National Park Essential Gear Guide

Lets start with hydration. Now depending on how long the hike is, my friend and I took between 3 and 7 liters of water. And after almost getting into dehydration trouble on our second hike, we usually took a minimum of 5 liters, as there weren't always places to refill on our long day hikes. One can always use iodine tablets or other water purification systems, but we found it was easier to just bring empty two liter water bottles, and fill them up at the campsite/trail head at the beginning of the day. As I have lived in Arizona all my life, it is always better to carry too much water than to run out. My top recommendation in this category would be the Camelback Alpine Explorer. It carries 100oz of water in its reservoir and has enough storage to carry the extra four liters in soda bottles plus any other gear you need to carry. 

On to knives. As far as knives/cutting instruments go. I carried two knives, one Swiss army knife and a larger Gerber knife for larger cutting tasks. They are both  small enough to throw into the Camelback and not worry about their weight/size. Any old Swiss army knife will do, and the size of whatever larger knife you choose should be based on user preference. The two knives I used can be found below. These are vitally important from cutting make shift gloves when its cold out of an old shirt to cooking, you absolutely need at least two good knives, a larger blade and a smaller one.

On to flashlights and headlights. I used two on my trip, a small hand-held flashlight, the Inova X03 LED flashlight and small LED Headlight made by Princeton Tec. First off, the head lamp is great in that you can keep your hands free. I can't tell you how useful that is when one is hiking in terms of stability and safety. However, I did need a little more light on occasion and that is what the Inova flashlight was for. That thing will illuminate the trail 100 yards ahead of you and is fantastic to use for night hikes. I can't recommend both of these pieces of equipment more. However, you do need to be careful with the Inova as it uses CR123 batteries which are outrageously priced in most retail stores. I have ordered them off Amazon at less than a quarter of the price, and you will definitely want to get extra batteries for the Inova. Get a box off Amazon and they will last you ten years fortunately and be quite a bit cheaper. The reason I quote Surefire batteries is that they are extremely high quality and are know for their reliability. I have not gotten a dead batter in 10 boxes.

In terms of shoes, while your choices can be based off of user preference, I do have a couple of solid recommendations. For hiking shoes, I have used Merrel Moab Ventilator's for close to two years, and they have been excellent shoes. They are extremely comfortable and breath/dry extremely well. However, I would not recommend them for colder climates because, as I said, they breath really well. You will want a more "solid" type of shoe. However, for long days on the trail, most of them over 20 miles, all the way up to 25, the Merrels served me extremely well. As far as other shoes to bring on a trip like this, you need a solid pair of sandals which you can wear on water hikes or just after a long days hike. Again, your own preference may guide you hear, but I can't recommend Teva sandals enough. They last freakin' forever and are the most comfortable sandals I have found. They haven't let me down in over 5 years of the same pair.

On to my favorite category, technology and gadgets. You will want and need a cell phone on a road trip with GPS and some sort of mapping software on it.

In my case I used an iPhone with fantastic results. I know, I know, here is another Apple fanboy talking about the iPhone. I actually beg to differ kind sir. I hate Apple computers and OS X, I do believe however that the iPhone and iPod are the best in their respective categories, and for hikers and road trippers, the iPhone is your best friend. Not only does it get decent service amazingly enough at the top of most of the mountains I climbed on my trip, but the apps available for hikers beat the pants off those for other smartphones.

When would one use said smartphone for hiking?

(All the following links will link directly to the app in iTunes. )

A prime example of where it literally could have save my life was at the Keyhole on my hike up Longs Peak in Colorado. Longs is notorious for clouding up and giving hikers the time of their lives in terms of thunder and lighting storms, particularly in the summer. I used my iPhone and the Weatherbug app to see live radar around the area indicating that the sky was clear and we could attempt to summit, which I am proud to say we did. That is just one example.

There were countless times when I used the built in GPS in combination with an app called MotionX GPS to measure our distance and pace in addition to setting breadcrumb trails.

In addition, there is a fantastic app called Park Maps that provides scanned GPS enabled park maps of every national park in the United States. This app was a necessity and can tell you when you are on the trail, getting close to your destination, and can help when you are driving around; trust me, you need a driving map for Yellowstone, its just that big. For 99 cents, it is the best dollar I have ever spent.

You should also track you gas consumption on a trip like this, not only for proper financial documentation but for fun as well. For that I used Road Trip Lite. For free, it does a great job of keeping track of mileage, cost, price per gal, mpg, etc.

Another fantastic app to have around would be the Yelp app, which displays various POIs, particularly restaurants with reviews that are almost always spot on, for free, based on your location.

Of course you can always supplement this with your own GPS unit, but I found it easier (and cheaper) to combine them into one device, as I needed a new phone anyway.

As far as cameras go, I used a previously owned Canon 30D DSLR with 28-135mm Image Stabilized Lens. This camera has gone through 2 revisions, and the latest version, the Canon 50D can be found below. I also carried a small compact camera for when it was simply impractical to carry my DSLR, which is much larger and heavier. For this, I used a previously owned Canon SD880IS, which was recently discontinued. However, I also just bought a new compact, and SD780 IS, which is about the size of a deck of cards and takes fantastic video and photos. I will not talk about how amazing these cameras are here because I believe you can see the results for yourself in my photos in the other National Park Road Trip Posts and on my photography site here http://www.michaelsilverman.net/national-park-road-trip-2009. If you can only take one camera, take a compact first, as it will be used more often. I took both because I love photography, but again this is up to you.

As far as clothing goes, you may already have some or none of the items I will mention below.

Hiking socks - If you don't already have some, go buy some. Right now. You can't seriously hike 25+ miles in a day in those silly white Nike socks that are as thin as paper and only go up to your ankle. You will have blisters regardless, but I promise they will be bigger without hiking socks. I bought four pairs of them, and did not regret it. You will have socks that get wet, seriously dirty, or just nasty, and you will thank me when you have those extra pairs of socks.

Jacket - Because I knew I wouldn't be doing that much cold weather hiking, I did not take a heavy down jacket, and simply stuck with my North Face Windwall fleece jacket. It is honestly the best jacket I have ever had in terms of keeping the wind out, which was my main enemy on the hikes that I did, although it dead get pretty dam cold on some of them. However, if you layer t-shirts and a simple sweater under this when it gets really, really cold, it works perfectly. It also drys pretty quickly and resists water reasonably well. It won't keep you dry in a rainstorm, but a drizzle it will work through.

Pants - I know, is he really telling me what kind of pants to wear? Does it really matter? Dam right he is and dam right it matters. Go to REI and buy a pair or two of of these, the REI Sahara Convertible Pants. They turn into shorts when its hot and pants when its cold. Those combined with a pair of sweatpants will keep you warm enough in situations down to 20 degrees. Really, it will. And they are light enough that they dry really fast after a rainstorm. They are just incredibly useful.

Tour Books, AAA, and An Atlas - First off, membership in AAA should be an obvious necessity for a road trip. It will give you great discounts at many hotels and restaurants and most importantly, you can get a ton of free maps, guides, and free towing in case your car breaks down. In terms of tour books, we only used one, but it was invaluable on the trip for determining campsites, hikes, and everything in between inside the parks. The one we used was Frommer's National Parks of the American West 2005 Edition. Everything in it was correct except for the prices for camping. They were consistently double what we found in the book. Other than that it has great hiking guides, categorized by difficulty, which helped us as we learned to only do the "most strenuous" kind, but there are amazing hikes for every hiker in there. If I was to get the book now, I would just get the latest version below.

Oh, one last thing, buy a road atlas. I don't care whether you have one already. It is out of date. Buy the latest version, as they are only $15 bucks. But, but, I already have a GPS! A good point, but don't you think you should know how to use a map? Also, they are kind of fun. The one I used is below.