What to Carry

Since the completion of The Colorado Trail in 1987 improvements in hiking, biking and backpacking equipment have been dramatic. The once ubiquitous external frame pack has all but disappeared from the Trail, replaced by lighter, more comfortable and ergonomic internal frames. The venerable walking stick has been tossed aside for much more practical trekking poles. Denim jeans and cotton T-shirts have given way to synthetics that breathe better, dry faster and provide far better insulation. GPS apps are taking the place of bulky maps and guidebooks.

Across the board, backpacking and biking equipment has become lighter, more effective and increasingly efficient. Pounds have been shaved from backpacking and hauling loads that once discouraged many from hitting the Trail.

Still, packing right will often determine the difference between a safe, enjoyable hike, bike or ride in the mountains and an unpleasant, or even potentially disastrous, experience. Whether preparing for a day trip on the CT, or a multiday trek, always start with the “Ten Essentials” as your foundation (see below). Add to those based on the length or type of trip you plan to take. There are numerous resources to guide you, including guidebooks, the websites of equipment makers and retailers, social media sites, and backpacking and biking chatrooms.

Fast growing in popularity is the “ultralight” movement, particularly when it comes to traversing long-distance trails like the CT. But again, it all begins with the basics:

The “Ten Essentials”

  1. Navigation: map, compass, altimeter, GPS device, personal locator beacon or satellite messenger
  2. Headlamp: plus extra batteries
  3. Sun protection: sunglasses, sun-protective clothes and sunscreen
  4. First aid: including foot care and insect repellent (as needed)
  5. Knife: plus a gear repair kit
  6. Fire: matches, lighter, tinder and/or stove
  7. Shelter: can be a light emergency bivy
  8. Extra food: Beyond the minimum expectation
  9. Extra water: Beyond the minimum expectation
  10. Extra clothes: Beyond the minimum expectation

(Source: REI.com)

Additional Equipment for Day Hikes

  • Daypack: 1,500 to 3,000 cubic inches
  • Insulating layer: synthetic tops and bottoms
  • Shirt or sweater: synthetic or wool
  • Pants: synthetic or wool
  • Parka shell: waterproof and windproof
  • Pants shell: waterproof and windproof
  • Hat: stocking cap or balaclava
  • Gloves: synthetic or wool
  • Extra socks

 Additional Equipment for Backpacking

  • Backpack: 3,500 cubic inches or more
  • Waterproof pack cover
  • Sleeping bag
  • Sleeping pad
  • Extra clothing
  • Stove and fuel
  • Cooking gear
  • Eating utensils
  • Food and food bags
  • Tent or bivy sack
  • Waterproof ground cloth
  • Personal toiletries
  • Camp shoes
  • Headlamp
  • Repair kit and sewing kit
  • Water filter and/or iodine tablets
  • Plastic trowel for catholes
  • Plastic bags for garbage
  • Rope or cord
  • Optional:
  • Pillow
  • Camera gear
  • Reading material and/or journal
  • Fishing gear
  • Binoculars
  • Camp chair
  • Cell or satellite phone or radio
  • Trekking poles

REI.com provides some excellent checklists spanning backpacking, ultralight backpacking, backpacking repair, day hiking and first aid. Click on “Expert Advice,” then “Hiking.”

We also highly recommend PMags.com as a resource on backpacking equipment and advice on traveling The Colorado Trail. Paul Magnanti, the man behind the website, is a Triple Crowner, having hiked the Appalachian, Continental Divide and Pacific Crest trail. “Mags” has also thru-hiked the CT and other long trails and is a fount of backpacking information.

For those wondering about what shoes to wear on the CT, we say it’s generally a matter of personal preference. It also can depend on the length of a trip and terrain to be traveled. Today we see more and more Trail users wearing “trail runners” or other light footwear in lieu of the more traditional leather boots. Yet some still prefer the stability and cushioning provided by low-cut or ankle-high boots. Whatever type of shoe you choose, however, DO, DO, DO wear them before you take them on the Trail on the type of terrain and with the loads you plan to carry on your adventure. Nothing can ruin a trip faster and more completely than ill-fitting footwear.