How to Hike the Narrows Using Gear You Already Own

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In the summer and early fall, when the water is warm, you can hike the Narrows with the basic hiking equipment you probably already own.

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park
The Narrows is by far the most popular hike in Zion National Park. It begins towards the back of Zion’s main canyon, where the Virgin River emerges between the towering canyon walls. There’s no room for an actual trail, so hikers must ford their own path through the Virgin River. While the water levels changes throughout the year, it typically ranges from ankle to waist deep.

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park

In preparation for this hike, many people decide to rent specialized gear, such as canyoneering shoes, neoprene socks, walking-sticks, waterproof pants, and even full zip-up dry suits. While this gear can be absolutely essential during winter and early-spring, it can be a little overkill during the warmer summer months. We looked into renting gear and ultimately decided against it. Not only was it going to be expensive, but it was going to cost us critical time as well.

We wanted to get an early start, so we could enjoy the hike without the crowds. The first shuttle into Zion leaves at 6am in the summer, but the two main gear rental places in town, Zion Outfitters and Zion Adventure Company, don’t open until 7am. We could have rented gear the day prior, but we would have had to pay for an extra day. So instead, we consulted a variety of online sources, and decided to hike The Narrows with our own gear. And we’re so glad we did!

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park
We were among the first people to arrive at The Narrows, and while we were definitely joined by a couple fellow hikers, it wasn’t nearly the Disneyland scene we had experienced the day previous. A quick glance around confirmed our suspicions as well: none of the other earlier risers had rented gear either. It wasn’t until later in the day that we saw people strutting around with tell-tale neon yellow canyoneering shoes and waterproof waders.

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park

Our first step into the cold water was a bit of a shock, but we soon acclimated to the temperature. We crossed from one bank to the next, slowly finding our groove. It took some practice to get used to walking through such a fast flowing water. The ripples obscured our view of the bottom and the current pulled on our feet, and we were grateful that we had brought hiking poles to help us with our balance. But we learned to face upriver and crab-walk sideways when crossing, which made things a lot easier.

After more than a dozen bends, we started to really soak up the experience. Many people turn back after just a couple of turns, but some of the most interesting rock formations, overhangs, and waterfalls are not until later in the canyon. The deeper you get, the deeper you get. We could have wandered down the canyon for the rest of the day, but we decided to turn back for lunch.

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National ParkThe walk back was twice as fast. Not only was the current with us, but now we knew what we were doing. As we neared the start, we passed waves and waves of people coming up. We emerged from the river just as another shuttle load of people arrived. While it’s wonderful that so many people are getting outside and experiencing the outdoors, we were happy to have gotten the jump on most of them!

If you’re thinking of hiking The Narrows this summer, then consider hiking using your own gear. If the water temperature is warm, you should have no problem hiking with just some basic hiking equipment. Here’s what we took with us and how we felt it faired.

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park
Our Narrows Hike Gear List

(Some of these are affiliate links, meaning if you make a purchase, we’ll earn a small commission, which helps us keep this site running. All links are for items we use & love!)

Patagonia Capilene Baselayer (Men’s) – This baselayer is quick drying, breathable, and adds a layer of warmth. It has been Michael’s go-to shirt for most hikes.

Quick Drying Shorts – These were perfect for hiking the narrows because the fabric is extremely quick drying, so even if they got splashed, it didn’t take long before they were dry again.

Synthetic Insulated Jacket – Even on a very hot day, it can be chilly in The Narrows. Especially if you plan to do the hike early in the morning, your should bring a synthetic insulated jacket. The reason we suggest synthetic is because if you happen to take a tumble and get wet, the jacket will still keep you warm. (Down insulation, on the other hand, is virtually useless when wet.)

Waterproof Backpack – We hiked the Narrows with a Topo Designs backpack, which has since been discontinued. But if we were to do it again, we would go with this Sea to Summit day bag

Moab Ventilators by Merrell – We used our go-to multi-purpose hiking boots. They offered excellent traction, ankle support, closed-toe protection, and much welcomed thermal insulation. Also, because we have the high ventilation non-Gortex version, the boots dried out quickly once we were done and didn’t become overly waterlogged and heavy during the hike.

Wool Socks  – Even in the summer, the water in the Virgin River can be quite cold, so you want a way to keep your feet warm. Ankle-high hiking boots combined with a nice pair of wool socks function sort of like a wet suit – trapping water near your feet and allowing your body to warm it up. Wool is great for this because it retains its thermal properties even when wet and dries quickly afterwards.

Sea to Summit Dry Bag – Just in case you take an accidental stumble, a good dry bag can keep your valuables safe. If you can’t afford to replace your electronics, then you can’t afford NOT to have a dry bag!

TMBR Sunglasses – We were recently sent these wood trimmed sunglasses by TMBR. While the narrows was fairly shaded early in the morning, towards the end of the hike we were happy to have these polarized anti-glare glasses.

Enerplex Battery  – Cell phones and GoPros have a bad habit of running out of juice just when you need them most. We charge up this portable battery stack before we go on a hike in order to give our devices extended life.

GoPro Hero – We wouldn’t ford a rushing river with any other camera. Smaller than a cellphone and about a thousand times more durable, the GoPro Hero is our go-to watersport camera. Find it on Amazon or REI (if you’re an REI member, you’ll get 10% back as part of your yearly dividend!)

Black Diamond Trekking Poles – The most common rental you’ll see when hiking The Narrows is a classic wooden walking stick. The fast current and uneven riverbed makes it nice to have some way to support yourself, but we used our trekking poles and they worked just fine. You only need one pole per person, so we just brought one pair with us.

Barnana – When we’re getting an early start, it can be difficult to find time to make a proper breakfast. We ate a bag of these coffee infused banana bites while walking to the entrance of The Narrows. Coffee + Bananas = breakfast in a bag!

Clif Bars – We have eaten our fair share of Cliff bars over the course of our trip. They’re just the perfect mid-hike snack to hold us over until we stop for a meal. Our favorite flavors: Megan loves Toffee Buzz and Michael can’t get enough Sierra Mix.

Insulated Water Bottle – On a hot day, we carry our insulated water bottle so our water stays cool. This particular one has a Cotopaxi llama badge on it, but it’s essentially the same as a Hydroflask 24 which you can pick up from REI.

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park
Know Before You Go

Planning a trip to The Narrows? Make sure you double check the conditions before you go. If the Virgin River’s flow rate is too high (above 150 cubic ft/second) or there is a potential of flash flooding, the park will close the trail. Check here to see if there are any alerts in effect, and here to find the river’s current flow rate.

Also, if the water temperature is too cold, then hiking The Narrows can present a real risk of hypothermia. The air temperature in the canyon can be 10-30 F degrees cooler than outside, which increases your risk as well. Check with park officials before planning your trip, and consider renting gear if appropriate for the current conditions.

Hiking the Narrows in Zion National Park

  • Thank you for this post!! My boyfriend and I took your advice and hiked it with our own gear and everything worked out wonderfully! We didn’t have trekking poles, but there were some “natural” poles at the start of the hike that we were able to use. I wish we would have thrown some flip-flops into our backpack for the paved part of the walk back to the shuttle, but no complaints from us… this hike was magical!! You also feel just a little more bad ass when you’re not using the same gear as everyone else 🙂

    • Glad to hear you enjoyed your hike, Michelle! The Narrows really are such a special place.

      I agree that any ole pole would work – it’s just nice to have something to help balance when it’s rocky or the current wants to push you around.

      You’re totally right about the flip flops!! We also walked back in soggy shoes but it would have been nice to have our Chacos to change into.

  • This sounds great! My boyfriend and I are planning a trip for next year and we will definitely follow your advice! BTW, what time in the year did you guys go?

    • Hi Fabbiola – we did this hike in late May. The conditions definitely fluctuate throughout the seasons though. Have a great time on your trip!

  • I see your wearing hiking boots, thru the water? What kind are the best? We are thinking of going next summer.

    • Kristie – we did use our hiking boots, but they are very lightweight and meshy, so they dry out pretty quickly. I wouldn’t recommend heavy duty boots since they would likely get pretty heavy when wet. We currently both wear Merrell Moab Ventilator boots, but prior to those we had a pair of lightweight boots by Vasque that were also excellent.

  • All that you’ve said is sufficient for hiking from the bottom up to the spring. I’ll only add:
    1. It’s always advisable to have poles or a walking stick (preferably a walking stick, poles are known to break) for leverage. Need fluctuates with water level but I’d still take something.
    2. Wear a minimum of .5mm neoprene socks with thin merino wool socks underneath even in summer. Even if you’re going to wear hiking boots/shoes this is the best combo for staying warm. Wool retains heat even when wet and protects you from rubbing against seams in the neoprene sock. Do NOT wear cotton. Do NOT wear open toe anything.
    3. Don’t wear anything cotton. Take only synthetic clothes.
    4. Please understand that hiking down from the TOP of the narrows (16 miles) is much much different than from the bottom and requires much more gear and corners cannot be cut.

    • Just wanted to confirm what Brian said. If you’re hiking from the bottom up, it is very easy to do using gear you already have. I’ve done this many times on spur-of-the-moment trips to Zion (I’m a Utah local). HOWEVER, if you are planning on hiking from the top down, plan carefully and do not cut corners. It’s a long trip and completely miserable–and dangerous–if you don’t have the proper gear for the conditions.

      We’re getting ready for our sixth trip down as I type, and I can attest that a sturdy walking stick is vital bottom up or top down. Those ugly yellow boots that everyone laughs at? We’ve found them to be very valuable equipment when hiking the full 16 miles top down over what feels like moss covered bowling balls with a fully loaded pack.

      • Hello, we are planning a trip to Zion Park on mid September, what can you tell me about the average temperature and water conditions.
        And what would be the best hike rout for a forts time hikers couple.

        Thank you!

      • hello stacy
        we are going first time to utah and i just wanted to have expirance( first water hiking) of
        hike in the narrows. is there a way we can go half way and come back?
        also you said from bottom to up is little easy for beginners or first timer?
        what kind of yellow boots are good to buy?
        thanks

    • Hi Brian,

      We are planning to do the Narrows on mid September and hike from the top to bottom.
      Why is this hike more difficult than going from bottom to Top?
      Or did I misunderstood?

  • Hello, Thinking of purchasing those hiking boots for an upcoming trip to Zion. How fast did they dry out after? Were they dry for hiking the next day? Thanks so much for these tips. We’re going in October and trying to decide which new equipment to purchase.

    • Those Moab Ventilators dry out pretty quick. Depends on how hot it is, of course. But if you hike the narrows in the morning and then let them dry out all day, they should be good for another hike the next day.

    • good to know. thank you! getting excited for our trip! just bought the Moab ventilators and the are so comfortable!

  • Hi! My boyfriend and I are going the first weekend in November to Zion just for the weekend and planning on hiking Angels Landing the first day, then trying the Narrows on the second day. Obviously depending on how chilly it actually is we may not be able to do the Narrows. I have a few questions: how cold is too cold to try the Narrows? and even if one couldn’t do an actual hike is there still dry ground you can walk on to at least see part of it? I am also a first time Hiker, I am fairly athletic, but are either of these two trails dangerous for someone who has little experience? Any insight is greatly appreciated!

    • November might be too cold to hike the narrows without specialty equipment (waterproof booties, neoprene pants, etc) Check with the gear shops in Springdale when you arrive as they will have a good idea how cold the river is running. As for being a first-time hiker, Angel’s Landing is a pretty tough one to start on. Especially if there is any snow on the trail. A portion of the trail runs along a narrow ridgeline with thousand foot drops off each side. So any lack of traction can be something to worry about. Ask when you get there what the conditions are like. Otherwise, we have a list of other great hikes in the area. https://freshoffthegrid.com/4-hikes-beat-crowds-zion-national-park/

  • I’m planning a trip to explore Utah this summer (June) and the Narrows is on my list. I will be hiking with my 2 young boys- ages 7 and 6. They are both good hikers – 5mi in the snow at yellowstone, Volksmarch at Crazy Horse. They don’t mind getting wet at all. I’m wondering though if the current may be too strong for them? My 6 year old is easy to piggy back but the 7 year old is on his own. Thoughts on kids in the Narrows? We won’t be hiking the entire route.

    • Honestly, it all depends on the day. During the time we stayed in Zion, the river’s levels fluctuated constantly. Some days would be a piece of cake for your two boys, others could be a bit hairy. Check with the park rangers and they can give you monthly averages, but you’ll need to make game day decision when you’re there.

  • So I own Chacos and have used them to treck across waterfalls, climb slippery rocks, and walk through rivers in Belize. Do you think they would be fine for the narrows? They have enough traction for sure

    • Grip-wise they will be fine. Two concerns would be: toe protect and water temperature. You’ll be stepping around on a lot of underwater features and in a few sections, the water current doesn’t give you a lot of visibility. It might be nice to have something covering your toes so you don’t accidentally stub them into a rock. In the height of summer, the water temp will still be pretty cool but probably manageable in Chacos. While the boots we used obviously got soaking wet, our wool socks did act like a semi wetsuit for our feet (keeping warmer water trapped near our feet).

  • My husband hiked the narrows. He’s 6’2” tall and was up to his shoulders in water!

    • Chris Ring says:

      Gloria,

      What time of year did your husband hike the narrows?

  • Maria Aguilar says:

    Do i need to contact a special guide to hike through the narrows, im going with a group of 13

  • Sue Barton says:

    Were your boots water proof?

    • No, we did not have waterproof boots. We just embraced the fact that they were going to get wet. Not a problem in the summer, but more of an issue later in the season.

  • Great advice. I’m thinking of heading to Zion this weekend. How early did you start the hike to beat the crowds?

    • We got in as early as we could. I forget the actual time, but as early as possible. I think we were on the first round of shuttles that went into the park.

  • Paul Rivard says:

    My wife rented the boots and pole. She loved it. She didn’t complain about her feet. I went with Salomon hiking boots for $139 before we left for the trip. They worked great but got small stones inside. I had to take them off to empty out the stones. She did not have to with the rented boots that strap tight to your ankle. Doing it again, I would rent the boots and walking stick.

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