You are headed to the Grand Canyon, one of country’s most dazzling national parks where you will catch amazing views of the canyon’s rim as its plunges 1-mile down to the Colorado River. Make the most of your vacation by hiking on red-dirt trails, exploring historic landmarks and learning about the area at the park’s ranger programs and interpretive centers. But how do you pack for the desert climate? Here are the top 22 items to bring along with you.
1. Refillable Water Bottles or a Hydration System
Grand Canyon National Park does not sell bottled water, but it does have a number of water filling stations. Be sure to bring refillable water bottles or a hydration system with you.
Desert air is so dry that your sweat quickly evaporates. Often, you won’t know you are sweating. Drinking water ensures you won’t get dehydrated, which can lead to headaches and more serious conditions like heat cramps and heat stroke. Plan to drink .5 -1 liter per hour of hiking. Even when you are not recreating, be sure to keep drinking. If your urine is clear, you are hydrated. We love bringing along our CamelBak, which allows us to keep sipping even as we are on the move.
Read more: Why Reusable Water Bottles Are Important
2. A Large Water Jug
If you plan on camping, we advise investing in a large water jug that you can fill with your garden hose before you pack the car and point your tires toward Arizona. Having the jug enables you to bring water with you every where you go, so if you end up at a campsite without water, you can still hydrate, cook and make coffee in the morning. Often, campsites will have a water pump, so you can refill when you need to.
3. Blacklight Flashlight to See Scorpions
While scorpions hide in the day, they come out at night. Spot them easily with your black light, which actually makes these strange creatures glow in its light. Only one of the Southwest’s scorpion species is considered life-threatening, so don’t spend too much time worrying about them.
If you enjoy biking, bring along your bike. Grand Canyon’s south rim has a network of off-street bike paths and traffic-restricted roads that connects Hermits Rest to Yak Point, making for great rides around the rim of the canyon. From the Grand Canyon Visitor Center to Hermit’s Rest is 10.5 miles one way; from the center to Yaki Point is just 3.5 miles one way. You also can leave your bike at home and rent from Bright Angel Bicycles at bikegrandcanyon.com.
5. Binoculars to Watch Condors
Catch sight of the park’s condors or faraway natural rock formations with binoculars. It’s worth talking to your local camp store employee about the different types of binoculars for sale as not all are created equal. You don’t want to end up with an extraordinarily weak pair, nor a pair too heavy to hike with. The Nikon Monarch series offers some great features.
6. Water Mister or Bandana
Keep cool with a portable mister that can make climbing back up Bright Angel or Kaibab trail feel a lot more manageable. Otherwise bring a buff or bandana.
7. Put the Park’s Cellphone Tour in Your Phone Contact List
It’s 928-225-2907. When you get to the park, look for “Park Ranger Audio Tour” signs, call the number and enter the stop number. A Park ranger will give a two-minute narration on everything from geology to Native American history to the night sky.
8. Download the Road Trip App on Your Phone
If you are headed from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon or traveling along the South Rim, download the GyPSy Guide app before you leave home. The app uses your device’s location to play commentary about roadside attractions as you drive.
9. A Star Chart or Star App
You’ll find some of the darkest skies in the Grand Canyon. With a star chart, you’ll be able to identify some of the formations you may never have seen before, especially if you are coming from an urban environment. Or download the SkyView® Free app for iPhone or Android, which enables you to identify stars and so on by pointing your device at them. You may be able to see up to 15,000 stars in the desert in comparison to 500 in an urban sky. It’s far out!
10. Warm and Cold Clothing Layers
The Arizona desert temperatures can fluctuate 30-40 degrees in one day, so be sure to pack light layers for daytime and others that will keep you warm in the evenings, including a winter hat, when the sun sets and cooler air moves in. At the top of the rim, average summer temps can be in the 80s F during the day and drop to the 50s at night. However, temperatures by the river at the bottom of the canyon can exceed 100F and even reaching 120F. Be prepared with the right equipment and by being extremely well-hydrated.
11. Sturdy Water Shoes
If you plan on rafting the Colorado River or boating at Lake Powell, you will want a good pair of water shoes since Arizona’s red desert dirt can be really sticky. Flip-flops are not recommended for water activities as they will get stuck in the mud and either break or get swallowed down river. A covered rubber-toed shoe can also help you avoid getting desert cactus needles stuck in your toes.
Not sure what a water shoe is? Here's a great selection of everything from socks to sandals and shoes made for the water at www.rei.com.
12. A Tablecloth
It’s the little things that make a big difference. When you stop at the roadside weathered picnic table to eat lunch, pull out your tablecloth to go from down-home to gourmet in a matter of seconds. You’ll also avoid getting hard-to-remove splinters when you lean against the table.
13. Bug Spray
Spend more time enjoying the scenery instead of swatting bugs. If you don’t want to use strong chemicals, there are plenty of bug sprays available these days that are derived from natural ingredients and are safer for use by children.
Our pick is the family-friendly Sawyer 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent. Consumer Reports has ranked this formula as the best protection against mosquitoes. Sawyer’s insect repellent is also very effective for ticks and biting flies, and it won't damage gear or equipment. Learn more at Sawyer.com/picaridin
Make going for the 1-mile, one-way stroll from the south rim’s Grand Canyon Visitor Center to Yavapai Point even easier with a daypack. You’ll find your daypack is even more handy as you venture on longer hikes like the 6-mile roundtrip hike along the Grandview Trail in the south rim. Place all your (and your family’s essentials) like water, extra layers, extra snacks, a flashlight, binoculars and simple first-aid kit in it.
Daypacks don't need to be the big expensive kind that backpackers use. If you're just going out for the day, a smaller 18-30L size will work just fine and many can also double as a personal item on an airplane. Here are some good options for daypacks made specifically for travel on www.rei.com.
15. Small Plastic Bags
Bring these along to keep your cell phone, journal, book and other things dry if you get stuck in a rainstorm or if you plan to do water sports in the Grand Canyon area. Plastic bags come in handy, as well to pack out used toilet paper if nature calls while you are hiking. It’s a big no-no to try to bury toilet paper in the back country. It has to be packed out.
Read more: Leave No Trace
Read at night in your tent comfortably with your headlamp or use this great lighting device to safely walk to and from evening ranger talks in the park. The park also offers fantastic day ranger programs for visitors on everything from human history in the area to fossils, condors and geology.
Taking photos of the night skies? A headlamp with a red light option will help you change your camera settings in the dark with minimal annoyance to your travel mates.
17. A Sun Hat, Sunglasses and Sunscreen
You only need to have experienced the Arizona sun one time before you realize how strong it really is, especially since the desert offers little in way of shade. There will be some hikes you do or picnic tables you sit at where there is absolutely no place to take cover from the desert heat and sun. Bring a wide-brimmed hat, which is preferable over a baseball cap, to cover your entire face. Then, apply sunscreen over all exposed skin, including the back of your neck.
Don’t forget to protect your eyes with sunglasses. Polarized lens will help you see views more clearly. Purchase sunglass straps if you plan to be on the water - it can be frustrating watching your new sunglasses float downstream without you.
18. Rain Jacket
Who brings rain jacket to the desert, you may ask? We do. Every time we visit. Even the desert gets bursts of rainfall, albeit often very short-lived. When it rains and temperatures plummet, you want a jacket that can keep you warm and dry. You’ll also want to be aware of the power of flash flooding and what to do if it does start to rain. A dry creek bed can transform into a torrential river in matter of minutes, so be sure to move to high ground if it starts to rain hard.
Tip: Pick a jacket that claims to be waterproof or watertight, not water resistant. Check out the many brands of rain jackets at www.rei.com.
19. Sturdy Hiking Boots
To make the most out of your trip, pack a pair of supportive, waterproof and breathable hiking boots. These will allow you to navigate wet and dry trails with ease and enable you to explore farther than you maybe would have. They also protect your feet from cactus needles, rocks on trails and possibly even snake bites. To get you started on your research, one of our staff members raves about his Sportiva Synthesis Mid GTX. Our friends at Backpacker magazine really liked the Vasque Skywalks GTS.
If you're not going more than a couple of miles down the trail, you can pack light with a hiking shoe that can go from the trail to the restaurant. We love the Lowa Locarno Low hiking shoes. www.rei.com
20. Park Maps
Grand Canyon National Park encompasses both the North and South rims, each with a wonderful array of overlooks, trails and museums. It's good to have a map. You can wait until a park ranger hands you a map at the entrance station, or you can plan ahead and get your maps now. Download a free PDF map or get the NatGeo Grand Canyon Map Pack with detailed topographic maps at REI.com
21. Ice-traction Devices for your Shoes
If you are headed to the Grand Canyon sometime in winter and early spring, bring ice-traction devices like Yaktrax to prevent you from slipping on the park’s icy trails. During the winter and early spring months, visitors step on snow-covered trails, and the sun begins to melt the snow only to have the water freeze up in the night when cold temperatures move back in. Hiking without ice-traction devices is really dangerous as it’s a one-mile fall to the bottom of the canyon. Here is a good selection of traction devices available at www.rei.com.
It never hurts to bring one of these along in case you get lost or need help.