No discussion of backpacking gear would be complete without including clothing. Your body’s ability to stay comfortable will be affected by what you wear.
The style and fit, as well as the type of fabric, all play a major role in how your body regulates itself in your environment.
For those of you interested in sewing your own clothing and gear, be sure to check into the retailers below that sell the fabric, notions, and patterns.
In hot weather, you need clothing to protect you from the sun that is loose to allow airflow for cooling. Light colors deflect the sun’s rays. Unlike hiking elsewhere, cotton is desirable for summer hiking in the desert if you can wet your clothing as it allows evaporative cooling.
This differs from what you would do in cooler weather where you don’t want to wear cotton. Cotton doesn’t wick moisture away from your body and it will stay wet much longer than synthetic fabric.
This is definitely a disadvantage in other locales. You can read about appropriate winter clothing on my Winter Hiking page.
You want clothing that will keep your body comfortable in whatever kind of weather you are hiking. There are many hi-tech fabrics out there that wick moisture away from your body and disperse it to the surface of your clothing where it can evaporate.
This is extremely important when you are hiking in cooler weather. Your body will perspire with physical activity no matter how cool it is outside, and if moisture stays against your skin, any breeze will rob your body of its precious warmth. This can be deadly and lead to hypothermia.
Many people believe that hypothermia is only a problem in extremely cold weather. However, most cases occur in temperatures in the 50-degree range!
Some of the most useful fabrics are waterproof/breathable synthetics like Gore-Tex. They are made to repel rain but allow perspiration out. Another extremely useful and versatile fabric is Polartec or fleece.
These fleece fabrics are lightweight, great at wicking moisture, and are very comfortable. (Just don’t get them near a flame where they can melt to your skin!) By putting a windproof shell over it, fleece becomes a great insulating layer.
Fleece also becomes a great pillow when you are backpacking! Anything that has more than one use is always an excellent choice for backpacking.
When choosing clothing for your outdoor activities, always look for items that can be layered. For instance, starting out in the cool of the morning as you do on one of the rims, you may want to wear a shirt, topped with a fleece jacket, and a windproof-shell. As you warm up, take the appropriate layers off.
A shirt that opens down the front can help regulate your body heat even further. Several companies also make pants that convert to shorts by simply zipping the legs off.
Another useful garment is a hat. A brimmed hat will protect you from the sun, and a knit cap will help keep your entire body warm.
Layering is truly a necessity while hiking in a desert environment. Many people are under the mistaken notion that it is always warm or hot in the desert, but because of the lack of humidity, temperatures range as much as forty degrees or more between night and day.
Also, much of the desert southwest is situated at higher elevations. The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is at 7,000 feet in elevation and the North Rim at 8,000! Even in summer, temperatures get down into the mid-40s at night and up into the 80s (and higher) during the day on the rims.
This is a high-desert environment and differs wildly from the low deserts of the Phoenix valley. On the rims, you’ll find Ponderosa pine trees, while the Phoenix area is covered with cactus and mesquite trees. Yes, we do get snow in the wintertime, sometimes several feet during a single storm!
Over the years it has become very obvious that many people do not do any homework before visiting the park. They’ll show up in November wearing only shorts and T-shirts only to be caught in a snowstorm! It’s good for retail businesses since they get to sell sweatshirts and warmer clothing for premium prices.
As for hiking at the canyon, people will start their trip from the cool South Rim completely unprepared for the heat that will assault them as they get further down into the inner canyon.
The elevation at the river near Phantom Ranch is only 2,400 feet, a drop of 4,600 feet! The lower the elevation, the hotter the temperatures will be. You can count on a difference of 20 to 30 degrees! Do your research and prepare your clothing and equipment appropriately.
For those of you who are interested in making and/or repairing some of your own clothing and gear, there several excellent catalogs and websites available. They sell patterns, fabric, buckles, cord, trims and all kinds of goodies for outdoor gear.
BearPaw Wilderness Designs
2601 S. Lemay #7-402
Fort Collins, CO 80525
Phone: (970) 444-BPWD
Phone: (970) 444-2793
The Rain Shed, Inc.
707 NW 11th
Corvalis, OR 97330
Phone: (541) 753-8900
Fax: (541) 757-1887
Outdoor Wilderness Fabrics Inc.
16415 Midland Blvd.
Nampa, Idaho 83687
Phone: (208) 466-1602
(800) OWF SHOP (693-7467)
Fax: (800) 333-OWF0 (6930)
or (208) 463-4622
4919 Hubner Circle
Sarasota, FL 34241
Phone: (800) 359-6931 USA
Email: email@example.comRockywoods Outdoor Fabrics
3419 W. Eisenhower Boulevard
Loveland, CO 80537
Phone: (970) 663-6163
Kits and material
Phone: (415) 462-1745
Sundrop Outerwear Textiles
#310 – 2071 Kingsway Avenue
Port Coquitlam, BC V3C 6N2 Canada
Phone: (604) 464-5236
Fax: (604) 464-5237