Deer Hill Expedition’s Gear Guide

Gear Guide


The right equipment and clothing will make your Deer Hill experience more comfortable and enjoyable. Deer Hill programs travel in two very different climates of the Colorado Plateau: high desert and alpine. Temperatures in the desert can range from 32º F at night to 75º F during the day. We dress to protect ourselves from the sun and heat. Rain is infrequent, though it may rain hard during brief storms. In the alpine zone of the mountains, temperatures can range from 15º to 80º F in a single 24-hour period. During the summer, brief hail or snowstorms are not uncommon. Even though you may not experience these extremes, you must be prepared for all types of weather.


Synthetics, Cotton, and Staying Warm


Please pay close attention to our fabric recommendations. Most fabrics perform equally well when dry. When wet, fabric performance changes dramatically. Cotton fibers absorb moisture, which rob heat from the body. Synthetic and wool fibers repel moisture, maintaining their ability to trap air and heat, even when wet. For these reasons, we wear cotton in the hot desert to help keep us cool. Conversely, in the cool, wet mountains, we wear synthetic and wool. When deciding between wool and synthetics, choose items that are comfortable and lightweight. Do not be alarmed by the myriad of synthetic fabrics (e.g. Capeline, Polypropylene, Synchilla, Polar Tec, fleece, etc.). Most of these are nearly identical, but sold under different brand names. Please do not buy polyester/cotton blends, as these are not sufficient.



Advice for Packing


Please bring only the items that are on the packing list. Except for a few personal items or extra toiletries, you will not need more than what is listed. You will not change clothes every day. In fact, for a given expedition or project you will carry only the necessary clothing for that environment. The remainder of your clothing and any extra items will be stored at Basecamp for the duration of your program or until you need it for another environment. Additionally:

  • All personal clothing and gear should be labeled with the participant’s name.
  • Pack lightly. Choose items that are lightweight and compact.
  • Keep in mind that service work and wilderness living are hard on clothing. The clothes you bring to Deer Hill will receive rough treatment and may become torn or permanently stained.



Understanding the Packing List


We have designed the Packing List to help you select the appropriate gear for your program. Items available for purchase or rental at the Deer Hill Store are indicated as such in the Packing List. The Packing List also contains information about each item to assist you if you decide to shop on your own. For the most expensive/complicated items, we have included more detailed shopping guidelines below.



Where to Buy Good Quality Gear


You can find quality backcountry equipment at stores that specialize in mountaineering and/or backpacking. Try local shops that carry brand names such as Black Diamond, Patagonia, The North Face, and Marmot, or try one of the large retail chains such as REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.), or EMS (Eastern Mountain Sports). If you are shopping online it is useful to try items on locally to ensure the correct fit.



Renting/Purchasing Gear from Deer Hill


Another option is to rent or purchase your gear and expeditionary clothing from the Deer Hill Outfitting Store. We stock quality items that have been tested over the years at Deer Hill. Our rental program is a convenient option instead of purchasing high-priced gear and clothing in retail stores. Please review the information about the Store provided in this document.



Hiking Boots


Your most important piece of equipment is your boots. Many foot problems (blisters, cold feet, etc.) can be avoided by purchasing properly fitted footwear. Consider this as an investment in your comfort. Please take time and care when buying your boots. You will wear them almost every day, therefore the fit and function will have a significant impact on the quality of your experience. Our information on fitting is relatively universal. Take this information with you when you go to buy your boots.

Choosing the right type of boot – River and Mountain Adventure, Canyon Country, Heart of the Rockies, and Wilderness Leadership. Your boots will need to support you while carrying a backpack through terrain such as desert canyons, loose gravel, snow, scree, mud, small streams, and tall, wet grass. The best choice is a boot specifically designed for backpacking: a sturdy, medium-weight, ankle-high boot that has a stiff sole (mere hiking boots do not work). Try to bend and twist the sole. If you can fold the boot nearly in half or rotate it as you could a sneaker, it is too flimsy. Look for a ‘Vibram’ sole or the equivalent.

We recommend the following brands of backpacking boots (or brands of comparable quality and design): Asolo, Salomon, Zamberlan, Merrell, Scarpa, La Sportiva, Lowa, Vasque, Montrail. Please do not buy “running-style” boots, such as those made by Nike, Altras, Hi-Tec, and Adidas.

Choosing the right type of boot – Rivers Wild, Southwest Journey, School Programs, and Homeschool Scholar Adventure Program. Your boots will need to support you while hiking through loose gravel, scree, mud, small streams, and tall, wet grass. You want a boot that gives you plenty of support, and is comfortable and versatile, so you can use it as a work boot during your service projects. The best choice is a sturdy, medium-weight, ankle-high hiking boot. Many leather/fabric combinations work well. Please remember that “tennis shoes”, sneakers or low top shoes do not offer enough support for hiking and will not be satisfactory for this program.

Fitting your boots (Fit is more important than the brand or how much a boot is broken in.) We receommend going to a shoe or outfitting store and having an expiereinced employee help to fit your boots. If that is not possible, try the boots on with a pair of hiking socks. Lace them snugly, but not too tightly. You want some room in the toe box of the boot to wiggle your toes. You should be able to kick your toes to the front of the boot and still have room behind your heel to put a couple fingers in. Walk around a little. You should not feel spots on your feet that rub or irritate you. If you do, these spots might turn into blisters after a few hours of hiking. Your boots need to fit with one pair of wool socks, as this is how you will wear them in the backcountry.

To double check the length, kick the boot against a wall or walk down the store’s incline ramp. Your toes should have some “wiggle room.” Try different brands. Their internal shapes vary considerably and some brands will feel more comfortable than others. Be sure that your boots are not too small.

Once you have purchased your boots, wear them as much as possible before arriving here. It is best if you can break-in your boots at home, or on short hikes, before hiking in them while wearing a pack.





Deer Hill uses and recommends internal frame backpacks. Most participants rent their backpack from Deer Hill, using their program as an opportunity to try out a backpack in actual field conditions. Some buy a backpack at home at a later date with the knowledge they have gained here. The Deer Hill Store carries packs by Lowe Alpine and Osprey Packs. These packs are easily adjustable to fit a wide range of body sizes and shapes.

If you buy an internal frame pack, it should have a capacity of at least 5000 cubic inches or 85 Liters (3000 cu or 50 L for Southwest Journey). We recommend that it have side and top pockets. Packs must have padded shoulder straps and a padded hip belt. Your pack must fit you well. Some packs come in sizes, while others are adjustable. Should you purchase a pack, be sure the salesperson takes the time to properly fit the pack to your back.



Sleeping Bags


Deer Hill travels in two very different environments: hot canyons and cool mountains. For maximum comfort, programs that have River, Canyon, Native American service, and mountain components use two different types of sleeping bags. A “canyon bag” is a lightweight, synthetic bag with about 20 oz. of fill. It should be rated warm to 45º F or a little cooler. A “mountain bag” is a heavyweight, synthetic, mummy bag with approximately 46 oz. of fill. It should be rated warm to at least 0º F. (Canyon Country and Rivers Wild need only a “canyon bag.” Southwest Discovery only needs one bag rated between 20-30º F. Heart of the Rockies needs only a “mountain bag.” All other programs will need both “mountain” & “canyon” bags.—double check the packing list to see what kind of bag is needed for your program.

Deer Hill has sleeping bags for rent for both temperature ranges. Rental cost for our sleeping bags is $5/night, with a maximum of $90. Some participants bring their own bag, some bring one of the two bags and rent the other from us, and some rent both a canyon bag and mountain bag.


Advice for Buying a Sleeping Bag 

Be sure your mountain sleeping bag is a “mummy bag” with a hood that goes around your head. The weight of your bag is important. A reasonable total weight for a synthetic 0-degree bag is 4-4.5 pounds. How easily is the bag compressed and how big is it once it is in its stuff sack? You do not want a huge, heavy, bulky bag that is difficult to get into a backpack. You will need a compression stuff sack.



Rain Gear


The outdoor clothing industry has varying ideas of what is waterproof. Many lightweight, coated nylons do not keep out the rain. If you are buying your own rain gear, make sure both jacket and pants are 100% waterproof (water repellent isn’t good enough). “Waterproof and breathable” fabrics (such as Gortex) are comfortable to hike in because they “breathe” out the body’s moisture. However, they are more expensive and sometimes soak through in heavy rains.


Rain Jacket Recommendations

All rain jackets must have a hood and come down below the waist. We recommend multi-layered (2-layer or 3-layer) nylon rain jackets. They work quite well and are less expensive than Gortex. The multi-layered system often includes:

  • An exterior of waterproof/coated nylon.
  • An internal lining of polyurethane or equivalent.
  • Underarm zippers (pit zips) for added ventilation (This is probably the most important feature to prevent excessive sweating. We have found that Gortex jackets without pit zips do not work as well as a nylon jacket with pit zips.)
  • Another inner mesh layer, frequently taffeta

Make sure your rain jacket is large enough to be worn over several layers of insulating clothing. Ponchos are not allowed. They do not work well in windy, mountain storms.


Rain Pant Recommendations

Some rain pants are also multi-layered. An exterior shell of waterproof, coated nylon with an internal polyurethane layer works well and is lightweight. A zippered cuff is nice to have so you can put your rain pants on over your hiking boots. (Otherwise, you will have to take your boots off to put your rain pants on. Not fun during a rainstorm!) Be sure your rain pants are large enough to be worn over your insulating pants.

Signing above indicates an understanding and agreement to the information provided above. Minor participants are also asked to sign, to reflect their understanding of the Gear Guide.
First and Last Name of Participant


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