The Long Road to PCT Gear Nirvana

When I was an ankle biter my father used to gather up me, my brother, a bag of potatoes and some meat, and head for the mountains in his rusty old pickup. There was no consideration about gear. All I had was a holey old, hollow-fill sleeping bag that had the compression capabilities of an unwieldy elephant. Hell, it probably weighed more than I did at the time. A groundsheet and an outside frame backpack that tried to tear my shoulders off at every opportunity to carry it all in. That was it, the sum total of my hiking gear. Clothes consisted of whatever cotton garments I had at the time, maybe a jumper if it was winter. I think I also had, at some stage, a pair of thick leather boots with car tires as soles. Gear was not a consideration; having a good time was. And a good time did we have. It didn’t matter if we ended up freezing cold and wet or sizzling on a shadeless plateau. Sure, we’d probably have had a more comfortable time and maybe skirted death a little less, but gear just wasn’t on our radar. In short we were in ignorant bliss. At least I was.

Growing Up

Fast forward a few years and I was now a spotty teenager. Listening to bad music and moaning about everything. I was definitely way too cool to hang out with my dad and go hiking. Only in my 20s did I rediscover the love of hiking and the outdoors. Of course, I had no money then to buy any gear and besides, being in South Africa, there really wasn’t much to buy anyhow that was worthwhile. There are a few local companies here but even now they produce what could be called, comparatively, crap. For the most part they don’t even put the weight on their products when viewing their websites. The term base weight, when mentioned, is met with a screwed-up expression and a “Huh?” What’s that, how many chicks you’ve scored?’

To compound the problem the South African rand is so woefully weak that it makes any current gear purchase feel like one needs to do a quick black market organ transaction. Also, the import duties here are so prohibitive that it leads to a very South African question to overseas friends: “Hey, when you are visiting Cape Town could you bring me a small package?” I could probably just switch over to running an international drug cartel with all the gear subterfuge I’ve had to organize.

Becoming a Lightweight

Though this might all sound like a lot of work, it’s also a lot of fun. At least it is to me, who can nerd out for hours and hours on gear reviews and ecommerce websites. Needless to say that over the years I have spent a lot of time and even more money on building up some pretty cool outdoor gear.

Now that I’ve had an actual job for a few years and had to waste time making money and shit I’ve been able to afford a few nice things. However, nothing could have prepared me for the total nerdgasm that the preparation of a PCT thru-hike would produce. The planning, the reading up, the YouTube videos, the endless analyzing, and so on. It’s been nearly two years now and it’s still showing no sign of abating even though I have got everything ticked off on my list. Guess I have to accept I have a lifelong addiction. The results of all this research are bearing fruit, however. A few years ago my full winter base weight was probably around 35 pounds. I still hiked with boots and brought a whole mocha pot with me. My PCT base weight is currently sitting at around 14.5 pounds. Not ultralight, but still lightweight. I know I can go even lower but my wallet might stab me in the back next time I walk down a dark alley. Take a look at my LighterPack and see what you think.

I think you’ll see it’s pretty similar to most PCT thru-hikers, probably even downright heavy for some purists but it’s working for me. HYOH! It’s lighter than I have ever been. It’s also a comprehensive list of everything I’ll be taking so I won’t be carrying all of that stuff all of the time. Also, I am fortunate enough to be doing this hike with my wife, Jess, so we get to share the weight of a lot of things, like a our tent, cook system and so on.

There are some things I might still chuck, like the dedicated GPS. I know it is not really necessary for a trail like the PCT but after getting caught in a total whiteout in Iceland last year I was damn thankful to have it. A high snow year in the Sierra could be just the right time to have it. We’ll see. Tweaks and adjustments, they will always be ongoing. One of the great challenges of this trail is attempting to cover all the needs for the amazingly versatile environment that one has to traverse. What is necessary and what is just fluff? The idea that one can exist in a perfectly comfortable life with nothing more than what one can carry fascinates me and I am hoping that I can spread a more minimalist mind-set into the rest of my life, too. We all know that as temporary residents of this planet, we are taking far more than we need. Even though I love my consumptive gear habit I’d love even more to find that little kid in me again where the experience far outweighs having a bit of flash.

It’s two and a half weeks till my shoes hit the trail and I just can’t wait.

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