Revised November 12, 2007
The environmental conditions varied significantly along the Great Western Loop, changing with both the season and the location. This created a challenge in developing my gear lists before I left: How could I ensure that I had the “right” gear for each season while trying to travel as light as possible and to avoid frequent logistics-intensive gear swaps.
There were two parts to the solution. First, by choosing versatile items I maximized the applicable comfort range of each gear list and minimized the need to change things out. For example, my sleep system was optimized for 20 degrees but could be used between 0 and 50 degrees by wearing more or less clothing at night and by stopping or allowing ventilation. Second, when the gear I had was no longer appropriate for the conditions I encountered, my support crew (that is, Mom) sent me out more appropriate gear. Based on my estimated itinerary and the average conditions for corresponding seasons and places, I developed gear lists for four distinct condition groups:
April through mid-May: The Desert Southwest (1,200 miles)
This section was usually hot and shade-less and always dry, especially this year due to a severely dry winter. At the lower elevations (e.g. near Parker, AZ, and across Joshua Tree National Park) daytime high temperatures got up as high as 95 degrees and nighttime lows sometimes never dropped below the high-50’s. At the higher elevations (e.g. the Coconino Plateau and San Bernadino’s) daytime high temperatures were usually between 55 and 80 degrees; nighttime lows were between 25 and 45 degrees.
Late-May and early-June: The High Sierra (500 miles)
Conditions changed dramatically soon after Kennedy Meadows Campground, the gateway to the High Sierra, where significant snowpack was still hanging strong despite a below-average winter. The passes, which are as high as 13,180 feet, were surrounded for several miles on both sides by (occasionally steep) snowpack, which iced up every night and melted during the day. The bridge-less creek crossings were high and swift due to the snowmelt. Thankfully I missed spring storms that can cause whiteout conditions and avalanche dangers.
Mid-June and July: Northern California, Oregon, and Central Washington (2,000 miles)
Snow persisted at the higher elevations throughout this portion of the hike, especially in Oregon and Washington, which get massive amounts of snow and where thick tree canopies block snow-melting sunshine. I got hit with several cold and nasty rainstorms, including on Mt Hood and in Goat Rocks Wilderness. Daytime temperatures were usually very comfortable (in the 60’s and 70’s) and nighttime lows usually were around freezing.
Late-July & August: Northeastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming (1,400 miles)
This section was HOT, like record-breaking hot—temperatures sometimes were in the high-90’s, with the high-80’s being the norm during the day and 40’s/50’s being the norm at night. It was also oftentimes very dry, in terms of both surface water and precipitation. Because I was traveling through grizzly bear habitat I was carrying bear spray (in the event that I were attacked) and a bear rope (to hang my food).
September and October: the Central & Southern Rockies, and eastern Arizona (1,800 miles)
Soon after crossing Wyoming’s Great Basin I ascended into Colorado’s Rockies, where Fall arrives several weeks earlier. At this time of year it is hit-or-miss—I knew I could get through the state without a hitch, or I could get nailed by an early-winter storm that would have required me to strap on my crampons (or even snowshoes) again. Being a day or two ahead, or behind, can make a huge difference here. I lucked out—besides one bitterly cold and long rainstorm the weather was nearly perfect. The conditions in New Mexico were mostly the same as Colorado (being there a few weeks later offset the lower elevations). In Arizona I suffered for about two weeks under the hot relentless sun (one day in late-October it was 84 degrees in the shade at 3pm) but I held onto my Colorado equipment because I needed it all again for the 7,000-foot Coconino Plateau where I experienced the coldest night of the trip, at 23 degrees.
The Gear Lists
Download the gear list (right click and “Save As”)