My PCT Gear List
The Continuum of Backpacking Gear
I was first introduced to backpacking when I was 18, with a 50-mile trip on the AT through Virginia. Not knowing any better, I used what was given to me, an old external frame pack. The months before the trip were spent accumulating all the bells and whistles. A hatchet, flint and steel, a survival saw (I suppose the hatchet wasn’t enough?), a hammock, a 3” foam pad, a huge 40-degree sleeping bag, a few days worth of clothes, the list goes on. Don’t forget… a ratchet strap (yes, really) because then it would make hanging my hammock easier and I could cinch my sleeping bag to the outside of my pack. PSA: Keep the sleeping bag/quilt in the pack, these lessons are learned the hard way.
The first “big hike” that I led was 50 miles through the Sierras of Yosemite. On this trip, I carried a borrowed ~70L L.L. Bean Pack filled with Amazon-purchased backpacking gear. Thankfully, I had learned some lessons by now: bring one pair of clothes, scrap the deodorant – plenty of other things will smell worse than your armpits, and leave the ratchet strap at home. I packed for my fears. Back-up water filtration, a big bottle of bug spray, a thermal rescue blanket, and some other emergency options. After completing the 50 miles in 3 days, exploring Yosemite’s unreal alpine lakes and summits (Half Dome and Cloud’s Rest) I realized if I could just move faster… I could see so much more. So I sought to improve my fitness and start from scratch with my gear.
Down the Gear Rabbit Hole
After well over a year of research from YouTube channels such as Darwin On The Trail, Homemade Wanderlust, and Dan Becker to blogs and product reviews from hundreds of other hikers I became obsessed with backpacking gear. I slowly pieced together my gear list and one by one purchased what has become the perfect set-up for myself, at a base weight of 9.9 lbs (warm).
Before I touch on my “Big 4” and other favorites, I want to preface it with this: while I do indifferently claim to be ultralight (UL), I recognize there is a large subgroup of true UL hikers who might be prepared to pick apart my list. Frankly, I don’t mind it all that much. Whether your base weight is 4 lbs, 15 lbs, or 30 lbs we’re all going out to accomplish the same goal. Our community should always supersede pack weight, daily mileage, and the number of bags of sour gummy worms eaten throughout a thru-hike (though I’m prepared for that challenge). So here goes…
I chose the Zpacks Duplex for my shelter! The Zpacks Altaplex and Duplex seem to be two of the most popular trekking pole tents used on the PCT, at least anecdotally from what I see on social media. The Duplex is a two-person tent that has been fantastic for giving me ample room for myself and my gear on solo hikes. It’s a single-wall Dyneema composite tent, giving it great durability and light weight. At just 18.5oz without stakes (21.3 with my stakes) this tent now retails for $699. Admittedly, the price was hard to swallow when I began researching. I framed it as this: “$699 is less than one month of rent so, if I sleep in my Duplex for more than 30 days, it has paid for itself.” I can’t praise this tent enough and absolutely love its durability, light weight, and packability.
My only negative criticism? As a single-wall tent, condensation can build overnight on the wall of the tent. I’m 6’ 2” so if my feet or head touch the wall when wet, I get wet. This is the benefit of the Duplex over the Altaplex for a solo hiker in my opinion – more room from the duplex means you can lay diagonally when wet to guarantee you stay dry. If you’re shorter than 6 feet, I’m sure you’d be fine to lay long ways in the tent and remain dry! Note: this isn’t an issue isolated to Zpacks tents, in fact, nylon tents or other common tent materials can hold more condensation than Dyneema.
My sleep system includes the Enlightenment Equipment Revelation and the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite. These two pieces are most hikers’ first picks for good reason. My custom Revelation is a 20-degree, 850 down-fill, Long/Regular, with draft collars. The Revelation is not only lightweight (24 oz) and warm, but its zippable toe box makes it function as an open quilt when it’s warm, and a closed system when it’s frigid. Durability is a bit of a concern with the Revelation. Mine is made of 10D fabric so I aim to keep it in my pack or in my tent at all times, avoiding using it outside of the tent while at camp.
My Xlite is a Regular/Wide with an R-value of 4.2. I tried out the Nemo Tensor Insulated before buying the Xlite. Why’d I switch to the Xlite? Both pads are great and admittedly I liked the baffles on the Tensor but my shoulders hung off the sides of the regular Tensor. I found that for the same R-value and larger size (Regular/Wide) I could upgrade to the Xlite and keep the same 16 oz weight as the Tensor Regular.
A great quilt or pad alone doesn’t equate to the capabilities of a good paired sleep system. I’ve used my Xlite and Revelation to sleep comfortably at 21 degrees with warm layers on!
“Isn’t that pad noisy?”
Like me, you may have heard plenty of reviews claiming that the metal thermal sheets inside the Xlite made it too noisy for sleeping/for others in camp. I somewhat apprehensively ordered the Xlite because of this; however, I’ve found it to not be even remotely as noisy as some have said. I sleep great on it and don’t notice the bit of noise!
Buy the Pack First
After my experiences with such different styles of backpacks, I delved deep into the available products. Internal framed, external framed, frameless? What size? What company? Minimalist or more traditional? Wanting to get my base weight to ~10lbs, what sized pack was appropriate? Rather than buy all my gear and then find a pack to fit it in, I bought my pack first. This, forced me to buy lighter, more packable gear. I landed on the Frameless 40L Waymark Gear Co Thru.
The Thru has since been discontinued but is comparable to the Waymark Evlv 38L. The Thru has a roll-top buckle and over-the-top compression. It’s made of Dyneema composite with a lycra stretch front pocket. The pack is impressively durable and lightweight (22oz). Concerned about back support without a frame? I fold up my Xlite and slide it inside against the back of the pack, providing a rigid back for support and comfort.
My Other Favorite Pieces of Gear
The Enlightenment Equipment Torrid Pullover, my most loved piece of gear. Some friends call it my “trash bag” for its luxurious resemblance to a Hefty Ultra Strong trash bag. This, giving “hiker trash” an appropriate image. I actually love the way it looks and feels. It weighs in at only 8.55 oz and pairs perfectly with my mid-layer. My mid-layer is the FarPointe Alpha Cruiser. At 4.9 oz the Alpha Cruiser keeps me warm into the low 40s. When paired with the Torrid I move comfortably in 20-degree weather.
Lastly, Smartwool. My baselayer, tights, shorts, beanie, and gloves are all Smartwool. I’ve found nothing that compares to Smartwool in terms of comfort, odor protection, and drying speed.
Honorable Mention: Nothing beats accessibility. Waymark’s Hip Belt Pocket is a huge zipper pocket perfect for your phone, holding electrolyte mixes, and your favorite snack.
Tears, Snags, and Snaps
The most difficult reality after buying expensive and beautiful backpacking gear is when they tear, catch a snag, or something breaks. My Revelation quilt has been delivered an unfortunate tear by the unsupervised claw of my cat. The bathtub bottom of my Duplex has been accidentally viciously stabbed as I attempted to whittle a stick for fun on the TRT. My Cnoc Vecto burst a leak at the seam while filtering water. So tape, tape, and tape. My Duplex and Revelation were saved with some patch tape and I used some moleskin in a pinch to temporarily fix my Vecto for the remainder of my TRT hike. The point is, we’re buying outdoor adventure gear to take outdoors. The rugged, dirty, unforgiving outdoors. Don’t be devastated by a gear malfunction or imperfection, they’re birthmarks of a good story, brush strokes of nature.
Thank you all so much for reading! Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions, share some love, and give me a follow on Instagram! Interested in my full gear list? Check it out on my blogger profile! (https://thetrek.co/author/nate-palmer/) Consider subscribing while you’re there!
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This was great to read and a good reminder that gear is mean to be used! I have a tendency to over-baby my stuff and probably miss the opportunity to simply use and enjoy it.
That’s a lot of money for aren’t and the other high tech stuff. I’ve returned to a tried and try 43 year old Kelty external, Lowa or Italian made Sundowner refurbished, wool trousers, Pendleton shirt, a down vest, and a nylon anorak. Wool hat and gloves, plus a down sleeping bag with a new-fangled pad complete the gear. I carry a Sierra cup and a tea kettle- small, plus a SVEA stove. All work.