Backpacking Gear List for the Zion Narrows Hike + Additional Tips

Backpacking Gear List for the Zion Narrows Hike + Additional Tips

Since I’ve had a handful of people ask me for tips for preparing for the Narrows hike, this post is for you! There are two hikes you can do for the Narrows at Zion National Park:

  1. The top-down thru-hike starts at Chamberlain’s Ranch and ends at the Temple of Sinawava, the two entry points into the river. It’s a two day 16 mile hike with 1,189 ft (361 m) elevation change.
  2. The bottom-up hike is a day hike starting at the Temple of Sinawava to as far as Big Springs. It’s essentially the bottom half of the Narrows.

We did the top-down during the fall, and the packing list covers everything you need, but I will also leave some tips near the end of the post for what you need on the bottom-up day-hike.

Backpacking Gear List for the Zion Narrows Hike Top Down.

BACKPACKING GEAR LIST FOR THE ZION NARROWS HIKE TOP DOWN:

  1. Backpack: We used our Osprey packs. Here’s the updated version of my youth backpack, and Jacob’s current bag is discontinued but was succeeded by this one. We ordered a couple full on waterproof bags, but we’ve found they don’t have very good support to carry a lot of weight (review coming soon).
  2. Dry Sacks / Bags: We each used one large and one small (4 total).
  3. Backpacking Tent: Our backpacking tent is one of the best and packs down to 5.5 x 17.5 inches (14 x 44.5 cm) and weighs 3 lbs 2 oz. Whichever tent you decide on, it’s really important that it’s light and compact as possible. Some people forego having a tent altogether and sleep outside since you can’t backpack the Narrows if it rains anyways. I might be a little more high maintenance, but I prefer not being covered in dew when I wake up. ;)
  4. Sleeping Bag: We both have REI Sub Kilo +15 sleeping bags (2 lbs / 0.9 kg and  7.5 x 15 inches / 10 L) . This is no longer available, but check out the newer versions. Pay attention to the temperature rating, weight, and compressed volume. You want warmer, lighter, and smaller.
  5. Sleeping Pad: We have both the men’s and the women’s version of the REI Lite-Core 1.5 self-inflating sleeping pad, which packs small and is light (5.5 x 10.75  inches / 13.9 x 27.3 cm and 18 oz / 0.51 kg). REI discontinued the lite-cores, but they always tweak the newer versions to be better. These are also optional, and our friends with us toughed it out, but we did get better sleep. :)
  6. Walking poles: I have the junior sized ones since I’m petite, and Jacob got a rental walking stick. They recommend that you rent walking sticks because yours might get dented up in the water, but mine did just fine. I think it also helped having two for balance when navigating through the rapids.
  7. Water Bladder: We both have platypus bladders and filled it 2 liters to last us both days. We didn’t sweat much since it was fall. You can bring less and also bring a filter (see water filter tips below).
  8. Collapsible Soft Bottle: I brought the 0.5L soft bottle to mix in Emergen-C just in case I got sick.
  9. Quick Dry Tees: I brought two of these, one for each day. I personally like to use the second clean shirt to sleep and then hike the next day in it, but if you don’t mind wearing the same shirt twice, go for it! Jacob brought a regular cotton tee the first day, but we don’t recommend cotton, because it doesn’t dry and doesn’t keep you warm. Luckily, his shirt only got wet near the end of day 1’s hike, so he didn’t have to stay wet long. The second day he just wore the quick dry long sleeves.
  10. Quick Dry Long Sleeves: I brought one and Jacob brought two. We always bring our Patagonia base layers in 2 or 3. Ideally, wear two quick dry layers: one tee and a long sleeve over.
  11. Light, Warm Jacket: It gets really cold early mornings and after dark. We both brought our nano-puff jackets, because they are really warm and also very compact. We also like to use these as pillows, because they fold up into the pocket.
  12. Quick Dry Shorts: Jacob wore these hiking pants both days, and I wore these both days. Dry your shorts on a tree overnight, and they’re good to go. We both left the zip offs at home. Our friends brought swim shorts.
  13. Long Underwear: We both have the patagonia midweight bottoms to keep us warm at night. Jacob just happened to forget his on this trip and got really cold.
  14. Water shoes: Jacob has these tevas, and I ended up renting shoes that had great ankle support but much heavier and slowed me down. I also own keen water sandals (kid’s of course. it’s purple and sparkly :P), but our guy friends with similar water sandals kept getting rocks in theirs during the hike, so Jacob’s shoes win.
  15. Waterproof Socks: Jacob used these, and I used the rental socks. We were both disappointed that they held in so much water. We were sloshing around even when we were on dry land. Our friends used thinner ones, which aren’t as warm but held in less water.
  16. Portable Cooking System: We use a jetboil to cook so that we can have some warm food while hiking. You can also forego this and take a bunch of bars, but since the water is cold, we decided it’d be nice to have warm food.
  17. Dry Food and Snack Bars: We brought Mountain House Lasagna and Good to Go Smoked Chili (review here) We brought Cliff bars and Kind bars for me (6-8 each) and didn’t stop for lunches. We also brought 2 stingers per person and 1 powerbar gel blasts each.
  18. Headlamp: We both have these petzls and they always help if you are stuck setting up your tent after dark or if you need to use the bathroom.
  19. Earplugs: If you’re a light sleeper and you have snorers in your group, you’re going to need these. The river can be loud.
  20. Sunblock: There really isn’t much sun, but it’s good to stay protected. I just brought my face sunblock to use on both face and body.
  21. Toiletries: Toothbrush, toothpaste, wet wipes, emergen-C just in case I get sick.
  22. Trash Bags: To double bag your dry sacks. No dry sack is 100% waterproof. And more bags to carry your poop bag and trash. 3 total since Jacob is such a great husband and carried out both our trash and poop bags, but bring 2 for yourself if you’re on your own. ;)
  23. Flip Flops: We both forgot these and it was a HUUUUGE mistake. After settling into our campsite and changing into dry clothes for the night, we still had to put on our wet shoes. It was miserable. Bring really cheap ones, I don’t care, but do NOT forget them!
  24. Poop kit / bag (not pictured): They give you one per person when you arrive at the Zion Welcome Center to pick up your permit.
  25. Camera gear (not pictured): We brought a tripod, a Mark III with a 35/1.4L lens, and our Fujifilm x100. It’s really heavy and probably not the safest since I don’t have any waterproof gear for it. We were just extra careful to make sure we didn’t fall into the water, and if we did, we saved the camera instead of ourselves. Half the time it was tucked away in my smaller dry sack.
  26. Sunhat (not pictured): I have this Columbia hat, but it was more of a nuisance because it kept hitting the top of my backpack and falling off my head. For functionality sake, Jacob has this hat which works much better, and you can tuck the cape in to use it as a regular cap. Also, the first day we barely got any sun. The second day was a little more exposed, but you’re going in and out of shade constantly.

The first night we decided to bring all our car camping gear so that we can get a good night’s sleep before our hike. It was nice because we could leave all of i in the car during our hike days.

For Car Camping the night before and / or after:

  1. Car Camping Tent: We have a this Coleman 4 person tent, a cheap tent that fits our mattress.
  2. Inflatable Mattress: We used this queen sized mattress and blew it up using our car.
 

Additional Tips:

  • Reservations: Make them up to 3 months in advance here.
  • Permits:
    • Permit Costs: $10 for 1-2 people; $15 for 3-7 people; $20 for 8-12 people
    • Walk-In Permits can obtained one day in advance from the visitor centers.
  • Hiking in Summer: Only thing I would change for the packing list for the summer is more water (about 4 L a person) and you can leave behind a warm jacket. The water is still cold.
  • Day hike only: We recommend bringing water shoes, waterproof socks, 1L of water, snacks, and some comfortable clothes. We saw that most people stopped at Wall Street and turned back.
  • Lodging: We drove straight home after we got back from day 2 of our hike, so that we could have a warm shower and rest in our beds. The day before the hike, however, we went in and stayed at Watchman Campgrounds. It is a great campground with exceptionally clean bathroom facilities. They don’t have many campgrounds available at Zion, so you should try to book reservations early. We showed up and they happened to fit us into the overflow group camping area.
  • Shuttle: There is a shuttle service provided by Zion Adventure Company that takes you to the trail head at Chamberlain’s Ranch. It is $37 a person.  We took the shuttle to the trailhead of the hike. It’s a pretty rough road, so our friend’s forester would have been fine, but our Altima might have struggled a bit. Also, it would have added an extra hour and half or so of driving on the last day.
  • Renting Dry Pants and Suits: I rented a whole set with a dry suit, waterproof socks, water boots, and a hiking stick, because the company who provided the shuttle service recommended everyone to wear at least the dry pants when the water temperature drops below 55 degrees F (12.7 deg C). It was at the end of peak season where the temperature was 55 degrees F. They also told me I was too short and needed a dry suit, because the water levels would go above my waist and my dry pants. In hindsight, I would go without any of the rental gear. All the guys did fine and the cold water wasn’t unbearable. Meanwhile, I was burning up in my suit, so had the top part off and the sleeves tied around my waist most of the time.
  • Filtering Water: If you want to carry less water on your back, you can bring a water filter for after Deep Creek Junction / the campsites. It’s not recommended to filter and drink the water north of it, because there are cattle farms.
  • Number of people: The top-down hike had a total of 10 people on the day we went. The first day, you feel like you have the Narrows all to yourself. The second day is the part where most people hike the bottom half on a day hike bottom up. While there will breaks in between groups of people, you definitely have to wait for photos.
  • Water Levels: When we arrived, they told us the water level will go up to waist deep (for average height people) and chest deep for me. The first day of the hike (top half) was roughly 80% ankle deep. The second day (bottom half) was roughly 75% ankle to knee deep. I expected there to be longer portions of deeper water where I’m possibly swimming, but there were only 2 or 3 deep portions that were unavoidable and at most two steps in length. If you use your walking sticks to measure the depth of the water, you can easily navigate around a lot of the deeper waters. Also, clear to light green water is shallow, while darker blues / greens mean deeper water.
  • Time it took: The map and the landmarks given to us didn’t seem very accurate. Day 1 was supposed to be a shorter day. They told us _ hours, which felt demoralizing near the end. It’s all about setting expectations, right? The second day, we breezed through it.
  • Riverside Walk: After you reach the Temple of Sinawava, there is still one more mile of hiking on the paved trail to the shuttle.
  • Don’t forget to cut your toenails down! I ended up slicing the sides of my toes.
  • Makeshift Toilet: Squatting and pooping in a bag can be a challenge especially after your legs are jello from the hike. The last thing you want to do is fall into your own poop. :) The second day, the guys created a makeshift bathroom with two rocks on both sides of the bag for you to rest your butt on. Will post a photo of this later.
What’s in your backpacking gear list?
What’s the toughest hike you’ve been on?
xoxo estherJacob

This Post Has 11 Comments

  1. too funny! Just got a permit for the Narrows and came across you post while researching what to bring. Thanks for the beta. I’m wondering if you guys had a choice of using a waterproof pack would you ditch the Osprey and drybags and just use a drypack?

    1. Hi Jill! If you’re doing the overnight, it depends on how much support the dry pack has. Our friend brought a dry pack, but it didn’t have very much support so he was definitely hurting during the hike.

  2. This is the best write up yet! My roommate and i will be camping two nights in the narrows. Hiking it top and staying at Campsite 1 the first night and Campsite 7 the next. We were going to rent the Canyoneering shoes and socks. Is there anything to do about the wet socks or just deal?

    We will be going in early June. June 3-5 to be exact. What type of warm clothing do you suggest? Thanks this is soooo sooo helpful!

    Cheers,

    R

    1. That sounds amazing! It’s still one of the top hikes we’ve done. As far as wet socks go, you just deal with them. You’ll be in the water for the most part so there’s no point in trying to dry them. We had a pair of wool socks for night time and hung our water socks outside. In the morning, it was a bit of a struggle to get them back on, but once we were in the water again, it didn’t make much of a difference.

      If the water temps are really cold, then you should definitely get a drysuit. Otherwise, just have layers like you would normally for hikes/camping so you can take off or put on as needed. And remember to have a set of dry clothes for the campsite.

      Have fun!

  3. Your post was fantastic since I plan to hike this trail this coming saturday and as of right now the weather channel is saying it’ll be a high of 59F and low of 32F. I didn’t know how extreme I needed to go for clothes. I’m hiking the full trail in one day so I’m taking the 615am shuttle. Do you think shorts and a t-shirt are enough? I plan to rent the water shoes and socks. I have trekking poles that I plan to use as well. I plan to take my osprey manta 36 day pack with a 3 Liter bladder along with a filter just in case. In my dry bag I’m bring two merino wool long sleeve shirts, marino wool long underwear, waterproof lightweight pants, extra pair of underwear, warm socks and a warm hat just in case. Also bringing a head lamp, medical stuff, map, compass, lighter. Also of course cliff bars, nuts and dried fruit. Any recommendations based off of that?

    1. Thank you, Dan! It sounds like you have everything covered especially since you’re going around the same time of year as us. The only thing I would check is what it’s saying the water temperature and level has been at the parks visitor center / ranger station. It was fine without a dry suit with the water temp at 55 deg, but if it dips below that I don’t know if it will just be very uncomfortable without one. I know that plenty of people go without.

  4. What food do you recommend bringing? We are doing the top down hike in one day! Starting early in the morning and pushing through. We will need at least two meals and need tips on what is best to bring. Thanks!

    1. Wow! When we’re trying to hike fast, we usually stick with bars just because it’s fast and easy. Otherwise, we’ll bring a JetBoil and Mountain House (lasagna is the best)!

  5. I found your post via Pinterest. Sweetie and I are headed there is a couple of weeks, doing the Narrows for the day. With just water socks be OK, or do we need full on shoes in the river?

    1. Hi Elizabeth. Thanks for stopping in! You’re going to want some sturdy water shoes. You’re treading over a lot of rocks and you’re constantly criss crossing back and forth over land and water.

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