This page contains some little treasures meant to make your life easier and more enjoyable while on the trail. These tidbits of knowledge came from many of my hiking companions through the years at the Grand Canyon Field Institute, as well as from my own experience.
I have included some very useful tips and tricks from my readers on the Readers’ Tips & Tricks page. Find out what others are doing to make life on the trail simpler and more enjoyable. If you have any ideas you’d like to share, please drop me a line!
- RoadID. This is an important product that could easily save you or a loved one’s life. And it is so inexpensive that it seems a “no brainer” to have for hiking and traveling. It is called the RoadID, and it is an interactive ID that provides emergency providers with up-to-date contact and medical information in case something happens to you. The ID comes in wrist bands, shoe tags, dog tags, and various other forms. As a Ranger EMT, I have experienced first hand how difficult it is to get accurate medical information expediently, even from a significant other who knows the injured person extremely well but is too upset to remember all the details at such a stressful moment! This ID does the talking for you. Highly recommended!
- Extra Water Bladder. I carry an extra MSR Dromedary Bag water bladder (my favorite due to their durability) to ensure that I will always have enough carrying capacity for my trip, even if something were to happen to another on the trip. They are so lightweight and take up so little room, there really isn’t a good excuse not to have an extra.
- Train for your trip. Don’t underestimate how tough it is to hike Grand Canyon and, by all means, don’t overestimate your own abilities. The Grand Canyon can humble a marathoner! Read my page on Training to find out effective, low-tech, inexpensive ways to prepare yourself!
- Walking Sticks. Use at least one, but preferably two, walking sticks. Until you’ve tried them, you’ll have no idea of the benefit derived from these marvels. Not only do they take the pressure off of your knees, hips, and ankles, but they also help propel you along. Walking sticks help establish a comfortable rhythm and also lessen your overall fatigue from hiking. Hiking with the extra weight of a backpack can make you a little unstable, and the sticks can help you balance yourself and prevent a fall. A good idea, don’t you think? Walking sticks are also invaluable for water crossings, providing good depth perception as well as support. The South Rim’s in-park Canyon Village Marketplace has a well-stocked camping section that rents quality adjustable hiking sticks for very reasonable rates. At the time of this update (Nov. 2010), the cost was $2 per day per pole with a $50 deposit on each. You may reserve them up to five (5) days in advance. This is a great way to try them out without investing much and save your knees and joints in the process! The phone number for the store is 928-638-2262; ask for the Camping Department. Thanks to Mike Blomberg for this update!
- Rent Gear. Try before you buy! Rent gear from a good outdoor supply store before making your purchase. By trying the gear out first, you can test different styles and find something that best suits your individual needs.
- Meals. Test your menu ideas at home first! If you are planning on using the prepackaged backpacking meals, try them in your kitchen where you can feed them to your dog if you just can’t stand them! You can’t throw it away when you are on the trail; you must pack it out! And remember, once the food is rehydrated, it is much, much heavier.
- Sleeping Pad. Splurge—buy a Therm-A-Rest or comparable sleeping pad! The class participants who have joined me on hikes wanted me to stress this to EVERYONE. Each of them said it was one of the most important items they either had—or didn’t have! I cannot begin to tell you the difference in comfort it can make.
- Sleeping Comfortably. While sleeping on your back, place a stuff sack full of clothes under your knees to raise them slightly. This helps flatten the lower back, preventing stiffness and soreness, and it just plain feels good.
- Socks. Take along clean, dry socks for every hiking day. Clean socks help prevent blisters and keep your feet happy! If you are hiking in very warm, dry weather, you can wash socks out instead of taking along many pairs. I will still carry at least three pairs along to cover the possibility that the washed pair won’t dry overnight.
- Allergy Meds. Carry allergy medication, such as Benadryl or an antihistamine of some sort. People who have never experienced allergies in their life can often find desert vegetation will affect even them. Be prepared.
- Ibuprofen. If you are not allergic to NSAID’s such as aspirin, carry ibuprofen with you. It comes under the retail name of Advil, but generic will do fine. None of the other anti-inflammatory medications will be as effective with the soreness you get from hiking. Some of those that are ineffective for joint pain and muscle soreness include Aleve, Tylenol, and aspirin. Trust me, this has been found to be the case over and over with hundreds of people I’ve hiked with! See Backcountry 911 for more information.
- Travel Size Items. Repackage your personal hygiene items into smaller bottles or Ziploc bags and buy travel sizes when available. These items can really contribute to the weight of your pack. When you buy the biodegradable camp soap, such as Camp Suds, buy the smallest bottle you can. It is VERY concentrated! Camp Suds works well for shampoo, laundry, body, and dish soap.
- Camp Shoes. It is always nice to take your boots off at night after a hard day’s hiking. If you take along some flip-flops, you can have comfortable camp shoes without a lot of extra weight. Tevas are great, but unless you need them for hiking through water, their weight can be hard to justify.
- Bandanas will be one of the most versatile items included in your pack. They can be used as a washcloth or towel, worn under a hat or alone to protect you from the sun, a strainer for water to strain the gunk out, a headband to keep sweat out of your eyes, wet down to wear around your neck to cool you on hot days, a first aid item to staunch blood flow or to use as a splint, and even as it was originally intended, like a handkerchief! In fact, if you tie a bandana on a loop of your backpack shoulder strap, you can have it handy for your nose, which will seem to run often while you hike. I’ve even seen bandanas used for a woman’s top. It was a hot day and this person didn’t have a cool top to wear, so she tied two bandanas together—one knot tied between her breasts and one knot at her back. It worked and it looked like a real top!
- Bucket. Take a collapsible bucket with you. See The Wonder Bucket! for its many different uses.
- Boot Lacing. There is a special way to tie your boots for those relentlessly long downhill grades at Grand Canyon. Because your feet swell when you hike, you’ll want to give them room to expand. But you also don’t want your feet to slide forward, causing your toes to hit the front of the boot. A dilemma! Never fear, there is a way to tie your laces that will allow your foot to swell while holding your foot back at the heel. You’ll find a complete description plus photos to demonstrate the method on my Boot Lacing page.
- Rest Step. Mountaineers use a very deliberate pace for climbing steep grades. This step is very useful for hiking the steep canyons of the southwest as well. Visit the Rest Step page for step-by-step instructions (pun intended).
- Polarized Sunglasses. If you are going to be doing any creek crossings, definitely consider getting some of these specialized sunglasses. The polarizing feature takes out the glare reflected from the water’s surface and allows a much clearer view of the creek bottom. I was walking in the Narrows in Zion National Park when this epiphany struck me! I had my sunglasses with me but hadn’t been wearing them because it was not bright in the depths of the canyon. But on my return trip, I noticed that the glare on the water was making it very difficult to see the river bottom. Duh! I put on my sunglasses and—WAH LA!—the river rocks became clear!