Gear -- The broad descriptor for all of the stuff you need to take with you on any given Canyon trip. The watchwords for gear in the Canyon... Go Light! One thing that helps with getting light is the concept of "double-duty". As you're selecting items to bring along, select the ones that will fulfill more than just one purpose. Why bring a trowel to dig your cat-hole when the end of a trekking pole will do? Another concept is "down-sizing". Why bring large containers of sunscreen, soap, hand sanitizer, and Ibuprofen when you can bring just what you need by transferring the items to much smaller containers. Apply the same principles across your entire load and you'll shrink it. Lightweight and ultra-lightweight backpacking is a subject unto itself. A great resource for cutting down the pounds in your pack and adding mileage to your day as a result can be found here:
So where will all the gear go? Some of it will find its way into your pockets for ready access, but the majority of it will need to end up in a backpack of some sort. "So, what's the best backpack to get," you ask? Unfortunately, it is one of the many, "It depends" answers that you'll find on this page. The obvious answer is that it will need to be big enough to allow you to comfortably carry all the stuff you plan to bring. And, don't forget that that "stuff" will not only include your gear, but your food and water too. The trick is to find the lightest pack you can that is capable of carrying your planned load, and that fits you most comfortably when loaded. Backpack selection factors breakdown into 3 categories. "Volume" -- How much stuff it will hold? "Size/Fit" -- Does it fit properly on your back, shoulders and hips? And, "Weight" -- How much does the thing weigh when empty? Let's take them one-by-one.
Pack Volume (& expected load weight):
The volume of backpacks is typically represented by manufactures in either liters or cubic inches. If you a new to the sport going a bit larger in volume is advisable as you begin the quest for your optimum ultralight gear kit. With some diligence directed toward the double-duty and downsizing concepts a 60L. (~3,660 cu. in.) to 70L (~4,270 cu. in.) design is a good starting point and should suffice for most 3-7 day Canyon trips As you explore options, keep the manufacturer's recommended maximum load weights in mind. Many of the ultralight pack designs have maximum load weights listed. These weights are based on the compromises that the design has made to reduce empty pack weight. In these cases higher than recommended maximum load weights begin to affect carrying comfort. So, it is important to understand both the volume and weight of your expected loads. The best way to determine this is to assemble the gear that will be going into the pack, weigh each item, factor in the weight and volume of food (~2 lbs. per day) and your required water carrying volume and weight. In most cases 2-4 liters liters of water will get you where you need to go in a single day. But, this can varying significantly depending on your route and the expected temperatures. 2-4 liters of water will add 4.4 to 8.8 pounds to your load. If you happen to have acquaintances with backpacks, borrowing them to assess the volume your load will require is most appropriate is a useful way to zero in on the volume you should be shopping for.
Most good outdoor stores have personnel who can provide the assistance necessary to determine a pack design that will fit you best. Knowing your "Torso Length" is a key data point that will help you narrow down the search. To determine your torso length, get the assistance of a friend and do the following:
Tilt your head
forward and locate the larger bony bump toward the base of your neck. This is the 7th cervical vertebrae (or C7).
Next, place your hands on your hips so they rest atop the bones or your pelvis. This is your iliac crest. Hold you hands with your palms atop the iliac crest, with your fingers pointing forward and your thumbs pointing towards each other at the small of your back.
Using a tape measure, have your friend measure the distance from your C7 vertebrae to the point where it intersects the imaginary line drawn between your thumbs.
This distance is your torso length.
In general packs are sized based on ranges of torso length:
Torsos up to 15 ½"
Small: Torsos 16" to 17 ½"
Torsos 18" to 19 ½"
Torsos 20" and up
Some pack designs have provisions for adjusting the torso length. This feature allows you to dial in the perfect fit.
The next criterion to optimize fit is "Hip Size". Using the tape measure, wrap it around your hips, once again atop the iliac crest. This measurement is your hip size. A properly sized hipbelt will evenly straddle the iliac crest. All hipbelts are adjustable to some degree and some manufacturers offer interchangeable hipbelts that can be adapted to the pack to optimize the fit Make sure you have enough play in the hipbelt adjustment as you need to keep in mind that you may be traveling with different levels of layered clothing from trip to trip. All adjustment straps should be able to accommodate those variations.
While some designs are unisex, most have versions for men and women. These designs differ in ways that better accommodate body proportions. Pack width, hipbelt and shoulder strap designs are among the features used to optimize fit specific to each of the sexes.
Weight (of the pack empty):
If one of your goals is to minimize the weight of your total load, why start out with a pack that weighs 5 or 6 pounds before you've put anything into it? Pack weight is another balancing act between volume and your expected load weight, but there are plenty of designs that should allow you to find a pack with en empty weight of 4 pounds or less. The 2.5 to 3.5 pound range is even better. The weight trade-off usually comes at the expense of foregoing heavier fabrics and bells & whistle features like extra pockets, compartment dividers, built-in pack covers, extra zippers and other marketing driven doo-dads. Once you get to camp, most of the stuff comes out of your pack anyway, so a lot of zippered compartments and such that might seem to aid organization, generally aren't all that helpful when it's all said and done. Sacrificing bomber ballistic nylon in favor of lighter weight fabrics isn't that much of a sacrifice in my experience. With a little care, the lighter weight fabrics do just fine in most cases.
Once you have the basic fit established, load up the pack with the weight you expect to carry. Most shops have the capability to add load to your pack to simulate volume and weight. Check the loaded fit on the various packs that you've identified as likely candidates and make your selection.
Well designed packs offer a variety of ways to fine-tune the fit of your pack across the range of loads that you end up carrying. Before donning your pack adjust load stabilizer/compression straps to cinch your load together. This will help minimize load shifting while on the trail. Before donning the pack loosen hipbelt, shoulder, sternum and load-lifter straps. After donning, the hipbelt is typically the first adjustment to be made. This is followed by the shoulder, sternum and load-lifter straps, in that order. Fine-tune all of these as necessary to dial-in the fit. Once underway, it is not unusual to make minor adjustments as things settle in.
In general you get what you pay for. It is not unreasonable to expect to pay between $200 and $300 for a good quality backpack... And, you can very easily pay more.
If you are not averse to an encounter with an occasional creepy-crawly, sleeping under the stars in the Canyon is the way to go. The generally low probability of rain makes this something that can be done more often than not. One must however prepare for the potential for rain. So, no matter what your preferences are for backcountry sleeping, you'll need to plan for some type of shelter from the elements.
Your choice in the type of shelter you'll use is one of the biggest decisions you can make with respect to the weight it will add to your load. Along with your sleeping system and backpack, shelter is one of largest contributors to weight in your pack, and therefore, one of the biggest opportunities to cut down on the pounds. We'll cover the options in order of increasing total weight.
A simple solution for protection from the elements. Often as simple as a sheet of waterproof fabric rigged with trekking poles, guy-lines and staked out. There are all sorts of variations in the way it can be set-up from a standard tent-like configuration to a lean-to arrangement and many options in between.
The tarp is generally set-up over a ground cloth that serves to offer some protection to your sleep system and to help keep it clean and dry. Ground cloths are also simple with the need being satisfied by another tarp, piece of plastic or any other material that will prevent ground moisture from penetrating into your sleep system. Again, keep it as light as possible. Tyvek® a teflon-based material used as a wrap in home construction to create a moisture barrier is a great ground cloth material. It provides moisture protection and is very light. To avoid the fines and jail-time that might result as part of a midnight requisition effort at a local job-site, the following link to the AntiGravityGear website will allow you to purchase what you need. Typically, a 5'x9' piece will satisfy most needs. Click Here for Tyvek®
Tarps are available from a wide array of manufacturers and run the gamut from simple rectangular sheets with grommets along the edges to more complex sewn catenary designs. SilNylon tarps are among the lightest with Cuben fiber being even lighter. Cuben fiber items do not come cheap however. Here are some links to recommended manufacturers:
The downside of a tarp is that it takes some experience to create the right pitch, given prevailing weather conditions, to maximize its effectiveness as a shelter. Site location and wind direction need to be taken into consideration during set-up when the weather is not being particularly cooperative. Because the tarp is such a simple construct, windblown rain or snow can become an issue underneath the tarp. Tarp devotees deal with this by incorporating simple bivy sacks into the shelter/sleep system. These tend to be lightweight designs that are intended to protect sleeping bags from moisture blown under the tarp. These bivys differ from those intended to be self-sufficient in taking the full brunt of any inclement weather. Many of the tarp manufacturers listed above also have bivy offerings and provide information as to which of their designs are best suited to accompany tarps.
So, as you can see, it's not so simple after all. The initial thought of a tremendous weight savings when looking at the weights of the tarps alone, begins to shrink somewhat when ground cloths and bivys are added. But despite this, a good tarp system can still save a tremendous amount of weight over most tents on the market.
MLD SilNylon Grace Tarp MLD SilNylon Trailstar MLD Superlight Bivy
As the category suggests these designs marry features of both tarps and tents. The goal is to improve upon some of the downsides of tarps alone, while attempting to avoid as many of the traditional tent design features that add weight as possible.
These designs typically include a floor, so a ground cloth is not absolutely necessary. However, manufacturer's often recommend that one be used to protect the floor from damage. Trekking poles are often pressed into double-duty service in erecting the shelter, eliminating the extra weight of poles. In the better designs and when pitched properly, there are minimal issues with blowing rain or spindrift getting inside. So, the need for the added protection, and weight, of a bivy can be avoided in most cases.
Henry Shires of TarpTent® has some of the best designs going. The "Contrail" is my design favorite. They can be found by clicking this link: TarpTent®
TarpTent Contrail Solo
Bivy Sacks (the "Industrial Strength" ones):
Unlike the bivys intended to partner with a tarp, these designs are meant to be right out in the inclement conditions and favorably weather the storm. You simply slide your sleep system inside, stake out the corners and rig the hood device to keep it out of your face and you're good to go. Well, sort of...
These are not our favorite shelters. They generally weigh more than a tarp or tarp/tent hybrid system and they don't provide much in the way of storage space. You certainly can't get your backpack inside if you're inclined to do so. Users complain about a claustrophobic feeling and breathability for condensate management is an ongoing problem. And, if it does rain, there is a difference between being in the rain in a tarp or tent and IN the rain in a bivy. Just imagine getting in and out of the thing in the midst of a rainstorm. There are probably die-hard bivy afficianados out there... But, nope... Not for us. It is however a free country... For now... Sort of...
There are about a million variations on this theme and really too much to go into here. Suffice it to say that weight would still be your biggest focus when going this route. Some other general considerations/opinions, include:
Number of people: Solos, 2-person on up to family size. Keep it as small as you can while still being comfortable... The weight thing again.
Seasons: A good 3-season tent will generally work all year in the Canyon.
Double-Wall vs. Single-Wall: Single wall designs shave a ton of weight, but condensation is an issue. Double-wall designs typically have a largely mesh inner structure and a fly for rain protection. These are a pretty close second to sleeping under the stars when the fly is off.
Footprints: These are intended to protect the bottom or your tent and are the equivalent of a ground cloth cut specifically to the shape of your tent's floor and with grommets for seating the ends of the tent poles. These are great if you are going to take advantage of the fly-only set up option. They are however ridiculously expensive for what you get. If you don't anticipate "fly only" use, you can just as easily custom cut a piece of Tyvek® to deliver the protection your floor will need. Truth be told, many forgo the footprint/ground cloth thing altogether. If the floor actually does wear out, you'll probably be itching to buy another tent by that time anyway.
Weight: Manufacturers usually provide several weights in their specs. "Minimum Weight" (or some equivalent) means the weight of the fly, poles, stakes, guy-lines and footprint only. "Trail Weight" (or some variation) means the weight of the whole enchilada. In some cases there might even be a third weight spec, which when encountered typically strikes me as totally meaningless.
Self-Standing: This means that once you've got the poles attached to the tent it will remain erect without anyone having to hold a pole or poles while a second person stakes it out. This is handy. It allows you to move the assembled unit around to find the ideal space before staking it down. It also facilitates getting the dirt out of the inside when you break camp. Simply open one of the doors, pick up the tent and shake it out. The poles required for these designs do add weight, but we have to admit that it makes for a pretty nice feature.
Get Inside Before You Buy: You can look at the specs all you want, but nothing does a better job of determining if the design will work for you other than getting inside of one, and preferably with your gear. It's amazing how spacious a tent looks on the shop floor and then it's a whole other story once your stuff is inside. Also, check for headroom and the ability to maneuver around to some extent.
Big Agnes Copper Spur - Fly Only Big Agnes Copper Spur - No Fly Big Agnes Copper Spur - Full Setup
A "sleep system" includes your sleeping bag and pad, and it's one of those key items of gear that is ripe for weight reduction focus. It might also include one backcountry luxury item... a pillow. We'll cover each below:
In the backcountry you will find that sleeping comfort can be defined by the following equation:
C = (T/A)t where,
C = Sleeping Comfort
T = Pad Thickness
A = Your Age
t = Terrain Factor: A scale between 1 and 100 (Determined only after meticulous site preparation, rock, twig and cactus spine clearing, followed by crawling into your sleeping bag only to find that you are on top of something that all your efforts failed to remove, and for which you are either too tired or lazy to get up and mitigate). Absence of said "somethings" commands a score of 100. Score now.
I consider a sleeping pad to be a luxury item; meaning that I will gladly carry the extra weight if it makes for a comfortable night's sleep. How anyone can sleep on one of those accordion folding Ridge-Rest sleeping pads is beyond me. They're so thin that thickness is not even included in the product specifications. I don't know... Current technology may be unable to measure it. Give me at least 2 inches between my back and the ground and I'm generally a happy sleeper. The good news is that recent developments make this level of comfort achievable at a very manageable weight. So, here's a run-down on the options:
Your basic Pad: These are generally some type of foam material either in a solid sheet or "improved" (and I use the term loosely) by molded structural features (e.g., ridges, waffle patterns, etc.). These are generally cheap and light, but can make you a trail zombie due to lack of sleep. I will contradict myself and add that these are great when used to improve under-bag insulation when winter camping. In this case look for Ensolite®. Otherwise, no recommendations... Consider yourself warned... You are on your own. But here's what one of these torture devices looks like: Too heavy-handed?
Self-Inflating Pad: The classic Therm-a-Rest® pads are an example of these. The design is a self-expanding foam material that is enclosed in a outer nylon material. A valve is included that when opened allows air to enter and the inner foam material to expand. Some amount of blowing into the valve is typically required to achieve the desired level of "cush". The maximum thickness of these designs is somewhat limited and under the magic 2" value. These do tend to be on the heavy side as well.
Therm-a-Rest® Trail Pro®
Air Mattress Pad: These designs used to have a bad wrap. Heavy and with poor insulating value in cold conditions. This has all changed in recent years as a result of lighter weight materials and designs that provide significant amount of insulating value. Insulation values to the point of making them legitimate three-season pads. And... They easily hit that magic 2" thickness threshold. Yes, they take some time to inflate (~30 breaths), but the comfort is unbeatable. My hands-down favorite is the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir or the newer NeoAir XLite, which weighs in between 8 and 16 oz. depending on the size. They're pricey, but hey... It's a luxury item. Big Agnes makes a nice one too, the Air Core Insulated. It's a little cheaper, but heavier at ~24 oz.
Therm-a-Rest® NeoAir XLite® Big Agnes® Insulated Air Core®
A ton of choices and design variations here. But another great opportunity to reduce weight in a gear item that adds a high proportion of the weight to your total load. Our choice here is "down".
Fill Material: You've got down and a variety of other synthetic materials. Down is graded by "fill power" (e.g., 650, 700, 750, 850, 900). The higher the fill power, the more insulated value per equivalent weight. This means you'll get more warmth from a higher fill power with less weight. While down loses its insulation value when wet, that is typically not a major concern in the Canyon. Synthetic materials will retaining their insulation value better when wet are typically bulkier and heavier than an equivalent down bag.
Men's vs. Women's: Designers have zeroed in on a variety of sex-based features that deliver improved performance. These are largely size, cut and fill material placement related and serve to make for a more comfortable sleeping experience over a one design fits all approach.
Zippers: Left vs. right-side - I'm not sure why this matters unless you're planning to zip two together. Full (extending from the top down to the foot-box) vs.half-length - This is a weight saving strategy. Foot-box zipper - Allows for air circulation and generally middle of the night contortions to zip it closed.
Baffles, Collars & Hoods: Features added to keep the warmth in and the cold out.
Brands?: No good answer here. Compare features, specs, read the reviews and make your choice. We've experimented with most of the major brands and all of them have pros and cons.
If "There Can Only Be One!": I'd go with a 30-degree rated down bag, with the best fill power you can afford.
These have been developed as another weight saving strategy and are the backcountry equivalent of the hospital gown. The idea is to marry the quilt up with a good insulating sleeping pad. The configuration of the quilt delivers the insulation to the top and sides while your pad provides it below. A strap system serves to secure the quilt around your pad. The reality is that compression of the fill material underneath you in a conventional sleeping bag eliminates most of the insulating value anyway. So, it's largely your pad that keeps you from getting cold from below no matter if you choose a bag or a quilt. Quilts are great for back-sleepers, but quilt and pad attachment systems become a key design feature to consider if you like to roll around and/or sleep on your side. Here's an image of a now obsolete BackpackingLight® Cocoon 60® design:
the “old school” counsel that you needed those heavy-duty leather boots to carry the massive loads and protect your ankles for sprains while backpacking? OK,
so maybe you don’t. While there's still controversy about the boot vs. the trail-runner, approach to today's backpacking footwear, you can rest easy in the fact that there are much lighter footwear options are out there these days. And, with a little guidance you'll find a pair that will work just fine. They say that for every
extra pound of weight on your feet, it’s the equivalent of an extra five
pounds in your pack. Who needs
that? Given the designs available today, it should be possible to
find a sturdy pair of lighter boots that weigh in at 3 lbs. or less for
the pair. They won’t last for 10
years, but who cares. Get you pack loads down below 30 pounds and trail-runners start becoming a real possibility. So, on to the guidance:
Footwear Selection: We'll use the term "footwear" as the term "boot" doesn't seem to quite fit anymore given the array of shoe designs developed for backcountry travel. There are still quite a lot of designs that fit the "boot" category. These are typically the full or mid-cut designs that clearly provide some additional ankle protection. Whether they actually provide better protection from an ankle sprain is being debated physiologically. It seems like the answer may be, "not so much." The low-cut models look a lot more like a cross between a running shoe and a hiking boot. So, where to start? Find
a well stocked outdoor specialty shop and a knowledgeable, patient salesperson
and try on lots of pairs as part of your selection process. There is a raging debate as to whether the old-school advice of, "the heavier the load, the heavier the boot you'll need," is actually valid. There is some truth to it, but you can get away with a much lighter boot than those that folks used to stomp around in in the 70s and 80s. Let's review some of the considerations with the general guidance of, "go with what works for you."
Full/Mid vs. Low-Cut Designs: From
a foot protection standpoint if you’re going to carry heavy loads, let’s say 40
pounds or more, a sturdier mid to high-cut (read “heavier”) boot will help provide some additional stability and support when schlepping those kinds of loads. I didn't realize how much they protect the ankles until I sustained some nice gashes due to too close of an encounter with a very jagged boulder when wearing a low-cut design. The jury is still out for me as to whether these afford more ankle-roll protection over a low-cut model. I'm leaning toward not thinking so... And, I've had my share of sports related ankle injuries.The low-cut models are much lighter, have nearly no break-in time required and generally make you feel like you can fly. If you can get your total load below 30 pounds, low-cut models work great. They will collect more debris while walking, which can be minimized by pairing them with some lightweight gaiters. When its all said and done, my preference for the Canyon is a mid to full-cut design that is as light as I can get, and that fits great. There's really just one reason for that choice... Avoiding bashed ankles.
Breathability: An extremely desirable feature that will help keep foot moisture
down. Unfortunately, it is inversely
proportional to boot weight. Heavier,
sturdier, high-cut designs will be hotter and trap more moisture. The lighter designs that incorporate mesh
panels are great at shedding moisture.
But, not so good at protecting the foot from an occasional cactus spine
poke. They also tend to allow the influx of fine dirt and sand, which can get your socks and feet filthy. Life’s full of trade-offs, right?
Waterproof Designs: Breathable waterproof
liners like Gore-Tex® are fine if you are looking for a
multipurpose boot that you plan to use in inclement weather on trips outside
the Canyon. For Canyon travel, they can
be hotter than companion models without the liner. Hotter = More Moisture (despite the
breathability claims). Since it tends to
be pretty dry in the Canyon you can easily get by without the liners. And, if it should rain and your boots get
soaked, well, the more meshy they are the faster they dry out, with or without the liner. In fact, you can easily walk them dry. A Gore-Tex® liner in a mesh design does however resolve the problem of dirt infiltration. I tend to pick a design with a liner, as I'm willing to trade cleaner for some extra moisture and heat.
Fit, Fit, Fit!: Much
like the mantras of "drink, drink, drink" and "eat, eat, eat," boots that don’t fit well will
become "hell, hell, hell" and the bane of your existence in the Canyon. You should not settle for footwear that does not feel great in the store. Be prepared for this being the most difficult and frustrating of your gear acquisition efforts. If it's not, and you've been gifted with "magic feet", consider yourself lucky. Here are some things to consider as you begin the quest:
them on with the socks (and sock liners if you use them) that you plan to hike in.
Torture Track Testing: Parade around the shop. Try them
going up, down and sideways on inclines.
Most good shops have ramps and rubble for you to use.
Spidey-Senses:Turn them on and try to ferret out the slightest of sensations
that might be considered uncomfortable (e.g., pressure points, toes hitting the
front of the boot when pointed downhill, seams that don’t feel quite right,
No Question is Dumb: Ask lots of questions!
Select a Pair: Pick the pair the fits best and meets your design criteria. If
nothing feels good. Head to a different
shop with other brands… Repeat.
Fit Fine-Tuning & Break-In: Once
you have purchased a pair, bring them home and wear them around the house. This way, if you have a problem with fit, you can return them and they're not in a condition that might prevent resale. Consider the following while doing so:
Continue evaluating the fit while wearing the socks you plan to hike in.
something’s off, try different weight sock and liner combinations and vary the
lacing in an effort to resolve the discomfort issue.
If different sock combinations are not effective in dialing in your fit, sometimes issues can be resolved by swapping
out the insole that came with the boot for one of the myriad of specialty insoles
or "footbeds" that are probably offered in the same specialty shops that sold you the
boots. Again, a knowledgeable sales
person can steer you in the right direction for an insole that might address
Note that heavier boots
require a break-in period, so you’ll need to use some judgment as to whether the
comfort issues you're experiencing might resolve themselves with additional
wear. Wearing them around the house for
a longer period of time may help answer that question.
is a lot easier with the lighter weight boots out there today, it's still a good idea to spend
some time wearing them before the trip just to be sure.
all feels good, take them for a spin on a local trail. See how they feel on repeated short hikes,
being sure to get some testing in on up-hills and down-hills. Continue being hyper-aware and isolate any
points of discomfort.
Sock and lacing
variations can be used in an effort to resolve them as can a different insole. Sometimes a strategically placed piece of
duct tape on the inside surface of the boot over a suspected contact point can
resolve the issue.
increase the duration of your hikes, keep looking for issues and working on
variations to resolve them. Hopefully,
by now things have settled down and your boots and feet have reached an
Agony of Da Feet: If
all of these efforts fail, take them back.
Most shops will accept them back for an exchange or refund if they have
not been worn outdoors… and even sometimes if they have. Find another design and/or shop and repeat
We can't make any. Footwear designs, feet and personal preferences vary so much that doing so is impossible. Go with what works for you, and don't be surprised if this is a highly iterative process.
The concept of layering clothing is just as important in the Grand Canyon backcountry as it is everywhere else in the outdoors. We'll cover each of the three main layers, with specific consideration given to clothing for the Canyon:.
Next-to-Skin/Base Layer: Also known in non-technical circles as "underwear." This is probably the most important layer as its primary purpose is to manage your next-to-skin temperature and moisture. It is particularly important while being active as it helps to keep you cool when it's warm and warm when it's cool.
Insulation Layer(s): These items are worn atop your base layer and each other based on prevailing conditions. These are the layers that are added or removed during the course of the day as conditions and activity levels change.
Protection Layer: This external layer is added as necessary to provide protection to your base and insulation layers from wind and/or rain. Both wind and rain can lead to uncontrolled cooling through convection. Keeping your base and insulating layers dry is critical to preventing hypothermia.
We'll start from the base layer and work our way out, providing recommendations as to what's required for the typical Canyon trip. We've colored coded each clothing item to provide guidance that will help keep your pack weight down. Green font denotes items that are required on every trip, regardless of the season. Blue font denotes additions that should be considered as conditions get colder.
Materials of Construction:
As a general rule of thumb, stick with wool or synthetics as the materials of choice for your backcountry clothing. The old adage that "Cotton Kills" is still relevant, even in the dry heat of the Canyon, as those conditions can change rapidly leading to the threat of hypothermia. We'll deal with one possible exception to this rule more specifically below.
Not so much a fashion consideration as one associated with temperature management... Lighter colors work better when worn in the direct sun. They tend to reflect more heat than their darker counterparts. This serves to keep you cooler when the temps are high.
Top: Seek out items made of Merino wool (e.g., SmartWool®), polypropylene (e.g., Lifa®) or polyester (e.g., Capilene®). One (1) SmartWool lightweight long-sleeve crew neck top is the only base layer item you'll need for a multi-day trip. You can be more aggressive on the grade (e.g., Capilene 3) if the temperatures will be on the cool side.
Bottom: Ditto on the materials of construction. Two (2) pairs of briefs in your favorite style. One pair is worn and the second is held in reserve. When colder temperatures need to be considered, one (1) pair of long bottoms, either in a weight matching your top or heavier depending on the expected conditions will suffice.
Socks: Merino wool is the way to go here. Match thickness to boot fit as described above. Two (2) pairs of SmartWool® hiking socks or the equivalent are required. Wear one and keep the second for rotation when the first pair becomes damp/wet.
Sock Liners: If you are a sock liner devotee, you'll need to pack two (2) pairs of liners. One to wear and the second for rotation. I believe that these add value in the form of additional moisture protection which serves to minimize the likelihood of getting hot-spots and blisters. Favorites are Bridgedale® CoolMax®.
Head Gear: Two considerations here... Sun protection and warmth. We haven't found a suitable double-duty solution here quite yet, so you'll need to plan for two pieces:
Sun Protection Hat: The best solution is a wide-brimmed hat that affords shade for the face and neck. This is critical even in cooler months as many parts of the Canyon offer little or no protection from the sun. My preference is, however, a baseball style cap with a built-in flap to protect the neck and ears. Alternatively, a ball-cap can be combined with a bandana to achieve the same effect.
Beanie (for warmth): The standard wool or synthetic beanie is great for taking the edge off of a cool night either around camp or while sleeping. A Mountain Hard Wear® Micro Dome® or Dome Perignon® are good examples.
Gloves: A consideration during cooler weather or if you're planning to be doing a lot of scrambling in rugged terrain. The appropriate level of warmth while maintaining a reasonable level of dexterity are the major considerations for the former, while abrasion resistance is the key for the latter.
Insulating Materials: Considerations for materials of construction are the same here as the
general ones discussed above. There is however one additional
consideration and that's insulating material. There really just two warranted focus here.
"Polar Fleece": Commonly referred to as just "fleece", it's a soft napped material made out of polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the same stuff as plastic soda bottles. "Napped" is the important feature of this material as the thickness and density of the nap can be used to deliver more or less insulating value. These thicknesses are sometimes given numbers from 100 to 400, indicating increasing thickness (e.g., Polartec 200®). Lighter grades, sometimes called "micro-fleece" are also now seen. Fleece retains some of its insulating value when wet and dries very quickly. It does not however provide much wind resistance. Wind tends to go right through it. So, some designs combine fleece with a wind blocking secondary material (e.g., WindStopper®, WindBloc®).
Down: Most commonly goose down... And, the grading is the same as described above for sleeping bags. Down garments marry synthetic outer materials to quilt or trap the insulating down into baffles which provide loft and insulating value. Compression of the down material results in the loss of insulating value as with sleeping bags.
Tops: Because these are layered on top of one another at least two pieces are included in the gear list for any given trip. The approach to selecting which pieces to bring is a mix and match exercise driven by expected weather conditions. We'll step through the options from lightest (for warmer temperatures) on up to heaviest (for colder trips).
Hiking Shirt: Nylon or similar synthetic. Pack one (1) long-sleeve hiking shirt. We don't recommend short-sleeved shirts for Canyon hiking as the long-sleeved designs offer superior sun protection and keep you cooler by trapping moisture next to the skin rather than just evaporating off immediately. Recommendations include: RailRider® Bone Flats® or Eco-Mesh® Shirts, or the Columbia® Titanium®. I always include a hiking shirt no matter what the weather conditions.
Micro-Fleece Zippered Shirt: A lightweight long-sleeved fleece pull-over insulating layer to be added to your list when weather conditions will be a little cool. Pack one (1). Recommendation: Mountain Hard Wear® MicroChill® Zip-T®. You can beef up the insulating value by selecting a 200 or 300 level fleece if conditions are expected to be cooler. Rather than doing this, however, I prefer to bring a down sweater.
Down Sweater: This is an item that I always bring just in case it becomes cold, windy, rainy or all three. These are very lightweight and provide an incredible amount of warmth for their weight. Recommendations: Mont-Bell® U.L. Down Jacket®, Patagonia® Down Sweater®, and Marmot® Zeus Down Jacket®. Ratchet it up a notch and go with a hooded model if it will be a bit cooler than what a jacket can handle alone.
Down Jacket/Parka: These are the more serious down insulating garments, which are much more substantial (i.e., bulkier) than their down sweater/light jacket counterparts. These would be the ticket when very cold conditions are expected. I've never had to go to this extent on trips in December through March yet.
Pants: Normally when traveling in the Canyon only pants are required over your base layer. Adding weight to the base layer typically provides the added warmth required without having to go the route of fleece pants or other such extreme measures. Nylon or other synthetic is the material of choice. They tend to be both durable and quick drying. There is some debate over pants vs. shorts when it's hot in the Canyon. Our advice is pants over shorts. The same cooling principles apply as with long-sleeved shirts and there is the additional protection that pants provide. On the occasions when I've tried shorts it was amazing how many more cuts and abrasions that I emerged with. And, while pants aren't totally impervious to cactus spines, they do fend them off to some extent. One (1) pair of hiking pants is all that you'll need. "Convertibles" are nice as the lower legs zip off converting them into shorts, should you want to do some of your own experimenting given the advice above. Otherwise, a good pair of hiking pants will do the trick. I prefer designs with plenty of pockets and they make it easier for you to keep an array of items at the ready when on the trail or in camp without having to dig through your pack. Over the years we have found brands/designs that are rugged and work very well and those that flat-out don't hold up to Canyon terrain. Recommendations: RailRider® brand are among some of the most durable pants that I've come across. Styles proven to work include: X-treme Adventure®, Versatac Light®, Versatac Ultra-Light® and Eco-Mesh®. Have also had consistent good results with Columbia® convertibles (e.g., GRT® and their standard convertible design). Pants to avoid (Unless you're OK with replacing them once a year) include: REI® Sahara® convertibles (rear pocket stitching wears out after about 3 trips), and North Face® Paramount® convertibles (fabric tends to stress tear and objects wear through the pockets in short order... As few as one or two trips).
Essentially these are outer shell garments designed to be wind and/or precipitation resistant. Again, we'll start with the lightest options and work our way up.
Wind Shirt: These can be über-light and provide just enough protection to take the edge off of a breeze that's just starting to create a chill. These are typically popped on on top of your base layer or hiking shirt. They'll afford reasonable protection from wind and a very light short duration rain. Recommendation: Montane® Aero Smock® (if you can find one), or the newer version, the Slipstream GL Smock®.
Soft Shell: These can be described as outer layers that are pleasant to wear, more breathable than a waterproof,
and more water and wind-resistant than a fleece.
But, they are a protection layer that doesn't have quite the same protection capabilities as a hard shell. As a result, I have found little use in bringing one along on Canyon trips. They go against the multi-purpose mantra of lightweight backpacking and as such, I'll bring a hard shell instead every time.
Hard Shell: This term, given the advent of "soft shells", has now evolved into the new name for a wind and waterproof outer layer. Some form of hard shell is a required item on all Canyon trips. If the weather promises to be cooperative and rain is a low probability, you can get away with an ultralight rain jacket such as the AntiGravity Gear® Ultralight Rain Jacket®. If rain is likely, a Marmot® Super Mica® jacket will do nicely under all but the most sustained of rainy conditions. Something more substantial might be warranted if the conditions are to be very cold and windy with rain or snow in the forecast.
Pants: Given the expected conditions during most Canyon trips, the primary if not the only type of protective pant that might be required would be a rain pant. The only conditions under which I'd bring a pair of these would be if the forecast called for prolonged, sustained precipitation. Our experience has been that nylon hiking pants do a reasonable job at shedding the type of light, intermittent rain generally encountered in the Canyon. However, if the forecast is grim, a pair of lightweight rain pants should do the trick.
In layman's terms... The method by which you get water from its container into your mouth. It used to be that you just carried around a number of bottles full of water and you just drank from them. Then there was the advent of water storage bladders (e.g., MSR® Dromedary®) and not too far behind that, hose contraptions that allowed you to drink from a bladder buried inside your pack (e.g., the CamelBak®). Voila, "Hydration Systems."
These offer some distinct advantages compared to lugging the old Nalgene® or Lexan® one liter bottles around. They are light. Do you realize that three empty one liter Lexan® bottles weigh about 1.2 pounds compared to an empty 3 liter Platypus® Hoser® rig coming in at about 3.9 ounces? That's significant when you're trying to reduce pack weight. Another advantage of these setups is that it makes taking a drink much less of a hassle. No need to stop and get out the bottle, you just pop the bite-valve into your mouth and drink. This tends to make staying hydrated less of a challenge, and that's a very good thing in the Canyon. An empty 2 liter bladder weighs about 1.3 ounces with a cap, making it very easy to bring along extras as a back-up or for extra water hauling capacity.
= 3.9 oz. VS. = 1.2 lbs. (and we're talking "empty")
The initial reservation you'll have when contemplating making the switch to a bladder-based hydration system is the concern about punctures and leakage. With a little care taken when seating the cap and in placing these into your pack (i.e., avoid putting them next to somethings that's going to wear a hole into them due to abrasion) you will not have any problems. I've been using them for at least 5 years and have had on one puncture issue, and that was due to another full bladder being dropped on top and its corner caused the damage.
One thing to watch out for with these rigs is inadvertently sitting your pack on top of the bite-valve. This will result in a siphon being created and loss of water. These issues can be resolved by including a shut-off valve and taking a little care when sitting your pack down.
Another user complaint with hydration systems is losing awareness as to how much volume you've consumed and what's left in the bladder. A nifty little flow-meter has been developed to help resolve this problem. The only issue it has is that the reset button is awfully easy to push when donning your pack again after a break.
There are a number of very good hydration systems out there. Those offered by CamelBak® are more bomber, but they also weigh more. And, since we've not experienced puncture and leakage problems with the lighter Platypus designs, we recommend them and the 3 Liter Platypus® Hoser® in particular. They also make 2 liter models but we like the extra capacity of the 3 liter... You can always just fill it less. You'll note too that many pack designs now offer a sleeve for hydration system bladders. These are a great feature as it provides added protection. Some pack designs indicate that the sleeve is set up to accommodate a 2 liter bladder. We've had no trouble getting a 3 liter bladder to fit in the few models that we've tried, but check your specific pack design out for yourself.