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Begins: Apr 23, 2012
Date: Sat, Oct 27th, 2012
Trip Distance: 176.0
Entry Visits: 433
Journal Visits: 13,323
Guestbook Views: 495
Guestbook Entrys: 10
Pacific Crest Trail Map
Backpack: I hike ultralight, and bought the lightest backpack I knew of at the time, the Gossamer Gear G4 (14oz) I love this pack; it took some time to get used to organizing all of my gear using the pockets, but I came to like the simplicity and love the comfort- I never had chafing or sore spots, and the no-padding shoulder straps and hip belt were the most comfortable I've ever used, even carrying weights of up to 33 pounds. If I hadn't been using a Z-rest sleeping pad (necessary to provide the G4 with structure), Zpacks would have been an attractive ultralight alternative. The most popular thru-hiker backpack was the ULA Catalyst; I never warmed up to the ULA designs but would recommend GoLite if you are looking for a beefier alternative (my girlfriend carried the Jam 50 and loved it). Like Osprey, ULA has a great reputation for its no-questions-asked return policy, and both brands gained considerable loyalty through this.
Sleeping Bag: Stoic Somnus 30. This is my favorite piece of gear. Weighing 20 ounces and sporting 11 ounces of 850-fill down in a Pertex Quantum shell, the Somnus has the same specifications and design as the Nunatuk Alpinist, but at a third of the price. Having exhaustively researched bags before buying this, I can definitively say that you will not find such a good price for such a good piece of gear. Get it on sale at Backcountry.com for $ 190 during a holiday sale, or spot it at Steepandcheap.com in March/April for $ 150, and you have a killer piece of gear. I loved the center-zip design, and usually just used the sleeping bag on top of me like a cozy, hooded quilt- making it feel extremely roomy but still incredibly warm. I sleep warm, and wore long johns and sleeping socks to bed- on cold nights (i.e. Washington) I would cover my legs with my down jacket, and found that I could get away with sub-freezing temps in this "30-degree" bag, even without washing it at all on the trail. Writing about it makes me want to go curl up in it and smell it again.
Sleeping pad: Z-lite, cut short to reach from collarbone to below knees. I love the low-stress convenience of a closed-cell pad, and a cut-down z-lite wins on weight (6oz) and price ($ 30). However, by the time I hit Oregon my z-lite was beat up and felt paper-thin, and I started thinking about investing in a more expensive, more delicate inflatable matress like the Neo Air.
Shelter: I used the Integral Designs SilPoncho (10oz), one of the only poncho-tarps I saw on the trail. I hadn't been intending to hike with a poncho tarp (i.e. a large fabric poncho which can also be strung up like a tarp), but found this on a closeout sale ($ 90) and decided to try it out, fully intending to switch to a rain shell and more robust tarp if I hit rain in Washington. Fortunately I finished before it started raining hard, or I would have had a wet and unhappy time in Oregon and Washington: After Ashland there isn't anywhere to buy gear along the trail. While this worked for me (I almost never set it up, preferring to sleep under the stars), a minimalist tarp like this wouldn't be the best choice if you are uncomfortable sleeping outside, are sensitive to bugs, or get cold at night. It takes practice to set up a tarp, and even more practice to set up a poncho-tarp: there is an extremely awkward moment when you stop wearing the poncho but haven't yet strung it out as a tarp, during which you are liable to get your gear wet if it's a downpour. Conversely, it can be great to just hang out inside your poncho-tarp if you're waiting out a storm: pull in your head and arms, and voila- a roomy, wearable shelter, which also covers your pack.
During the Sierras, my girlfriend joined me and we used the Tarptent Double Rainbow, a good lightweight (2lb 8oz) tent for a reasonable price (~$ 300 including tyvek footprint). We found the tarptent spacious, well-ventilated, fairly easy to set up, and robust in winds. I love the double doors and vestibules, which were a key criteria for me. This is probably the most popular 2-person tent on the trail, followed by the Fly Creek UL2.
Cook system: Having dabbled with making my own alcohol stoves, I was fed up with DIY stoves, and bought a system with which I was very happy: I used a Caldera Cone Tri-Ti windscreen with a 900ml pot (1100ml pot when my girlfriend joined me), burning esbit tablets. Esbit tablets are incredibly low-fuss and lightweight, but take some extra planning because you need to include them in your resupply boxes (you can't really find them anywhere along the trail). The Caldera Cone system was incredibly reliable, though I never used the tri-ti system in alcohol or woodburning modes. I would recommend having a larger pot for two people; the 900ml pot barely contained the food I needed at the peak of my hunger, and the 1100ml pot only worked for two people because we were going slower in the Sierras (and my girlfriend has a much smaller appetite than I!)
Water Purification: We used Aqua Mira throughout the trail, pre-mixed daily in an opaque dropper bottle. Although Aqua Mira is probably the most common thru-hiker water treatment strategy, like Esbit tablets it's difficult to find along the trail, and should be shipped ahead to key resupplies. I treated all water sources except spigots and some springs, but used half of the prescribed treatment strength.
Water Storage: I carried a 3-liter Platypus Hoser hydration bladder fitted with a Camelbak valve. Having an on/off flow valve in addition to the bite valve is critical; many hikers were chagrined to find that they had accidentally emptied their hydration bladder by setting their pack on top of it- this is a big issue if it happens in the desert. I also carried additional soda/spring water bottles to provide supplemental capacity depending on the terrain; in Southern California I carried 6 liters capacity; in the Sierras I carried 4 liters and could have happily had less. It's always nice to have a bottle to help filling from lakes, even if you don't need the extra capacity.
Trekking poles: I started the trail carrying the snazzy, ultralite, and ridiculously expensive Gossamer Gear LT4 adjustable trekking poles. I was extremely sensitive about the delicate design of these poles, but snapped a pole tip shortly after Kennedy Meadows. The tips on these poles are not user-serviceable, so with the limited communication in the Sierras it took me four weeks to have a replacement shipped. The other pole tip broke off just after Sierra City, and this time the replacement part never came. I snapped a pole section coming into Castle Crags, and at this point I was frustrated and pissed off by the poor quality and dismal customer service at Gossamer Gear. Unlike larger manufacturers, Gossamer Gear does not offer free replacements for thru-hikers, and I was not interested in spending an additional $ 50 to fix a frustrating and overpriced piece of gear. Disgusted, I shipped my poles back home and found that I was able to hike just as fast, or faster, without them. If you feel that you need trekking poles, I would recommend going with some aluminum poles with user-replaceable tips. If you feel the need for carbon fiber poles, opt for Black Diamond's poles: they have a great replacement policy. I lost all faith in the Gossamer Gear brand after this very frustrating experience, and would not recommend their products.
Hot Times: one pair of underwear, one Terramar synthetic T-shirt, racing splits or zip-off shorts, broad-brimmed sun hat.
Cool Weather: Switch from racing splits to long pants or zip on short bottoms; button-up long-sleeve shirt. I was able to get away without a fleece, and was glad for the weight savings. I used a light-colored linen long-sleeve shirt for Southern California, and found it incredibly comfortable- while I switched it out for a synthetic shirt in the Sierras, I wished that I had had it with me again for the hot and sweaty days of Northern California and Oregon.
Warm stuff: I had long johns (capilene), a neck gaiter, a jogging skull cap, thin jogging gloves, and an 11-ounce 800-fill down "sweater" for warmth. While this was warm enough for me, my girlfriend brought about twice as many clothes and was still chilly in the Sierras- know what works for you, and be ready to send gear home (or send for it) as needed. In Warner Springs sent home my fleece jacket, heavy hat, and heavy gloves because I found that I didn't need them. In Washington, I wished that I had them back- but by the time I realized it, I couldn't get them to me for the final week, and I wish that I had sent extra warm clothes to Cascade Locks.
Socks: The Darn Tough sock brand is probably the best-kept secret in the outdoors industry: a lifetime guarantee, and socks that don't wear out for 1000 miles (and I'm rough on my socks!). Buy these, send them back when you wear them out, and never buy another brand. I tried many sock systems (liner socks, thin socks, synthetic socks, toe socks) and this is what worked for me and most thru-hikers.
Shoes: It doesn't matter what shoes you use, as long as they feel like slippers and are sized like boats. I typically wear a size 10 street shoe, and wore size 12 shoes for the trail... and then in Northern California found that my feet had swollen and I needed to buy size 13 shoes to appease the angry blisters which had appeared on my toes and heels. If possible, stick to one model of shoes for the whole trip: switching shoe models give you shin splints, ankle pain, blisters, and knee pain as your feet and muscles adjust. I went through five pairs of shoes on the trail, but found that I am clumsy with my footwork as I walk and had to occasionally restitch/shoe goo the stitching around the toebox.
Gaiters: I love dirtygirlgaiters.com for cheap, awesome, stylish gaiters that keep dust, dirt, and rocks out of your shoes. If you brush your feet together while walking (like I do), prolong their life by applying a thin layer of seam sealer or shoe goo in the high-wear areas
Maps: I used the Halfmile's maps (pctmaps.com), printed double-sided in full color, and really appreciated them- they aren't perfect, and there are many useful water sources and campsites which he doesn't list, but these are the best and most popular maps out there. While they're free to download, printing them may be expensive ($ 150+); do this well ahead of your departure to see if you can get a cheaper price. In the Sierras, I carried the National Geographic "Trails Illustrated" maps- these were great at giving a perspective of the terrain beyond the 5-mile-wide corridor shown in the Halfmile maps.
Headlamp: I carried a petzl e-lite, but used it seldom- while it's great for camp chores, it has a much dimmer beam than the tikka or other full-size headlamps, and I only used it once for hiking in the dark. I dislike using a headlamp, and usually just used the dim dusk light for camp chores- I hiked the trail on a single set of button-cell batteries.
Watch: I bought a cheap digital watch from Target. I never felt that I needed a compass/altimeter/thermometer/heartrate monitor on my watch.
Phone: I brought my smartphone, and was glad to have it to call my girlfriend, order gear online, coordinate rendezvous, and look up mailing addresses in town. Keeping the phone turned off when not in use, with 3G data turned off, and used for phone calls 10-30 minutes/day, I was typically able to go 4-5 days between charges, enough to get me to the next resupply. ATT has good service in Southern California, there is no cell service in the Sierras, there is little service in Northern California, and Verizon has better (not great) service through Oregon and Washington.
Camera: I am a big fan of the Canon Digital Elph line; it is a feature-rich point-and-shoot and seemed fairly popular on the trail. Mine lasted through the entire trail without problem, kept in a ziploc baggie in my pocket. I carried a charger with me and charged in towns (typically only needed once/week), and never needed an extra battery.
eBook Reader: I never typically bring books backpacking, and was skeptical about bringing a Kindle on the trip- but this was an incredible luxury on the trail. Loaded with a variety of books, and with the ability to check out e-books from the library while in town, I was always kept amused, and often read several hours each day.
Toiletries: I found that I got rid of many of my traditional first aid items, as I realized what I needed and what I could do without. A good set of heavy-duty needles and dental floss was invaluable for fixing gear and shoes when my tiny roll of Duct Tape couldn't help; tiger balm soothed strains/sprains, and body lotion helped chapped hands. Other than that, my toiletries were simply vitamins, NSAIDS (enough to get me 4 days to the next town on the maximum dose), and toothbrush/toothpaste
Fishing kit: In the Sierras I carried a cheap spool of 4lb test line strung with a clear bobber and a fly. Simply swinging this and casting directly off the spool (no reel or rod) I caught many of our dinners... and I had never successfully fished in the wild previously. This is a new addition to my backpacking gear, but I'm definitely bringing it in the future.