Many visitors to Kanab and Southern Utah come to hike and visit the National Parks that surround us. Before you head out, please remember that you are in the desert and weather conditions are extreme and can change very easily.
Whenever I hike the trails, even if I’m only intending to go a short distance, I always bring the ten essentials.
Someone much smarter than me once said “The only constant in life is change.” In this environment, plans can change quickly due to the weather, illness, injury or fatigue. If you plan for a hike to take longer than you expect, you will be better prepared if things don’t go according to plan. Or you might be able to help another hiker who isn’t prepared and needs your help.
The ten essential items to have in your pack are :
1. Water and electrolytes: Unlike humid climates where you see and feel how much you are sweating, in the desert sweat evaporates so quickly that people often don’t realize how much water they are losing. Sweating also causes you to lose electrolytes like salt, potassium, and magnesium. These electrolytes are necessary for your body to send signals through your nerves to your muscles. If you don’t have enough electrolytes you may experience painful leg cramps, muscles spasms, fatigue, nausea and a generally grouchy attitude. In more serious cases a hiker may experience changes in his or her heart beat and poor brain function. Drinking lots of water with little food or electrolytes can dilute a hiker’s electrolytes and cause similar problems. This can all be easily avoided by drinking enough water and enough electrolytes to keep your body functioning well. During hot summer days plan on drinking half a quart or half a liter of water every hour, along with the electrolyte drink of your choice.
2. Food and salty snacks: Hiking in the canyons uses a tremendous amount of calories so forget about any weight-loss diet you might be on. Go for the junk food! In order to keep your body fueled with enough calories to keep hiking and enough salt to keep sweating, you need high energy salty snacks. As crazy as it sounds, cookies and potato chips are great. Throw in some protein and whole grains for long-lasting energy. Try to eat 300-500 calories every hour while you’re hiking. It’s hard for your body to digest food when you are hiking hard so remember to eat and drink small amounts frequently. Every few hours rest for at least 30 minutes to give your body time to digest the food you are eating and re-fuel your muscles. These rest breaks will also give you time to really take in the beautiful views along the trail. Many visitors report that they saw the most wildlife or took their best pictures on those rest breaks.
3. A flashlight or headlamp: Trails in the canyons tend to drop off steeply on the downhill side and a fall could cause serious injury. Make sure you bring a flashlight or headlamp to light your way at night. During the hot summer days some hikers prefer to wait to go up the trail until evening and finish their hike after dark. Check the batteries in your light before you go and pack an extra set of batteries just for peace of mind.
4. A First Aid Kit: Loose rocks and steep grades can increase your chances for minor injuries. Make sure your basic first aid kit includes an elastic bandage. Wrapping a weak ankle or sore knee can help support the joint and may prevent an injury. Blisters are another common injury so pack some moleskin. Bring any medications you take regularly, especially if you are diabetic, carry an epi pen for bee stings or have seasonal allergies.
5. Sunscreen: Low humidity and high altitude team up to increase your exposure to sunburn-causing UV rays. Apply sunscreen before and every few hours during your hike. Don’t forget your neck, ears and lips. Wearing a t-shirt with sleeves that cover your shoulders will help to protect your skin and prevent painful burns around your pack straps.
6. A Hat: Wearing a hat reduces the amount of heat exposure to your brain. An over-heated brain can give you a headache and make you dizzy. Wearing a hat shades your head and your eyes from the sun. When water is available, stop and soak your hat and shirt. Evaporation will cool your body and make you more comfortable. Wide brim hats provide the best protection for your face and neck, but a ball cap and bandana can also work well.
7. Sunglasses: A hat will shade your eyes but good sunglasses help even more. Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and glare, as well as dust or flying debris on the trail. While your legs may do most of the work on the hike, your eyes are what allow you to truly enjoy the majestic scenery that makes the Grand Canyon grand.
8. A rain jacket: Even if the weather forecast is calling for sunny skies and warm temperatures be sure to throw a rain jacket in your pack. Weather changes quickly at the Canyon. Summer thunderstorms are often short, intense cloudbursts and can cause the temperature to drop 10-20 degrees Farenheit, or 6-12 degrees Celsius, in minutes. If you are on the trail after dark a jacket will keep you from cooling down too quickly when you stop to rest.
9. A spray bottle: Many hikers find that periodically spraying water on their face and head helps them stay cool. Spraying water on your hat and t-shirt in between water sources is a great way to promote evaporative cooling and help your body function at its best.
10. A Good attitude: A positive attitude is priceless! Many times exhausted hikers have been able to finish their trip simply by telling themselves “I can do this!” Optimism is first-aid for adversity. You’re on vacation! This is supposed to be fun! If you’re not having fun, stop for a bit. Food, water and rest are the first steps to relieving a tired body and mind. If you pack your ten essentials you will have enough food, water and light to allow you to finish your hike after sunset if necessary. So take your time, enjoy the canyons. That’s why you’re here.