First Impressions: My Big Three Plus One

As I prepare for my PCT thru-hike, I am trying to dial in my gear. Since I haven’t gotten to test this gear on trail yet, these are just first impressions and not full reviews.  A hiker’s Big Three  is their three core pieces of backpacking equipment: a pack, sleeping bag or quilt, and tent. I have also included my sleeping pad in this list because it’s an important part of my sleep system.

Pack: Osprey Exos 58

Weight: two pounds, 12 ounces

The Osprey Exos 58 was one of the first pieces of gear I picked up when I decided to hike the PCT. I wasn’t even sure I would be hiking it anytime soon, but REI was having a sale, I needed a new backpack, and there was cash burning a hole in my pocket. You know how these things go. Before getting the Exos, I had been using the same four-pound kids pack I’d had since my first backpacking trip. It has served me well and set a high bar, but I’ve grown a foot and half since I got the pack so it was time for an upgrade.

The Osprey Exos 58 with all parts attached weighs two pounds, 12 ounces. It’s not the lightest pack on the market, but also not the most expensive. Coming in at a little over $200, it’s actually quite affordable, especially if you get it on sale like I did. I also know that for a thru-hike, I will appreciate the lifetime warranty. 

When I packed it up for the first time, I wondered how people managed to use it without the brain. I felt like I needed every bit of space I could get, but since then I’ve completely changed my mind. Part of the problem was my gear at the time. Before gathering my lighter and more compact gear for thru-hiking, I did need every liter of the pack. I’ve also gotten smarter about how I pack it. Now the brain of the pack sits at home and I can save a couple ounces.

I wear my pack for almost every training hike I do in preparation for the PCT. I have to say I am very pleased with it. The hip belt is very comfortable and the large space between the mesh back and the frame of the pack allows for excellent ventilation. I am very confident in my choice of the Exos.

Sleeping Quilt: Enlightened Equipment Revelation 10D Custom

Weight: 25 ounces.

The sleeping quilt I’ll be carrying on the PCT this year is the Enlightened Equipment Revelation. After doing some research, I decided on a sleeping quilt over a bag for several reasons, including packability and saving weight. The down EE Revelation weighs significantly less than the synthetic mummy bag I own. It also compresses much more than my sleeping bag. This means more room in my pack for Snickers bars and other important gear items.

While camping and backpacking extensively in Southern California, I found my 20D sleeping bag to be plenty warm. However, after Washington state became my new stomping ground, I found myself feeling much colder at night. For this reason, I decided to go with a 10D down sleeping quilt for the PCT. I should be nice and toasty throughout the trail.

My first night sleeping under my quilt was cozy but not without fault. I grew up using sleeping bags, so I was a bit confused on how to arrange the quilt. I had to consult YouTube for some tips and tricks. Once I had it all figured out, I spread it out on my floor and turned the heater off. The snowy outdoors ensured a cold night. Wearing the same sleeping clothes I plan on wearing on trail, I got snug and ended up sleeping fantastically. The quilt was very light on top of me but very lofty and plenty warm. I definitely think the EE Revelation was a good call.

Sleeping Pad: Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite

Weight: 12 ounces

I had to include my sleeping pad here not only because it’s essential to sleeping warm with my quilt, but also because the one I picked is super rad. The Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite is a popular pad for backpackers looking to save weight while sleeping super comfortably. Fully inflated, the pad is 2.5 inches thick. I am a side sleeper so an inflatable pad was a must for me. 

Pulling my NeoAir Xlite out of the package, I couldn’t help but laugh because it was so small and light. I was thoroughly impressed before I had even inflated it. The material is thin and appears to be strong, but even so, I will be taking extra care to check for sharp, pointy things before setting up my tent. Especially in the desert.

Settling in for a night on my my sleeping pad, I noticed the noise right away. Whenever I moved, the pad crinkled quite loudly. I was aware of this before I bought it as it seems to be one of the chief complaints that people have with this pad. I don’t tend to thrash around too much in my sleep and don’t anticipate the noise being an issue. It’s a very comfortable and very light sleeping pad. I am impressed.

Tent: Nemo Hornet 2P

Weight: two pounds, five ounces

I will be honest. This is not the tent I was planning on picking for my PCT thru-hike. I was pretty sold on the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 2. Having borrowed a friend’s Big Agnes, I did indeed like it very much. Then another sale came along. It was a year-end, older model getting replaced by the newer model, closeout kind of thing for the Nemo Hornet 2P. I did a little research and then decided to pull the trigger. 

I got that REI box in the mail and pulled out what was going to be my apartment for five months. I was excited about the tent but my cat turned out to be even more excited about the box! He climbed in and refused to move for an hour. 

I set the tent up in my room right then. While I couldn’t get the full available space because it wasn’t staked down, it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. My first and second times trying to set it up fully didn’t go as smoothly, however. The first time, my efforts were stalled by high wind. The second, unsuitable ground. In the back of my mind I kept reminding myself that I will probably have to deal with those problems out on trail. Finally I got it right, with a taut rainfly and secure groundsheet.

Inside there is ample headroom and plenty of space for one person to spread out while still having their gear inside. Two people could fit but it would be pretty snug. One of my favorite features is the dual vestibules so I can enter the tent from either side. There is also a little space for gear between the rainfly and the tent wall. I plan on trying to orient my tent so I can catch as many sunrises as possible through one of those nice big doors. I”m stoked on my Nemo Hornet.

Final Thoughts

I feel like I have chosen a very solid and proven Big Three. Many are thru-hiking favorites from past classes. There’s always a chance to go lighter but my setup will keep me comfortable while not being too heavy at all.

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Comments 3

  • Lee Alexander : Mar 4th

    I love my Nemo. I have used it for 3 seasons now both on the bike and backpacking.
    Happy trails and good luck on the PCT!

    • Austin Kindig : Mar 13th

      Thank you! I’m looking forward to it being my home for the next 5 months!

  • Ian : Mar 20th

    Almost the exact same as my Big 3! I am about to go with the Copper Spur HV UL1, but the other two are the same. I’m going for 2020, so good luck out there!

    Enjoy each day out there – Billygoat


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