A Tale of Two Trails: AT vs PCT Gear List
Allow Me to Introduce Myself
So the time has come around once again. Thru-hiking season is almost upon us, and around the globe, clean professionals are getting all their dirty, smelly gear out of the closet. I couldn’t be more excited.
For anyone stumbling onto this, I’m Connor Chapdelaine but out in the forest I’m better known as Jackrabbit. I got the name Jackrabbit from running down descents and conveniently, eating shit right in front of those who are very eager to give someone their first trail name. Completing the Appalachian Trail last August was the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done with my life. I had never backpacked before and had barely spent more than a few nights in a tent in my life, but it seemed like a challenge and a fun one, too. I never could have expected the perspective and confidence it would share with me. Hopefully, my blog with The Trek will help me share some of that with the world.
You can see views in your backyard, but to sharpen your mind with the minds of others you have to travel the world. After finishing the AT last August, I knew I wanted to get back out and the PCT seemed like a natural segue. I’m excited for the Sierra and to explore the West coast, but more importantly, I’m excited to start a backpacking trip where I actually know what I’m doing from the start.
Experience and Terrain
One thing I definitely had no idea about before starting the Appalachian Trail was gear selection. I had the mindset that “I’m strong, I’ll carry anything I want happily”. Like pretty much everyone with that mindset going into a thru hike, I began tossing things out of my pack the first chance I got. I had too many things and average/bad selection of many essential items. My pack volume was way bigger than necessary, my layers were heavy, and I barely knew how to use half the stuff I even had. Needless to say, the first 100 miles was my “shakedown hike”.
While I didn’t change a lot of my gear and only reduced the total items in my pack, I was excited to get home and replace some of my gear with more durable/UL options. My experience on the AT was critical in knowing what gear works for me but even more importantly, the experience of the hundreds of hikers I shared gear conversations with was INVALUABLE! Seeing the techniques and gear of seasoned hikers I began taking mental notes. I slowly began to get an idea of what my next kit would look like.
Fast forward eight months and my pack list is almost complete for the PCT this year. I’ve made a lot of changes for a few different reasons. One of the main reasons I’m making some of these gear changes is the terrain. The PCT’s climate is a lot different than the AT’s and with it come different obstacles and advantages. I think the gear I’ve picked this time around will be a lighter load on my back and be optimal for the different weather I’m expecting heading from Mexico to Canada.
With that being said, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.
Gear Lists – AT vs PCT
I’m going to break this down into a few different subcategories, but we’ll start with the most important: The Big Three.
Backpack: Osprey Atmos AG 65 – 4lb 6 oz
Tent: TarpTent Double Rainbow – 2lb 10oz
Sleep System: ZPacks 30F Classic Bag – 1lb 3 oz, Paria Outdoor Products Recharge Short – 13.4 oz, Sea to Summit Aeros Premium Pillow – 4 oz
Total Weight: 9 lb 4.4 oz
Honestly, I still have all of the items in my inventory. While my backpack was a little bigger than I needed, it was exactly what it claims to be. Bulkier, strong frame, and will definitely get you all the way there. TarpTent’s are great and my Double Rainbow was probably one of my favorite items in my kit. It was fantastic, roomy, and easy to set-up in almost any conditions. The same can be said about my old sleeping pad, the Recharge S, a bit on the heavier side but only started leaking air after 2000 miles.
The ZPacks 30F bag was a great bag for most days and I also have a Western Mountaineering 10F mummy bag for those colder nights. I’m not planning on starting the PCT as early as I did the AT (March 6th) so I don’t think I will need to break it out this season.
Pacific Crest Trail
Backpack: Gossamer Gear G4-20 – 1lb 9 oz
Tent: TarpTent Protrail – 1 lb 9.7 oz
Total Weight: 4 lb 15.2 oz
For this go around I definitely opted for a smaller pack, the 42L Gossamer Gear G4-20. Some of my favorite people I met on trail hiked with this pack and all I heard were glowing reviews. With a built-in sit pad, this one was a no-brainer. I also opted to make the switch to the lighter ProTrail instead of the Double Rainbow. I only need a one-person tent and the switch from carrying tent poles to having a trekking pole tent is just another few ounces off my back.
After a lot of thought, I also made one more switch in my sleeping pad opting for the Uberlite Short, one of the lightest sleeping pads available. I slept with the 3/4 length pad on the AT like a rock so I have no problem with the shorter length, but I am worried about the narrowness of the pad. I’ve already had a few overnights with it and slept great though, so we’ll just have to see. That’s the fun part!
Baselayer: Patagonia Midweight Capilene Longsleeve – 4.3 oz
Midlayer: N/A (Scrub life)
Jacket: Patagonia Fleece Synchilla – 18.7 oz
Rainjacket: Patagonia TorrentShell – 13.9 oz
Total Weight: 2 lb 10.9 oz
For this section, I’m only including the weight of these items in my pack and not those I will be wearing. Hiking shorts vary so much, just find a pair you don’t chafe in and you’re good to go. The same goes with socks and underwear: find a durable and comfortable pair and don’t worry about weight so much. However, do put some thought into your upper body layers as there are lots of options out there.
I began the AT with the big fleece and realized quickly that a puffy was the superior alternative, although the fleece did keep me nice and warm. I also went with the Patagonia TorrentShell, which is one beefy, beefy rain jacket. Let the record show it was really great in heavy rains and I was grateful to have it, but fortunately enough for me, those were few and far between. Once the temperature heated up, I never put it on because I would typically end up more wet from sweat than rain. I sent it home at the beginning of Summer and hiked without a rain jacket for 1000+ miles until New Hampshire. And finally, I will still be sticking with the midweight Capilene long sleeve as that was another favorite piece of gear from the AT. It was the perfect layer for hiking on cold days and wicked sweat so well on hot days that the long sleeves were never an issue.
Pacific Crest Trail
Baselayer: Patagonia Midweight Capilene Long Sleeve – 4.3 oz
Midlayer: Senchi Lark – 4.3 oz
Jacket: Patagonia Micropuff – 8.3 oz
Rainjacket: OR Helium – 6.3 oz
Total Weight: 1 lb 13.2 oz
So two major changes here for the PCT. I switched out the fleece jacket for a cheap, light Patagonia puffy and ditched the TorrentShell for a much thinner and lighter Helium. I think the thinner rain jacket will actually have more practicality on trail so I was happy to shave those ounces. Both jackets are extremely packable relative to my AT choices which will help keep my pack volume down. I stuck with the same socks and undies, those guys are the best and they know it. And I also added a Senchi to my kit because damn those things are sexy and warm (but mostly sexy).
For this section, I’m not going to include every single item in my pack for both trails but will only highlight items I’m changing out for a specific reason. My cooking system will remain the same and my hygiene/first-aid kit will remain the same as well (+ sunscreen for the PCT). If anyone would like to know more about my cooking system or first-aid kit, I’d be happy to elaborate in the comments but it’s pretty standard.
Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Trail Back – 1 lb 5 oz
Battery Bank: Aukey 20000 mAh – 13.7 oz
Water Filtration System: Platypus GravityWorks 4L System – 11.5 oz
Just a few things to note here. I’ll start with the trekking poles. I think I’m in the minority in that I don’t really use my trekking poles when hiking. In fact, I sent my trekking poles home about halfway through the AT. With that being said, I re-prioritized what I wanted out of my poles for the PCT. For my battery bank, I opted for 20000 mAh. Needless to say, I had more phone battery than I could have ever needed out there. 20000 mAh would be a comfortable amount for someone who vlogs every night or finds themselves on their phone often, however, for the average hiker, I would say 20000 mAh is a bit overkill.
And last but not least, my water filtration system! This system was actually suggested to me by a friend and 2008 AT thru-hiker. This system was great for camp. I would collect water once and have 4L of clean water to cook, pack out the next morning, and clean. However, it was cumbersome to fill up a bottle on the go as you have to set up the whole system. It was also a bit heavy relative to other filters available. I will say it was a very reliable system and I used it the entire trail with no issues with the filter.
Pacific Crest Trail
Trekking Poles: Gossamer Gear LT4 – 7.9 oz
Battery Bank: Nitecore NB10000 – 5.4 oz
Like I said above, I don’t use my trekking poles much for leverage hiking. The ultralight carbon fiber poles from Gossamear Gear seemed like a no-brainer for me. They are a bit pricey but if you know the right places to look you can find a pair used for a great price. They are more “fragile” in relation to aluminum poles, but I think for what I want out of them they will work great.
I also decided to go with a smaller battery bank since I always found myself with charge left heading into town on the AT. Nitecore makes a lot of great electronics for hiking and I’ve read great reviews for their battery bank. I am curious to see exactly how many 0%-100% charges it can hold in it and will report back on that.
The last piece of gear I’m going to discuss is the Sawyer Squeeze! I think at least 90% of AT thru-hikers carried a Sawyer Squeeze and I’m definitely late to hop on the wagon. It’s light, it’s easy to use, and you can even buy a replacement at most Wal-Marts. For my dirty water reservoir, I picked up a CNOC Vecto 2L. It’s a great product I saw paired with the Sawyer Squeeze many times. My hiking partner the last 700 miles of the AT actually let me use his Sawyer+CNOC set-up for a lot of quick fill-ups (shoutout Max “Yard Sale” Kiel), and I grew quite fond of it.
Counting Down the Days
The first start dates for the PCT draw closer and closer and I can’t begin to express how stoked I am. I was so nervous about starting my first thru-hike having absolutely no idea what to expect. I quickly realized expectations can be your enemy sometimes. Sometimes it’s good to just embrace the unknown and just approach your hike with blind optimism. A way to comfortably be able to do that is to prepare accordingly.
My gear list is far from perfect and I’m sure many of you were critiquing it as you read. It’s not about being perfect though, it’s about being prepared for anything. I know my strengths and weaknesses and my gear choices are directly influenced by them. It’s not all about gear though. Not even close.
The most important thing to me when hiking is having FUN! Don’t get lost in your base weight or your preparations. You need to be prepared for the environment but don’t overthink the numbers whether that’s miles or ounces. I think if you asked any thru-hiker what hiking means to them you’d get a massive spectrum of answers. However, I don’t think anyone’s going to mention their pack weight or their pace.
I can’t wait to be on trail and post updates from my tent. I may post another prep page as the excitement ramps up more and more, but if not, I’ll see you guys at the Cali-Mexico border in April. Hike on.
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