June hiking in Western Montana: 15 Necessities for your backpack

Western Montanans can’t wait to shake off the chill of a long winter and chilly spring with outdoor activities in June. And since we are fortunate enough to live in Montana – home of 418 hiking trails (the most in the U.S.!!) – stepping out on a hiking trail is one of our favorite ways to celebrate the arrival of late spring and early summer. 

Still, there is much to consider because people aren’t the only ones waking up from a long winter nap. Even if you’re going for just a short hike, a day-pack is a smart thing to consider. Here are a few things to throw in your pack to help you enjoy your June hike better…

Bug spray

When you have just come off of winter, it can be easy to forget what a nuisance bugs can be. Buzzing mosquitos and stealthy horseflies can quickly turn your outdoor adventure into a misadventure. Bug spray also helps to repel ticks, which may be the strongest argument for ensuring you have some in your daypack. 

Bear spray

It’s hard to believe we use the same weapon against bears as bugs, but it’s true. Bears are hungry and irritable in the spring. Momma bears will have their cubs with them. If you see a bear in the spring (or any time for that matter), keep your distance. Before you go for even a short day hike, purchase a canister of bear spray and watch a YouTube video on how to use it. Remember that bear spray expires in about 3-5 years, so ensure you have a canister that is still fully pressurized before hitting the trail.

Lightweight rain jacket 

If there is one thing we can predict about June weather in Western Montana, it’s that it is unpredictable. There’s an excellent chance that you can leave the trailhead parking lot staring at a sunny, bluebird sky and get drenched in a rain or thunderstorm two hours into your hike. Being on the trail is miserable when you are soaked to the core. When you are in the woods, you are in the shade, in canyons, and at a higher elevation, so it’s easy to get chilled if an unexpected storm rolls through. Prepare for as many weather patterns as your pack will allow. 

Sunscreen

This is Day One stuff, so there is no real need to elaborate other than – once again – after a long winter and a mostly rainy spring, we are out of the habit of applying sunscreen. Take sunscreen and sunglasses because – on a bright sunny day – you will pay the price for days to come if you don’t. 

Power snacks 

Even on a small day hike, you’ll want power snacks – granola bars, protein bars, trail mix, and nuts. Always pack extra. You might have to sit out a storm for a while or you may get lost. Include enough lightweight, filling, plentiful snacks to last a few days. 

Headlamp with new batteries 

A headlamp may seem like a luxury, but they are a day-pack must. You never know when you might happen upon a cave or cavern you want to explore. Your hiking buddy might get a splinter or fall victim to another injury requiring better illumination. The primary reason for having a headlamp with new batteries in your day-pack is the same reason for many of these items – it will save the day if you end up hiking out in the dark for some reason or if you get lost and stay the night. 

Multi-purpose tool

A Leatherman or Swiss Army-type knife is crucial for any backpack, any time of year, as several of the survival supplies in your pack will be rendered useless if you don’t have a multi-purpose tool. Remember, one of the primary things that separate man from animals is our use of tools – so if you are going to live amongst animals, be sure to bring something that keeps you higher on the food chain. 

Solar charger for cell phone

Take your cell phone with you into the woods, but put it on airplane mode. Feel free to snap pics here and there, but be mindful of cell battery preservation. Also, consider getting a solar charger for your cell phone. While it’s true that most of us lose cell service when we are hiking, it’s also true that cell towers are often located on hilltop and mountaintop locations. You may lose service in valleys and forests, but you may have service when you’ve scaled to the top of the trail. And yes – there is an app for this. You can download a cell tower locator before you leave and figure out ahead of time where the cell towers around your hike are located. 

Two Bear Air Rescue – the search and rescue firm that located and rescued the teen who went missing in Glacier National Park in May – also recommends telling someone where you are going and for how long, as well as packing a form of satellite communication. Once again, this preparation is useful when mapping out worst-case scenarios, including getting lost or injured. 

Space blanket 

Most of us are familiar with space blankets – shiny, ultra-thin pieces of plastic that trap in body heat in emergencies. These are a must in an early spring Montana backpack. They can shelter you if a storm kicks up, you can “burrito” up in one if you zig when you should have zagged and end up lost, you can use one as ground cover or as part of a make-shift shelter (they are wind-proof too). They also make GREAT tanning beds when you finally arrive at that mountain lake, and the temp is a little cooler than you anticipated, but you still want to wear your swimsuit. Lastly, a space blanket’s shiny, reflective surface can make it easier for search and rescue to find you should you get lost. They are incredibly lightweight (4 oz), so don’t be afraid to throw a couple of these in your pack. 

Storm whistle

A storm whistle is touted as “the loudest whistle in the world” and can even be heard under water! Their compact, easy-to-carry size makes them a no-brainer for heading into Montana’s backcountry. 

Few yards of cord

If you’ve watched even five minutes of “Alone” or “Man vs. Wild,” you know how invaluable a few yards of cord can be. It can be used for building shelters, bear-proofing food, fishing line, and first aid. Like most backpack supplies, you can go as basic or fancy as your hiking budget will allow. Some paracord is comprised of fishing line, utility wire for snares, and thread for emergency stitches. 

First Aid Kit 

Again, at the risk of being painfully obvious, we can’t create a backpack list without mentioning a first aid kit. These are incredibly important in the backcountry as the risk of injury for performing even the most basic of tasks is higher than in a controlled environment. Something with ibuprofen, bandages, and antiseptic wipes is a great place to start, but you can buy as elaborate of a first aid kit as you want. One of the most crucial things your backpack MUST contain is any medication or allergy medicines (inhaler, EpiPen). Pack 2-3 days worth of this medication, even if you only plan a day trip. 

Lightweight Stove 

A lightweight stove is an excellent idea, even in a day pack. This is an easy pack-it-and-forget-it item that you may never use. But these little stoves can be a lifesaver if you get turned around in a storm on a trail you thought you knew. Pack a few small food and drink items that would get you by for a few days – instant coffee, tea, dry soup mixes, and small dehydrated meals. Also, throwing in a folded piece of tin foil is always a good idea – you can use it for cooking food over a campfire, and – like a space blanket – it has reflective properties that can assist rescuers should you lose your way. 

Matches 

Pack as many fire-starting tools as you want – they are not heavy, and they are essential. Include matches in a small dry bag, flint and steel, and a small lighter or two. Why so many options? Weather conditions can adversely affect the reliability of your fire starter. Matches may not work as well in a wind or rain storm as a butane lighter. A few cotton balls doused in alcohol and double bagged in small ziplock bags can also help you start a fire in unfavorable conditions. If you see a hunk of coagulated pitch on your hike, break it off and put it in a plastic ziploc – pitch makes for a reliable firestarter. You can also chip small pieces of wood off a pine stump (see video). Always take the time to build even a small fire-ring barrier out of rocks, clear all surrounding brush and flammables, and, whenever possible, have water nearby that you can use to extinguish your fire.  

Water filtration

Last, but most assuredly NOT least, is a water filtration system. Humans can only survive three days without water, and the LAST thing a camper in survival mode needs is giardia. If you are a newcomer to Montana, do not be fooled by the pristine creeks and waterfalls you see on your hike. Animals don’t have organized sanitation systems like humans, so even the most remote, crystal-clear stream is likely contaminated with germs and parasites left behind by our wild friends. The good news is that backpack water filtration systems have come a long way in the last few years – no more complicated hoses or pills. Now there are several light, fill-and-squeeze options for immediate hydration, cooking, or filling water bottles or hydration packs.  

As the Boy Scout motto goes, the best thing you can do before you head into the Montana wilderness for a day hike – in June or any other time – is to “be prepared.” Having grown up in Western Montana, with countless outdoor adventures under my belt, there is one thing I have learned: If I’m trying to decide whether or not to pack something, I’ve learned to live by the certainty that if I have it, I won’t need it. I will invariably need it if I decide NOT to pack it. Better to have something and not use it than to get yourself in a jam in the woods and not have something you desperately need to survive. 

Here is a tip that I’ll pass on from my Dad, who served on a Search and Rescue team: If you get lost, STAY PUT. Do not keep walking. You will get more lost, making it more difficult for Search and Rescue to find you, and you’ll burn valuable resources like your energy, water, and daylight to build a proper shelter.

Lastly, don’t forget the toilet paper! Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, and have fun out there.

Kat Hobza has lived in Montana since she was nine and was raised in the mountains west of Victor, Montana. There, she learned to hunt, fish, shoot competitively, chop and stack firewood, and drive on icy and muddy roads. Kat has over two decades of experience in professional writing, content, and digital marketing and is a marketing consultant for Glacier Sotheby’s International Realty. When she’s not working, she’s either hanging with her hilarious adult kids or soaking up the sun somewhere – a riverbank, a golf course, or her deck. You can contact Kat through her business website, Way Easy Marketing.

 

 

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