It is hard to talk about gear (a PCT Gear List or otherwise) without getting into a discussion about the weight of gear. So…I’ll toss in my general thoughts on gear weight right at the onset.
Preamble on gear weight and diy gear:
When purchasing and making my gear, I give consideration to the weight of a particular item. I can feel (especially in my feet, but my knees and other body parts as well) the difference between having no pack on and having a pack with 15lbs in it. The difference between 15lbs and 25lbs is also evident. Because I can feel these differences, I believe that more miles with a heavy pack puts a larger load on my body in both the long and short run. I don’t want to sacrifice miles, so weight will be sacrificed (lowered) when convenient and possible.
You will notice in my gear list that I could go about 10-20% lighter if I switched to sleeping on the ground (I generally hammock) – my back loves the hammock and I sleep longer and better. My height also adds a little extra weight as I get large or XL versions of many things. In general, I try to not be fanatical about cutting weight and don’t swap out gear for the ‘latest & greatest’ specifically for weight reasons. I try to keep my base weight below 10lbs regardless of whether I sleep in a hammock or on the ground. This is not that difficult or particularly expensive these days.
Secondly, I do feel that a lot of gear is overbuilt. Having been in the crafting/manufacturing side of an industry (specifically building custom bass guitars), I know that builders and manufacturers of all sorts of products have to account for all types of users -users that are gentle on gear, users who are aggressive and hard on gear – and everyone in between. With that in mind, it is understandable that manufacturers lean towards heavier materials. For me, I’d prefer to just be gentle to my hiking gear and build it with lighter materials. Since SweetPea and I enjoy making things – we end up making a lot of gear. This allows us to start without the bells and whistles that are not needed for us as well as experiment with materials that are
often reserved for very expensive pieces of gear. It is satisfying to use something that we have created from raw materials, and we usually learn something that can be applied to some other aspect of life through the learning/construction process. If you are thinking about building your own gear, I encourage you to do so. It is not an expensive hobby and most people have someone in their circle of friends/family that can give some helpful starting tips.
All the above being said, I encourage/champion/condone hiking, camping and getting outside above all else…heavy pack, light pack, $25 tent, $1000 tent…whatever. Be outside on cold days, warm days, climb mountains in the rain, ford rivers in the heat, walk through deserts, plains, jungles, the dark green tunnel and below perfect blue Sierra skies – above all else…just get out.
PCT Gear List
Here is my PCT Gear List (2016) on lighterpack.com
The above Lighter Pack link gives the breakdown and weight of everything. It is detailed, and I have made my best effort to not omit anything from the pack list. The weights are actual and included necessary tie-outs, stakes, etc..
Below are some explanations of my gear choices. Keep in mind, this is what works for me. I don’t believe that there is a universal list of gear that works for all hikers.
Currently, I am using a DIY pack made out of new-ish material called XPAK. This is the latest iteration (5th) in a string of backpacks that we’ve made. At this point, the design is pretty much our own and one that we are both proud of. I used this pack on our Arizona Trail thru-hike last year and it still looks pretty fresh (and I don’t want to make any iterations), so I’ll keep using it till it dies. I use an unscented garbage compactor bag to line the pack. The XPAK as a material is waterproof, but it has been sewn together, so it makes sense to use the compactor bag to keep things dry. The pack weighs 14 oz and has a main compartment capacity of around 1700 cubic inches. The main compartment is not large enough to store a bear canister. There are a couple straps to secure it to the top of the pack. This is my preferred way of carrying the can for back comfort. I store my food in the pack, and only use the canister at night (per regulations in the Sierras).
I like to have at least one major sewing project each year, and this year I decided it was time for a new hammock. This is the 3rd hammock that I’ve built, and I look forward to it being the most comfortable. It is built from 12′ of material, and probably the best sized hammock for my height (6’5″) that I will have used. My previous hammock was 9.5′ and I’d have some comfortability issues on occassion. The new hammock is made out of Robic XL (1 oz sq/yd) and has an integrated bugnet (noseeum .5oz sq/yd). I use DIY Whoopie Slings and 1″ tree straps (webbing) for suspension.
A lot of folks think that it is not possible to hammock the PCT. I did not have my hammock until Belden, CA (more than half way on the trail) in 2012 and wished I had it along much earlier. There are trees to hang from, even in the desert. After the hike, I mentally walked through all the campsites that I stayed at, and it was really only a handful of campsites that I would have needed to sleep on the ground. Same on the Arizona Trail. Didn’t start with the hammock, but wished I had.
For those who don’t hang – the underquilt is a piece of gear that hangs under hammock to keep your back warm. This is another area where I decided to get a more height-appropriate piece of gear. Hammock Gear’s UQs are a bit wider and longer than what I had been using for several years (Warbonnet Yeti, which is a great quilt). Buying this was my 1 major gear purchase (in $$) for this summer, but I am looking forward to its comfort and wamth. I use the 3/4 length version.
Our cuben fiber tarps that we made back in 2011 for the AT are the longest lasting major piece of gear that we still use. We are hopeful that they have another thru hike in them. Cuben is excellent, and I really can’t imagine doing a shelter (for hammocking or ground sleeping) out of anything but CF. It is expensive, but building these ourselves takes some of the sting out of the expenditure, especially since they have lasted for so many miles. This shelter will work fine if we need to sleep on the ground as well.
2016 is my third season using a Katabatic 20 Degree Alsec quilt. This is my most expensive piece of gear that I have. It is also one of the nicest pieces of backpacking gear that I have purchased. It is well made, reasonably light and comfy. I have the tall and wide version, and probably would just opt for the tall version in the future. Using a sleeping quilt instead of a sleeping bag was not a hard transition. It works great in a hammock and great on the ground. Katabatic does a great job with their sleeping pad attachment system.
I will be carrying a 7 section Z Rest for two reasons. In the desert, it is nice to take some extended shade breaks. In my 2012 PCT hike, I remember laying under trees taking naps, letting the heat wane in the afternoon. The pad will be good for those long breaks, but also for sleeping at night. It is a good backup in case we don’t find trees to hammock, as well as a pad to put under my legs in the hammock on cold nights.
The last time that I regularly cooked was when SweetPea and I did the AT (2011). Since then, I have only carried a cook pot for the last 600 miles of the PCT in 2012. I’ve not carried fuel or stove since the AT. Getting used to cold food is not difficult…it is really just a mental thing to get over having warm dinners. It saves time, weight and space. We will see if I get more of a craving for warm food during this hike. Gear for my kitchen is really just a long handled spoon and a couple Loksaks. The Loksaks are oder-proof and a good way to store food at night. I put my food (by day) into ziplocks, and those go in my pack. During the night, I toss those ziplocks with food and toothpaste into the Loksak.
I switched from long underwear (base layers) to wind pants and wind shirts a couple years ago. I like the utility of them better. I’ve learned to sleep in them when temps have been cold as well. Toe socks are my socks of choice to hike in. They reduce blisters on my feet between the toes. I carry two pairs of socks and try to wash one pair each day. I carry an extra set of ‘sacred socks’ aka sleep socks. These only get worn at night. My Western Mountaineering jacket has been on a lot of trips, but it still has some miles left in it, so it’ll go with me again. This will be my first trip with the Marmot Essence Rain Jacket. Marmot recently replaced a Super Mica that I used previously. The two jackets seem very similar.
Not a ton to say about this gear. I will mention that the Suunto M3 Compass has been quite an excellent tool. On trails where there can be navigational challenges, I’ve used this compass pretty exclusively. It has adjustable declination.
I highly prefer hiking in shorts and (usually) a short sleeved shirt. I like the air. In 2012 (PCT), I hiked in long shorts and long pants for awhile, and when I switched to shorts and a T shirt, it was a literal breath of fresh air. The Headsweats visor was a birthday present from SweetPea in 2014 and I love it. Put a bandana under it, and my shaved head, ears and neck are out of the sun while still getting plenty of air. A few years ago, a friend recommended Injinji toe socks as a way to stop getting blisters between my toes. This helped to pretty much eliminate that issue, and I wear toe socks from either Injinji or Toe Sox on all hikes now.
Over the years, I have went from hiking with 5-7 stuff sacks to only using a couple stuff sacks. I realized that the stuff sacks really didn’t accomplish much for me. If I am hammocking, the hammock, underquilt and sleeping quilt all come out of the pack together. Since they are all in the bottom of the trash compactor bag in my pack, they do not need any additional sack. Additionally, another hiker (Swami) pointed out to me that not having the quilt in a stuff sack allows the quilt to pack down only as much as needed (same goes with the underquilt), giving it a longer life. I do fold my hammock tarp and put it into a Cuben Fiber sleeve, and will put my hammock suspension in a zip lock bag if it gets rained on or gets tree sap on it.
Since it has long cords coming off the ends, I have been know to put my hammock in a onion bag from the grocery store (those red or yellow plastic mesh ones) to keep it slightly more organized. This year though, I will be experimenting with just tossing my quilt and underquilt into the hammock and sinking all 3 into the backpack at once….we’ll see how that goes. The one normal stuff sack that I do use has my gloves, fleece hat, phone charger, ear plugs, sleep socks, wind shirt/pants, headlamp, cuben repair tape and the bulk of the stuff on the Miscellaneous part of the gear list. Health and first aid stuff goes in a clear ziplock bag so items are easily visible without the need to empty the whole bag.
I have used hiking poles for about 10 years now. In the early 2000s, my knees were hurting on day hikes around our place in NH (White Mountains) and the poles helped alleviate much of that pain. My preference would be to not use poles at all and have my hands free…as a compromise I’ve used a single pole for the last 3 years. This has worked well. I currently have a Komperdell pole that is pretty beat up. We’ll see how many miles it has left in it. Probably a few more.
Currently I am wearing Brooks running or trail running shoes. I have used the following models – Cascadia, Adrenaline and Ghost. The old Brooks Cascadia models were ideal for my feet, but the 2014 and 2015 models years had design/construction changes that made the shoes wear out faster. I am told that this years version of the Cascadias are good again, but I will wait till they go on sale. The Brooks Adrenaline and Ghost models are the same fit as the Cascadias, and I have a pair of Ghosts that I’ll start with this year.
Our evolution with water purification has went like this:
Pump -> Steripen -> Aqua Mira -> Bleach -> Colloidal Silver
Colloidal silver is not well known for its water purification uses in the US (In the US, it is more known in alternative medicine circles). In the developing world it is distributed widely. In Latin America it is available in local convenience stores and groceries. People use it for fresh food preparation as well as for drinking water. We used it on the AZT (which had some consistently questionable water) and stayed healthy.