overnight hiking equipment

Planning for overnight hikes

Waking up outside is always memorable. For some, the experience gets even better by hiking into a place that’s only accessible by foot. Getting to a remote location on an overnight hike is an amazing experience, but it does require more preparation and commitment than doing a day hike.


The pack you choose should have an internal frame, padded shoulder straps and a comfortable, padded hipbelt. Larger packs are adjustable and usually come in a range of sizes to suit different torso lengths. You’ll be much more comfortable with the right sized pack.  If you’re new to overnight hiking, you might consider renting a large-capacity pack for your first few trips.

Once you add a tent, sleeping system, stove and fuel, something to treat water and food for the days you’ll be out, you’ll discover how much more gear (and weight) you’ll have to carry on an overnight trip than for a day hike. Use our backpacking checklist to make sure you don’t forget something crucial.

Although some hikers enjoy wearing trail runners or approach shoes even for long-distance trails, you’ll probably want to upgrade to supportive hiking boots. They add joint-protecting stability and will accommodate both the weight of your pack and the varied terrain you’ll be crossing.

The two most common problems for new hikers are inappropriate footwear and carrying too heavy a load. It’s easy to bring too much. Read our tips about lightweight packing.

Pick your destination

The first choice to make is whether to use a tent or to sleep in a hut. Most parks and wilderness areas have designated places for camping and pitching a tent. This minimizes the impact of hikers on the environment. More about tent site selection. If you opt to stay in a hut, you’ll likely have to register and pay a fee. And huts differ in the amenities they offer (items like cooking pots, fuel, sleeping pads or bedding). It’s a good idea to establish a contingency plan for your trip in case the hut is full, or you have to stop short of your final overnight destination.

Finding a safe and handy supply of drinking water is also important – even if it looks clean, all water should be filtered, treated or boiled to prevent water-bourne pathogens from causing illness. Check that the water source you plan to use is viable year-round, and doesn’t rely on a snowpatch or a creek that goes dry in mid-summer.

Backpacking can be a slow way to travel. A trail that may only take a couple of hours to tackle with a small daypack, may take all day with a full overnight load. As a rough estimate, most experienced hikers can cover about 3-4km per hour on a well-established flat trail. Add about 15 minutes for every 100m of elevation gain on the route. And then underestimate both the hours you plan to hike in a day and the distance you think you’ll cover.

Plan for a group

Group size and individual ability are important considerations. The larger the group, the longer it will take to do anything – from planning the trip to actually completing it. Heavy loads will magnify differences in physical ability. Plan to regroup regularly at places you identified at the start of the hike. When you regroup give everyone equal time to rest. On longer hikes, plan for rest days and try to schedule them at the nicest campsites, the ones with a good water sources or places to swim, shelter from the elements and conditions that don’t favour midges and mosquitoes.

It may be wise to assign a group leader, usually the most experienced person in the party, to take responsibility for planning, route-finding, and maintaining a suitable group pace. The leader can also be responsible for bringing first aid and safety equipment and making sure everyone is equipped for the outing.

Communicate the plan

If you or your group are reported missing, search and rescue professionals will have a much easier time finding you if you’ve completed a trip plan. (Many search and rescue operations are launched for people who aren’t actually lost. To avoid this, plan for extra time to account for delays.) Once you complete the plan, leave it with someone you trust. Then don’t forget to contact that person when you get back safely.

Leave no trace

MEC supports Leave No Trace Canada and encourages everyone to make thoughtful choices when travelling in the backcountry and to respect the wilderness. By following the seven leave-no-trace principles, you can reduce your environmental impact when you hike, camp or spend time in the backcountry.

  1. Plan ahead and prepare
  2. Travel and camp on durable surfaces
  3. Dispose of waste properly
  4. Leave what you find
  5. Minimize campfire impacts
  6. Respect wildlife
  7. Be considerate of other visitors