As I tracked down the gear that I actually carried on the PCT to weigh it and write up my final gear list, I tallied up the number of miles I’d carried each item with me… The miles added up quickly… in the last two years I’ve hiked ~5000 miles (AT 2013, PCT 2014 et al.) and some of my gear has been with me that entire time!!!
As my gear list grew, however, I noticed another thing that was quickly adding up… the weight of my pack! My pack was on the heavy side. When I was backpacking on the AT in the early 1990’s carrying a heavy pack was something that people boasted about; it was a point of pride. Back then my pack was lighter than most of my peers, and people gave me sh** about it because a lighter pack meant that I wasn’t working as hard as they were. Since the ’90s, however, there’s been a cultural revolution in the world of backpacking, and the lightest packs are now the packs that people admire and boast about…
“With a pack that small you’ve gotta be ultralight… You must be a PCT thru-hiker!” exclaimed a southbound John Muir Trail (JMT) hiker admiringly.
“Me? Ultralight? I’m a thru-hiker, but I’m definitely not ultralight,” I laughed. Many of the PCT thru-hikers I knew were striving to be ultralight (they’d reduced their packs to a minimum and they used all of the latest, greatest, lightweight gear), but I wasn’t one of them. On the contrary, I had gotten so used to being razzed about my ‘big’ pack that after ~1000 miles of hiking amongst fellow PCT thru-hikers I’d embraced the idea that my pack was ‘big,’ which is why I was surprised when the JMT hiker commented on the petite size of my pack… I was also surprised that he’d picked me out as a PCT thru-hiker since I was on the JMT (headed to Half Dome and Yosemite Valley) and not the PCT at the time. He was partly right though, compared to the JMT hikers I’d seen, my pack was small.
“Not ultralight?!” he re-iterated with surprise as he shifted his 60+ lb pack around uncomfortably. He eyed my pack, which weighed ~30 lbs less than his, suspiciously. “Nope,” I assured him, “not ultralight.” In the High Sierra I had all of my heaviest gear, but even in the desert when my pack had been at its lightest, with a base weight (the weight of my pack and everything in it except for food and water) of ~17 lbs, my pack was ‘light’ (< 20 lbs) and not ‘ultralight’ (< 10 lbs). “Well,” I conceded, “I have a lot of lightweight gear, and I try lighten my load when I can, but I don’t want to be ultralight. People that are ultralight tend to have different goals than I do… they are usually trying to cover as many miles as they can, as quickly as they can. Me? I’m on Vacation! My goal is to take my time, to relax, and to enjoy my PCT thru-hike… To that end: I started almost a month early, I carry ‘luxury’ items (like my Patches, my camp shoes, and my camera), I go sightseeing, I take a lot of photos, and I hike a lot of side trails… It’s a different backpacking philosophy.”
As I tallied up the weight of my ‘luxury’ items for my gear list, it was clear that I wouldn’t be winning any ‘ultralight’ backpacking awards. On the trail, people frequently talked about their base weight… bandying around numbers between 12 and 15 pounds, but my cold weather base weight for the North Cascades was going to a lot higher than that… closer to 23 lbs… I carefully scrutinized my gear… I’d love to have a lighter pack, but what was I willing to sacrifice to get there? There were a lot of painless upgrades (except in terms of $$) and small sacrifices that I could (and would) gladly make to decrease my base weight in the future… Changes that would drop my cold weather base weight (to <20 lbs), but that wouldn’t alter the vacation-like nature of my thru-hike.
But what about my camera? That was my biggest luxury item, weighing in at ~ 2 lbs. If I were to do another solo PCT thru-hike would I leave my camera behind? No. Would I be willing to trade it for a point and shoot? No. I loved standing alone in the middle of the trail with my camera capturing bits and pieces of its ephemeral beauty as I hiked… My camera gave me an excuse to linger and interact with the beauty of the trail and its inhabitants… It enhanced my appreciation of my hike, and it was worth it… It was worth the weight… all two pounds of it…
Throughout my 2013 AT thru-hike and my 2014 PCT thru-hike, my gear was constantly evolving as I tried to maximize my enjoyment of the trail and minimize my pack weight. So, what did I have in my pack at the end of the PCT? Was any of it the same as what I started with at the beginning of my 2013 thru-hike? How many miles did my gear last? If I were to do the PCT again, which gear would I change/upgrade? What follows is the answer to these questions and a bit of gear geekery: first my comments on the gear that’s gotten me through between 1000 and 5000 miles of thru-hiking, then a detailed list of all of the gear I carried on my PCT thru-hike and the upgrades that I would make.
5000 mile club: This is the gear that I carried from start to finish on both my AT and PCT thru-hikes!
- Patches (3.8 oz.)
- My patches are the source of my trail name and are full of memories of the people I’ve known and the places I’ve been… I’ve had them for over a decade.
- Tent (9/10): Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2 Tent (1 lb, 15 oz.)
- I purchased the Fly Creek UL2 in 2013 for my AT thru-hike. I loved the UL2
- After ~3000 miles of use, the zipper on the body of my tent ran off of it’s track. I called Big Agnes from Mammoth Lakes (mile 907) and they sent me a replacement tent body in my next mail drop. Check out the full tent review that I did after the AT! The tent fly and stakes are still the originals I started out with in GA.
- Upgrade: Z Packs Splash Bivy (6.4 oz., $225) with the Hexamid Solo-Plus Tarp w/ beak (7.4 oz, $280). Even though I loved the UL2, I would consider switching to a bivy/tarp setup. I discovered the joy of cowboy camping on the PCT, and cowboy camped whenever I could. This meant that I didn’t use my tent as often on the PCT as I had on the AT, and switching to the lighter weight bivy/tarp combination might better suit my PCT/CDT needs in the future.
- Spork (10/10): Sea to Summit Titanium Folding Spork (0.8 oz.)
- Synthetic Insulated Jacket (9/10): MontBel Thermawrap Sports Jacket (10.2 oz.)
- I love this jacket as a good basic layer that will keep me warm even when wet.
- Upgrade: If I had it to do over again, I’d switch to the version without pockets to save 1.8 oz: Montbel UL Thermawrap Jacket (8.4 oz., $145).
- Gloves (8/10): Manzella wind stop gloves (1.4 oz.)
- The gloves were great, but sometimes I wished I had something a little warmer and that I could leave on while using my phone.
- Upgrade to: Brooks adapt gloves (2 oz., $20)
- Headlamp (10/10): Princeton Tec Byte (2.4 oz.)
- I ended up changing the batteries about once a month.
- Trowel (9/10): REI Snow Stake (1 oz).
- My 9.6 inch long snow stake worked as well as any camp trowel I’ve used for digging cat holes.
- Camera (10/10): Sony NEX-5N (1 lb, 15.8 oz including all lenses, cables, batteries, and chargers)
- Trekking Poles (9/10): Leki Carbon Titanium Trekking Poles (16.7 oz.)
- I love hiking with trekking poles… The middle segment of one of the poles sheared as I was coming down Glen Pass in the High Sierra, I called Leki from Mammoth Lakes and they mailed a replacement to Tuolumme Meadows for me.
- The original trekking pole tips got me from GA to ME, and then from the Mexican Border to Idyllwild. A second pair of tips got me from Idyllwild, CA to Ashland, OR. I’m on the third pair now (I was told to expect ~500 miles per $20 pair of tips).
4000+ mile club:
- Sleeping Pad (10/10): Thermarest NeoAir Women’s Xlite (12 oz.)
- ~4400 miles: PCT Thru + 1700 AT miles. It’s made it through with no leaks so far! Blowing it up is currently my least favorite camp chore though.
- Sleeping bag liner (10/10): Western Mountaineering Whisper (4 oz.)
- ~4400 miles: PCT Thru + 1700 AT miles. I used my sleeping bag liner as a sheet on hot nights. I also slipped my sleeping pad into it whenever I was cowboy camping (PCT) or sleeping in a shelter (AT) to protect it.
- Upgrade: If I get the ZPacks bivy I will eliminate my sleeping bag liner.
3000+ mile club:
- Hydration reservoir (10/10): Hydrapak 3L Hydration System (6.9 oz).
- ~ 3750 miles: PCT Thru & ½ AT. I borrowed it from my mom when she visited me on the AT in Virginia… I wonder if she wants it back now?
- Knife (10/10): Randall (10.4 oz. with sheath)
- ~3750 miles: PCT thru & 1/2 AT. I love having my Randall at my hip. I started the AT with a couple of small, ultralite blades, but I got tired of every single person I met asking me if I was armed. After I started carrying the Randall on my belt people stopped asking me if I was armed. Mission accomplished.
- Emergency beacon (9/10): Spot Locator Beacon (4.4 oz)
- ~3700 miles: PCT Thru & ~1000 AT miles. As a solo backpacker, I try not to leave home without it.
- Synthetic Insulated Pants (9/10): Backpacking Light Pertex Insulated Pants (11.8 oz)
- ~3000 miles: PCT Thru and ~600AT miles. I’ve had these pants since my Kilimanjaro ascent in 2010… they double as my hiking pillow.
- Upgrading to the newer version would save 3.5 oz.: Montbel U.L. Thermwrap pants (8.3 oz., $145).
2000+ mile club:
- Sleeping bag (10/10): Marmot Lithium Zero Degree Bag (2 lb, 15 oz.)
- Ground cloth (10/10): Tyvek Sheet (5 oz.)
- 2665 PCT thru: I absolutely loved cowboy camping on my ground cloth. I also kept the ground cloth handy to sit on during breaks during the day… (If I upgrade to a bivy/tarp combination I would leave out the tyvek sheet).
- Cook Stove (8/10): Jetboil Sol Titanium (8.5 oz.)
- ~2665 PCT thru! The only trouble I had with it was that the piezo-starter was unreliable.
- Raincoat (2/10): Outdoor Research Helium II (6.2 oz.)
- ~2665 PCT thru: I had a Helium II for the ~2200 miles of the AT, but it wasn’t waterproof so I returned it. They sent me a new one for the PCT, but it wasn’t waterproof either!
- Upgrade: The ZPacks Challenger Rain Jacket Large (5.8 oz., $260)
- External battery (8/10): Anker Astro E5 15000 mAh (11.8 oz with cable)
- ~2665 miles: PCT thru. It worked great, but it was more than I needed
- Upgrade to the Anker 2nd Gen Astro E3 10000mAh (8.1 oz).
- Camp shoes (9/10): New Balance Minimus (9.2 oz)
- ~2665 miles: PCT thru. I used them for river crossing, and around camp every night.
- Sun hat (10/10): MontBel Stainless Mesh Desert hat (1.4 oz.)
1000+ mile club:
- Backpack (8/10): Osprey Exos 58 Backpack (2 lbs, 8 oz.)
- ~1700 PCT miles. I used an Osprey Exos 58 on the AT and loved it to pieces, so Osprey replaced it and I started the PCT with a brand new Exos 58. At Kennedy Meadows, I switched to the ULA Catalyst (2 lbs, rating: 4/10) because my bear canister (required for the High Sierras) didn’t fit into the Exos very well. I told myself that I wasn’t allowed to hate the Catalyst until I’d hiked at least 100 miles in it. After hiking ~900 miles in it I was still grumbling, so I switched back to my beloved Exos. My dream pack upgrade would be to a 62L Arc Blast from Z-Packs (1 lb, 4 oz., $320) with a custom torso length (my torso is short: 15.5 inches).
- Rain Pants (8/10): Go-lite rain pants (5.6 oz.)
- ~1000 PCT miles: I’ve had them for about 10 years, but they need to be replaced now.
- Upgrade: ZPacks Challenger Rain Pants (3.8 oz., $165).
When I finished my PCT thru-hike in the North Cascades, Washington I was carrying most of my cold weather gear and the total base weight for my pack (everything except the loophole weight*, food, and water) was 23.4 lbs. If money were no object, and I could convince myself to leave my ‘good’ camera behind, I would spend $1529 and make all of the upgrades I list above (and in my detailed gear list below), and I’d drop my cold weather base weight down to 16 lbs… But who am I kidding? I wouldn’t leave the camera behind…
Detailed PCT Gear List:
The Big Three (8 lbs, 11 oz):
- Tent System (2 lbs, 4 oz.):
- Sleep System (3 lbs, 15 oz.):
Cook System (1 lb, 3.5 oz.):
- Jetboil Sol Titanium (8.5 oz.)
- Sea to Summit Titanium Folding Spork (0.8 oz.)
- Mini Bic Lighter (~1 oz, I used 3 on the PCT)
- Fuel canister (11.8 oz): I cooked 1 hot meal a day and a canister would last me ~3 weeks.
- Outerwear (2 lb, 4.6 oz.):
- Raincoat: Outdoor Research Helium II (6.2 oz.)
- Rain Pants: Go-lite rain pants (5.6 oz.)
- Upgrade: ZPacks Challenger Rain Pants (3.8 oz., $165).
- Waterproof gloves: 1 pair vinyl gloves (0.2 oz.)
- Upgrade? ZPacks™ Challenger Rain Mitts (1 oz., $65)
- Synthetic Insulated Jacket: MontBel Thermawrap Sports Jacket (10.2 oz.)
- Synthetic Insulated Pants: Backpacking Light Pertex Insulated Pants (11.8 oz)
- Upgrade: Montbel U.L. Thermwrap pants (8.3 oz., $145).
- Rock On Fleece hat (1.4 oz)
- Manzella wind stop gloves (1.4 oz.)
- Upgrade: Brooks adapt gloves (2 oz., $20)
- Camp shoes: New Balance Minimus (9.2 oz) – luxury item
- Clothing (1 lb, 8.6 oz.):
- 2 – Ex Officio underwear (2 oz., 1 oz/pair)
- 2 – Wright Sock Cool Mesh II (3.2 oz., 1.6 oz/pair)
- Mountain Hardware Hiking Pants (10.4 oz.)
- Upgrade: Montane Featherweight Wind Pants (3.8oz., $84.95) or Montbel Dynamo Wind Pants (2.6 oz, $69). This is the first pack upgrade that I would make!
- Women’s Capilene 1 Silkweight Bottoms (5.2 oz.): Pajamas
- Women’s Capilene 1 Silkweight Long-Sleeve Crew (3.8 oz.): Pajamas
Technology (4 lbs, 10.2 oz):
- Headlamp: Princeton Tec Byte (2.4 oz.)
- lighter weight headlamps are an option.
- Verizon iPhone 5 ( 7.8 oz. with cable and charger)
- 679 miles: Bend, OR to Canada. My iPhone 4 made it ~4000 miles, through most of the AT and the PCT, before it decided it had had enough rough treatment and took a forbidden swim in Obsidian Creek.
- Sony NEX-5N (1 lb, 15.8 oz including all lenses, cables, batteries, and chargers) – luxury item
- External battery: Anker Astro E5 15000 mAh (11.8 oz with cable) – luxury item
- Spot Locator Beacon ( 4.4 oz)
Extreme Weather Gear:
- Desert (8 oz.):
- Chrome Dome (8 oz.): 942.5 miles, I shipped it home with my ice axe. – luxury item
- High Sierra (5 lbs, 4.8 oz): I wrote a review of my high sierra gear from the trail
- BV500 Bear Vault (2lbs, 9 oz.): 318.5 miles, Kennedy Meadows South to Kennedy Meadows North
- Kahtoola Microspikes (13.6 oz.): 318.5 miles, Kennedy Meadows South to Kennedy Meadows North
- Hanz Waterproof Calf – Length Socks (3.2 oz.): 318.5 miles, Lone Pine to Kennedy Meadows North
- CAMP Corsa Ice Axe (7.2 oz.): 290 miles, Lone Pine to Tuolumme Meadows
- Montbel Plasma 1000 Down Jacket (4.8 oz.): 318.5 miles, Kennedy Meadows South to Kennedy Meadows North
- Upgrade? Montbel XLite Down Anarak (6.2 oz., $219)
- Sunglasses (?): Necessary in the High Sierra. I went through ~3pair on the PCT because I kept losting them. I’d put them on my hat, forget about them, and then, at some point, I’d take off the hat and I wouldn’t notice that the sunglasses had gone flying until the next time I wanted to use them… I didn’t use any sunglasses in Oregon or Washington.
Health & Hygiene:
- Water (11.7 oz.):
- Aquamira (2 oz.). ~5 aquamira kits for total PCT thru.
- Sawyer Squeeze Mini (2 oz.).
- Hydrapak 3L Hydration System (6.9 oz).
- 3 – 1L Water bladders (0.8 oz. each). 6L capacity thru the desert, dropped to five later
- Trowel: REI Snow Stake (1 oz).
- First Aid kit (1 lb, 2.4 oz.):
- includes emergency asthma medications, sunscreen, compass, bear bag rope, 2 epi-pens, 2 spare AAA batteries etc (Most people can drop this down to < 6 oz.).
- Daily med kit (1 lb, 1.4 oz.):
- includes one month of daily prescription medications, inhalers, contacts, toothbrush, toothpaste etc. (Most people can drop this down to < 4 oz.)
- DEET & Headnet (~2 oz.):
- Critically important during bug season in the High Sierra! Pick them up in Kennedy Meadows if you don’t have them before.
Loophole Weight (3 lbs, 6.6 oz.): *The stuff that didn’t go into my pack (or on it), and isn’t included in the base weight of my pack.
- Daily Clothing (1 lb, 1.6 oz):
- MontBel Stainless Mesh Desert hat (1.4 oz.)
- Long-sleeve yellow Saucony shirt (4.8 oz.)
- Rab t-shirt (2.4 oz.)
- Arc Teryx hiking skirt (4.4 oz.)
- Ex Officio sports bra (1.8 oz.) – doubled as bathing suit top.
- Ex Officio underwear (1 oz.)
- Wright Sock Cool Mesh II (1.6 oz.)
- Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 1.5 ( 9.9 oz.). 4 pair of shoes total for PCT:
- Altra ~850 miles. Truckee, CA – Bend, OR
- Altra ~600 miles. Bend, Or to Canada
- Check out my AT shoe review and my thoughts on shoes from the PCT!
- Other PCT Shoes:
- Merril Moab Ventilator’s (1 lb, 8 oz.): ~700 miles, Campo – Kennedy Meadows, CA
- Oboz Traverse Low (16.6 oz.). ~450 miles, Kennedy Meadows – Truckee, CA
- Randall Knife (10.4 oz. with sheath) – luxury item
- Leki Carbon Titanium Trekking Poles (16.7 oz.)
Questions about my PCT gear? Leave a comment below. I’m hoping to write full gear reviews for some of the things I carried in the upcoming weeks.
Thru-hikers: What was your favorite luxury item on the trail?