Gear: The Before and After of a Long-Distance Hike
Gear decisions have always been a major point of stress for me. My nightmare is combing the internet for hours on end comparing price points and technical specs of various pieces of gear in order to make the most educated decision. Then there’s the actual spending of my hard-earned money. What if I make the wrong decision? I’ve already spent hours looking… I know what I want, but it’s so expensive. I should just buy the cheaper option.
These thoughts infiltrated my mind and clouded my judgement when trying to make decisions on what gear I needed for my 2017 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike. Buyer’s remorse became a common theme in the months leading up to my hike. I mean, lets be honest. When is hiking a 2,650-mile trail with a $20 backpack a good decision?
While I wasn’t 100% in love with all of my gear, my flippant decisions did lend way to great learning opportunities for both my partner and I during our hike. We made lots of changes along the way and adapted the content of our packs to better serve our needs. The end result was a pack full of gear that I felt confident in, and a wallet that wasn’t too terribly empty.
At the start of our hike, our base weights were 15 lbs and 21 lbs, mine and his respectively. Over the course of the hike we were able to hone in on what we truly needed, dropping our base weights to 11 lbs and 18 lbs. Just our gear cost us $2,750, with $2,150 being spent before the trail and $600 spent on the trail for replacements and upgrades.
So, without further ado, here is a look at our gear list from start to finish.
Bonsai’s Personal Gear
All of the following gear I carried for my personal use.
REI Flash 52 Women’s pack: $20, no changes made.
Therm-A-Rest Z-pad: $36, with an employee discount. In Chester, mile 1300, I switched to a Therm-A-Rest Prolite inflatable pad I received from my mom as a gift. Total spent on gear changes: $0
Mountain Smith Rambler trekking poles: $20, with an employee discount. No changes made.
Camelbak 3L bladder: Free, received as a gift. I sent this home in Etna after switching completely to plastic water bottles.
Vapur 1L water bottle, collapsible: $6, I threw this out in Etna after it broke and didn’t replace it
Mini knife, brand unknown: Free, received as a gift. No changes made. This knife is so small, it’s only practical for cutting small bits of cheese, but it did the trick.
Columbia Saturday Trail Pants, Short: $60, I switched to a pair of shorts from the Tehachapi Big 5, which I wore until we completed California. I then switched to a pair of spandex shorts I previously owned. Total spent on gear changes: $8.
REI Co-Op Sahara Short Sleeve T-Shirt: Free, received as a gift. I sent this home in Mt. Laguna and started wearing my baselayer shirt. I then switched to an REI youth Sahara button up, long sleeve T-Shirt for Oregon and Washington. Total spent on gear changes: $40
Blackstrap Sleeves: Free, received as a gift. I sent this home in Mt. Laguna when I switched to a long sleeve T-shirt.
Patagonia Capilene Lightweight baselayer top and bottom: $53, using an employee discount. I sent the top home after completing California, and kept the bottoms with me the entire time.
Patagonia Barely Bra, sports bra: $27, using an employee discount. No changes made.
ExOfficio Give-N-Go mesh underwear, two pairs: Free, received as a gift. I sent one pair home at Barrel Springs, mile 100, when my parents came to visit. I sent the second home after finishing California and went commando. No regrets!
Darn Tough Boot Full Cushion socks, two pairs: $35, using an employee discount. No changes made, and no additional purchases necessary. They replaced every pair for free under their lifetime warranty program.
Patagonia Nano Air Hoody: $180, using an employee discount. No changes made.
Outdoor Research raincoat, style unknown: Free, received in a box of things being thrown out years ago. No changes made.
Merrell Moab Ventilators, size 8: $80, using an employee discount. My feet changes size so quick that I had to use a pair of Altra Lone Peaks 3.0, size 9, from a hiker box at mile 177. I bought my second pair about 900 miles later, and received a pair as a gift 900 miles later. Total spent on gear changes: $80
REI Sunday Afternoons Play Hat, Toddler and Kids’: $28, no changes made.
Diva Cup Model 1: Free, received as a gift. No changes made.
Camp shoes, target sandals: $6, I threw mine out in Etna after being tired of not being able to wear socks with them. I switched to a pair of water crossing shoes I found in a hiker box that I carried with me till the end. Total spent on gear changes: $0
Added gear: Journal and pen, $5, purchased in Tehachapi and carried until the end. Columbia fanny pack, free, received as a gift. Began carrying from Casa de Luna until the end
Bighorn’s Personal Gear
All of the following gear, Bighorn carried for his own personal use.
Osprey Volt 75: $200, no changes made.
Therm-A-Rest Z-pad: $36, using an employee discount. No changes made.
REI Co-Op National Parks Centennial Trekking Poles: $80, no changes made.
MSR 4L water bladder with a hose attachment: $35, sent home the hose in Etna and switched primarily to water bottles. Sent home the water bladder after completing California. Total spent on gear changes: $0
Leatherman Signal: $120, using an employee discount. No changes made.
Mountain Khaki convertible hiking pants: Free, using a giftcard received as an employee perk program. Started hiking in underwear in the desert but carried the shorts the rest of the hike for town days. Total spent on gear changes: $0
Fastnel Branded T-Shirt: Free, received as a gift. Switched to a Lululemon T-Shirt at mile 42 and then replaced in Tahoe with another Lululemon T-Shirt. Total spent on gear changes: $0
Paradox brand baselayer top and bottom: Free, received as a gift. No changes made on baselayer top. Sent bottoms home after completing California.
Underwear, Haines compression shorts: $10, no changes made.
, two pairs: $35, no changes made.
REI Co-Op Down Jacket: Free, received as a gift. No changes made.
REI Co-Op raincoat, style unknown: $150, no changes made.
Merrell Moab Ventilators, size 12: $120, no changes made. Purchased two pairs total. Total cost of gear changes: $120.
Ball cap: Free, received as a gift. No changes made.
Target brand flip flops: $10, carried until Seied Valley when he lost them on trail. Received a pair of worn out crocs from a friend in Northern Washington. Total cost of gear changes: $0
Bighorn and Bonsai’s Shared Gear
All of the following gear, we used collectively. We split the weight 40/60, with me carry 40% of the gear by weight and 50% of the shared food, and Bighorn carrying 60% of the gear by weight and 50% of the shared food.
Enlightened Equipment Quilt, Accomplice 2-person, 20 degree, long: $420, no changes made. This is the one piece of gear we both recommend the most to couples hiking a long trail. We even sleep with it on our bed sometimes, we love it that much! Bighorn carried the quilt for the first 1700 miles, and then Bonsai carried it for the rest of the trail.
Alps Mountaineering Zephyr 2-person tent: $112, with a discount from Backcountry.com. No changes made. We did loose one tent pole at mile 1716 and didn’t replace it, instead using a trekking pole to keep it upright the rest of the trail. Bighorn carried the entire tent.
Alps Mountaineering Space Saver footprint, Mercury 2: $14, no changes made. Bighorn carried the footprint.
Optimus Crux Pocket Stove and 2-piece cook set (pot/pan): Free, Bighorn received as a gift years ago. No changes made to the stove- we highly recommend it for anyone on a budget! We sent the titanium pot home at mile 42, and the pan home at mile 1716. We switched to a Sea-to-Summit X-Kettle at mile 42, for free, when a friend hiker boxed his. Total spent on gear changes: $0. We traded off carrying this depending on other gear, but Bonsai carried this for the majority of the hike.
Sea-to-Summit X-Cup: $6, purchased with an employee discount. Sent home at mile 42 because we don’t drink hot coffee/tea. Instead, Bighorn put Via packs in a Smartwater bottle the night before and drank cold coffee. Recommend for anyone whose quick in the morning. Bonsai carried this until we sent it home.
Sawyer Squeeze with two 32oz bags: $36, purchased with an employee discount. Sent home at Casa de Luna because we were tired of the process. We switched to Aquamira, and then bleach later in Northern California. We recommend bleach to anyone after the desert who doesn’t like the hassle of the Sawyer Squeeze. We refilled it at most resupply spots by asking at laundromats, restaurants, or other stores if they could spare a couple ounces of bleach. Almost everyone was willing to help.Total spent on gear changes: $14 for Aquamira. Bonsai carried the Sawyer until we sent it home, and then we each carried our own bleach.
Therm-A-Rest Compressible Pillow, L for Bighorn: $28. Bonsai used her jacket as a pillow for the first 1800 miles and always had neck pain. She switched to the small compressible pillow, same brand, in Bend and loved it. Total spent on gear changes: $20.We both carried our own pillows, although Bonsai carried Bighorn’s in Northern California/the Sierras to pad her bear canister.
Osprey Ultralight Pack cover and Black Diamond Cosmos Headlamp: Free, received as a gift. No changes made. We each had one of both. We both carried our own.
Ankor 20,000 mAH portable battery, apple cube with two ports, and two charging cables: $40, no changes made.Bonsai carried this for most of the trail.
BearVault BV500 and BV450: $130, with seasonal REI discounts. No changes made. Bonsai carried the smaller canister and Bighorn the larger canister. This was only carried from Kennedy Meadows South to Kennedy Meadows North.
Microspikes, Yuedge 10 teeth microspikes for her and Outad 18 teeth microspikes for him: $33. No changes made. Bonsai and Bighorn carried their own microspikes from Kennedy Meadows South to Ashland, due to flip flops along the trail and unpredictable snow.
Camp Corsa Ice Axe and Corsa Nanotech, for him and her respectively: $282 at Yogi’s shop in Kennedy Meadows, including a 20% discount. No changes made. Bonsai and Bighorn carried their own ice axes from Kennedy Meadows South to Ashland, due to flip flops along the trail and unpredictable snow. They made for great trowels.
Other miscellaneous small gear
All of the gear below are smaller items that we kept with us on the trail and adapted as we went.
Cribbage board and cards: Free, received as a gift. We got rid of these items after completing California. Bonsai carried these item.
Medical and Repair Kit (included lamb’s wool, toothpaste, toothbrush, hand sanitizer, duct tape, needles and floss, tenacious tape, sunscreen, and toilet paper): Less than $10, including replacements. We added tape and gauze in the desert, and switched from wet wipes to toilet paper in the desert. Total spent on gear changes: $3. Bonsai carried these items.
Bandanas (4): Free, received as a gift over the years. No changes made. We each carried two.
Whistles: Free, received as a gift. We sent these home at Mt. Laguna because our packs had built in whistles. We each carried one.
What our changes taught us most
With each change that was made, we were able to learn a lot about what worked well for us and what we would change in the future. Here is some of our favorite pieces of advice we’d give to any aspiring long distance hikers.
Comfort is Key
Our largest changes in gear were related to our own personal comfort, something we scarified often for the sake of our extremely tight budget. For the first 1,300 miles, my hips hurt so bad that I would wake up from the throbbing pain pulsating through them. As a yoga instructor, I had enough tools to nourish my body, but my sleeping pad was undoing all of my hard work every night. Switching to a Therm-A-Rest Prolite inflatable sleeping pad was a game changer, providing me a better night sleep and leaving me more energized for the next day. When I added my Therm-A-Rest compressible pillow, I felt like I was glamping, and my body thanked me everyday for the added comfort to my sleep system.
In short, go for comfort. Not sleeping well while doing a long distance hike is just not worth it. It can quickly deteriorate your mental state of being and have a large, negative impact on your trek as a whole.
If ultralight is important to you, don’t be afraid to sacrifice
When we first started the hike, we were so convinced we needed every piece of gear on our list. We quickly learned that wasn’t the case. It took some trial and error to slowly pick through our items and figure out what was essential, what was a luxury, and what could be sent home or ditched immediately. As we went further along and wanted our packs to be even lighter, making small sacrifices became a necessary part of the game.
Instead of having extra clothes to sleep in and wear in town, I hiked Oregon and Washington with one shirt and one pair of shorts, a thin pair of baselayers, and a jacket. No underwear, no baselayer shirt to sleep in. If I was cold at night, I wore my puffy or curled closer to Bighorn. If I did laundry, I wore a towel or didn’t wash my baselayer pants and jacket until I was at a stream the next day. While clothes weren’t the heaviest thing in my pack, limiting my wardrobe was a simple way for me to cut weight in the long run and create more simplicity in my life.
When looking at what you might be able to cut out, go on some test runs with your full pack and see what doesn’t feel 100% necessary. Even after months of hiking, there always seems to be adjustments that can be made if cutting weight is important to you.
If luxury is important, go for it!
We often joked that Bighorn was “ultra-heavy” because of his habit of accumulating extra gear. Whenever he found something on trail that didn’t belong, he carried it out. This one time landed him with three knives!
One thing that was important to Bighorn, though, was having the things he wanted available when he needed them. If that meant carrying a heavy Leatherman and cans of tuna (which are more cost effective than packets), then so be it. Being ultralight isn’t a necessary evil for backpacking, and you can make do with a heavier pack. So, if having that journal or cribbage board and cards are important to you, than carry them proudly and don’t let others tell you their too heavy or unnecessary.
Don’t get overwhelmed by the process
I’m a hypocrite, I know, but the best piece of advice I never followed was to not get overwhelmed by the process of buying gear. Allowing yourself to feel burdened by the process made it that much easier to make poor purchasing decisions. That’s how I landed with a backpack whose hip belt came un-cinched every five minutes after 1,300 miles, or why I bought my second pair of shoes before the hike despite countless blogs warning me not to.
It may seem daunting at times, but taking a deep breath and moving slowly through the pre-trail gear process is really the best way not feel that buyers remorse that became so familiar to me in my planning stages. So grab a glass of wine and kick up your feet, and try your hardest not to be like me when making these gear decisions. Trust me, you’ll have a much better time with it all.
2017 PCT Gear Review Video
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