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What To Pack For Your Colorado Vacation

By
The Aspire Team
|
November 6, 2022

Surely you’ve heard the expression “If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes.”

It seems to be claimed by residents of… well, almost everywhere, but we happen to think it applies most appropriately to Colorado. The Rockies are surely majestic, but boy do they make the weather unpredictable. And ornery.

One minute it’s sunny and 65 in Denver, then you’re stepping out of your train car on the summit of Pikes Peak, and WHOA, what a difference.

Point is, to enjoy your Colorado vacation, you need to be prepared. That’s what we’re here for! And since people ask us all the time what to wear on tours, let’s dig into our season-by-season Colorado packing list.

Year-round Colorado Packing List

There are certain items you’ll need no matter the season. Here’s a quick rundown.

Group backpacking tour in RMNP
Even if you aren't getting out backpacking, you'll still need to prepare for the elements

Sun Protection

It’s easy to overlook the sun, especially if you’re packing for a winter trip, but let us tell you — it’s almost always shining out here, as in roughly 300 days a year. And since much of our lovely state is at high altitude, it means you are closer to the sun, and therefore more vulnerable to its big mean rays.

We’d recommend packing:

  • High SPF sunscreen
  • High SPF lip balm
  • Polarized sunglasses
  • A hat

Hydration

We’re blessed with some of the best tap water in the country (and beyond!). Instead of purchasing bottled water, please do your part to help our environment and bring along your favorite refillable water bottle and fill up everywhere you go along your trip! Consider your planned activities for the best hydration option.

For example:

  • Hiking = Camelbak
  • Rafting = Nalgene
  • Backpacking = LifeStraw
  • City activities = Yeti/Hydro Flask/whatever

Other Gear

  • Camera - if you have one fancier than your phone
  • Chargers
  • Advil/Tylenol/Ibuprofen to help mitigate altitude headaches

Altitude Considerations

The altitude is really what makes things tricky when packing for Colorado. We imagine some kind of mountain adventure is in your plans, so we’d just like to point out a few things for you.

  1. The sun is more harmful at higher elevations. The burns hurt WAY worse. Please be mindful of the sun and protect yourselves no matter the season!
  2. If you’re coming from sea-level or a humid area, keep in mind that things are going to feel different here. 70 where you live is different than 70 here. The air is typically dry. The sun will feel hotter. The air will feel cooler. It’s just how it is out here!
  3. The temperature drops at night, all year. Prepare accordingly!

That list will get you pretty far, but there are some additional things we recommend bringing depending on the season.

Winter

We’re starting with winter since it’s likely what you envision when you think of Colorado. We’ll get into how that’s not entirely accurate nor fair later, but we sure do get some snow and are a mecca for winter sports with several world-class skiing resorts.

People throwing snow in Breckenridge Colorado
If you visit Breckenridge in winter, be prepared for snow-packed streets and giant snowdrifts

Obviously, if you’re heading here for a ski trip, you know what to bring, but if not, you might be curious about what Colorado is like in the winter. One thing that surprises people is that Colorado is actually a sunnier state than Florida, even in the winter! That doesn't mean you can skip bringing your winter gear, however.

In short: Yeah, it’s generally pretty cold. Here’s a quick list.

  • Wool socks
  • Breathable base layers
  • A puffer jacket and/or vest so you fit in like a Colorado local
  • Gloves/mittens (especially if heading to higher altitude)
  • Winter hat
  • Flannels/sweaters
  • Balaclava/neck gaiter/scarf to help protect against wind
  • Swimsuit (did someone say HOT SPRINGS?!)
  • Waterproof boots
  • Snow pants

Summer

Summer is relatively short in Colorado, especially in the mountains, but down at lower elevations, things can sure heat up!

Summer is full of outdoor activities for tourists in Colorado, from fly fishing to wildflower hikes

However, keep in mind that summer is also monsoon season in Colorado. August is our wettest month, yet also arguably our most beautiful. The more moisture we get, the more wildflowers you'll see in the alpine. Luckily for visitors, rain showers are usually short and predictable: expect to see some moisture in the afternoon.

In other words, pack for warm days, but bring a raincoat. Here's what to pack:

  • Packable raincoat
  • SPF hoodie for sun protection while keeping you cool on longer hikes
  • NO COTTON — activewear with wicking capabilities — shorts/tees/tanks
  • Hiking boots/shoes — whatever your preference!
  • Sandals — Chacos or something similar to hike/get wet/and city stroll, Birkenstocks to chill and hit the brewery.
  • Daypack for touring around town, hauling your water bottle, and collecting some sweet merch along the way.
  • If you’re summiting any mountains, you’ll STILL want some warm layers. Yes — it is ALWAYS cold at high elevations. And windy. Layer up so you can enjoy those views!

Fall

Fall is the shoulder season in Colorado — not too busy thanks to being sandwiched between the world-renowned ski season and stunning yet mild summers.

Expect to see beautiful golden fall colors in Colorado from September through October

We’ve proudly declared our love for fall in Colorado and think it’s an absolutely wonderful time to visit for all of these reasons and more. Yet we admit it might be the trickiest time of year to pack. It could be mild and in the 60s one day, then snowing the next. Then the snow melts away the following day and you’re back in a t-shirt. In fall, you should bring:

  • Casual boots for strolling around town or just use your hikers for all-purpose like a true Coloradoan.
  • Jeans and hiking pants, or shants if you’re into that sort of thing
  • A flannel and vest will likely get you through the days but have that puffer ready for chilly evenings
  • Likewise — baseball cap by day, beanie at night
  • Gloves — if you’re planning to check off a 14er, it's going to be cold up there!  And it’s especially tough on your hands.
  • We LOVE hoodies with thumb holes and SPF protection for this time of year


Overall, remember — the elevation both makes the sun feel hotter and the air cooler. It’s a tricky balance to get just right, so be prepared for whatever best suits your preferences. If you run hot, you might not need as many layers, but if you’re sensitive to the cold, bring everything!

Spring

Spring is a beautiful time of year in Colorado. Grasses blanket the foothills with green. Wildlife emerges from its slumber with fresh-faced youth in tow. The melt has begun.

Denver sits on a plain at the edge of the Rockies, so you'll get dry trails by mid-April

BUT, keep in mind that it’s not completely out of the ordinary for some of our ski resorts to stay open well into June. We’ve even had some 4th of July skiing in recent years! So be prepared for warm, sunny days and chilly evenings. Pack similar to the fall list above with an eye of optimism towards sunshine and short sleeves.

Summary

That should cover it! Of course, if you’re booking a tour with us, be sure to look over the full information on the booking page that we send to you in confirmation emails. We provide specific recommendations on what to bring based on your tour. We want to help ensure that you have the best experience when you Go All Out!

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