September 11, 2016

Gear Guide: 8 Backpacking Essentials for the Walter Powell Route of the Grand Canyon

Writer Brendan Leonard lays out the must-have gear for backpacking one of the Grand Canyon's most elusive trails.

We needed pretty minimal gear for a three-day backpacking trip in moderate March temperatures in the Grand Canyon—one day down, one day to hang out at the bottom, and a half-day to climb back out. We packed lightly so we didn’t have to haul a bunch of weight back up the route.

List of Hiking Essentials for the Walter Powell Route

JetBoil camp stove

1) Camp Stove: Jetboil Flash Cooking System

For such a short trip, we all decided to pack our own food, so I brought a Jetboil to act as my stove, cooking pot, bowl, and coffee mug. I’ve had mine since 2007, and it still works fine (if you don’t count the push-button igniter going out a long time ago, which is not a huge problem unless you forget to pack a lighter).

Outdoor Research Bivvy

2) Bivy Sack: Outdoor Research Alpine Bivy

I didn’t take a tent (there was almost no rain in the forecast), but I wanted to have a waterproof bivy sack as insurance in case things changed. This is my standard 2-pound insurance policy.

MSR Dromedary Bag

3) Water Transportation: MSR Dromedary Bag – 4 liter

We camped about a half-mile from the Colorado River, and it’s not suggested to get drinking water from the Little Colorado River (even if you filter it), so it’s nice to have something to carry extra water. The dromedary is a big, tough bag that holds your water, and it shrinks as you use water (something your water bottles don’t do).

water filter

4) Water Filter: Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System – 4 Liter

I was skeptical of the GravityWorks system before this trip, but Ace was able to filter silty Colorado River water on day 2, saving our bacon—I had brought what I thought was way more than enough water, but it would have been a stretch to get out of the canyon with what I had. Instead, we were able to top off all our bottles by filtering the river water (which often clogs even the hardiest filter systems).

puffy jacket

5) Puffy Jacket: Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody

I take this jacket everywhere, for insulation in the evenings and cold mornings, and for a pillow through the night. It’s nothing fancy, just a solid down sweater with a hood that weighs less than a pound and compresses down to almost nothing in the bottom of my pack.

voodoo pants

6) Pants: Outdoor Research Voodoo Pants

I love these pants because they’re basically soft-shell jeans—they don’t look like “hiking pants,” and they work for everything, from rock climbing to hiking to bike touring. They hold up to rough treatment, especially the kind of three-dimensional trekking we did on this trip—lots of climbing, butt-sliding, and general abuse.

foray rain jacket

7) Waterproof Shell: Outdoor Research Foray Rain Jacket

This is my “it’s probably not going to rain, but just in case it does rain” jacket, a super-light, super-compressible layer that I move from my bike commuting bag to my climbing pack to my backpacking pack (for desert trips). It weighs just over 15 ounces, so there’s really no excuse to not carry it when I go out.

hiking shoes

8) Hiking Shoes

As with most of the items suggested above, hiking shoes in the Grand Canyon have to be dynamic. Just because the forecast doesn’t call for rain doesn’t mean you won’t get wet. Creek crossings, mud, and surprise showers are all a possibility. Waterproof, breathable shoes like GORE-TEX® Footwear with GORE-TEX® SURROUND® Product Technology would be a great option for anyone hiking through the Grand Canyon.

A word of caution: Just because our water filter worked doesn’t mean every water filter will work at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Depending on recent rains, the Colorado River can be so silty that it will clog your filter (as I’ve seen it do on a river trip). If you’re doing this trip, I’d recommend shortening it to two days and planning on hauling all your water down with you.

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