Thoughtful Gear Choices for an Oregon Desert Trail Hike

Author: Renee Patrick  | Published: September 6, 2023  | Category: Deep Dive

Gear is always a hot topic of conversation among long-distance backpackers.

Good gear choices for a challenging route like the Oregon Desert Trail can help make your trip comfortable and enjoyable, so it’s worth spending some time considering some of these suggestions from hikers who have already spent extended time along the route. The ideas below run the gamut from ultralight to ultradurable…both ends of the gear spectrum can be appropriate depending on your style of hiking.


John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

John Cunningham, ONDA member and volunteer

Restoration is hard slow work. It takes hold, or it doesn’t, in fits and starts. The immensity of the need can be discouraging, but we must carry on. I am so thankful ONDA carries on.


Connecting Trails

Connecting Trails

The Oregon Desert Trail ties into two National Recreation Trails: the Fremont National Recreation Trail and Desert Trail.


Sage Steppes

Sage Steppes

“I’ve had many backpacks and this is by far, the most comfortable and the best load hauler!” explained Chris Montgomery about her Deuter Airconnect pack. “I have osteoarthritis and this is the first pack ever that doesn’t cause back pain. The suspension system keeps all the weight off of the spine and sacrum. In addition, it’s a great load hauler.” It also looks like Chris likes to turn it into a pillow when on a break in the shade. We love multi-purpose gear.

“Next is my 6.5 oz piece of tyvek,” she continued. “My friends and I used it every time we took a break to sit on and when we would get to camp. With all the cow poop everywhere on the first part of ODT, I found it especially helpful. When I was ready to crawl in my tent at night, I folded in up and used it to put my boots on and as a doormat of sorts. In the morning, I used it to spread out my gear and repack. Keeps everything clean.”

Thru-hiker Eric “Seeking Lost” Poulin said he would recommend a full sleeping bag. “I brought a 40-degree quilt,” he said. “The quilt is normally fine for me on desert hikes. But the ODT is COLD. I should have brought a 20-degree bag. I had to pick up a bag liner for a few extra degrees after the first resupply in Christmas Valley.”

Other elements of Eric’s sleep system included an inflatable air mattress…if you are prepared to spend time finding a suitable campsite clear of any pokey weeds or rocks, and then, only if you bring a patch kit. As far as tents, he suggests being wary of the sand and dust: “The constant sand and dust may cause zippers to fail,” he explained. “Be prepared to clean them in town and have some way to clamp down your zipper pulls to restore functionality.

A few miscellaneous gear items that came recommended were:

  • Clothing
    • short gaiters – to keep the sand out of your shoes
    • tall gaiters – to protect your shins from scratchy sagebrush on cross-country bushwacks, especially if you like to wear shorts or a skirt
  • Water
    • pre-filter – a bandana or paper coffee filter will help remove dirt chunks and floaty things that can quickly clog your water filter
    • a way to clean your filter – water filters can clog in a flash, so be sure to bring a way to clean or flush out your filter
    • 8-liter carrying capacity – be prepared to carry more water than you think you need….in case you need it!
  • Sun
    • sun gloves – protect the tops of your hands
    • sun hat – a wide brim can help shade your face and neck from the intense desert sun
    • sun umbrella – BYOS (bring your own shade)
    • sun hoodie – a lightweight, quick-drying shirt with a hood can make a huge difference when it comes to sun protection
  • Bugs
    • permethrin – treat your clothes and gear before you leave home to help manage the ticks
    • tent – if you like a bug-free camp, consider a full tent, especially in the spring around marshy areas like Warner Lakes and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
    • free-standing tent – sandy soils and hard-packed ground can both be difficult for tent stakes
  • Misc Gear
    • hiking poles – poles help with balance, can be used to set up some shelters, and can be used to warn snakes and critters of your presence in tall grasses
    • robust gear repair kit – the desert is hard on gear and supplies can be hard to come by along the route


There is no one-size-fits-all gear solution for everyone; most hikers will have a slightly different system, but hopefully, these tips will help you dial in your perfect Oregon Desert Trail kit. Whatever gear you choose for a hike along the Oregon Desert Trail, test it before you leave home. Set up your shelter, wear your pack, and test out the coverage of your sun hat…better to know if something doesn’t fit, or needs a missing part before you leave home.

And one final parting tip for all future ODT hikers: don’t forget to bring your sense of adventure!