Top Gear Picks for the 680-Mile Great Divide Trail
I spent the summer hiking the Great Divide Trail in the Canadian Rockies, which presented rugged terrain and wet, challenging weather. In these intense conditions, I quickly discovered which pieces of gear were up to the task and which were better left at home. Here are my top five gear picks for hiking the Great Divide Trail.
1) Garmin inReach Mini
Weight: 3.5 ounces
The Great Divide Trail has minimal cell service, and hikers often find themselves deep in remote backcountry with few other hikers and limited exit points. Garmin’s inReach Mini provides a bit of reassurance with an “SOS” button. This micro device also allows for two-way texting over a satellite network, weather reports, and GPS navigation. The inReach Mini compensates for the small screen size by pairing with your cell phone, allowing you to operate the device via your phone’s larger screen. A monthly subscription is required, with several options available to suit your usage requirements.
I can personally account for the inReach Mini’s sturdy design. During a bout of bushwhacking, the carabiner holding the unit to my backpack opened and my inReach Mini became detached and was deposited on the forest floor. It was returned to me several days later by a hiker who found it face down in a puddle, very wet but still perfectly functional.
2) Black Diamond FineLine Stretch Rain Shell
Weight: 7.3 ounces
MSRP: $129 (on sale for $89)
While searching for a new rain jacket before setting out on the Great Divide Trail, Black Diamond was not initially a brand on my radar. Awesome trekking poles—lightweight rain jackets? Not so much. After receiving a recommendation, a little bit of research yielded big promises and I made the purchase hoping for the best.
Crafted from a uniquely soft and lightly stretchy fabric, this jacket offers unrestricted movement and comfort. This is the only rain jacket I’ve ever owned that I’ve voluntarily worn while it was not raining; on and off trail I’ve found myself wearing it as a wind jacket or general shell.
We experienced a high volume of rain on the Great Divide Trail. On two separate occasions it rained nonstop for three full days. The coated front zipper did an excellent job of keeping the rain out and the fabric’s BD.dry/ DWR finish continued to repel water long after jackets on those around me had wetted out.
3) Zpacks Vertice Rain Mitts
Weight: .99 ounces
Did I mention it rained a lot on this trail? This was my first time using any rain mitts, but they’ve now earned a permanent spot on my packing list. These rain mitts are large enough to fit a regular pair of gloves underneath, but given the chilly conditions I didn’t want to risk dampening the gloves, so I wore the Rain Mitts solo when required. They don’t feel like they should offer a lot of warmth, given the thin fabric, but rather then losing body heat from your hands the mitts seemed to help contain it.
I did find that they wetted out fairly quickly, but they continued to offer some warmth while wet, and subsequently dried very quickly. A quick moment of dry weather was all that was needed to reset these mitts.
4) Northern Ultralight Sundown Pack
Weight: 24.9 to 27.9 ounces depending on size
A Canadian trail deserves a Canadian pack and this highly customizable option delivers. The main body is 36 liters and made with rugged, waterproof X-Pac fabric and features a roll-top closure. However, my favorite feature was the large front pocket made from stretchy Lycra mesh. My previous experience with mesh pockets led me to expect new holes or tears after each round of bushwhacking, but this particular mesh stood up to some intense bushwhacking without developing even the slightest of abrasions.
The pack is offered in four different torso heights (small, medium, large, and tall) and with five hip-belt sizes (X-small, small, medium, large, and X-large), helping to ensure a perfect fit for a wider variety of body types then most packs are designed for. In addition, Northern Ultralight provides the option of ordering the pack with or without detachable hip belt and shoulder strap pockets. In a final nod the extreme customizability, the pack’s hip belt and aluminum frame can be removed allowing the pack to convert for lighter loads.
5) Ursack Major Bear Resistant Bag
Weight: 7.6 ounces
Hiking in the Canadian Rockies means getting serious about bear safety. Traditional hard-sided bear canisters can cause your pack to round away from your back, making for an uncomfortable carry, whereas the Ursack is made from pliable Spectra fabric.
Don’t let the pliable fabric fool you; when used as instructed, these bags are proven as being resistant to puncture from bears’ teeth and claws. Your food may become slightly ground up during the assault, but should still be edible. Remember to store the food a reasonable distance away from your camp and secure the Ursack to a tree branch, rock, or other heavy object so that an overly ambitious bear cannot wander away with your food.
Always check regulations regarding food storage through the areas that you will be hiking to ensure that an Ursack is considered an acceptable method of food storage.
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