Thru-hiking will most likely turn anyone into a well practiced, tactical minimalist. It will force you to get know yourself, your surroundings, your gear and your limits. You’ll become a nomadic, hiking machine (and by machine I mean a badass not a robot). You’ll float like a butterfly and you’ll probably get stung by a bee or two. Regardless, you’ll be sure to have an ultra light first aid kit for that. You’ll know exactly what you need and when you need it. Well, at least that’s the goal right?! The truth is just that…but…it takes time and some trial and error. Whether you’ve spent days, months or years planning perhaps nothing but the trail itself will fully prepare you for what lies ahead and for what you actually need and/or want. I found this to be true for myself.
Switch the A and I in Trail, what do you get? Trial.
No matter how many times I “shook down” my pack prior to starting the trail I still found that I was carrying things that I did not need or lacking things that I did need! Despite all the prior hiking and prior planning my pack was still too heavy, poorly packed and oddly adjusted. I took too long to set up and to break down camp. When I needed something it would be somewhere hard to reach. I would somehow manage to lose things even though everything I had, had just one place to be…my pack! Though frustrating at times, these were the experiences I needed to become that nomadic hiking machine! As I began to know the trail I began to know my new, ever transforming self. This is when I truly began knowing my gear. I learned what gear worked for me, how to use it, when to use it and at times…how to push it to its performance limits. I like to think of my self as a tortoise while thru-hiking. Much of what is essential to my survival and my success is carried on my back. My pack and it’s contents are my life bubble, my friend and therefore my shell. On the PCT I somehow became one with the shell and boom!…before I knew it I was comfortably carrying a light 20lb. to 25 lb. pack. I could now pack up camp in minutes flat, easily reach a variety of snacks at any given time, quickdraw out my water bottles on either side of my pack without stopping and know exactly where everything was, how it fit, how it felt. And it all came with time and trial.
With each step of the trail you learn what works for you.
When it comes to gear no two hikers will carry, use or pack the exact same gear the exact same way. Everyone is different and in these differences lay the beauty of learning new ideas and tips. We can learn a great deal from other hikers tests and trials. Listen to what others have, ask questions, get advice. I certainly did. That is a huge reason why I want to share what gear worked for me as well.
From the gear itself to how you use it to how you pack it…with a little bit of time and trial…you will find the exact thru-hiking gear that WORKS for you. There are a great deal of options when it comes to gear. According to what you want, what you need and what is in your budget you will find what gear works best for you and with you. Because, you and your gear really will become a team. Get out there, work together and put your gear to the test.
*Quick Tip: Invest in a small kitchen scale ($10-$20) and a notebook. From my headlamp to my lighter and down to my half sized toothbrush…I weighed out everything possible on my trusty, little digital kitchen scale. I compiled all items and weights in a notebook. This notebook went with me everywhere so I could get in some helpful planning time anywhere on the go. Logging all of your gear in a notebook (or a spreadsheet) will help with organization, planning and preparedness. Give it a try!
Below is the gear I carried, tested and depended on for 2,650 miles…
My Three Main Squeezes: Backpack, Shelter and Sleep System
1. Backpack: Osprey Exos 46 (2 lbs, 4 oz)
Pros: Made by a great, pack specific company that stands behind their gear 100%. Lightweight, durable, plenty of storage space, a plethora of pockets and stow loops, a comfortable AirSpeed Back system and a must for me…side mesh pockets! Cons: Light padding in the shoulder and hip belts.
*Quick Tip: I happened upon this GREAT pack at an REI Garage Sale in Reno for $70! I wouldn’t necessarily recommend an REI Garage Sale for a pack purchase but it can’t hurt to check one out as you might find a perfect fitting, shiny new pack at under half the price like I did.
2. Shelter: Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 Tent (1 lbs, 10 oz)
Pros: Tough, well made…despite light, thin feel. Provided an excellent shelter and a sense of security through heavy winds, rain, hail, light snow (it withstood 4-6 inches with no problems), freezing temps, extreme heat, lighting storms and mosquito storms. Cons: Light seeping in heavy rain (was greatly affected on how well I staked the tent). Small. Other hikers said that it may feel small if you are over 6 feet tall. This tent was very roomy for me with plenty of stretch and head room (I am 5’3″). *Quick Tip: I received an amazing Prodeal on this tent. Do you work in the outdoor/ski or related industries? Maybe you have extensive knowledge and/or a significant industry influence? Check with gear companies directly or with an organization such as Promotive to see if you may apply.
Ground Cover: Tyvek (4 oz)
Pros: Light, extremely durable and most often…Free!
Tip: Driving past a small construction site? Stop and ask. New, clean tent sized pieces are often scrapped.
3. Sleep System: Sierra Designs Zissou 23 Sleeping bag (2 lbs) + 8 Liter Dry Bag (1 oz) Pros: Warm, very cozy, and the Dridown is truly water resistant. Dries fast.
Cons: Lost some of its loft by the end of the trail.
Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-rest ProLite Small (11 oz) + 4 Liter Dry Bag (0.9 oz)
Pros: Packs small, comfortable and is great for side and back sleepers. Surprisingly rugged. Did not have a single leak for the entire 2,650 miles of trail (I was particularly cautious of punctures in the deserts but I had no issues). Made in the USA by Cascade Designs, another great gear company that stands 100% behind their products. Cons: The sound it makes when you let the air out…when you hear it you know that the time has come to get out of that warm, cozy bubble…sigh.
*Quick Tip: If you use stuff sacks try replacing them with Dry bags. I recommend Sea to Summit Ultra Sil bags. They are ultra light, super compact and they are weatherproof. Dry bags provided me with a great deal of peace of mind when it came to knowing my sleeping bag and pad would be dry and warm at the end of of a rainy day of hiking.
Altra Lone Peak 2.0 (3 pairs)
Pros: Wide toe box, supportive, light and quick drying. A blister free, comfortable break in period when paired with toe socks.
Cons: Soles and tread of shoe breaks down quickly. Longer lasting with the help of shoe goo and duct tape.
LEKI Micro Vario Lady Carbon (16.9 oz)
Pros: Light, Strong, Dependable and they really can can improve your trail dancing skills!
Cons: Expensive, replacing the tips can be very difficult.
Clothing: Base Layers, Extra Clothing and Town Clothes (30.5 0z total)
•Icebreaker 200 Weight Wool Bottoms (5.85 oz)
•SmartWool Midweight Wool Long Sleeve Top (6.65 oz)
•Icebreaker Wool Socks (2.4 oz)
•Icebreaker Sierra Wool Gloves (1.1 oz)
•Icebreaker Flexi Chute Neck Gaiter/Buff (1.9 oz)
•Hand Made Alpaca Hi Hatt (2 oz)
•New Balance Running Shorts (2.35 oz)
•Patagonia Silkweight Wool T-Shirt (2 oz)
•Icebreaker Sprite Racerback Wool Sports Bra (2.35 oz)
•2 Pairs of Injinji 2.0 Midweight Toe Socks (1.5 oz per pair)
•Bandana (Great for everything and only 1 oz)
Note: 4 liter Dry Bag for clothes storage (0.9 oz)
Outer Layers: (21.5 oz total)
•Patagonia Nylon/Polyester Long Sleeve Shirt (4.65oz)
•Patagonia Ultralight Down Jacket (7.35oz) upgraded to Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody Jacket (10.3 oz) at Oregon/California Border.
•New Balance Lightning Dry Leggings (6 oz added at Oregon/Washington Border)
•Patagonia M10 Rain Jacket (7.1 oz)
•ULA Rain Skirt/Rain Kilt (2.45 oz) Note: Rain Kilts are amazing and not just for the rain. I used my Rain Kilt to get warm quickly while setting up camp and for mosquito protection too!
Daily Clothing…What was on my body:
•Patagonia Strider Running Shorts with Inner liner (3.55 oz)
•Patagonia Midweight Wool T-shirt (2.5 oz)
•Victoria Secret Sports Bra (3.45 oz and surprisingly amazing, lasted 2,650 miles easy)
•Injinji Toe Sock (1.5 oz and I never got a blister thanks to these toe socks. They do wear out quickly though; I went through 8 pairs).
•Dirty Girl Gaiters (1 ounce of pure awesomeness)
•Hi Hatt Mesh Trucker Hat (2.3 0z and simply the best)
•Polarized Sunglasses by SunCloud (SunClouds are made by Smith which means awesome sunglasses at half the price, 1.25 oz)
*Quick Tip: Quality clothing can be expensive! Try calling the company you may be interested in to see if they have a factory store. If so, inquire about their next sale. I happened to live near the Patagonia Factory store outside of Reno which occasionally had 40% to 50% off sales on already reduced prices. I highly recommend Patagonia. I wore the same Patagonia shorts ($15 at the outlet sale) every day for the entire 2,650 miles…and replaced my Patagonia wool T-shirt ($15 at the outlet sale) only once. My Ultralight down Jacket, M1o Rain Jacket and Nano Puff Jacket still have 1,000s of miles left in them! Clothing is essential gear. When you can depend on your gear for long lasting function and durability you will always save money in the long run, sale or no sale.
Electronics and Gadgets: (24.3 oz total)
•Timex Expedition Wrist Watch (2.5 oz)
•Black Diamond Spot Headlamp w/AAA batteries (3.25 oz)
•Jackery External Battery Charger (5.6 oz)
•iPod Shuffle (0.65 oz)
•Skull Candy Earbuds (0.65 oz)
•Dual USB Plug (1.5 oz)
•SticPic+ Joby Phone Mount (1 oz)
•Spot Gen3 GPS Tracker w/AAA batteries (4.85 oz)
•Photo Shutter (0.35 oz)
•iPhone 6 + LifeProof Case (5.7 oz)
Note: 2 Liter Sea to Summit Dry Bag for electronic/gadget storage (0.75 oz)
Water Filtration System: (5.95 oz total)
•Sawyer Squeeze w/sport water bottle top (3.2 oz)
•Platypus 2 Liter Water Bag (1.3 oz)
•2 Smart Water 1 Liter Bottles (1.35 oz empty)
•Plastic Scooper made from 1/2 of small plastic bottle, for low flow water sources (0.1 oz)
Toiletries: (3.75 oz)
•Toothbrush cut in half
•Dental floss w/out packaging
•Doctor Bronner’s Soap
•Hemp Lip Balm
•Razor w/detachable head
First Aid Kit: (3.75 oz)
•Micro Swiss Army Knife
•12-800 miligram Motrin
•4 Blister Pads
•Needle and Thread
•2 Alcohol Prep Pads
•2 Small Antibiotic Ointment Packets
•Mini Bic Lighter
Poop Bag: (6.5 oz)
•Tent Stake (for cat hole digging)
•Natural Wipes (wipes add that finishing touch; they help you get clean and prevent chafing)
•13 liter Sea to Summit Dry Bag (keeps your food dry and is ultra light at 1.5 oz)
•Bear Bag consisting of 50 ft. of cord, 1 small carabiner and a small sack (3.8 oz)
•Turkey Bag (0.5 oz)
*Quick Tip: For added food protection line your food bag with a Turkey Bag. I decided to try this as I knew Turkey Bags keep scent from escaping extremely well. For the entire length of the trail I had absolutely no issues with rodents or bears. The Turkey bag worked so well that I never had to hang my food. Just one Turkey bag lasted for 2,650 miles. Pick one up at a grocery store for under $3.00 and give it try)
•Long Handle Titanium Spoon by Optimus (0.75 oz)
I only needed this one piece of gear…Why? I went “NO COOK” which means precisely that; I didn’t heat any food or carry a stove and pot. I decided to try this through Southern California as the nights were generally warm. As I hiked on, I found that I really didn’t require hot food or hot drinks. I saved time on meal preparation and saved weight by not carrying a stove and pot but I definitely had some demoralizing, cold evenings where something warm could have made me feel whole again. So, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this unless you’d like to add an extra challenge to your already humongous challenge of thru-hiking a trail!
Extreme Conditions Gear:
•Grivel G1 Ice Axe (for travel through the high passes of the Sierra Range 16.5 oz)
•Kahtoola MICROspikes (a reliable, light alternative to crampons (12 oz)
•Mosquito Head (a must have during the peak bug season, you risk literally going insane without one! They pack ultra small and are ultra light at 0.9 oz)
•Pack Cover by Sea to Summit (In relentless rain a pack cover can be your best friend. Trash compactor bags are awesome liners and I kept one in my pack for my entire hike, but if you’d like to have an actual dry pack at the end of the day a pack cover is the way to go, 3 oz)
•BearVault Bear Canister (REQUIRED between South Kennedy Meadows and Sonora Pass. I chose the 1/2 size for better packability but I really had to crush my food into it, 2 lbs)
*Quick Tip: Bear Canisters are expensive. Some options are…look for a used canister and have it shipped to you or check with the PCT Community Bear Canister Loan Program and apply early for a FREE loaner.
•Big Agnes Q-Core Pillow (2.7 oz)
•Small Pack Towel (0.9 oz)
•Waterproof Notebook, Pen and Sharpie Marker (Great for notes, journaling and making signs to assist in hitching rides to and from town)
•EuroSCHIRM Swing Literlex Umbrella in UV Silver (Luxury for me as I had rain gear but still loved using it on rainy days. Great for taking breaks in the rain! Excellent UV protection on scorching, shadeless sunny days! 7 oz)
•Spyderco Mini Ladybug Knife (0.65 oz)
•Flip Flops (for public showering and camp shoes 2.5 oz)
*Quick Tip: Get some Flip Flops! Flip Flops were actually a highly essential and valuable piece of gear for me. From providing piece of mind while using public showers to comfortably drying out wet, tired feet at camp, they are worth their weight in gold. And the best part…they only cost around $1.00 and weigh next to nothing)!
So, It all seems like a lot right?! It really isn’t and it all fits in one pack, a pack that you will carry on your back every day for miles and miles and miles. No matter what gear you go with, you’ll get to know each and every piece so intimately that it will soon all become an extension of you. Good luck on your journey in the world of thru-hiking gear!