PCT packing list and gear strategy

While gear is very individual I am happy to share my 2018 PCT thru-hike strategy to give you an idea of how I think when I prepare for longer missions.

Long-distance hikes actually require a bit more careful selection when it comes to gear. Not only has it got to work, but also last a really long time during heavy use. You need to be able to trust your gear because, without sounding too dramatic, your life and happiness depend on it! Outdoor gear can be ridiculously expensive, but quality usually pays off in the long run. One might also argue that choosing gear you love helps with morale. So take some time to choose the right gear for you and your hiking style.

The best advice I can give you when it comes to selecting gear is: know yourself and hike your own hike.

Weighing in on the grams

When your pack becomes a part of your body for several months, you really appreciate lightweight and multi-functional gear. I am not an ultra-light hiker, but being a thru-hiker I am very weight conscious. My goal is always to strike a balance between weight, comfort, and safety – not just counting grams. I try to shoot for a base-weight (the weight of my pack not including consumables like food, water, and fuel plus what I am wearing) of somewhere around 10 kg depending on season and trail conditions.

The dynamics of a long-distance hike is a bit different from a weekend mission, and weight is more of a concern. Walking 8-10 hours per day, every day, for several months, with everything you need to survive strapped to your back – is a big ask from your body! You start really obsessing about grams, ditching any conceivable excess from your pack early… from manically cutting the handle off your toothbrush to stripping off individual tea bag wrappers when resupplying. It may seem crazy, but every little gram really ads up, especially in your head on tough stretches, lol.

That said, I go crazy if I cannot stay somewhat organized on trail. So everything I carry has its dedicated place in my pack but I also opt for smaller individual drybags over a large pack liner to keep things dry for this very same reason. They may add a few extra grams, but will make the overall experience much more enjoyable for me.

Bounce-box

Another thing to take into consideration on a long-distance hike is that you will actually be out so long that both terrain and seasons might have time change along the way. This puts different demands on your gear and you may even need to swap out some of it for certain sections, replacing summer gear with warmer winter gear for example. When I am close to home, someone might mail the gear to me, but if this is not an option, like on the PCT, I usually incorporate a bounce-box in my gear strategy. A bounce-box is a box of supplies that I will mail to myself, or “bounce”, up the trail with irregular intervals.

Clothing and gear strategy

My time on the PCT will cover both diverse terrain and different seasons, so some gear will only be needed on specific sections of the trail then bounced or swapped out for something different. This is when the bounce-box comes in really handy! I will bounce my warmer winter and mountaineering gear to Kennedy Meadows for use in the Sierra for example. This is also where I will pick up the required bear canister and switch from trail runners to boots through the mountains.

I usually sleep in merino boxers and a tank top, but always keep a pair of socks and a set of merino thermals for camp and those extra cold nights. I sweat a lot, so my hiking clothes are almost always wet when I stop for the day. So it is very important for me to have something dry to change into. Not only for morale but for safety. Don’t take hypothermia lightly folks! I plan on a thicker set of merino thermals for the Sierra and swap to a lighter set for Oregon and Washington. The lighter set will double as walking thermals in the Sierra though, so I will pack both for that section.

Specialty gear for the PCT

ICE AXE & CRAMPONS: Parts of the trail in the High Sierra remain covered in snow well into summer. Since we are planning on going through this section early in the season, before the spring melt, we will definitely need some traction gear even a low snow year such as this one. Some people opt for really lightweight gear like microspikes for the PCT, but we will just bring our existing mountaineering gear that we know and trust.

BEAR CANISTER: Some sections on the PCT goes through bear country, and some National Parks require you to carry all your food in a hard-sided bear canister when you hike through the area. The idea is to deter bears, or any animals large or small really, from getting your food when you sleep. But since these are heavy and really bulky to pack, we will only carry them where required, the rest of the time we will hang our food bags instead. We like the simple PCT method for this when possible. Basically, a single rope thrown over a high tree branch and clipped to the food bag with a carabiner then suspended midway in the air using a spare tent stake as a toggle stop.

UMBRELLA: Yeah… sound silly… but many people swear by this. It is a first one for me though, but for the desert section I will bring a lightweight UV umbrella to provide some shelter from the unforgiving desert sun. I will let you know how that goes.

Materials

Sometimes a slightly heavier material will be much more functional than a lighter one and therefore make more sense to bring. For example, merino wool. While it usually weighs a little more than synthetics I try to incorporate as much of it as I can in my clothing strategy. It is a phenomenal natural material that not only feels great on your body, it helps you regulate temperature when you are active and keeps you warm even after it gets wet. Best of all, wool won’t smell as bad as synthetic materials if you sweat a lot, like me. Being a natural fiber I also like that it won’t contribute to the plastic microfiber pollution in the waterways.

Electronics

I usually prefer to be unplugged from technology and plugged into nature when I am out, but sometimes music or a podcast can be a great morale booster on or after a rough day. You can most definitely have a fantastic hike without electronics but I am a bit techy so I do bring some out with me. That said, I pretty much keep my phone in flight mode the entire time to save on battery and keep any sound or notifications off.

I primarily use my phone for navigation. I really liked using Guthook’s app for navigating Te Araroa, so I will be using the PCT version as my primary navigation device this time around as well. Once the maps are downloaded to the phone both them and the GPS work even when you don’t have reception, and while in flight mode. The built-in GPS in the iPhone has never failed me yet, and I have been out in some pretty remote areas!

Aside from our phones, we also need to keep our headlamps and cameras charged. I just make sure everything can be charged via usb and use a battery bank. For the PCT I will complement the battery with a solar panel for the first time. Since we plan to minimize time spent in towns while on the trail, the solar panel will grant us the flexibility and freedom we need.

Some of the apps I plan to use on my hike:

  • Guthook’s PCT Guide – navigation
  • DayOne Journal – journaling on my phone
  • Spotify – music/ podcasts
  • PlayMemories – connecting my Sony camera to the iPhone
  • Facebook Messenger – stay in touch with friends and family
  • Social media – Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter

Alright enough talking…

My PCT packing list

Note: Since Scott and I will share a few items on this list we will also share the weight of course. Since a few things will be swapped out for particular sections of the trail some items may look a bit redundant too, but chances are I am not carrying both at the same time.

GearInfoGramsNotes
PACK SYSTEM
Osprey Aura AG 6562L backpack1870g
Osprey ultralight pack rain coverL90g
Sea-to-Summit eVentcompression dry bag (sleeping bag)90g
Sea-to-Summit/ Osprey dry bagsassorted sizes
SLEEP SYSTEM
Hilleberg Rogen3-season tent, 2 pers2100gshared
Hilleberg footprint255gshared
Therm-A-Rest Neoair XLitesleeping pad, L460g
Western Mountaineering Alpinlite-7° C sleeping bag880g
Sea to Summit ripstop silk linersleeping bag liner165g
COOKING
Primus expressgas cooker + 1L pot w/lid380gshared
Light My Fire titanium spork20g
Vikkåsafolding cup/ bowl, 60 ml46g
Osprey drysack20L, foodbag50g
WATER
Platypus Hoser3L, w/hose120g
Platypus Hoser2L, w/cap102gdesert
SmartWater bottle1L, water filtration bottle x239g x2
Sawyer Squeezewater filter77gshared
MISC GEAR
First aid kitmiscshared
Repair kitmiscshared
Leatherman Juice CS4multi tool159g
275 paracordfood bag rope, 15 m
Therm-A-Rest Z Seatbutt pad60g
Black Diamond Trail Protrekking poles490g>using
ELECTRONICS
iPhone 6smartphone w/local sim card129g
LifeProof Frewaterproof case35g
Scull Candy headphonesin-ear entertainment
Sony DSC-HX90Vpoint-and-shoot camera245g
Lowepro Apex 30 AWcamera bag100g
Gorillapod minitripod + DIY trekking pole mount36g
Transcend Ultimate SDXC128GB memory cards x2
Anker PowerCore 1300013000mAh battery240gshared
Anker 15W PowerPort Solarsolar panel354gshared
Apple USB power adapter12W, w/ USA plug74gshared
LED Lenser SEO 7R220 lm head lamp93g
Extra battery, head lamplithium40g
Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1personal locator beacon116gshared
PERSONAL
Toothbrush16g
Toothpastetravel size
Hair brushno handle24g
Nail clippersshared
Hair tie>wearing
The Deuce of Spadespotty trowel17gshared
Toilet papershared
Contact lensesmonthly, 24-hr>wearing
Sun screenshared
Kinesiology Tapeblister care/ first aidshared
PackTowlmicrofiber towel, small20g
INNATE Women's One Dailymulti-vitamins
Nuun Hydration tabletselectrolytes
NECESSITIES
Passport
Moneycash/ visa card
Permits/ travel documents
CLOTHES
SHOES
Salomon XA Pro 3D GTXtrail runners698g>wearing
Superfeet, greeninsoles92g>wearing
Teva Tirrasandals476gcamp/ water
BASE LAYER
Icebreaker multisport+ light minimerino socks, x228g x2>wearing x1
Icebreaker multisport light minimerino socks28gcamp/ sleep
Kari Traa drivamerino mix sports bra106g>wearing
Aclima briefsmerino panties, x246g x2>wearing x1
Peak Performancemerino boxers64gcamp/ sleep
Icebreaker W's Comet Shortsmerino/ polyester108g>wearing
Icebreaker t-shirtmerino115g>wearing
Smartwool PHD tankmerino106gcamp/ sleep
Kari Traa Ulla, half zipmerino thermal top (light)208gcamp/ sleep
Kari Traa Ulla pantsmerino thermal pants (light)182gcamp/ sleep
MID LAYER
Ortovox Rock'N'Wool Cool Shirtmerino/ tencel long sleeve button down shirt238gdesert
Icebreaker hoodiemerino, full zip494g
Norrøna Falketind PrimaLoft100synthetic puffy jacket w/hood396gcamp/ sleep
REINFORCEMENT
Mountain Equipment Ogreshell/ rain jacket390g
Mountain Equipment Odysseyshell/ rain pants, full zip295g
ACCESSORIES
Bandanacotton
Craft sun visorfoldable36g
Red Bull sunglasses26g
BUFF UV half buff/ headbandcoolmax18g>wearing
Beaniemerino
Sealskinz gloveswind/ waterproof100g
Dirty Girl gaiterslight spandex30g>wearing
UmbrellaUPF 50+ UV362gdesert
WINTER GEAR> High Sierra section only
Lundhags Mira Ws mid Lightleather hiking boots1200g>wearing
Icebreaker W's Hike+ Crew Socksmerino socks, x278g x2>wearing x1
Aclima WW hoodiemerino thermal top (warm)226gcamp/ sleep
Aclima WW pantsmerino thermal pants (warm)352gcamp/ sleep
Mountin Equipment, Sigmadown puffy jacket w/ hood570g
Fjällräven Abisko Trekking Tightscapri254g>wearing
BUFF merinomerino full length buff48g
Hestra glovesinsulated wind/ waterproof
Rab latokalpine gaiters240g>wearing
Sea to Summit, Thermolite Reactorsleeping bag liner (+8C)255g
Black Diamond Sabretoothclip crampons910g
Black Diamond Swiftice axe487g
BearVault BV500bear canister1163g
BOUNCEBOX(always bounced)
Hairdyeoh c'mon... lol
Contact lensesrefill
Smartwool t-shirtmerino, replacement115g
Arc'teryx Contentatravel dress120g

I still might choose to bounce a few of these things during the hike. For example, on my Te Araroa thru-hike I ended up not carrying the footprint for my tent for very long but I still pack it this time. I thought I might send my silk sleeping bag liner home last time too, but ended up really liking it as it kept my sleeping bag so much cleaner, especially with all the sunscreen I used in New Zealand. I just washed the liner from time to time and my down bag stayed fresh as a daisy the whole way.

Only time will tell how the PCT gear list will shake out, but I will do a review afterward, as usual, to let you know.

By |2019-03-09T02:19:37+00:00February 22nd, 2018|Pacific Crest Trail, Trail life|2 Comments

About the Author:

Karma is a digital nomad graphic artist and writer, explorer, orchid nerd, vanlifer and long-distance hiker from Gothenburg, Sweden. Thru-hikes: Kungsleden 2016, Te Araroa 2016-17, Skye Trail 2017, Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) 2018.

2 Comments

  1. Susie 27 March, 2018 at 09:30 - Reply

    Great trip so far. I’ll be following along.

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