Continental Divide Trail Thru-Hiker Gear List
Based on our Pacific Crest Trail Thru-Hiker Gear List, here’s a non-exhaustive list of suggested gear items for a Continental Divide Trail thru-hike. The PCT and CDT are trails that have a lot in common, so a gear list that is good for one should be close to perfect for the other.
PCT vs. CDT
The two categories where a PCT and CDT gear list might not align are bear deterrence and sleeping bag/quilt rating:
Bears: A significant portion of the CDT passes through areas where grizzly bears are present and it is recommended that hikers carry bear spray while hiking through these sections. Additionally, while hard-sided bear-proof canisters are not required anywhere on the CDT, with the exception of 25 miles of trail in Rocky Mountain National Park, proper food storage is essential. Therefore, Ursack’s are the popular alternative to canisters which are prevalent on the PCT.
Sleeping Bag Rating: Temperatures on the CDT are similar to those found on the PCT, but increased exposure above treeline can impact nighttime comfort beyond the nominal recorded temperature. Wind is the largest factor to consider and can make a night feel much colder than expected and there is plenty of wind on the Divide. Consider a conservative option if possible when gearing up for the CDT.
Besides these, gear selection for the PCT and CDT is similar. On both of these trails, SOBOs are likely to see colder temperatures than NOBOs as the season advances into autumn and winter. NOBOs are more likely to encounter snow in the Sierra on the PCT and in northern New Mexico and the San Juans on the CDT. Both will see plenty of hot days.
Sun / Next-to-Skin Clothes
Additional Sun Protection
Big Three: Sleep System, Shelter, Pack
Sleeping Bags and Quilts
Quilts have established themselves as a lightweight alternative to traditional sleeping bags. The idea is that the down on the bottom of the sleeping bag, the part you’re lying on, does not actually insulate you, so why carry those extra feathers? However, because quilts are open on the sides, they can be draftier than a traditional sleeping bag.
There are several variables to keep in mind when choosing a quilt or sleeping bag. Size, weight, and temperature ratings can make or break base weight and comfort level. You’ll want to choose your bag based on your ideal combination of temperature rating, fill power, weight, packability, and price.
A good warmth-to-weight ratio is the most important aspect of your bag. For the CDT, choose a bag rated to at least 20 degrees (10 degrees if you sleep cold). A liner can also add some warmth.
Make sure your bag is durable enough for the long haul, compresses so it doesn’t take up too much room in your pack, and if you are worried about it getting wet, a bag with treated fabric or treated down will be a good choice.
When shopping for a sleeping bag or quilt, consider:
- Design: Fully enclosed mummy bags are warmest, but are heavier and bulkier than minimalist quilts.
- Fill type: Down is more expensive, but offers more warmth for the weight than synthetic and packs smaller. However, it loses its insulating properties when wet, so it is essential to keep it dry in damp conditions.
- Temperature rating: Choose a bag rated lower than the lowest temperature you expect to encounter. Otherwise, be prepared to wear extra layers on the coldest nights.
- Women’s-specific design: Narrower shoulders and wider hips, more insulation in hips and feet, more conservative temperature ratings.
- Western Mountaineering Ultralight 20-degree
- Montbell Downhugger #2 (suitable for warm sleepers)
- Marmot Helium 15-degree
- Feathered Friends Hummingbird UL 20-degree
- Katabatic Sawatch 15-degree
- Katabatic Alsek 22-degree
- Katabatic Flex 22
- Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20-degree
- Enlightened Equipment Enigma APEX synthetic
- Zpacks Solo Quilt 20-degree
READ NEXT —
- The Best Quilts for Thru-Hiking
- The Best Sleeping Bags for Thru-Hiking
- The Ultimate Guide to Backpacking Sleeping Bags and Quilts for All Budgets
Do you want to be warm and comfortable? If you answered yes, then you need a sleeping pad. Sleeping pad types are pretty straightforward. The options are foam, inflatable, or combination/self-inflating pads that have a thin layer of foam and also rely on air for comfort.
Pads provide both cushioning and insulation from the cold earth beneath you. Insulation is measured in the pad’s R-value. A rating between three and five is adequate for three-season use. For cold-weather camping, look for an R-value greater than five.
Combination/self-inflating pads are durable and generally considered an easier setup than inflatable pads, but the added comfort comes with some extra weight and a larger packed size.
Inflatable pads are lightweight, compress well, and generally have the highest R-values, but will need love and care – they’re a little fragile, and when their hearts get broken, they tend to pop.
Foam sleeping pads are durable, less expensive, and serve many purposes, but they are bulky and don’t provide the same cushioning or warmth as insulated inflatable varieties.
These things should be kept in mind when making your decision/budgeting.
Inflatable Sleeping Pads
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite NXT
- NEMO Tensor
- Sea to Summit Ultralight Insulated Sleeping Pad
- Exped Ultra 3R
- Klymit Static V2
Foam Sleeping Pads
- Therm-a-Rest Z-Lite Sol
- NEMO Switchback
- Gossamer Gear Thinlight (good for supplementing current sleep system)
READ NEXT — The Best Sleeping Pads for Thru-Hiking
Your tent is one of the most important — if not the most important — pieces of gear for your long-distance hike. It’s literally your home away from home. So how do you choose the right one?
Most thru-hikers look for a lightweight, durable tent with enough livable space and features to stay comfortable for months on the trail. That’s what you should be looking for too.
When looking at a tent, ask yourself:
- Can you live in this tent night after night, for weeks or months at a time?
- Can you set it up quickly in the dark or rain? Both?
- Is there enough room to comfortably sit up without brushing the sides of the tent with your shoulders? Does your sleeping bag hit the wall of the tent?
- Can you crawl in and out of the tent without getting the floor soaked?
- If there is enough room in the vestibule to comfortably stash your gear?
- If you’re hiking with a partner, do you want two doors for entry/exit?
Here are our top tents for a Continental Divide Trail thru-hike.
- Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2
- Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL2
- ZPacks Plex Solo
- ZPacks Duplex
- Zpacks Free Duo
- Durston X-Mid
- Tarptent Rainbow
- NEMO Hornet OSMO
- Mountain Laurel Designs Solomid
- Six Moons Designs Skyscrape Trekker
- Six Moons Designs Lunar Solo
- Gossamer Gear The One
- Gossamer Gear The Two
READ NEXT – The Best Tents for Thru-Hiking
Your gear list needs to go hand-in-hand with your pack and we recommend that you choose your pack only after assembling the rest of your gear list. It all needs to fit, but you don’t want an oversized, overbuilt pack either. However, generally speaking, a pack in the 40-60 liter range will be well suited to the CDT, depending on the rest of your gear.
Are you an ultralight fastpacker, or do you carry everything but the kitchen sink? Choosing the wrong pack for your base weight can lead to discomfort or even injury. Being honest with yourself is important.
The CDT includes some massive food/water carries so don’t forget to consider these in your maximum capacity/weight calculations. You’ll be able to stretch your pack’s capabilities if needed, but it won’t be comfortable. But hey, that’s part of the fun.
Frameless UL packs have pretty hard limits for weight capacities, which means you also need to be aware of support and weight distribution, in addition to fitting all your gear in a smaller volume pack. Unless all of your gear is ultralight, don’t opt for an ultralight pack.
If you carry everything but the kitchen sink, padding is necessary to avoid injury. Just keep in mind that the more padding and pockets a pack offers, the heavier it’s going to be. Depending on the number of features it has, a pack can increase your base weight by several pounds.
It might not seem like a lot while you walk around the store, but the weight adds up over hundreds of miles. It’s all about balance. Some food for thought: if you’ve got a larger capacity pack (65-70 liters), you’re more likely to fill it with things you don’t need.
When shopping for a pack, consider:
- Weight: Minimalist UL packs weigh less but also can’t carry as much and are generally less comfortable.
- Torso size: Most outfitters can measure this for you. Some packs come in adjustable sizes. Others are designed to fit a range (i.e. a torso size 18″-20″).
- Women-specific design: Straps and belts designed to accommodate larger hips and chest.
- Ventilation: between the pack and your back.
- Padding: Adds weight and traps sweat, but it is more comfortable and can be crucial for those with historic back or shoulder pain.
- Organization: Pockets and straps add weight but can help organize unwieldy/oddly shaped gear.
Pack liner vs. pack cover: One way or another, it’s a good idea to protect the contents of your backpack from wet weather. There are two easy ways to do this: line your backpack with a durable plastic liner (this can be something fancy or a trash compactor bag), or cover it with a waterproof pack cover.
A liner is the cheapest and easiest option. It lives in your pack at all times, meaning that your stuff is always protected even if you are surprised by a shower. The downside to this method is that stuff in the outside pockets can still get wet, and your pack fabric can become saturated.
A pack cover, on the other hand, is heavier, more expensive, a pain to put on, and never works as well as you expect. The benefit is that it keeps everything, even your backpack dry, kind of.
- ULA Circuit
- ULA Ohm 2.0
- Durston Kakwa 40 or 55
- Hyperlite Mountain Gear Southwest 40 or 55
- ZPacks Arc Blast
- Granite Gear Crown3 60
- Six Moon Designs Swift V — particularly good for those with back pain
- Gossamer Gear Gorilla
- Gossamer Gear Mariposa
- Osprey Exos / Eja
- Mountain Laurel Designs Prophet
- Mountain Laurel Designs Burn
READ NEXT – The Best Backpacks for Thru-Hiking
Hiking boots, shoes, or trail runners? Although trail runners are the popular choice, there is no one-size-fits-all solution – each hiker has individual needs. If the continuing popularity of Altra and Hoka has you one click away from ordering the latest model and stowing them away until your hike, ask yourself, “Would I buy a car without taking it for a test drive first?”
There’s only one way to make sure they’re the perfect fit and that’s by trying them on. Whether you go with the trail runner or a mid/boot, we recommend the non-waterproof version when possible. Your feet will inevitably get wet. It’s just a matter of how quickly your shoe, and thus your foot, dries (and waterproof shoes take much longer to dry).
When shopping for footwear, consider:
- Weight: They say a pound on your feet is worth five on your back in terms of energy expenditure. Trail runners are much lighter than boots.
- Support: Boots provide more ankle support and protection from rough trail surfaces.
- Traction: Make sure your footwear has a nice, grippy outsole.
- Breathability: Trail runners tend to breathe better and dry faster. Mesh uppers are a must for breathability.
- Durability: Trail runners cost less than boots, but can wear out almost twice as fast.
- Return policy: You may need to try several pairs of shoes to find the perfect fit. It’s acceptable to return lightly used shoes to most outfitters, but don’t abuse generous return policies.
- Drop: This refers to the height difference between the heel and the toe. Some people swear by a “zero-drop shoe” and argue that it’s a more natural way to walk. Others think it’s a load of baloney. This will be argued out over Reddit threads and Facebook comments until the end of days, but in the meantime, Altras are known for their zero drop offerings, if that’s of interest to you.
- Sizing: For a number of reasons, your regular street shoe size might be a bit small for you during your thru-hike. Feet tend to swell and get larger during the day, as well as over the course of a long thru-hike. This effect is especially apparent in hot environments, of which the CDT has more than a few. You also might be wearing thicker socks than at home. Consider purchasing a roomier shoe than usual. Altra’s are great for this with a wide toebox, but other brands offer wide sizing. Going up half a size can also be a good idea and prevent lost toenails or gnarly blisters.
- Altra Lone Peak
- Altra Olympus
- HOKA Speedgoat
- Brooks Cascadia
- Salomon Speedcross
- Salomon X-Ultra
- Topo Athletic Ultraventure
- La Sportiva Wildcats
READ NEXT – The Best Trail Runners for Thru-Hiking
Down vs. synthetic – that old chestnut. Down fill has a higher warmth-to-weight ratio but is generally more expensive, and you have to be careful to not let it saturate with moisture, as down loses insulating properties when wet. However, there are now many choices for water-resistant down. Still, you probably don’t want to wear a down jacket in the rain, even under a rainshell. And you want to be careful not to get it too sweaty. If you go for down, then you’re pretty much committed to just using it in camp.
Synthetic fill, while heavier and less compressible than down, maintains insulating properties when wet, which can be a literal lifesaver on humid or wet trails. It is also easier to care for. Washing a synthetic jacket is relatively easy to laundering down products. During a long thru-hike, your jacket is going to get funky, so it’s nice to be able to toss it in the wash with your other clothes.
Hood vs. No Hood: For a minimal weight addition, having a hood on your warm jacket adds a lot of versatility. You’d be surprised how much warmer you’ll be when you tuck your ears and noggin under plush insulation. It is an especially good idea to have a hood available if you’re using a quilt, as these tend not to have hoods of their own.
Note for the girls: opt for women-specific jackets (down or synthetic) – the fit will be better and you’ll have less empty space to heat up, which saves energy and keeps you warmer longer.
- Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex- Men, Women
- Montbell Thermawrap- Men, Women
- Montbell Ex Light Down Anorak
- Patagonia Nano Puff- Men, Women
- Uniqlo Ultralight Down Parka- Men, Women (at $90, this fashion brand actually makes a decent down)
READ NEXT –
Good rain gear can make or break your outing, and it’s something absolutely worth investing in. While you might be tempted to look for jackets and pants that are less expensive than their lightweight counterparts, paying for the higher-quality construction, materials, and performance is well worth it.
You’ll want gear that’s quick-drying, reasonably breathable (temper your expectations here), keeps the rain out, and doesn’t take up too much room in the pack.
Most thru-hikers don’t carry rain pants, preferring to let their legs get wet and dry out in their own time. However, rain pants are advisable on potentially cold sections of trail such as the Colorado Rockies and the end of your hike (yes, SOBOs, the desert is cold).
- OR Helium- Men, Women
- Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket- Men, Women
- Montbell Versalite Jacket- Men, Women
- Frogg Toggs Rain Suit
- Marmot Precip Jacket- Men, Women
- ULA Rain Kilt
- MLD Rain Mitts
READ NEXT –
Umbrellas, particularly the shiny, sun-reflective kind, are popular with CDT hikers, especially in the desert. A lightweight backpacking umbrella is a wonderful sun protection tool and can be attached to your pack strap for hands-free use.
Your clothing needs might change over the course of a CDT thru-hike. Seasonal and environmental changes virtually guarantee that a dialed-in setup won’t be “dialed-in” for the entire duration. Usually, this means adding layers at higher elevations or later in the season.
Sun / Next-to-Skin
Sunlight beats down from above throughout the desert. Snow reflects sunlight up at you throughout the San Juans. Long, treeless stretches await no matter which part of the trail you’re on. A lightweight, breathable, long-sleeved shirt provides indispensable sun protection on the CDT.
Sun hoodies are all the rage these days, and for good reason. They are lightweight, breathable, and provide complete coverage and built-in UPF sun protection.
- REI Co-op Sahara Shade Hoodie- Men, Women
- Patagonia Capilene Cool Daily Hoodie- Men, Women
- Outdoor Research Echo Hoodie- Men, Women
- ExOfficio BugsAway Shirt- Men, Women
- Columbia Silver Ridge Shirt- Men, Women
- REI Sahara Shirt- Men, Women
- Orvis Pro Sun Hoodie- Men
- Jolly Gear Sun Hoodie
- A cheap thrift shop buy
Additional Sun Protection
You might hate pants and be more comfortable in shorts, or perhaps you’re a fashionista who wants to turn heads in the latest trendy hiking skirt. Choosing the right type of hiking bottoms is all down to personal preference. You should test your bottoms to make sure they’ll be comfortable for hiking over an extended period of time. If you’re rolling with ultralight, breathable shorts with a full range of movement, you’ll want to have a good base layer or a set of wind pants that you can throw on when it gets cold. Whatever your preference, durability, and breathability should be considered.
- Patagonia Baggies- Men, Women
- Generic synthetic running shorts
- Columbia Tech Trail II Pants- Men
- Purple Rain Hiking Skirt- Women
Wind Jacket / Pants
- Montbell EX Light Wind Jacket- Men, Women
- Patagonia Houdini Jacket- Men, Women
- Zpacks Ventum Wind Shell
- Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Shirt- Men, Women
- Enlightened Equipment Copperfield Wind Pants- Men, Women
- Dance Pants
- Montbell Dynamo Pants- Men, Women
It’s just a base layer, won’t any old thing do? Thru-hikers sleep in them, hike in them, and since they’re always wearing them, these clothes get washed less than they should. On top of being worn 24/7, base layers need to keep you comfortable in a range of conditions, from cold nights camping or sitting static to wicking sweat on a tough ascent… all without stinking to high heaven.
Going back to the original question – any old thing really won’t do.
When shopping for base layers, consider:
- Temperature: Base layers come in different fabric weights, which will be warmer or cooler.
- Use: Just for sleeping, or will you hike in them too?
- Fit: Should be snug but not tight.
- Material: Wool is more expensive than synthetic but is warm, light, and does not stink
- Weight: Keep it light, right?
Here are some durable options that will not only keep you comfortable but also help keep the smell at bay.
- Smartwool Classic All-Season Base Layer- Men, Women
- Icebreaker Bodyfit 200 Oasis- Men, Women
- Icebreaker Bodyfit 200 Oasis Zip- Men, Women
- REI Base Layer Bottoms- Men, Women
Whether or not to wear underwear during a long-distance hike is a personal preference. For those who choose to go the way of the undergarment, ExOfficio has been a longtime thru-hiker staple. With smooth seams and the EGIS Microbe Shield antimicrobial treatment, these stay comfortable, chafe-free, and you have to wash them significantly less than you would a normal pair of underwear.
Consider durability, breathability, comfort, and warmth. You want socks that won’t slip, bunch up, or have you wincing in pain as you tape over raw blisters. Hiking socks should help regulate temperature, keeping you cool in warm weather and warm in cold weather. Although minimalism is the law of the land on the CDT, you’ll probably want 2 to 3 pairs of socks so you can give sweaty, rain-soaked socks a day off to dry before you wear them again.
If you suffer from blisters in between the toes, then ‘toe socks’ might help you out. They aren’t as durable as true hiking socks, but they are worth the money if they work. And if you are cursed with particularly blister-prone feet in general, then adding a thin liner sock might offer the relief that you need. These are more popular with boot wearers, but they can work with trail runners too. No matter your sock strategy, keeping your feet and socks as clean as possible will go a long way to preventing egregious blisters.
Sock height is a matter of personal preference, but socks that cover the ankles are recommended to protect that bony area from rocky bangs, wirey grass, and your other foot.
Keeping warm in wet and cold conditions is a morale booster, and investing in a good pair of gloves won’t be a decision you’ll regret. You’ll want to look for gloves that are lightweight, warm, and maintain insulating properties when wet. Tech-savvy? You might want to check out sensor gloves!
- REI Liner Gloves
- OR Sensor Gloves
- Icebreaker Merino Liners
- SmartWool Merino Liners
- Zpacks Vertice Rain Mitts
- Zpacks Brushtail Possum Mittens
A luxury item to some, up there with the “big 3” to others. Camp and comfort both start with the letter ‘c’ – coincidence? Probably not. When you’re strolling around camp after a long day of hiking, your feet may be screaming out for a little R&R. Camp shoes will provide just that. They should be comfortable and lightweight. If you’re not sure if camp shoes are for you, try an old pair of dollar flip-flops or sliders.
Secure camp shoes can also replace your shoes during water crossings. Just make sure to be careful if their grip isn’t great or if they lack toe protection.
Kitchen / Water Treatment
Who doesn’t love coffee or hot chocolate in the morning? When choosing a stove, you should be looking at weight, boiling time, fuel efficiency, and versatility.
Standard canister stoves like the MSR PocketRocket are the lightest and sometimes come with a piezoelectric ignitor so you don’t have to use a lighter (you should always bring one as backup, though). Integrated canister stoves like the Jetboil Flash weigh more but are more fuel-efficient and boil water faster, meaning less wait time before dinner.
Most hikers use some form of canister stove with isobutane fuel. Solid fuel Esbit stoves and alcohol stoves were once popular, but are now banned pretty much anywhere on the CDT due to wildfire concerns. Some hikers forego the stove completely and cold soak or stick with ready-to-eat cold foods. This makes sense if you run hot already and don’t need hot foot to overheat you even more, or if you would prefer to save time and hassle by eliminating cooking from your routine. A plastic container with a screw top lid is ideal for stoveless ‘cooking’. An empty peanut butter or Talenti gelato jar works great.
- Jetboil Flash
- Snow Peak LiteMax Stove
- MSR PocketRocket 2
- Jetboil Stash
- Snow Peak GigaPower 2.0
- BRS-Outdoor 3000T
READ NEXT – The Best Backpacking Stoves for Thru-Hiking
Water Filters / Treatment
Giardia is not a party, so unless you want to risk catching the infamous germ or other waterborne illnesses, then you should treat your water. There are a number of ways you can do this. Filters like the Sawyer Squeeze are a popular choice for their simplicity – fill a bottle, attach your Squeeze, and you’re good to go. (We compare the Micro and the Squeeze here.) No waiting required.
Gravity systems weigh a little more, but are great in camp and let gravity do all the work for you. Chemical treatments and tablets are also options, but be sure to look at wait times when making a decision. There are also devices like the SteriPEN, which use UV rays to treat water. These require batteries.
- Sawyer Squeeze
- Katadyn BeFree Collapsible Water Filter Bottle– 0.6 L
- Platypus QuickDraw
- Platypus Gravityworks — leave unneeded items at home to reduce weight
Pot / Cup / Bowl
You might decide that there’s no need for a separate bowl or cup in addition to your cookpot. Great, you’re onto something there. Titanium cookware is the lightest material, and while it’s affordable, going for aluminum will save you a few bucks.
Perhaps the most important consideration here is pot volume. Make sure that it’s large enough to hold an entire dinner with a little bit of extra space. And don’t forget to account for larger portions once hiker hunger kicks in! 750ml is the sweet spot for most, but ramen bombs work better in a full 1-liter container.
- Toaks Titanium Pots — These are great. Choose your preferred size.
- Sea to Summit X-Bowl
- Vargo Bot — Works for cold soaking too.
- Soto Amicus Cookset
- MSR Titan Kettle
You might think that carrying a spork is a good idea. You might be right, too. However, don’t sleep on the classic spoon. Some might argue that sporks are bad forks and terrible spoons. Do your food choices really need fork tines?
Bear Resistant Food Storage
Total water storage requirements will fluctuate depending on the section. Many areas along the CDT benefit from abundant sources, meaning that hikers will only need to carry 1 to 2 liters of water at a time. Others will require a bit of forethought and a much greater carrying capacity. The Great Basin in Wyoming is one, and it might be necessary to carry water for 40 miles between sources in stifling heat and brutal sun exposure. Southern New Mexico will also stretch hikers to the limit. In these areas, loads of up to 10 liters are not unheard of. Fortunately, with disposable bottles, these capacity changes won’t break the bank. Load up when needed, and recycle the bottles when you don’t need them anymore.
Collapsible bottles are also a good option for adding stashable and lightweight capacity. For most of the CDT, two Smartwater bottles and a 2-liter soft bottle will do the trick.
Nalgene bottles are heavy, bulky, expensive, and largely unnecessary. A disposable water bottle will do. SmartWater is a common choice because the bottle mouth mates with the popular Sawyer Squeeze filtration system and its slender form fits well in backpack side pockets.
It seems like Camelback-style water bladders have fallen out of fashion, but they still have their place, so don’t feel like a nerd if you keep yours. The big downsides with this style are repacking it after a refill, and not knowing how much you have left. With bottles, you always know.
The Rest of the Goods
Your headlamp is something you can throw in your pack (preferably in an accessible place) and forget about… then be really, really glad you have it. From night hiking to bathroom breaks to searching in your pack for some doodad, this is an indispensable piece of gear for thru-hikers.
You want your headlamp to be easy to figure out/change the settings, comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and serve your purpose with high range and visibility. There are tons of options out there, but a simple, lightweight choice with a long battery life is what you should be looking for. A bright option around 200 lumens plus a red light setting is ideal. Weights should come in less than 4 ounces, and some are as light as 1+ ounce (the Nitecore NU25 with a replacement shock cord headband).
Also, a rechargeable option is a good choice if you carry an external battery. Otherwise, stick with one that uses AAA batteries and carry a spare set.
- Nitecore NU25
- Black Diamond Cosmo
- Black Diamond Spot
- BioLite HeadLamp 325
- Petzl Tikka
- Petzl Actik Core
READ NEXT – The Best Headlamps for Thru-Hiking
No, you don’t need a Rambo-esque bowie knife to fight off grizzlies or drunken weirdos. This isn’t a jungle survival adventure. There’s no splitting wood or carving spears. The burliest task that CDT hikers will need a knife for is slicing cheese or cutting cord into new shoelaces. Carry the smallest knife you can find.
Although bears call pretty much the whole CDT home, most hikers only carry this stuff in grizzly country — everything north of South Pass City / Lander, WY — including the Wind River Range. Hopefully, you won’t need to use this, but it is essential to keep it easily accessible at all times. That means within easy reach even while hiking. Practice, practice, practice getting it ready to fire. Your life might depend on your skill in wielding this.
There are three types of hikers when it comes to trekking poles: those who swear by them, those who want nothing to do with them, and those who channel their inner Gandalf by using a sturdy stick found somewhere along the trail.
You’ll have to decide which type of hiker you are, but before making a decision, it’s worth noting that trekking poles aid balance, make your knees happier on descents, and can help with climbing. They’re also useful for pitching non-freestanding tents.
When shopping for trekking poles, consider:
- Weight: Carbon fiber poles are more expensive but lighter than aluminum.
- Locking mechanism: Flick lock telescoping poles are easiest to adjust and most reliable. Twist locks are lower-weight and nearly indestructible.
- Handle: The benefits of real cork grips are marginal. EVA foam is cheaper, lighter, and more durable.
- Straps: Trekking pole straps can help you to grip the pole properly. Contrary to popular opinion, they’re not just for hanging off pegs in the shelter.
- Women’s specific: These models are usually slightly lighter and smaller, with a narrower grip.
Here are a few recommendations if you decide you’re the hiker who swears by them.
- Leki Trekking Poles
- Gossamer Gear LT 5
- Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork
- Fizan Compact 3 & 4
- Cascade Mountain Tech
First Aid Kit
You can buy a ready-made backpacking first aid kit, but it’s simple enough to put one together in a Ziploc bag from supplies you probably already have. Don’t get carried away with your first aid kit: a small supply of basic medicines and bandages will do.
- Blister care
- Triple antibiotic
- Hydrocortisone (single serving packet)
- Other meds
- Band-Aids (just a few)
The CDT has an intimidating reputation when it comes to navigation. However, with the advent of phone GPS there’s nothing to worry about as long as your device is working. Even without GPS, navigation is relatively straightforward. Although the frequency of CDT trail crests varies by section, the CDTC is rightfully proud to say that the entire trail has been blazed. Of course, this doesn’t include the alternates, so you do still need to keep your wits about you.
While there are some amazing navigation apps out there, we recommend that you carry paper maps since phones can run out of battery or otherwise fail. You can save weight by just carrying a small section of the maps at a time and mailing the other sections ahead. Also, an obligatory reminder, there is no substitute for a map, compass, and the skill to use them for backcountry navigation (plus maps are super fun and interesting).
For paper maps, there are two main digital sources. Download and print them out. They can also be stored on your phone for quick reference. They are Jonathan Ley’s maps and the official CDTC map set. Ley’s include extremely helpful route notes. The CDTC maps correspond with FarOut waypoints and mileage. We recommend printing one of these map sets and downloading both onto your phone.
A satellite communicator device can give you and your loved ones back home peace of mind. If you get into an emergency situation you can easily call for help. Also, two-way communicators will let you check the weather and keep in touch with people at home even when you don’t have cell service. When budgeting for your hike, factor the cost of the GPS subscription and rescue insurance into the price of the device (these things aren’t included in the list price).
While it’s not guaranteed, CDT hikers are likely to encounter at least some spring snow on the trail. NOBOs are likely to see it starting in northern New Mexico, and it might persist all the way through Colorado, depending on the time of year and how much snow fell during winter. SOBOs will see much less snow, and can choose their start date based on snow levels in Glacier National Park, but it is still possible.
For NOBOs especially, it is a good idea to have snow gear waiting for you where the snow starts. That means an ice axe and traction accessory at the very least, not to mention the skills to use them safely. You might also want snowshoes or skis.
- Blue Ice Hummingbird Ice Axe
- C.A.M.P. Corsa Ice Axe
- Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe
- Katoohla Microspikes or Yaktrax
Yep, it’s true. Electronic devices are here to stay on long trails. The important thing is to also carry enough juice to power everything between town stops. Depending on your usage a 10,000mAh to 20,000mAh external battery will likely do the trick. Just remember to bring all the charging cords that you’ll need.
- Anker Portable Charger — There are a million versions of these.
- Nitecore NB10000 GEN2
- Other electronics
- Spare batteries
Hygiene / Health
Keep your damn hands clean, for goodness sake. Most on-trail illnesses are caused by poor hand hygiene. In general, assume that all hikers have poop on their hands (because they probably do!). That means you too. Carry hand sanitizer and use it. And if you must share food, then pour food from the bag rather than dig in (it keeps the poop out).
Bring a toothbrush and toothpaste. Do cut your toothbrush in half (to save space, not weight: it’s probably the only long, thin thing in your bathroom bag, so cutting it in half will let you pack it down much smaller). Leave the deodorant at home.
- Insect Repellent
- Biodegradable Soap
- Ultralight Portable Bidet
- Toilet paper
- Hand sanitizer
- Nail clippers
- Vitamins and supplements
- Menstrual Cup
- Pee Cloth
Make sure to follow Leave No Trace guidelines at all times, including burying your poo in a cathole 6-8 inches deep and 200 feet away from any water source. Pack out your toilet paper. Don’t bury uneaten food, trash, or greywater from cooking or brushing your teeth (pack out the food and trash, drink, or disperse the greywater by scattering it in an area 200 feet away from any water source).
Updated 8/31/2023 by Owen Eigenbrot.