The necessary gear for your U.S. National Park visit this summer
Oh, the great outdoors. Our country is full of natural splendors: from the white sands in New Mexico, to the unearthly hoodoos in Bryce Canyon and majestic sandstone cliffs of Zion. It is no wonder we flock to National Parks, especially now as we discover our own backyard via highway travel and road trips.
On a recent visit to Yosemite, where some of my family members live and work, I found myself ill-prepared for what I needed and/or could’ve used to make my daily explorations a bit more comfortable. Scrambling to borrow things to maintain my nature-fueled bliss, I began noting the tricks up their sleeves. Mostly, items to avoid “weakness of spirit” or WOS (pronounced w-aw-s). WOS occurs when your will is diminished, your enthusiasm lost, and you’re complaining more than admiring the 1,000-year-old Sequoias towering overhead.
According to those living in the park, a well-equipped explorer (with the safety essentials, such as toilet paper, snacks, first aid, and so much more!) can mean the difference between a jolly holiday and a challenging one.
Here are a few items that help sustain high spirits in the most beautiful places on earth.
Mosquito head net: Being distracted by winged pests is an instant spirit assassin. Even with insect repellants, mosquitos and other pesky fliers still love to swarm around your head. For this major annoyance, put your ego aside and just wear a mosquito head net already. You may not be Instagram-ready in this thing, but you’ll thank yourself later. Your hands need to bushwhack, grip onto sturdy trees, and point out the soaring eagle ahead. Not flail around a swarm of flies. Alleviating this problem helps you stay in control of yourself and frustration. Sea to Summit’s Mosquito Head Net, made of polyester mesh, is big enough to put over your sun protective hat, which is important so the net doesn’t lay on your head where bugs can land directly and feast. Effective for up to 70 washes, this loyal guard is poised for many bite-free outdoor pursuits. Hat not included. Suggested retail price: $11
Moisture-wicking apparel: In adventure circles, there’s a saying that “cotton kills” because once it absorbs moisture, it loses circulation and dries slowly. Prolonged dampness like this can lead to hypothermia in cold temperatures and over-heating in warm. Base layers that wick moisture—meaning it is designed to move moisture outward to the surface of the fabric rather than absorbing it—keep you dry and cool (or dry and warm, depending on the weather conditions). This is important for a couple of reasons. If you’re hiking during a hot afternoon, you want breathable clothes, so you’re not steeping in them. Also, your sweat must dry fast in case the temperature drops. Patagonia’s Capilene line uses recycled materials that are soft and durable, reducing chaffing and preserving a good attitude as you roam the Grand Canyon. Go with a hooded long-sleeve with UPF sun protection to minimize UV exposure and protect your skin from scratches and bugs. SRP: $55 for the Capilene Cool Daily Hoody, available in men‘s and women‘s sizes
Hiking poles: Have you ever seen a hiker more spirited than those with hiking poles or a walking staff? I didn’t think so. These cheerful companions aid with balance on uneven trails, maintain your endurance during what feels like a never-ending incline, and protect your joints on the descent. When choosing your walking gear, think lightweight and easy to carry and pack. Following a nine-mile trek through Yellowstone, you’ll want to collapse the poles and tuck them into a bag, not drag them around, tripping others and yourself. Black Diamond’s Distance Carbon Z poles are 10 ounces for the pair and fold up effortlessly. These two perks keep your poles as friends, not foes. SRP: $170 for the pair
Hydration pack: Staying hydrated is the most critical thing you can do for yourself during your National Park journey. Often, your sense of adventure gets the best of you, and you don’t realize the emotional and physical strain a 10-mile excursion can present; especially if there isn’t shade cover. And nothing is worse (except dehydration itself) than complaining about thirst when you could’ve prevented it. Choose between a water-dedicated backpack or a pliable reservoir that slides into whatever pack you have. For this, an easy-to-fill two- or three-liter vessel with a drink tube is more convenient than a hard-shell water bottle. Many hiking or camping backpacks come with a slot designed for reservoirs, but most vessels can conform without one. HydraPak’s Shape-Shift is BPA-free with a zip-and-lock feature that evades leakage and quenches you. SRP: $36 for two liters; $38 for three liters
Water treatment: To double ensure you won’t dehydrate or suffer WOS in the face of thirst, have a filter handy. First, consider the circumstances of your hike: are you in the backcountry with murky, stagnant water, or will there be a flowing creek? Depending on the conditions, you may need something more extensive, but in most cases, the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter System does the job. You can drink water directly from the source through the filter, connect it to your hydration reservoir, or squeeze water into bottle. According to the specs, the 0.1-micron absolute filtration removes 99.99999% of all bacteria (salmonella, leptospirosis, cholera, E.coli, and more) and protozoa, such as giardia and cryptosporidium. Bonus: it also removes 100% of micro-plastics (yes, micro-plastics have infiltrated our rivers and lakes). SRP: $37
Poncho: Nothing dampens a spirit quite like an unforeseen drench. In the mountains, it can rain in an instant, even if a weather app didn’t predict it. And while you’re wearing moisture-wicking clothes, those can’t wick a storm or protect your bag. You can always grab a simple poncho for coverage, but a rain cape and tarp in-one provides ultimate protection when an unexpected downpour strikes. The Gatewood Cape is ultralight, covers you and your backpack, and once you find a place to sit, it can transform into shelter (stakes and poles are sold separately; although your hiking poles can be used in lieu of the poles). SRP: $155
Yeti cooler: Don’t stand in line for food when the great outdoors is beckoning you. That zig-zagged people trail is tedious and can take an hour out of your day. Pack a cooler for your car; one that retains its temperature even on the hottest days. Listen, Death Valley doesn’t cool down just for you, but a properly insulated cooler does. A Yeti is indestructible, leakproof, and can hold ice for up to three days. Sustain yourself something refreshing after meandering the Badlands’ striped peaks. With two miles left, wouldn’t you rather dream about those crisp beers awaiting you or co-mingle with other people suffering from hunger-induced WOS? SRP: $249 to $1,299 for a Yeti Tundra HardCooler, depending on the size
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