Grand Canyon Day Trip: What’s in My Backpack?

View from Tonto Trail, Grand Canyon

View from Tonto Trail, Grand Canyon

Logistics settled, rim lodging booked, time to pack the backpack for a challenging day trip in the Grand Canyon. So what to put in it?


Taking sufficient water with you on any hike, and especially one in the arid southwestern United States, is so vitally important it cannot be overstated. At its worst dehydration can be lethal. But putting aside the worst case scenarios, I have seen hikers becoming dehydrated and unable to control musclecramping. I have also seen a hiker succumb to heat stroke. Neither is comfortable, and the delay can cause additional problems.

Water bladder and bottles

Water bladder and bottles

On our Grand Canyon day hike we were hiking 15 miles, and knew we would have water refills available to us at three stops on the third leg of our journey. At certain times of the year Bright Angel trail has potable water available at Indian Garden, and then at the two restroom facilities between Indian Garden and the South Rim. Nonetheless, we packed to be ready for no water refills, and so took a 2.5 – 3 liter camelback style bladder plus two additional one-liter bottles.

 Gear for the Weather

Weather in the Grand Canyon can be unpredictable, and you should be prepared for rain whether the it’s in the forecast or not. You can become very cold very quickly if you’re soaking wet. It’s easy to put a lightweight rain jacket with hood into the pack – they don’t take up much space or add much weight, and can be well worth it.

Temperatures can also change quickly, so you should be ready with layers. Fleece is an excellent layer to start with or at least have in the pack just in case.

And while we’re on the topic of what to wear, gloves are a tremendous help for anyone starting a hike into the canyon in the shoulder periods of April or October, even if the temperatures will be warmer later on. It’s even easier to start with a lighter jacket when the hands are kept warm. And likewise, think about the temperatures, or the sun, when selecting your hat. A warm hat can make a lot of difference to your overall comfort when hiking in the cold of morning – or after dark if it takes you longer than expected to get out of the Canyon.

Hats and Gloves

Hats and Gloves


Energy and Electrolytes

Whatever your fitness level, hiking for 6 to 12 hours in the Grand Canyon is an endurance sport, and having extra energy and electrolytes on hand can prevent an otherwise fun walk in the park from turning into a muscle cramping disaster. Take it seriously. I have hiked with fit people of all ages, and have seen even the youngest and fittest become debilitated by a sudden drop in electrolytes.

There are all sorts of products out there for enhancing energy, hydration, and recovery. Even if you find that the lunch and snacks you packed are sufficient, it’s always well worth having these products on hand just in case you or one of your hiking companions runs into difficulty.

But don’t rely only on these supplemental products. Pack a lunch full of carbohydrates and protein – to give you energy and sustain it.

GPS Device

GPS Device

GPS Device

It is really, really useful to know where you’re going! There are many GPS devices with varying interfaces and battery life. There is a some debate over whether a dedicated GPS device is necessary if you own a smart phone. I have come to the conclusion that an app such as Gaia GPS, with which you can download maps onto the phone so you don’t need cell phone coverage to access them, together with a charging case, works just as well. Either way, knowing that you’ve made the right turn on a trek in the middle of nowhere is very comforting.

Hiking Poles

On shorter hikes I’m not a huge fan, but LOVE hiking poles on long journeys, especially those involving a lot of uphill. Others like them for the downhill to provide stability. Hiking poles enable you to utilize some upper body strength when the legs are getting tired, and also help to keep your hands from swelling.

My poles are lightweight so it’s no hassle to link them onto the outside of the backpack while not in use, and they telescope for easy carriage and adjustment for the terrain. You’ll want to make them longer if you’re heading downhill, shorter if you’re heading up.

The Emergency Kit

Being last on this list does not make it less important. A first aid kit is a must on any hike – and the first aid kit should contain at a minimum: bandages of various sizes/shapes; a roll of gauze; small roll of adhesive tape; a multi use took or knife; a topical antibiotic ointment; antihistamines; pain relievers – including ibuprofen and acetaminophen; antiseptic towlettes; and cleansing pads with lidocaine. In case you need to save your feet: mole skin is strongly recommended.

An emergency foil survival blanket is incredibly light and takes minimal space. And while it may almost never be used, it could make a critical difference in an emergency.

And finally – don’t go for a full day hike without sunscreen!Emergency first aid kit

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