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.
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.
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.
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.
|Osprey Aura AG 65||62L backpack||1870g|
|Osprey ultralight pack rain cover||L||90g|
|Sea-to-Summit eVent||compression dry bag (sleeping bag)||90g|
|Sea-to-Summit/ Osprey dry bags||assorted sizes||–|
|Hilleberg Rogen||3-season tent, 2 pers||2100g||shared|
|Therm-A-Rest Neoair XLite||sleeping pad, L||460g|
|Western Mountaineering Alpinlite||-7° C sleeping bag||880g|
|Sea to Summit ripstop silk liner||sleeping bag liner||165g|
|Primus express||gas cooker + 1L pot w/lid||380g||shared|
|Light My Fire titanium spork||20g|
|Vikkåsa||folding cup/ bowl, 60 ml||46g|
|Osprey drysack||20L, foodbag||50g|
|Platypus Hoser||3L, w/hose||120g|
|Platypus Hoser||2L, w/cap||102g||desert|
|SmartWater bottle||1L, water filtration bottle x2||39g x2|
|Sawyer Squeeze||water filter||77g||shared|
|First aid kit||misc||shared|
|Leatherman Juice CS4||multi tool||159g|
|275 paracord||food bag rope, 15 m|
|Therm-A-Rest Z Seat||butt pad||60g|
|Black Diamond Trail Pro||trekking poles||490g||>using|
|iPhone 6||smartphone w/local sim card||129g|
|LifeProof Fre||waterproof case||35g|
|Scull Candy headphones||in-ear entertainment|
|Sony DSC-HX90V||point-and-shoot camera||245g|
|Lowepro Apex 30 AW||camera bag||100g|
|Gorillapod mini||tripod + DIY trekking pole mount||36g|
|Transcend Ultimate SDXC||128GB memory cards x2|
|Anker PowerCore 13000||13000mAh battery||240g||shared|
|Anker 15W PowerPort Solar||solar panel||354g||shared|
|Apple USB power adapter||12W, w/ USA plug||74g||shared|
|LED Lenser SEO 7R||220 lm head lamp||93g|
|Extra battery, head lamp||lithium||40g|
|Ocean Signal rescueME PLB1||personal locator beacon||116g||shared|
|Hair brush||no handle||24g|
|The Deuce of Spades||potty trowel||17g||shared|
|Contact lenses||monthly, 24-hr||>wearing|
|Kinesiology Tape||blister care/ first aid||shared|
|PackTowl||microfiber towel, small||20g|
|INNATE Women's One Daily||multi-vitamins|
|Nuun Hydration tablets||electrolytes|
|Money||cash/ visa card|
|Permits/ travel documents|
|Salomon XA Pro 3D GTX||trail runners||698g||>wearing|
|Teva Tirra||sandals||476g||camp/ water|
|Icebreaker multisport+ light mini||merino socks, x2||28g x2||>wearing x1|
|Icebreaker multisport light mini||merino socks||28g||camp/ sleep|
|Kari Traa driva||merino mix sports bra||106g||>wearing|
|Aclima briefs||merino panties, x2||46g x2||>wearing x1|
|Peak Performance||merino boxers||64g||camp/ sleep|
|Icebreaker W's Comet Shorts||merino/ polyester||108g||>wearing|
|Smartwool PHD tank||merino||106g||camp/ sleep|
|Kari Traa Ulla, half zip||merino thermal top (light)||208g||camp/ sleep|
|Kari Traa Ulla pants||merino thermal pants (light)||182g||camp/ sleep|
|Ortovox Rock'N'Wool Cool Shirt||merino/ tencel long sleeve button down shirt||238g||desert|
|Icebreaker hoodie||merino, full zip||494g|
|Norrøna Falketind PrimaLoft100||synthetic puffy jacket w/hood||396g||camp/ sleep|
|Mountain Equipment Ogre||shell/ rain jacket||390g|
|Mountain Equipment Odyssey||shell/ rain pants, full zip||295g|
|Craft sun visor||foldable||36g|
|Red Bull sunglasses||26g|
|BUFF UV half buff/ headband||coolmax||18g||>wearing|
|Sealskinz gloves||wind/ waterproof||100g|
|Dirty Girl gaiters||light spandex||30g||>wearing|
|Umbrella||UPF 50+ UV||362g||desert|
|WINTER GEAR||> High Sierra section only|
|Lundhags Mira Ws mid Light||leather hiking boots||1200g||>wearing|
|Icebreaker W's Hike+ Crew Socks||merino socks, x2||78g x2||>wearing x1|
|Aclima WW hoodie||merino thermal top (warm)||226g||camp/ sleep|
|Aclima WW pants||merino thermal pants (warm)||352g||camp/ sleep|
|Mountin Equipment, Sigma||down puffy jacket w/ hood||570g|
|Fjällräven Abisko Trekking Tights||capri||254g||>wearing|
|BUFF merino||merino full length buff||48g|
|Hestra gloves||insulated wind/ waterproof|
|Rab latok||alpine gaiters||240g||>wearing|
|Sea to Summit, Thermolite Reactor||sleeping bag liner (+8C)||255g|
|Black Diamond Sabretooth||clip crampons||910g|
|Black Diamond Swift||ice axe||487g|
|BearVault BV500||bear canister||1163g|
|Hairdye||oh c'mon... lol|
|Smartwool t-shirt||merino, replacement||115g|
|Arc'teryx Contenta||travel dress||120g|
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.