Havasu Falls Backpacking Gear List

John is kneeling on the left

I made my first backpacking trip to Havasu Falls this year as part of a larger group.  The group we joined has been doing this trip for years and is led by a seasoned backpacker named John.  He sent an email to all of us before the trip with information on hotels, transportation, and the festivities that had been planned.  He also included this very helpful, and entertaining, gear list.  He knows from experience how to hike the 10 miles to the campground.  He has given me permission, despite various copyright considerations, to republish his secret list.

Enjoy! Feel free to add any other suggestions in the comments for those that come after us.

So the key to backpacking (and enjoying it) is to keep your backpack as light as possible.  This means sacrificing some personal items (like hair jell, makeup, hand moisturizer, lip balms, fanny pack, high heels, etc).  Only pack the things you reallyneed.  For a trip like Havasupai, your pack should weight about 30lbs, without water (with water, about 45lbs max).  The following list will help you (don’t let the length of this document scare you, there really isn’t that much you need to bring).

BACKPACK (Required).  Your Jansport backpack that you used in high school to carry books around is not going to cut it.  You’re going to need a real backpack.  There are several places that rent them out (including REI).  You’ll want to get a weekend backpack that is proximately 60-70 liters (or about 4,000 cu in) in size.  That should be able to fit all your gear.  If you are going to rent, please don’t wait until the weekend before to see if your lucky.  I would reserve one as soon as you can (I think REI rents them for $20/day).  You could also buy a cheap backpack at Big 5.  They have some for $50.  For one time backpacking trips, they do just fine (if you are planning on doing more, save your money for a more expensive pack).

SLEEPING BAG (Optional).  I’ll check on the weather a couple days before.  It is normally warm during the day and perfect at night (in June).  If you don’t want to buy a sleeping bag, I would probably suggest just bringing a flannel bed sheet and maybe a pair of sweat pants and long sleeve shirt.  If you do want to bring a sleeping bag, do not try and squeeze your $19.99 Walmart camping sleeping bag in your backpack.  This just isn’t going to work.  You are going to have to fork out some money to either buy one, or rent one from REI.  Remember, weight and size are critical to backpacking.  A good sleeping bag can be compressed to the size of your fist (50 Degree bad will be fine).  Once again, if the weather is fine, you can skip it and bring extra clothes to wear.

SLEEPING PAD (Required).  Don’t skip out on this.  This will make your back feel great (as opposed to lying on rocks).  You can rent inflatable sleeping pads.  They are really nice and do the trick.  A cheaper option (that still works) is to get a couple of lightweight blue foam mats (Target or Walmart).  They are like yoga mats. These are MUCH lighter than the inflatable ones that you rent.  You can also buy an inflatable pool floaty, to lay onto of the foam mats (and you can also use that to swim on in the river).  That is basically what I use, and it works pretty well.

LED FLASHLIGHT (Required).  Okay, this is something you shouldn’t skip or go cheap on.  Once again, your camping lantern and 10 lbs Maglite is not going to work.  I would probably go to REI and buy a $25 LED headlamp.  The headlamps are nice because you can move around and still use your hands.  The key, is to make sure it is an LED light and not a regular 1980’s flashlight.  LED’s last forever, which means you don’t have to bring spare batteries.  This is one of the critical things I wouldn’t try to skip out on.

CAMELBACK (Required).   Not sure that you can rent these (and unless you wanted to increase your chances of getting the Swine-Flu, it might be too disgusting to try and rent one).  You will need to bring a small Camelback with a Hydration bladder in order to do the day hike to the second and third waterfalls.  An option might be to use/pack a small backpack (like your Jansport from high school).  But those are probably a little heavier.  You will still need to bring either a hydration bladder or bring extra bottles of water to take with you.  I know that Costco used to have Costco-brand camelbacks for $10-$15.  So this would be a better investment if you plan on doing any outdoor activity in the future.  I would get the largest sized bladders (3 liters).

PILLOW (Optional).  You won’t have room or space to bring your 800 thread count down pillow.  You could buy an inflatable pillow (at REI) or just bring an empty pillow case to put your extra clothes in (as use that as a pillow).

TOWEL (Optional).  Once again, don’t bring your 10’x10’ beach towel.  That is too heavy.  Bring a really light towel (or even a small twin sized bed sheet).  You really only need this to change clothes behind.  If you don’t mind people seeing you naked, then skip this (unless people really shouldn’t be seeing you naked, then you will need to bring something).  Also, someone normally brings a tent, so they will probably be nice enough to allow the girls to change in the tent (as long as they can take pictures – kidding).

TENT / HAMMOCK (Optional).   There are trees down and some people sleep in hammocks.  Some people use tents.  We normally don’t bring any because of the weight issue.  However, if the weather isn’t looking good, then we will probably need to bring tents.  I’m not sure if REI rents the ultra light tents or not (but you probably aren’t going to buy one since they are $300).  This is one of those areas where you will have to bite the bullet and carry the extra weight of your Walmart ($20) tent.  Once again, the tent will only required if there is chance of rain (so I’ll let you know the week before).  If you do carry a tent, you can split the weight between two people (one person carries the tent, the other carries the poles).

ALUMINUM POT (Optional).  You can get this at REI for $5.  Get one that is at least 3 cups in size (so you can have your coffee, or boil water for your food).

WATER FILTER.  If you have one bring it!  I have one, but it isn’t made to serve 20 people.  You can skip filtering by simply boiling water (but that takes time to boil, plus you’ll need extra gas for fuel).  The water in the campground is from a spring, so it’s pretty clean to drink (I have drank without filtering).  However, some people are nervous about getting the runs, so a filter will be required.  Filters are about $80, so if you can get 4 people together, you can split the costs ($20 per person)

STOVE/GAS.   If you have a backpacking one bring it.  Don’t bring your camping stove (too big).  If you want to buy one, I have the “MSR Pocket Rocket”.  It’s a couple ounces in size and costs about $50.  Once again, you could split the costs between 4 people.  However, this item is not as critical since our group should be covered on stoves/gas.

PERSONAL ITEMS (probably get these from Walmart): Make sure you get the travel sized: Deodorant, tooth brush with tooth paste already on it, small sunscreen (make sure it is waterproof),  Chapstick, Vaseline or Baby Powder (required for guys.  Make sure it is the travel sized).  Some toilet paper.  Don’t need an entire role, but take enough for yourself.

FIRST AID: Bandaids, Blister-Aids are necessary for your feet (these are not regular bandaids, they are totally different.  You can pick these up at Walgreens).  Advil / Pain Killers (don’t bring an entire bottle, but enough pills for 3 days)

CAMERA: Don’t forget extra batteries, and extra file space (you’ll take a lot of pictures).  Also, bring 2 heavy duty freezer ziplock bags to put your camera in.  These will keep your camera dry when we are jumping in and out of the water.

ZIP LOCK BAGS. Required.  Bring 2 large zip lock bags per person.  Each person must carry their own trash out.  Get the freezer bags since they won’t break on you.

CLOTHES: You can really cut down on a lot of weight by bringing less clothes.  In everyday life, it’s nice to put on new-fresh clothes every day…in the backpacking world, that is insane.  Bring on pair of shorts, a swim suit (optional tops for ladies, and speedos for the guys), 2 light-weight shirts (polyester or underarmor material works great…not cotton!), a long sleeve shirt for night,  3 pairs of good hiking socks, along with 2 pairs of running/ultra light socks (to wear in the water).  Don’t go cheap on socks, you don’t want blisters.  Flip flops, hat/bandana, large garbage bag (that you can use as a poncho if necessary).

WATER SHOES: We will be hiking an entire day in water.  REI has watershoes, but if you don’t want to buy them, then a second pair of old sneakers will work just fine.  Water sox are not allowed!!!  Trust me, when we are hiking down a cave 200ft to the waterfalls, you need something that is firmly attached to your foot.

FOOD SNACKS: You want stuff high in calories, high in sodium, and high in fat.  On average, you’ll burn about 500 calories per hour (so no need to watch your diet here).  Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (these are great because you can make them at the hotel and they taste great all weekend) (2-3 are good). Muffins/Oatmeal (for the morning). Granola bars (good to snack on and easy to take when we go day hiking). Pistachios/trial mix (don’t bring the entire Costco 10 pound bag down.  Just put some in Zip lock bags to bring down)

DRINK: Bring some gatorade powder.  This is necessary to add to the water (to give the water taste and also boost your electrolytes).  Bring a couple packets down.  There is no water from the  trailhead to the campgrounds, so basically 4 hours with no water.  On average, you would probably drink a full Gatorade bottle an hour.  Water/liquids will be the heaviest thing in your pack.  Don’t underestimate how much it weights (1 gallon of water is 8lbs).  You will want to have your camelback hydration bladder filled (so you don’t have to stop to take off your backpack to drink.



Meals-Ready-to-Eat, are basically what we eat for lunch/dinner.  You basically add boiling water to the food, stir, wait 10 minutes, and eat.  Believe it or not, they are actually really good.  There are a couple different brands of MRE’s.  However, most of us agree that “Mountain House” has the best tasking food (so I strongly advise to stay away from the other brands).   Anything that Mountain House makes seems to be really good.  Chicken ala King, Beef Stew, Lasagna, are all big hits.  You are free to select anything you want, but if you want to play it safe, stick with the Mountain House brand.  The packages normally say they feed 2 people, but in reality they are normally enough for 1 guy.  I’ll probably bring down 4 MRE’s.  P.S. I think Walmart has MRE’s as well (cheaper, but not as big of a selection as REI).


  • Shorts
  • Swim Suit
  • Shirts
  • Long sleeve shirt (one)
  • Hiking Socks (one per day)
  • Flip-flops
  • Hat / Bandana
  • Poncho or large garbage bag (for rain)
  • Water shoes / Tevas / Old sneakers


  • Small Soap
  • Deodorant
  • Tooth brush
  • Tooth paste
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstick
  • Blister-Aids
  • Advil / Pain Killers
  • Vaseline / Baby Powder
  • Camera (Extra battery)
  • Toilet paper
  • 2 Large Zip lock bags (pack out trash)
  • MP3 Player / Earphones
  • Sun Glasses
  • Small/Light Towel



  • Backpack
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping mat
  • Pillow Case (put clothes in as pillow)
  • LED Flashlight
  • Spare batteries
  • Camelback w/ Hydration bladder
  • Aluminum pot
  • Spoon
  • Water filter (if you have one)
  • Stove and Fuel (if you have one)


  • PB & J sandwiches
  • Trail Mix / Nuts / Pistachios
  • MRE’s (“Mountain House” Brand)
  • Candy
  • Muffins
  • Granola bars
  • Gatorade powder
  • Gatorade
  • Grocery bag (food storage)


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I'm the founder of Vestor Logic, the digital strategy and web design firm that created Trail Sherpa, ParksFolio, and Modern Steader. I'm a day hiker, top chef in camp, doting husband, and father to two headlamp wearing boys. My work in digital media brings those experiences to life.