Three Desert Hiking Essentials – Backpacker

Want to know whether a piece of gear can stand up to serious abuse? Take it to the desert. We took advantage of Canyonlands National Park’s wildly variable spring conditions to put a new slate of dryland-oriented gear through the ringer. As expected, we faced all sorts of weather, from blazing 85° F days on well-traveled slickrock to gusty, unmarked river treks through rugged canyons. These three items stood out from the crowd in the hot, dry, Utah landscape. 

Erem Xerocole Desert Hiking Boot
Erem Xerocole Desert Hiking Boot (Photo: courtesy)

Erem Xerocole Desert Hiking Boot

Price: $190
Weight: 3 lbs (m’s 9)
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The Xerocoles look fabulous, with chunky soles and a mix of tan leather and white canvas. That’s not surprising, considering the brand-new sustainable footwear company is owned by former Timberland CEO Jeff Swartz and son Noah Swartz. The boot is designed to be biodegradable at end of life. While we remain very skeptical of such claims, Erem has gone to great lengths to get as close as possible to that goal. But how does it perform in its advertised climate? The Xerocole offered impressive breathability and sweat-wicking properties on the Chesler Park Loop with temps in the 80s, thanks to a woven canvas upper, stitched (rather than laminated) seams, and a Lyocell lining. The canvas also blocked fine sand from entering the boot better than mesh uppers on comparable models. A proprietary “eco-rubber” outsole was excellent in deep sand thanks to its chunky lugs and surprisingly sticky on slickrock. Protection is one of the Xerocole’s highlights, with tough canvas cuffs and a 3 mm rubber toe bumper that brushed off the trail’s native prickly pear cacti. It’s not perfect, however. Thanks to its roster of natural materials (including leather), the boot was still breaking in after 25 miles. The Xerocole is also very niche: you wouldn’t want to wear it in rain or through a creek with all that canvas. It’s not clear how well the Lycocell wicks away sweat on humid days, either. That said, it’s one of the most exciting pieces of desert footwear in years. Tip: Order a half-size down from your usual boot.

Gossamer Gear Lightrek Hiking Umbrella
Gossamer Gear Lightrek Hiking Umbrella (Photo: courtesy)

Gossamer Gear Lightrek Hiking Umbrella

Price: $39
Weight: 6.6 oz.
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There’s a secret race going on in the world of ultralight hiking umbrellas, and the Lightrek is a frontrunner. At a scant 6.6 ounces (down from 8 in its previous iteration) it’s one of the lightest sun umbrellas on the market. An ounce and a half might not sound like much of a difference, but when you’re holding an umbrella above your head for hours at a time, you’ll feel it. With its 37.5 inches of coverage, the reflective, teflon-coated polyester canopy cut down the blistering heat of an exposed mid-day trek through Salt Creek Canyon. The featherweight aluminum frame even managed to survive a few unexpected 25 mph gusts without drama. The Handsfree Umbrella Clamp ($6) makes attaching the Lightrek to your pack a cinch using a velcro clamp and adjustable bungee cord. The cord, which wedges into the Lightrek’s indented foam handle, made fidgeting to find the perfect angle a thing of the past. 

Outdoor Research Ferrosi Cargo Pants
Outdoor Research Ferrosi Cargo Pants (Photo: courtesy)

Outdoor Research Ferrosi Cargo Pants

Price: $99
Weight: 11.2 oz.
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The Ferrosi pants are already a well-loved offering from OR. The new cargo pant version, which uses 46% recycled material, is especially useful on treks that require more pocket space. All of the same components that made Ferrosi pants a standout in years past are still here: excellent breathability, sun protection, durability, and stretch from the 86 percent nylon/ 14 percent spandex blend. Cinchable cuffs were key while bushwhacking in Lavender Canyon, where multiple stream crossings meant constantly hiking up my pants. When unexpectedly deep steps soaked the pant legs, it took less than 20 minutes for them to dry completely. The Ferrosi’s extra large cargo pockets swallowed a full-sized USGS map and compass with ease, while two front and rear pockets (one zippered) held a knife, bars, and phone. A few dings: The cargo pant buttons are surprisingly hard to clip and unclip, and sizing for this new pant is a full size too small in the waist compared to previous versions.

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