PCT Ultralight Gear List

I’ve been on the PCT for a solid chunk each summer the past two years. Kennedy Meadows to Sierra City (~500 miles) in 2016, Sierra City to Elk Lake in 2017 (~750 miles), and I’m about to head back out for another trip: Fish Lake to Monument 78 (~900 miles).

An aside: If you can’t list the PCT waypoints in your sleep like I can, you may not notice that where I’m starting this year is actually south of where I ended last year. Am I rehiking miles? Yes. Isn’t that inefficient? Not really. I have to fill in a section I skipped due to fire closure, and it’s honestly faster (and more fun) to just rehike the segments I didn’t skip along the way. Continuous footsteps from Mexico to Canada will happen.

My gear list has changed a tiny bit for each section, becoming slightly more elegant every year. I think this year is the best yet. My base weight is ringing up around nine to ten pounds. For the sake of focusing on a brief rundown and why of the gear I’m carrying rather than technical specs, I’m leaving out weights. (But I do totally have a nerdy spreadsheet calculating weights down to grams that I’ll save for another time.)

Here goes.

The Big Three (Except That It’s Really Five)

1 – The Pack

Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 3400 – This is new for me. I’ve been very happily adventuring with a Granite Gear Crown VC Ki 60L pack for years and years, and it has served me incredibly well. But any gearhead would be a little bonkers to turn down an opportunity to test out an HMG pack. They are beautifully streamlined and appear to be very thoughtfully designed packs. I am stoked to try this out. Gear review forthcoming.

2 and 3 – The Shelter System

Tarptent ProTrail – This is one piece of gear that’s been with me for the whole PCT thus far (and a lot of trips elsewhere in between). It’s a single-wall shelter with a bathtub floor that allows you to use your trekking poles as the structural framework. Lightweight, simple/quick/easy to set up, and plenty of moving room. The ProTrail has kept me dry and happy and I’m confident it will continue to do so for the next 900 miles.

Gossamer Gear 6 x 8 Polycro Groundsheet – Also new to my setup this year. I’ve previously been an overly rigid ounce-counter, trying to save weight by eliminating the “useless” groundsheet. And now I have patches over dozens of tiny pin-holes in the floor of my tent. For most of the PCT, that doesn’t matter much because it’s so dry. But heading into the PNW, I’m anticipating needing that extra layer underneath. We’ll see how it goes.

4 and 5 – The Sleep System

Western Mountaineering Ultralight 20 – Another tried and true piece. I love this bag so much that sometimes I sleep in it at home just because I miss it. Cannot say enough good things about this bag. I store this in a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil 13L Dry Sack.

Therm-a-Rest ProLite Plus – I’ll be honest, I have mixed feelings about this. I’ve used it on many other trips, but never on the PCT. Historically I’ve carried a Z-Lite Sol, but I think just about any seasoned distance hiker would tell you good sleep is more important than shaving ounces. (Plus carrying a closed cell pad has its financial drawbacks. They compress and wear out faster than you’d think.) I’d rather be carrying a NeoAir, but because I already have the ProLite Plus and I’m a poor doctoral student, this is what’s happening for now. So it goes.

Clothing Worn

Bought another almost identical one in its place.

SmartWool NTS Micro 150 Crew – Walking all day, every day, in the same clothes, for weeks and weeks and weeks? The best thing ever, duh, but not especially conducive to smelling even remotely acceptable. But the good news is that, unlike synthetic materials, wool is inherently antimicrobial–meaning it’s sorta naturally designed to manage those weeks and weeks of stench. And long sleeves are better than sunscreen. I will say, though, these shirts do start to wear out after about 1,200 miles and a whole lot of deet.

Prana Elixir Bra – Lightweight. Comfortable. Minimal.

Patagonia Barely Bikini – They’re barely there.

Lululemon Sculpt Short – No chafing. Killer tan lines.

They fade, but never completely go away. It’s tremendous.

Dirty Girl Gaiters – These are a PCT staple, no question about it. They keep trail debris out without keeping heat or moisture in. Pro tip: Super glue the Velcro pieces onto your shoes instead of relying on the adhesive.

Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew – I’ve worn these every mile of the PCT (and actually pretty much every mile I’ve hiked in the past several years). Not a single blister, and I still have the first two pairs I bought.

Salomon Sense Pro Max – I can’t do the zero drop thing without some major Achilles issues; six millimeters seem to be my happy place. So unlike basically everyone else on the PCT sporting Altras, Salomon is my jam. Their trail runners are very consistent and reliable, and work really well for my foot structure. I’m more concerned about cushion than anything, and the Sense Pro Max scores as high as possible in that department.

Clothing Carried

MontBell Superior Down Jacket – This is another piece I’ve had for the entirety of my time on the PCT. It’s very warm for such a lightweight jacket–especially if I also wear my shell and a heavier base layer. My philosophy is that if I’m walking, I won’t get that cold, and otherwise if I am that cold I’ll just get into my sleeping bag. No need for anything heavier.

Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket – Such a great piece. Very simple and streamlined. Doesn’t even have hand pockets, which I love. Packs down super small, too. Little weight and little space for completely adequate weather protection? Yes, please.

Rocking the Helium Jacket in a lightning and hail storm just before Evolution Basin, for which my enthusiasm cannot be understated. The storm got pretty gnarly and I decided to wait it out before I continued gaining elevation, passing time with suffer selfies.

Outdoor Research Transcendent Down Beanie – The only drawback I’ve ever thought of for this hat is that it’s sometimes a little too toasty. Does that even count as a drawback? I just wrap my half buff around my ears instead if the down is too much.

Also carried are an extra pair of socks, underwear, and a second bra–all duplicates of those listed above.

Hygiene and First Aid

Here’s a run down of all the many small things.

Pretty straightforward.

Hydration, Food Storage, Cookware

Ursack Major – Sure you could save some ounces by using a dry bag or something else daintier, but the critter/bear protection is 100 percent worth these 8.7 ounces if you ask me.

Sawyer Mini

1L Smart Water bottles (x3)

I go stoveless, so no cookware or fuel fuss for me. It took me a bit of a transition period to get used to it, but I’ll never go back. I do, however, continue to treasure the Sea to Summit Alpha Long Spoon, for its lightweight ability to reach the bottom of the peanut butter jar without a trace of PB to the knuckles.

Odds and Ends

Again, a breakdown of all the things:

Previously I’ve carried a Goal Zero Flip 20, but it’s been repeatedly disappointing and unreliable. Hoping the Anker does better.

Summary

I’m noticing there are a few items I’ve left off in my haste to get everything done before I head out, but that’s pretty much all of it. Every time I prepare for a long trip into the wilderness, I am baffled by how little I actually need–or even really want. What a treasure and privilege to be able to structure my life in a way that affords me the luxury and simplicity of time in the wilderness.

Happy hiking!

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Comments 9

  • Terry Butler : Jul 7th

    You’re doing what I hope to be doing a year from now when I sell my tax practice of nearly 30 years, hoping to reverse the aging process a bit. Just curious, in a 300 mile hike how many opportunities to jump in some water and clean up a bit? Signed, the surprisingly nice smelling hiker.

    Reply
    • Anne K. Baker : Jul 7th

      Nice! What a terrific goal, Terry. It depends on which 300 miles you’re on, but for the most part there are a lot of great swimming spots on the PCT. I’d say I’ve taken a dip more days than not in my 1200 miles thus far. Gotta be careful about getting soap and bug spray and sunscreen in our pristine waters, but otherwise swimming is a must.

      Reply
  • Erick : Jul 7th

    Nice gear list with one big exception. The Ursack is not an approved bear canister in Sequoia and Kings Canyon and all the way through Yosemite. Unless things have changed in the past year.

    Reply
    • Anne K. Baker : Jul 7th

      You’re absolutely right, Erick! The Ursack is still not approved in those areas, and hikers should still be carrying a bear vault or other approved canister through there. I’m further north on this section, though, where it’s up to hikers to choose how to protect our wild friends.

      Reply
  • Shannon : Jul 7th

    Will you bring baselayer leggings? I can’t decide between a lightweight or midweight legging for sleeping/if it gets too cold. Thoughts?

    Reply
    • Anne K. Baker : Jul 27th

      Great question, Shannon. I usually mail myself long underwear bottoms for segments in which I expect to be cold (e.g., the Sierras). If I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the case that I want them (because of something reliable like high elevation), I’ll go ahead and put the extra layer in the appropriate resupply box and seal it up. But if I’m not totally sure, I usually wait until a little closer to when I get to that part to make a decision. I usually have a pile of “send if” items that I can tell my person sending boxes to include. For this section, I wasn’t sure what to expect in the north Cascades, so I had tights in my “send if” pile. Hope that helps!

      Reply
  • Chris G. : Jul 17th

    You good? -Two Speed

    Reply
  • Ryan : Aug 8th

    I’m also considering not bringing a cookset (e.g. stove, fuel) on future backpacking trips. I’m curious what you generally eat? I realize each person has her/his own food preferences, I’m curious though what you chose to eat for dinner, in particular; I feel I have breakfast and lunch set for my preferences. And what kinds of containers you use to hold food items such as peanut butter, etc? Note: I’m also a PhD student, and I’m looking to try and get a backcountry adventure in before the semester begins in a few weeks. I’m considering one of the Wyoming or Utah hikes you discuss in one of your other posts.

    Reply
    • Anne K. Baker : Aug 16th

      Awesome that you’re getting out there during your doctoral studies, Ryan–it’s not easy! For me, eating on the trail is 100% about calories and that’s it. I don’t enjoy dehydrated meals regardless of whether they’re hot or cold soaked, so instead dinner is often just a weird conglomerate of snacks. I also often carry pre-hydrated rice (the kind you just heat up in the microwave for 90 seconds), to which I add an individual packet of olive oil and eat straight from the pouch un-heated. Turns out around 680-720 calories with no waiting, no mess, and it’s actually pretty delicious (note: probably obvious, but try this at home and on shorter trips before you go all in). It’s simpler than cold soaking in my opinion, and not really much heavier, because either way you have to carry the water at some point. I don’t use any special containers–all nut butters stay in their original jars. The only thing I ever need is my Sea-to-Summit long spoon. Other items consistently in my food bag are protein bars, snickers, electrolyte blocks, triscuits/wheat thins, and a lot of dried fruit and nut mixes (I like to add a lot of variety with these so I don’t get sick of it–oranges, kiwi, coconut, cashews, almonds, peanuts..there are a lot of interesting bulk options). And I ALWAYS pack out a giant veggie sandwich, sweet potato chips, and some sort of cookie from town. Hope that helps. Feel welcome to shoot me an e-mail if you’re looking for more details on food and/or a Wyoming/Utah trip!

      Reply

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