Stay Warm, Stay Dry, Stay Safe: Tips For Hiking In The North

JHHOMD1-8030350A while ago, John and I were hiking along a woodland trail on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia and we wondered, as we often do, how many miles we’ve hiked in the almost 20 years that we’ve been together. I don’t even know how we would figure that number out but suffice to say it’s a lot!

After we finished wondering that (walking seems to foster this kind of rumination), we started thinking about the gear that makes hiking such an enjoyable activity for us, from woodland trails in Nova Scotia to wilderness scrambles in Greenland to non-technical (small) mountain climbs in Norway.

We thought we’d share what we use with you:


  • Waterproof boots: we used to wear traditional heavy leather hiking boots but have lightened up to waterproof day hikers.
  • The real reason we like to hike so much.

    The real reason we like to hike so much.

    Layers: light wool or synthetic t-shirt (no cotton!); merino wool long underwear; lightweight, easily drying pants and collared shirtsheavy fleece sweaters.

  • Wind resistant, waterproof Goretex outer layer. Pants with leg zippers, so they can be pulled off and on without removing boots.
  • Shell tops with pit zips for ventilation and pockets positioned for easy access when wearing a pack.
  • Tilley hats: sun protection, rain protection, and it makes everyone who sees us feel better about their own fashion sense since we look so dorky but, hey, we’re Canadians so we have to wear Tilley.
  • Telescoping sticks: for keeping our increasingly precarious balance and for beating off dogs, coyotes and mosquitoes (they’re big in the north, you know).
  • Comfortable day packs: so carrying all the important stuff (i.e. food) doesn’t hurt so much.
  • Camera clip for backpack strap: keeps the weight of the camera off John’s neck.
  • Bag or tupperware container for hunting/gathering: berries, sea glass, shells, interesting (small!) rocks…
  • Light aluminum .6 litre water bottles: SIGG is our favourite.
  • Swiss army knife: for collecting chanterelle mushrooms, also important for survival gear.
  • Foam pads: to soften hard cold rocks for our aging bony butts.
  • iPhone (even when there’s no cell coverage the compass and GPS work).
  • Survival gear, in case we’re benighted: waterproof matches, whistle, heat blankets, string, tarp (also important for first aid kit), headlamps.
  • Bear spray (plus more aggressive bear deterrents and protection in the Arctic).
  • First aid kit with tarp: saved our ass when John fell.


None of this stuff is inexpensive, and some of it is ludicrously dear, but over the years we have found that in the long run it pays to buy quality, both for utility and longevity.

And yes, some of this gear we never need or use…until the time we did.

One More Thing

We thought we would close with a vital video tip.

Sorry about that. Just proves that a still photographer playing with video, and editing same, is a dangerous thing.


What hiking gear have you found that works for you? Please share with a comment.

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Meet the Author


Phyllis has sailed over 40,000 offshore miles with John on their McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, most of it in the high latitudes, and has crossed the Atlantic three times. As a woman who came to sailing as an adult, she brings a fresh perspective to cruising, which has helped her communicate what they do in an approachable way, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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11 comments … add one
  • Henrik Aug 28, 2015, 1:45 pm

    Our backpacks, (even the small one) permanently contains a Jervenbag windsack.
    The Jarvenbag, or similar, is a lifesaving item, due to it´s protection against hypothermia.
    We prefer the Signal orange/ rescue-version, 143 x 143 cm,only weight about 650 grams, since it due to it´s weight and size don´t take up much space in the backpack.
    Check out more information about the Jervenbag here:

    • John Aug 30, 2015, 8:33 am

      Hi Henrik,

      That looks like a great piece of kit for extreme conditions. Definitely on the acquisition list. Thank you.

  • Dick Stevenson Aug 29, 2015, 3:17 am

    Dear Phyllis,
    A most excellent addition to the AAC annals and fun to get a peak in someone else’s kit.
    I have found that rain/wind proof gear gets so abused: stuffed in corners, scraped by branches, sat on on rocks etc., that buying high end (like Goretex) is not warranted. My Marmot pants and jacket are lighter in weight/bulk and quite a bit less expensive (1/3 the price of Arc’teryx and ½ of OR) and last about the same 4-6 years before something gives. They go with us everywhere providing an extra layer of warmth even when not wet out.
    I would suggest that the advice about water resistant pants goes double for sailing pants (I use mine for both). I resist foul weather gear until necessary so, unless in shorts (not common nowadays), I am in my Patagonia hiking pants when sailing which shed the occasional splash or kneel on a wet deck without the problems that would occur in cotton pants. I have worn mine for 6+ years now and they show it, but still do the job. Some of the recent sailing pants I now see on the docks everywhere may do the same job.
    Much of our hiking has been in areas where temperatures could vary greatly. I always (as it is so light) have a silk balaclava in my pack (thin gloves also, material unknown). It is so thin that it fits under any hat. It is amazing to me what a difference it makes (or to put another way: how much heat loss there is around head and neck).
    As to the wisdom of carrying extra gear: it can also be thought of as just a bit more exercise which most of us need after a day or more on the boat. But also, we rarely know ahead of time what a hike will offer. If we have the gear at hand, we won’t hesitate to go off on an enticing looking trail that may be more challenging where we might reasonably hesitate not so equipped.
    I go low tech and carry a real hiking compass. As I usually do not have real/topo maps, GPS is likely not to be that helpful. The IPhone is usually along as it is usually with us anyway.
    Lastly, you did not mention energy bars for when the pictured feast is not along. We always carry a few to allow us to turn an anticipated morning’s ramble into a daylong hike (and for emergencies). It is instructive how little food it takes to keep you going comfortably as long as you also have water. Coming back hungry is not a bad thing as it allows the beer and other indulgences to taste that much better.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
    Ps. A friend was lauding a device recently, Spot I think, where help can be called from anywhere with some sort of message capacity.

    • John Aug 30, 2015, 8:23 am

      Hi Dick,

      Once again, thanks for the great comment.

      We too carry energy bars for the same reasons: I have lost count of the number of times a “short walk” has turned into an epic.

      The Goretex or not debate is an interesting one. As you say, the stuff is ludicrously expensive, lasts no longer, and costs more than double the alternatives. But even so, after trying the cheeper alternatives we always come back to Goretex for its unrivalled ability to both wick sweat away and stay waterproof—in our experience nothing else comes close.

      We recently discovered Arc’teryx and can say that having tried shells from LL Bean, Patagonia, and MEC, these are a cut (bad pun) above anything else we have found for the attention to detail (hood design, pocket placement, pit zip design). The other thing we learned from the climber that turned us on to Arc’teryx is that the company have a very generous replacement policy on gear that has failed, even if that failure was due to fair wear and tear…we will see.

      On the SPOT. We carry a personal locator beacon when hiking in remote places and should have mentioned that too. We prefer PLBs to the SPOT because the former uses the same satellite technology and reporting structure as a full on EPIRB. In fact a PLB is just that, a baby EPIRB. Of course a PLB does not have the SPOT messaging capabilities, but for safety equipment I think single function is the way to go.

  • John Aug 30, 2015, 8:06 am

    Hi Dick and Henrik,

    Thanks for the great additions to Phyllis’ post, just what we hoped we would get, thank you.

  • RDE Aug 30, 2015, 10:49 am

    After 50 years of rambling about in the mountains:
    Best hiking boots— Merrill “Waterproof” light hikers— best traction sole, best fit for those of us with wide feet.
    Best day pack/hydration pack: Deuter AC Lite 22 with Osprey hydration bladder
    Best White Bear spray: Browning BAR automatic rifle chambered in 338 Win magnum
    Best sleeping bag: Stephenson Warmlite with down air mattress
    Best Powder ski: PM Gear Lahasa Pow

  • Bill Attwood Sep 7, 2015, 2:26 am

    Some additions to the useful list above:
    Headover – a tube of appropriate material which can be pulled over the head, and is long enough to function as a sort of balaclava, or just lie around the neck; a sort of seal. Discovered when I trained with the Norwegian army in winter.
    Wristlets – also discovered with the Norwegians. Another tube, which allows the thumb to be poked through near the end, acting as a fingerless mitten, but extending well up the forearm. Both of theses were “old technology” in the early 60’s.
    Fjallraven Greenland trousers – similar to Dick, I find these excellent for sailing and walking.
    Mini tablet cooker. Theses really are low tech. An aluminium cup with lid, and fitting inside a cooker which takes Esbit or similar tablets. They weigh next to nothing and can be a godsend for a hot drink or even a hot meal.
    Finally, I would never set off into the wilderness without compass and map. The one exception is Dartmoor, in the SW of England, but only because I knew that like my own backyard. I guess that much of Phylis’ and John’s local walking may fall into this category. Besides the safety angle, a map can reveal many interesting things about the walking area which one might miss if just following trails.
    Yours aye

  • Bill Attwood Sep 7, 2015, 3:32 am

    I almost forgot! A pure new wool shirt. They can be a bit scratchy, but in cold, wet conditions they are wonderful, so equally at home on board or in the mountains. Surprisingly, the military version was also ideal for the Borneo jungle, which can be pretty cold in tbe rain. I buy mine second-hand as for some extraordinary reason, Woolrich and Pendleton, the two US manufacturers don’t ship to Europe. They should also be attractive to Canadiansas they are mostly tartan (or plaid).
    Yours aye

  • Dick Stevenson Sep 7, 2015, 3:47 am

    Hi Bill,
    Agreed, but some of us are more delicate (or less tough) than others and my old thick wool Pendleton shirt is augmented by a lovely comfortable, but high tech, turtleneck so all my skin is protected from wool contact. Add a smart wool base and I am good for either a North Sea crossing in April or cold weather hiking. And there is something about good wool that just feels very fundamental.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • John Sep 7, 2015, 11:09 am

    Hi All,

    Just to clarify, we never intended this post to be read as a definitive list of everything that people should carry when hiking—it’s certainly not a check list. For example as Bill points out, one should always carry a compass and map, and we do. In fact two compasses, one in the iPhone and a mechanical backup.

    Rather the post is intended just to be a list of some gear that has worked exceptional well for us.

    And the cool thing is that several of you have added stuff that works well for you, thank you.

  • Bill Attwood Sep 7, 2015, 3:35 pm

    Hi Dick.
    I know what you mean about scratchy! Have you tried Woolpower undershirts/vests? They are 60% merino and the rest is some artificial fibre, made in Sweden. The best thing about them is that the back is much longer, so it comes down over the bum. And they aren’t scratchy!

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