Colorado Trail Gear List: Checklist + Tips for CT Thru-Hikers

Man wearing a red hoodie holding up a black backpack full of hiking gear in front of signage for the Colorado Trail
My Colorado Trail Gear List for Thru-Hikers & Backpackers

Hiking the Colorado Trail is no easy feat, so you must assemble a lightweight and functional gear list for your 2024 thru-hike, backpacking trip, or section hike. Dialing in your ideal setup is essential, so get prepared well before arriving at the trailhead.

In this post, I’ll give you an easy-to-follow checklist and share some helpful tips on exactly what types of gear, clothing, food, toiletries, and other items you’ll need to get from Waterton Canyon to the Junction Creek Trailhead in one piece.

If you want to see the specific gear I pack for thru-hikes and backpacking trips, check out my 8.2-pound ultralight backpacking gear list, updated for the 2024 season.

Why listen to my advice? Because I’m a Colorado native who successfully hiked the CT from start to finish. I’m intimately familiar with the trails and Colorado’s unique terrain, and I know exactly what type of weather to expect and how to pack for it.

Backpack, Shelter & Sleep System

Backpack: You’ll need a backpack to haul all of your wonderful gear around. Aim for a pack with a 40-60 liter capacity. The longer your distance between resupplies (mine was about 120 miles), the more internal storage you’ll need.

Pack Liner: Even if you have a waterproof backpack, grab a lightweight pack liner as an extra layer of insurance. Water, especially during heavy downpours, often finds a way to seep into your pack.

Shelter: Whether you’re rocking a tent, a hammock, a tarp, or a bivy, you’ll need something to protect you from the elements and keep you dry as you sleep under the stars. I recommend finding a suitable ultralight tent for your adventure.

Stakes: Stakes and shelters go together really well. Most of the terrain along the Colorado Trail is pretty firm, meaning you can get away with using simple tent pegs or ultralight stakes. There’s no need for burly, four-season stakes.

Sleeping Bag: Nights on the CT can get quite chilly, especially if you’re hiking in June or September. Go with a 20-degree bag or warmer to stay toasty. You can get away with a 30-degree bag if you sleep hot and hike in July and/or August.

Sleeping Pad: Unless you’re a madman or madwoman, you’ll need some padding between you and the cold Colorado earth as you sleep. Opt for a lightweight sleeping pad with an R-value of 3 or higher.

Pillow/Pillowcase: Inflatable pillows and stuff sack pillowcases aren’t mandatory packing list items, but they’ll sure make it easier to catch some z’s on the trail. I highly recommend the 1.4-ounce Zpacks stuff sack/pillowcase.

Clothing (Worn)

Hiking/Trail Running Shoes: Notice that I didn’t recommend hiking boots. Why? Because they’re heavy and will make your feet sweaty, which can lead to blisters. Lightweight hiking shoes or trail runners are the way to go.

Socks: Choosing the right pair of hiking socks is a decision you’ll never regret. Pack a couple of pairs of wool socks that breathe well, wick moisture, and prevent blisters. Injinji toe socks work great for those who are prone to blisters.

Hiking Hoodie/Shirt: I hiked the Colorado Trail in a Montbell Cool Hoodie, which I can’t recommend enough. I prefer sun hoodies over hiking shirts because they offer full-coverage sun protection. Colorado is very sunny, by the way.

Shorts/Pants: True ultralight backpackers avoid hiking in pants like the plague. We want to wear our short shorts and let our legs breathe, okay? Pants should work fine for early- and late-season hikes in June and September.

Underwear: If your shorts don’t have built-in undies like mine, you’ll want to scoop up a moisture-wicking pair of hiking underwear to keep the sweating, chaffing, and stinking at bay. Don’t wear cotton or wool underwear! Go with synthetics.

Hat: Did I mention that Colorado is very, very sunny? You’ll need something to keep all of those pesky UV rays off that precious face of yours. Check out my favorite hiking hats if you need a new lid for your adventure.

Sunglasses: I’ll say it again: Colorado is sunny. The bright blue skies are wide open, and the UV rays are relentless. You will regret it if you don’t bring along a decent pair of polarized shades. Trust me.

Clothing (Carried)

Down Jacket: On the Colorado Trail, you’ll be hiking and camping at an average elevation of 10,000 feet and will experience some downright chilly temperatures. Bring a puffy down jacket to keep warm, and stuff it inside your pillowcase at night.

Rain Jacket: Colorado is dry; I only experienced three days of significant rain on my thru-hike. But, when the rain did fall, I was grateful I packed my Montbell Versalite. Since rain is usually infrequent, many thru-hikers bring cheap ponchos.

Wind/Rain Pants: I think rain pants are overkill for the Colorado Trail — I prefer lighter and more packable wind pants. If you’re wearing shorts on your hike, you’ll want a pair of wind/rain pants for when the weather gets nasty.

Long Underwear: I seldomly hiked in my long underwear, but there were a few cold and windy days when I was glad to have them. I didn’t wear my long johns much on the first half of my trip but I slept in them more often as the temperatures dropped.

Thermal Top: My thermal top was great for warming up during brisk mornings on the trail, but I rarely wore it at any other point while hiking. It was also nice to have as an extra layer of warmth in my sleeping bag during cold nights.

Gloves: I’m torn about whether I needed to pack gloves on the trail. I wore them several times, but I would have been fine tucking my hands into my hoodie. Heck, I’d probably pack them again if given the choice.

Beanie/Headwear: You know how your mom told you that you lose most of your body heat through your head and to always wear your winter hat? Her advice is relevant on the Colorado Trail, especially at camp and in your tent.

Cooking System & Food Storage

Stove: Unless you’re one of those weirdos who pretend they enjoy eating cold food after a hard day on the trail, you’ll want a stove to heat up your meals. I used my stove once a day at night to boil water for my freeze-dried dinners.

Fuel Canister: Alcohol backpacking stoves are banned in Colorado, so you’ll need an iso-butane stove and canister to stay legal on the trail. I only used two 100-gram mini canisters throughout my trip since I only boiled water once a day.

Lighter: While some backpacking stoves have a button that creates a spark and ignites your fuel, I recommend bringing a lighter anyway. Your lighter will come in handy if the button stops working and could save you during emergencies.

Pot: Stove? Check. Fuel? Check. Lighter? Check. Now, you need a vessel to boil water and/or cook in. I use a 450ml TOAKS titanium pot, but would recommend something with 700ml of volume or more if you want a bit more breathing room.

Spork: There are few better feelings than pulling out your trusty spork and digging into a steaming pouch of hot, gooey food after a long day on the trail. I recommend a long-handle spork to reach your bag’s deepest crevices.

Food Storage/Bear Bag: The Colorado Trail Foundation recommends hanging your food in a bear bag along the trail. I did this infrequently but was lucky enough not to get raided. Don’t rely on luck; hang your food if you want to keep it to yourself.

Food

Dialing in your food intake for every step of the journey is the biggest logistical puzzle piece of the Colorado Trail. You’ll need to calculate how many calories you require daily, buy a ton of backpacking food, and figure out how the heck to get it to yourself along the trail.

I meal-prepped my entire trip into resupply boxes but occasionally bought food at supermarkets and convenience stores. I ate around 3,000 calories daily, mostly dehydrated backpacking meals, energy bars, dehydrated fruit, jerky, and candy. Powdered Gatorade was a nice treat in the mornings.

I resupplied three times: in Breckenridge, near Buena Vista, and in Lake City. I was lucky to have friends and/or family bring me my boxes at each stopover. I could have shipped boxes to myself if I hadn’t had help on the ground.

Water Filtration & Storage

Water Filter/Purification: Much of the water on the Colorado Trail is quite clean (especially at higher elevations), but you’ll still want to bring a water filter or purification drops/tables for the more questionable H20 sources you come across.

Dirty Water Reservoir: I recommend packing four liters of total water storage for your thru-hike to get you through some of the longer water carries. I brought a two-liter dirty water reservoir to stash/filter water through my Sawyer Squeeze.

Clean Water Container: I used two one-liter Smartwater water bottles to carry my clean, filtered water. They’re not the lightest option out there, but they’re incredibly durable, ergonomic, and slide in and out of the side pockets of my backpack easily.

Electronics & Technology

Cell Phone: Bringing along a smartphone with good battery life is a no-brainer. I recommend downloading the Colorado Trail Exploappthe FarOut app on your cell phone to access offline maps and comments from other thru-hikers.

Battery Bank: Bring a battery bank to charge your tech devices between resupplies. I recommend power banks 10,000mAh of power for frequent resuppliers and 20,000mAh of power for more infrequent resuppliers.

Wall Charger: When relaxing in a restaurant, hotel, or anywhere else with a power outlet, you’ll need a wall charger to recharge your devices and battery bank. Pack one with two or more USB ports to charge multiple devices simultaneously.

Charging Cables: Pack multiple charging cables that are compatible with all of your devices. There is no need for longer cables; the shorter, the better. Shorter cables are lighter and less likely to get tangled.

Headphones: Headphones can be considered a luxury, especially among old-school hiking purists. For me, they’re a necessity. I listened to music, podcasts, and audiobooks while I hiked the Colorado Trail and occasionally watched Netflix at night.

GPS Unit: By no means is a GPS device mandatory on the CT, but I highly recommend one nonetheless. With my inReach Mini, I could track my route, message friends and family, see weather forecasts, and put out an SOS in case of an emergency.

Headlamp/Flashlight: Get your hands on an ultralight headlamp or flashlight to navigate the dark nights along your journey. My favorite option is the Nitecore NU25, which weighs an ounce and has a powerful, long-lasting beam.

First-Aid Kit

My ultralight first-aid kit wasn’t exactly comprehensive; I kept weight down and brought the bare minimum. But I did so knowing that the trail is moderately trafficked and that I could call for SOS help on my inReach Mini in case of a serious injury or sickness.

The checkboxes below represent what I brought on the CT in my barebones first-aid kit. For a broader list of options, check out REI’s post on putting together a backpacking first-aid kit.

Band-Aids: Slips, scrapes, scuffs, and slices happen, especially when walking around the woods all day. Pack several band-aids of varying sizes to cover up wounds, keep them clean, and protect them from infection.

Antibiotic Ointment: Before you cover a cut or scrape with a band-aid, you’ll need to rinse it with water and sanitize it with antibiotic ointment. I brought a half-dozen tiny pouches but only ended up using one or two.

Tweezers: Splinters suck, especially when you don’t have a tool to remove them. Pack a pair of tweezers. Even though you may never need to use them, they’ll come in extremely handy if/when you do get penetrated by a sliver of wood.

Blister Prevention Cream: On long hikes, feet get sweaty, skin weakens, toes rub against each other, and blisters form. Get out ahead of blisters and coat your feet with blister prevention cream to reduce friction and keep your feet in tip-top shape.

Blister Pads: Even with cream, blisters can be tough to avoid, especially as you’re starting your thru-hike. Pack some blister pads to put over hot spots as you feel your skin start to get irritated. Doing so could stop blisters before they start.

Bug Repellent: Bugs aren’t typically a huge nuisance on the Colorado Trail, but they did get excessive on a few occasions during my thru-hike. I didn’t pack any bug spray, but there were a couple of different nights when I really wish I had.

Sunscreen: Colorado is sunny (remember?), and UV rays are more harmful at high elevations. Even if you wear a wide sun hat and cover up most of your skin while hiking, you’ll still likely need sunscreen to avoid getting burned.

Advil: If you’re thru-hiking without Advil, you’re either allergic to it or haven’t been on a thru-hike before. Hiking big miles through challenging terrain will beat up your body, leaving you inflamed and feeling sore. Advil was a game-changer for me.

Medications: I don’t take any prescribed medications, but if I did, I definitely wouldn’t leave them behind for my thru-hike. If you take medications, make sure to get prescriptions, refills, etc. sorted out beforehand so you’re good to go on the trail.

Gear Repair

Gear Tape: Thru-hikes are hard on gear, especially if you bring along ultralight items made with ultra-thin fabric. Pack a little gear tape — I recommend Tenacious Tape — to patch up holes, tears, rips, and snags that befall your belongings.

Duct Tape: Sometimes, gear tape isn’t substantial enough to fix your gear. Pack a few yards of duct tape for more extensive repairs. Duct tape can also be used with a torn piece of clothing to wrap emergency wounds that are too big for band-aids.

Sewing Kit: If you want to make a longer-lasting repair on your gear or clothing than you could with tape, pack a mini sewing kit. Tape repairs don’t usually look great and won’t work on many different fabrics. Sewing kits weigh next to nothing.

Toiletries

Much like my first-aid kit, my backpacking toiletries kit for the CT was bare bones. I didn’t bring a razor, shampoo, deodorant, or any other non-essential toiletries items.

I let my beard grow out and washed my hair with soap. No deodorant I’ve come across is strong enough to stave off BO when hiking 20-mile days, so I didn’t bother packing any.

If my toiletries checklist seems a little sparse, pack more items than I did. Hike your own hike, as they say.

Toothbrush: I packed a kid-sized bamboo toothbrush for my thru-hike, which worked well. Many ultralighters saw the handle off of their toothbrush to save weight. I’ve never heard of anyone leaving a toothbrush behind, though, so don’t get any ideas.

Toothpaste/Tooth Powder: Tooth powder was a great way to save weight and avoid frequently resupplying toothpaste during my thru-hike. I just sprinkled some powder on my toothbrush, wet the bristles, and brushed as usual.

Flossers: No good tooth brushing is complete without a good flossing to compliment it. I packed a few plastic tooth flossers for my trip and rinsed them after each use. Dental hygiene is important, folks.

Soap: Many ultralight thru-hikers don’t bring soap along, but I did and was happy about my decision. I used a mini travel-sized bottle of Dr. Bronner’s to wash my clothes and bathe myself along the hike, in sinks and well away from natural water sources.

Corrective Vision Items: I have crummy vision, so I must wear contact lenses or glasses wherever I go. I opted to wear a pair of monthly contacts on my thru-hike and packed a set of backups just in case I lost or damaged mine.

Miscellaneous Items

Ditty Bag: As you’ve likely noticed, my Colorado Trail gear list has a lot of tiny odds and ends. Instead of letting them float around my bag loosely, I organized them all in a waterproof ditty bag. Do yourself a favor and invest in a good ditty.

Sit Pad: There are no chairs, sofas, or love seats in the backcountry. You’ll be sitting on a mixture of rocks, logs, and dirt patches instead. I brought along a foam pad that functioned as a backpack frame while hiking and a butt cushion while sitting.

Trowel: An essential of being a member of the thru-hiking society is to leave no trace. This means staying on the trail, packing out your trash, and burying your #2s in catholes. Bring a trowel to help dig holes for your waste, as the terrain is dry, hard, and solid.

Toilet Paper/Bidet: After you’ve dug a hole and buried your waste, you’ll need to clean your bum. To get the job done, pack toilet paper, wet wipes, or bring a portable bidet that screws onto the end of your water bottle.

Scissors/Knife: Though you probably won’t need to use either very often, a small pair of scissors or a tiny pocket knife will come in handy for cutting frayed thread, trimming your nails, or sawing your arm off if it gets pinned underneath a boulder.

Mini-Towel: I didn’t use my face-sized mini-towel much for drying myself off, but rather wiping the condensation off of my tent and drying out my titanium pot after boiling water. It’s a tiny towel, so I drip-dried or used hotel towels after bathing.

Pen & Paper: A small stack of 3″ x 5″ notecards and a Bic pen was all I needed to jot down notes and document my entire 27-day journey along the Colorado Trail. The paper also would have come in handy if I’d needed to start an emergency fire.

Camera Gear: I brought a nice camera to document my thru-hike. I took hours of footage, snapped hundreds of photos, and ultimately never did much with my media when I got home. If I hike the Colorado Trail again, I probably won’t pack my camera.

Final Thoughts: Colorado Trail Gear List

Do you feel more prepared for the Colorado Trail now that you’ve seen my gear list and sorted through my advice? I sure hope so. I wrote this post because I know how much preparation goes into a thru-hike of the CT, and I want to help you succeed.

As you dial in your setup for your upcoming thru-hike, keep it as lightweight and functional as possible while ensuring you’ll be safe and comfortable on the trip. Lighten up your pack. I promise that your ankles, knees, back, and neck will thank you later.

And don’t forget to check out my ultralight backpacking gear list, updated for the 2024 season, where I go over every piece of gear I use when venturing into the backcountry. This exact packing list would work perfectly for a thru-hike of the Colorado Trail.

How’d I do? What does your current gear list look like? Is there anything I forgot? Let me know by leaving a comment below.

Last Updated on March 19, 2024

Photo of author

Noel Krasomil

Hey, I'm Noel Krasomil, the founder of The Packable Life. I pack light and explore the globe searching for awe-inspiring hiking trails, rich cultural experiences, and ways to continue traveling indefinitely.

Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. If you click an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Affiliate links help support this website and keep it 100% ad-free.