Running pretty much involves a pair of quality shoes and clothes. It’s fairly easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy. But hiking? Especially long-distance, extreme hiking? Like trying to cross the Grand Canyon? That’s a whole ’nother story!
Before I started to train to make a one-day, South to North Rim crossing of the Grand Canyon, the first thing I did was to search Google. Of course! Fortunately, many people who have been there, done that are eager to share what they’ve learned. A lot of those online gear reviews helped me, and now it’s time for me to give back with my own. Just remember that what works for one person might not work for anyone else. And none of the links are affiliated; I used them to make it easier to find items.
I had a minor misstep (pun intended) with my original shoe choice. Many experienced hikers recommend wearing trailrunners on the Grand Canyon’s heavily traveled corridor trails (e.g., South Kaibab, North Kaibab, and Bright Angel). Although treacherous due to all the mule-induced ruts, these trails have relatively decent footing, plus our backpacks weren’t heavy. The heavier the backpack, the more you need boots.
At my local REI (aka the hikers’ candy store), the saleswoman recommended that I wear Altra Superior 3.0 trail shoes. I bought them and really liked them . . . until we were doing double five-mile loops on concrete. Then my feet absolutely hated them, because they weren’t cushioned enough.
So I went to my local Fleet Feet store and purchased a pair of Brooks Calderas. Paradise! They are amazing shoes! So comfortable on concrete and trails, plus I had nary a blister nor hot spot during training or the crossing. I did wonder, though, if a pair of lightweight boots might have helped steady my ankles during the steep South Kaibab Trail descent. It’s possible that my bouncy ankles led to my left collateral ligament strain in my knee (the right collateral ligament also was sore after).
Socks are as important a piece of equipment as shoes. For running and walking, I prefer Feetures socks. However, I couldn’t find a thick-enough pair for my shoes, which were a half-size larger to avoid getting black toenails on the descent. One experienced hiker recommended Wrightsocks, which consist of double layers that rub against each other instead of your feet. I opted for the light-cushioned Escapes, and they were great!
Because I hate running and walking with rocks in my shoes (there are literally trillions of rocks in the Canyon), I figured I’d need gaiters to keep them out. I chose a pair from Dirty Girl Gaiters. Not only did they remind me of my 1960s youth, but they worked perfectly. And I got some compliments on them, too.
When I went to REI to try on hydration packs (hydration being one of the keys to staying alive while hiking across the Grand Canyon), I was fortunate enough to have Kelly as my salesperson. She actually used to live at the Canyon! So she had hiked it numerous times and was an amazing help. She told me I would need a three-liter hydration bladder and recommended the CamelBak Sundowner 22. It’s made for women plus it features an open-mesh, air-suspension back panel that made for a less-sweaty ride. The Sundowner was very comfortable and the hydration bladder made it so easy to keep drinking. It’s definitely a lifesaver!
I figured I would need trekking poles, being old and less than steady. I chose a pair of Cascade Mountain Tech carbon fiber sticks with quick locks. They really did a great job keeping me upright on the trails. Some Costcos sell them even cheaper, but I didn’t find them at my local store.
The hikers’ consensus was that a floppy hat is best at protecting your face, head, ears, and neck from the relenting sun. A Mountain Hardware Chiller Wide Brim chapeau proved perfect for me. I wore a UV Buff around my neck and a UV Half Buff as a headband to help soak up sweat and make my hat fit better. Not wanting to chance a sunburn, I opted for a lightweight Asics long-sleeve technical shirt that I bought at our local running/triathlon store, Finish Line Sports (NOT the national chain). So comfortable! (I hope I’ve linked to the right shirt.)
I’m a fan of REI’s Sahara shorts, which are comfy with lots of pockets. Plus they were on sale! From my experience, the Sahara shorts run true to size for women; however, the Sahara convertible pants run a size too large. That’s probably because the pants have elastic in the waistband . . . or because manufacturers love to mess with us when it comes to sizing (don’t get me started!).
A headlamp is a must, especially when you’re a slow hiker like me or you’re trying to avoid the daytime heat. I needed to light the North Kaibab Trail for about the last hour of my Grand Canyon crossing, so I was glad I had my Shining Buddy LED headlamp. I wore my Zensah calf compression sleeves for all but one training session (I learned the hard way from the pain-filled first workout that I needed them desperately) and relied on them for the crossing.
I decided to use a fanny pack as a belly pack to store necessary supplies so I wouldn’t have to take off my CamelBak while hiking. I bought an inexpensive Outdoor Products Echo at Walmart. An added bonus? My iPhone 7 Plus fit in the side pocket, ready to be pulled out to snap photos. I also used a Buddy Pouch on my CamelBak’s hip belt for easy access to some of the food I carried.
Food and Hydration
The experts agree that hikers need lots of calories while extreme hiking. Of course, food is such a personal choice due to our individual preferences. Having a sensitive gastrointestinal system, I have to be careful what I eat during runs, walks, and hikes. I experimented a lot with different energy bars during Grand Canyon training and finally decided that I hated them all for that use. They were just too chewy (picky, right?).
So I went with my go-to energy gel, Gu. I’ve been replacing calories and carbs with Gu during runs for many years. It’s easy to digest and tastes pretty good. I relied on a bunch of Chocolate Outrage, Salted Caramel, Mint Chocolate, Chocolate Peanut Butter, and Vanilla Bean packets to energize me during the crossing. Plus I snacked on pretzels to help replace salt loss, ate freeze-dried strawberries and bananas for added potassium, and gobbled up Sport Beans for a change of taste.
Hydration-wise, it’s tough to beat good, old water. I drank six liters worth in my CamelBak, refilling the bladder at Phantom Ranch. For electrolyte replacement, I chose Gatorade powder (fruit punch flavor). I went through two 24-ounce bottles. At no time did I feel bonky, thank goodness.
Want to let me know what works for you while hiking? Have any questions? Please comment away!
Next blog post (yes, apparently I lied about this being the final one): Shooting Up (photowise, of course)