“I don’t understand why my pack is so heavy,” I mumbled, heaving my pack onto my back, “I have all the ultralight gear.” Peru laughed, “That’s exactly the problem. You have ALL of it!!” I laughed too. She wasn’t exactly wrong.
In the last five years I’ve done > 8000 miles ( >13,000 km) of solo backpacking, and I trust my gear, paired with my experience, with my life. I’ve been honing my gear for decades, and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I’m not an ultralight backpacker. Sure, I carry ultralight gear as much as possible, but I’m on vacation when I’m on the trail, and I want to be as comfortable as possible. The base weight of my pack, including my 3 lbs of camera gear, is 20 lbs (22 lbs with snow/ice gear), which is ~5 lbs heavier than the average 2018 CDT thru-hiker according to Halfmile. Despite many changes to my gear since my 2014 PCT thru-hike (link to gearlist), my pack weight remains almost the same.
As with most thru-hikers and triple-crowners, I could go on-and-on about each and every piece of gear I carry and why, but instead I’ll try to do a quick sum up below (gear that I’ve carried more than 4000 miles & favorites), followed by a list of gear I carried on the CDT. If you want to know more about any of my gear, ask in the comments. If there’s enough interest I’d be happy to post reviews of single items or groups of items.
Going the distance
First, I’d like to recognize all of the gear that I used on the CDT that has made it through at least 4000 miles of backpacking with me:
>8000 Milers (The Triple Crowners):
- Patches: 8,865 miles (14,267 km); 3.2 oz (91 g)
- Titanium Folding Spork (Sea-to-Summit): 8,465 miles (13,623 km); 0.6 oz (17 g)
- Titanium Tent Stakes x 8 (Vargo): 8,465 miles (13,623 km); 2.4 oz (68 g)
- Sleep Socks (Wigwam Cool Lite Hiker Pro Quarter): 8,465 Miles (13,623 km); 1.7 oz (48 g)
- Sheath Knife (Randall Model 1): 7365 miles (11,853 km); 10.4 oz (295 g)
- Sleeping Bag (Marmot 0℉ Lithium): 6,300 miles (10,139 km); 45 oz (1275 g)
- Cook Stove (Jetboil Sol): 6265 miles (10,083 km); 10.5 oz (298 g)
- Sleep Shirt (Patagonia Capilene 1 Silkweight): 6265 miles (10,083 km); 3.8 oz (107 g)
- Sports Bra (Ex-Officio Give-n-Go Crossover): 6265 miles (10,083 km); 1.8 oz (50 g)
> 4000 Milers:
- Gaitors (OR Sparkplug): 4800 miles (7725 km); 1 oz (29 g)
- Beanie (Icebreaker Unisex Chase): 4800 miles (7725 km); 1 oz (28 g)
- Desert Hat (Mont Bell Stainless Mesh Cap): 4062 miles (6,537 km); 1.4 oz (39 g)
- Bear Line (Zpacks 2mm Z-Line Slick Cord): 4000 miles (6437 km); 0.8oz (24 g)
> 3000 Milers: So much of my gear lasted >3000 miles that it didn’t make sense to list it all here as well as in my CDT gear list. Instead, I added a column to the gear list that indicates the number of miles I carried each piece of gear. The complete gear list follows after the CDT Favorites section.
- Cell Phone Apps: Guthook (Official CDT), Gaia GPS (USGS Topos), and Avenza (Ley Maps): I frequently used all three mapping apps to figure out where I was and where I was going. Note: The Ley paper maps were useful in New Mexico to help get a bigger picture of where I was, and I purchased regional paper maps in Montana to navigate some of the fire closures.
- 1000 Lumen Headlamp (NightCore HC60): Ever since I won a staring contest with a mountain lion in Arizona with this headlamp it has been on my list of favorite gear. On the CDT I frequently used it for night hiking and setting up camp. It was incredibly useful so many times on the CDT that I couldn’t possibly recount them all here.
- Aquaphor Healing Ointment: I used it for chafing, blisters, foot care, skin cracking, and chapstick. It was a godsend on many occasions, especially in the desert
New Mexico Favorites:
- Chrome Dome (MontBell Sun Block Umbrella): Although I’ve backpacked in deserts before, I’ve never been as thankful for my chrome dome as I was on the CDT. As temperatures soared above 100℉ and humidities dropped below 6% (the Chihuahuan desert), I hiked, rested, and slept under my chrome dome and dreamed of the next tree… At the beginning of the CDT a 14-mile stretch to the next tree seemed like forever. In the Great Basin, there was an 80-mile stretch without a tree. I thought my chrome dome in the PCT was optional, but would consider it mandatory for the CDT.
- Toe Socks (Ininjuni): The desert of the CDT introduced me to a new kind of blister: the kind that forms between your toes (I named these blisters the CDT special). I tried all my old blister prevention and care techniques, but it wasn’t until I switched to toe socks that I was able to get rid of between the toe blisters.
- Dust Gaitors (OR Sparkplug Gaitors): These were my favorite gear in the Gila because they kept the sand and dirt from getting into my shoes during the hundreds and hundreds of river crossings there.
- Mesh Bug Shirt (BugsAway Damselfly Jacket): There is nothing that will drive me crazier faster than a horde of mosquitoes. This shirt helped me maintain my sanity when the bugs were at their worst, and also helped protect me from the sun throughout my journey. I wore it everyday for more than 2000 miles worth of the trail. Note: I retreated it with permethrin partway through the hike; I also wore this shirt on my trip to Machu Piccu, Peru.
- Insulated Gloves (Stash Lite): Especially on cold mornings these gloves were glorious both at altitude in Colorado, and later in Montana. I ended up sending my other UL gloves home because if it was cold enough for gloves, these were just the right weight for me, and I still had plenty of maneuverability with them.
- Bear Spray: You won’t know how much I love my bear spray until you’re standing face-to-face with a grizzly bear two heads taller you and <35 feet away. I was in the Winds in Wyoming, and it was my first, but not my last, grizzly encounter. I consider bear spray a must for the CDT between South Pass City, WY and the Northern Terminus.
- Down Foldback Mitts (Blackrock Gear): For cold hands these nearly weightless down mitts were priceless. The fact that I could take them on-and-off my hands without having to set them down was sheer genius. The CDT was my first trail with them, and I definitely fell in love with them.
- Vertice Rain Mitts (Zpacks): I hate having cold hands, and these waterproof mitts helped keep my hands warm in wet, windy, and snowy conditions. For extreme winter weather I paired them with the foldback mitts for an almost expedition level of warmth and snow protection.
- Down Pants (Goosefeet Gear): Finishing the CDT in late September was a chilly experience, but these custom pants kept me warm and cozy throughout. As a woman with a 35” inseam, I’d never had insulated pants that were long enough for be before these. Lightweight and comfortable I used them for hiking in the extreme cold, and around camp on chilly nights, they also functioned as the most comfortable backpacking pillow I’ve ever used. The brilliant custom colors (orange outside/purple inside) made me smile, and the matching down booties were a sheer joy.
Complete CDT Gear List (click here for PDF):
Edit: For additional information about the backpacks I used see: CDT Backpack Review