Packing List: Gear for the Great Divide Trail
The Great Divide Trail (GDT) is a rugged, remote thru-hike through some of Canada’s most pristine wilderness. The Canadian extension of the Continental Divide Trail is riddled with long resupplies and notoriously inclement weather.
As with all thru-hikes, finding gear that works for you and the terrain is key. And due to the remoteness of the GDT, there aren’t a lot of options for swapping out gear along the way—so it’s important to get it right on your first try as much as possible. Below are some tips and suggestions for choosing gear for your GDT hike.
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One of the most hotly debated topics on GDT gear is tents. Single-wall vs. double-wall, the never-ending dilemma. On the GDT, the vast majority of people have double-wall tents. Lots of moisture (rain or snow) and colder temperatures mean single-wall tents will be battling condensation, and wet weather can turn that condensation into a mini rainstorm inside your tent.
That being said, I used a single-wall Zpacks Duplex for about half the hike and found ways to deal with it. One oversight I had, however, was not having a tent that could stake down low enough. The Duplex vestibule doors don’t stake particularly low, so I had a lot of splashback during the early July thunderstorms. Picking a tent that can handle stormy weather and can pitch low enough is key.
Dan Durston of Durston Gear designed his X-Mid tent specifically for handling the weather of the Canadian Rockies while he was on his GDT yoyo; it is by far the most popular tent on the GDT and everyone seems to love it.
Related to tent selection, the bugs can be exceptionally bad on this trail, so having a safe space to chill can save your mental health. A friend started out with a tarp and bivy but swapped after one week because he didn’t have anywhere to sit up with protection from the bugs.
In contrast to sleeping in the desert where there are countless sharp, pointy, prickly things that want to pop your sleeping pad, the GDT generally has excellent campsites, which are mostly designated sites. Using an inflatable pad is pretty safe and you won’t be living in constant fear of popping it every night. It can get pretty chilly at night, and will frequently drop below freezing so choosing an actual 3-season pad with an R-Value above 3 will help keep you warm.
The dependably warm and cozy feeling of hopping in your sleeping bag or quilt every night can’t be beat, especially when you are wet and cold. With temperatures frequently below freezing and the potential to be sleeping in a snowstorm, choosing a warm sleeping bag can go a long way. I used a Katabatic Flex 22 and loved it, but I do sleep on the warm side, so if you aren’t a warm sleeper I would bump it down to a 15-degree quilt. As this is a Canadian trail, if you are looking to support Canadian companies check out Little Shop of Hammocks! Just make sure to note their lead time as it can be very long in the spring.
A pack is personally my favorite piece of gear to purchase. It’s your little buddy that hugs you for weeks straight and helps you carry your whole life with you. With long resupplies, most people will opt for a larger pack than they might have carried on other long-distance trails. To give this a bit of context, on average there are 5 resupplies on the GDT: a 7-day, 8-day, 7-day, 4-day, 8-day, and a 10-day. Seven days is a lot of food, and 10 days feels like way more. Of course, some people will go faster or slower but this is the average.
While I can usually get away with a frameless pack, I opted for an HMG 3400 Junction for this trail because I knew I would be carrying 20lbs. of food and water on multiple occasions. The sweet spot is somewhere between 45 and 65 liters, depending on the rest of your gear. Also, due to the river crossings and wet weather, a lot of people will choose waterproof materials like DCF or X-Pack. If you are looking to support Canadian companies, there are two great options: Northern Ultralight and Durston Gear. Definitely bring a pack liner.
Boots are still overwhelmingly popular in Canada, the trail-runner craze seems to have stopped at the border. I’m not here to argue that someone should pick trail runners over boots but there are definitely a few considerations that should be part of your footwear decision. You will be getting wet, no matter what footwear you choose. Morning dew, river crossings, ankle- to knee-deep mud. I don’t care if it’s waterproof, you are going to have wet feet. Trail runners just dry much faster. Secondly, there will be some sections without a distinct trail. While this will be more prevalent on some alternates, there will be cross-country travel through scree and alpine meadows. I can confidently say that this probably isn’t the hike to test out how extreme you can take your Chacos.
Rain gear is a must for the GDT, you will hike in the rain and likely through the snow. Don’t make the same mistake I did, which was putting trust in gear that wasn’t ready to handle continual downpours and moving through brush for hours on end. I had OR Helium Pants and simply put, they did not keep me dry. I did have a three-layer Gore-Tex Jacket that did work well but not everyone may be prepared to spend $400+ on a rain jacket. A few people on trail with Frogg Toggs and really liked the jacket but the pants quickly shredded from hopping over logs or hiking through brush.
Typical summers in the Canadian Rockies aren’t particularly hot, and it will rarely exceed 85F in town, which means it’s a lot cooler in the alpine. In 2021 there was a heatwave and I’m happy I had shorts and I found that I hiked in them at least 75% of the time. You will see plenty of hikers out there with only pants but I really only like to wear them when it’s either cold, buggy, or bushy, so my legs don’t get annihilated from juniper.
Suggestions: Patagonia Baggies, and yes of course the short ones.
You would be a mighty brave soldier to not bring pants on the GDT. I’m sure it’s been done, but having coverage from the bugs and keeping willows and juniper from thrashing your legs is a boost for the mental health. Instead of my legs getting thrashed, my pants got thrashed. Hopping over logs, bushwacking, and brush-bashing ripped my pants from the knee to ankle. Everyone I hiked with destroyed their pants so maybe don’t bring your favorite pair that aren’t replaceable unless you are ready to destroy them. They will also be getting wet so something that doesn’t hold a lot of water and dries quickly is great. Side note for people that hike in leggings, the mosquitoes and somehow horseflies will find a way through, pants that aren’t skin tight seem to work better.
Although this is no PCT with a hike through the desert, and temperatures will typically only be topping out in the high 70s or low 80s, coverage is nice in the alpine. I brought a t-shirt but almost always wore my sun shirt instead. Even when the sun wasn’t out, having something to protect myself from the bugs was a lifesaver.
With most nights in the 30s or below you will need something to keep you warm. Depending on your hiking style, people will usually pair a fleece and a light puffy or just opt for a warmer puffy. If you frequently hike before dawn or after dark, it’s hard to beat a fleece paired with a light down or synthetic puffy when you reach camp. If you see yourself mostly hiking in daylight hours, a nice puffy will usually suffice.
- Fleece: Melanzana, Patagonia R1, Outdoor Research Vigor QZ
- Light Puffy: Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer, Montbell Plasma 1000
- Warmer Puffy: Arc’teryx Cerium LT, Enlightened Equipment Torrid Apex, Montbell Ex Light Anorak
The cold soak method is great when you have been out in the hot sun all day and don’t want hot food, but when there are frosty mornings, or you have been wet all day a warm meal goes a long way. I’ve tried cold soaking in the Canadian Rockies but always find myself coming back to a stove. Whether it’s hot chocolate on a cold morning or a nice bowl of hot food at night I am a huge proponent of cooked food on the GDT. My partner and I shared a stove and pot; we found the 1250ml pot to be the perfect size.
Suggestions: Boundless Voyage 1250ml Ti, Vargo Bot
Bug spray and coverage can only go so far, and only 30% DEET is sold in Canada. This 1oz accessory will help you keep your sanity when you hit camp and can help on those muggy buggy days where there is no way to escape the incessant cloud of flying carnivores.
Suggestions: Coghlan’s No-See-Um Head Net
The remoteness of the GDT really shines through when trying to find a phone signal. Throughout the entire trail there is only phone service in six places, and yes that includes four of the five resupply locations (one doesn’t have service). For this reason, nearly everyone will carry a satellite messenger of some sort. The two most popular are the Garmin inReach Mini and the Zoleo Satellite Communicator. The InReach vs. Zoleo debate is very contested, but both will work great and are highly suggested for this trail.
100% of the GDT travels through black bear and grizzly bear territory. The governing parks bodies do not require bear cans, but please make smart choices on behalf of yourself and the bear. Everyone I met on trail either had an Ursack or a bear can. While some of the more popular campsites will have bear lockers, this will only be about 20% of the nights on trail. Additionally, not only is a proper true bear hang exceptionally hard, but it is downright impossible on several occasions because you will be above treeline. Please use an Ursack or bear can. Also, make sure it’s big enough for your long food carries. I ended up using two for the last section.
Side note: I used smell-proof bags inside the Ursack and never had any issue with rodents. These bags do end up breaking, though, so send a few replacements in your resupplies.
In addition to food safety, you also need to make sure you are taking care of your safety. It is expected that you carry bear spray on the entire length of the GDT. You cannot fly with bear spray, and it’s a gray area for crossing the border, so if you are traveling internationally to reach the GDT, I would just buy it once you are in Canada as it is easily found in most towns.
Suggestions: Ursack Major XL
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