Hike Smart Podcast 02 - Ten Essentials

two backpackers with trekking poles are descending a unpaved trail into a desert landscape of colorful peaks, ridgelines and cliffs.
Backpackers descending the South Kaibab Trail. NPS/M. Quinn

The Ten Essentials

Hi, I’m Sarah. I’m a Preventative Search and Rescue Ranger here at Grand Canyon National Park. On the previous podcast I invited you to go on a virtual patrol with me down the Bright Angel Trail. But before we can head down the trail we need to pack the equipment and supplies we will need for the hike.

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.” And at the Grand Canyon 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. Drink when you are thirsty, and don’t force fluids. But remember to carry enough water in case your hike lasts longer than expected, as they often do.

Water is usually available during the summer on the Bright Angel Trail at 1 ½ mile resthouse, 3 mile resthouse and Indian Garden. On the North Kaibab Trail water is available at Phantom Ranch, Cottonwood Campground, Roaring Springs and the Supai Tunnel. However, occasional maintenance on the water pipeline may eliminate water availability so check at the Visitor Center or Backcountry Office to make sure water will be available on the day you hike. Remember, there is no water available on the South Kaibab Trail so you must carry in all the water you will need on the South Kaibab Trail.

2) Food and salty snacks: Hiking in the canyon 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. And 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) Flashlight or headlamp: Trails in the Grand Canyon 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) 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) 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) 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) 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) 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 canyon. That’s why you’re here.

Well, we’ve got our ten essentials packed. Now let’s do a quick double check to make sure we brought enough food and water. I’m anticipating the hike to 3 mile resthouse and back will take me about 5 hours. It’s supposed to be really hot so I’ll pack extra water and food in case I get tired or need to help someone on the trail. I’m going to bring a gallon of water, a quart of my favorite electrolyte drink, an additional packet of electrolyte powder, three chocolate chip granola bars, an apple, beef jerky, and a bag of peanut butter-filled pretzels. So I’ve got water, electrolytes, salt, protein and high-calorie snacks. I checked at the Backcountry Office and the water will be on at the 1 ½ and 3 mile resthouses. If I need more water I can fill up there.

On the next podcast we’ll start down the trail. It’s best to get an early start. I’ll be ready to hit the trail at 5 am. So load your pack, get a good night’s sleep and set your alarm for podcast #3. See you then.


Return to the Hike Smart Podcast Directory

Hike Smart Podcast 01 (02m:34s) What is Preventative Search & Rescue?
Hike Smart Podcast 02 (07m:09s) The Ten Essentials
Hike Smart Podcast 03 (05m:31s) Heading Down the Trail
Hike Smart Podcast 04 (04m:42s) Self Rescue Tips
Hike Smart Podcast 05 (07m:18s) Hiking with Infants & Toddlers

Return to the Backcountry Audiocast Page

Backcountry Hiking Information

How to get a Backcountry Permit

Critical Backcountry Updates Trail Conditions and Closures

Last updated: May 12, 2021

Park footer

Contact Info

Mailing Address:

PO Box 129
Grand Canyon, AZ 86023



Contact Us