can call and text and access maps and all the rest, but if you don't have a signal or battery, you're hooped. Make sure it's fully charged with an extra battery pack and cord. A two-way radio system and Personal Locator Beacon are great backups. An electronic GPS tool and old-school compass and map can provide reassurance, too.

10. Fire Starter

Pack up some waterproof matches (ideally in a ziploc bag for double water protection) or a lighter so you're set in case you need to spark up a fire. If you really want to make sure you're able to light something up in wet weather, Vaseline-soaked cotton pads or fire-starting cubes can be great to toss in your bag too.

10 hiking essentials

Get your bag packed? Time to pick your next great climb. How about one of these stunning hikes near Vancouver?