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Begins: Apr 26, 2009
Date: Wed, Dec 2nd, 2009
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I've been meaning to do a writeup of the gear I used but have been too lazy. So here goes.
Backpack - ULA Ohm, Granite Gear Vapor Trail
I used a ULA Ohm to start. I like a lot of things about this pack starting with its light weight, excellent compression for different sized loads and well designed exterior pockets. My baseweight excluding food and water was 10lbs and the Ohm held this well. The side pockets hold a 1L water bottle securely and are easily accessed while the pack is on. The front pocket is made of stretch mesh and was a convient place to store cooking gear, tarp, and bivy for quick access. The delrin suspension hoop is a nice design to get a little suspension with minimal weight and easily curves to hug my back. I also really liked the point the load lifter attached to the shoulder strap was adjustable. I took advantage of meeting Brian at the kick off and he adjusted the pack for me. The main thing was sliding that attachment point and it made a huge difference.
There where only two problems I had. The first was the stretch mesh front pocket is a relatively week material that was easily torn. I've now got numerous holes in the mesh such that small items might fall out, but was fine for holding the gear I had. The second and bigger problem is that the weight of my gear and food steadily crept up. At the start I had sufficient extra body fat and was only able to do abou 15 mi days on average so I was able to get by on close to 1 lb of food per day. When I lost the weight (about 10 lbs) and my mileage went to 25 - 30 mi per day that no longer cut it. By the end I needed more like 2+ lb of food per day. In addition small items added to my base weight. Things like deet, anti-itch creme, anti-fungal creme were needed. For shorter trips I normally repackage these types of things so that I'm only carrying exactly what I need. On a 5 month hike I chose to get larger containers to save money and avoid the hastle of shopping for these items in the small towns. I could have used a bounce box, but since I wasn't drop shipping food that would have meant an extra trip to the post office and the need to worry about getting to towns on days and times where it was open. Many people to an extra zero to wait for the post office to open on Monday. I only wanted to take a zero because I wanted to take a zero. This meant extra ounces of these various items and as we all know ounces add up to pounds. By the time I switched packs my base weight had increased 3lbs and my out of town food weight 4 lbs. At this weight the Ohm was no longer comfortable. The Ohm is great at 20lbs and ok for a day at 25lbs. With food and water I was closer to 30 coming out of town and that didn't carry well at all. My gut feeling is that the suspension is fine for the load but the 1" webbing used for the hipbelt was not suffiecient to transfer much weight to the hips. A wider hipbelt similar to the circuit could extend the range of the pack for minimal weight gain.
My new pack which I got at Castle Crags was a Granite Gear Vapor Trail. This pack is 1lb heavier than the ohm but handled 30 lbs more comfortably. This pack has been around for years and been used on many a thru hike. Other than the additional suspension it is a very minimalist pack. The compression system is outstanding although no better than the ohm and a heavier design. I used the hipbelt pockets from the Ohm and bought a large silnylon stuff sack to fit my cooking gear, tarp and bivy which I could then secure with the compression straps on the front of the pack. This gave me the same packing system as I used with the ohm. The main flaw in the vapor trail is that the side compression straps go over the top of the side pocket so that one has to choose between access to the pocket while the pack is on or compression. A lousy choice. The solution I used was to cut slits in the side pockets using a hot knife and running the straps on the inside of the pockets. This worked great. I could easily get a 1L gatorade bottle in and out of the pockets while on the go. The fabric on the pockets did not fray at all over the next several months. The only problems I had where that the load lifter straps would slip meaning I had to retighten the straps every 1/2 hour or so. Quite annoyning. Additionally the seam between the back panel and pack body on one side under the pocket ripped out. For this reason I returned the pack I bought to REI and bought another Vapor Trail when I returned.
Sleeping Bag - Marmot Helium, Golite Ultra 20
I used a Marmot Helium bag rated at 15F. This was an older model with a 1/2 length zipper. I'm glad I had a warm bag in the south as the high desert can be colder than what one might imagine. I used this through the sierras where I traded it for a Golite Ultra 20 quilt (20F rating). The Ultra was great for the warm weather through the summer and was often warmer than I needed. Plus it saved 10 oz off my back. As has been well documented it is not warm enough for 20F for most people. I was OK down to about 30F with the clothing system I had. When I got to the Washington border in mid-September I went back to the Marmot and was glad I did. No surprise to anyone that fall in Washington can be quite chilly. I had no equipment to measure the temperatures but based on the ground being frozen solid I would guess low to mid 20s. I was comfortable and warm as long as I stayed dry.
Sleeping Pad - Thermarest Neoair, Gossamer Gear Thinlight 1/8"
I used a regular size Thermarest Neoair inflatable mattress most of the way. This pad is billed as being extremely comfortable, reasonably warm, and somewhat fragile. I found all of this to be true. I had trouble getting a good nights sleep in towns. I think part of this was just being uncomfortable in doors, but mostly no hotel bed was as comfortable as the neoair. I never got cold on the pad so no complaints there. I did however develop leaks. I'm not sure how I got the hole. But one of the problems with the desert is that there are very few places near the trail with enough water to submerge the pad and see the air bubbles to identify the source of the leak. I needed to get to town which meant I slept on a pad that deflated in an hour for several days. I swapped the neoair for a Big Agnes Insulated Air Core. This is somewhat sturdier, but still developed a leak. As I tried to roll up the pad in heavy winds, the tail of the pad blew into a Yucca plant, a succulent with sharp points at the ends of its leaves. I got the replacement neoair at Walker Pass, just before entering the High Sierras, and used it successfully without any leaks for the remainder of the trip. Like any light weight gear I needed to learn how to use the neoair. I added a 1/8" gossamer gear foam pad which I used under the neoair, and I unrolled and rerolled the pad inside of my bivy to prevent it from blowing into anything. The foam pad was also nice to use against my back in the Ohm which has no padding and as a sit pad at stops.
Shelter - Oware Cat Tarp 1.5 cuben fiber
I used a Backpacking Light branded tarp called the Nano pro. This was actually made by Oware and is the same as the 1.5 cat tarp in cuben fiber. It weighs just over 4 oz. I had never used a tarp, although I had used a gatewood cape previously which is similar, so I wasn't sure what to expect. For me it was the perfect shelter for the PCT. Mainly because it hardly ever rains, so through California and much of Oregon I barely ever set it up. The few times it did rain I stayed dry. One night in Washington I did get about 2 ft of snow. This collapsed the tarp down on top of me until a woke up and banged the snow off. Each time this happend my bag got wet and the down collapsed leaving me a little cold. Probably not the ideal shelter for winter weather but sufficient for me to make it through all right. I was also worried about the durability of the cuben fiber fabric, but when I got to handle it I was surprisedhow strong it felt. It's certainly possible to puncture it, but it's easy to prevent that from happening especially for a shelter. It's no stretch property, strength, waterproofness and weight make it the ideal in my opinion. If you're comfortable useing 1.3 silnylon and can afford the cost than there's no reason to avoid a well made cuben shelter such as Oware or MLD.
I made my own bivy patterned after the Mountain Laurel Designs serenity nettent. It's a great design. The solid ends block the open ends of the tarp when setup as an A-frame, this catches the small amount of spray that makes it though and the netting in addition to keeping the bugs out catches condensation drips coming down from the tarp. I made one improvement which worked nicely for me. This was to have the zipper go around the top V instead of across the bottom. This gave me a convienent place to sit and take off my shoes with out tracking dirt and debris into the bag. I made two more "improvements" which didn't work at all. The first was to use Tyvek (1443R) for the bottom, which I did to reduce condensation. The tyvek developed small rips at the seams almost from the beginning. This could have been from my poor sewing skills, but the stuff I made from silnylon didn't peform so poorly. The other thing as that the tyvek was a magnent for little twigs and such which worked their way into the fiber strands that make up the fabric. My second failed design change was to use ripstop nylon for the lower half of the bivy top. I wanted increased spray protection as I was nervous about the tarp. I had condensation under the nylon a number of times and spray was never a problem. For three season use I'll definitely go back to a full netting top. You can see pictures of the bivy here: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=20414.
Water - Platy Bottles, Aquastar mUV, Platypus Cleanstream
I used platypus 2L bottles for water storage plus a 1L Nalgene cantene (soft sided) for drinking on the go and mixing in flavorings. I got hole in the platypus bottle from a button pin, a kickoff volunteer badge that I carried as a souvenir. Quite foolish. I neutered the badge by pulling out the sharp pin and had no problems with a replacement platypus over the next 2000 miles. The nalgene cantene developed holes along the sides, likely from being folded up in the side pockets. I replaced this with a gatorade bottle which was lighter, cheaper, and proved to be more durable.
For water treatment I used a Aquastar mUV ultravoilet purifier. Initially I didn't bother to treat water most of the time. At Tuolumne Meadows I came down with giardia symptoms and decided I should start treating. The mUV and 2 replacements failed over the next 2 months and the result was that I got giardia again just before the Oregon border. I switched to using the Platypus drip filter. I made my own setup using the replacement platypus filter and the standard platy bottles, not the zip ones. I find the zip bottle too hard to securely close. I liked this system a lot, although it did fail when I let the filter freeze in the snow storm. Lessons learned: 1) While some people may be able to identify clean drinking sources or are immune to the bugs, I am not in that group. 2) A small dropper bottle of bleach is well worth carrying as a backup.
Cooking Gear - Homemade Woodstove, Snow Peak Titanium Bowl, MSR Titanium Pot 1.5L
I cooked with wood for the entire trip. I carried a small alcohol stove as backup for the first week as I didn't know if there would be wood in the desert, but it was no problem and I sent it home. I had spent a bunch of time playing with wood stove designs before I left and had come up with a 1 oz solution described here: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/thread_display.html?forum_thread_id=18429. This worked fairly well although durability was a problem. The inner wall made from .001" thick stainless steel foil ripped some where the fire grate was inserted. The outer wall made from an aluminum oven liner held up surprisingly well until I spilled boiling hot melted butter on it which then caught fire and burned holes in the aluminum. I replaced it after 6 weeks even though it was still in usable condition. I went through a number of different designs and still have some ideas for improvements. But I ended up using .005" stainless steel and eliminating the inner wall. This weighed 3.5 oz. Using titanium would drop the weight in half.
For a pot I used a Snow Peak titanium bowl. This is about 700ml. Then when the hunger kicked in about 1/2 way through I switched to a 1.5L MSR titanium pot to hold the volumes of food I needed.
Clothing System - Icebreaker Atlas, BPL Beartooth Hoody, REI Mistral Convertible, Cloudveil Spinner Convertible, Cotton Dress Shirt, Montane Featherlite H20 Jacket, Ran Drillium Jacket, BPL Cocoon UL60 Hoody, Patagonia R1 Balaclava and Pullover, BPL Featherlite Mitts
I had thin merino wool for baselayer, Icebreaker Atlas bottoms and a BPL beartooth hoody top. Loved these. I started with my old trusty REI softshell convertibles. They are comfortable in a variety of temperatures and sufficiently water resistant that I didn't need rain pants. Unfortuanately mine were 8 yrs old and the fabric had been worn down so much on the seat that it was slightly pornographic. REI no longer makes the convertible ones so I replaced them with Cloudviel spinner pants. These use slightly thicker but more breathable fabric. Only downside was no closures at the ankle so the legs flopped around more than I liked. Mostly I wore them in shorts mode. I used a cotton dress shirt in the desert. The lightweight cotton fabric kept me cool by drying slowly and the collar flipped up protected my neck from sunburn. When I reached the high sierras I dropped the cotton shirt and wore the hoody full time. While this was extremely comfortable the merino fabric is not made to be worn under a pack. The fabric wore down to nothing over the next month or so. In Oregon I got a new hoody and an Under Armour heat gear top.
I used a Montane Featherlite H2O jacket. This is not so breathable and not so water proof but at 3 oz was sufficient for the conditions. When temps are above freezing staying completely dry is not essential so the weight savings was worth it. I switched to a Rab Drillium eVent jacket at the Washington border and was glad I did when the snow hit. I was also glad to have RBH vapor barrier socks which kept my feet warm when hiking through snow and freezing temperatures. I used a Patagonia R1 balaclava usually rolled up in hat mode. Lightweight powerstretch gloves were good for most of the trip, but BPL Featherlite vapor barrier gloves kept my hands much warmer in sub freezing temps of October. I carried a BPL cocoon UL60 hoody the whole way. Other than a bunch of seams ripping out which I crudely resewed, it was great. Warm and light. I added a Patagonia R1 pullover for the last week of Washington when the snows started. I didn't want to wear the cocoon hoody with a pack as I don't think it would hold up.
Footwear - New Balance 909, Carbon Fiber Inserts
I started with a philisophy that an extremely light weight sock-like shoe was the way to go. Since I have wide feet I got New Balance 840 trail runners. I soon developed sharp pain in my heels at the end of each day. To deal with this I switched back to New Balance 909s, a sturdier trail runner, and added an insert. My mom's podiatrist recommended an insole by DownUnder. These had more padding with an elevated heel cup and are significantly cheaper than superfeet. I replaced the insoles every 200 mi and the shoes every 400 mi.
Right around the Oregon border I developed constant pain at the balls of my feet. As was never able to get this to go away, but I got carbon fiber inserts that protected my feet and reduced the pain. These weighed 2.5 oz for the pair and essentially substitute for the protective plate that most heavy hiking shoes/boots have built into the sole. I believe if I had gotten these earlier I wouldn't have developed the pain to begin with. As it was it took a couple weeks of rest off the trail for the pain to go away completely.
I never settled on a brand of socks but mostly stuck to lighter weight merino, from Icebreaker, Smartwool, and Wigwam. The only ones that didn't work were from Bridgedale which rubbed my toes raw under the seam. I also carried NRS Hydroskinz neoprene socks which I used as sleep socks and for additional warmth in the snow. These are slightly less bulky for the warmth when wearing two pairs of socks in trail runners.
Trekking Poles - Gossamer Gear Lighttrek 4, Titanium Goat AGP
I started with Titanium Goat AGP poles. Right near the top of Muir Pass the bottom section of one pole completely shattered longitudinally in many spots. A week later the locking mechanism on the other pole locked tight due to corrosion of the metal parts. These really should be made of stainless steel.
I replaced them with Gossamer Gear poles. These have more comfortable grips and a larger locking piece. Often with the AGPs the lock would fail to tighten and I'd need to take the pole apart to get it to seat. This happened much less with the Gossamer Gear poles. However in the snow the gossamer gear poles froze shut and it took me quite a bit of time and effort to get them apart. Plus gossamer gear also uses a metal screw that can corrode and fail. They provide a rubber grommet that is supposed to keep water from getting into the pole and corroding the screw, but this quickly broke off. I fail to see why Gossamer Gear, who is clearly aware of the problem as they provided the rubber grommet, did not source stainless steel parts. I tried whenever possible to take the poles apart so that they could dry out. So far no signs of corrosion.
I sewed 2 large silnylon sacks with roll top closures, one for food, and one for my sleeping bag, pad, and clothes. These kept my gear dry and were more durable than the garbage bags I had been using on previous trips although my food bag had a small hole were an animal chewed through. I also used 3 small granite gear zipper bags to organize my various sundries, first aid and electronics.
Light - Petzl Zipka Plus 2, Photon Rex
I started with a Photon Rex. A great little light for camp chores. As summer turned to fall and the days shortened I found I really liked night hiking. At the level I needed for night hiking, the Rex would last about 3 hours. Sometimes this wasn't enough for 1 night. A Petzl Zipka Plus 2 was brighter and a single set of batteries was enough through all of Washington.
Electronics - iPhone, Solar Charger, IMP5000 USB Battery
I carried an iPhone and loved it. I listened to music most of the time I was hiking. The phone was handy to call from the trail when I needed replacement gear. I used email to type and send in journal entries to postholer. A couple of other apps I found useful. One was Instapaper Free. This app saves web pages for offline reading. I would use it to get updated water reports through southern California. The other was iTopoMaps. With this I could download Halfmile's waypoints, which had mile markers and water locations. I could also save and export waypoints which I included with my journal entries. While the function set of iTopoMaps was everything I wanted the app was very buggy. Features where broken in each release. Fix one lose another. The last update I got would not allow me to export waypoints. Additionally I could not rely on the iPhone to get a GPS lock. The one time I was truly lost I could not get a fix inspite of a completely clear sky view. I carried paper maps.
The only problem is that the iPhone sucks power. I could go about 2 days on a full charge. I had started with cheap solar charger from Hong Kong. This did basically nothing. I eventually got an IMP5000 which is just a big lithium battery. I'd charge it in town and then I could get 3 charges for the iPhone while on the trail, enough for 8 days of use. I also got a voltage regulator so I could charge the Photon Rex and Aquastar mUV which dropped the 5.5V output down to 3V.
Navigation - Halfmile's Maps, Bruton 54LU Compass
I carried Halfmiles maps for California. These are a most awesome contribution to the pct community. Halfmile hiked the trail with a gps, and overlayed his waypoints, 1 each half mile as well as towns, water spots, and even the McDonald's just off trail in Cajon, onto National Geographic 1:31680 topo maps. In other words there's a waypoint just about every place you could possibly want one. He also mapped the various off trail sections in the Sierras including Whitney and VVR among others. Also included are elevation profiles and limited town info. In my opinion these are the best maps available at any price. Better yet Halfmile's price is free. Unfortunately he had not yet done Oregon and Washington. I used the More than a Mile maps for these sections which sucked by comparison but where better than nothing. It's really nice to have some mileage markers to measure my pace, when I was trying to keep pushing to make the miles. Fortunately for future Hiker's Halfmile has said he will be done with the whole trail before next season.
For a compass I carried a Brunton 54LU sighting, baseplate compass. I really like this compass for when I need to triangulate positions. On the pct this never came up. A little button compass would have been fine.
Guide Books - Yogi's Guidebook
In addition to Halfmile's maps a carried Yogi's guide book. This was useful for detailed town info. Her town info was spotty. Sometimes she had really useful info. Sometimes she had nothing for miles. The worst was in Oregon and Washington were she would take 50 mi stretches where her only info was that the databook was accurate. This could have been useful if I was carrying the databook. But I was not. Left me with no trail or water info for days. I was not happy about that. Still I'm not sure what would be better. Halfmile's maps alone might be sufficient as he does have the basic town info, specifically the post office hours. He doesn't have all the lodging and shopping info but you can get that from other Hiker's or just asking whenyou get to town.
I carried a Cabela's telescopic spinning rod and Mepp's spinners from Kennedy Meadows to the Columbia River. The kit weighed about 12 oz. The only place I caught fish was between King's Canyon and Yosemite. I'm sure there where other places to fish but many of them were slighly off trail and the need to make miles had me push past the few others. I only tried a couple of places. Although the river running by the Braaten's home in Belden looked to hold a lot of good trout. If I did it again I would have sent home my pole after Yosemite. There was only one place, Deep Creek, prior to the Sierra's that I saw fish.
Snow Gear - Suluk46 TICA Ice Tool, Camp 6 Punte Light Crampons
I carried both crampons and an ice axe in the high sierras. Neither was necessary. The ice axe was the Tica Ice Tool from Suluk46. This is a ultralight carbon fiber and titanium ice axe. The only place I used it was on the small ice bridge crossing the southern face of Forester Pass just before the summit. While it was better then nothing the pick was not sharp enough to penetrate the rock hard ice but did give a slightly better grip than trekking poles. The crampons where aluminum 6 points by CAMP. I used these several times. While not necessary I felt I had better traction when side sloping on the wet snow. I would probably skip the axe and just carry the 6 oz crampons next time.
Bears - Bearikade Weekender
I used the Bearikade Weekender. It's the best approved canister with a price to match. I was able to stuff it with enough food for 11 days from kennedy meadows to VVR, although I caught and ate quite a bit of fish to make this work. I live in California and spend a lot of time in restricted areas so it was worth the cost for me. Once out of Yosemite I just slept with my food.
This isn't an exhaustive list but these were my staples:
Breakfast: Granola bars, candy bars, cold cereal with nido (granola, raisin bran, and Cap'n Crunch where favorites)
Lunch: Salami, cheese, tortillas, smoked salmon, smoked oysters, bacon bits, lunch meats, dried mangos, dried bananas, etc
Snacks: Dried fruit, candy bars, nutella, sunflower seeds, nuts, double stuff oreos, Carr's ginger lemon creme cookies
Dinner: Pasta, instant brown rice, quinoa, instant mashed potatoes + the same meats I had for lunch + dehydrated veggies + spices, butter
Veggies: Broccoli, mushrooms, roasted peppers, green beans, tomatoes
Spice Kit: Salt, pepper, garlic powder, chipotle chile, garam masala, herbs de provence (french herb mix), miso soup mix
Drink Mixes: Tang, Country Time lemonade, Arizona green tea
My mom dried the veggies for me along the way and they were great. By focusing on ingredients rather than pre-made meals I could create a number of variations to suit what I could find in town and my changing tastes. I definitely would recommend buying along the way rather than prepackaging all meals. One night I wrote an ode to my love for nutella. The next day a switch flipped and I never touched the stuff again. In my mind there's no way to account for changing tastes.
One thing for sure. I now have a much better idea of what gear works for me. I was one of the more vocal (some would say preachy) advocates of ultralight gear when I started. While I still am, it's funny that while most dropped weight during the hike, my base weight went up.
A Good Walk, Unspoiled
The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a 2,650-mile national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada through California, Oregon and Washington. The PCT traverses 24 national forests, 37 wilderness areas and 7 national parks. The PCT passes through 6 out of 7 of North Americas ecozones. Learn more: www.pcta.org
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