You’re headed to one of Utah’s dazzling national parks where you will explore the red-rock canyons, hike along red dirt trails and play in the small waterfalls and creeks that make their way through the dry, desert landscape. But how do you pack for your desert climate? Here are the top 16 items to put in your backpack.
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1. Sturdy Water Shoes for Hiking Rivers and Rafting
If you plan on river rafting, canoeing or kayaking, you will want a good pair of water shoes since Utah’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 with a hard sole will protect your feet when hiking the rocky Virgin River through the Narrows in Zion National Park. (You can rent a full dry gear outfit with footwear near Zion’s Springdale entrance.)
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.
2. 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.
3. A Sun Hat, Sunglasses and Sunscreen
You only need to have experienced the Utah 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. protect your eyes from being burned and polarized lens will help you see views more clearly. Don’t forget you are 8,000 feet closer to the sun than at sea level. Purchase sunglass straps if you plan to be on the water – it can be frustrating watching your new sunglasses float downstream without you.
4. 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.
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.
5. 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 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.
6. 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 Utah. 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.
7. A Couple of Water Bottles or a Hydration System
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
8. Warm and Cold Clothing Layers
The Utah desert temperatures can fluctuate 30 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. This is especially important during fall, winter and spring in Utah when temperatures can plunge quickly after rainfall and sunset.
9. Park Maps
All five national parks in Utah have a wonderful array of overlooks and trails. 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 free PDF maps or get the NatGeo Utah National Parks Map Pack with detailed topographic maps at REI.com
10. A Star Chart or Star App
You’ll find some of the darkest skies in Utah’s national parks. 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 use technology and download the SkyView® Free app for iPhone or Android, which enables you to identify stars and so on by pointing your phone 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!
11. 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.
12. 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 a stroll to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park easy with a daypack. Place all your (and your family’s essentials) like 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.
14. 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 hikes like The Narrows in Zion National Park. 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.
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.
16. Download the Parks Tour App
If you are headed to Canyonlands National Park or Arches National Park, 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.