The 3 Essentials
The three essentials are the three heaviest items a thru hiker needs; the pack, the shelter and the sleeping bag. I went with all new items to make sure they would last and to move to much more lightweight gear.
ULA Circuit Backpack 2 lbs 2 oz: This was probably one of the biggest changes for me in terms of gear. I bid farewell to my massive Jansport external frame pack that had taken me many miles in the past, despite the occasionally squeaking of the frame and busted buckle. It could have probably fit a small child inside that pack and I used to be a pack mule going on trips with up to 75 lbs for just a couple days.
My new Circuit pack has been great thus far though being super lightweight and quite durable. The biggest difference is that it’s built to only carry around 35 lbs and forcing me to commit to being much lighter on the trail.
ENO Hammock Sleep System 3 lbs 4.5 oz: Call me crazy and maybe I will regret this decision a couple weeks in but I decided to go with a hammock sleeping system for the trail. I absolutely love my ENO hammock and can’t think of a better way to relax after a long day of hiking. However it has its setbacks requiring trees to hang from, takes a bit of getting used to sleeping in, probably will end up weighing a bit more than the standard tarp and ground pad system and can be rather chilly if you aren’t smart about the way you set it up. Regardless I’m taking it with me and hopefully I never look back
I’ll have the tarp that comes with the sleep system for shelter which I find very effective at keeping of the rain if you set it up right. For those nights when there are no trees in sight I will use my trekking poles to set up the tarp and just sleep on the ground. I realize this isn’t the most conventional thru hiking sleeping system but have gone on multiple backpacking trips with my hammock in different weather so have a good idea of how to make it work.
REI Halo Sleeping Bag 2 lbs 12 oz: The other big change for me was getting a down mummy sleeping bag. I went with the REI Halo which so far I have found to be appropriately named because it feels like you are sleeping in a warm fluffy cloud. It goes down to +10 which may be a bit overkill for much of the trail but as long as I can do a good job of keeping it dry it should keep me nice and toasty the whole way through. Also got it on sale from REI makes it even better.
In addition to the three essentials there is plenty of other gear that will be needed to get me up the PCT. I also attempted to shave some weight by upgrading to some lighter equipment and getting rid of "luxury" items. A lot of this gear it new also and I've been very happy with it so far on the backpacking trips I have taken to prep for my PCT hike.
Platypus Gravity Works Water Filter 12 oz: This is a new piece of gear that I have been really impressed with just far but slightly nervous to see how it will perform on the PCT. This water filter consists of two 4L bags, one for “dirty” water the other for “clean”. The bags can double as storage containers which is another plus for those long waterless stretches in So Cal (my biggest fear of the PCT). To filter the water you fill up the “dirty” bag and can just hang it to let the water flow into the clean bag. This removes the need to pump which is great! Also I should mention how you can perform a simple backflush to keep the filter cleaned. Well at least this is how everything has worked on weekend trips thusfar and in theory but time will tell. Also as I found out on a chilly trip up in Michigan in November you have to watch out or the filter which may freeze up which is certainly not good so I will most likely be sleeping with my filter on those colder nights in the mountains.
Camelbak 7 oz: Nothing too fancy here but decided to go with a new camelback because my previous one was starting to leak a bit despite my duct tape fixes. Also the tubing was getting a bit funky from putting in drinks besides water which can make it really nasty really quick. We will see how long this one lasts me.
REI Traverse Hiking Poles 18 oz: I used to scoff at hikers blazing through the woods with their trekking poles thinking “really, you need poles to help you walk”. Well turns out yeah you kinda do. I picked these up last summer and never looked back. I think the biggest help they provide is keeping me from twisting my ankle. The trekking poles serve as two extra legs, providing much needed support when you take a bad step. (and being as tall and clumsy as I am you take quite a few of those) Also they give you that little extra bit of oomph when you are climbing a mountain. Another place they come in handy is setting up your tarp when you don’t have any trees which will be very important for me. So all in all in the past year I have become a strong advocate of hiking poles and even got my dad a pair for when he joins me on the PCT in Washington.
Homemade Pop Can Alcohol Stove 1 oz: This is another piece of my gear I am very excited about but equally nervous. This design weights next to nothing and the fuel is available at most any gas station. (HEET Gas-Line Antifreeze) I guess my biggest worry is I will run out of fuel or crush the can. However this really is not too big of a concern seeing how I can always make a new one when I get in town or buy food that doesn’t need heating. Still these stoves are really cool and I have spent a good amount of time experimenting with designs.
Swing Lite-Flex Umbrella 8 oz: Maybe I’ve been spending a bit too much time getting caught up in Ray Jardine’s PCT Hiker’s Handbook (one of the biggest lightweight backpacking gurus), but I was convinced that a backpacking umbrella was the way to go. I found this really cool German company EBERHARD GOEBEL that makes a hands free umbrella that you can just attach to your pack. While many of you may be thinking, “but Matt why would you take an umbrella to block the rain you’re clearly going to get wet backpacking” I will actually be using it more in the desert. It also has UV protective coating and will help provide some critical shade on those hot sunny days in So Cal. So again while this may be a bit ridiculous I hope it pays off in the end.
Packcover 4.5 oz: Nothing special here but figured I might as well stick with my old pack covered since it still fits my new pack. I figure it covers better than a garbage bag and will provide a bit extra protection in those rainy days up in Oregon and Washington.
MSR Pack Towel 2.5 oz: I loved my REI pack towel and was very sad when I lost it last summer but picked up a smaller MSR one which should also get the job done keeping me dry and clean.
Sea-to-Summit Stuff Sack 4.5 oz: While this is a bit heavier and intense for a stuff sack I hope its water proofing will help give my down sleeping bag some extra protection. Just got it recently and find it very impressive. The medium size seems to be just the perfect size for my bag.
Rope and Bear Bag 8 oz: Again nothing too special here but got myself a good size bear bag to fit quite a few days worth of food. When I get into the Sierras I will also be getting a Bear Vault bear canister to help protect my food from scavenging bear who I hear are quite intelligent. Ray Jardine did not convince me to sleep with my food and I plan on bear bagging the entire way.
Mosquito Net 0.25 oz: Another one of those ridiculous items that I wouldn’t have thought I needed but seeing how my sleeping system doesn’t have any netting to keep the bugs out I figure I will want a way to protect any exposed features at night which should just be my face. I realize it may be a bit uncomfortable sleeping with a net over my head but I figure the severity of the bugs will decide what is more uncomfortable.
iPod Shuffle 0.5 oz: Weighing in at a hefty 0.5 oz this is one of my few luxury items on the trail. I figure having a few beats to get me through those monotonous sections of trail (which will hopefully be few and far between) will be nice. I anticipate I’ll be putting out a blog post to ask for help putting together the playlist.
Foam Groundpad 6 oz: This was a last minute purchase but shouldn’t be much of an extra burden. I have found the hammock can get rather cold if you don’t set it up right. Sandwiching a pad between your sleeping bad and the hammock can make a real difference. It will also help insulate me from the ground in the areas that don’t have any trees for me to set up my hammock on. However I could easily see myself ditching it along the way.
Black Diamond Headlamp 4 oz: I never really had a good headlamp previously so figured I might as well go for a quality product since I may be depending on this quite a few nights or early mornings. It seems to have good battery life and put out a good brightness but we will see how it holds up on the trail.
Olympus Stylus Tough Digital Camera 7.5 oz: Just recently got this digital camera as a gift from my dad. While I still prefer using my digital SLR I've really grown to like this little guy. It is super durable withstanding cold, rain, impact, etc. I just hope I can keep the battery alive long enough to capture some great photos out on the trail. Also I plan on just carrying the charger with me to avoid having to deal with sending it along to the the next resupply using a bounce box.
First Aid Kit 5 oz: Still deciding on what exactly I'll want in my first aid kit but probably some water purifying tablets in case the filter breaks, my meds and most definitely some ankle wrap. Might not take any moleskin as I usually like to catch my blisters by covering them with duct tape while they are still hot spots.
Miscellaneous Gear 7.5 oz: This gear may be small but it could be some of the most essential. I will always carry a small roll of duct tape to solve any camp problems. My small pocket knife has worked great for me on many trips before. I'll be using a compass my mom gave to me for my first solo hike on the AT. Will bring a lighter and fire started to light my stove. I also have my trusty FOOT whistle and emergency blanket for any bad situations I may get myself into.
Picking my clothes was very tough because you have to be ready for all the different climates you may experience on the trail. Basically I will have two outfits to last me an entire five months with some extra gear for the cold, rain and sleeping. Also you don't want it weighing you down. So after a long while I think I've finally settled on what clothes to take and can always have new gear shipped out during the trek.
Marmot DriClime Wind Shirt 10 oz: This definitely is in fierce competition for one of my favorite pieces of gear. This was one of the last items I picked up and has already been keeping me warm up here in the winter months of Victoria. With very few frills and super lightweight this jacket helps fight off the wind and keeps you nice and warm with a semi water-proof outer layer and a fleece lining inside.
DriDucks Rain Jacket 6 oz: Maybe its overkill to have both a pack umbrella and a rain jacket but guess I just want to be ready for all conditions. Also it’s a small price to pay weight wise because this jacket is so lightweight and fits well over my other layers. I decided to leave the pants back home because I can’t ever think of a time where I used rain pants in the past or even felt the need for them on the trail (especially if my pant will dry out quickly anyways).
TekGear Long Sleeve 8.5 oz: Just recently picked this up and have been pretty impressed thus far. It has some nice venting on the back which should work well with my pack. Although it is already getting a bit worn from me tearing a hole in it the other day diving for a ball while playing volleyball. Figure that will be the first of many by the time I’m done with the trail.
REI Sahara Zip-Off Pants 15 oz: This may be my favorite pair of pants that I have ever owned. Have taken these out on quite a few trips and find them ideal in all sorts of weather. They are very lightweight and dry out nice and fast. They are loose and breezy and can zip off into shorts when it is hot, yet work just as well keeping your legs warm in strong winds or cold without the need for an under layer.
North Face T-Shirt 7 oz: This may be one of my oldest items of my gear having picked it up when I was working out in Utah. It has come with me on many of hikes. It’s quite durable and dries out quickly so no complaints from me.
REI Shorts 8.5 oz: So far these shorts have treated me well on the trail last summer. Nothing too special but seem durable, lightweight and dry out quickly but I guess time will tell.
SmartWool Socks and Silk Boxers 2.5 oz: I am a big fan of my SmartWool socks which have always gotten my feet through long backpacking trips without many blisters. Just gotta hope they don’t smell too terrible by the end. Likely these two pairs won’t get me the whole way. Also moving to some silk boxers which have proven to be much more comfortable and dry out much better than cotton ones.
New Balance Trail Runners 26 oz: I’ve had these shoes for quite a while as one of the best gifts a guy like myself could ask for. (shout out to you Maggie) However I feel they haven’t gotten as much love and work as they would like so I’m taking them out into the desert and wearing them down into the ground. I also recently ordered a pair of Montrail Sabinos which I have heard excellent reviews for. I have them waiting back with my dad in Ohio to be shipped out to me when this pair is on its last leg so hopefully just in time to hit the Sierras.
Yak Trax 5.5 oz: Gotta give a shout out to my step-brother Kev for letting me grab a pair of his Yak Trax from the freighters. I hear using Yak Trax in the snowpack in the Sierras can be a bit futile. However, I figure that since I’m already starting my hike two weeks late and with the low snow pack this year I don’t have much to fear. I also decided against carrying an ice axe as well so I really hope I don’t regret this decision when I reach the snowpack in June.
Under Armor Long Sleeve 10.5 oz: I’ll be using this primarily as something nice to change into at night in camp but may need it to add an extra layer if necessary. Also might be nice to have a clean white shirt to put on when I’m trying to hitchhike into towns.
Adidas Long Johns 9 oz: This is a throwback from my rowing days. (which were less than a year ago but sadly has been a while since I’ve hit the water recently) Hopefully they will keep my legs warm at night and those cold days on the trail as they did many early mornings on the Housatonic.
Trail Hat 2.5 oz: Nothing special here but this lightweight wool and polyester hat (or toque as my Canadians friends would say) should keep my ears warm on some of those cold nights and mornings up in the mountains.
Mountain Hardware Power Stretch Gloves 1.5 oz: So far these gloves have proved great for the winter in Victoria just hope I haven’t worn them in too much. Gloves are tough because you can never get any truly water proof gloves and want something to protect you from the wind. These liner gloves seem to strike a good balance of keeping your hands warm without being too hefty. However they have a bit more stitching than I would prefer and I’m not sure if they will make it the whole trip.
Oakley Half Flak Jacket Sunglasses 0.5 oz: Another throwback to my rowing days but this lightweight sunglasses will be key for the desert and snow. Just gotta hope I don't loose them along the way as I've lost/broken many pairs of dollar store sunglasses on backpacking trips in the past.