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Complete PCT Gear Review

After being off trail for a few weeks, I finally found time to sit down and evaluate the gear I took with me on my thru-hike. Not surprisingly, there were many things I found I could do without while I was out on the trail. Being a newbie to backpacking and someone who learns best through experience, I really needed to actually start the hike with too much in order to figure out what I did or did not need. Overall, I was happy with the gear that I took. When I arrived in Independence, CA, I conducted my own pack shakedown and was able to send home about three pounds worth of stuff I didn’t need.

On a future thru-hike, the biggest changes I would consider would be a lighter backpack and possibly a lighter tent. The simplicity of going stoveless is also greatly appealing to me, if I could do without hot coffee in the morning…ok, no, that would be silly.

WARNING: If you are not really into backpacking or considering hiking the Pacific Crest Trail/another long distance trail, this is a long post that will likely bore you to death.

Gear Additions

Before I go through my gear list and review each item, I will briefly touch on gear that I added. While I ended up sending home a decent amount of gear and shaving a couple of pounds off of my base pack weight, there were two items I purchased while out on the trail that I now find to be essential.

Sleeping Pillow – Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight Pillow (2 oz.)

Rating: Love
Take again: Yes

As I quickly discovered in my first week out on the trail, a good night’s sleep is the most important ingredient for making me a happy hiker. Unfortunately, I mostly tossed and turned for the first 1,300 miles of trail in which I used my clothing stuff sack as a pillow. Once I finally ordered this lightweight inflatable backpacking pillow, my sleep and energy levels improved dramatically, which more than made up for the additional two ounces of pack weight.

Buff – High UV Protection Buff

Rating: Love
Take again: Yes

I started wearing a buff when a friend found one in a hiker box in Tehahchapi. Later on I purchased a new one while at the REI near Ashland which I wore for the rest of the trip. Buffs are great multipurpose clothing items to have for hiking or backpacking. I mostly wore mine for neck protection from the sun or as a headband.

The Big Three

Backpack – Osprey Aura 65 AG Pack – Women’s (66 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again?
Maybe

My Osprey Aura was a solid choice for a beginner backpacker out on the trail. On the pro side, the fit of the Osprey was great. The hip belt perfectly conformed to my shape and the suspension system ensured that virtually no weight was riding on my shoulders until I started to lose more weight and could not tighten the hip belt any further. Still, it held up for the duration of the hike until one of the zippers broke three days out from Canada. Major con for this backpack is its weight. If I were to do the hike over again or take on another long distance trail, I would very likely purchase a lighter pack such as a Z-Packs or ULA.

Shelter – REI Quarter Dome 1 Tent (34 oz.)

Rating: Love, but SWAPPED
Take again? Yes

I really loved my REI tent. Until, that is, mysterious holes showed up in the tent body. Fortunately this happened in Northern California long before we faced any serious threat of rain. When I went to exchange the tent at the REI near Ashland, they unfortunately did not have the Quarter Dome 1 in stock and I ended up getting the Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1 tent instead. On the pro side, the Big Agnes tent was a little lighter weight and I preferred the design of the rain fly with regard to how it attaches to the tent. On the con side, I did not like the front entrance door – it always felt awkward having to crawl into and out of my tent. The Big Agnes also had slightly less floor area than the REI Quarter Dome (20 square feet compared to 21.4 square feet). That doesn’t sound like a lot, but I definitely noticed the difference. The design also only allows the occupant to sit up when at the front of the tent, making me feel a little too closed in at times.

Pros for the REI Quarter Dome: side door allows for easy entry/exit, more floor space comfortably fit my sleep setup and pack, asymmetrical tent pole designed created more vertical space inside the tent so I never felt claustrophobic, lightweight, and affordable. Cons for the REI Quarter Dome: early wear and tear even though I treated it very carefully throughout the hike.

Sleeping Bag – Feathered Friends Flicker UL 20 Quilt Sleeping Bag (25 oz.)

Rating: LOVE
Take again? Yes

My Feathered Friends quilt bag was, hands down, my favorite piece of gear on the trip. Most nights, I used it unzipped or partially unzipped as a quilt and was still often a little too warm. On colder nights that dipped into the low 30s, the temperature was warm and cozy. On the few nights where the temperature was below freezing, I wore my down jacket and hat to bed and was perfectly cozy. The bag does not have a hood, however, since I’m on the shorter side, I was able to fully burrow down in the bag and cinch the top around my head for extra warmth. A taller person, taller than 5′ 4″ maybe, would likely need to purchase a larger size.

Sleeping Pad – Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XL Lite Regular (11 oz).

Rating: LOVE
Take again? Yes

The NeoAir is super lightweight and as comfortable as I could expect to be when sleeping on the ground night after night. The only cons I would mention are that if you use a sleeping quilt, the pad will get dirty quickly and it is hard to get clean. And, although it did not take long to inflate every night, it was always my least favorite chore.

Sleeping Bag Stuff Sack – Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Dry Sack 14L  (3.2 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: Maybe

Many lightweight thru-hikers consider a dry sack unnecessary, so I may consider going without it on future trips. For my thru-hike, I did like having the extra reassurance that my sleeping bag would stay dry. This Sea to Summit option is perfectly functional and held up for the entire hike. My only nitpick is that the straps get easily twisted which can be annoying when trying to open and close the bag. Not a big deal for a short trip, but very annoying over 100+ nights out on the trail.

Clothing/Gear Worn

Shirt – Rail Riders Women’s Adventure Top (7 oz.)

Rating: LOVE (sent home after Southern California)
Take again: Yes

I wore this shirt for the entire desert section and absolutely loved it. The well-placed mesh ventilation panels helped to keep me as cool and comfortable as possible in the scorching desert heat. Its long sleeves provided extra protection from the sun as well. Long sleeves are definitely the way to go in the desert. For the remainder of the trip, I switched up the primary top I wore more for style reasons than for comfort or function. For the rest of California, I wore a Marmot hooded shirt with convertible length sleeves. In Oregon and Washington, I wore a short-sleeved REI Sahara tee shirt. If I was going to pick one top to wear for future hikes, I would likely go with the REI tee.

Shorts – Oiselle Roga Shorts (4.4 oz.)

Rating: LOVE
Take again: Yes

My second favorite piece of “gear” would have to be my Oiselle roga shorts. I have been a big fan of these for running for a long time and knew they would be the perfect fit for my thru-hike. They are lightweight, super comfortable, breathable, and durable – one pair took me through all 2,650 miles.

Sports Bra – Target C-9 Bra (2.4 oz.)

Rating: Love
Take again: Yes

I’ve always loved Target sports bras for running and hiking, and I’m happy to report they held up very well on the trail as well. They are inexpensive, but very comfortable and did not cause any issues like chafing.

Underwear – ExOfficio Give-N-Go String Bikini Briefs – Women’s (0.4 oz.)

Rating: Love
Take again: Yes

Pretty much every female thru-hiker whose gear list or blog I read recommended ExOfficio underwear, and I can see why. These were very comfortable, lightweight, and held up for the entire trip.

Socks – Injinji Sport Original Weight Micro Socks (1.3 oz.)

Rating: Hate (Switched to Darn Tough 1/4 socks)
Take again: No

These socks have a lot of fans on the trail, but they just did not work for me. Both of my pairs had holes in them within the first few days. Once I switched to Darn Tough 1/4 socks, I never went back.

Shoes – Brooks Cascadia 10 (20.2 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: No

I wore Cascadias for hiking before embarking on my thru-hike and also knew they were a popular choice for thru-hikers. The 10 model had a known issue of tearing quickly at the bottom of the toe box, which happened to mine within the first 200 miles. They still held up well, and I was able to get more than 500 miles out of the first two pairs, which I was happy with. When searching for my third pair of shoes in South Lake Tahoe, I discovered the Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 and completely fell in love. They were impossibly lightweight, incredibly cushy, and turned out to be a very durable choice for the trail as each pair lasted well over 500 miles with no holes or tears.

Gaiters – Dirty Girl Gaiters (1.2 oz.)

Rating: Meh
Take again: Maybe

The Dirty Girl gaiters are really fun to wear because of the endless variety of colors and patterns. Many thru-hikers were sporting Dirty Girls, so it was always fun to run into gaiter twins on the trail. On the pro side, they are lightweight, stylish, and do a decent job of keeping dirt and debris out of your shoes. On the con side, the velcro was always peeling away from my shoe, forcing me to use superglue to keep them attached. Since their performance is decent at best, I would probably continue to use them for hiking and shorter backpacking trips, but I don’t think I would bother to take them on a thru-hike.

Hat – Outdoor Research Sombriolet Sun Hat (3.1 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: Maybe

This hat provided very good protection from the sun in the desert. I really didn’t like the style, but then I have still not seen a sun hat that seems to be both stylish and functional. For Southern California, the benefits of a functional sunhat far outweighed any misgivings I had about its looks.

Sunglasses – Target Sunglasses (2 oz.)

Rating: Like (Lost on the trail)
Take again: Maybe

I lost these somewhere in Northern California and replaced them with another cheap pair purchased at a gas station in Castella. I would definitely continue to use inexpensive sunglasses on the trail. It’s easy to find stylish options and you don’t have to worry about breaking or losing then having to replace a more expensive pair.

Trekking Poles – REI Carbon Power Lock Women’s Trekking Poles – Pair 14.30

Rating: LOVE
Take again: Yes

My trekking poles performed well throughout the entire hike. They were especially useful when navigating all of the snow in the Sierra and definitely saved my knees from a lot of stress on all the steep ups and downs in Washington.

Clothing Packed

Baselayer Top – Patagonia Capilene Midweight Top (5.5 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: Yes

I used the Patigonia Capilene top for sleeping and as an extra layer to wear over/under my shirt for extra warmth. When paired with other layers, this was very warm and comfortable to hike in and sleep in.

Baselayer Bottom – Nike Pro Running Tights (already owned) (6.5 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: Yes

I loved these for their performance. They were relatively lightweight and worked well as a sleep layer and also as a base layer under my running shorts on colder days/mornings. For a future thru-hike, I would likely take the time to research a lighter weight option.

Sports Bra – Target C-9 Bra (already owned) (2.4 oz.)

See above. I ended up sending my second sports bra home to save weight.

Underwear – ExOfficio Give-N-Go String Bikini Briefs – Women’s (0.4 oz.)

See above under Clothing Worn.

Spare Socks – Injinji Sport Original Weight Micro Socks (1.3 oz.)

See above under Clothing Worn.

Warm Hat – Outdoor Research Luster Beanie (1.3 oz.)

Rating: Meh
Take again: No

This hat worked out ok. I rarely needed it for sleeping or hiking, but when I did, I would have liked it to be a little bigger and warmer. I would definitely get a warmer hat for a future thru-hike.

Gloves – Seirus All Weather Hyperlite Gloves (2.6 oz.)

Rating: Meh
Take again: Maybe

For most of the weather encountered on the PCT, these worked just fine. When it rained, the name “All Weather” didn’t really hold up and on very cold mornings, my fingertips were still freezing in these gloves.

Down Jacket – Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket Women’s (7 oz.)

Rating: LOVE
Take again: Yes

You really can’t beat the Ghost Whisperer for warmth and weight. The only change I might make would be to get the version that comes with a hood. When it was really cold, I just layered my rain jacket on top and used my hat and hood from the rain jacket to stay warm.

Rain Jacket – Outdoor Research Women’s Helium II Jacket (5.5 oz.)

Rating: LOVE
Take again: Yes

This was the lightest and highest rated rain jacket I could find, and it was definitely worth every penny. I never experienced consecutive days of rain, so I cannot fully speak to its performance, but it did keep me dry when I needed it to.

Camp Shoes – Aurorae Women’s Yoga Mat Flip Flop (7.3 oz.)

Rating: Like (Sent home)
Take again: No

I liked these flip flops, but eventually decided that I could do without camp shoes and sent these home. For future hikes, I would find a lighter weight option as it is nice to be able to take off your shoes when you get to camp.

Clothing Stuff Sack – REI Dry-sack (1.4 oz.)

Rating: Meh (Sent home)
Take again: No

This was one of the first items to go in the box during my first pack shakedown in Independence. While it’s a great stuff sack, it was way too heavy and as I discovered during my hike, not really necessary.

Cooking & Drinking

Food Sack – ZPacks Cuben Fiber Bear Bag (1.5 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: Yes

Very lightweight and held up for the duration of the trip. Easy to pack a lot of food in. For future trips, I would likely add an OpSack bag for extra reassurance in bear country.

Cook System – JetBoil MiniMo Cooking System (14 oz.)

Rating: LOVE
Take again: Yes

I love, love, love my JetBoil. It boils water in less than 2 minutes, meaning I was never had to wait too long for the most important part of my morning – coffee. My only complaint is that it could be a little difficult to clean at times. I also could have gotten by with a smaller version of the JetBoil, which would have saved a little weight.

Eating Utensil – Snow Peak Titanium Spork (0.6 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: Yes

There’s really not too much to say about a spork. This worked well for me, but as with most sporks, it really doesn’t function great as a “spoon”, so sipping broth or soup was more challenging.

Water Containers – Platypus 2 Liter Water Bottle (x2) (4.6 oz.)

Rating: Like (Sent home after Southern California)
Take again: Yes

These were great to have for extra carrying capacity in the desert, but I ended up sending them home when I did my pack shakedown in Independence. For the remainder of the trip, I used Smart Water bottles as my primary containers. Although not as environmentally friendly, using disposable water bottles makes it easier to add or subtract from your water carrying capacity as needed.

Water Purification – Sawyer Mini Water Filter (2 oz.)

Rating: Meh
Take again: No

For anyone planning to filter on the trail, definitely take the larger Sawyer Squeeze. While the Mini is lightweight and performs very well for small amounts of water, it is way too long and painful when you need to filter more than a liter at a time (a frequent occurrence in both Southern and Northern California, and even Oregon where there were still longish dry stretches of trail).

Water Treatment (Backup for filter) – Aquamira Water Treatment Drops (3.3 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: Yes

Beginning in Oregon, I used Aquamira as my primary treatment method and kept my Sawyer Mini filter as my backup. This system worked really well and saved me a lot of valuable filtering time. The Aquamira drops do add a slight chlorine-like taste to the water, but I did not find it to be too noticeable.

Survival & Repairs

Map/Guidebook – Yogi’s Guidebook and Half Mile Maps (divided in sections) (2.5 oz.)

Rating: Meh
Take again: No

Yogi’s Guidebook was most useful when I was planning my resupply strategy. When actually out on the trail, I rarely referred to the trail notes for each section and, when I did, rarely found them to be useful. A lot of the information is outdated or just not particularly helpful. In Northern California and beyond, the notes get progressively less and less helpful/informative. Save some trees and some pack weight – don’t bother with Yogi’s guide. Most, if not all, of the useful information is available online.

Half Mile’s maps are great, but I quickly found that the paper maps are unnecessary. I probably should have continued to carry them as a backup, just in case, but I had a large capacity in my external battery, so my phone dying was never a concern. The Half Mile app and Guthook map were all I needed for maps and navigation.

Compass – Suunto M3-D Leader Compass (1.62 oz.)

Rating: Like (Sent home)
Take again: No

My “like” rating is based on the time I used this in a Map & Compass Navigation class at REI. I never really had the need to practice these skills on the trail, however, and ended up mailing this home.

Light – Black Diamond Spot TriplePower LED (3.2 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: Yes

I love the brightness and different setting available on this headlamp. My one gripe is that it seemed to drain its batteries pretty quickly, even though I rarely used it on the brightest setting.

First Aid Kit + Medication – Misc. bandages, Moleskine, Ibuprofen, etc. (4 oz.)

I had way too much in my first aid kit. As I was fortunate enough to not have to deal with too many blisters or other common first aid issues on the trip, I ended up paring it down to just a few bandages and ibuprofen.

Knife – Swiss Army Spartan Knife (2.6 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: No

I like this knife as a multi-function tool, but in retrospect, I really only needed a simple knife for the thru-hike.

Fire Starter – Mini Bic Lighter (0.4 oz.)

Very handy when the starter on my JetBoil malfunctioned and I had to use this to light my stove.

Emergency Whistle / Fire Starter – Combo emergency whistle and fire starter (gift) (2.8 oz.)

I never needed to use this, so ended up sending it home with my first pack shakedown.

Sewing Kit – Dental floss and sewing needle (0.2 oz.)

Very handy for repairs, especially when your Brooks Cascadia 10’s get gaping holes in the toebox.

Sleeping Pad Repair – Patch Kit (came with air mattress) (0.3 oz.)

Never needed it, but would not go on a backpacking trip without it.

Tape – Duct tape (0.5 oz.)

Always take Duct tape. Always.

Cord – Cord bracelet (gift) (0.7 oz.)

I fortunately never needed to use this, so ended up sending it home with my first pack shakedown.

Gadgets

Mobile Phone –  iPhone 6s (4.6 oz.)

Rating: Love
Take again: Yes

I’ve always been an iPhone person. Paired with the Lifeproof case, this was a great option for the trail. Battery life was decent when the phone was left in airplane mode.

Phone Case – Lifeproof FRE SERIES iPhone 6/6s Waterproof Case  (3.52 oz.)

Rating: Love
Take again: Yes

This is a great case for any outdoor endeavors where there’s a great risk of your phone getting dropped or thrown around. Mine never fell in the water, but it did go hurtling out of my hand or pocket on more than one occasion when I tripped or fell on the trail.

Camera – Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II (8.1 oz.)

Rating: Love (Sent home)
Take again: No

I love this camera, but it was way too heavy to carry around unless I was really going to take the extra time to stop and take good pictures…which I wasn’t. My phone became my primary camera for most of the trip as it was lighter and more convenient to whip out and take pictures and keep moving. For shorter backpacking trips in scenic places, I would definitely take this camera, but for a thru-hike where daily mileage is always on the brain, I would choose lighter weight and convenience.

Battery Charger – RavPower Deluxe 16750mAh External Battery Pack (11.36 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: Maybe

My battery pack would fully charge my phone at least 4-5 times with a full charge. It may have been a little more battery than I needed though. I did like the reassurance that I always had enough juice, and I was even able to lend some power to other hikers when they needed it, but for a future thru-hike, I would try to find a lighter option.

Part-Time Gear (not included in BPW)

Bear Canister (Sierras only) – BearVault BV500 (41 oz.)

Rating: No one likes a bear canister
Take again: Only when required

A bear canister is required for food storage in the national parks within the Central California section (Sequoia/Kings Canyon and Yosemite). Most hikers mail a bear canister to themselves at Kennedy Meadows (PCT mile 702) and promptly mail it home at North Kennedy Meadows (PCT mile 1017) as they are heavy, bulky, and make it difficult to carry enough food for more than four days at a time. As of 2016, bear canisters are also required for overnight camping in Lassen Volcanic National Park (PCT miles 1344-1363). Fortunately this is a short stretch of trail so it will be easy for future thru-hikers to plan to hike through in a day and not have to camp overnight within the park boundaries.

Ice Axe (Sierras only) – Black Diamond Raven Axe (16 oz.)

Rating: Did not use
Take again: N/A

Deciding whether to take one or not on a PCT thru-hike would depend on the year’s snow levels and the hiker’s experience with an ice axe. This year’s snow levels were average, which still meant a lot of snow, but since I had no experience with using one, I opted not to have it mailed to me after all. Trekking poles worked fine for the extra stability I needed in the snow.

Microspikes (Sierras only) – Kahtoola MICROspikes Traction System (11 oz.)

Rating: Like (Lost on trail)
Take again: Yes

While I ditched the ice axe, I am very grateful that I had microspike for the snowy passes in the Sierra. Unfortunately, I lost mine somewhere before Selden Pass, but did not really need them anymore anyway. Although I’ve never used microspikes before and have no reference for comparison, these seemed to work really well and were really easy to get on and off.

Snow Gaiters (Sierras only) – Outdoor Research Women’s Verglas Gaiters (8.8 oz.)

Rating: Did not use
Take again: N/A

Did not end up taking this on my trip at all. These definitely would have been unnecessary.

Bug Spray (Sierras, Oregon) – Sawyer Picardin Insect Repellant (4.5 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: Maybe

This bug spray worked fairly well, but needed to be constantly reapplied in the sections where the mosquitoes were particularly ferocious. More hikers used DEET, which definitely seemed to be the most effective solution.

Mosquito Head Net (Sierras, Oregon) – Sea to Summit Head Net with Insect Shield (1.3 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: Yes

I hated wearing it, but was very grateful for the protection it provided in the buggy sections of Yosemite, Northern California, and Oregon.

Rain Pants (Oregon and Washington) – Sierra Designs Women’s Hurricane Pant (6.5 oz.)

Rating: Like
Take again: Yes

Since rain seemed unlikely in Oregon, I ended up bouncing these up the trail to Cascade Locks and only carried them through Washington. Boy am I glad I did! These were very effective at keeping my legs dry on the couple of days of rain I experienced. They were also great for extra warmth in the morning and when knocking all the dew/precipitation off the trail first thing in the morning.

Hygiene

I won’t give a rating for all of my hygiene/toiletry items, but in summary, I found almost every item on this list to be indispensable with the exceptions of the trowel and the sunscreen. I unfortunately lost the trowel somewhere below Mather Pass and never replaced it. While it was nice to have, a rock or stick or the tip of a trekking pole will usually work just fine for digging cat holes. The downside is the extra time it takes. Sunscreen really just proved to be a waste of time and weight as I ended up burning anyway. For people with extra fair complexions and sensitivity to the sun, it probably is worth the extra time and weight.

  • Toothbrush – Child-size toothbrush (1 oz.)
  • Toothpaste – Travel-size toothpaste (0.5 oz.)
  • Towel – REI Mini Multi Towel (0.6 oz.)
  • Scrubber – Travel Washcloth (0.3 oz.)
  • Toilet Paper – Half-roll (1 oz.) Tip: Always pack extra toilet paper. Always.
  • Wet Wipes – Wet Wipes travel-pack (20ct) (3.6 oz.)
  • Trowel – GSI Outdoors 2010 Trowel (3.1 oz.)
  • Hand Sanitizer – Travel-size hand sanitizer (1.5 oz.)
  • Lip Balm – Chap stick with sunscreen (0.5 oz.)
  • Sunscreen – Sawyer Stay Put Sunscreen 50 SPF (1.3 oz.)

Whew! That was a long post. If you made it to the end and have any questions or thoughts, please let me know in the comments field below.

9 comments

  1. Thank you so much for posting this! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts and seeing the pics…and great job on completing your journey!

    1. Thanks so much, Paul!

  2. Thank you for that Flickr quilt review. I see FF now makes a wide model also. I think I will give it a try. Anything to save 8 ozs. You know how that goes.

    1. Yes – anything to cut that BPW. 😉 A fellow thru-hiker I hiked with in the Sierra was using a Z-Packs quilt then decided to switch to the Feathered Friends Flickr during the hike and was really happy with the swap. The two quilts had the same temperature rating but when compared side by side, the FF clearly had more down and held the down in place better. Hope you enjoy it!

  3. Weeks late, but meant to say thanks for posting this. I’ve found the gear reviews to be incredibly helpful. I ended up getting the Osprey based on your review (even though it was a maybe) along with others who had taken it. Still can’t believe these were your earthly possessions for a few months.

    1. Matt, thank you. I’m so glad it was helpful for you. I do think the Ospreys are great packs – superior fit and suspension and most likely to hold up through thick and thin. The major trade-off I see is, as I mentioned in the review, the heavier weight of the packs, except for the Exos.

  4. Very thorough. Thank you 🙂

  5. Did you listen to any music or book , or you talked to the wind? How about jumping in lakes, hot springs and drying off ?
    Thank you for an inspiring blog.

    1. I listened to music and podcasts sometimes. Sometimes I talked to the wind, myself, the occasional marmot or pica, too. Toward the end of the trail I started memorizing poetry, which I wish I thought to do from the beginning. And yes, there were hot springs and jumping in lakes. There’s just no way to describe how magical those moments were.

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