Overnight hikes in the desert Southwest—whether it's Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef, or Grand Canyon—are some of the world's most spectacular natural adventures. By day, you get enormous views (this is the real big sky country!), vibrantly colored sandstone arches and hoodoos, and massive solitude. By night, you get sparkling blankets of stars, comfortable sleeping temperatures, and just enough odd noises to remind you that these deserts remain untamed wilderness. For these outings, you'll want to pack the same items you'd carry for a dayhike, plus food, cooking gear, and these desert-specific recommendations.
From spring through fall, the nighttime climate in Zion's backcountry is reliably warm and dry, which means there's no need for heavy, bulky gear and clothing to keep you comfortable. In fact, it's a great place to travel light (except for water, of course). Our gear list focuses on a few lightweight favorites, plus two picks for overcoming challenges peculiar to the canyon.
1. Backpack: Unless you're planning a two-week expedition or lavish five-course meals, you should be able to pack everything you need for a few nights in a midsize pack built for weekends. BACKPACKER testers raved about the Osprey Exos 58 this year; at just over 2 pounds, it carried 40 pounds comfortably, and it's trampoline back panel provides excellent ventilation. If you're looking for a pack that's still light but has enough room for weeklong trips back home, check out the REI Flash 65, which earned one of BACKPACKER's 2009 Editors' Choice Awards. Read reviews of these and other packs here.
2. Tent: Prolonged rainstorms are rare in the Southwest, and even when they hit, the precipitation rarely amounts to much. That means you can opt for a superlight tent built for living space and ventilation more than mountain weather. The Sierra Designs Vapor Light 2 gets our vote for its minimal weight-only 3 lbs. 4 oz.-and full-mesh ceiling, which keeps breezes moving (read a full review here). Tip: Pitch this tent without its rainfly for wraparound stargazing.
3. Sleeping Bag: Temperatures may drop to 40ºF on spring and summer nights in Zion, but it can feel like a lot more if the daytime high was 100ºF. BACKPACKER field editors recommend a bag rated to 40ºF or lower, depending on the timing of your visit. One of their favorites is the Sierra Designs Nitro 30, a high-quality down mummy with elastic stitching that stretches with your body as you sleep for maximum comfort. Summer tends to be much warmer; a fleece blanket may be enough.
4. Food Storage: Many new desert hikers worry about snakes, scorpions, and spiders, but they're actually a very minor threat. The real wildlife worries at popular backcountry sites are mice and ravens, which are known to chew or peck their way into tents to steal food. To keep your supplies safe, pack them away in a bearproof food canister or the Ursack, a Kevlar-reinforced stuff sack.
5. Water Treatment Purifying your drinking water is a good idea in the Southwest, because cattle find their way almost everywhere-even into national parks. BACKPACKER editors often use Aquamira (chlorine dioxide drops), which is a light and expensive. But oftentimes backpackers have to get water from shallow pools where a pump is much more efficient. So for many trips, we carry a filter like Courtesy_MSR_HyperFlow.tif MSR's Hyperflow, which has a hose that lets you pull every last drop out of a pothole. See the Hyperflow in action and get water treatment tips here.