Banff National Park is home to some of the best hiking in the world. You will find there are Banff hikes for all skill levels, from easy strolls to multi-day treks. Regardless of your skill level it’s important to bring the hiking essentials with you.
Thankfully the list of essential hiking gear is pretty short, so it won’t be a large financial or physical burden on anyone wanting to enjoy the experience of hiking in Banff or Kananaskis.
Our hiking essentials list below is geared towards day hikers visiting Banff during the summer. Additional hiking gear suggestions for Banff in spring, fall and winter are found below.
As our audience is a healthy mix of Canadians and Americans, we’ve included shopping links for Mountain Equipment Co-op and REI.
This post contains compensated links.
10 Banff Hiking Essentials – Basic Hiking Gear
The good news is that you don’t need a lot of gear to enjoy hiking in Banff. When we head out for a day of hiking in Banff, we usually bring only the basics. At a minimum, bring these 10 hiking essentials with you on your Banff hikes:
1. Hiking Backpack
A good hiking backpack is a great investment. A quality day pack will accompany you on your adventures in Banff and beyond for years. Features we look for in a hiking day bag include:
- Size: A 40-50L bag is your best bet. You could get by with a small 30L bag, but we like the functionality a larger hiking backpack gives you. A larger daybag allows you to store your clothing layers as well as pack a lunch without squishing it.
- Hip-support: Look for a good load-support technology which transfers the weight of your hiking backpack from your shoulders to your hips.
- Ventilation: A suspended mesh back panel rests your hiking day pack on a trampoline, allowing air to flow between your bag and your back.
- Hydration reservoir sleeve: A hidden storage compartment for your hydration reservoir
- Multiple compartments & pockets: We like hiking bags that have the zippered option to have 1 or 2 compartments in the main interior of the day bag.
- Rain cover: These can be bought separately, but many hiking daypacks come with an integrated rain cover.
2. Bear Spray
Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country are prime bear country making bear spray a must. You can’t buy bear spray via the mail in Canada, but our American friends can. Note that most airlines will not allow you to fly with bear spray, so you are better off buying or renting up a bottle while in Banff.
Oh… and take a second to learn how to use bear spray before hitting the trails.
For shorter hikes, we typically fill a couple of vacuum insulated water bottles and shove them in the mesh side pockets of our hiking daypacks. A 16-25oz bottle per person is good for shorter outings.
For hikes over a few hours long, we use our water reservoir. Nothing beats the convenience of having a large, durable bag of water tucked away in your day bag, easily accessed through a drinking tube. It’s hands down the best way to carry a large quantity of water on hot days or long Banff hikes.
Did you know that due to its altitude that UV levels in Banff are approximately 15% higher than at sea level? You’ll burn faster here than at home, so play good defense and slather up, even on cloudy days.
5. Insect Repellent
Mosquitos annoy Banff hikers between June and August, with the peak mosquito season occurring in late-June and early July. Long-sleeve shorts and pants will go a long ways to avoiding mosquito bites, but for the areas you can’t cover, bring some mosquito spray.
6. First Aid Kit
Small, lightweight first aid kits are a smart idea to tuck away in your hiking daypack. Wasting no space, they cram a lot of useful medical gear into a small bag.
7. Garbage Bags
Banff National Park is a pristine wilderness environment. Help keep it that way by bringing a small garbage bag with you to bring your trash back home with you.
Pack some small, high energy snacks to help keep your feet moving. We prefer calorie & nutrient dense options like trail-mix, raisins or power bars.
9. Compass & Paper Map
I confess, I’m guilty of leaving these at home more often than not, but anytime you are hiking in the mountains it’s good to have analog safety gear with you (i.e. – no electronics). Cell phone coverage outside the Town of Banff is spotty at best, so having a durable, topographical map and compass with you could save your life.
10. Hiking App
The main reason why I leave my compass at home is that I use the AllTrails hiking app. I download the topographical trail map before I leave home and then follow our progress as we hike along using my phone’s GPS.
As mentioned, cell phone coverage is virtually non-existent outside of the Town of Banff, so download your trail maps ahead of time.
Optional Hiking Gear for Banff & Kananskis
Before bringing anything on this optional hiking gear list, ask yourself if you really need to bring it. Keep in mind you’ll be carrying this stuff on your back. Bring what is required for your level of activity and/or what is important to you. Leave the rest at home.
Hiking poles are likely the most popular optional hiking gear available and you’ll see lots of people using them hiking in Banff & Kananaskis. Hikers like them for balance and to make things easier on their knees. Personally, we own trekking poles, but we don’t use them often– just a personal preference…
We almost always plan to have lunch while on our Banff hikes, but we almost always forget to bring a picnic blanket with us. We survive by finding a fallen tree or large rocks to sit on, but I enjoy the small luxury of having a picnic blanket to sit on. They pack down really small and won’t take up much room in your hiking day bag.
Shop for hiking picnic blankets: Amazon
Swiss Army Knife
I love my Swiss Army Knife. They’re so small, yet so useful. Throw one in your hiking daypack – you’ll be glad you have one.
(Just don’t forget to take it out before using your daypack for a carry-on bag. I nearly cried as the airport security guy took mine away!)
Speaking of really useful, yet tiny, hiking gear – throw a whistle in your hiking bag. If you get lost, a whistle can be very effective in helping others find you. The tiny Fox 40 Classic can generate 115db – as loud as a rock concert!
The water from streams and lakes is not safe to drink in Banff National Park. From LifeStraws to water purification tablets, there are several water purification options which won’t take up a lot of room in your hiking pack.
Banff Nature Guide
Having a pocket size nature guide will help you identify the beautiful animals, birds, trees and shrubs you’ll encounter while hiking in Banff National Park.
Chances are that your first aid kit won’t have moleskin in it. Hiking in Banff often means walking on uneven ground over rocks and tree roots, which shifts your feet around inside your hiking boots. If you are susceptible to getting blisters, you’ll be glad to have a small strip of moleskin with you.
Shop for moleskin: Amazon
Don’t Buy – Bear Bells
Unless you love the sound, please resist the urge to buy bear bells – their effectiveness is unproven and you will have to live with the jingling all along the trail. Making lots of noise while having fun on the trails is your best bet. If we’re not talking, singing or laughing on the trail, we let out a very loud “Whoooooooop!!” every now and then, just to let the bears know we are there.
Banff Hiking Boots
Choosing what to wear on your feet is one of the most important decisions you will make for hiking in Banff. If you wear the wrong kind of footwear, your feet will ache and you’ll have a miserable day hiking in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Your choice of hiking boots depends on the type of trail you are doing. Your choices range from:
Ha-ha! No really, we see very fashionable people hiking in Banff wearing high heels all the time. It’s a very, very, very bad idea. Please don’t…
Many of the popular hikes in Banff (like Johnston’s Canyon and Tunnel Mountain) can be done in normal, everyday shoes. These trails have been groomed to remove large rocks and tree roots making it ok to hike in your everyday shoes.
Closed-toe hiking sandals
We love our Keen sport sandals and have been wearing them for over a decade. These sporty sandals are nearly perfect for summer hiking in Banff. They are lightweight, keep your feet cool, have good grips and dry quickly.
Having a closed-toe prevents toe injuries from kicking tree roots and rocks along the trail. The only beef we have with them is that small rocks like to get inside, requiring the occasional stop to empty them out. I estimate I wear my Keen’s on about 15% of my Banff hikes.
A good pair of hiking shoes is the best and most versatile bet for most hikers in Banff. The best hiking shoes are lightweight, waterproof and have grips made for mountainous hiking terrain. I estimate that we wear hiking shoes on over 70% of our Banff hikes.
Hiking boots are your best choice if you plan on doing any serious hiking in Banff. Hiking boots are sturdier than hiking shoes, with better ankle support and even better grips. Hiking boots can be heavier than hiking shoes, making them a bit of overkill for the average day hikes in Banff. I estimate I use hiking boots on 15% of my hikes in Banff.
Banff Hiking Clothing Essentials
Understanding Banff Summer Weather
Visitors are drawn to Banff in the summer by its great weather and long sunny days. Taking a casual look at the average summer temperatures for Banff, you’d think that you could easily get by hiking in shorts and a t-shirt, but there’s more you need to know.
In the summer, Banff enjoys average daily highs of 22°C, but it can get up to 30° occasionally. Couple this with the higher UV exposure at elevation, and you’ll need to protect yourself.
The average daily lows are 6°C, but it can get dangerously close to zero at times. Although it’s very rare, it can snow in Banff during the summer!
And to make matters more complicated, the middle temperature of 14°C can feel vastly different in different conditions. 14°C can feel beautiful and warm when the sun is shining and the wind is calm, but it can also feel very cold if the clouds roll in and the wind starts blowing.
The typical day in Banff in the summer is beautiful and warm, but the weather can change rapidly and without warning. You need to be prepared for anything while hiking in Banff.
The bottom line? Banff weather makes it hard to know what to wear for hiking, even in summer.
The Best Banff Clothing for Hiking in the Summer
Despite the wide range and variability of Banff summer weather, it’s easy to build some flexibility into your hiking wardrobe to suit most conditions. The following are your hiking essentials for clothing:
A good, lightweight hat is an effective way to protect against Banff’s higher UV ray exposure. It doesn’t have to be fancy – I typically use a baseball hat, but you can certainly get something more fashionable or with a wider brim all-around.
Banff National Park enjoys a lot of sunny, blue sky days in summer. The glare from the sun can get pretty intense in the mountains and wearing sunglasses with UV protection are recommended.
Hiking in Banff in the summer means you’ll likely be taking your jacket on and off throughout the day. Anytime the sun disappears (behind a cloud, mountain, deep tree-cover, etc.) the temperature drops more than you’d expect, and you’ll be glad you had a jacket with you.
We recommend bringing a hiking jacket that is lightweight, water and wind resistant.
Wearing a light t-shirt on a warm summer day in Banff feels amazing. If the forecast is for sunshine, I wear a t-shirt almost all the time. My wife loves to wear tank tops while hiking to enjoy the warm Banff sunshine.
You may wish to consider a lightweight long sleeve shirt if you burn really easily. Also, long sleeve shirts provide increased non-chemical protection against mosquitos – a good consideration if you are hiking in peak mosquito season (late June/early July).
Regardless of the sleeve length, look for a moisture wicking material with good UV protection.
If it’s warm and the sun is shining, nothing beats wearing shorts while hiking in Banff in summer.
Due to the unpredictability of the Banff weather, we recommend bringing lightweight, convertible pants just in case the weather gets cold or the mosquitos get annoying.
If you aren’t a fan of convertible pants, a good pair of full-length lightweight pants made with a breathable material can still be very enjoyable on a warm day.
Wearing the right hiking socks is just as important as wearing the right hiking shoes. Look for a pair that are tall enough for your hiking boots, has good cushioning and wicks moisture (merino wool socks are especially good for this).
Base Layer (optional)
In the middle of an August hot snap, this is probably unnecessary, but if you are hiking on more remote trails on a cool or rainy day, it wouldn’t hurt to throw a merino wool base layer into your hiking day bag.
A good base layer is very light, packs up extremely small, yet provides a lot of warmth. You never know what’s going to happen to the weather in Banff, so if your hiking choices are a little higher risk, there is little downside including a good base layer in your summer hiking gear.
Banff Hiking Essentials in Spring
You can start to find some snow-free hikes at lower elevations in Banff in April. As the temperature increases and rain starts to fall, the mountain snowpack gradually melts in May through June.
Spring hiking in Banff can be very enjoyable if you are prepared for the conditions.
- The rain and melting snow can result in muddy trails.
- There can be snow (sometimes deep) on the trail at any time
- The sun is lower in the sky, meaning the sun is more likely to be hiding behind a mountain peak in the early morning and late afternoon. Without sunshine, the temperature drops noticeably.
In addition to the above, we recommend the following hiking gear for spring hiking in Banff:
A more robust jacket is recommended in spring. We recommend wearing something that provides a moderate layer of warmth but can be taken off and packed easily. It can get windy and rainy in the spring, so wind and water resistance are important.
A t-shirt or tank-top can still a viable choice in spring, but we recommend wearing heavier pants. Jeans are a decent choice, but you can also wear a heavier full-length hiking pant.
Dressing in layers is very important while hiking in Banff in spring. Be prepared to be dressing and undressing several times through your spring Banff hike. A good merino wool base layer is excellent for keeping you warm and dry on cool spring mornings. Alternately, you could elect to bring a warm fleece top.
This layer is very important for a comfortable spring hike in Banff. You may begin the day with all your layers on, ending your hike with only a t-shirt on and several combinations in-between. A good size hiking daypack (40-50L) is recommended to hold your layers.
Gloves and Hats
In addition to the warm base layer, a warm pair of gloves and a hat is recommended for hiking in Banff in spring. These items pack down small and you’ll be very glad to have them if the weather turns on you unexpectedly.
Warm, Water-proof Hiking Shoes
There’s can be a lot of mud and/or snow on the Banff hiking trails in spring. At a minimum, you’ll want to wear a good pair of waterproof hiking shoes or hiking boots – we recommend leaving your everyday shoes at home.
If your spring hike in Banff has any elevation gain or is on the north-side of a mountain, you stand a good chance of encountering snow or ice. If so, consider bringing traction devices (like micro-spikes) to slip over your hiking shoes.
Banff Hiking Essentials in Fall
By early September in Banff the snowpack has largely melted. As fall progresses into October and November, your chances of encountering snow while hiking in Banff increases.
All of the spring recommendations apply for hiking in Banff in fall with the exception of your hiking shoes. You won’t encounter as much mud in fall as you would in spring, so a water-proof shoe is less important, unless you are hiking in the rain or into a layer of snow.
Banff Hiking Gear for Kids
We seek outdoor adventure everywhere we go and have developed some good resources on our family travel websites for parents who wish to go hiking with their kids:
- The Best Hiking Gear for Kids
- Best Toddler Hiking Gear
- Everything You Need to Know About Getting Kids Hiking
- 9 Best Hiking Songs for your Family
- Hiking With a Baby or Toddler: A Complete List of Resources
We hope you found our list of Banff hiking essentials useful and that you love hiking in Banff as much as we do!
More Banff Resources
Banff Hiking Maps
Banff Hiking Books
- Best Day Hikes in Banff National Park
- Canadian Rockies Trail Guide
- 50 Walks and Hikes in Banff National Park
Recommended Banff Hikes
- 9 Easy Hikes in Banff National Park
- Tunnel Mountain Hike in Banff National Park
- Johnston Canyon Hike in Banff National Park
- Stewart Canyon Hike
- 9 Best Kananakis Hikes for Social Distancing