Colorado Trail Gear List

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Preparing for a hike on the Colorado Trail is no small task. Whether you’re planning on a complete thru-hike of the 486-mile trail, or are simply spending a weekend overnighter out on the trail you’ll need to be sure you’ve packed appropriately. Depending on the time of year, which section of the trail you’re embarking on, and the weather forecast you’ll have a variety of essential items that will need to make it into your pack.

To help you narrow down that list we’ve created this tried and true Colorado Trail gear list. We’ve highlighted the essentials you need for your hike as well as provided some context on where it makes sense to go ultra lightweight and where it doesn’t.

Let’s jump in!

In This Post

Colorado Trail Gear Basics

There are limitless ways to hike the Colorado Trail: take eight weeks and savor every moment, fast pack and finish in 3-weeks, or simply spend a quick overnighter on a segment close to Denver. Regardless, you want to be sure you have the gear you need to enjoy it.

This gear list is tailored more towards the intrepid hiker tackling the entire route, but can easily be adapted if you’re spending less time out on the trail. Regardless of which camp you fall into, there are a few key points to keep in mind when packing for the Colorado Trail. These include:

  1. Figure out a way to keep your feet happy and stick to it.
  2. Decide how lightweight you want to go
  3. Be prepared for variable weather conditions

In the following sections, we’ll break down each of these and share our best advice.

Hiker on the Colorado Trail

1. Figure Out Your Footwear

On any long-distance hike, your footwear is typically the most essential piece of gear you’ll select. Avoiding blisters, keeping comfortable, and managing weight are all considerations you’ll need to keep in mind when picking out what shoes/boots you’ll wear on the Colorado Trail.

Traditional hiking boots, hiking shoes, or trail runners will all work for the trail conditions on the Colorado Trail, but you need to make sure they will work for you too. This means that you should bring a pair of boots or shoes that you know from experience don’t cause problems for your feet. Ideally, you should put at least 30 – 40 miles on them in various terrain and weather conditions to reduce the chance of running into issues on the trail.

The typical debate is between hiking boots and trail runners, with more and more hikers (especially long distance hikers) opting for the simplicity and weight of trailrunners. A few considerations are below:

  • Trail running shoes offer great grip and are very lightweight.
    • However, they don’t hold up as well over long distances, so breakdown is a real concern
  • Hiking boots are sturdy, provide great support, and better weather protection
    • However, they are heavy and can cause more blisters compared to more breathable trail running shoes.

Whatever you choose, just be sure you put some miles in ahead of time to avoid issues once you hit the trails.

You’ll also want to make sure you have some good socks. Socks are one of those rare things in life where you really do get what you pay for, and high quality socks can be a game-changer. Try to do some hiking in a few different types to figure out what you like in terms of thickness, cushion, and height. We love merino wool for its quick-drying and anti-stink qualities.

If you’re blister prone, consider trying sock liners. Many hikers swear by them.

Hiking boots

2. How lightweight should you go?

Pack weight is a critical component of a successful Colorado Trail hike, and it is well worth considering how far you want to push it to keep your set-up lightweight. In our opinion, there is a balance to be struck between saving every ounce possible vs having a bit of luxury and comfort on the trail. This is especially true for those thru-hiking as a heavier pack will certainly impact your hike, but so will reduced comfort.

Of course, with a big enough budget you can often achieve incredibly lightweight gear that also provides ample comfort. However, if you don’t have unlimited resources to spend, we recommend investing in a few solid pieces of lightweight backpacking gear that give you the best bang for your buck:

  • Sleeping bag – A good, down sleeping bag will pay dividends with its excellent warmth to weight ratio. We like the Sea to Summit Spark Ultralight 18F.
  • Titanium mug – Save weight and simplify your cooking with a titanium mug. We like the Snow Peak Titanium Trek 700 Mug.
  • Tent – This is a highly personal option with some hikers preferring a simple bivvy bag while others like to bring a roomy 2-person tent. We think the MSR Hubba Hubba strikes a good balance between weight and comfort.
  • Merino layers – As you’ll read about in the clothing sections below, we’re big believers in merino hiking clothing.

With investments in quality, lightweight gear here we think you’ll strike a good balance between a set up that won’t weigh you down, but also won’t break the bank.

3. Be Prepared for all Weather conditions

Colorado is known for its sunny and dry climate, but don’t let that fool you on the Colorado Trail. Afternoon thunderstorms are legendary here and you should be prepared for weather extremes on the Colorado Trail, especially if you’re tackling the entire distance.

The first few segments of the hike starting from Waterton Canyon can be VERY hot depending on the time of year. Expect temperatures to get into the high 90s, with very little shade in some areas. As you venture further into the mountains you can expect temperatures to cool off, but you’ll contend with heavy storms that occur on high mountain passes, hail, the possibility of snow, and very cold nights.

Given all those weather extremes you are likely to experience, it is imperative you come prepared for all types of weather. Here are a few key considerations to keep in mind when packing for the Colorado Trail:

  • Good, lightweight rain gear is a must.
  • A sun hoodie is a very good idea that will help reduce your exposure to Colorado’s very intense sun.
  • A good down sleeping bag and down jacket are highly recommend for cold mornings and nights.
  • Layering is essential!
A sunset on the Colorado Trail.

Camping Gear & Sleep System

The heaviest and most crucial part of your gear will be you camping equipment and sleeping system. This is a high-value place to spend a bit more money to get quality, lightweight gear. Keep in mind that if you’re thru hiking the trail you’ll be using these items every night for 4 – 6 weeks!

We’ve included our top recommended camping/sleep gear below along with some notes for specific items.

Use this list in conjunction with the personal items list, miscellaneous list, and men’s and/or women’s clothing list to put together your perfect kit for the Colorado Trail.

TentMSR Hubba Hubba Backpacking Tent
The MSR Hubba Hubba 2 is our favorite overall tent and works great for the Colorado Trail. The freestanding feature adds a little weight, but is helpful when you’re trying to find a level pitch or squeeze into a tight spot.
Sleeping BagSea to Summit Spark Ultralight 18FYou’ll need to be prepared for very cold temperatures on the Colorado Trail and this is a place you definitely want to invest in some lightweight gear.
Sleeping PadNemo Astro Insulated Sleeping PadThis is one of the most lightweight and comfortable sleeping pads out there. Plus, the genius pump sack makes inflating it so easy!
PillowTherm-a-Rest pillowA camping pillow can be great when you’re spending 30+ nights sleeping in a tent, but this is an optional item for those looking to save weight.
StoveJetboil Flash SystemThe Jetboil system is tried and true and boils a pot of water in under 100 seconds. The integrated windscreen is also a lifesaver when you’re camped out in the open.
Titanium MugSnow Peak Titanium Trek 700 Mug
For those looking to avoid bringing the full cookset described below, a titanium mug is the perfect way to save weight. Pair it with a titanium spork and your Jetboil and you’ll have a super lightweight cook system.
Backpacking PotGSI HaluliteIf you want to go a bit less minimal, a complete cookset on the Colorado Trail can make camp dinners much more enjoyable. This set from GSI is a great kit.
UtensilsHumangear SporkEven if you don’t plan on self-catering, this is handy to have with you for on-the-go meals and snacks while hiking and traveling.
MSR 2-person mess kit

We find this bowl and mug combo to be light, durable, and perfect for camp dinners.

Most Valuable Camping Gear: Nemo Astro Insulated Sleeping Pad

This is by far our favorite piece of sleep gear for backpacking. After a long day of hiking, there’s no better feeling than lying down in a cozy tent. Our Nemo sleeping pads are reliable, comfortable, and easy to pack. Getting a good night’s sleep is so important on the Colorado Trail, and a comfortable sleeping pad is THE key ingredient in our opinion.

Food on the Trail

Food selection is typically a very personal decision for backpackers, and what you decide to bring on the Colorado Trail is entirely up to you. Many prefer the ease, simplicity, and lightweight convenience of freeze-dried backpackers meals. Others like to save a few bucks and bring lots of instant mashed potatoes, ramen, and oatmeal.

Ultimately, we recommend you land somewhere in between with a mix of the more expensive backpacker’s meals combined with some more affordable camping classics.

One key thing to always keep in mind, though, is to make sure you are getting sufficient calories! A thru-hike on the Colorado Trail takes a tremendous amount of energy, so be sure you’re eating enough and that you’re eating foods that provide a good mix of protein, carbs, and fat.

Check out some of our favorites for the trail below:

BreakfastInstant Oats / Good To Go GranolaWe like something quick and warming in the morning. Instant oats are the classic budget pick, while the Good To Go Granola has all the calories & protein you need.
Morning trail snacksClif bar / Nuts
LunchTrail mixThe backpacking classic!
Afternoon trail snacksClif bar + energy gelWe find that an energy gel late in the day helps us finish strong and not tire out on those last few miles.
DinnerBackpacker meal We like the Good To Go Thai Curry.
Additional food itemsHoney Stinger waffles
Instant coffee
A Honey Stinger stroopwafel and fancy instant coffee can provide a much needed boost for those times when you’re feeling especially worn out!

Personal Gear

Moving past your sleep system you’ll want to focus in on personal items for the trail. Regardless of whether your thru-hiking the Colorado Trail or not, these items should make it into everyone’s pack.

Although we’ve included some toiletries that are absolutely essential for this trek, we’ve left it up to you to determine your personal list of additional self care items (comb, toothbrush, prescription medication, etc).

Multi-ToolGerber Suspension Multi-PlierPerfect for making sandwiches, repairing gear, and a million other purposes!
First-Aid KitAdventure Medical KitsA good backpacking first aid kit is essential. You hope to never have to use it, but will be glad you have it when you need it. Make sure to include some Compeed for blisters.
Hydration Bladder or Water BottlesPlatypus Big ZipYou’ll need a lot of water on the Colorado Trail, and refill options are not always reliable. Given that, we recommend a 3L bladder.
Water Filter Sawyer Squeeze or Sawyer MiniIt’s a good idea to filter water before drinking from streams that you pass on the trail.
Pack CoverSea to Summit Pack CoverThis is a truly essential piece of gear given the storms that can sneak up on you without a moments notice. Sea to Summit makes a variety of sizes to fit a range of packs.
Men’s BackpackOsprey Atmos 65LWe love Osprey packs (and they’re a Colorado company!) The size you need will depend on the rest of your set-up, but 65L or less should be sufficient.
Women’s BackpackOsprey Aura 65LSee note above.
Trekking PolesBlack Diamond Trail Trekking PolesYour knees will thank you on steep sections!
Travel TowelSea to Summit Drylite TowelCompletely optional, but can be handy for cleaning up in camp.
HeadlampBlack Diamond Storm HeadlampGreat headlamp with long battery life and adjustable brightness.
SunscreenBlue Lizard SPF 50We recommend a waterproof sport version with SPF 30 or higher.
Toilet PaperCoghlan’s Packable Camp TissueIt’s always good to have a backup. Be sure to pack it out!
Hand SanitizerDr. Bronner’s SprayThis can come in handy on the trail and while traveling.
Extra BatteriesIt’s a good idea to have a few spare batteries for your headlamp or other essential electronics.

Most Valuable Personal Gear: Platypus Big Zip

Drinking enough water is key on the Colorado Trail and most hikers will experience some form of dehydration on the trek. This can greatly impact how far you can hike as well as your overall enjoyment. The best way to mitigate this is to be sure you’re carrying enough water. Sure, water is heavy and can add quite a bit to your base pack weight. That being said, we always recommend carrying a 3L bladder to prepare for the long sections where water can be hard to come by.

Crossing a stream while hiking

Miscellaneous Gear

These odds and ends are the unsung heroes of the Colorado Trail gear list. From getting your stinky shirt clean to keeping your phone charged, these items help your trek run smoothly.

Guidebook/Data book/MapsColorado Trail Guide Book
Colorado Trail Data Book
Colorado Trail Map Book
You’ll want to have some sort of guidebook if you’re thru-hiking the Colorado Trail. We recommend bringing the official Databook and Map Book published by the Colorado Trail Foundation.
GPS AppGaia GPSIn addition to the physical map book, we highly recommend utilizing an offline GPS app. Gaia GPS is our top pick and you can get 20% off here.
Digital WatchCasio digital watchWe recommend a simple digital watch to keep track of hiking times. Unlike smart watches, you don’t need to worry about charging this.
CameraSony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital CameraOptional item for the photography lovers. Consider using your phone to save weight.
Battery BackupAnker PowerCore 10000Great for charging electronics when you don’t have access to an outlet.
Biodegradable SoapSierra Dawn Campsuds Outdoor SoapThis is a great all-purpose cleaner for your body, your clothing, your gear, and everything else.
Insect RepellentBen’s 30% DEETInsect repellent is a very necessary item for the CT. It’s a good idea to get one that works well against both ticks and mosquitos.
TrowelVargo Titanium Dig Dig ToolAlways be sure you are properly burying your waste!
Bear bag or rope for hanging foodUrsack Major Bear SackBe sure you are properly storing food well away from your camp and high enough off the ground.
Plastic Bags- quart, gallon, and garbage bags.We used these constantly for everything from storing trail mix to keeping our sleeping bags dry. A must-have for backpacking.

Most Valuable Personal Gear: Gaia GPS Premium

Don’t get us wrong, the official Colorado Trail Map Book is an essential resource to help you navigate. However, with Gaia GPS you get access to tons of different base maps (Nat Geo, USGS, & Gaia Topo are among our favorites) and can see you exact location on the trail. This is invaluable for finding your way, planning detours to restock supplies, and more. You can download a GPX file for the Colorado Trail here.

Get 20% off an annual Gaia GPS subscription here.

Hiker with cell phone.
We always recommend having the route saved to your phone.

Men’s Clothing

When you’re trekking in the same clothes for weeks on end, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality.  Although your individual preferences may look a little different, this list is an excellent starting point to ensure you’ve got all the essentials.

Our preferred base layer material has evolved over the years and we are now firm proponents of merino wool. The natural odor repelling properties combined with how comfortable these shirts are and the fact that they aren’t made from plastic make them well worth the investment.

Underwear (1-2 pairs)ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer BriefHighly recommended! 1-2 pairs is all you need as they are super easy to wash out and dry.
Socks (2-3 pairs)Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion SocksIn our opinion, these are the best hiking socks available. Your feet will thank you!
Long Sleeve Base LayerSmartwool Men’s NTS Mid 250 CrewVery versatile mid-weight base layer
Short Sleeve Hiking ShirtSmartSmartwool Men’s Merino Short Sleeve ShirtMerino wool is perfect for backpacking. Lightweight, quick drying, and odor resistant.
Sun HoodieColumbia Sun HoodieThis is a new favorite item of ours. Cool enough to hike in even on hot days, you’ll appreciate not having to constantly reapply sunscreen. The sun on the Colorado Trail gets intense, especially given the altitude, so this is a must!
Hiking Pants (1)Prana Brion PantsThese are great for hiking and also look good around town!
Hiking Shorts (1)Prana Brion Hiking ShortsAwesome shorts that are great for hiking.
Down JacketPatagonia Down Sweater HoodySuper warm, and super packable.
Rain JacketOutdoor Research Men’s Helium II JacketA good rain jacket is a must! This one packs up small and light
HatColumbia Bora Bora BooneyThis wide-brimmed and breathable hat keeps you cool and protected from the sun.
SandalsCrocs Classic ClogsThis lightweight and comfy sandals are perfect for slipping on after a long day of walking.
Hiking BootsSalomon Men’s X Ultra 3 Mid GTX Hiking BootSuper comfortable and super waterproof! These held up well to the gnarly trail conditions on the Colorado Trail. There is a trail running version for those who prefer something a bit lighter.
SunglassesSuncloud Mayor Polarized SunglassesGood quality sunglasses are essential when you’re in the mountains all day. And these are stylish too!
Buff/BandanaBuff CoolNet UV+These are great for wiping away sweat, keeping hair out of your face, or protecting your neck from the sun.
GlovesSmartwool Merino 150 glovesTrust us, you’re going to want gloves on cold morning around camp.

Most Valuable Men’s Clothing: SmartSmartwool Men’s Merino Short Sleeve Shirt

When it comes to hiking shirts, we much prefer merino wool over synthetic materials. This shirt stays fresh after multiple days of trekking, and it dries super quickly once after getting washed. The fabric is soft, comfortable, and very breathable.

Women’s Clothing

No surprises here, but it’s worth repeating that when you’re trekking in the same clothes for over a week, it is imperative that those clothes are comfortable and high quality.  The list below is a good starting place for your clothing kit on the Colorado Trail.

Underwear (1 – 2 pairs)ExOfficio Women’s UnderwearVery packable, comfortable, and easy to wash on the go!
Socks (2-3 pairs)Darn Tough Micro Crew SocksIn our opinion, these are the best hiking socks available. Your feet will thank you!
Sports BraBrooks Women’s Rebound Racer Sports BraProvides excellent support, cushion, and breathability.
Standard Bra (1)After a long day of hiking in a sweaty sports bra this can be a welcome relief to change into.
Long sleeve base layer (1)Smartwool Women’s NTS Mid 250 CrewA great merino wool base layer for chilly evenings.
Short Sleeve Hiking Shirt (1)Smartwool Women’s Merino Short SleeveMerino wool is perfect for backpacking. Lightweight, quick drying, and odor resistant.
Sun HoodieColumbia Sun HoodieThis is a new favorite item of ours. Cool enough to hike in even on hot days, you’ll appreciate not having to constantly reapply sunscreen. The sun on the Colorado Trail gets intense, especially given the altitude, so this is a must!
Leggings or Hiking Pants (1)Prana – Women’s Halle PantThese pants are stylish, lightweight, and great to hike in.
ShortsLululemon Run Speed ShortsWe prefer running shorts to hiking shorts, as they are more breathable and comfortable under a backpack.
Puffy JacketMarmot Featherless HoodyLightweight, super warm, and packs down small. This jacket was perfect for this kind of trip!
Rain JacketOutdoor Research Helium II JacketA high-quality all-weather jacket that packs up small.
Hiking Boots or Trail ShoesAltra Lone Peak Trail Shoes
Keen Targhee II Mid Hiking Boot
Depending on your preferences, these are our favorites for a traditional hiking boot and a minimal trail runner.
SunglassesSuncloud Loveseat Polarized SunglassesGood quality sunglasses are essential when you’re in the mountains all day. And these are stylish too!
HatColumbia Bora Bora BooneyThis wide-brimmed and breathable hat keeps you cool and protected from the sun.
SandalsCrocs Classic Clogs
This lightweight and comfy sandals are perfect for slipping on after a long day of walking.
Bandana/BuffBuff CoolNet UV+
These are great for wiping away sweat, keeping hair out of your face, or protecting your neck from the sun.
GlovesSmartwool Merino 150 glovesTrust us, you’re going to want gloves on cold morning around camp.

Most Valuable Women’s Clothing: Darn Tough Micro Crew Socks

The Colorado Trail can be pretty tough on your feet, so it’s important to be proactive in keeping them feeling good and blister-free. Darn Tough makes high-quality socks that are comfortable, durable, and moisture-wicking. Although they’re a little pricey, the lifetime warranty makes them a good value.

Have a Great Trip!

We hope by now you’re well on your way to putting together the perfect kit for your Colorado Trail adventure. Be sure to check out our other Colorado Trail resources below:

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