Packing My Fears: Gear Updates for the CDT

Love or hate it, gear is the necessary puzzle to a safe and comfortable hike. 

I like to think that the overall nature of my gear hasn’t changed much since my 2022 southbound thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. My trusted ULA Ohm pack, Therm-a-Rest sleeping pad, single-person tent, and sleeping quilts. It’s great to have a set of trusted gear to pull from at any time. And while recently I’ve been less inclined to dive deep into big-ticket items, that’s not to say gear stays out of mind. It’s an evil I thoroughly enjoy.  

It’s easy to get bogged down in the numbers for tents, packs, and clothing. But I’ve found it’s most important to find an assortment of *tools for success* that provide joy as an individual hiker. 

This time around, I’m spiraling over the small things as I prepare to walk northbound on the Continental Divide Trail into unfamiliar high-desert and alpine conditions. Sun exposure, cold nights, wildlife, and limited trail towns are just a few fears I’ll be packing for. In a previous post, I shared my 12 Favorite Gear Picks for the Appalachian Trail. With this blog, I’ll be discussing the updates I’ve made since the AT to best prepare for anticipated wilds of the CDT. 

Several of the items discussed below have been provided at no cost by the brands for review, gifted, or were purchased at a discount. 


Let’s start with shoes. As a runner and run specialty shoe fitter, this is a category I’m thoroughly excited about. For the first few sections of the CDT, I’ll be leaving behind my beloved Topo Athletic Terraventure 3’s (Terraventure 4 being the newest model), to test out different options for the conditions. So far, the following two shoes are on the roster.

These cushy Topo Athletic MT-5’s scream perfect for arid desert trails and road walking.

  • Topo Athletic: To start at Crazy Cook along the NM/Mexico border, I’ll be wearing Topo Athletic MT-5 trail running shoes. I expect the arid desert of New Mexico to have hard-pack or sandy pathways and lengthy road-walks. The MT-5’s are a road-to-trail hybrid shoe. Featuring a mid-level cushion underfoot (28mm//23mm stack height), a 5mm heel-to-toe drop, and a pronounced upward taper towards the toe, these will hopefully provide a comfortable ride on flatter terrain compared to the Terraventure series. The Vibram outsole has a lower lug height for a hearty, durable grip. I like that the wide toe box allows for freedom of toe movement and layered socks while remaining fitted through the instep. Elastic gussets and loops on the tongue keep the shoe secure, combined with a tightly-woven engineered mesh for keeping debris to a minimum. And lastly, the reinforced toe cap offers protection from the inevitable accidental kick of pokey vegetation. From tread to upper, I think these are going to be a perfect choice for the desert. I will be pairing these with the Topo Athletic Performance Gaiter.

    I’m pretty pumped to give these Trabuco 12’s a try in the South San Juan Mountains. Plus the colorway is pretty rad!

  • Asics: The Asics Gel-Trabuco series is not as well recognized on long trails, which is why I’m pumped to give the grippy Gel-Trabuco 12’s a try. These are mid-cushion, long-distance trail running shoes with a stack height of 36mm//28mm for an 8mm drop. Designed for neutral runners, an adaptive guidance system provides stability under the heel. In the realm of trail runners, these are on the supportive side. With limited testing, the cushion feels stable and balanced underfoot — perfect for someone like me who enjoys a structured neutral shoe to keep my knees mobile and injury-free. For heading north into Colorado, I expect the ASICSGrip outsole, flexible rock plate, and reinforced toe cap to fare well against snow, ice, and rocks. Bonus features include an elastic lace loop on the supper to hold laces in place and a large pull-tab at the heel. 

Sun Protection 

Testing out my new Tifosi sunglasses as Lever, AT tramily member, and I wait for the 2024 total solar eclipse along the Lake Erie shoreline of Ohio.

Protection from harmful rays in high desert and alpine zones is critical to avoid sun poisoning and skin damage. I’ve heard to prepare for multi-day stretches above treeline or in areas of low ground cover vegetation. 

  • Sunshirt: I’ll be once again in a Jolly Gear sunshirt, this year sporting the Evergreen UL Triple Crown Button Down Long Sleeve. I’m excited about the fast-drying air mesh fabric with the traditional polyester blend sleeves for durability in overgrown conditions. I’ll be using the vented hood for UV protection, in the wind, and for warmth.
  • Sun Gloves: A new add-on for me this summer, sun gloves are useful for light insulation against cold, provide UPF protection to the back of your hands and wrist, and reduce chafe when holding trekking poles. I’ll be comparing a few options, including pairs from Outdoor Research, Éclipse, and Sunday Afternoons.
  • Sun Umbrella: I’ve found no shame in carrying an umbrella for rain on the East Coast, so of course I’m bringing an umbrella for the CDT. Weighing 6.8 ounces and given to me as a Christmas gift, the Zpacks Lotus UL Umbrella uses a silver, water-repellent coating to block the sun and rain. I’ll use this for coverage when walking, during breaks, and while setting up camp in stormy conditions. They can also be useful for extra privacy when going to the bathroom in areas of sparse vegetation. I love that this umbrella has a comfortable foam handle. I’ll be pairing it with two V2.0 hands-free umbrella clips from SeaBreezeShopUSA on Etsy. Sometimes you just need some shade on the move!
  • Sun Hat and Sunglasses: I ditched my sun hat and sunglasses on the AT. I have brown eyes and have found that with tree cover, too much shade over my face is equally as irritating. However, I expect quite the opposite on the open landscape of the CDT. After trying a bunch of options, I’ve found a pairing I know will be comfortable for all-day use. I’ll be bringing my favorite BOCO Gear Ventilator Mesh Run Hat, a lightweight, brimmed, low-profile running hat that doesn’t rub my ears. For sunglasses, I recently picked up a pair of Tifosi Swank sunglasses with brown lenses. I like that the Tifosi frame feels super durable, there are no mirrored lenses to easily get scratched up, and aren’t overwhelmingly dark in overcast or sunny conditions.
  • Sunscreen: Sport SPF 50 Sunscreen Lotion by Aloe Up will be making its way into my pack. I haven’t tried this formula on my skin yet, but it has 35% aloe gel and is all the good things like non-greasy, stain-free, unscented, biodegradable, and reef-friendly. It’s also made in the USA which is pretty neat. You can pick it up at Garage Grown Gear.

Snow & Cold 

Purchased while exploring downtown Denver after an AT tramily reunion in the mountains, this Montbell Down Jacket is one of my favorite gear updates from 2023. Photo by Jocelyn Rowley

Snow, ice, and avalanches are a concern as CDT hikers head into the South San Juan Mountains of Colorado. Northbounders often hit these remote, alpine zones between winter and summer where unstable snowpacks are starting to melt. I’m also nervous about being cold in the desert and high-alpine areas where temperatures range dramatically.  

  • Quilt: This winter I invested in an Enlightened Equipment Enigma Quilt. Specs include a 20°F temperature rating, size regular/regular, 850 FP, and a draft collar. It’s the combination my local gear store had in stock at the correct temperature rating. I chose the Enigma because I prefer a sewn footbox to reduce drafts; however, I am often jealous of those who can fully open their quilts like a blanket for chilling around. At only 21.5 ounces, The EE Enigma 20° in regular is a wider cut, warmer, lighter in weight, and packs down smaller than similarly rated quilts I’ve used in the past. There’s a high likelihood I’ll pair the quilt with my Outdoor Vitals LoftTek Hybrid Booties (weighing 3.5 oz) as my feet often get cold at night.
  • Down Jacket: During a trip to Denver last summer I picked up a Montbell Superior Down Parka on sale. For casual winter use and a rainy Adirondacks thru-hike last August, it’s been perfectly not too warm or too cold, and the jacket packs down super small. I plan to layer it with my rain jacket or fleece midlayer for extra insulation. So far, this jacket has been one of my favorite gear upgrades!
  • Base Layer Leggings: On the AT I struggled to find a pair of base layer leggings that were lightweight, warm, and stayed in place on the waist. This winter I picked up a pair of Mizuno Women’s Breath Thermo Running Tights on sale. They quickly became my favorite cold-weather running tights because they lay flat and move easily in stride. The proprietary Breath Thermo fabric captures vapor leaving the body to generate heat while remaining breathable and dry. Ankle zippers allow the tights to be easily pulled on or off over socks. The only thing missing are side pockets. At a fair 7.16 ounces, these will be in my pack for cold-weather hiking and sleeping.
  • Mountaineering Axe, Microspikes, Snow Gaiters, and Waterproof Socks: I’ll be sending myself a box containing cold-weather gear to Chama, New Mexico. This is necessary before heading into the South San Juan Mountains. This box will include a Grivel G Zero mountaineering ice axe with a simple steel blade for self-arresting and a flat-edge adze for cutting into snow. It’s the same ice axe that my partner, Tom, used on his CDT NOBO thru-hike in 2021. Kahtoola MICROspikes will be sent for added traction to trail runners paired with Outdoor Research Rocky Mt. High Gaiters and Sealskinz Waterproof Socks. These items will add a solid 3.0 pounds to my pack weight – so I’ll be assessing the snow conditions and carrying what’s needed for safe traversing.

Food Storage & Cooking

Photo from

Wildlife is certainly something to be mega aware of. Following the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace, it’s the role of the hiker to stay fed while keeping wild animals away from human food. Especially bears – as fed bears become aggressive bears. Bears are present throughout the extent of the CDT. More unassuming are the small rodents constantly on the hunt to steal scraps. On the AT I stored my food in a DCF bear bag and cooked with an alcohol stove. For the CDT I updated my food storage and cooking system to follow best practice recommendations as well as National Park and National Forest Requirements.  

  • Ursack: As an alternative to a bulky hard-sided bear canister, I picked up an Ursack Major Bear-Proof Bag secondhand from FB Marketplace. Most CDT hikers seem to get Ursacks or bear canisters sent to Wyoming before entering grizzly country. With the Ursack Major having an 11-liter capacity, and myself being a chronic over-resupplier (I’m a preparer, not a planner) there is concern that the Ursack Major will be too small for the first few days out of town. I’ll cross that hurdle later. To avoid the 7.6 oz weight penalty, I’ll probably be starting in New Mexico with my LiteAF DCF Bear Bag or a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil 13L Dry Bag.
  • Stove: For wildfire prevention, any stove where the flame cannot be controlled (alcohol, esbit, wood, etc.) is discouraged for use on the CDT. These stoves are also prohibited in areas with fire bans. I loved using an alcohol stove on the AT for being able to see how much fuel I had left, creating less waste as often HEET (yellow bottle) was left in hiker boxes or sold in bulk, and it was generally cheaper than the cost of butane canisters. It wasn’t all perfect – alcohol fuel was nowhere to be found in one PA town, these stoves don’t heat well in wind, and the burn temperature is fixed. As alcohol isn’t a great option for the CDT, I’ve switched to an Olicamp Kinetic Ultra Titanium canister stove. At 1.7 oz, the tradeoff for more weight gives me a wider burner and a regulation system to save on fuel consumption. This Olicamp stove was given to me as a Christmas gift, purchased from my local gear outfitter.
  • Cook Pot: I’m also excited to be trying out the Olicamp Titanium 750ml Space Saver Mug with Lid. This titanium mug/cookpot appears to be constructed of thicker titanium than similar options. I expect better heat distribution from this pot to not burn minute rice as quickly. The 750ml size will fit more calories and snow for melting into water, if needed. I like that the mug has measurement tick marks, a smooth interior surface for easy cleaning, and comes with a mesh drawstring bag that I’ll use as a pot koozie.

More about Food Storage on the CDT can be read on the Continental Divide Trail Coalition (CDTC) website. I’ve also found the CDTC Planning Guide 2018 to be helpful, available for online download here.   


On the CDT I expect there to be long stretches of trail ranging 100 miles or more between “towns” to resupply food, charge electronics, and freshen up. I use my phone as my primary navigation source, as a camera, and to write along the way. I also enjoy listening to music, audiobooks, and podcasts while I hike.  

  • Battery Bank: I upgraded to a Nitecore NB20,000 Power Bank with a 20,000mAh battery. For charging my phone, Bluetooth earbuds, and Nitecore NU25 360 Lumen (V. 1) headlamp, this battery size is likely overkill. However, it’s – just slightly – lighter weight and more compact than my previous battery bank, and encased in a carbon fiber frame for durability. The kicker is that it fast charges with USB-C input, meaning I’ll be able to reach full juice capacity in several hours while hopping in and out of town. My prior USB-B input power bank worked best when plugged in overnight.
  • Wall charger & USB-C Cord: It can be the little things that make a difference. When a prong to my old dual-port wall charger broke this winter (super glue did the trick for use at home), I decided it was time to look into something with a higher wattage. The Anker 323 Charger (33W) paired with a USB-C to USB-C cable is going to do just fine. This charger meets the requirements of dual ports (USB-C at 20W and USB-A at 12W), foldable prongs, and weighs 2.22 oz, fitting nicely into my ditty bag as one of the most compact dual-port wall chargers on the market.

Research only goes so far…

Items already in my gear closet from past trips include my pack, tent, air mattress, snow gaiters, microspikes, waterproof socks, rain jacket, mid-layer, socks, undergarments, Garmin inReach Mini, sit pad, and Tyvek groundsheet, just to name a few. 

Soon enough I’ll be on the trail seeing if my expectations meet reality. The planning stage is drawing to a close as pre-hike nerves settle in. In the meantime, I’ve got a few last-minute tasks (like boxing food drops and packing) to consume my attention until it’s only footsteps and trail ahead. 

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

What Do You Think?