Zion is remarkably similar to the Grand Canyon in climate and terrain—it only lacks the brutal 4,000-foot climbs. The weather here tends to be oven-hot in the summer (best times to visit are spring and fall), water is scare, and the trails can be just as rocky and technical. There’s a bit less technical risk and challenge in Zion, but the gear you’ll pack will be similar; in fact, what you carry on hikes in the Grand Canyon and Zion is a good setup for most Southwest desert hikes.
1. Daypack: In the Zion National Park region, you generally won't need a big pack for dayhikes. The main trails are well-traveled and relatively gentle, which makes for fast escapes if a thunderstorm rolls in. For a daypack, BACKPACKER testers recommend a lightweight pick like the Black Diamond RPM, which weighs just a few ounces over a pound and features a very secure harness for stability on fast-paced hikes and even trail runs.
2. Headlamp: BACKPACKER editors insist that you carry some kind of light-and not just for safety. In this park, the best times to spot wildlife - bear and bighorn sheep in particular - are at dawn and dusk, when they come out to feed. That means that you might be walking in the dark for a few miles. The ultralight Princeton Tec Scout is a simple, inexpensive headlamp with three brightness levels and enough battery life for a few weeks of sunset hikes. See a full review of this $20 light here).
3. Camera: You wouldn't want to head home without great pictures of Zion's narrow canyons, big walls and rich colors, would you? But you don't want to lug a five-pound camera when you're trying to cover miles. To capture all of the color and action, you'll want to pack one of the high-quality, lightweight digital point-and-shoots that have hit the market in recent years. BACKPACKER field testers gave an Editors' Choice Award this year to the Nikon Coolpix P6000, a compact digital that takes 10MP images and records GPS data with every snap, letting you easily transfer images back home to Google Earth or a map on your computer. Read reviews of this Nikon, other digital cameras, and video cameras.
4. Trekking Poles: Sturdy aluminum hiking sticks provide two key benefits in the greater Zion park region: shock absorption (great for your knees) and stability (great for your ankles and anything that could break if you fall). Improve your balance and lessen the impact of steep trails with Komperdell's Contour Titanal, a lightweight telescoping model that packs small but takes years of abuse (read our full review here). To learn more about trekking poles and see more reviews, go here or user our GearFinder to find your perfect pair.
5. GPS Many hikes in Zion are straightforward adventures that never deviate from obvious, well-marked trails. But if you're the exploratory type (amen!) who prefers hidden nooks and crannies to sunburnt crowds, you'll probably find yourself striking out cross-country into some of Zion's less-traveled slickrock terrain. For off-trail wanderings in the Southwest's canyon country, we highly recommend a GPS like Garmin's Oregon 400t. This unit comes with preloaded maps and features touch-screen technology that's easy to use; it earned BACKPACKER's Editors' Choice Award in 2009. See a review of this and other GPS units here.