What to Pack on your Grand Canyon Vacation

Here’s a checklist of the dozen most important items to pack for your trip to the Grand Canyon:

  1. Water
  2. Water
  3. Water (you’re getting the idea, right?)
  4. Lightweight clothing to layer
  5. Comfortable shoes or boots you’ve broken in
  6. Sun protection (hats, sleeves, sunblock)
  7. Power snacks
  8. Backpack (to carry all those layers, snacks and water!)
  9. Well protected cash (there’s not an ATM on every ledge) and credit cards
  10. Your prescriptions and any over-the-counter medicines you sometimes need
  11. Essential information about each of the things you plan to do
  12. Some small item that makes you smile

And a  few tips on the above:

1-2-3. The more time you spend exercising outdoors, the more you need to stay hydrated. Bring several good lightweight refillable water bottles if you’re planning to journey down into the canyon on foot or donkey. Not only will you lose fluids through exercise, but the air in the Southwest is very dry, and if you’re not from these parts, you’ll discover you get parched more quickly than you do back home.

4. These days, there are wonderful lightweight fabrics that can provide warmth, help you stay cool, protect you from the sun, and dry quickly. Tees, long-sleeve shirts, and pants (some that convert to shorts with a quick unzip) all come in comfortable fabrics that dry quickly. The quick drying is an advantage when you perspire or get splashed, but it also means you can launder in your hotel at night and pack lighter. Add a couple of plastic coat hangers and a little bag of dry detergent to your bag and you’re set to keep on going. Polar fleece sweaters, hats, and gloves are a must for cooler weather – and remember that it can sometimes go down to 40 F. at night, even in the summer!

5. This is not the time to break in a new pair of shoes, no matter if they’re the best made. You need “old friends” on your feet that you know will keep you comfortable all day.

6. Hats with a brim or a bill, long sleeves and pants and sunblock – including lip protection – can help to protect you from the sun’s harsh rays. This is especially important in summertime, but it can be important any time of year, particularly if you’re prone to sunburn or you spend very little time outdoors in your non-vacation life.

7. High protein snacks can do more than stave off hunger pangs. If you’re doing strenuous hiking, they can help to replenish the energy you’re spending and keep you alert and safe.

8. If you’re hiking, you’ll definitely need a backpack or a whole lot of pockets to carry all the water you’ll need and your clothing layers. But even if you’re not hiking, putting the items you need in a lightweight pack on your back can leave your hands unencumbered and help to protect your back muscles from the strain of carrying things in your arms.

9. It can’t be said too often: protect your money and credit cards. You can buy a light wallet on a long cord to wear under your clothing, get a money belt, or zip your wallet into a front pocket. Whatever you do, don’t just stuff it into your open pants pocket or an open-top handbag. In addition to protecting your valuables, plan your budget for your trip day-by-day, and make sure you have access to cash when you need it.

10. Don’t forget your meds. Count your pills to be sure you have enough of everything you need before you leave home. While there are some fine medical establishments in the Grand Canyon area, you don’t want to spend your precious vacation time tracking down your doctor, and hoping to get a prescription filled. It’s a good idea to keep a written list of all your medicines and dosages and any allergies with you all the time, just in case of emergencies.

11. Doing your homework and having essential information at your fingertips about everything you want to do really pays off for most people. While some of the things you want to do may require nothing more than your showing up, many either have special requirements (including advance reservations) or provide information about what you’ll need to make the most of your experience. For example, you may need a permit for your car, and you’ll certainly need to know where you’ll board your helicopter or plane or meet your guide or donkey.

If you’re the kind of traveler who is completely happy to just “go with the flow,” doing whatever comes up and not feeling bad about not getting to do certain things, ignore this advice!

12. A seasoned travelers’ trick is to take some small thing that makes them happy – a snapshot of someone you love, your favorite tea, a book of poems, your “smartest” knife. Certainly if you’re traveling with children, this is particularly important. While you’ll want to limit the amount of stuff you drag around, for each child to choose one favorite small thing to bring can help to provide comfort and a sense of continuity while they’re away from everything that’s familiar.

If you’re planning to hike or camp, don’t forget…

1. Lightweight Backpack – The lighter the better and don’t over pack.

2. Waterproof Tent – If you’re camping, a simple pup tent is light and easy to set up.

3. Bedroll – Can be as simple as a yoga mat. Keep it light and simple

4. Water Filter – In case you’re unable to top up at refill stations. Not all trails have them and the Colorado isn’t a source of drinking water unless you filter it.

5. Long Sleeved Shirt – Light colored top shirt to reflect sun and protect your skin.

6. Wicking Shirt – To put underneath the top layer and keep you dry. May be too much to use during hot months but very nice during cooler.

7. Waterproof Shell – To keep you dry in wet weather.

8. Warm Layer – In case of a chilly night you’ll be happy to have a fleece or the like. Temps can fluctuate quite a bit from day to evening.

9. Hiking Boots – Lightweight hiking boots or shoes are easily found these days. Be sure yours are broken in before you go.

10. Wicking Socks – To keep your feet dry.

11. Convertible Pants – To protect your legs when needed and stay cooler when out of the sun.

Temperatures change dramatically from top to bottom and a hike that starts out cool and comfortable can quickly turn into a roaster. Do some homework before you leave and know what the expected temperatures and weather might be at the varying elevations as you descend.

If you’re an experienced hiker, you already know what you need and how to pack it to stay as lightweight and efficient as possible. You also know the vital importance of keeping hydrated on the trail and how to regulate your body temperature with appropriate layers of clothing.

If you have little or no experience as a hiker, spend some time learning from your local outfitter and some seasoned hikers. Plan to buy—and break in!—some good hiking shoes. Purchase layers of clothing (fleece and light fabrics that dry quickly, including protection for your head and neck) and a good lightweight backpack.

Then get out on some trails in rugged terrain and go up and down steep slopes, wearing a backpack and carrying water. Teach your body what it will feel like and learn what you can tolerate in terms of time, difficulty, hunger, thirst, and temperature changes before you venture out onto a Grand Canyon trail. Don’t let a lack of solid preparation mar the trip of your dreams.


If you’re planning to go on a rafting, bike, or other organized expedition, your professional outfitter or guide should provide you with detailed information about what you need for those activities. Pay attention! Being well prepared often has a great deal to do with your ability to enjoy your trip, as well as to stay safe, healthy, and comfortable.

Out of the Canyon, at your lodge or hotel and in restaurants, “casual” is the word on dress. Most people will have been doing activities like you have, and nobody is dragging around extra suitcases full of fancy clothes. That said, shirts and shoes are required in most places, and if you’ve had a particularly sweaty day, your efforts to clean up a bit will be appreciated by proprietors and fellow travelers alike.

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