How to survive hiking the Grand Canyon

How to survive hiking the Grand Canyon

So you’re thinking about hiking to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  Here’s a few tips to make sure that you make it back up on your own, not in a bag.

The first thing to figure out about your Grand Canyon hiking experience is what route you want to take. In our case, we started on the South Rim.  It costs $25 per vehicle for 1-7 days to enter the national park.  Quite a steal, if you ask us.

This past week, Tawny and I went with her father on his annual trip down into the Canyon. We took away seven solid tips from the experience that we wanted to share.

#1 Bring water

It should be known that I was not a huge fan of Camelbaks. I used to scoff at those wayward fools that would pack all their water in trendy, little mini-packs. “What’s wrong with water bottles?” I’d yell.

Those days are now gone.

If you’re going to be hiking the Canyon (especially in August), you should be drinking at least 2 litters an hour. For our 7-hour hike, that ended up being (yes, those of you who are good at math already know) 14 litters, or 7 Camelbaks of water. Even after all that, I was still thirsty at the end. Buy a Camelbak, and fill it up at the conveniently located water stations along the trail. There happens to be a faucet every 1.5 miles.

Our advice is to completely fill up at every water station, even if your pack isn’t empty.  The worse position you can find yourself in is without water and miles until the next fill station.

#2 Don’t hike to the bottom and back in a day

 So you want to be a hero? Cool. Go be a firefighter or something. Hiking to the bottom of the canyon and up in one day is for fools, us, and the guy from the Dos Equis commercials. “I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer to take it through my IV as they airlift me out of the Canyon.” Seriously.

The best way to see the splendor of the Grand Canyon- and then remember it, is to take the 12 mile down-and-up Bright Angel trail. It will take you down to Plateau Point and past the Indian Gardens. You’ll still get to see all the insane beauty but you won’t have to worry about the extra 6 miles to Phantom Ranch when it is 120°.

For the foolishly bold, try taking the Kaibab trail down to Phantom Ranch and then the Bright Angel trail out. Round trip will be 16 to 17 miles. Just please don’t do it in August.

#3 Bring the camera

This is not the time to remind your friends that your iPhone 4s is the new digital frontier. You are about to embark into the bowels of one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. If you have a hefty digital camera that you sometimes don’t like to carry, carry it. The extra weight might concern you as you ascend 3000′ but it will be worth it when you print out 14’x24′ posters of eye-popping glory.

#4 Remember your elevation, pack gum.

The rims of the Grand Canyon are just over 7000 and 8000 feet respectively. Phantom Ranch in the bottom is 2460 ft. That’s a huge difference in climate, pressure, temperature, and just about everything that affects your life. For the seasoned hiker, that presents an unusual challenge. The hike gets hotter as you progress. For me, having done mostly high altitude alpine hikes my whole life, I wasn’t ready for that. I’m used to the temperature getting colder as you hike since you’re gaining altitude. Not the case in the Grand Canyon. It can be under 50° at the rim and 120° at the bottom. If you’re going to be ready for this, try drinking coffee before you go (to help ease altitude sickness) and consider bringing a pack of gum. The gum will keep your juices flowing, give you some much-needed salts in a pinch, and is a great way to equalize pressure in your ears. You can also use it to bribe the constant stream of tourists on mules to carry you out, in the case that you pass out.

Personally, I’d recommend Quench Gum.  It’s delicious and keeps you salivating when you start to dry out. The frisky flavors aren’t bad either.

#5 Pack some Moleskin.

For about $4 you can get a pack of Moleskin. This miracle fabric is soft and felt on one side, and sticky on the other. You can cut off a square of it and stick in on any blisters you have and thus prevent unwanted friction.

Nothing is worse than unsolicited friction.

After you hike 12+ miles in the desert you’ll be glad that you took care of your feet when you had the chance.

#6 Don’t get suckered into touching anything

I’m sad that this is a tip. Still, better safe than foaming at the mouth. While our friend up above may look cute, he is actually a lighting fast hypodermic needle full of the worst diseases in the South West. Don’t be fooled by his casual advances in the Canyon, he is not your friend.

Critters of all shapes and sizes can be found on your hike around the Canyon.  While they’re fun to spot, keep in mind that they are wild animals and will defend themselves if they feel threatened.

#7 Bring Vittles. 

You’re going to work up quite the appetite on your grand hike.  To avoid becoming famished and fatigued, be sure to pack a fair amount of snacks.  The aptly named “trail mix” is perfect for your trek.  You’ll be burning a ton of calories that will need to be replaced.  Aside from trail mix, we’d recommend fueling up with a banana before your hike.  Keep that potassium running and avoid cramps.

Hot tip: if you’re in the area anyhow, find some prickly pear candy. It is delicious!

So there you have it. Keep those quick suggestions in mind and enjoy the trip. No amount of pictures can ever prepare you for the first time you peer over the rim into that vast cradle of history and raw beauty.


13 thoughts on “How to survive hiking the Grand Canyon

    • Author gravatar

      Very well done, good tips, 7 times down and plan to go again, How Awesome is God’s Creation, Thanks for a good trip Tawny and Chris!!

    • Author gravatar

      Great tips, guys! In my recent hike in Romania, I lugged my monstrous digital camera (OK, I exaggerate but it still is a big camera) all four days and the enjoyment of the pix now makes it all well worth it though the camera on me was a nuisance (I need to find some neat gadget for hooking it up around my body on a hike…). Also took moleskin but I didn’t need it. However, I learned that duct tape is also great for blisters and then it also could be used should something breaks – the multi-faceted little thing is a must-carry on any hike! (I roll it on a pencil so I don’t have to take the monster roll!)

    • Author gravatar

      I never would have thought of the gum, but good call. Of course, I wouldn’t have ever thought to hike the Grand Canyon in August either. Ha!

    • Author gravatar

      Pretty sure I wouldn’t survive this sort of thing, even with these tips, but they’re good to have anyway:)

    • Author gravatar

      Great tips for those hiking the Grand Canyon. I hiked it quite a few years ago and it was amazing.

    • Author gravatar

      Yikes, the Grand Canyon is on my to do list for sometime in the next year since it’s a fairly easy drive from San Diego (and I somehow still have not been there!) but now I’m a little weary of this hiking up and down it business. Hopefully if I follow your tips I’ll be just fine. 🙂

    • Author gravatar

      Thanks for the tips! I’m planning to do this in the spring.

    • Author gravatar

      I have been there.. but obviously did not hike. I considered it for 1 second and not for me. Mr O was sad.. but he wasn’t surprised. Maybe he can join you next year? 😉

    • Author gravatar

      GUM.. genius! I would have never thought of that. And.. Gerard would be the one to touch the squirrel.. sigh. Great post, guys!

    • Author gravatar

      Good tips! I hiked down the Canyon a few years ago and loved it…lots of water needed!Like the Moleskin and gum tips…

    • Author gravatar

      Great tips many of which I have taken on board for my upcoming trip! Can not wait as it will be my first time!

    • Author gravatar

      Great advice article here! All of these tips are spot on. I would contribute to the list to bring appropriate clothing, such as a hat for shade, sun glasses, sun screen, etc. Everybody knows to bundle up for cold hikes, but fewer people are aware of what is necessary for hikes where the temperatures will be unusually hot. Perhaps you could write us a little post on advice for hot weather hiking?

    • Author gravatar

      thanks for the tips…loved all the sarcasm. My husband and I have a permit to hike down April 1st to Bright Angel Campground. We were at the canyon in August and knew that we had to see more. There’s just something about a trail that makes us want to follow it lol! I’ve been surfing lots of sites to pick up tips — the gum was a new one, thanks. btw, we are both in early 60s, very active, hike lots….but realistically I know this will be a huge challenge. Preparation is key, both physical and mental.

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