The Narrows in Zion National Park offer a supreme challenge to both the day hiker and overnight backpacker.
Day hikers that wish to tackle the Narrows in Zion from the bottom up must walk upstream against the current. The current of the Virgin River can be quite challenging depending on the flow and season so knowing how to hike efficiently will help.
Backpackers that seek to tackle this epic overnight adventure will need to cover 16 miles of the most beautiful river landscape and should be properly equipped for the adventure.
Though this list is anything but exhaustive it was sufficient for our mid-October overnight in 2012. You may choose to add to or modify this list based on the type of equipment you use and your desired level of comfort on the trail.
Regardless of your preferences for weight, style, or functionality you will need the following essential gear to tackle the Narrows in Zion:
- Dry Bags
- Water Shoes
- Neoprene socks or Seal Skinz
- Dry Pants (early or late seasons)
- Walking Stick
- Camera and extra battery
- Hydration System – bladder, bottles, and filtration system
- Your shelter system could include a tent, bivy, or tarp as well as your sleep system including a sleeping bag and pad. However, each season offers different challenges. For early or late season trips, a tent and sleeping bag are absolutely essential. That said, my friend Brian chose to use just a pad and sleeping bag on the ground. I think he might rethink that next time.
- Dry bags are essential without question. The rocks on the river bottom are slippery and a single tumble could render your battery powered equipment like your headlamp and camera useless. In mid-October, the nighttime temperatures were in the low 40s and wet clothing would have created a serious issue. In deep water situations the dry bags can also provide a flotation options for crossing deep pools.
- One of the most important pieces of gear you will need to consider are your water shoes. My personal favorites are the Chaco Tedinho water boots. I’ve used those in both Havasu Falls on the Havasupai Nation lands and the Narrows in Zion. The grip on the tread is solid and their comfort supreme. Best of all, they vent water quickly which is important with colder water temperatures.
- Dry pants can also make your trip a much more enjoyable one. We rented ours for approximately $60 for the two days from Zion Adventure Company. Though the pants don’t keep you warm they do keep you dry. We wore long underwear and pants under our dry pants and stayed comfortable from early morning to early evening.
- The single most valuable piece of gear is the walking stick. It provides balance on the slippery river bottom as well as a means to prob e the depth of deeper pools.
- Clothing is personal choice. Just be sure to avoid cotton and go instead for quick drying materials. I chose to take an extra set of clothes for camp at night just in case what I was wearing got too wet and was not dry by the time we turned in. Layers are good for the early mornings and late evenings when temperatures drop. Remember that the sun doesn’t hit the canyon for much time each day due to the high canyon walls. A beanie and gloves also came in handy on our October trip.
Hiking the Narrows in Zion can be as light or as comfortable of a hike as you want it to be. I am more for comfort than weight so my choices included a few luxuries that my friend Brian chose not to include in his pack. These were the main differences:
- Stove and Fuel – I carried a stove and fuel so I could make hot dinners and coffee in the morning. Because the trip is not much more than 30 hours in total it is certainly possible to survive on bars and GORP.
- Shelter – As I mentioned above, even in October the weather was still nice enough for Brian to sleep without a tent or other shelter system. I took my Marmot Limelight 2P tent and felt very good about that.
- Chair – Neither of us made the decision to carry an backpacking chair but that would be something that I would consider for next time. However, I would likely sacrifice the food to offset that weight.
- Camp Shoes – Camp shoes are nice. I took my Vasque Mindbenders but have since purchased a pair of Sanuks that would likely make the trip.
- Summit beers - Well, there’s no summit but it sure is nice to enjoy a beer or sip of bourbon in camp when the sun goes down.
Hiking the Narrows in Zion can be a completely different experience from one season to the next. The list I’ve provided is based on my late season trip in the middle of October 2012.
Temperatures – If you are attempting it later in the season you may want to think hard about the clothing options as well as the choice about shelter. For trips in warmer times of the year you may be able to shed some weight off this list.
Water Flow – The flow of the Virgin River will also dictate some of the gear that you carry. Higher water levels and greater flow rates may lead you to go to a full dry suit as well as influencing your choice about clothing.
Approach – Day hikers tackling the Narrows in Zion from the bottom up or the top down will be able to significantly cut the items on this list. But for those looking to do a top down overnight will need to prepare for the stay in the canyon.
My final word on gear for hiking the Narrows in Zion
Hiking the Narrows in Zion has been my favorite trail experience so far. From the very first step on the trail at Chamberlin’s Ranch I knew that the experience would set a new benchmark for what is epic.
But the canyon is indifferent to the presence of those exploring its beauty. Flash floods occur frequently and temperatures can change dramatically from mi-day to early evening. Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.
The journey from Chamberlin’s Ranch to the Temple of Sinawava covers 16 miles but is certainly not so demanding that taking a little extra gear just to be safe would be that much of a punishment.
Your turn. Did I miss anything?
There are a lot of little things that I omitted intentionally like a multitool or sunglasses. But is there anything that you’ve taken on a similar trip to the Narrows in Zion? Is there any gear you like to ask about? I’d be happy to share more specifics.