It started with a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon and grew from there. Last June, Logan and I started planning a 4 1/2 day river rafting trip with my sister Karen. We knew we were going to drive out there so we decided hey, why not visit some of the other places we have been wanting to see; we added Zion, Lake Powell, Arches National Park, and the Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon to our already fabulous trip plans. The appropriate gear for such a trip is incredibly important and I was so happy with the gear I used. I thought I would share with you my favorites and what worked and why for rafting and hiking.
I knew a couple of things for sure: it was going to be extremely hot, and I had to fit everything I needed, including food, into my backpack. My main concern was making sure I had quality gear for all of the hiking we were going to be doing. To kick off our rafting trip we were to hike 10 miles down Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch to meet with our rafting group. The trail was going to be the toughest one I have hiked to date so I wanted to be prepared physically as well as mentally. I knew the backpack I had would not be sufficient for such a trip, so I went shopping.
Choosing a Backpack
I tried on several backpacks and chose the Deuter ACT Trail Pro 38 SL for its style and comfortability. It’s a top loading 38L pack with a 2L hydration system, loops to hold my trekking poles and several smaller pockets to fill with snacks and my lip gloss : ) The lid has several zippered compartments which could hold everything that I needed for the hike down. It was amazing how many PB&Js I could shove in there and still have room for my other salty snacks and sunscreen.
I still have my collapsible bowl attached with a carabiner. That is one gadget I will always travel with and came in extremely handy for dumping cool water over my hot head and for bathing in the 50° Colorado River.
I cannot express enough how incredibly comfortable this pack was. I had it completely stuffed to a firm 35 lbs. and it sat perfectly on my hips and back so I never felt the weight as a burden at all during my hike.
Hydration was key on my list and I knew I wanted a system that would be accessible but also refreshing. While I was shopping for new hiking shoes I met a couple who had hiked from rim to rim a couple of years ago. They also made that trip in the middle of summer and it was the extreme heat and being unable to escape it that still sat fresh in their minds. I will never forget her description of what her water tasted like after hiking for several hours in the sun…hot sweaty feet tea. Ew.
I knew one thing for sure and that was cold drinking water would be imperative to my mental health, and to anyone around me who would have to deal with my hot drinking water crankiness. I knew I would need something refreshing to drink or I might start throwing rocks.
My pack is a 2L hydration system compatible which is what I wanted as I was afraid carrying 3L of water would be too heavy for a long hike that involved a 6000-foot descent. Finding a water bladder was easy; finding an insulated 2L water bladder was not. It took me a few months but I finally found one that fit perfectly in my Deuter and my Osprey Daylite pack which I used for the shorter day hikes and activities.
I LOVE my Camelbak insulated water bladder, I will never hike with any other kind. The hydration sleeve kept my water ice cold for 12 hrs in heat that was radiating upwards of 120°. The insulated sleeve will also keep your water from freezing when you are out enjoying your winter activities. It’s a win-win!
What I wish I would have packed is a better water bottle. I have a Grayl Ultralight bottle but I decided not to bring it rafting as I knew I would always have access to filtered water. Instead, I brought a basic plastic water bottle that was light and I wouldn’t care if I lost it on the river. I had it clipped to my pack so it was accessible to drink from and it was quicker to refill than my water bladder. I would drink that water first and use my water bladder as back up and for a refreshing sip. The downside was that it was clear plastic so the water in it would just simmer in the hot sun.
Time was of the essence to make the descent down Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch, and so was energy. A quick clip to refill a bottle helped, but the quality of my water bottle would have made it perfect. Next time I will bring my insulated Hydro Flask to keep the water cool and protected from the sun.
Boots or Trail Shoes?
Shoes. Always a conundrum when it comes to packing, comfortability, cuteness, and durability. The big question: trail shoes or hiking boots. After trying on many, many, many different kinds of shoes I chose the Salomon Speedcross 3 in a very pretty and bright teal blue.
Aren’t they pretty? And bright?
Why did I choose these over hiking boots? Good question! I wanted a multipurpose shoe that was going to be light, comfortable, supportive, a bad-ass on the trails and resilient in water. These shoes were the absolute best in every category. I broke them in hiking with my brother in Arizona:
Tom’s Thumb, AZ post-1350 feet of accumulated gain. It was amazing! 2016
There was zero rub or support issue wearing these incredibly light shoes (2lbs!) with traction and grip similar to cleats. I had complete confidence with steep inclines and 90° switchbacks during ascent and descent. The support! The Speedcross 3 has something called Sensifit system with Endofit sleeve which I have no idea what that really means, but they molded to my feet, did not slip and allowed amazing ground feel. The light anti-debris water-resistant mesh was super important to me as I would be wearing them in extremely hot conditions as well as rafting on the Colorado River. I needed breathability and quick drying capabilities and the Speedcross 3 delivered without hesitation.
I get asked a lot about ankle support which is normally a concern for me as I have notoriously weak ankles. In my experience, the steeper the trail, the sorer my ankles were later when I wore tall hiking boots. I felt movement was more constricted, and boots that claim to have ankle support do not necessarily prevent injury. The only way to prevent ankle injury is to strengthen and stretch your ankles as you condition.
A heavier hiking boot will tire your legs out quicker and make your steps clumsier. A lightweight trail shoe with support and grip will win every time. If you have ankles like mine then a simple wrap under your liner socks will do the trick.
Last but certainly not least was my Peak Design Capture Pro clip. I will never, ever go anywhere without my trusty Peak Design clip. For the entire trip, I had it clipped to the strap of my backpack and I used it to secure my Sony a7RII mirrorless camera. I forgot I had it on most of the time it was that comfortable.
Peak Design created this clever little aluminum and glass reinforced camera mount that you can easily clip onto your backpack strap or belt for quick access to your camera or GoPro. With one hand I can push the quick release button, take my shot and snap my camera back into the clip securely while barely breaking stride. It is the greatest invention for photographers and outdoor enthusiasts, and I refuse to leave home without it.
But wait..there’s more!
I will cover clothing and other tips and tricks for packing for a 2-week hiking, camping, and river rafting trip in the Southwest in my next post, but for now, I hope the favorites I discussed here will help you make your own gear decisions for your own fabulous adventure!
It was an absolutely incredible experience on the road, adventuring through the beautiful southwest meeting wonderful people and living in the moment. I have so many stories to share with you and I am looking forward to posting them all soon. I hope you enjoy this one…feel free to leave comments, I would love to hear your thoughts. Happy travels my friends!