Plan or Wish You Had - It’s all Downhill from Here… Maybe
The lure of the easy downhill and a lack of planning and preparation leads to hundreds of hiker-related medical emergencies and search and rescue operations in the Grand Canyon every year. Many of these are marked by severe illnesses, injuries and even death. Self-reliance, common sense and good choices are crucial to ensuring that your back-country travel is an unforgettable experience to remember rather than a back-country travail that you’d like to forget.
The decisions you make before and during your trip into the Canyon have life or death consequences. It all starts with you, because that’s who a fun and incident-free trip is up to. It is imperative to recognize that you are responsible for your own safety, as well as the safety of those in your party. It is perhaps even more important to understand that when you are irresponsible with your own safety, you are also putting those traveling with you at risk. When all members of the group have this same perspective, you are off to a good start.
A concept that proves useful to understand when planning a trip into the Canyon is that it's like climbing a mountain, but in reverse. Your trip is actually taking you into an inverted mountain, if you will. This is a key factor in the difficulty that many experience on these trips.
When climbing a mountain, the mountain itself helps weed out those who do not have the fitness level to reach its summit. Once a climber realizes that they don’t have what it takes, they can simply turn around and begin a descent with relative ease. At this turning point things immediately become easier for the climber. Or, should I say, “descender.” They don’t have the same aerobic challenges on the downhill, and as they descend, the air becomes easier for them to breathe.
On the flip-side, when a hiker enters the Grand Canyon, the relative ease of the descent serves to get the hiker further and further into a predicament that they cannot turn back from. At the end of that descent, they HAVE to climb back out. As they do that, their level of fitness, the fatigue from the hike in, and the ever increasing elevation with each step of the ascent, begin to work against them. Add to that the highly variable environmental conditions that can be experienced, and it can start to spell trouble very quickly. So as you peer over the Rim at that inviting Inner Canyon, just remember… What goes down must come up… Theoretically, that is.
But, not to worry… With some straightforward trip planning and preparation all of these challenges can be accommodated with relative ease and that unforgettable experience your seeking, created.
Rule Number One: Don’t overestimate your abilities or underestimate the demanding nature of foot travel in the Canyon. If you have health-related issues (e.g., a heart condition, asthma, diabetes, knee/back problems, etc.) your level of exertion and exposure to heat need to be considered and limited. The stresses of the Canyon environment can conspire to make all of these conditions worse. So, stay within your physical limitations and abilities, and plan accordingly.
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Where to Go: First timers should plan on taking one of the Corridor trails. The South Kaibab or Bright Angel are great choices. You can even do both and complete a loop. While these trails are not as remote as others, and the number of people around won't quite make it a "wilderness experience," the views are spectacular, you aren't likely to lose your way and should you need help, it won't be too far away. Visit the “Trips” page for more trip and trail ideas.
Whatever your choice of trails, you'll need to plan the details of your route. Work your way through the following considerations and your trip plan will start to emerge:
- Know your destination and how to get there:
- Remember that the trailhead is your first destination.
- Know where it is and how to get there.
- Will you use a personal vehicle or a shuttle?
- Will it be the same trailhead at which you will exit (i.e., you may need to plan for a separate vehicle or pickup at your exit trailhead).
- Consider road conditions for access to more remote trailheads.
- Get a good map of the Grand Canyon and locate your trails. See the Navigation page for help.
- Locate trail descriptions from the Trips page, guidebooks or other websites and match up the text descriptions with the terrain and landmarks on the map.
- Plan your route assessing distances to be traveled and create segments for each day of the trip.
- Know how much time each segment of the hike should take:
- Understand both mileage and elevation gain/loss.
- Consider the implications of ending your hike with a climb out that increases with difficulty due to fatigue and the increasing elevation at the Rim.
- Allow twice as much time for the hike out as the hike in.
- Anticipate that first time Canyon hikers average one mile (1.6 km) per hour hiking out.
- If route-finding is to be expected, add additional time for it.
- Consider the implications of the season that you will be hiking and its potential effect on your travel time (i.e., traveling in heat will slow you down considerably, perhaps requiring twice as long to cover the same distance as in cooler temps). See the When to Go section below.
- Know where to get water:
- Link the segments of your hike with known, dependable, perennial water sources. Preferably, end your day’s hike at a water source.
- For undependable, seasonal water sources, plan access to more dependable back-up water sources. When considering these, be sure that the route to backup sources is realistic (i.e., that it doesn't require a rappel down a 300 foot cliff face to reach it). The shortest distance between two points is rarely a straight line in the Canyon.
- Carry extra water when traveling to a seasonal source to ensure you have enough water to get you through the next segment of your hike, should the source be dry when your arrive.
- Visit the Water page for a listing of perennial and seasonal water sources.
- Plan your water cache, if applicable:
- A water cache is simply a place where you will drop off water for use on the return trip. Why schlep it, right?
- Find a suitable location in close proximity to a memorable landmark and stash the water there for pick-up on the way out. Be sure to take a good look at the site as you'll be facing it on the return trip and add all helpful landmarks to your memory banks. Make sure a couple of others in your group do the same thing. It's amazing how different things look a couple of days later, and it's good to have a few people looking to spot the cache site.
- Cache an amount of water sufficient to camp, if that’s the plan, as well as to get you to your next destination or water source.
- See the Water page for more details on caching.
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- Make copies of the map sections and trail descriptions you'll need:
- They’re lighter than lugging a stack of 7.5' topos and the whole guidebook along with you.
- But, don't be too miserly with the maps. Include enough of the surrounding terrain so that you can pick out useful landmarks. The vistas are huge and the formations are spectacular. No matter how much map you bring, there always seems to be a butte or temple that you want to know the name of that's just off the map.
- Plan on making a set of these maps and trail descriptions for each member of the team to carry for ready reference.
- If you have a GPS, upload your route into it.
When to Go: Perhaps a more important question is, when NOT to go? Don't be fooled by the fact that the Grand Canyon is located in Arizona. The Grand Canyon sees all four seasons. Consider too that five of the seven “life zones” are represented here. This means that as you depart the 7,000 to 8,000 foot elevation of the Rim you will be traveling through a Canadian or Hudsonian Life Zone, the equivalent of being in a far northern fir or spruce forest. By the time you reach the Colorado River, you will have passed through three other distinct life zones and find yourself in a fifth, the Lower Sonoran. The equivalent of ending up in a desert in Mexico. In passing through these five zones you will also experience the seasonal conditions associated with each. It is not unusual to begin in snow and ice and end in weather conducive to shorts and a t-shirt. On top of all that, you'll experience it in the span of several hours. Here are some things to expect based on the seasons:
- Summer (May through September):
- Arizona Route 67, the access road to the North Rim, does not open until mid-May. Be prepared for possible winter driving conditions at both the North and South Rims in May.
- Avoid June through September. The intense heat of the Inner Canyon can make for a not-so-fun experience. The heat can also be deadly. Probably not the best time for first-timers to be exploring the Canyon.
- Inner Canyon temperatures during the summer commonly exceed 105°F (41°C), and can get to 115°F (46°C) in the shade. Temperatures under direct sun are typically 15-20°F (9-11°C) hotter.
- Expect temperatures in the Inner Canyon to be 20-30°F (12-17°C) higher than at the Rim. But, this is true anytime of the year.
- Be prepared for heat in May. You may catch a break but it’s not certain.
- Likewise, you can catch a break in September and it may be a bit cooler, but don’t plan on it.
- Expect “monsoons” during July and August (if you choose to ignore our warning).
- These are typically late afternoon thunderstorm drenchings that last an hour or two then clear up.
- They are also the primary culprit behind flash-flooding. Take care when traveling through washes and canyon bottoms during these months, be watchful for near and distant storms, and never camp there.
- Prepare for the possibility of snow at the Rim in September.
- Winter (December through March):
- Expect winter driving conditions.
- The North Rim will close after the first significant snowfall. Usually mid-October. It does not reopen until mid-May. "Closed" means gated and locked just north of Jacob Lake.
- Temperatures in the single digits and below zero (F.) are common at the Rim.
- Expect snow and ice to be covering the upper sections of trails near the Rims. Snowfall is typically between 50 and 100 inches each year. Bring instep crampons.
- Snow at the Rim can mean rain in the Inner Canyon at the River.
- The potential for hypothermia is real and needs to considered during gear selection.
- Expect cool days in the Inner Canyon and chilly nights.
- Should an emergency situation arise, expect a longer wait for assistance as Park staff is reduced during the winter months and their safety dictates additional precautions requiring more time.
- Spring (March/April) & Fall (October/November):
- Be prepared for the possibility of winter driving conditions at the Rims.
- The Rt. 67 access road to the North Rim will be closed following the first significant snowfall, usually mid-October: and it will remain closed until mid-May. "Closed" means gated and locked just north of Jacob Lake.
- Access to some North Rim trailheads is possible prior to the opening of the Rt.67 access road via Forest Roads, depending on how much snowfall was received during the winter, blow-downs crossing the road, etc.
- Access to remote South Rim trailheads may be limited by snow and/or mud.
- Prepare for snow and ice on the upper sections of trails near the Rim during these times. Bring instep crampons.
- Expect cool to cold temperatures at the rim and mild temperatures in the Inner Canyon.
Checkout the Weather page for more specific Canyon weather-related information.
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Who’s Going: Solo Grand Canyon hikers experience a higher incidence of fatalities than hikers in groups for obvious reasons. There’s nothing wrong with a solo trip into the Canyon for experienced hikers, but it’s imperative to plan accordingly. The level of risk is directly proportional to the remoteness of the area to be traveled. Don’t hike alone if you are less experienced, or if your hike will take you into the more remote regions of the Park. Here are some considerations for assembling your team.
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- While Backcountry Permits are issued to “groups,” it is probably better to think of your group as a “team.” It sets the expectation that you will all be working together and sharing the responsibility for the success of the trip equally.
- Plan on a minimum team size of 3. If one team member is injured, this allows for one person to stay with them while the third member hikes out for help.
- Ideally, one team member should be experienced in Canyon travel. Otherwise, plan on making your first few trips using Corridor and Threshold trails. These more highly trafficked areas increase the likelihood that assistance will be available if needed.
- Be extremely cautious about having folks join your team who have no previous backpacking experience. The Grand Canyon is not the place to figure out if you like backpacking or not.
- A key responsibility for the more experienced team members is to be watchful over those with less experience. It is extremely important to spot issues that might be developing before they become a more serious problem. Inexperienced hikers may not realize there are issues until it’s too late. The issues run the gamut from simple boot problems, poor pack fit, taking proper advantage of breaks and eating enough on the trail to the onset of more serious problems like dehydration, heat exhaustion and hypothermia.
- All for one and one for all.
Personal Training: Get in shape for the Canyon trip. This website isn't intended to provide a program on how to get into shape. Opinions on that are varied. Check out the training regimen offered on this site: RMIGuides.com. The old adage that the best way to get in shape for hiking and backpacking is to hike and backpack, is true. Nothing seems to work the muscles in the same way as donning those boots, shouldering a pack and getting out there… Just do it before "GC-Day." Here are some things to keep in mind as you set out to train:
- Physical Conditioning:
- The distances to be traveled with the weight you will be carrying.
- The elevation gains and losses you will experience.
- Environmental conditions – Particularly heat if you can.
- Good physical conditioning is only half the battle
- Psychological Conditioning: It may be that we come pre-wired as “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” people, but a positive and adaptable mental attitude is other half of the battle. You might be in great physical condition, but if a poor mental outlook knocks you off your game at the first sign of adversity, you're in for a rough trip. These tips might help preserve that attitude:
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- Bite-sized pieces: A complete trip is nothing more than a series of smaller destinations that are strung together. Eat the elephant one landmark at a time.
- Focus on how far you’ve come, rather than on how far you have yet to go. The vistas and depth of the Canyon make an extremely strong and uplifting impressions when you look back at the terrain covered and see the progress you've made.
- “Polepole” (pronounced pole-ay-pole-ay): Swahili for“slowly slowly.” The best advice for traveling up and out of the Canyon. There is nothing that preserves your mental attitude better than not being out of breath and over-heated. A slow pace helps you acclimatize to the elevation and minimizes the build-up of metabolic waste products that create muscle fatigue.
- Stop and smell the cacti: The idea here is to get into the“moment.”
- Enjoy, no, let's say, "revel in," your immediate surroundings.
- Look at those grand vistas, but also take a closer look at the wildflowers, insects and lizards. Things are Grand at the macro level for sure, but the complexity of the environment is also magnificent at the micro level.
- Stop when the impulse strikes you. Pull out the camera and take some photos… Or, just take it all in.
- Get close to the geology of the place and let your mind time-travel.
- Some adversity, problems to solve and a bit of pain are part of the adventure. These are the things that make for a good story and have the staying power for reminiscing much later on.
Gear Considerations: Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst... And, go light my friend, go light. The movement toward ultra-light backpacking should be welcomed with open arms for those venturing into the Canyon. Less is truly more, when backcountry travelers find themselves having to heft additional water for a cache or to just ensure their safe arrival at Point B. Gear is covered in great detail on the “Gear” page, but here are some basic considerations to keep in mind when selecting gear for the trip:
- Go Lightweight:
- The Olden Rule: Pack weight should not exceed 30% of your body weight... That means if you weigh 150 lbs. your maximum pack weight should be just shy of 50 lbs. Weigh in at 200 lbs., and that will be nearly 67 lbs. Imagine that on the downhill run for 10 miles and a 5,000’ elevation drop! Yikes! Your gear selection and planning should not be done with a 30% of body weight load target in mind. That is simply way too high for a typical Canyon trip lasting a week or less. 40 lbs. is a much more reasonable max and that would include water for a typical cache.
- Remember the “old school” heavy backpacking/mountaineering boots that were a must-have to carry those "olden rule" loads? OK, so maybe you don’t, but if you do, and still ascribe to that credo, ditch them and reduce your pack weight. They (and I have no idea who "they" are) 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? It is 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 if you can get rid of an extra 3 lbs. on your feet?
- Planning and gear selection can significantly reduce the overall weight you have to carry.
- Engage the concept of double-duty thinking. This means bringing pieces of gear that serve multiple purposes. It’s the trekking pole that gets used as a tent pole at night and then to dig that cat-hole you might need the next morning. Why bring an outer clothing layer and a piece of rain gear if we could instead bring one piece that serves both purposes? Extend that concept to every piece of gear you plan to put into your pack and weight starts to melt away.
- Boots– A few more comments:
- They MUST be well-fitting... And, break them in before the trip.
- Break-in is a lot easier with the lighter weight boots out there today, but spend some time using them before the trip anyway just to be sure.
- If you have ankle issues, fear not, I’ve got those problems and mid or full-cut lighter weight boots have worked fine. I just try to find the sturdier designs in the options available.
- Clothing: Remember all those "life zones" you will be traveling through? Each one is unique and your clothing needs to be up to the task of getting you through them. You will need to plan on dealing with wind, wetness and cold. Selection depends on the time of the year, but odds are you won’t need the stuff you were wearing at the Rim by the time you get to the River. Plan your clothing so you bring only what you will actually need. Synthetics and wool are preferred, although cotton has its place in the summer. Clothing should work in layers and do double- duty where possible. If putting on everything you brought works to get you through an unexpectedly cold night, then you’ve planned properly. There are more details on the Gear page, but here are a few notable mentions specific to Canyon travel:
- Socks & Liner Socks:
- Synthetic or Wool… Never Cotton! Not even in the summer!
- The Goal: Keep your feet as dry as possible. Wool and synthetics tend to wick moisture away from the foot… to a point. Moisture ends up creating friction on the places on your foot where boot fit is loose, space is inadequate, or construction of the inside of the boot just doesn't agree with the physical dimensions of your foot. The friction can lead to “hot spots,” and hot spots can lead to blisters.
- Adjust sock weight to your personal preference based on the fit of your boots. A bit heavier sock helps if lighter boots soles are less rigid. I’ve found mid-weight socks to work well for me in general, but I also wear a liner sock.
- Liner Socks (Synthetic). These are very thin socks that form a base layer between your foot and the hiking sock. There’s a lot of debate as to whether these are of any value or not, but I swear by them. I believe that they serve to help wick moisture away from the foot and create a buffer zone between the hiking sock which accumulates moisture and the foot. The result is that they reduce the rubbing that occurs from wet sock friction on the main contact point of the feet (i.e., toes, ball of foot and heel).
- Always have a dry pair of socks and liners to change into if need dictates.
- Hat: Wide-brimmed or “Foreign Legion” style ball-cap with a cloth back-flap to cover the neck.
- Long-Sleeve Shirt: Seems counter-intuitive given the heat and all, but keeping the sun off your arms actually helps to keep you cooler. Go with quick-dry nylon. I never bring short-sleeved shirts.
- Convertible Pants: Same logic here as for the shirt. It is nice though to have the option to zip off the legs for an instant pair of shorts. When it comes to wearing pants in the Canyon, it's not so much about the sun… With all the cacti, agave, yucca and other spiny plants that you will encounter, your lower legs will take a beating if left uncovered.
- Short/Ankle Gaiters: These will help minimize foot issues arising from pebbles and other debris that might find their way into your boots. It’s preferable if these are not waterproof as it will help minimize moisture retention in your boots and socks.
- Sunscreen: Your favorite brand, 30 SPF or greater. Apply liberally to neck, ears, nose, face, backs of hands and (despite my feeling that this list was fairly comprehensive, and in case we have any Colin Fletcher wanna-be's out there) any other exposed skin that there might be.
- Lip Balm: Use an SPF-rated brand, and do so frequently. Applications don’t seem to last long in this environment.
- Sunglasses: Polarized with 100% UV protection. A model with full eye coverage is preferred. Equip them with an eyewear retainer (e.g., Croakies®) to help make them accessible and prevent loss.
- Trekking Poles: Get a pair. They take a lot of strain off the knees going downhill and are great to push off of on the way back up. A pair with length adjustment come in handy, as you will want them a bit longer going down and shorter coming backup. Ski poles will do the trick as well.
- An internal frame is preferred as it keeps the load closer to the body. This comes in handy when navigating ledges and overhangs where you want to minimize the potential for your pack to catch on something and throw you off-balance… Not good.
- Volume: A pack sized in the 3,050–3,660 in.3 (50–60 liter) range is plenty for trips a week or less in duration.
- If you have to buy a pack for the trip, don’t fail to consider the weight of the pack empty. That difference from model to model is not insignificant. Taking that into account can easily save you a pound or more that you’d otherwise have to carry.
- To Tent or Not-to-Tent?
- A tent is preferable for the added warmth it provides during the winter months. Otherwise, and if the threat of visitation by creepy-crawlies whilst trying to sleep is not a deterrent, plan to sleep under the stars. Truth be told, those visitations are relatively rare, and nothing beats looking up from your sleeping bag at a gazillion stars and the Milky Way... Not to mention ditching the weight of that tent.
- All you need is a ground cloth to put between your sleeping pad and Mother Earth. A 5’x8’ piece of Tyvek® building wrap is a great lightweight option.
- You will still need to be prepared for rain, but a light tarp (or even a poncho-tarp -- doing double duty as a tarp and your rain gear) will fit that bill.
- Sleeping Bag:
- Keep weight in mind. Your bag is potentially one of the heavier pieces of gear you will be carrying.
- Down is a great choice for the Canyon. Not much worry about it getting wet… Usually. A summer-rated (40-45° F.) down bag can weigh in at a pound or less.
- Plan on a bag rated for the worst case temps expected. Remember also that temperatures can differ by 30° F. between the Rim and the River. Temperature drops at night can also be significant.
- Consider other lighter weight options: sleeping quilt, sleeping bag liner, a sheet or blanket… season permitting.
- Headlamp: A critical piece of gear when you consider that during the hotter months, travel will likely begin before it starts to get light and end as darkness is falling.
- Water Treatment System:
- You CANNOT afford to be unable to treat water when traveling in the Canyon. Testing of all perennial water sources (other than water piped into Corridor campgrounds) has determined that treatment is necessary. I will leave it at that. One can ill afford a case of diarrhea when fighting a battle to stay hydrated.
- You must carry two methods to treat water. Whether it is a tablet, liquid, filter-based or other system. You will need to have a primary and a second emergency backup (e.g., if a filter is your primary water treatment method, carry Potable Aqua® or Aquamira® for use in the event that your filter malfunctions. Or, bring 2 bottles of Potable Aqua in case one breaks or gets soaked).
- Calculate how much water you are going to have to treat during your trip, double it and ensure you can cover the need given the treatment system you’re carrying, independent of your backup treatment system.
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- Hydration System: A fancy way of saying how you get water from its container into another container… You. Here’s what works best for us:
- Carry a 2-3 liter bladder (e.g., Platypus®, Evernew®,Camelback®, Nalgene®) that is connected to a hose/bite-valve setup (e.g., Platypus Hoser® rig). These weigh a fraction of the weight of HDPE or Lexan® one liter bottles.
- Supplement this bladder with a couple additional 2 liter bladders (more if your itinerary requires it). Bladders are extremely lightweight. Bring an extra as a backup in case one is damaged.
- The easier it is for you to drink (i.e., sucking on a hose rather than getting a water bottle out of your pack, or from its holster on your hip-belt, or having to stop to fill up the pint bottle you just emptied), the more likely you are to drink and the more frequently you will drink. The likelihood that you will drink and the frequency in which you drink are the two most critical factors to staying hydrated in the Grand Canyon.
- I have used the same bladder for over 5 years without issue:
- Make sure the caps are on tight.
- If you are using a hose/bite-valve rig, make sure that the connector is properly seated on the bladder opening and tightened to prevent leakage.
- Bring an extra cap in case one gets eaten by the River or lost.
- Don’t leave your hose/bite-valve dangling loose during overnight storage. Tuck the end into a pack pocket. I have had critters chew through 3 bite-valves and one hose. Apparently, the rig helps keep them hydrated as well.
- If a hole does develop, duct tape makes for a suitable repair, provided the hole is not too large. Just make sure the surface is completely dry prior to application.
- Instep Crampons: Invaluable when the upper portions of the trails coming off the Rims are covered with snow or ice. Bring them with you. Check out the situation at the trailhead then either use them, bring them with you, or leave them in the trailhead vehicle (assuming that’s an option).
Food & Water: No food, no fuel, no fun – No water, no way, no how. Drink frequently! Eat often! (Exclamation points not to be ignored or taken lightly).
- Food: Your main source of energy and electrolytes… Duh. Unfortunately, it’s the “Duh” that a lot of folks don’t do.
- Plan to eat about twice as much as you normally would.
- Plan your menu to include: breakfast, snacks, lunch, snacks, dinner and snacks. Eat before, during and after hiking. Get it?
- When hiking in heat, keeping cool requires a lot of energy (i.e., food). Heat will have a tendency to decrease your appetite. Force yourself to eat something frequently. Always be nibbling (Eat something, it doesn't have to be much, at least every ½ hour).
- Eat before you are hungry.
- Your trip into the Canyon is not the time to start a diet.
- Foods to bring:
- Try to balance food items:
- Complex carbohydrates
- Salty snack items
- Avoid foods high in fats and protein. These take longer to digest and can lead to an unsettled stomach in the heat.
- Visit the Food page for more details.
- Balance food intake with consumption of fluids. When fluid consumption is out of balance with the intake of food, it can lead to a dangerous condition called hyponatremia, or water intoxication. This is a situation where the volume of water in the body, combined with the loss of electrolytes through sweating, reduces the overall concentration of electrolytes to a point where they become ineffective in performing required cellular operations.
- The message: Eat well, hike well.
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- Water: The vital fluid. This will become a focal point of your life within the Canyon like nowhere else. "Preserve your precious bodily fluids Mandrake!" Be cognizant of the following:
- Your planning has already helped you determine where you will be getting water during the course of your trip.
- Next determine the amount of water to be carried. This includes the amount to be consumed and any amount planned for a cache:
- Plan on consuming 0.5 – 1 quart (liter) of water or a water/electrolyte mix every hour you are walking in the heat.
- This would be at least 4 quarts (liters) for every 8 hours when hiking in the heat, but this is a minimum. You may find that personally you need more to stay feeling good.
- The Miles per Gallon Method -- How far will a gallon of water take you in the Canyon?
- In high heat conditions - Plan on 4 mpg.
- In cooler temps - 10 mpg is reasonable.
- If you are planning to cache water:
- Determine the amount required in-camp if you plan to overnight at the cache site.
- Determine the amount required to get you out or to the next water source.
- Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink:
- For every hour in the Canyon you should drink ½ to 1 quart (liter) of water or a water/electrolyte mix.
- If you are thirsty, you are already dehydrated.
- Fluid/electrolyte loss can exceed 2 quarts per hour if hiking uphill in direct sunlight at the hottest time of the day.
- Low humidity causes sweat to evaporate quickly making your loss of fluids imperceptible.
- Mild dehydration makes your body 10 – 20% less efficient in cooling and functioning in general.
- Dehydration increases fatigue, decreases motivation and impairs judgment.
- Dehydration will lead to heat exhaustion followed by heat stroke, if left unattended.
- Urine – A great monitor for your state of hydration:
- A healthy, hydrated adult typically urinates every 2 hours, producing a volume of 1 to 2 ounces.
- Under normal conditions, urine should be clear to slightly yellow in color.
- If your urine is yellow or darker yellow and/or has a strong odor, it is a sign of dehydration and an indicator that you are not taking in adequate amounts of fluids.
- Increase the frequency and volume of fluid being consumed.
- Vitamins and certain foods can darken urine and produce odors; however, the onset of dehydration is something that your body will mostly likely signal to you in the form of fatigue and a general sense of not feeling well.
- If urination is more frequent than once every couple of hours, it could be a sign of over-hydration. If this begins to happen, be sure you are eating plenty of food to avoid developing hyponatremia.
- Drink Mixes:
- Electrolyte drink mixes (e.g., Gookinaid®, Gatorade®, Clif Shot®, and Nuun®) - Bring enough so every second or third refill of your hydration system can be an electrolyte drink mix while you're on the move.
- Bring other powdered drink mixes (e.g., Crystal Light®, iced tea, coffee, hot chocolate, soup broths):
- These come in a variety of single-use packages and are a nice treat as they reduce the monotony of drinking plain water and the electrolyte mix alone.
- In some cases they can improve upon the taste of water obtained from sources with high mineral content.
- Any tricks to encourage consumption of fluids are good.
- Visit the Water page for more details.
Your Trailhead Vehicle(s): Some thought needs to be given to the method of transportation that will get you to the trailhead and then out again at the end of the trip. Consider the following:
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- How many vehicles will you need to get the team and all their gear to the trailhead?
- Can you take advantage of the Park’s shuttle bus system, use other shuttle service providers, or will you need to use your own vehicles (perhaps rentals)? See the “Transportation and Shuttles” links page for more details.
- Consider the season… If you get in and it snows too heavily to get out, what’s your plan?
- If it’s your personal vehicle or a rental, will it get you to the trailhead (i.e., 4WD, with decent ground clearance is required for the roads heading into the more remote trailheads) and back out again?
- Is your trailhead vehicle(s) in good condition?
- Plan on the following when bringing your own vehicle(s):
- Full tank of gas, or as close as you can get to it.
- Toolbox - Minor repairs
- Duct tape - Minor repairs to leaking (or gnawed) hoses
- Jumper cables - In case of a dead battery
- Tow strap - In case you end up too off-road
- Come-along - In case you need the assistance of a winch
- Shovel– So you can dig it.
- Axe– To address blow-downs across the road
- Bow Saw/Chainsaw (and gas mix) – To address bigger blow-downs
- Extra water
- Extra food
- Change of clothes
- Cooler packed with celebratory beverages (they may not be “cold” by the time you get back to the vehicle, but they will be welcomed).
- Will you be coming out to the same trailhead that you went in from? If not, you will need to plan for an exit vehicle and a trip back in to the starting trailhead to retrieve the drop-off vehicle at the end of the hike.
- Vehicle Keys:
- Who will have them?
- Where will they be carried to prevent loss?
- Consider making a couple of extra keys. No need to carry a jailor’s keychain when a single key will do it.
Just before you Head Out (Almost a "Go"…)
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- Personal Details:
- Toenails- Trim them several days prior to the trip. It will help prevent long nails from hitting the inside front of your boot and/or cutting into other toes. Trimming a few days prior allows for healing should you be too aggressive in your trimming.
- Haircut– Less weight to carry… Just kidding.
- Get the Seven-Day Weather Forecast: Use the details to make gear adjustments (e.g., No snow/rain predicted then ditch the tent for a lighter tarp. Going to be warm? If so, go with the lighter sleeping bag). Visit the Weather page for forecast information.
- Drink 3-4 quarts of fluids the evening before the trip starts. [Our research (not published in JAMA or anything) has determined that it is best if no more than a quarter of this volume contain alcohol. We do however encourage you to conduct and report on the results of your own studies.]
- Drink 1 quart of fluids during the hour leading up to your trailhead departure.
- Very Last Minute:
- Resist the temptation to drive your vehicle down the trail, or take your mountain bike off its rack. No motorized or wheeled vehicles are allowed on the trails. This probably includes rolling beer coolers.
- Stow your handguns, rifles, assault weapons, grenade launchers, light machine guns, bows & arrows, and other firearms in your vehicle. They are not allowed in the backcountry.
- Drop Fido and Tabby off at the kennel. No dogs or other non-Homo sapiens pets allowed.
- Look over your assembled team… Revisit the “Who’s Going” section above.
- Attach your Backcountry Permit to your pack.
- Hit it.