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My PCT Hiking Tips
PCT Hiking Tips: Gear

Craig's PCT Stuff

You don't have to have the latest and greatest and lightest gear...just get what works for you. You also don't have to figure it out on day one either. IMPORTANT THOUGHT: Hiking the PCT is not like a journey to the South Pole. If a piece of gear is not working out for you, you can have one of the many online retailers ship you something to your next trail town. Granted if you are tighter on money this is more of an issue, but don't stress out about gear too much.

Remember, plenty of people hiked the PCT in the 70’s with super heavy packs and did just fine. You are already have it easier than them simply because you were born later.

Some hikers are obsessed with ultralight gear so they can walk easier, other hikers are obsessed with ultralight gear just so they can bring more luxury items. (like photography equipment, scotch, heavy-but-tasty food items, etc.) I fell into the latter category. Roughly 10 pounds of my pack were things that were inessential to getting safely from Mexico to Canada.

Several hikers (including myself) changed their gear setup during their hike. I wanted to smash my alcohol stove with a rock I hated it so much, I bought a Jetboil Stove and my problems went away. I decided I really wanted a coffee cup, so I spluged the princely sum of $1.00 in Big Bear City and bought one. I know hikers who swapped out tents along the way, while other hikers were having trouble with their shoes.

Base Weight
I packed with the philosophy of trying to keep my pack weight down, but I didn’t obsess over base weight. I didn’t even know what my base weight was until I got home. It was 25 pounds. I’m a pretty average hiker and I did fine. I did shed a few pounds here and there of gear. If I wasn’t using it then away it went. For example, flip flops were nice in camp, but mine were a bit heavy and I was only using every few days, so I mailed them home.

Bounce Box
My town clothes, AKA 'Sunday Best' in my bounce box
I only had a bounce box because I needed my laptop every 200 miles or so. I took about 35,000 photos and 46 hours of video during my hike, filling up almost a 1tb of space, so having a means to offload my memory cards was essential. It was kind of nice to have extra Advil and crap in the box too...but I really could have done without it. The bounce box was a logistical pain at times because I had to make sure I could mail it out wherever I was sending it. More than once I was frantically packing the box up at 4:55pm on a Friday trying to get it sent out in time.

If you are not bouncing a laptop, I wouldn't deal with a bounce box...it was too big of a pain and expense.

I had to sew up the back mesh with dental floss since I was constantly cramming stuff in the back pocket.
I used a trash compactor bag to keep the contents of my pack dry. This worked well. I bought a box and put them in a resupply box every 500 miles or so.
I had a ULA Catalyst backpack. It worked great overall and I had no issues with it. Having the zippered pockets on the hip belt was a real bonus since I could store my camera there. Of course the zipper has started to wear out due to the number of times I was zipping and unzipping the pocket in order to take a photo. The pack held up for the most part. I did have to sew it up in a couple places with dental floss in Washington.

The back mesh started coming apart, mostly to me stuffing in quite full with garbage, water, etc. One of the pack straps started to come apart from the pack also. This was my fault more than anything. I had a habit of grabbing the shoulder strap and flinging the whole backpack onto my back. It probably would not have done this and had I used the lifter handle/strap instead.

I didn’t use a pack cover and the pack stayed pretty dry for the most part. I did have my things in a trash compactor bag however. On the few days I walked in heavy rain, the top part of the pack would be wet. I’m guessing a pack cover would have prevented this, but I didn’t want to bring one since it was extra weight.

Putting stuff in a trash compactor bag was a given though. The bag kept my stuff dry inside the pack. If I ever were to drop my pack in a creek or something, my stuff would have a better chance at staying dry. A pack cover seemed like something I would hardly ever use so I didn’t bring one and wouldn’t again. The trash compactor bag was enough.

I loved the hip belt on this pack. The pockets were perfectly sized for my G15 camera. This made it really quick and easy to get my camera out to take a photo.

On nights where I couldn’t find a slightly angled campsite, I would sometimes prop my feet up using my empty pack at the end of my tent.

Trekking Poles
I became a trekking pole convert during my 2013 hike. A hiker noticed that I kept up a good speed most of the time, but then slowed down on hills. It never occurred to me that the trekking poles also help to pull yourself uphill. They also help if you are in a good cruising mode and going downhill. On flat ground they just give your arms something to do.

Jetboil Stove The wrapper you see in the photo was a metal lifesaver. When I was finished with the stove, I would shove the empty wrapper in the pot so the burner wouldn't rattle around while I hiked.
1996: My Coleman Feather 442 white/unleaded gas stove.
1996: My white gas stove got clogged. So for a few days this was my cooking setup. I bought a couple cans of Sterno and found a coat hanger on the side of the road.
In 1994/96 I used a Coleman Peak 1 white gas/unleaded stove. This worked great, I could buy unleaded gas in almost every trail town. I didn’t bring this stove in 2013 just because the stove is much heavier than what is out now. It was also a bit unnecessary to carry 22oz of fuel which would take me awhile to go though.

I looked around through the options in 2013 on what to take. Here are the things that I ruled out automatically:

No Stove:
I like coffee. I like hot meals. I have nothing against going stoveless at all and I totally get the logic behind it, but I chose to carry the extra weight of a stove. There is nothing like having a cup of hot chocolate in the middle of the day when you are frozen to the bone from walking in a rainstorm all day.

This is 2013 and not 1913. You can't legally have campfires on many parts of the PCT due to fire danger. They take awhile to prepare and properly put out, and at the end of the day who wants to deal with all that?

White Gas stove:
It is pretty hard to find fuel for these stoves nowadays. Some places along the trail would sell it to you in bulk, but it was pretty rare. Because of this you end up having to carry a lot more fuel than you need for a given section.

Unleaded Gas stove:
This was strictly a weight decision. I could have brought mine and been fine. Most of the trail towns had unleaded gas for sale.

Wood/Twig stove:
These stoves are a decent idea in that fuel is not an issue, but that is about the only plus. On the negative side is the fact that your cooking pot gets dirty. You also can’t use them easily in the wind. They are also legally questionable in areas where campfires are banned.

Alcohol stove:
Important note, some hikers had the Caldera Cone alcohol stove and loved it, I’m just writing my experiences with a standard alcohol stove.

This is what I started out with. I had a Vargo Titanium Triad XE Stove. I hated this thing. It might have burned more efficient than other alcohol stoves, but it was a complete pain to get it primed so it would get hot enough to start burning the alcohol inside the stove. You basically had to fill the stove, close it, then pour your alcohol bottle all over the burner like you were pouring a 40 out over the grave of a departed friend. Light the thing and then wait awhile for it to get going. Had I stuck with the alcohol stove I would have gone back with a soda can stove. A friend showed me one and it lit very easily.

That said, this is why I don’t like alcohol stoves compared to the JetBoil:
  • Contrary to popular opinion, Heet is not available everywhere. I discovered this the hard way at I-15, none of the three gas stations had it. You see it less in California because getting water in your gas tank is less of an issue there.
  • Slow, so slow that I'm gonna write a new bullet point and come back to it.
  • Useless in the wind. If a strong wind is blowing you are out of luck. There were several spots in super-dry California where I decided to not even try to cook dinner due to the strong wind. I felt like my lit stove would blow away. I never had this problem with the Jetboil because they work great in the wind, plus you can physically hold the stove down if you wish. Several times I used my Jetboil and chuckle to myself at what a nightmare using the alcohol stove would have been in that situation.
  • Oh yes, I was talking about slow. If there was a slight breeze blowing the stove would run out of fuel before the water boiled. I would have to let the stove cool, fill it back up, light it, then finally I would have boiling water 25 minutes later after I started the whole process.
  • Since I boiled about three pots of water per day (morning coffee/oatmeal, dinner, post dinner drink) I was going through A LOT of alcohol. Because of this, the alcohol stove ended up being a lot heavier than my jetboil. When people calculate their base weight, they do not include fuel. This is a bit misleading in reality. Yes my alcohol stove, pot, and windscreen were a bit lighter than my jetboil. But now let us factor in fuel. With a 7.2oz isobutane cannister, I could cook three pots of water for almost three weeks. This would have been several pounds of alcohol taking up a lot of space in my pack.

JetBoil Stove:
I loved this thing. I was a bit ignorant of them at the start of my hike. I thought finding fuel cannisters was a pain and had read a lot of Q & A on the internet about people having to jump through hoops to mail themselves cannisters. I heard a bunch of rage around alcohol stoves so that is what I went with.

One night after Cajon pass I had camped with this girl and our tents were next to each other. We both woke up about the same time in the morning. I internally debated about boiling water for coffee or taking my tent down first. She had a Jetboil and made coffee first. Before I could even get my tent down she was already drinking coffee. I was a bit shocked at how little time her process took. All I could think of was “ME WANT NOW!” So when I was staying at the Sauffley’s house, I bought a Jetboil during a trip to REI.

Because the Jetboil was quick to use, it made for easy cleanup. After I ate my dinner out of the pot, I could pour a little water in and bring it to a quick boil, then use it for cleaning out the pot. It worked great.

The only problem I had with my Jetboil was that the igniter would not spark above 12,000 feet. This meant I had to use my lighter to start the stove instead. The stove worked great on top of Mt. Whitney (14,495 feet). Since I was rarely up this high...I didn’t encounter this problem to often.

Finding fuel cannisters wasn’t too big of an issue. Many trail towns had them and those that didn’t, I could usually find one in a hiker box that was enough to get me to the next town that did have them.

Probably the best experience I ever had with the JetBoil was north of Sonora Pass. A major storm came in and I spent all day walking through it. I was really, really cold and then it occurred to me...I could have a cup of hot chocolate right now. Within five minutes, in a rainstorm, I was drinking a big mug of hot chocolate. No way would have that happened on my alcohol stove.

I used the JetBoil pot for the bulk of my eating. At the Dollar Store in Big Bear City I bought a single-wall plastic coffee cup. It was kind of fun to wake up early and walk down the trail drinking coffee..."commuting to work". It also was good to put excess hot water in while cooking. Sometimes when rehydrating things I would have the wrong amount of water in there, so I could just pour some extra into the JetBoil pot when needed.

I had this spoon just because it folded in half.

Sleeping Bag / Silk Liner
15 degree down bag
Silk Liner
I had a Marmot something something 15 degree down bag. It worked great, I had no issues with it. I also had a silk sleeping bag liner. The liner added a little bit of warmth, but the main reason was to keep my sleeping bag cleaner on the inside. I never once had to wash my sleeping bag, but I had to hand wash the silk sleeping bag liner plenty. Handwashing a silk sleeping bag liner is much easier than washing an entire down sleeping bag. The liner would get, er, disgusting. I am glad my sleeping bag didn't get that dirty. Holy cow.

Rain Fly
Ground Cloth
Tent Stakes
I had a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL 2 Tent. I got a two man tent only because I've been stuck in one too many rainstorms for days on end. Being able to put everything into the tent was a big plus. This tent worked awesome as a freestanding bug shelter. Although I prefered to cowboy camp, I hated mosquitoes biting my face in the night. It was very fast to just put up the tent as a bug shelter. It didn't need to be staked down or anything. Sure it didn't look like a proper "tent" since the sides were not staked out, but who cares? I was going to sleep right away and it wasn't going to rain. The bugs would not wake me up in the night and everyone was happy.

The tent worked alright in the rain. My two biggest complaints were that any wind driven rain would hit the ground, then spalsh up on the internal sides of the tent. If the rain fly went out an extra foot in all directions it might solve this problem. The biggest complaint I had though was that the top zipper of the rainfly was a whole foot into the tent. This meant that if you opened up the rainfly, water would drip right down into the first foot of the tent flooring. This also meant you could not open up the rainfly and keep your tent dry during a rainstorm. I would never buy this tent again solely because of this reason. In order to save weight, the tent uses zippers that feel like they are going to break at any moment. I guess you have to pick your poison when you want ultralight gear.

I just used some Tyvek housewrap as my ground cloth. This worked great, no problems. I washed it a few times beforehand to make it softer and take out the crinkle noise. I camped on many sharp things and they did not affect my air mattress. I also used this for when I needed something to sit on while taking an extended break.

I didn't use a stuff sack because it added a tiny bit of weight and more importantly, it made storing the tent a bit difficult. I was able to keep my poles on the outside of my pack. The rainfly and tent I just stuffed into the empty crevices inside my pack.

Air Mattress
The worst part about this mattress was the constant mocking
Klymet Air Mattress
Fits a 5 year old
I had a Klymit Air Mattress (small). This took awhile to get used to but eventually I did. I don't know if I would take it again though. It did inflate incredibly fast, was super light, and took up hardly any space in my pack. Some people say you shouldn't take an air mattress in the desert. Twice now I've gone through the California desert on the PCT and have never gotten a hole in my air mattress. One reason is because I only ever used my air mattress on top of the ground cloth. People who had the foam z-pads could use them wherever since popping them was a non issue. It might have been nice when taking breaks, but I found I could just sit on my rolled up ground cloth and that made a suitable pad for sitting during breaks.

Anyways, this mattress worked for me but probably isn't for everyone.

Pen/Paper/Random Stuff
I mostly used this for making random Humanclock.com times.

I rarely needed pen and paper for the most part though. Funny story though. The weather was really cloudy one day and my phone was about to die. I was perplexed at how I would be able to know where the next water locations (via the Halfmile app and PCT Water report). Suddenly it occurred to me I could in fact, copy down the next few water sources with good old fashioned paper and pen.

I also carried random things, such as a bottlecap I found on the Mexican Border which I carried the whole length of the trail into Canada.

First Aid
First Aid Kit
Advil and Vitamin B
First Aid things opened up. Matches, sewing kit. Extra Camelbak nipple. Band Aids. Moleskin.
Mosquito Repellent. This was never really necessary until the Sierras. You REALLY need it after that.
Floss, Toothbrush, Toothpaste. The toothbrush I cut down to save space.
Earplugs, useful for when camping around other people who are still awake and have more beer than you.
Tick puller. For some reason I never got any ticks on me this time around.
Cheap Sunglasses, my 3rd or 4th pair on the trip
Emergency Blanket. I had this as a backup, fortunately I never needed it.
I had a few band aids, gauze and tape. There were a couple times where I slipped on some pine needles on a flat rock and cut myself pretty good. One thing I never really thought to carry, until I really needed it was an ace compression bandage. This really saved my hike.

Around PCT Mile 75 my right foot was starting to hurt pretty good. I hitched a ride with three other people to the RV park down the road. The next morning I was barely able to walk on my right foot. There I was able to do the "RICE" method (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation). Fortunately the had ace bandages for sale at the RV park store. I was able to leave the next day with the compression bandage on. I kept it on for a couple days and then my foot felt better.

Hand Sanitizer / Soap
Tissue, Vagisil, Hand Sanitizer
Yup, the whole creek tasted like soap. I had to go without water a bit until I got to the next water source.
I carried a little bottle of hand sanitizer. I didn't get sick at all. Vagisil is great for preventing your butt cheeks from starting a forest fire.

As for "biodegradable" soap, don't bring this crap into the woods. "Biodegradable" soap needs to be in the soil for it to break down properly. I hate this stuff because most people think that "biodegradable" means "lather up and jump in!"

Water Storage
I had a 2 Liter CamelBak bladder that I kept on the side of my pack. I placed the bag in a lightweight stuff sack to help protect it. I wish the ULA pack had the side mesh going up a lot higher, this would have solved the problem of carrying the water bladder on the side of the pack. My mildly convoluted setup worked well though.

I became a big fan of CamelBaks in Australia. Previously, I never liked the idea of a water tube and/or carrying water on my back. It turns out that I ended up drinking a lot more water because it was more readily accessible.

For auxiliary water storage, I also had a 3 Liter MSR Hydromedary Bag bag. This worked really great for hauling water through the dry sections. In the dry sections, I carried water with the formula of one liter per five miles. This worked out to be a good average. Once water became more plentiful, I carried no more than two liters. The only exception was if I were dry camping somewhere. I'm a fan of dry camping in unconventional locations, so packing an extra 3 liters of water for the a couple miles isn't that big of a deal.

Having the Hydromedary Bag was also really nice just so you didn't have make so many trips to a nearby water source. I would fill it up once when I made camp and that would last me through dinner and breakfast.

Stuff Sacks
I only used these for small items. I didn't bring the stuff sacks for my sleeping bag, tent, and air mattress. Use mesh bags, they will save you a lot of time when trying to find something.

Water Filtration
I used Aquamira the whole trail. I didn't keel over dead nor did I ever once get sick from the water. It lasts a long time. I could have done the entire trail with two kits. Unfortunately it took me three kits because I didn't close the bottle tightly enough and I lost a lot of one bottle. Having to wait five minutes to drink the water was kind of annoying at times but it wasn't THAT big of a problem. The hikers that had their SteriPEN seemed to enjoy them. For a little bit I tried one of those straw things you hook up to a Camelback but it got clogged pretty fast. I was pretty annoying and tiring trying to suck water through it.

On my 94/96 hike everyone had water filters, this time around most people were using the Sawyer Squeeze, Aquamira, or SteriPEN.

1996: My short-lived umbrella in the sun
1996: Met these southbounders north of Cajon Pass in the rain
I had one for awhile in 1996 but I ended up not using it too much. They can be a real pain if the trail is overgrown. They can make the hike more pleasant but I usually never hiked in oppressive sun or rain. It was sometimes nice in the desert but was also a bit of a pain. There are a couple times in 2013 where it would have been nice but I got by without one just fine. They are really nice in heavy rain, but I had very few days of rain on the entire hike.

Disclaimer: all calculations and data are believed to be correct but are not guaranteed.
Please double check the calculations and trail/resupply data before starting a hike.