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Backpacking in Utah: Gear and other q's
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Brad Abrahams
Backpacking in Utah: Gear and other q's on 05/03/2012 20:35:14 MDT Print View

Greetings everyone. I'll be backpacking in Utah for the first time in a couple weeks (starting last week of May). Manti La Sal for the Dark Canyon Wilderness, Canyonlands, and Zion. I'll be going on multiple 3-5 day hikes.

I've never backpacked in this part of the U.S. Most of my experience is in the PNW, South Florida, Smokys, and deep tropic jungle. Nothing like the dry deserts of the southwest. I;m fairly well suited with flexible gear. I'd just like any tips or recommendations from those with experience.

I.E. How warm of a quilt will be needed? Should I bring insulating layers? Will it rain? Any insects or critters to protect against? Any recommendations for staking the tent in particular ground types? I've got a lot more q's but this should suffice to start.

Also hoping this is the most appropriate forum,

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Backpacking in Utah: Gear and other q's on 05/03/2012 21:32:08 MDT Print View

Bring a pack that will carry a lot of water well, depending on your route. I wouldn't count on rain, but I always take a UL rain jacket for a wind jacket. It will be a lot more like what you're used to in the LaSals than it will be the other places.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: Utah gear on 05/04/2012 08:58:33 MDT Print View

Temps will depend on altitude. Probably unlikely to get very close to freezing in late May unless you're up above 6k or more. In fact, it could be really darn hot in the lower reaches of Canyonlands and the like.

Rain is unlikely, but can happen, and when it does is likely to be prolific. Check the forecast and decide if you want to gamble. Not a bad place for a poncho tarp.

In lower, wet areas you'll find mosquitoes, and even worse, deer flies. (The big brother of NE black flies.) I'd recommend not camping in canyon bottoms, especially near lots of water. If you do this they shouldn't be a big deal at all.

Depending on route, you may need to carry lots of water.

Bring excellent sun protection. Hat, neck protection, light LS shirt, and good shades.

Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
Re: re: Utah gear on 05/04/2012 09:50:25 MDT Print View

Bring a good water filter. Depending where you are, and what kind of stream/pool you are filtering out of, you may want to bring some coffee filters to wrap around the suction end of your hose to get out some sediment. Some may disagree, but I always bring them with me in the Canyonlands just in case.

I ‘d also bring a trowel to ensure you get that full 6”-8”, as biodegrading is next to non-existent here.

As David said, don’t camp in the canyon bottoms and you won’t even need to think about why you left the bug spray at home.

Don’t step on the crypto-crust!

Tyler H
(ctwnwood) - F

Locale: The Palouse
re: good trowel (not necessary) on 05/04/2012 10:10:18 MDT Print View

Brad, I'm also planning a trip in that area. I started a thread for feedback on my gearlist which you might check out, you can at least see what I'm bring. I've camped in this area a number of times.

Just a comment on the suggestion to bring a hefty trowel for digging a full 6".

My research has indicated that because of the lack of organic soil to decompose your waste, the best method is a shallow bury. This insures that the waste gets good and cooked by the sun. Too deep and it will just remain.

Another method is the smear, only to be used in extremely remote and rarely traveled areas, far from any trail.

See this NOLS WMI article for more info!

Edited by ctwnwood on 05/04/2012 10:12:32 MDT.

Brendan S
(brendans) - MLife

Locale: Fruita CO
utah bugz on 05/04/2012 10:15:39 MDT Print View

mosquitos are pretty easy to avoid, but heads up that that time of year can be prime P/J gnat time. I'll take mosquitos any day over the gnats. They aren't just in the canyon bottoms. Moving to a new spot can usually be enough to avoid them, but if they're bad they can drive you mad and make you hurt. Deet doesn't work. You might consider a lightweight headnet. I never take anything, but there have been a couple times that I wish I had.

Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
Re: re: good trowel (not necessary) on 05/04/2012 10:48:31 MDT Print View

Interesting point there, Tyler … talk to a ranger and you may hear a very opposite belief.

I was told by a Canyonlands staff member that there’s a section of Arches National Park where cattle used to graze. It’s been about 40 years since these cattle took dumps in the area, but if you were to go there today, they’d still look fresh.

I must say, I'm glad I don't regularly see fresh piles or your "smear" around the designated camping areas in our desert national parks. By burying your waste as deep AS POSSIBLE you are removing it from the surface of an area where virtually nothing degrades. Basically by burying, your poo just becomes part of the soil.

Edited by timdcy on 05/04/2012 10:49:39 MDT.

David Passey
(davidpassey) - F

Locale: New York City
Re: Backpacking in Utah: Gear and other q's on 05/04/2012 11:00:16 MDT Print View

When it heats up in the southern Utah deserts, you can stumble on a scorpion or two. Pretty easy to anticipate, as they generally make little lizard-like tracks in the soft dirt and sand.

They range in size from pretty tiny to as long 3 inches or so, maybe longer. A sting can vary from wasp-like pain to severe swelling and delirium. They hunt at night and then like to crawl into warm nooks and crannies as it gets light in the morning, so you'll find them in a shoe, or under your bivy, etc, as you're packing up. I don't worry too much about them at night and often sleep outside of the bivy or tent. I figure, they're active hunting, and staying away from me. I've hiked down there a lot without ever being stung, but I have also seen a lot of scorpions, and had a handful of hiking partners get stung.

Years ago, a friend of mine got stung in his crotch. He'd laid his pants out on a rock overnight, and the scorpion had settled inside, and stung him when he pulled the pants on in the morning. At first it was funny--he was hopping around screaming for help pulling off his pants. But we were at the second set of falls in Coyote Gulch near Stevens Arch. Getting him out proved to be a grueling experience.

And don't forget rattlesnakes--easy to avoid, but orders of magnitude worse than a scorpion.

David Chenault
(DaveC) - BPL Staff - F

Locale: Crown of the Continent
re: desert poo on 05/04/2012 11:15:55 MDT Print View

If you're in a designated site, in Needles for instance, follow the NPS procedure. I don't know what that is these days, but I assume many SW parks are moving towards wider and wider use of WAG bags (ie pack it out).

In undesignated but well traveled terrain (ex: Dark canyon) a deep hole up away from the canyon bottom is probably the best way to go.

In undesignated and more obscure terrain, digging holes in the sand of dry washes or a shallow bury in rocky ground seems best. If camping on slickrock way out there in places which might see 6 parties a year, frosting the rock has always struck me as the least impactful.

David Passey
(davidpassey) - F

Locale: New York City
Re: Backpacking in Utah: Gear and other q's on 05/04/2012 11:23:50 MDT Print View

One other anecdote about bugs. Early in the season--say Apr-Jun, the deer flies can be really bad in the canyon bottoms. They look like a slightly smaller version of a housefly, but are a medium gray color. Their bite is more painful than a mosquito, and they leave a mosquito like welt.

DEET holds them back, but they seem more persistent than mosquitos. Once, in the Escalante Canyon my hiking partner and I were swarmed by deerflies that were dive bombing through our DEET. It was so bad, we decided to beat it--literally racing a couple hundred yards to escape. As soon as we stopped, we were immediately swarmed by deerflies. So we made a break for it again. Same problem when we stopped. The third time we sprinted off, I noticed a dozen or so deerflies sitting on the seat of my hiking partners pants. As soon as we stopped running, the flies attacked.

So, we sprayed DEET on our pants, and as much of our packs as we dared, which solved the problem. This was before Permethrin.

Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
Re: re: desert poo on 05/04/2012 11:39:23 MDT Print View

Yes, WAG bags being the most preferred method, although I have yet to hear them (NPS) recommend, let alone enforce them… yet.

Tyler H
(ctwnwood) - F

Locale: The Palouse
re: trowels in the desert and other thread drifts on 05/04/2012 16:46:53 MDT Print View

--"I must say, I'm glad I don't regularly see fresh piles or your "smear" around the designated camping areas in our desert national parks. By burying your waste as deep AS POSSIBLE you are removing it from the surface of an area where virtually nothing degrades. Basically by burying, your poo just becomes part of the soil."--

Not to get into a thread-drifting argument about pooping but... a couple points.

You wouldn't see piles of my smear around because the smear is, by definition, the opposite of a pile. Maybe that's why the cow patties are still there, I don't know.

Second, you wouldn't use the smear technique around a designated camping area, where if there wasn't a pit toilet, the WAG bag would definitely be the best option. The smear, as Dave C points out, is for undesignated and seldom visited locales. I'm also going to provide the disclaimer here that I have never used the smear in practice.

And, as you point out Tim, there's really isn't much decomposition happening in the desert. There definitely isn't much you'd call soil, especially 8" below the surface. On the surface though, the sun will kill the harmful bacteria.

I'm with you all that bagging your waste and packing it out is the "best" way.

Edited by ctwnwood on 05/04/2012 16:50:15 MDT.

Nathan Hays

Locale: San Francisco
Bugz on 05/04/2012 17:47:23 MDT Print View

By far, I think gnats are the most dangerous living thing encountered on the trail. Coming in after a long day, just around dusk, gnats are up your nose, between your glasses and eyes, hanging out on the edge of your lips, getting sucked down your throat through clenched teeth. I have walked right off a trail being distracted by them when I was in a bad mood coming down a hot sweaty staircase loaded with other people's gear.

Bug net, bug net, bug net.

Tom Kirchner
(ouzel) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest/Sierra
Re: Bugz on 05/04/2012 17:52:59 MDT Print View

"By far, I think gnats are the most dangerous living thing encountered on the trail."

Wait until you run into a cloud of no see ums in similar circumstances. Individually, they pack quite a wallop. In clouds, they will make you rue the day you were born.

(jlhilliker) - F
Dark Canyon on 05/05/2012 06:01:37 MDT Print View

I was in Dark canyon in July last year. The bugs (mostly flies) were very annoying, but not intolerable. I would definitely make sure you have some kind of bug net. It didnt get very cold at night, maybe high in the 50s. I was very comfortable with a light quilt. I didnt need any insulating layers at all. I didnt experience any real rain, just a couple very light sprinkles. If youre doing the Woodenshoe-Peavine loop, there are several campsites set up along the way. The main concern is water. It was very sparse. I would suggest carrying 6 liters, and take a look at this blog:

The very first post has useful information about water sources along that route. Also, make sure you have a good map. USGS sells a 1:31k I think, that is very detailed. The route was washed out in places, so be sure your map/compass skills are up to par.

Keep in mind, I was there two months later in the year than you are planning, so YRMV.

Edited by jlhilliker on 05/05/2012 06:05:44 MDT.

Brad Abrahams
Re: Backpacking in Utah: Gear and other q's on 05/05/2012 16:31:21 MDT Print View

You guys are frigging awesome. Thanks kindly for this wealth of info.

I think we will be spending most of our time in the Dark Canyon Wilderness. Does anyone have specific experience here? My main questions are regarding water.


Brad Abrahams
Re: Dark Canyon on 05/05/2012 18:29:48 MDT Print View

Justin just saw your post. Thanks for the info and link.

Has anyone here hiked much in the Needles District of canyonlands?

Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re:Needles on 05/05/2012 18:47:01 MDT Print View


Tim Drescher
(timdcy) - M

Locale: Gore Range
Re: Re: Re:Needles on 05/05/2012 19:22:59 MDT Print View

Druid for the win.

Brad Abrahams
Re: Re: Re: Re:Needles on 05/07/2012 07:55:49 MDT Print View

Looks like the new plan willl be Coyote Gulch (out and back), Zion Traverse, and then maybe a solo of Dark Canyon Wilderness. Very excited!