Desert Rat Sartorial Splendor

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…

I’ll throw on a ball cap for a quick hike once in a while.

  • 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!

My Dad calls the shoes my “Ruby Slippers” 🙂 PCO Josh Zapin.

  • 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.

In a canyon in Utah. PCO Joan West.

In Agua Fria National Monument, Arizona.

  • 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.

And the Superflux works well when holding your friends’ child on your lap and reading from the Haggadah for a cold outdoor Seder dinner! PCO Marni Stein-Zapin.

  • 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!)

Along with my equally essential Contigo coffee mug!

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.

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Andrew Cook
Andrew Cook
6 years ago

Love it man. Keep up the good work.

Another Kevin
6 years ago

Bright red – love ’em!

My current pair of trail runners are clay-colored, even after attacking them with a scrub brush. They were once blue.

6 years ago

I always appreciate your gear reviews. You’ve saved me a lot of money over the past few years. Thanks!
BTW, just curious what caused you to give up on the Cascadias? I’m currently looking into new shoes and that model is on my list.