The most important thing to understand about gear for your PCT thru-hike is that it is ultimately just gear. Everyone who is planning their hike for 2017 is poring over ounces and pounds, wondering whether the Sawyer Mini is worth saving a few ounces (it’s not) or if they should make a wind screen for their camp stove (should they even bring a stove?). That was me, one year ago.
At the beginning of my thru-hike in 2016, every hiker that I met was obsessed with talking about gear. Was that the ULA Circuit? Did I like it so far? What sleeping bag do you have? How much does your Tyvek groundsheet weigh compared to mine? You’re carrying camp shoes? Not worth it!
By about mile 500, the discussion of what gear would work or not had subsided almost entirely. Everyone recognized that every hiker had made it as far as they had, with whatever they had in their pack. Everyone had realized that no matter what, they were going to leave town carrying as much food as they could fit in their food bag, and every ounce of extra food sort of negated that ounce they saved by carrying a Sawyer Mini instead of a regular Sawyer.
Anyone considering the PCT should take this list as a suggestion and not the rule. People thru-hike all the time with all sorts of gear and make it to Canada. Bring the 10 essentials, and whatever you think you’ll need to be comfortable on your hike. You’re carrying everything you need to live for five months. Hiking your own hike starts here.
With that in mind, here is everything that I started out with in my pack, plus the clothes I was wearing and the trekking poles that I carried. I’m not listing everything here because I don’t think everyone is as interested in full gear lists as aspiring hikers, and if you are an aspiring hiker then you’ll find everything you could possibly hope for at the link. However, I would like to offer some suggestions/analysis based on my experience that will hopefully be useful for everyone considering a backpacking trip in general.
Edited to add: I thru-hiked the PCT with my boyfriend, so I did not carry everything myself. Andy’s gear list is available here.
The “big three” are the three heaviest (and typically most expensive) items that backpackers carry: your backpack, tent, and sleep system. Mine included the ULA Circuit, the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2, ZPacks sleeping bag (regular width, long, 10 degree, full zipper with baffle), and the Exped SynMat UL 7 (I adore this sleeping pad. Most people have Thermarest NeoAir X-Lites, but I am a restless sleeper and the SynMat is totally luxurious at the end of a long hiking day. Plus, it’s less crinkly and more durable than the NeoAir).
My general advice, to be taken with many grains of salt:
The most common gear items on the PCT last summer included the ULA Circuit, Fly Creek HV UL2, ZPacks bag, Darn Tough socks, Dirty Girl Gaiters, and Altra Lone Peak 2.5s. If you’re leaning toward any of these, I’d recommend going for it. If you’re thinking you want to save weight and carry a Sawyer Mini, I’d rethink that. No one on trail with a mini was happy about it, mostly due to slow flow rate; most switched to a regular Sawyer Squeeze as soon as they could.
I was really happy with our cooking equipment, although I didn’t meet anyone who had the same set-up. We each had the Anti Gravity Gear Caddy Sack, which is a lightweight insulated plastic container. We used these to rehydrate our dinners, and we were able to use the lid as a cup and a bowl for breakfasts. They also make a great sturdy container for, say, packing out a fresh avocado from town and knowing it won’t be squished in your bag.
What I sent home:
I started with La Sportiva Ultra-Raptors which I loved for the support, but which I quickly learned had a toe box that was far too small for me. I switched to men’s Altra Lone Peak 2.5s in Mt. Laguna, and proceeded to go through 5 pairs. I hardly ever wore my zip-off pants, since I was happier with the range of motion that I got with my running shorts – so those went home. Eventually, I sent off my t-shirt because I only ever wore it in town, anyway (I am very fair and it was much easier to hike in long sleeves than to worry about sunburn). My hiking partner and I hiked at different speeds, so we picked up some goTennas in Tuolumne Meadows. They were awesome in Oregon where things are a bit flatter, but in Washington we didn’t usually have much luck connecting. I’m sure they would also be awesome in Southern California, though. I was very happy to send home my dopey (but effective and recommended) sun hat in Ashland, OR – I picked up a snazzy trucker hat to wear instead. In Cascade Locks, I traded my light raincoat for real GoreTex and switched to heavier baselayers. In Washington, I got rid of my town/camp shoes. I was very glad I had them, until the weather got cooler in Washington and I found sandals to be too chilly in town. Right before Snoqualmie, my beloved ExPed SynMat sprung a leak on the seam, and REI in Seattle didn’t have any in stock, so I begrudgingly switched to the NeoAir for the rest of Washington. While I was at REI, I also picked up a Patagonia Women’s R1 Pullover and some cushy sleep socks. It definitely gets colder in Washington!
Little luxuries that got me all the way there:
ZPacks Cuben Fiber Roll-Top stuff sack (for my sleeping bag). One rainy morning in Washington, we stopped at a cabin with a wood stove to dry our things. There were several hikers there, and one girl had the same sleeping bag as I did. It was covered in so many pieces of patch material and duct tape that I had to ask – how many thru-hikes has that sleeping bag been on? Just this one, she said. Apparently, she kept her sleeping bag at the bottom of her pack with no stuff sack. I used a stuff sack: not a single hole. Don’t sacrifice your gear’s integrity in the name of weight savings, no matter what the well-meaning folks at the Mt. Laguna gear shop tell you.
ThermaRest Z-Seat. If you bring one luxury item, let it be this comfy little sit pad that will protect your behind while you rest your feet. No ants crawling up your shorts, no cacti surprising you in the desert, no soggy bottom in the WA rain. It weighs next to nothing and is easily stored in the bungee straps on the ULA Circuit for quick access. Everyone who got themselves one of these was a happy camper as a result. At $15, it is more than worth it!
A phone full of podcasts, playlists and audiobooks. I was never one of those hikers who listened to music on the trail, because obviously it destroyed the sanctity of the experience. But once you’re on the trail for a while, you will find that you have time to think and time to enjoy the silence and still have plenty of time (say, 20 more miles of time every single day) to listen to whatever you choose. It was great to have a podcast or audiobook in common with my trail family, because then we could all discuss the latest This American Life at lunch instead of food (which is the normal conversation topic and what will constantly be on your mind if you don’t have something to distract it occasionally).
I hope that this was helpful, but please remember that this is all based on what worked for me on my hike. There’s more than one way to get to Canada. Focus on finding the right balance between weight and comfort, between preparing your resupplies ahead and buying as you go, and between this post and every other resource you come across. If you have any gear or planning questions, please leave a comment or send an email – I promise I’ll help if I can!