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By Michael Lanza

From natural arches, hoodoos, and hanging gardens to balanced rocks and towering mesas, slot canyons and vast chasms, the desert Southwest holds in its dry, searing, lonely open spaces some of America’s most fascinating and inspiring geology. The writer “Cactus Ed” Abbey no doubt had this region in mind when he said there “are some places so beautiful they can make a grown man break down and weep.” Much of it sits protected within southern Utah’s five national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.

The good news? Many of the best sights can be reached on dayhikes of anywhere from a couple hours to a full day.

The list below of the best dayhikes in southern Utah’s national parks derives from numerous trips I’ve made to each of these parks over the past 25 years. Use my list as your compass, and I guarantee you will knock off the best hikes in these parks—and you won’t need a quarter-century to do it.

As I continue to explore more trails, I will update this story. I’d love to read your thoughts about my list—and your suggestions for dayhikes that belong on it. Please share them in the comments section at the bottom of this story.

My son, Nate, hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park.

Angels Landing and West Rim Trail, Zion National Park

Angels Landing belongs on any list of the best dayhikes in Utah. The five-mile, 1,500-foot round-trip hike of Angels Landing culminates in one of the airiest and most thrilling half-mile stretches (actually, 0.4 mile) of trail in the entire National Park System. You scale a steep, knife-edge ridge crest of rock, using steps carved out of sandstone and chain handrails in spots. And the 360-degree panorama from the summit takes in all of Zion Canyon.

Two tips: If you can hike a strong pace, start in very early morning or wait until mid-afternoon (when the lower section of trail falls into shade) to avoid the crowds and the heat of midday. And after summiting Angels, continue up the West Rim Trail for another mile or two before turning back—you will ditch the crowds and explore a sublimely beautiful area of giant beehive towers and white walls streaked in red and orange.

See my story “Great Hike: Angels Landing, Zion National Park” and all of my stories about Zion at The Big Outside.

Get the right pack for you. See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs
and the 6 best hiking daypacks.

Me hiking the Taylor Creek Trail, Zion National Park.

Taylor Canyon, Zion National Park

Located in northwestern Zion’s Kolob Canyons, far off the beaten paths of Zion Canyon, the five-mile, nearly flat, out-and-back hike up the Taylor Creek Trail follows a vibrant creek through a partly forested canyon with burnt-red walls rising nearly 2,000 feet. You’ll pass two historic settler’s cabins dating back decades. The maintained trail ends at charming Double Arch Alcove, a pair of giant arches in the Navajo sandstone beneath 1,700-foot-tall Tucupit Tower and Paria Tower.

See my “Photo Gallery: Hiking the Kolob Canyons of Zion National Park.”

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Follow my adventures on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Youtube.

David Gordon wading a pool in The Subway, Zion National Park.

The Subway, Zion National Park

Zion’s most-famous, technical slot canyon, The Subway (also shown in lead photo at top of story) takes its name from a bend where floodwaters have bored an oval passage that—yes, you guessed it—resembles the most strikingly colorful subway tunnel you will ever see. Requiring a popular permit, the 9.5-mile, top-to-bottom dayhike descends a canyon at times wider than a soccer pitch, with trees growing in the shade of walls hundreds of feet tall, and narrows to a slot barely more than shoulder-width across. You will clamber over giant boulders in a twisting canyon of wildly sculpted, kaleidoscopic walls, wade or swim a few deep, frigid pools (bring a dry suit, which can be rented in Springdale), and make three short rappels.

See my story “Luck of the Draw, Part 1: Hiking Zion’s Subway,” for many photos and details on how to get the permit and do this classic hike.

Protect your expensive gear when traveling. See my “Review: The Best Gear Duffles and Luggage.”

Along the Navajo-Queens Garden Loop in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Navajo-Queens Garden and Peek-a-Boo Loops, Bryce Canyon National Park

If the view of Bryce’s stone forest of multi-colored hoodoos is breathtaking from roadside overlooks, hiking in their labyrinthine midst is mesmerizing. Combine the popular and short Navajo Loop/Queens Garden Loop—which features one of the park’s best-known formations, Thor’s Hammer—with the Peek-a-Boo Loop, and you will lose the crowds while walking through a maze of multi-colored limestone, sandstone, and mudstone towers.

The hike, mostly on good trails that are easy to follow, weaves among tall hoodoos, passes through doorways cut through walls of rock, and wraps through amphitheaters of wildly colored, slender spires that resemble giant, melting candles. The six-mile loop, with a total elevation gain and loss of about 1,600 feet, begins and ends at Sunset Point.

See “Photo Gallery: My Favorite Hike in Bryce Canyon,” and all of my stories about Utah national parks at The Big Outside.

You live for the outdoors. The Big Outside helps you get out there. Get full access to ALL stories by subscribing now!


 

Sunset at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.

Delicate Arch at Sunset, Arches National Park

The trail to what is probably Utah’s most famous natural arch is certainly a well-traveled path. But here’s the smart hiker’s strategy: Do it in the evening, timing your arrival at Delicate for shortly before sunset. The final stretch of the trail traverses the face of a small slickrock cliff before suddenly depositing you on the rim of an amphitheater of solid rock, looking across the broad bowl at Delicate Arch, with the La Sal Mountains, snow-covered in spring, visible through its keyhole. Then hold your jaw in place while watching as the low-angle sunlight seems to electrify the sandstone’s burnt color.

Just three miles round-trip with minimal elevation gain, it’s an easy stroll, even returning by headlamp; and that time of day is far more pleasant than trudging it during the morning or afternoon heat. Tip: Bring a headlamp and jacket and linger for a while after sunset, until most other hikers have departed, and you’ll enjoy a quieter, enchanting walk under a sky riddled with stars.

Hike all of my “10 Best Backpacking Trips in the Southwest.”

Jeff Wilhelm in Partition Arch, in Devils Garden, Arches National Park.

Devils Garden, Arches National Park

Much of the mass popularity of Arches owes to the ease of viewing many of its signature features on short to very short hikes and roadside walks. That’s exactly why Devils Garden is the best hike in the park (at least among hikes that follow established trails). Besides being really scenic—you can view seven arches, including the park’s largest, 306-foot-long Landscape Arch—it’s much more adventurous.

The hiking is nearly flat and easy up to Landscape Arch; beyond..

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Gregory Citro 20 daypack.

Daypack
Gregory Citro 20/Juno 20
$120, 2 lbs. 3.5 oz. (without reservoir)
One men’s and one women’s size
backcountry.com

On a 16-mile, roughly 5,000-vertical-foot October dayhike of 11,749-foot Mount Timpanogos in Utah’s Wasatch Range, on a day when I needed clothes for temperatures ranging from around 50 to the 30s Fahrenheit, with strong, cold winds at higher elevations, I carried the Citro 20 for several hours with about 15 pounds of water, food, clothing, and camera gear inside. That day convinced me that many hikers would like the men’s Citro 20 and women’s Juno 20. Here’s why.

Gregory Citro 20 front.

Weighing just a few ounces over two pounds, with 20 liters of capacity, these packs are designed for dayhikes of any distance, including long days. While not the lightest packs of this capacity, and too heavy and bulky for trail running, their weight is largely explained by good organization and features that allow them to cross over well to activities like bike commuting.

A lightweight, wire perimeter frame with a leaf-spring in the lumbar area—as well as a foam pad for comfort—provides rigidity along the vertical axis and slight flex along the horizontal axis, and helps transfer much of the pack weight onto your hips. That translates to the Citro 20 and Juno 20 easily carrying 15 pounds, and some hikers will find them comfortable hauling up to 20 pounds.

Gregory Citro 20 harness.

Gregory’s moisture-wicking, VaporSpan back panel’s open mesh pattern ventilates well. But although they both have the concave shape to lift the pack off of your back, it’s not a typical trampoline-style back panel, which allows air to flow easily through from both open sides. Instead, the back panel’s mesh sides have a slight backward angle to them, to facilitate air flow—which works decently, but not as well as completely open sides. However, the benefit of the VaporSpan’s design is a closer, low-profile fit that’s more stable and avoids the tendency of some trampoline-style packs to feel as if the load is pulling backward against your shoulders.

The perforated mesh and soft, EVA foam shoulder straps compare for comfort with the best hiking daypacks. The mesh waist belt lacks any padding, relying on its width to disperse pack weight over the hips; consequently, it’s the limiting feature determining the maximum weight the Citro or Juno will carry before feeling like too much on your hips, but keeps pack weight down and minimizes the waistbelt’s bulk, keeping you cooler and giving the packs a lighter feel. Besides, most dayhikers have no need to carry more than 15 pounds: Even with my DSLR camera and two lenses inside, as well as food, three liters of water, and clothing for an all-day hike in cold temps, I didn’t exceed 15 pounds and had space to spare.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Follow my adventures on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Youtube.

Gregory Citro 20 with pockets open.

With no lid on the pack, the main compartment is accessed via a single, clamshell-style zipper—much more convenient than having to release one or more buckles and flip a lid open. Inside, there’s a zippered mesh pocket for valuables, as well as a zippered, external sunglasses pocket that has extra space for a hat and light gloves. Two spacious, zippered hipbelt pockets fit three bars each or any phone or GPS.

The feature set will appeal to many dayhikers. The Citro and Juno packs come standard with Gregory’s excellent, three-liter 3D Hydro bladder (a $36 value; read my detailed thoughts on it in my review of essential backpacking gear accessories). The bladder slides into a separate, zippered pocket behind the back panel, for easy refilling without having to empty other pack contents.

Gregory Citro 20 hipbelt pocket and bladder mouthpiece.

Deep, stretch-mesh pockets on each side swallow a liter bottle, and I can reach into them while wearing the Citro; the stretch-mesh front pocket is large enough for a rain shell. Magnetic clips quickly snap and hold the sternum strap buckle in place and secure the hydration hose to that strap; but as I’ve experienced with other magnetized hydration hoses, this one occasionally pops off when I’m moving fast or going through rough terrain.

Exterior stow options include attachments for two ice axes or poles, side compression straps, and a smart elasticized loop on the left shoulder strap to stash sunglasses or collapsed poles to free up your hands for scrambling or firing off some photos.

The biggest ding against the Citro and Juno is that each comes in just one size—meaning they will best fit men and women who fall into the middle of the range of torso sizes. The Citro 20 fit my 18-inch torso well.

For dayhikers who bring more than the carrying capacity of many ultralight daypacks (like another personal Gregory favorite, the men’s Miwok 18 and women’s Maya 16), the Citro 20 and Juno 20 are among the most featured and comfortable daypacks on the market.

There are two larger-capacity versions: the Citro 25 ($130) and Citro 30 ($150).

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a Gregory Citro 20 at backcountry.com, ems.com, or moosejaw.com.

Tell me what you think. I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons below, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.

See my “Gear Review: The 6 Best Hiking Daypacks” and all of my reviews of daypacks I like, plus my “5 Tips For Buying the Right Backpacking Pack” (which apply to daypacks) and all of my reviews of hiking gear.

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza

Let The Big Outside help you find the best adventure trips. Get full access to ALL stories. Subscribe now!

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By Michael Lanza

So you’re a notice backpacker, or you have kids you want to take on a relatively easy backpacking trip—and you want to sample the best scenery, trails, and backcountry campsites that experienced backpackers get to enjoy in our flagship national parks. No worries. These five trips in Grand Teton, Yosemite, Zion, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain are ideal for beginners and families, with easy to moderately difficult days and simple logistics, while delivering the spectacular vistas that each of these parks is famous for.

In fact, two of them (Yosemite and Grand Teton) were among the very first multi-day hikes I took as a novice backpacker almost three decades ago, and four (Zion, Grand Teton, Glacier, and Rocky Mountain) were among my kids’ first trips, which we took when they ranged in age from six to 10.

Please tell me what you think of these trip ideas, or offer your own in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I’d appreciate that.

The Grand Teton looms above the North Fork of Cascade Canyon.

Paintbrush-Cascade Canyons Loop, Grand Teton National Park

Distance: 19.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate

Bill Mistretta above the North Fork of Cascade Canyon.

The 19.7-mile loop linking up Paintbrush and Cascade canyons from String Lake offers something of a highlights reel of Grand Teton National Park, and is probably among the most scenic sub-20-mile hikes in the National Park System. With nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, the loop crosses the highest point reached via trail in the park, 10,720-foot Paintbrush Divide, where the panorama takes in a jagged skyline featuring some of the highest summits in the Tetons. It also passes by beloved Lake Solitude, nestled in a cirque of cliffs, and below the striped cliffs of Paintbrush Canyon and waterfalls and soaring peaks of Cascade Canyon.

We backpacked this popular loop over three days with our kids when they were young, camping at Upper Paintbrush the first night and North Fork Cascade the second, and seeing moose in Cascade Canyon; I’ve also dayhiked it. It can be hiked in either direction—and the Paintbrush side is steeper and more strenuous whether going up or down it. But by going counter-clockwise, you enjoy a steady view of the Grand Teton looming high above the North Fork of Cascade Canyon; and you finish down Cascade Canyon, where most of the group can avoid the final slog through the woods and take the boat shuttle across Jenny Lake—with in-your-face views of the peaks—while someone hikes the last 45 minutes to retrieve the car at String Lake.

Click here now to get my e-guide to this beginner-friendly backpacking trip in Grand Teton National Park.

See all of my stories about Grand Teton National Park, or scroll down to Grand Teton on my All National Park Trips page.

My wife, Penny, on the John Muir Trail above Nevada Fall in Yosemite.

The Heart of Yosemite National Park

Distance: 37.2 miles (shorter options)
Difficulty: Moderate

Anyone looking for a five-star introduction to backpacking in Yosemite that hits marquis highlights and is beginner-friendly need look no further than this 37.2-mile loop from Yosemite Valley. From the popular Happy Isles Trailhead at the east end of The Valley, it winds through the core of the park, starting with ascending the Mist Trail past 317-foot Vernal Fall—which rains a heavy mist on hikers—and thunderous, 594-foot Nevada Fall. The distance includes the optional, out-and-back climb of the steep and exposed cable route up Half Dome, where the summit view of Yosemite Valley is arguably only outdone by the view you’ll get later on the hike from a thousand feet higher on the knife-edge summit ridge of Clouds Rest.

Rainbow below Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park.

From a campsite on the edge of the alpine meadows at Sunrise, you’ll get a sweeping view of the granite castles of the Cathedral Range. And the hike, spread over four to five days, follows a couple stretches of the world-famous John Muir Trail, descending it on the last day past a calendar-photo vista of Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and Nevada Fall. Apply early for this permit reservation, especially if you want to spend more than one night camping at Little Yosemite Valley.

See my story “Ask Me: Where to Backpack First Time in Yosemite” for a description of this route, and a more-detailed description with complete trip-planning guidance in my e-guide “The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite,” which also covers alternate multi-day hiking itineraries beginning and ending at various trailheads ringing this core area of the park, including routes from Tuolumne Meadows and stunning Tenaya Lake.

See also my story “Ask Me: Expert Tips for Hiking Yosemite’s Half Dome” and all of my stories about Yosemite National Park.

Yearning to backpack in Yosemite? See my e-guides to three amazing multi-day hikes there.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Follow my adventures on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Youtube.

David Ports hiking the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park.

West Rim Trail, Zion National Park

Distance: 14 miles
Difficulty: Easy

A view from the West Rim Trail in Zion National Park.

Only in a national park that features The Narrows—which, admittedly, ranks hands-down as one of the best backpacking trips in America and certainly one of the best in the Southwest—could the West Rim Trail be overshadowed. More than a few longtime Zion backcountry denizens have told me the West Rim is their favorite trail in the park—and having dayhiked and backpacked it, I’d say the same. From the plateau on the trail’s upper sections, you overlook a labyrinth of white-walled canyons and green-topped mesas. Then the trail drops about 2,500 feet in 4.7 miles, zigzagging down a cliff face and through a landscape of towering beehive rock formations and walls streaked in vivid burgundy and salmon hues.

The approximately 14-mile, one-way, north-to-south, mostly downhill hike from Lava Point on Kolob Terrace Road to the Grotto Trailhead in Zion Canyon—requiring a shuttle (available in Springdale)—can be done in one day by fit hikers. But an overnight at one of the campsites along the West Rim Trail lets you see this incomparable scenery in the glorious light after dawn and at sunset, and makes it a more feasible objective for families and novice backpackers. Add just over a half-mile for the side hike up Angels Landing, one of the most spectacular and iconic summits in the National Park System.

See my stories about a family backpacking trip on the West Rim Trail, a 50-mile dayhike across Zion that included the West Rim Trail, and all of my stories about Zion at The Big Outside.

Let The Big Outside help you find the best adventure trips. Get full access to ALL stories. Subscribe now!

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By Michael Lanza

In the Digital Era, the idea of families spending lots of time outdoors—and actually taking trips built around some outdoor adventure enjoyed together—can seem an antiquated notion, like riding in a horse-drawn carriage to go on a picnic. But that lifestyle is a reality for many families (including mine), and one that brings parents and children together for sustained periods of time (hours! days!) that’s unplugged and genuinely fun.

How do you create that kind of lifestyle for your family? As the father of two teenagers who are maturing into avid backpackers, skiers, climbers, paddlers, and intelligent, fine young people who make me proud, I will tell you that this goal remains not only entirely feasible in the Digital Era, but all that much more critical—especially for kids. And when it’s done right, you and your children will consider the time you spend together on outdoor adventure trips some of the best you share as a family.

For this story, I’ve synthesized the biggest lessons I’ve gleaned from nearly two decades of parenting outdoors as often as possible into seven tips that will help set you on the path to wonderful family experiences.

My kids getting into nature in Idaho’s City of Rocks National Reserve.

No. 1: Don’t ‘Wait Until They’re Older’

For starters, abandon any misguided notion that you should “wait until the kids are older”—that’s a formula for winding up with a ‘tweener or teen who’s not interested in any of your wild-eyed notions about spending family time outdoors.

My kids while backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park.

My initial motivation was admittedly somewhat selfish. One lesson I learned soon after becoming a father was this: If I wanted to keep getting outside—and especially on big trips—as much as I had before parenthood, I would have to involve my family in the activities I love doing. (That’s why that tip ranks no. 2 in my “10 Tips For Getting Outside More.”) But I also understood that making that effort when they were small would pay dividends as they grew older and more capable.

As I urge in my “Survival Guide for the Outdoors Lover Who’s a New Parent,” take your kids outside often, beginning when they’re too young to remember it—then their oldest memories will include being outdoors with their family. They will learn that getting outdoors together as a family is almost as routine as dinner.

That’s not to say it’s ever too late to start, of course. It’s never too late to spend quality time together.

Get the right backpack for you and your kid. See my picks for “The 10 Best Backpacking Packs
and the best thru-hiking packs.

My wife and daughter on a guided, five-day sea kayaking trip in Glacier Bay National Park. The lead photo at top of story is from the same trip.

No. 2: When You Need It, Get Expert Help

You want to get your kids outdoors more, exploring nature, and enjoying the myriad experiences available in local, state, and national parks; but you and your spouse lack the skills and knowledge to even know where to begin, never mind keep everyone safe. That’s not an obstacle—everyone begins as a novice. There are free programs, many of them family-oriented, available on public lands all over the country, and numerous paid guide services—an abundance of expertise available to help you acquire experience and skills.

As just one example, when planning a visit to a national park, search the park’s website for ranger-led activities, like hikes, that are usually free or low-cost and ideal for families and beginners; you’ll find them at virtually every national park and many other public lands. Those websites also list guide services and outfitters that are licensed to operate in that park. For instance, you can find guided tours of all kinds in Yellowstone, guided hikes in Glacier National Parkriver trips through the Grand Canyon, and climbing guides operating in Grand Teton National Park and on Mount Rainier.

See the advice and specific trip suggestions I offered a reader in my blog post “Ask Me: Finding ‘More Complicated’ Family Adventures,” and all of the stories about family trips listed at my Family Adventures page at The Big Outside.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Follow my adventures on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Youtube.

My daughter, Alex, on a family backpacking trip in Sequoia National Park.

No. 3: Talk and Listen to Them

My son, Nate, and a friend in a slot canyon in Capitol Reef National Park.

From the longer perspective of a father of teenagers, of all the advice that I offer in my popular “10 Tips For Raising Outdoors-Loving Kids,” I think the two best nuggets of hard-earned wisdom are simply “talk and listen” and “work your P.R.”

When planning a trip, make your children feel like they’re part of the decision-making process. Welcome their questions, address their concerns, and give them some say in what you’re doing. They will be more emotionally invested in making it a success.

Your children crave your attention; shower them with it, especially positive reinforcement. Compliment kids when they do well and encourage them when they’re challenged. Tell children they’re good hikers, skiers, climbers, paddlers, or cyclists, and they will take pride in that. You will help them self-identify as a kid who likes being outdoors.

With my daughter, Alex, backpacking in the Grand Canyon.

No. 4: Take One-on-One Parent-Child Trips

Nate en route to climb Mount Whitney.

When my son and daughter were both very young, I established a tradition of taking an annual father-son and father-daughter backcountry trip, getaways that have become known as our “Boy Trip” and “Girl Trip.” (At a young age, my daughter gave me a waiver for my gender.) By launching this idea when they were young and eager for entire days of one-on-one time with me, I’ve created a tradition that my kids look forward to as much as I do.

While most of our trips have consisted of backpacking and rock climbing in our home state of Idaho, I’ve also backpacked in the Grand Canyon with my daughter and climbed Mount Whitney with my son (see below). But it matters less what you do or..

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Smartwool Men’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Jacket.

Ultralight Jacket
Smartwool Men’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Jacket
$115, 4.5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: S-XL
backcountry.com
Smartwool Women’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Jacket (hooded)
$120, 5 oz.
Sizes: XS-XL
moosejaw.com

Whether hiking, trail running, or mountain biking, when I need a jacket to manage variability in my exertion levels and/or the inevitable wind, temperature swings, and maybe light precipitation, I look for a couple of qualities in that shell: high breathability and reeeally low weight. From a chilly and very windy October dayhike of 11,749-foot Mount Timpanogos in Utah’s Wasatch Range, to numerous fall and winter trail runs and rides in the Boise Foothills near my home, in cool temps and conditions all over the meteorological map, Smartwool’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Jacket has had my back. Here’s why its breathability distinguishes this ultralight shell from the competition.

Smartwool Men’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Jacket.

The jacket consists of Smartwool’s thinner-than-a-wafer PhD Ultra Light nylon shell fabric through most of the torso and sleeves, with small vent holes (covered to keep rain out) at the front of the shoulders. With a DWR (durable, water-repellant treatment), the fabric fends off light rain, although it wets through in a steady rain. (It’s not a rain shell.)

But the key to its breathability is a blend of Merino wool and stretchy polyester mesh under the arms and between the shoulder blades, which creates good ventilation without exposing you to much wind or precipitation. When I sweated hard on trail runs and rides in temps in the 40s and 50s, the jacket protected me from cold wind and breathed well enough that it never got more than slightly damp on the inside when my base layer was quite wet. And my base layer would sometimes dry out on long, low-exertion descents, because of the jacket’s breathability.

The regular fit is neither skin-tight nor flappy, and accommodates a couple of light- to midweight base layers. The jacket stuffs easily into its chest pocket to slightly smaller than a liter bottle, but can be squeezed down to about a half-liter when packed; when it’s stuffed, a stretchy fabric loop lets you clip it to a pack or climbing harness.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Follow my adventures on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Youtube.

The Smartwool Men’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Jacket on Mount Timpanogos.

The women’s version of the jacket has an elasticized, non-adjustable hood. There’s also a Men’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Hoody ($125, 5 oz.) with an elasticized, non-adjustable hood, a Men’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Vest ($100, 4 oz.), a Women’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Anorak ($130, 8 oz.), and a Women’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Vest ($100, 4.7 oz.).

For trail runs, hikes, or rides of less than an hour to all day, when you need a light shell for wind and possible light rain and your exertion level may vary, few options are as light and breathable as the Smartwool men’s and women’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Jacket.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a Smartwool Men’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Jacket at backcountry.com or moosejaw.com, or a Smartwool Women’s PhD Ultra Light Sport Jacket at moosejaw.com.

Tell me what you think. I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons below, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.

See my “10 Smarter Ways to Think About Your Layering System” and “Review: The Best Base Layers For Hiking, Running, and Training,” and all of my reviews of ultralight wind shells, ultralight rain jackets, hiking apparel, and outdoor apparel at The Big Outside.

You live for the outdoors. The Big Outside helps you get out there. Get full access to ALL stories by subscribing now!

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza

You May Also Like:

Ultralight Backpacking’s Simple Equation: Less Weight = More Fun


5 Things to Know Before Buying Backpacking Gear


The 5 Best Rain Jackets for the Backcountry


5 Tips For Spending Less on Hiking and Backpacking Gear


America’s Top 10 Best Backpacking Trips

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Michael,

Here’s a question I’ve struggled with. Because of the timing of my trips, I often end up hiking and backpacking solo. I enjoy that (and enjoy groups). However, as a result, I’ve had a number of bear and moose encounters that have left me a little uncomfortable, and with a feeling of powerlessness in those situations. I’ve read about bear encounters and technically know what to do (making noise, etc.), but I’ve sometimes exhausted all those tricks and found myself still staring at a bear in my path. What do you recommend I do—especially about hiking solo?

It’s made me more conservative recently—in particular, I had made plans to hike the Teton Crest Trail in September, had the permit, etc., but ended up dayhiking instead (Cascade Canyon, Paintbrush Canyon). Those dayhikes were awesome and it was probably the smarter decision, as there ended up being storms up on the crest. But, truth be told, I really made that decision to dayhike instead of backpack largely because I feel like I can do everything I’m technically supposed to with regard to bear encounters and still feel powerless when I’ve exhausted all my tools and tricks.

I hate that feeling (and I’ve had it a few times) where I’ve done everything I’m “supposed” to do and it comes down the bear’s choice. He’s still staring at me and eventually—fortunately for me—each time, the bear has made the choice to amble off in another direction.

Thoughts?

Dave
Ann Arbor, MI

A sow grizzly in Glacier National Park.

Hi Dave,

Many people can appreciate those sentiments, including me. I’ve taken many solo trips, and had many bear encounters solo and with companions, some of them up close. A friend and I had one encounter in Glacier National Park with a grizzly sow with two cubs at a distance of about 30 feet, and it’s very unnerving. (The sow and cubs barely even looked in our direction; they weren’t interested.) The chances of a violent encounter are extremely low, but the consequences are high, of course, and you never know.

I’ve had numerous encounters with black bears where I threw rocks to chase them off (they were always going for my food, not me). That would be a dangerous response to grizzly bears. Moose can be dangerous, especially during the fall rutting season, but every encounter I’ve had with one has been non-confrontational, even though maybe one or two were fairly close range.

You can find other sources for tips on how to hike safely in bear country, and the definitive text on that is the book Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance, by Stephen Herrero.

Hike stronger and smarter. See my stories “Training For a Big Hike or Mountain Climb
and “10 Tricks For Making Hiking and Backpacking Easier.”

Moose in Cascade Canyon, Grand Teton National Park.

Your question is about deciding whether or when to backpack solo in bear country, so I’ll tell you how I approach that question.

I think specifically about the place and the likelihood of a bear or moose encounter while hiking solo. For instance, I’ve seen moose in the Tetons at least three times, always at an adequate distance to not antagonize them; but I don’t recall ever even seeing a bear there, despite nearly 20 trips in the Tetons backcountry (including some remote, off-trail areas). I suspect that’s because of the park’s management of backpackers and food in camping zones, and the regular hiker and backpacker traffic keeping bears away from trails.

Given all that, and the regular human traffic in the Tetons in summer (it does taper off in September), and the fact that much of the terrain—especially along the Teton Crest Trail—is in meadows or above treeline, with long sight lines, I consider the Tetons a relatively safe park for someone with the right skills to backpack solo.

However, I wouldn’t recommend solo backpacking in, for example, Glacier, where there’s a high concentration of black and grizzly bears and moose, or in many parks in Alaska. Maybe not in the Olympic Mountains, either, because of a high concentration of black bears and dense forest increasing the likelihood of a surprise, close encounter. (I shot the lead photo of a black bear at the top of this story in the Olympic Mountains; it was just off the trail we were backpacking down, and showed no aggression toward us, but we moved along quickly.)

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Follow my adventures on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Youtube.

A brown bear in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

As for specific, solo-hiking strategies, here are mine.

Planning months ahead certainly helps you avoid having to hike solo. While I’ve done it many times, I rarely backpack solo these days, mostly because I plan my trips months in advance and that helps in finding friends and family who can join me. (I prefer having companions, and I tend to miss my family more when I’m out solo, which makes it less enjoyable for me.)

• When in grizzly country, I always carry this pepper spray. (Tip: Practice pulling the plastic locking clip off it, because it’ll be very hard to think straight when you see a bear charging.)

• I carry an air horn. (Small bells are practically useless—their noise doesn’t travel very far.) I have a couple of Falcon Personal Safety Horns (so I can give one to a companion, too). They’re small, weigh just a few ounces, easy to clip to a shoulder strap or belt, and very loud. (Don’t point one at someone and blast it, or fire it off near your face, it’s painfully loud.)

While pepper spray is only effective when a bear is within about 15 to 20 feet, an air horn can frighten off a bear at a distance, or just let it know you’re there. I’ll occasionally give my air horn a blast when walking through dense forest or brush in bear country, when I can’t see far. While I’ve never had to use a horn to scare off a bear, I’ve read about them working well; and it’s such a loud and unnatural noise that I believe it would work.

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and the best thru-hiking packs.

A black bear in the northern Bailey Range, Olympic Mountains.

Hiking in daylight, and not too early in the morning or after sunset, makes you safer because most animals are more active between dusk and dawn. Safe food storage in camp also makes you safer, and I might feel more inclined to carry a bear canister, even if it’s not required, when I’m solo. (See my favorite canister in my review of essential backpacking accessories.)

Be aware of whether you’re hiking into the wind or downwind—when moving downwind, animals will detect your scent from a greater distance, whereas upwind, they are less likely to smell or hear you at a distance. Also, be conscious of ambient noise levels: A loud river nearby could drown out your noise, while quiet surroundings enable animals to hear you from a greater distance—and occasionally, for you to hear them.

• Whether solo or with companions, give your itinerary to someone reliable, along with the phone number of the park ranger station or local authorities, and tell them to report you missing if they haven’t heard from you within a day after you expected to finish your trip. With a PLB, you significantly reduce the rescue-response time if you do have an emergency.

• You could carry a personal locator beacon (PLB), like a Spot GPS Messenger, that would allow you to signal for a rescue. The Spot also enables you to send a nightly message to someone back home to let that person know you’re fine.

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That’s about all you can do short of carrying a large gun—which isn’t permitted in some places, and it’s heavy. Plus, a handgun is not going to stop a bear or moose; the rifles used to kill them are high caliber and one bullet often isn’t enough. And imagine trying to aim and fire a rifle at a bear at close range, charging at 30 mph.

I strongly suspect that pepper spray would be much more effective at close range: The spray disperses widely and virtually always turns a bear away, whereas you may shoot and miss with a gun, or just enrage the bear more if you hit it without really injuring it. From a distance, a gunshot may dissuade a bear, but I’ll choose the pepper spray and air horn over a gun.

My brother-in-law, Tom Beach, who worked as a backcountry ranger in Yellowstone for about 10 years, offered these thoughts on this question, and I think his general advice applies to many places with grizzly or brown bears:

“I would backpack solo in most of Yellowstone (and was almost always solo when I was a backcountry ranger on foot), but there is about 10 to 15 percent of the park where I would never go solo due to the grizzly bear concentration (and these areas change from month to month depending on the bears’ main food sources). The challenge is that the Park Service will give you a permit to hike solo just about anywhere, and so you have to have a lot of experience/local knowledge to know better. People should be sure to ask questions about recent bear activity or sightings in the area where they are planning to go, when they pick up their permit.”

Black bear in the northern Bailey Range, Olympic Mountains. - YouTube

My suggestions do not completely eliminate risk of a hostile animal encounter, of course. But statistically, you are far more likely to be injured in a fall when hiking, whether solo or with companions, than to have an animal encounter. When solo, I think much more about being careful to avoid that kind of accident.

In general, though, most animals—including another you didn’t mention, mountain lions—detect people long before we are aware of them, and we probably usually fail to ever know how many animals are nearby. I remember, several years ago, after dayhiking with my family when my kids were quite young to Grinnell Glacier in Glacier National Park—a busy trail with a constant stream of dayhikers—I ran into someone at the campground at Many Glacier who said he was in a boat on the lake below the trail around the same time we were hiking it. He said he could see something like a dozen bears grazing peacefully very near the trail, but hidden by vegetation from the hikers passing close by, and the bears just seemed oblivious to the people.

I offer other insights about backpacking solo in my blog post “Ask Me: Should I Go Backpacking Solo?

Good luck, keep in touch.

Best,
Michael

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By Michael Lanza

Hiking toward a mountain pass named Furcela dia Roa, on the first day of my family’s weeklong, hut-to-hut trek on the Alta Via 2 in northern Italy’s Dolomite Mountains, we stopped in an open meadow of grass and wildflowers overlooking a deep, verdant valley in Puez-Odle Natural Park. Across the valley loomed a wall of cliffs topped by jagged spires, like a castle a thousand feet tall. I looked at our map and back up at the stone wall before us, puzzled. After a moment, I realized: We have to get over that wall.

Scanning the vertiginous earth before us, I eventually picked out the trail snaking across the head of the valley and making dozens of switchbacks up a finger of scree, talus, and snow leading to the lowest notch in that wall: the Furcela dia Roa, the pass we had to cross.

It was our first encounter with a lesson that would repeat itself many times over the course of our hike on the Alta Via 2: These mountains are so steep and rocky that the trail often traverses ground that, from a distance, looks impassable without ropes and climbing gear. Indeed, some stretches of the Alta Via 2 have lengths of cable bolted into the rock face to hold onto, to help hikers avoid pitching off the trail into an abyss.

Trekking the Alta Via 2 in the Pale di San Martino, Dolomite Mountains.

My family spent a week trekking hut to hut on a 39-mile (62k) section of the Alta Via 2, or “The Way of the Legends,” a roughly 112-mile (180k) alpine footpath through one of the world’s most spectacular and storied mountain ranges, Italy’s Dolomites.

The AV 2 is famous for attributes that possess even more allure than a steaming plate of gnocchi: scenery that puts it in legitimate contention for the title of “the most beautiful trail in the world,” comfortable mountain huts with excellent food—and, for the type of trekker who’s drawn to challenge, a reputation for being the most remote and difficult of the several multi-day alte vie (plural for alta via), or “high paths,” that traverse the Dolomites.

That last point also makes the AV 2 less crowded (read: easier to get hut reservations) than the more-popular and easier AV 1 and other hut treks in Europe. But it’s the scenery that makes this trek world-class, as the photos below demonstrate.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories, including my full feature story about trekking the Alta Via 2. And follow my adventures on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Youtube.

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Wearing the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody while backcountry skiing.

Breathable Insulated Jacket
Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody
$249, 12 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XL, women’s XS-XL
backcountry.com

The range of activities, conditions, and seasons in which you wear a jacket arguably says more than anything else about its value, so I’ll tell you what I’ve done (so far) in my Ascendant Hoody: On a 39-mile, mid-September backpacking trip in Wyoming’s Wind River Range, I wore it in camp on cool, windy mornings and evenings. I’ve worn it as a middle layer on days of skiing downhill at resorts, and as an outer or middle layer skiing up and downhill in the backcountry. And I’ve regularly pulled it on to ride my bike on errands around town this winter. Its versatility derives from having just the right amount of breathable insulation to make it the insulated jacket you grab more than any other all year.

Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody.

The Ascendant Hoody joins the new generation of jackets with breathable insulation—making them something you can wear on the move, not just insulation when inactive. The critical ingredient is Polartec’s latest iteration of its breathable Alpha synthetic insulation: Alpha Direct. Sewn into the jacket as a solid, thin lining, it gives the Ascendant a more-slender profile than a puffy down jacket. But don’t let the looks deceive: I found it warm enough over just a T-shirt and midweight, long-sleeve top sitting in camp in the Winds in temps in the low 40s Fahrenheit, with steady wind. Being a synthetic, Alpha retains its ability to trap heat even when wet; but unlike non-breathable synthetic insulation, once wet, its breathability means your body heat moves through it faster than through traditional insulation, speeding up the process of drying it.

In terms of warmth and breathability, the Ascendant falls in between two other OR jackets with breathable insulation: the warmer Uberlayer Hooded Jacket, which is very much a winter piece, and a lighter favorite of mine, the Deviator Hoody. While backcountry skiing, I get warm enough when skinning uphill that I may wear only a long-sleeve top in temps no colder than the mid- to upper 20s. But the Ascendant gives me just the right warmth I need climbing uphill when the combination of ambient temperature and wind chill dips to the low 20s or colder. The Ascendant’s particular balance of warmth and breathability makes it more versatile across all seasons as part of a dynamic layering system.

I’ll illustrate an important distinction about the Ascendant Hoody with a real-world situation that almost any backpacker or climber could encounter: The day after we finished our September backpacking trip in the Winds, over a foot of new snow fell there. Had that storm hit while we were there, we would have needed adequate boots (and gaiters), shells, tents, bags, and layers—all of which we had. But my Ascendant Hoody would have been much more useful than a standard, non-breathable down or insulated jacket because I could have worn it while hiking through that snowstorm; a down jacket would likely have trapped body heat and sweat inside, potentially even dampening the down to the point of rendering it ineffective. Versatility matters in the kind of circumstances many of us encounter.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. And follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The insulation’s breathability demands pairing it with a breathable shell fabric, and OR got it right with the stretchy Pertex Microlight nylon ripstop stretch-woven shell. Moderately windproof, it’s more importantly very air-permeable, so it helps the Alpha insulation offload heat when you’re working hard but temps still demand an insulating layer. You can feel some wind coming through the shell—an indicator of its breathability, which is what you’re after when climbing uphill in cold temps.

Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody.

The shell doesn’t repel falling snow as well as a shell jacket (like another OR favorite of mine, the Skyward Jacket); but that’s why you carry a shell. At 20-denier, the fabric is lightweight—be careful not to catch it on sharp edges. But that said, a slight tear wouldn’t present the same problem as you’d have with a down jacket that could start leaking feathers; Alpha insulation consists of solid panels, more like fleece than feathers. Besides, slight tears are why duct tape exists.

The athletic cut fits closely, but with some stretch to the fabric, it doesn’t inhibit movement at all. The hood, adjustable in the back and elasticized, fits snugly around the head and under a helmet. Thumb loops inside the cuffs keep the sleeves from riding up, and the cuffs fit well either over a lightweight glove (or the removable inner glove of any 3-in-1 glove system) and under a warmer, over-the-cuff-style glove.

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Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody.

The two hand pockets are warm and roomy enough to stuff gloves or a hat inside; but I wish they had zippers, so that I could keep a second pair of gloves in them (or dry out a wet pair) without fear of losing them. There’s a drawcord hem to seal in warmth. The jacket stuffs into a hand pocket, packing down to about the size of a cantaloupe—making it as packable as high-quality down jackets that offer comparable warmth.

The Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody’s breathability and degree of warmth make it a legitimate four-season shell for summer backpacking, shoulder-season dayhiking and climbing, backcountry skiing, mountaineering, bike commuting, or throwing on after you finish a trail run. And it costs less than many insulated jackets that are less versatile.

BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a men’s or women’s Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoody at backcountry.com, ems.comoutdoorresearch.com, moosejaw.com, or rei.com.

Tell me what you think. I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons below, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.

Read my review “The Best Clothing Layers For Winter in the Backcountry,” and see my other reviews of breathable insulated jackets and all of my reviews of insulated jackets and outdoor apparel that I like. See also my reviews of the best gloves for winter and the best winter hats; some of the gloves and hats would certainly be good for spring through fall, too.

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.

—Michael Lanza

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By Michael Lanza

Nearly four decades after it erupted, Washington’s Mount St. Helens has become one of the most sought-after summits in the country—for good reason. Hikers on the standard Monitor Ridge route, on the mountain’s south side, emerge soon from the shady, cool, temperate rainforest onto a stark, gray and black moonscape of volcanic rocks, pumice, and ash, with little vegetation and sweeping views of the Cascade Mountains, including several other snow-covered volcanoes. As the photo gallery below illustrates, the views could steal the breath from God.

If you want to climb St. Helens this year, the time to apply for a permit is coming up fast.

From atop crumbling cliffs at the crater rim, hikers look out over the vast hole—2,000 feet deep and nearly two miles across—created by the 1980 eruption that decapitated St. Helens. Ice-capped volcanoes dominate three horizons: Rainier, Adams, Hood, and Jefferson. Scroll down to the photo gallery below from my family’s three-generation hike up St. Helens, and you’ll see why I consider it one of “The 10 Best Family Outdoor Adventure Trips.”

Dayhiking 8,363-foot Mount St. Helens is so enormously popular—nearly 14,000 people attempt it every year—that you can’t spontaneously decide to do it. From April 1 to Oct. 31, every climber above 4,800 feet on Mount St. Helens must have a permit that costs $22 per person and is one of the hardest backcountry permits to get on U.S. public lands.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. And follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Permits for climbing St. Helens between April 1 and Oct. 31 go on sale online on Feb. 1, at 9 a.m Pacific Standard Time. All of the limited permits issued per day (100 permits/day from May 15 to Oct. 31, and 500 permits/day from April 1 to May 14) sell out quickly—by early spring or sooner. Apply early at mshinstitute.org/explore/climbing-permits/purchasing-your-permits.html.

If you fail to get a permit for your desired dates through the online application process, get on the waiting list at purmit.com. Because people reserve months in advance, there are always permit holders interested in selling, and rules prohibit selling permits for any more than the regular price of $22.

Got a trip coming up? See my reviews of the best gear duffles and luggage and 6 favorite daypacks.

Read my story “Three Generations, One Big Volcano: Pushing Limits on Mount St. Helens,” about my family’s three-generation hike of Mount St. Helens, with more photos, a video, and tips on how to pull it off yourself.

Tell me what you think. I spent a lot of time writing this story, so if you enjoyed it, please consider giving it a share using one of the buttons below, and leave a comment or question at the bottom of this story. I’d really appreciate it.

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Hi Michael,

My son Matt and I (age 35 and 65) will be hiking the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim (r2r2r) in May as a continuous ultra-hike. This will be the farthest we’ve ever hiked in a day (44 to 48 miles, depending on the route), and we’re excited. Since you have done this hike in a day, we’d appreciate your advice. Do you plan your rest periods? What about pace? On a recent 30-mile hike with rolling hills in Maryland, we averaged about 3.3 miles per hour. Should we expect a slower pace on the r2r2r? What else do we need to know?

We have hiked in the Grand Canyon probably a half-dozen times and have done rim-to-rim (r2r) three times during the last 10 years or so. We are familiar with the potential temperature variations and know to plan carefully around calorie intake, hydration, and electrolyte replacement.

Although they’re not desert environments, we have dayhiked eight or so 14ers in Colorado, plus done hikes in northern New Mexico (Wheeler Peak), the Tetons in Wyoming, and extensively in Glacier National Park. Most of these dayhikes have been in the eight- to 20-mile range, with early-morning starts by headlamp.

In prepping for r2r2r, Matt and I put in three- to four-hour hikes every Saturday (12 to 15 miles) with weighted packs (up to 45 pounds), plus consistent cardio, core, and weight work throughout the week. Over the last three or four months, we have done two local 20-milers and a nearly 30-miler over rolling terrain. We’ll do another 30-miler about a month before our Grand Canyon date.

As to what we’ll carry, our overall intention is to go as light as we possibly can. On the Grand Canyon corridor trails, there is water every seven miles or so—Phantom Ranch, Cottonwood Canyon, North Rim, and a few places on the Bright Angel Trail. We’ll carry enough water to get us from one source to the next, plus enough for contingencies. We intend to use Hammer Nutrition’s product called Perpetuem for most of our calories, so we’ll carry powder to mix with water along the way. We likely will carry a bar or two plus a few gels as well. Beyond that, we’ll each probably bring a light windbreaker and a long-sleeve shirt.

I’ll also throw in a multi-tool and carry a satellite locator with GEOS capability—just in case.

That’s it! Any thoughts you have are welcome and appreciated.

Best,
George
Columbia, MD

Todd Arndt hiking the North Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon.

Hi George,

It’s good that you’re already familiar with the Grand Canyon environment and the trails you’ll hike doing the rim to rim to rim (the North Kaibab and either the South Kaibab or the Bright Angel), and it sounds like you’re training seriously. I’ll focus on your questions and point out what I believe are key issues and strategies to think about.

But you can also see my training tips in my stories “Training For a Big Hike or Mountain Climb” and “Cranking Out Big Days: How to Ramp Up Your Hikes and Trail Runs,” as well as my feature story “April Fools: Dayhiking the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim” about my r2r2r, which describes the route choices.

Regarding pace and managing your time, my ultra-hiking friends and I often try to cover eight to nine miles every three hours, and the longer the hike—meaning anything over about 20 miles—the more diligent we are about managing our pace and staying on schedule. We take a 15- to 20-minute break every three hours to cool off, eat, refill/treat water, bathroom stop, and take care of our feet (remove shoes and socks to cool and dry them; taping and blister treatment if needed).

Get the right daypack for hikes like the Grand Canyon. See my “Gear Review: The 6 Best Hiking Daypacks.”

Mark Fenton descending the Grand Canyon’s South Kaibab Trail before dawn.

Even at that rate, those stops add up to significant time over the course of a huge hike like the r2r2r, so you have to keep track of time and be efficient. By later in the day, it’s easy to lose track of time and not force yourself to get up and move soon enough; and of course, by later in the day, muscles may be starting to stiffen up, and stopping too long can exacerbate that.

There’s just two of you, so fewer people to have a slowing effect on the group. Still, you don’t have to both stop just because one person has to pee. When on long hikes with friends, if we spread out a bit (as can happen), we use a system where, whenever someone walks potentially out of sight off the trail to go to the bathroom, that person will leave a trekking pole (or a pack) beside the trail, where partners will see it, so everyone knows when someone has been leap-frogged.

Retaping feet at the North Rim, mid-r2r2r in the Grand Canyon.

As for feet, I tape pre-emptively to help prevent blisters on ultra-hikes—even though I almost never actually get blisters on hikes of moderate distances. You’re going to take something on the order of 110,000 steps that day—that’s a whole lot of cumulative friction. I put two or three overlapping strips of athletic tape around my heels. If my toes develop hot spots, I’ll tape them immediately, before they develop blisters. We carry tape and often reapply it multiple times during the day; but athletic tape stays in place pretty well even when feet get sweaty.

I always wear highly breathable but reasonably supportive, lightweight, low-cut hiking shoes or trail runners. In the Grand Canyon, you don’t need waterproof shoes, you need shoes with mesh uppers and no membrane so they’re very breathable. See my reviews of some favorite lightweight hiking shoes, including the La Sportiva TX3, Scarpa Epic Lite, and Brooks Cascadia 12.

Use trekking poles, they’re critical on such a huge day. See my reviews of trekking poles. I’d recommended an ultralight model like the BD Distance Carbon Z or the Helinox Passport FL120.

You already know how hot it can get in the canyon in May. My most recent GC hiking trip was in early May (we backpacked the Royal Arch Loop and dayhiked 25 miles from Hermits Rest to Bright Angel—a gorgeous dayhike that I highly recommend for your next visit), and we got lucky for weather, with a little light rain, some clouds, and cool to moderate temps.

Assuming it’ll be as hot as it can be at that time of year, think about the r2r2r in terms of where you’ll be at the hottest hours of the day—or when I’ll encounter the heat based on where I’ll be at certain times of day. We started in the dark (around 5:30am) on the South Kaibab Trail, the most direct route to the bottom and truly an absolutely beautiful trail to descend when the sun’s rising, because you’re constantly looking out over the canyon.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. And follow my adventures on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Descending the North Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.

Even taking time for some photos, we reached the river in under 2.5 hours, partly because the trail is so good. Get some memorable photos, but get down to the bottom early and start ascending the other side before the heat starts building. We did the r2r2r on April 2, a time of year when we the initial few miles of the North Kaibab Trail—beneath the sheer, close walls of the canyon’s Inner Gorge—remains shaded and cool. In May, with the sun higher in the sky, you could get direct sunlight earlier in the Inner Gorge, and that will raise temps very quickly in there. Fortunately, you’re beside the creek and it’s gorgeous hiking.

In all likelihood, the hottest part of your entire day will be when you emerge from the Inner Gorge into the more-open middle miles of Bright Angel Canyon—before and beyond Cottonwood camp. You’ll get there around mid-morning, as the temperature’s rising quickly, and have several miles of hot sun with little shade. Once you turn the corner into Roaring Springs Canyon on the North Kaibab Trail (near the Pumphouse Residence), you’ll get shade again at some point because the trail hugs the cliff on the southwest wall of that canyon. The upper North Kaibab Trail reaches forest and cooler elevations. By the time you’re back down in that open middle section of Bright Angel Canyon, it will be hours later, probably evening—although in May it certainly could still be hot.

Plan clothing using the same way of thinking that I outlined above. In early April, we started and finished the r2r2r in strong, cold winds in early morning and later evening. But on that 17-hour day, I was only cold the first half-hour (or less) at the outset, hiking downhill in the dark in that wind. We were plenty warm enough hiking back up the South Kaibab in the dark with essentially the same wind and temps, wearing just a T-shirt, long-sleeve layer, and wind shell. If I had carried any more clothing than that, I would literally have just carried it most of the day after the first half-hour. Not worth it.

Want more? See “The 20 Best National Park Dayhikes” and “Extreme Hiking: America’s Best Hard Dayhikes.”

Hiking the North Kaibab Trail in the Grand Canyon.

Unless the forecast is for unusually chilly temps, I’d only bring the minimal layers described above (maybe also a warm hat and light gloves), in addition to a wide-brim sun hat. If you stop to rest in the lower canyon, it will likely be warm, even at night. See all of my reviews of ultralight wind shells—especially the Outdoor Research Helium Hybrid Hooded Jacket, Arc’teryx Atom SL Hoody, Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody, and the Montane Minimus 777 Pull-On Jacket—and my “Review: The Best Base Layers and Shorts for the Outdoors and Training.”

Carry a 3-oz. emergency bivy sack, just in case you’re forced to stop. We figured that our likely worst-case scenario was that one or more of us would just feel too wrecked to continue, find a place to crash on the ground for a few hours, not expecting much sleep, but enough to eventually get up and continue. That obviously presumes a high degree of experience in this environment, and self-sufficiency, to avoid a serious accident or emergency.

I think your water plan is smart. At a strong pace, you’ll reach water sources in intervals of three hours or less, so..

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