I Didn’t Need This on the AT! Adjusting my Gear for the PCT

Crunch Time 

I am one month away from starting my Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hike! I am planning to begin at the Mexican border on April 8th, but because I have big travel plans between now and then (more on that in a later post), I only have a few days before I leave home. In other words, I’m really down to the wire in terms of preparation time. 

Plan? What plan?

Some first-time thru-hikers attempt to preplan every detail of their hike in advance, poring over spreadsheets, calculating daily mileage, campsites, and resupply points.

I made this mistake on the Colorado Trail a few years ago. I was mailing myself resupply boxes and I wanted to have the exact right amount of food in each box, so I plotted out the daily mileage and campsites for the entire month-long hike. This grand plan lasted for about… four hours. By lunchtime on the very first day, my hiking partner (my Dad) and I realized we were hiking at a faster pace than we expected and promptly threw the entire plan out the window.  

Trying to make a detailed daily plan for a multi-month hike is a fool’s errand. Whether it’s due to injury, weather, illness, hiking faster or slower than expected, snow in the mountains, trail closures, wildfires, etc…. plans change. Guaranteed. There’s really no sense in planning more than a few days at a time.

Therefore, my pre-PCT logistical plan is idiotically simple: 

  1. Pick my first resupply point so I know how much food to pack.
  2. Get my ass to the trailhead in Campo.
  3. Start hiking. 

That’s it! Easy. I’ll figure everything else out as I go. 

The Exception

There is one thing, however, that I believe really does need to be ironed out in advance — gear. I spend an exorbitant amount of time preparing my gear. 

In these last few days of preparation, I’m focusing on double-checking that I have all the equipment I need to walk the 2,650 miles from Mexico to Canada. There will be some opportunities to purchase/replace gear along the trail (occasional access to outfitters, or by mail), but for the most part, what I pack is what I get. I don’t want to be stuck with the wrong stuff in my pack. 

Last year’s thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT) left me well-equipped with many of the essentials. You can see my 2023 AT gear list here.

The PCT, however, is a different beast altogether.

In comparison to the PCT, the climate and terrain of the AT are relatively homogeneous. On the PCT I will hike through the blistering heat of the Mojave Desert, the snow-covered Sierra Nevada, elevations frequently over 10,000 ft, Oregon rainforests, and unpredictable weather in the Cascades.

New Gear for the PCT

The varied terrain and climates of the PCT will require some adjustments to my usual kit. 

Water capacity

On the AT, I carried three water bottles for a max water capacity of 2.6 liters, which was overkill most of the time. In the wet woods of Appalachia, water sources were frequent and I hardly ever had to carry more than a liter or two.

On the PCT however, I will face much longer water carries. In the desert I need to be prepared for 30+ miles between reliable water sources, so I’ve added a three-liter CNOC water bladder to my kit, bringing my total capacity to 5.6 liters. (I can adjust this as needed by adding/subtracting disposable water bottles).

Sun Protection

The AT is nicknamed “The Green Tunnel” due to its near-constant tree cover. Exposure above treeline was rare and though I wore sunscreen on particularly sunny days, sun protection was not a big consideration. 

On the PCT I can expect intense hot sun in the desert and exposed alpine terrain, so protecting myself from the sun will need to be a priority. 

I’m opting to wear a long-sleeved sun shirt, a wide-brimmed sunhat, sunglasses, and of course plenty of sunscreen.

Looking fly in my sun protective gear

Bear Canister

Several sections within the Sierra region require carrying a bear canister, a heavy-duty plastic bearproof food container. Like most thru-hikers, I plan to pick up my canister in Kennedy Meadows (mile 703) and get rid of it somewhere past the Desolation Wilderness (mile 1118+). Unfortunately bear canisters are big, bulky, and heavy, so although they serve an important purpose, they are a pain to carry.

Ice Axe

Depending on conditions and snowpack, an ice axe may be required to safely cross the Sierra. If needed, I will have mine sent to Kennedy Meadows, the southern entrance to the Sierra. Despite the recent huge snowstorm in California, it has been a relatively low snow year, so it’s likely I won’t need it. 


Similar to the ice axe, microspikes will assist in safely crossing the Sierra in icy conditions by adding traction to my hiking shoes. I will have mine mailed to me in Kennedy Meadows. 

Special equipment for the Sierra: Grivel Mount Blanc Ice Axe (if needed), Chainsen Light Spikes (if needed), and BV500 bear cannister (required)

Satellite Messaging Device

I had decent cell phone coverage for most of the AT. It was rare that I went more than a day or two with no service, but on the PCT I expect much less. Though I can use my iPhone for emergency SOS via satellite, I am also going to carry a Garmin InReach. While the iPhone SOS can only be used to request emergency rescue, the InReach will also allow me to stay in touch with family, friends, shuttle drivers, etc., in non-emergency situations. 


Ready for Adventure

Despite a few other minor tweaks, the rest of my kit is essentially the same as what I took on the AT. (Soon I will post my entire gear list with pictures and weights for the gear nerds).

Though you never know what the trail will throw at you, with the right equipment you can feel confident that you’re ready for anything. I’m excited about the new challenges the PCT will bring! 

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Comments 4

  • Allen Pogorzelski : Mar 7th

    Hi Kirby,

    Good luck on your hike. I noticed that you plan to send your ice axe to Kennedy Meadows South. There’s no telling what the weather will be like in a month. Last year was an anomaly, but many of us began carrying them much, much earlier, and we were glad we did. It was a “must have” in San Jacinto. Good luck!



    • Kirby : Mar 11th

      Good to know, thanks!

  • tallis george-munro : Mar 10th

    Hija Kirby,

    I thru hiked the California PCT in 1978. I left the trail after a series of awkward encounters with black bears. They took my food twice in the Marble Mountain Wilderness and I nearly starved hiking out. I held out hope of a return until I was shot at while hiking out for a resupply. That did it for me. I hope that besides a bear container that you’re packing heat. I found that cycling cross country was more my style. I’m an old guy now and I’m interested in reading your journal. Since your military I hope that you know how to defend yourself.

    • Kirby : Mar 11th

      Thanks for reading! I bet you have some interesting stories from your bear encounters!


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