What I Wore on the PCT: A Post-Trail Clothing Review
As a very belated follow-up to my Post Trail Gear List Review I’ve written up a review of the clothes I wore on the PCT. Clothing is just as important as any other piece of gear but what do you wear for 2,650 miles? I tried to find women’s clothing that actually works and doesn’t follow the typical “shrink it and pink it” ideology of women’s outdoor gear. Ideally, your clothes setup will be adaptable and it should work well in the heat and the cold, as you’ll be experiencing both extremes from Campo onward. You also probably won’t want to sacrifice too much on weight but bear in mind that you can send yourself warmer layers when you expect it to be much colder, or bounce layers you’re not using.
Comfort is really important because you’re going to be wearing this outfit every single day you’re hiking. No one can tell you that something will be comfortable to wear while hiking except you. Try things out, and go for a hike in the getup you plan to wear on the trail with a fully loaded backpack (this part is important). If it’s not comfortable, it’s not going to work for you. I invested the most money in my down jacket and my button-up hiking shirt. The rest were all pretty inexpensive and cheaply replaceable, or things I already owned. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on your hiking clothes, and they’re probably going to get torn up anyway. Some of the cheaper items I bought turned out to be more durable in the end.
A lot of ultralight hikers don’t carry a separate set of clothes for sleeping. My base weight was 11 pounds and I could have saved more weight by not carrying these items but I’m glad I did and it meant I had an extra set of clothes to wear at camp and in town. Putting on a clean shirt at the end of the day to sleep in was so nice and I could hike in my merino sleep shirt when it was cold too. If an item serves several purposes, it’s earned its place in my pack and on my back.
Patagonia Long-Sleeved Overcast Shirt
I wanted a long sleeve button-up shirt to protect my arms from the sun. I wore this from Mexico all the way to Canada and I loved it. One of the best things about this shirt is that mosquitoes can’t bite through it. It’s also really comfortable and dries very fast. I would often drape it over a rock in the sun when I was taking a break and after ten minutes it would turn from sweat-soaked to totally dry. It also never smelled; I swear, others have affirmed this. It lasted my entire thru-hike but for the last 500 miles it was held together with duct tape and by the end of the trail basically every time I put it on I’d tear a new massive hole in it. I refused to replace it.
Verdict: I would keep wearing this shirt if it wasn’t now in shreds.
Icebreaker Cool Lite Merino Tank Top
I wore a combo of a button-up shirt over a sleeveless top with the buttons undone. I don’t really know why but it worked for me. I liked that during breaks I could take off my sweaty shirt to dry and still be wearing something. I almost never wore the tank top without the button shirt because I didn’t want my shoulders to be totally exposed to the sun. The material is part merino and part synthetic, making it thin and breathable but ultimately not very durable. I loved this tank top but I wore massive holes in it after 1,000 miles and replaced it with a reduced Nike tank top from REI. I did do the classic thru-hiker thing and emailed Icebreaker asking for a free replacement but they said no.
Verdict: This is a really comfortable hiking tank top but worn alone it doesn’t provide sun protection and it’s not durable enough for thru-hiking.
Started out: Salomon Agile
I wore shorts for the whole trail and the only time I didn’t wear them was the Sierra in June when I wore leggings. These were my regular running shorts before the PCT so I knew they were comfortable and they were great for the trail. After 1,000 miles I wore a hole in the crotch and replaced them with the Nike Dri-fits. There was something about the 1,000-mile mark where all my clothes just gave up.
Ended with: Nike Drifit Tempo
These were just the cheapest synthetic shorts I could find in REI in Bend but they lasted for 1,600 miles, which is pretty impressive. I still wear them now and they have no signs of wear.
Verdict: I’d recommend the Nikes for thru-hiking if you’re looking to hike in shorts but Nike is not the most ethical option and there are more ethical brands which carry similar shorts but they will obviously be more expensive.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer
200 grams / 7 oz
Before the PCT I had a cheap down jacket from Uniqlo that cost about $70 and weighed about 260 grams/9 oz. After the PCT I’m not sure the Ghost Whisperer actually performed better. It kept me warm when I needed it – mostly at camp – and there were a couple of nights when I slept in it and I was definitely glad of it then, but I doubt it could have kept me warm below freezing without other layers and I would have wanted a cheap fleece if I’d continued hiking the Sierra in June. Everyone has a different threshold for cold and remember that just because most thru-hikers use one particular item doesn’t mean it’s the best for you.
Verdict: Since I own this jacket I’ll keep using it for future hikes but in retrospect, after researching the down industry, when I do have to replace my sleeping bag and jacket I’ll choose synthetic. Since I live in the UK synthetic also copes better with our damp climate.
Frogg Toggs Ultra-Lite Rain Jacket
150 grams / 5 oz
By the time I got round to buying my rain jacket for the trail I was tired of buying expensive gear so I did some research and found Frogg Toggs – the cheapest thing going. I bought a men’s small because I didn’t want it in bright pink and it was like a tent on me but I didn’t really mind. The jacket came with the rain pants too but they were enormous and looked like they belonged to a clown so I tossed them in a hiker box. 2017 was such a dry summer that I barely had to use my rain jacket; there were entire months when it stayed squashed in the bottom of my pack.
Verdict: Looks like a sack of potatoes. Does the job for very little money, it never wet through but I never had very heavy rain to test it in. If I was expecting consistently worse weather on a hike I might invest in something a little more expensive but otherwise, Frogg Toggs lives to see another day.
Icebreaker Comet Long Sleeve Crewe
180 grams / 6 oz
Warm, merino and it has thumb holes. My trail fam and I used to jokingly call our sleeping clothes our “formalwear” since they were usually our clean(ish) clothes and we wore them in town when doing laundry. I really liked this top and wore it every night at camp and to sleep in. I rarely hiked in ,which is probably why it’s one of the few pieces of clothing to survive the whole trail intact.
Verdict: Comfortable and maintains body temperature well. It’s also not scratchy like some wool shirts. I bought this on sale and didn’t realize how heavy it was at the time, I actually only looked at the weight for this article. When I have to replace it I’ll choose something lighter like Montbell’s Super Merino LW shirt, which is a whole 70 grams/2.5oz lighter.
REI Lightweight Base Layer Tights
130 grams / 4.6oz
I got these last minute as well and they were the cheapest I could find at REI. They’re polyester so not especially warm but they did the job and lasted the whole trail. I wore them most nights at camp and frequently in town and slept in them probably 90 percent of the time. I hiked in them on a couple of cold mornings under my shorts but they’re really thin and could easily tear. For the section of the Sierra that I hiked in June, I also bought some really cheap heavier duty leggings which I hiked in most days.
Verdict: Light, affordable but not very warm. For the same weight, the Montbell Super Merino M.W Tights are probably much warmer (but more expensive).
Darn Tough Hiking Socks – various styles and sizes
The best out there. You might be understandably reluctant about spending this much money on socks but it’s worth it for how much longer they’ll last – and the lifetime warranty. I wore one pair and carried another, swapping them out and trying to always keep one pair dry. Their actual lifespan seems to depend on the style of the sock and various other factors I can’t quite identify. I had some pairs last 1,000 miles and others much less. The warranty means when you wear through a pair, Darn Tough will replace them for free. This is admittedly a bit of a mixed bag since only specific gear stores will replace them for you, but there are a handful of these scattered in trail towns along the PCT. Seriously, though, these are now the only socks I wear in my regular life as well as on-trail, they’re that good.
Tip: They dry much faster on your feet than off them, so don’t bother hanging them on your pack to dry if they get wet during the day. They’ll be dry after an hour or so of wear. Do, however, let your feet air out on breaks as much as possible, “let the dogs breath,” as my good friend Spider used to say on the trail.
Verdict: Just get ’em.
I got through four pairs of shoes on the trail, including my first pair, which were my regular running shoes before the PCT so they already had some miles on them. One of those pairs was free from Brooks. These and Altra Lone Peaks are the most common shoes you’ll find on the PCT. I really liked the Brooks Cascadias and found them comfortable and supportive. For the first half of the trail, I wore them with Superfeet Carbon insoles but eventually I got tired of replacing them and didn’t notice any difference at all. They dry pretty fast, but faster when you’re actually wearing them. You can usually find the last model on sale, especially if you don’t mind some questionable colors, like the hot-pink ones I bagged at a heavily reduced price. My first three pairs were 11s but my last pair (the pair Brooks sent me for free) were the 12s and there are some definite improvements – notably, they lasted longer than any other pair I had and I still wear them now.
Verdict: I will use Brooks Cascadia for future hikes; hopefully the 13s will come out soon and the 12s won’t be as expensive.
I picked up this bra while I was on the trail after my previous one – a cheap sports bra – broke. I love it, it’s comfortable and supportive, doesn’t rub, lasted 1,600 miles, and I still wear it all the time for climbing and running. I swam in it in lakes many times and it dried really quickly afterward, it’s synthetic and sort of like swimsuit material. It’s soft and unwired, however, so might not be great for bigger breasted people. I also chucked out the inserts because who needs those.
I guess I’m writing about my underwear on the internet? I used a couple of different brands but these were by far the most comfortable and the only pair that lasted all the way from Mexico to Canada.
Verdict: I would use both of these again (and still wear them both all the time which my friends think is gross).
I hope that was helpful for anyone trying to figure out their trail outfit for 2018 or beyond. If you have any questions about the gear I used please ask in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer. Or alternatively, if you want me to review a piece of gear, please get in touch.
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