How to Survive a Hike to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon

I recently wrote about our disastrous hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, where we ended up sleeping in the rest house. Word of advice: do not be like us. Be prepared. Know what you are getting into and do not assume that you are too smart because chances are, you are not, like us. This is not your typical list with telling you to bring your first aid kits, trail maps, and such because, really that would be a given. These are things that we NEEDED, but forgot to bring when preparing for our hike. Below are our tips for hiking in the Grand Canyon!

1. Water, the Camelbak, & Electrolyte Powders

I know that it may seem like an obvious no brainer, but if you are anything like me, you manage to somehow forget to drink water while involved in any physical activity. Somehow I always wonder why I feel so thirsty later on and am overheating. Hmm…? 

According to National Park Service, when hiking in the Grand Canyon during the warmer months, it is best to drink at least 17 cups of water a day. That is roughly eight 16.9 fl oz bottles. It has also been said by the National Park Service, if you are hiking uphill during the hottest part of the day and in direct sunlight, you lose two quarts for every mile. That is equivalent to 8 cups a mile. That’s just a little over three and three-quarters of 16.9 fl oz bottles of water. In other words, girlllll (or boy) you better chug!

Hydration is key. This is where the Camelbak comes in and let’s be honest, I did not know what a Camelbak was prior to this adventure. You see, a Camelbak is a backpack that contains a reservoir attached to a long tube that is also attached to a bite valve. 

With the right size bag, you can store a lot of your needs for hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon such as: food, clothes, and first aid. These hold between 1.5 and 3 liters of fluid at a time. We rigged it so that it would hold our tent and sleeping mats, so it allowed us to be hands free. We also were able to use the water from the Camelbak to cool ourselves down during the summer heat.

We mentioned the importance of electrolytes when you are hiking in the Grand Canyon, right? Electrolyte Powders are something that we did not think of bringing (surprise, surprise), but should have. Since we lose electrolytes when we sweat, this is something that you should use throughout the hike to recharge yourself. This is a necessity.

The best and the worst electrolyte powders, according to Paleo Edge can be found here because I know we are all looking for a little less sugar and a little more energy.

2. Food

This is seriously a no-brainer as well, but ask me what we brought for our nearly 20 mile hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon? Goldfish, beef jerky, and energy bars. We were starving. Hiking in the heat, down a canyon, and hungry? Not a good look. 

It has been said the BEST foods to bring when hiking in the Grand Canyon is the junk food. Cookies, chips, pretzels. Bring.them.on. If I had known, I would have stocked my Sour Cream and Onion chips just to have an excuse.

Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, has many options for food that we were too cheap did not know about. They serve breakfast twice a day, sack lunches, and dinner is served twice a day. All of these require reservations, but let’s be real, how appetizing does steak and potatoes, stew, or veggie chili sound compared to…goldfish? My thoughts exactly. 

Phantom Ranch also has a canteen, which has anything from alcoholic beverages to lotion, candy to batteries, and gum to bagels. You better believe that next time I am hitting up that steak dinner, breakfast, and canteen.

Campfires and flames are not allowed at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, but you can bring a stove. We thought about this idea for a split second and then quickly reminded ourselves that what you bring down must also come back up. 

3. Flashlights

Flashlights are very important, especially when you are getting an early start before the sun rises in the Grand Canyon. Do not be like us and bring one of those shake flashlights where every two seconds you need to re-shake because you cannot see five feet in front of you. 

We invested in a headlamp when we were working in Acadia for night hikes. I was kicking myself a year later when I realized how much more convenient it was to have one. If you aren’t interested in a headlamp, bring a regular battery operated flashlight. Remember, shake free is the way to be, especially when you are hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon or out. In the dark. With big horned sheep. With scorpion. And mountain lion.

4. Comfortable Shoes & Trekking Poles

If you read my previous blog about hiking in the Grand Canyon (and how disastrous is was) you may recall my rented hiking boots issue. I would not recommend renting them ever because you do not exactly know how uncomfortable they are until it is too little too late. We bought Merrell’s when we were working in Acadia and they are amazing. 

You do not have to go the boot route, but wear comfortable sneakers. Worst case scenario, visit the shoe graveyard! Just trust me, and my ankles, the last thing you want is to go hiking in the Grand Canyon and be in unnecessary pain.

I became a huge, huge, and did I mention HUGE fan of trekking poles during our hike. I never knew what they were (clearly, we are AVID hikers), but it was recommended that we rent them. They are wonderful. 

Trekking poles help to distribute your energy evenly since you are using your upper body. Sometimes it helps when your legs are tired by getting a helping hand from your upper body along the way to push through. REI states that trekking poles help to enhance your stability, provide support, reduce force on your knees, and absorb shock. They are wonderful at reducing the impact that your knees taking when hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon because believe me going down is just as hard as going up.

5. Moisture Wicking Clothing

Why? Because we wore cotton. Read again. COTTON! Cotton is breathable and absorbs moisture, which is great, but then you are left awfully damp. That may be helpful during the hot summer days when hiking in the Grand Canyon, but I do not like to feel my sweat. This is where moisture wicking clothing comes in. 

The technology behind moisture wicking clothing is that when you sweat, it is pulled through the weave, to the surface of the clothing, and evaporates more easily. More information about the moisture wicking and cotton debate can be found here. But, I’m saying, if you plan on hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, just do it. 

6. Sleeping Arrangements

So, when we decided to hike in the Grand Canyon AND camp at Bright Angel Campground,we brought a basic tent and sleeping pads. They were light enough to pack in and pack out, they were easily compacted, and they became a great island during monsoon season overnight storms. The ground is hard, it was uncomfortable, and we barely escaped the wrath of mother nature. We also had no pillows, so using your Camelbak bags did not provide much comfort. 

Whenever we decide to do a rim to rim, we are packing a small air mattress and camping pillows. I know they say that comfort does not matter when camping, but when you are hiking 20 miles round trip to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, you need all the rest you can get. And trust me, you do because the next day we were feeling it. 

Phantom Ranch, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon also has cabins to spend the night. Reservations are required (and book 13 months out) and can be pricey, but really worth it for a good nights rest in between your hikes.

7. Battery Operated Alarm Clock

A what? Yeah, we did not bring an alarm clock because we failed to realize that cellphones do not work when hiking in the Grand Canyon. This is when technology fails you and you have to kick it old school. We set the alarm clock on our phones to get up before sunrise to beat the heat only to discover in the middle of the night that the phone was searching for service. I woke up several times a night to take a picture and then check the time stamp to make sure that we were not oversleeping. So, take our advice, bring a battery operated alarm clock. Save yourself the headache!

And that is our list of how to survive hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon!

Is there anything I forgot that you would add? What did you bring when hiking in the Grand Canyon?

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