Gear Kits

What to Pack for Backpacking in Canyonlands National Park

Utah’s iconic desert landscape calls backpackers from all over the world. Here’s the gear you need.

Curated by Jonathon Reed

I’m from the green forests of central Canada, so my first time backpacking in the arid wilderness of Utah was an unfamiliar experience. I didn’t know what to expect for hiking through eroded arches or sleeping in sandstone canyons, I just knew I wanted to get out there. After hundreds of kilometres in the backcountry, this is the gear I recommend for your adventure in the desert.

The Aether AG 70 is an ideal backpack for an extended expedition in the backcountry. Its top-lid converts to a daypack, which is perfect for side trips like Druid Arch in Canyonlands National Park or Half Dome if you head farther west.

These are my favourite Clif Bars. If you’re feeling like a DIY approach, I took the leap and made my own granola the other day. Game changer. Not handy in the kitchen? You can always make gorp (good ol’ raisins and peanuts…and chocolate chips).

I’ve had this backpack for years and it’s still my go-to camera bag for day hiking. It has customizable compartments, a sturdy padded frame and a removable tripod mount. It’s kept my camera gear safe in all kinds of environments.

I prefer to use liquid fuel stoves because fuel bottles are reusable and therefore have a smaller environmental impact than canisters. The Whisperlite is an industry standard. The sound of the gas burning is the sound of dinner on its way.

One pot does the trick for my usual dinner menu, so this cook set works great. My favourite thing about these dishes is how they stack together and pack away.

Managing water intake is obviously a key component to backpacking in the desert, so when water sources are limited I prefer to be able to fill up eight or ten litres of water at a time. That makes chlorine-based purification a lot more feasible than filtration.

I know they’re heavier but I still use my beat-up collection of Nalgenes over Platypus or Camelbak bladders because they’re easy to fill up even in a really shallow stream and I trust them not to leak on my camera equipment.

Although I tend to think of the desert as a dry environment, I’ve weathered a few storms in Utah and they certainly don’t hold back. The Realm is waterproof and breathable enough for distance hiking in wet weather. Always hope you don’t have to use it.

I’ve used the Uberlayer on the edge of Island of the Sky in Canyonlands National Park and at the summit of Angels Landing in Zion National Park and it’s held up as a great piece of activewear, keeping me warm without overheating while on the move.

I have a pair of solid leather boots that I use for more rugged backpacking, but for Utah’s hot and dry terrain I’ve found a solid pair of hiking shoes to be good enough. Ventilation is nice and lighter footwear certainly makes a difference.

I picked up a square leg speedo in France a few years ago and although it sounds ridiculous, it was my go-to base layer for Utah’s hottest days— they're like lightweight compression shorts except a bit shorter. Everyone else can keep their cargo shorts. Not me.

Comfortable, quick-drying and breathable. If I’m backpacking in the summer, I’m packing convertible pants. Zipping off into shorts while taking a water break is a convenience that’s hands-down worth being slightly less fashionable.

At some point I stopped enjoying holding flashlights between my teeth and picked up this headlamp. My only complaint with the Spot is that it’s designed for right-handed people. Which I’m not.

I’ve used a neck gaiter both to stay warm while thigh-deep in the frigid Virgin River and to cool down in the blistering sun of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Plus sun protection, and that almost-sandstorm in Great Sand Dunes National Park. Worth getting one.

I find that the canyons of Utah’s backcountry can be challenging to navigate. More challenging than I originally expected. A compass keeps me on track. Even when I’m off track.

Ditto everything about navigation. A map case makes it easy to read and use my map in any amount of wind and rain.

When I was a kid we had a longstanding tradition of using juice crystals while backpacking. It doesn’t give anything other than an incentive to hydrate and a bit of sugar, but from a mental standpoint it’s a good pick-me-up.

I use Campsuds because it’s biodegradable and highly concentrated. It still should be used away from alpine lakes and streams and disposed of in a hole 6-8 inches deep.

Reading out loud while road tripping is another tradition from my childhood, and if you’re going to read anything in Utah it should be this classic from the wild man Edward Abbey, based in Moab and the surrounding desert. Odds are you can find it in a national park gift shop.