Tag Archives: overnight hikes

Red tent pitched in front of lake

Top Tips for Overnight Hikes

Sure, expensive hotels are nice, with their fluffy towels and pressed linens. But if you ask me, nothing beats packing up your rucksack, venturing into the wilderness and setting up camp for the night. Not even The Ritz.

Overnight hikes are a challenge, of course. But they’re also so rewarding. You can go further than you otherwise would during a day hike, and it gives you more time to spend at a favourite lake or a beautiful vista. You can also set up a basecamp and explore the area further, without your bag weighing you down.

However, if you’ve never done an overnight hike before – also known as rogue or backcountry camping – then it can seem a little intimidating. You might be asking yourself: ‘can I really pack everything I will need for a night (or more) and carry it for miles on end…and then carry it back again?’

Let me tell you – with the right planning and the right mindset, the answer is undoubtedly yes!

However, I’m obliged to warn you that it can take a lot of practise to hone your backcountry camping skills. I remember doing my first overnight hike at school as part of my Duke of Edinburgh Award. I had an impossibly big bag which weighed a ton. After many gruelling hours of walking I arrived at camp, my shoulders torn to shreds, my hips in agony, and little desire for a repeat performance.

Thankfully I did give it a second go, and a third, and then I got hooked. There were times when I took too much, and times when I took too little, but now (a little bit like Goldilocks’ porridge) I feel like I’ve got it ‘just right’. Yet it would be nice if you didn’t have to go through the same trauma as me. So, if you’ve always wanted to try an overnight hike but you’re not sure where to start, here are a few tips to help you along your way.

Get the right bag

Having the wrong backpack can result in tortuous discomfort, particularly on the shoulders, back and hips. Therefore it is well worth getting your mitts on a backpack which fits your body. Play around with the straps and continue to adjust them until it feels comfortable. About 80% of the weight should be rest on your hips and 20% should rest on your shoulders.

You might be tempted to go for the smallest bag you can find, but don’t forget, you need to have enough room for all your stuff! It’s difficult to say what size is best as it will depend on so many factors, such as how long you’re going for, how small your gear packs down, and how good you are at cutting the non-essentials from your life. Generally, something between 50L and 65L is suitable. If you’re planning on sleeping in a hammock, you can get away with less.

Invest in lightweight gear

Buy, rent or borrow lightweight gear. Seriously, it makes a huge difference. In particular, having a small lightweight tent, roll-mat or mattress, and compact sleeping bag are key. Not only will it leave more space in your bag for other essentials, it will reduce the amount of weight you’re carrying. Which is, as I’m about to explain, absolutely vital.

What do you really need? Really?

It falls on your shoulders to take everything you need – quite literally. Unless you really enjoy pain, you’re going to want to make your bag as light as possible. That means that every single thing you pack needs to be there for a reason.

Now then, that doesn’t mean you should leave out sensible things, like a medical kit. Rather, cut down on the luxuries and non-essentials. Remember, you’re going backcountry camping, not to luxuriate at the Fairmont. If you’re going for one night, you don’t need seven outfits. And no, you don’t need your favourite fluffy pillow!

Think carefully about food and water

When you arrive at your destination, there won’t be a 7/11 will aisles full of delicious snacks and hot coffee on tap. Oh no. And if you don’t have enough food and water, it will make for a very miserable (and potentially dangerous) adventure.

When it comes to water, you’ll probably need more than you think. Hiking with heavy backpacks on is thirsty work, and you may also need water for cooking. Check whether there are any fresh water sources en route where you can refill, bearing in mind that creeks and rivers can dry up during the warmer months. If there aren’t any, carefully consider how much water you will need and load up your bag. Yes, it’s heavy. But you’re going to need it.

As for food, there are a variety of options available. Lots of people opt for the pouches of freeze-dried food. If possible, I avoid these in favour of homemade food. If you do too, don’t plan meals that require every single pot, pan and utensil in your kitchen cupboard (or lots of water). Instead, think about what is going to be easiest on a single gas-burner.

If I’m just going for one night, I’ll normally pre-cook a meal and simmer it for hours, meaning it reduces right down and can be easily packed into a small jar. When it comes to dinnertime at camp, I simply need to heat it up and rehydrate it with some water. Et voilà, a delicious meal is served!

Prepare for Leave No Trace principles

Whenever you are in the great outdoors, practice Leave No Trace principles. Pack out what you pack in, taking all your rubbish and trash home with you. If you need to relieve yourself (you know what I mean!) then bury it. And if you are camping for the night, don’t disturb the local flora and fauna when pitching your tent.

Have a practise run

It can be a great idea to have a practice run. Lay out everything you think you would take on an overnight hike, pack it in your bag, then go on a short walk or hike (preferably a trail you know well, so you don’t get lost). This will give you a good idea of how it feels to hike with a backpack, and whether you can realistically manage to carry the weight for an extended period of time. If not, you may need to shave a few pounds.

Start with something easy

For your first backcountry camping experience, don’t go crazy. You don’t need to conquer the world just yet. Instead, choose an easy route with minimal elevation gain, little to no technical sections and pleasant weather conditions. Once you’ve refined your skills and grown in confidence, you can start on some more difficult trails, or even multi-day hikes. It won’t be long before you’re eyeing up Everest basecamp.

View of Confederation Lake hut from the lake

My brief encounter with the SCT

Spanning 180 kilometres, 14 backcountry huts (with another in the pipeline) and beautiful yet varied terrain, the Sunshine Coast Trail (SCT) is one heck of a hiking experience.

The history of the Sunshine Coast Trail

The idea was conceived in 1992 by two gents called Eagle Walz and Scott Glaspey. Their motivation was to save the area’s remaining old growth forests. They believed that if more people could access this section of B.C’s backcountry, the more chance there was of saving it from the talons of the logging industry.

A year later a group of volunteers known as the Powell River Parks and Wilderness Society (PRPAWS) was formed. They worked for eight years to create a hiking trail that spans the length of the northern Sunshine Coast, from Sarah Point in Desolation Sound, to Saltery Bay. The rest, they say, is history.

Nowadays the group continues to maintain the SCT, including both the trail itself and the huts. That means that any information shared here may well be out of date in years to come. But as it stands today, the SCT’s claim to fame is that it’s the longest free hut-to-hut hiking trail in North America. No fees, no reservations, and if you want, no tents necessary. Pretty good, right?

My brief encounter with the Sunshine Coast Trail

While planning a trip to the northern Sunshine Coast, I invariably stumbled upon a bounty of information about this epic hut-to-hut trail. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to do the whole thing. After all, I was only going to be on the Sunshine Coast for five nights, and I had a lot of other activities on the agenda.

But not wanting to bypass it completely, I settled on the notion of doing an overnight hike. We only had one car between us, and a 2WD at that, so it would have to be a there-and-back hike with an easily accessible trailhead. After scouring the internet for information with little success, I contacted the good people at Tourism Powell River and asked for their recommendations.

After approximately one hour (I’m not kidding), a lovely lady called Tracey replied to my email with the following suggestions –

  • Park on Malaspina Avenue and hike north to Manzanita Hut
  • Park at Saltery Bay and hike into Fairview Bay Hut
  • Park at Inland Lake and hike into Confederation Lake
  • Park on Malaspina Avenue and hike south to Rievely Pond Hut

In the end, I plumped for option 3 – Inland Lake to Confederation Hut.

Inland Lake to Confederation Hut

After spending a night at the Inland Lake campground, we drove our car all of 20 metres to the day-use car park, filled our water receptacles at the pump, and set off into the unknown. Actually, that’s not entirely true, as the first couple of kilometres skirt the edge of Inland Lake. Seeing as we’d done the 13km loop around the lake the previous day, we sort of knew the way.

Shortly after the totem pole, a sign pointing right directs you to Confederation Lake. It’s uphill from there. Yep, there’s no two ways about it – this section of the Sunshine Coast Trail is steep. If you’ve got an overnight pack on, and it’s 30°c outside (which is was), then it’s pretty hard work.

Two men walk along a fallen tree

The Valley of Fatigue

Even so, the beautiful old growth forests provide a robust shelter from the sun, not to mention something awe-inspiring to look at as you heave yourself through the Valley of Fatigue – yes, that’s it’s given name! As you reach the shores of the lake, a sign informs you that it’s another agonizing 2km to the hut. From here the trail becomes more technical and begins to undulate.

At this point, with mounting anticipation and increasingly sore and sweaty bodies, we began to speculate on our chosen destination. What would the hut be like? How many other people would be there? Would the lake be nice to swim in? Wouldn’t it be good if there was a boat?

And then we arrived.

Expectations were exceeded. There was even a bloody boat. The Valley of Fatigue was forgiven.

Confederation Hut

As it turns out, there was just one other resident of Confederation Hut that night – a Slovenian called Mike. He had hiked all the way from Sarah Point and dutifully told us that Confederation Hut was the best hut he’d stayed in on the Sunshine Coast Trail to date. So nice, in fact, that he’d decided to stay an extra night.

A gorgeous wooden edifice with a green tin roof to boot, this is THE spot for anyone harbouring Swiss Family Robinson fantasies. Downstairs is equipped with a wood dining table and benches, a wood pellet burner, and a food preparation area. The sleeping quarters are upstairs in the rafters, with a few blankets and mats for anyone in need. Further sleeping spots are available underneath the hut itself.

Woman sits in front of Confederation Lake hut

Cabin porn

Once a thorough inspection had been completed and our spots staked out upstairs, we did what any hot-blooded human would have done – stripped off and threw ourselves in the lake. We quickly realised this was no freeze-your-wotsits off alpine lake. You could luxuriate in this all day.

Our swim was swiftly followed by a lap in the rowing boat, complete with life jackets and all. How this boat got here and by whose hand we don’t know, but at the time it felt like a gift from on high. As we sat in the middle of the lake, encased by forest, with snow-peaked mountains in the distance and the secluded cabin in the foreground, it was easy to see why our new friend Mike was reluctant to leave.

Two men swim in Confederation Lake hut

Cooling down after a hot hike

After dinner we took the short jaunt to the viewpoint at the disconcertingly named Vomit Vista. Never fear, it’s an easy walk, and there were no bodily fluids in sight. After that it was to bed, where we found the hut to be relatively cool and, thanks to the fly screens, bug free. If only my fellow companions didn’t snore, I would have had a much better night’s sleep.

The following day we forced ourselves to leave this beautiful spot, with the return journey taking about half the time of the previous day’s hike. As I scrambled down the hillside, my thoughts turned to Mike and the delights he would be experiencing as he worked his way to Tin Hat Mountain.

That’s the only problem with doing a short section of the Sunshine Coast Trail – it whets your appetite, and all of a sudden you want to take a week off work and walk the whole darn 180km.

I know that I, for one, will be back.