How Long Should I Wait to Clean My PCT Gear? An Idiot’s Guide

There is a certain class of hiker for whom the idea of the next trek is all-consuming. These worthy people, many of whom write for or read this website, spend the bulk of their time, energy, and money taking on outdoor challenge after outdoor challenge. The beauty and the difficulty and the solitude are too difficult to ignore for folks like these.

I cannot count myself among them.

That feels a little bit shameful, given that I’m nominally a hiking writer, but even admitting it here in print feels something like catharsis. It’s true! I like hiking, but I like a lot of other things, too. Since I finished my Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike in September, I’ve spent far more time doing all those other things than I have hiking. The few people who have asked me if I’d do a thru-hike again have been met with a look akin to that I’d give someone who asked me to give up a limb.

Crusty Treasures

Despite all that, I am still very much mourning the end of my thru-hike. It still accounts for, like, half of my new Instagram posts, even all these months later, and at least a few mornings a week I awake from dreams of things that happened–or could have happened differently–on that narrow passageway from Mexico to Canada. I’ve convinced myself that it is this mourning (rather than, say, my own laziness) that stopped me from even taking my backpacking gear out of the closet until this past week, a full seven months gone since I reached Manning Park.

But take it out I did. Backpack, full of dead pine needles; rain coat, smelling like it was destined for the incinerator; sleeping bag and puffy jacket, so far gone from their original lime green as to be unrecognizable. I unburied these crusty treasures, and one by one began to wash away the dirt and grime of five months that changed my life.

You shouldn’t do this, by the way. You should be more serious than this about the things that are important to you. I am careless by nature and at times have been decidedly unserious about things that meant a great deal to me, with results predictably heartbreaking.

Proselytizing aside, I hand-scrubbed my pack (Deuter ACT Lite 50+10, almost a pound heavier than most PCT models but so durable I never want another kind) and rain jacket in the tub with a heavy dose of Nikwax Tech Wash. It was Karen Blixen who wrote that “the cure for everything is saltwater: sweat, tears, or the sea,” but my task required none of the above–just a potent wash.

Take Care

Toting my sopping-wet stuff out to the small rectangle of concrete that counts for a back patio at my tiny apartment, I rediscovered my Camelbak and sun hat, where they’d been left exposed to the elements since the same day I buried everything else in the closet. Even after a short stretch of warmish sunnyish days, they were still soaking wet, retaining months’ worth of moisture. Rendered useless. These things can be replaced, even if the memories they represent cannot; perhaps it’s a good thing I find myself so unaffected by the thought of losing them. (Or maybe this is just more convenient moralizing to mask my own laziness.)

Anyway, if you’re an idiot like me, you’ll get around to cleaning your gear eventually. The next adventure will call sooner or later, and you’ll need to be ready, even if the day you touch the final monument you decide you never want to hike another mile.

And if you’re not an idiot like me? Take care of your stuff. (But don’t put it ahead of taking care of yourself.)

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