Now that I’ve had some more time to think about my trip to the bottom, I figured I’d give a little background of what equipment I brought, how I used it, and what I would have done differently.
First, what did I bring?
- Backpack: Kelty Lakota 65 – I got this at REI Outlet. I liked my Kelty tent and this seemed to be the right size for multi-day hikes. I was happy with basically everything about it. It has a bunch of compression straps which really helped to tie down the load. There are a bunch of pockets which got used a lot. The only downside is I found the waterbottle pockets to be completely useless. Maybe I’m just inflexible and oddly jointed, but I couldn’t for the life of me reach them while hiking.
- Sleeping Bag: Kelty Mistral 30 – I bought this sleeping bag a while back as a step up from my Walmart rectangle bag that Khanh gave me (thanks Khanh!). I liked it for car camping, but it is the first thing I’m going to upgrade for my next backpacking trip. Being synthetic it didn’t compress well into the backpack sleeping bag pocket, taking up more space than it should have. It also was heavier than I’d like. On the plus side, it was warm and comfortable when the temperature dipped into the 40s.
- Sleeping Bag Liner: Cocoon Mummy Liner – This was a last minute purchase and a great one. The microfiber was much nicer on my skin than the sleeping bag and it probably added a few degrees of warmth.
- Tent: Kelty Salida 2 – I bought this tent for car camping and it has served me very well. It’s crazy fast and easy to set up. It’s pretty light and easy to pack. It’s got nice pockets on the inside for emptying your pockets. It, in the past, was big enough for me, Rachel, and two dogs (albeit snug-ly). When it’s warm, and you don’t need the rainfly, the mesh that completely encloses you is basically transparent. I love it at night. It’s like you’re sleeping outside but without bugs. Awesome. Two lessons: First, the rainfly, which I almost left for weight was very important when it got cold. Very important. Second, the gravely tent pads made staking the tent a real pain in the ass. The next purchase, after a sleeping bag, is to get a one-man tent for backpacking. It will only shave a pound or so off of the weight but the size decrease should be worthwhile.
- Tent footprint: Kelty Salida 2 Footprint – I bought this to replace the plain tarp I was using because it was supposed to connect to the ends of the poles on grommets and fit exactly. It was garbage. It didn’t stay taught, it wouldn’t stay under the tent, and it wasn’t rectangular! WTF? You sell a footprint for your tent and it doesn’t fit right? I don’t know whether it was defective or what, but I returned it to REI. Better off with just about anything else.
- Stove: Jetboil Zip – I wavered a lot in the days before whether I should bring a stove or not. On one hand, I was eating dinner and breakfast at Phantom Ranch. On the other, I would have a cold night and morning at Indian Garden. In the end, I bought this guy. It worked great for the Knorr meals I brought and a cup of tea. The downside is that you really can’t “cook” in it, at least in the pot. After burning the first meal a little, I just boiled water, added the pasta, stirred for a minute or so and shut it off. It stayed hot enough that it cooked in 10 or so minutes. It would work great with dehydrated meals.
- Water treatment: MSR Miniworks EX – I didn’t use this at all. There is no water on the S. Kaibab trail and the water at Bright Angel Creek is potable. I would have just brought some tablets on the off chance a pipe broke and I needed to purify water from the creek. I’m sure I’d bring it when water wasn’t 90% sure, but for a trip down the Canyon, it wasn’t necessary.
- Water bladder: Camelbak 3L – Worked fine as you’d expect. It was an appropriate amount of water for each leg. I didn’t run out any day.
- Water bottle: REI Nalgene – If I skip the water filter, I’d just bring a regular disposable water bottle. It’s lighter and easier to drink. With a water filter, being able to screw it to the bottle is helpful.
- Chair: REI Flexlight Chair – I’m sure if you’re an avid backpacker you’d wondering what the hell I brought a chair for when there are a ton of places to sit and picnic tables at each camp site. Well, I liked it a lot. It was great to be able to lean back and stretch my legs out without sitting up at a picnic table. It was light and small. I’d bring it again.
- Head lamp: Black Diamond something or other – Nothing special about it. It was on sale. Nice and bright, dimable, red light for night walking. For the most part, the light was so bright from the moon, I didn’t need it. But obviously I’d bring it.
- Camp lamp/flashlight: Kelty Flashback Mini – This was a bit superfluous as well, but I liked it. It was nice having either a flashlight or lantern light. It’s small and light as well. I’d bring it again, definitely with two people.
- GPS: Garmin eTrex HCx – This I had from my geocaching days. It was nice knowing about how far I had hiked but there was a lot of reflections, making the distances not all that accurate. I’d bring it again.
- Snacks: Salted nuts, trail mix, wasabi peas, Knorr pasta sides (x2), Odwalla bars (x8), tuna packets (x6)- Everyone said “bring salty foods, you’ll want them!” Man, did I want sweets. I might have pushed an old lady down the canyon for a pack of M&Ms by the end of it. I needed some of that cheap, dirty energy. I never cared for sweet and salty trail mixes, but I think a good 50/50 mix would have been perfect. The Knorr stuff was fine for the price, but next time I’ll pony up for some dehydrated meals. The bars and tuna were a good choice. I had just about enough food, though if I didn’t get the meals at Phantom Ranch, it wouldn’t have been enough.
- Clothing: Russell Athletic long underwear from Walmart, Starter Walmart fleece, LL Bean flannel shirt, Sears cotton pants, Costco wool socks (x2), boxer briefs – The long underwear was clutch. No chaffing, didn’t smell like a goat, dried quickly, stayed warm. Bonus: soft seams and cheap as hell. Walmart fleece was like $9 and perfectly fine. Flannel shirt looked pretty awesome, but got wet from sweat and stayed wet. After one day, I basically didn’t wear it again. The cotton pants were the best I could do on short notice. They were comfortable, had pockets, and seemed pretty rugged. Costco wool socks were awesome. I doubled them up on the last day. Boxer briefs were fine, but next time I’m going all polyester.
- Boots: Hitek boots – These boots were pretty cheap but worked alright. I broke a lace on the way down, so the extra laces were awesome. After tent and sleeping bag, I may upgrade my boots. Maybe.
Miscellanious objects: I brought a notebook, pen, two (!) books, compass, 2 cigars, cigar cutter, multitool, first aid kit, extra boot lace, paracord…
I’m glad I brought the notebook and pen but I really didn’t need the books. I guess I’m not a reader when I’m camping because I didn’t crack a page. Too much to see. The cigars were pretty clutch and I really enjoyed smoking them late at night. The multitool I didn’t use but I certainly would bring it again. In the first aid kit I ate Ibuprofen and used some Tums. I also used moleskin too late to prevent blisters. Next time I may double up socks the whole way. Or get better boots.
The trip itself?
End of November, beginning of December was awesome. Not a lot of crowds at the bottom was a big plus. Great brisk weather for hiking. A little chilly at night, but with the right equipment, no problem at all. The (extremely popular) itenerary was a good choice. S. Kaibob was nice and quiet for most of the trip with great views. Hiking back up Bright Angel was probably easier than S. Kaibab. When I go back, I’ll probably spend two nights at Bright Angel and two nights at Indian Garden. This would allow for some day hiking, relaxing, and a little more enjoyment. Even taking two nights felt like too much rushing.
I was certainly a little unprepared for the last couple miles out. I don’t know what to do to prepare for that other than some more higher altitude hiking, losing some weight, or bringing an oxygen tank. I would have taken a little bit better care of my feet on the way down even though I felt OK. If I would have had better boots, doubled up socks, or moleskin on right away I would have saved myself some blisters.
I think this itinerary is a perfect one for new backpackers into the Canyon. That being said, I’m already excited to do something more challenging and more off the beaten path. I’ll keep you posted!