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Hiking Essentials for Glacier National Park

Hiking is very popular in Glacier National Park; it is estimated that over half of all visitors to the park will hike some part of its nearly 700 miles of trails.

Good planning is paramount anytime you embark on a hiking expedition. The list of essentials when hiking in Glacier National Park will depend on the length of your hike, the time of year, the terrain you’re likely to encounter, the elevation, and your experience.

Granite Park hiking trail at Crystal Point, Glacier National Park, Montana

Image Credit: Tony Webster | License

Due to fluctuating weather conditions in Glacier National Park, it’s advisable to bring a variety of clothing and plan to dress in layers when hiking. It’s not uncommon to experience chilly summer evenings despite daytime temperatures between 80 and 90 degrees.

Although you may not need or use everything we discuss in this article, the goal is to be prepared. Hiking is a wonderful and healthy recreational activity that brings you intimately close to nature. Planning with comfort and safety top of mind lets you enjoy the benefits and explore with more confidence.

Although most hikes begin and end as intended, being prepared for a sudden change in weather, an injury, or disorientation is prudent where safety is concerned, even survival. And sometimes, it’s not about you, it may mean an encounter with someone who needs assistance.

Essential Gear

This category represents items every hiker should carry, regardless of location or terrain.

  • Comfortable Backpack (lightweight and durable with an internal frame)
  • Bear Spray (we recommend Counter Assault)
  • Topo Map (you need to know where you’re going and where you’ve been)
  • Compass (never trust your life to a battery)
  • Folding Swiss Army Knife (or some type of multi-tool)
  • Space Blanket (aka myler, emergency, safety, thermal, or shock blanket)
  • Bivvy Sack (emergency sleep system)
  • Flashlight (best possible batteries)
  • Waterproof Matches (and/or fire starter)
  • Survival Whistle
  • Mirror (emergency reflector)
  • Cord (and/or twine)
  • Duct tape
  • Watch (best possible battery)
  • Lightweight Water Filter (clean water is paramount)
  • Notepad (and writing instrument)

Optional Gear

This category includes optional items that should be considered according to location, length of hike, etc.

  • Trekking Poles (improves balance, helps with
    inclines and declines, measure water depth)
  • Cell Phone (and non-AC charger, although, expect
    limited reception)
  • GPS (better than smart phones, but still
    dependant on batteries)
  • Camera (and/or binoculars)
  • Crank Radio (if not for entertainment, to listen
    to weather updates)
  • Headlamp
  • Magnifying Glass
  • Steel Wool (start a fire, sharpen scissors,
    clean cookware)

Essential Clothing

This category represents items every hiker should carry, regardless of location or terrain. Naturally, this list will need to be revised if you’re hiking in winter months.

  • Warm Fleece Jacket or Sweater
  • Fleece Hat
  • Change of Underwear
  • Rain Jacket
  • Rain Pants
  • Gloves (hiking gloves)
  • Brimmed Hat (sun protection)
  • Bandana

Essential Footwear

This category represents items every hiker should be equipped with, regardless of location or terrain.

  • Comfortable Hiking Boots or Hiking Shoes (will
    depend on terrain)
  • Extra Laces
  • Extra Socks (dry feet are important)

Essential Food & Accessories

This category represents items every hiker should carry, regardless of location or terrain.

  • Full Water Bottle (and/or full canteen)
  • Energy Snacks
  • Glucose
  • Basic Utensils
  • Zip-lock Bags
  • Napkins (and/or tissues)
  • Toilet Paper

Essential First Aid & Personals

The items in this category vary depending on your personal needs, keeping in mind most of them are essential for safe hiking. Quantities will vary depending on location, length of hike, etc.

  • First-aid Manual
  • Personal Medication
  • EpiPen (injectable epinephrine)
  • Feminine Products
  • Insect Repellent
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Identification
  • Money
  • Emergency Contact Information
  • Knee Support
  • Variety of Bandages and Compresses
  • Adhesive Tape
  • Gauze Pads
  • Tweezers
  • Safety Pins
  • Scissors
  • Thermometer
  • Surgical Gloves
  • Antibacterial Wipes
  • Lubricating Eye Drops
  • Burn Ointment
  • Disinfectant and Antibiotic Creams
  • Antihistamine
  • Antacid
  • Aspirin
  • Pain Killers
  • Hydrogen Peroxide
  • Poison Ivy Cream
  • Bee Sting & Snake Bite Kits
  • Finger Splints
  • Cotton-tipped Swabs
  • Razor Blades
  • Hand Sanitizer

Popular Hikes in Glacier National Park

Glacier Park truly is Hiker’s Paradise!

Towering peaks, crystal-clear glistening lakes, abundant wildlife, and magnificent glaciers are what to expect trekking through hundreds of miles of unspoiled nature.

From short hikes, to long hikes, to multi-day backpacking adventures – Glacier Park will never disappoint you, regardless of your skill level.

Short Hikes

Long Hikes

Hiking Tips

It can’t be said enough times… planning and preparation is key. Equally important are some basic understandings prior to and during your hiking adventure.

Between your library, local bookstore, and the Internet, there is no shortage of valuable information for hikers of all experience levels. Take some time to educate yourself, and the people you’re hiking with.

Our list of common tips and considerations after living and operating a lodging facility in hiker’s country for over twenty-five years:

  1. Don’t hike alone
  2. Plan your route ahead, and share it with someone
  3. Stay on the trail
  4. Speak to people familiar with the hike (rangers, lodging host, etc.)
  5. Make a list of everything you need to bring
  6. Ensure items with expiry dates (food, medication, etc.) have ample longevity
  7. Expect the unexpected (be mentally prepared for different situations)
  8. Keep an eye on weather forecasts
  9. Plan to dress in layers
  10. Find out if trail permits are required
  11. If you know cell phone reception is limited, consider a satellite communicator such as the Garmin inReach® Mini
  12. Pace yourself uphill (small steps)
  13. Watch your footing on steep declines (don’t rush)
  14. Understand altitude sickness if you’re hiking into the mountains
  15. Refer to your map periodically (don’t assume your location)
  16. Plan to finish your hike in daylight
  17. Water is likely the heaviest thing you’ll carry, but not enough is more painful
  18. Understand the symptoms of heat stroke, and what to do if it happens
  19. Leave no trace (don’t leave food or garbage in the wild)
  20. Do a full body check for ticks after your hike

Bear Encounter?

In closing, we’ll touch on the possibility of a bear encounter while hiking. Although violent bear encounters are rare in Glacier National Park, it’s important to be in the know.

Happy Hiking!