Hit the trails with Barb Parsons-Sooley of Wind at Your Back Guided Hiking Adventures

A woman takes a selfie in front of a hiking trail.

Barb Parsons-Sooley owns and operates Wind at Your Back Guided Hiking Adventures. She leads hikes and kayak tours in the Baccalieu Coastal Region of NL. She became passionate about the outdoors and trail maintenance following a career working as a firefighter and paramedic in Northern Alberta.

On the blog today, we’re talking with Barb Parsons-Sooley of Wind at Your Back Guided Hiking Adventures about her top hiking tips. Barb started hiking over a decade ago after working as a firefighter and paramedic in Alberta. She is passionate about sharing the province’s beautiful trails.

Hiking has experienced a boost in popularity this past year as a result of the pandemic. “COVID has brought in a lot of hikers,” explained Barb.” It’s brought in a lot of people who want to adventure, who want to see what we have in the province, which is wonderful. A lot of people didn’t totally take in how awe-striking it is to go stand in those places that other people have only posted pictures of. You know, the picture can’t give the sounds, the smell, the feel of standing there.” 

We caught up with Barb to get the scoop on preparing for a hike. Maybe you are a new hiker, or an experienced hiker exploring a new area. No matter your experience level, it’s important to be prepared before you hit the trails.

Preparing for Your Hike

“My number one tip, especially for anyone that is new to hiking, is; download the AdventureSmart app and make a plan,” said Barb. “The AdventureSmart App will show you everything you need to know, and gives you search and rescue contacts. You make your plan on there, so you have someone to contact. In that app, you can make your plan and email out to contacts. It talks you right through it.”

Next up, do your research. Barb recommends researching the area you are interested in exploring before you get there. “Use the Hike NL group on Facebook, or find a local and talk to them. If you don’t know anyone there or aren’t comfortable using social media, call the local town office. They will know and can point you to someone who does know [about local trail conditions],” Barb said.

What’s in Your Backpack: What to Pack for Your Hike

“You want first aid, food/water, shelter and communication/navigation. Don’t go anywhere without that,” said Barb. Packing the necessities means that you will be prepared if you get lost or injured on your hike. Below is a summary of the great advice Barb shared with us.

First Aid: A first aid kit is an essential addition to your hiking backpack. “For sure, a First Aid Kit. 100%,” said Barb. She also has another recommendation that could come in handy: hiking poles. “I will say, using hiking poles will take 30% of your body’s pressure off your hips, knees and ankles. They are very beneficial. I recommend attaching them to your backpack. If you sprain an ankle or get a leg injury, you’ll have a way to support yourself.”

Shelter: “For shelter, I have a little pop up tent that goes on a piece of rope. I carry a small saw if I need to make a lean-to or something like that.”

Navigation/Communication: “I would recommend to anyone to do a basic map and compass course. Always carry an extra battery pack for your phone. If you do want to have a little extra safety, you can go with a GPS system. I personally have the Garmin inReach Mini.

Food/Water: “Always take a bit of extra food, even if you take some trail mix or extra granola bars. And always take more water than you think you are going to need. You’re not always going to be around a water source. It’s great to have a filtration kit, but what if you can’t find a water source? If you are in an emergency situation, you are going to be some glad you have that extra litre of water in your bag.” 

A dog sits on a hiking trail.
Barb’s pup Bella enjoys Newfoundland’s hiking trails just as much as her fellow human hikers. Photo credit: Barb Parsons-Sooley.

Clothing, Footwear and Gear

One of the golden rules of hiking preparedness is staying warm and dry. That means you’ll need to wear clothes that wick sweat and keep moisture out. 

“Don’t ever go hiking in anything cotton,” Barb advises. Outdoors clothes can be expensive, but there are also many affordable options for athletic wear. “Even going to Walmart, grab some of their quick dry clothing. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Don’t wear jeans, if you end up getting wet and cold, you are never going to warm up in a pair of jeans.”

A rain-repellent layer, such as a raincoat and rain pants, are also a must: “Always have a waterproof windbreaker, no matter the season. You just never know. If it’s summertime and I’m hiking in shorts, I’ll always have a light pair of pants in my backpack. You just never know if you or someone you are with is going to get injured, or how long you are going to be out there.”

When it comes to your feet, comfort is key. Barb prefers closed-toe footwear that protects her feet from sticks and rocks along the trail. Sneakers or hiking boots are both good options. “To me, hiking in sandals or anything that is open around your feet, I’d never wear them hiking. They are great for the beach and great for kayaking. Your feet should be protected. For me, at the very minimum, I’d suggest trail runners.”

As most Newfoundlanders and Labradorians know, weather changes quickly in this province. When we chatted with Barb in the spring, she encouraged hikers to carry snowshoes, ice spikes, or crampons with them in case there is an icy patch on the trail. “You have to do some investigation and know if you need to take snowshoes. Hiking this time of year, I always have a pair of ice spikes or crampons clipped to my backpack. You never know when you are going to get to a spot where it’s still icy.” Once the weather is consistently warm, all you’ll need are your hiking boots.

Ready, Set, Hike!

You’ve planned your trip, packed your bag, and picked out your gear. Now you’re ready to start exploring! Remember, there are many Newfoundland and Labrador hiking guides available at local bookstores, online, and at national and provincial parks. Safe hiking!

Learn more about Wind at Your Back Guided Hiking Adventures here. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

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