They like to say “it’s a dry heat” in the Southwest, and it is—like a furnace. Especially on exposed trails in the Utah desert, where there are few trees to provide shade, and plenty of light-colored surfaces to reflect the solar radiation. Unless you’re exploring a slot canyon like Zion Narrows, where the temps are milder, time your dayhike for the coolest parts of the day—a pre-dawn start is advisable—and make sure you’re wearing the following items to beat the UV.
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.
Start with this no-brainer to keep your skin from going all lobster. BACKPACKER editors have been using Smartshield's Sunscreen SPF 30 Lotion over the last year, and report that it protects without feeling greasy or running into their eyes (read a full review here). No matter what sunblock you buy, choose an SPF no lower than 15, and reapply every hour or so during your hike-you may not feel like you're perspiring in the dry heat, but you are, a lot.
It may seem counterintuitive, but a light-colored long-sleeve top is a smart pick for hot desert hikes. BACKPACKER's editor-in-chief swears by Woolrich's Stillwater 3XDRY, a loose-fitting cotton shirt with a high collar and vents in the back and armpits. When wet, the cotton creates evaporative cooling (the moisture against your skin pulls heat away), and the long sleeve reflect the sun (meaning less sunblock to slather on).
3. Sun Hat:
Double down to protect your face, ears, and neck with a thin, light-colored lid like Royal Robbin's Extreme Expedition Hat. This fast-drying Coolmax cap comes with a snap-off neck shield that we soaked with water throughout the day for extra evaporative cooling. For more on this and other hats, including wide-brimmed sombreros, click here.
4. Wool Socks:
Another counterintuitive pick-wool would be hot, right? Nope, and that's the beauty of nature's wonder fabric. Our testers used Teko's Hike/Trek Heavy Cushion Crew on numerous desert adventures and reported that they transfer moisture away from the foot and minimize friction; both features are critical to blister prevention. For sock reviews from BACKPACKER field editors, click here.
5. Hiking Boots
Zion has a number of manicured or flat, sandy trails that make it tempting to hike around in sneakers. And that might be perfect for shorter hikes. But for longer hikes and rougher trails, the soft, unsupportive soles in sneakers are an almost-guaranteed recipe for blisters and sore feet. BACKPACKER recommends a mid-cut or high-cut hiking boot even for dayhikes to provide stability and cushion, and to keep grit out. Select something that's not waterproof for better breathability, like Merrell's Chameleon Evo Mid, which stood out in BACKPACKER's recent boot testing (full review here). Find your perfect boot with BACKPACKER's interactive GearFinder tool.