My Southern Tier Road Trip has turned into a (mainly) Four-Corners Jaunt since November. Add in the stroll I took through Utah in the Fall of 2017, and I’ve spent a lot of time in desert environments these past few months.
Though my three-season kit is very dialed in overall, on the excellent advice of Justin “Quality” Knowles, I thought I’d add some specific information for my jaunts on the desert environment of the Colorado Plateau. What worked? What do I like? What gear and clothing do I always use?
People seem interested in the long-term use of gear. And after over six months of backpacking, hiking, and camping in some often-obscure areas, all these items have been field tested in depth.
Some baselines: The area is the more High Desert overall than the lower (hotter) desert with some exceptions. I’ve been lucky with the weather; very little precip overall. I backpacked quite a bit in September, October, and into November. Since then I did perhaps a half-dozen backpacking trips with a mixture of day hiking and car camping. In the late Fall to Spring, I find car camping combined with hiking is an excellent way to see certain places.
However, next month I am heading back East, and I’ll be finishing up my road trip in mid-June. After that? Well, more to come! I’ll just say that backpacking season for the Rockies will be in full bloom! 🙂
On to the Desert Rat gear…
- A wide-brimmed hat is an excellent item to use for desert hiking. Sun protection, keeps the glare out of your eyes, light rain protection, and inexpensive overall. I, of course, tend to use my sun-faded, salt and sweat-stained trusty Boonie hat. I like to wear a large bandanna underneath that hat. The bandanna helps keep me cool and does multiple duties as an all-purpose piece of gear.
- Sunglasses are another piece of essential gear. Personally, I like contractor safety glasses. Light, durable, UVA and UVB protection, and inexpensive. Buy three pairs of my preferred Nemesis brand for $15!
- Union Bay Lightweight Travel Pants are the pants I prefer for most of my hiking. I tend to scramble on many of my routes with some bushwhacking thrown in a bit. Walking along set trails with a defined path are less frequent for me vs. my earlier traditional thru-hiking days. I have three pairs, and I’ve been wearing them almost every day since November 2017. They breathe well, are comfortable, durable enough, and double as clothes for town use. Only ~$25 a pair at Costco or on Amazon, too!
- Button down shirts are what I prefer to technical t-shirts. More sun protection, more comfortable and breathable, and again does double duty for town use. For backpacking trips, I prefer a long sleeve shirt as conditions often vary from day-to-day. I can roll up the sleeves as needed. But for day hikes on warm days? I prefer a short sleeve as they do keep me cooler overall. I’ve been using Wrangler Performance Button Downs. I don’t think they sell them anymore. Which is a shame as these wicking, non-cotton, shirts are comfortable when hiking. Another sub-$20 purchase!
- For thermals, the Paradox Thermal Top and Bottoms are my layers of choice. The top, in particular, is something I wear almost every day. I’ve worn these layers for countless nights and miles at this point since I purchased them in 2012! I am not sure how more expensive layers will improve my backpacking, hiking, skiing, and camp time when these no-frills and inexpensive layers have worked so well and are still going strong. The set cost me $35 at Costco in total. A similar set is about $45 total on Amazon currently.
- My 100 wt fleece pullover is still my “go to” piece of clothing. I prefer a traditional fleece to grid fleece for reasons I’ve given before. Fleece is inexpensive, versatile, comfortable, and durable. Those Colorado Plateau nights can be cool. The 100wt fleece is often just enough of a layer to keep the chill off. Don’t worry about the best fleece. I found that in the field any fleece works just fine.
- On similar lines, my surplus wool liner gloves are an item I’ve worn almost every day. Warm enough at night when in camp, they take the chill off on windy days, inexpensive, light, and surprisingly durable. If your local surplus store does not sell them, get the liner gloves on Amazon.
- Every person should have a basic fleece hat. In the higher desert areas, it gets cool at night! I bought a generic fleece beanie last year thick enough for general use vs. strictly while hiking. Black, $6, packs down, light. I’ve been wearing it more than my favorite general skiing and hiking hat. Again, you don’t need anything fancy. Just get one.
- In camp, I’ve been using a synthetic fill 5oz down fill equivalent. I love my Montbell down 3oz fill for general backpacking and my Montbell 7oz fill for winter backpacking. But for an all-purpose jacket in camp and colder (late fall or late winter) backpacking? My Mountain Equipment Superflux has been quite handy. Down is lighter and more compressible. But synthetic is more forgiving in a variety of conditions. The thicker nylon shell and synthetic fill shows the climbing roots of this British company. The coat has become a favorite “go to” layer of mine many nights. The jacket is heavier and bulkier than my older GoLite Bitterroot, but since I am on the road, I do need to make some concessions for versatility sake.
- For packs, As I wrote earlier the ULA CDT “is my workhorse of choice for a three-season backpack. I even used my poor man’s pack raft with five days of food plus water carries! I would not have used any other pack. Being broad shouldered and built for hauling based on photos of relatives back in Italy, (I’m a stubborn Italian Jackass on many levels apparently), hauling weight with a frameless pack worked for me. May not work for you.” I’ve been going on a lot of day hikes since December. And my daypack of choice? The Gossamer Gear Type II Utility pack continues to astound me with its simplicity, durability, and, yes, utility. I’ve been beating the crap out of since I’ve acquired this daypack. And I’ve been very pleased with the pack since that time.
- After my Utah extended trip, my Brooks Cascadias did not fit me very well. I drank the Altra Kool-Aid and found the Altra Superiors suited my very wide toe box, worked well for scrambling trips in Utah, and my standard kit that is on the light side. As a side note, my Dad refer’s to these shoes as my Ruby Slippers and my honorary, nearly 12-year old nephew, thinks the shoes are “cool!” If I were ordering online, I would not get bright red! 🙂
- And finally, the most essential piece of gear: My Benchmark Atlases. When I want to find a new place to camp, hike, or backpack, the initial resource is the Benchmarks. My Utah and New Mexico ones are the most used overall (other than my very beat up Colorado one, of course!)
And these are the items I’ve used frequently over the past few months. Almost on a daily basis. If the weather was colder or rainy, the picks might be different. But with the conditions I experienced, these picks worked well for me.
Disclosure: I purchased all the gear and clothing with my funds. The Gossamer Gear Type II Utility pack and the Superflux coat are exceptions. I received the pack from Gossamer Gear directly in January 2015 at no cost. Backpacker Magazine provided the Superflux for a review I did about two years ago.