Post Season Gear Ramblings

How can I make this item more useful?  How can I make it more accessible?  How can it fit better?  Do I even need it?  These thoughts entered my head about once a day while on trail.  Not that I’m complaining – I love thinking about how to become more efficient with my gear set.  You can see my starting gear list here.  I’ll eventually update the spreadsheet version of this with notes on each item.  This was extremely valuable on my Long Trail hike – write down what worked and what didn’t upon trip completion, then reference before the next hike.

Packing

Wait, I thought this was about gear?  Since gear is being carried most of the time on a thru hike, how it fits/sits/packs influences what you think of it.  Plus I did say these were “ramblings” not organized thoughts with some sort of flow!

First off, routine is important while packing in my opinion, for a couple of reasons.  I’m sure many people are fine stuffing things in their pack randomly each day, but I can’t stand it.

  1. Routines generally increase in speed with repetition.  As the hike went on, our wake up to hiking time decreased by several minutes.
  2. When packing is routine, you know where to expect each item and don’t have to look for it.  The chance of losing something is lessened.

After a few weeks on trail, it’s easy to get into a morning routine.  Here’s mine in all its obsessively detailed glory:

  1. Alarm goes off at 5:45 am and I grab my hiking shirt and pants, toss them in my sleeping bag or under my pad to warm up a bit, then doze off for a few more minutes.
  2. Unpack my puffy from my pillow, take off my sleep shirt/pants and put on the hiking shirt/pants.  Pack the sleep clothes into the pillow and put on my puffy.
  3. Stuff my sleeping bag into it’s dry bag.
  4. Deflate, roll up, and fold my sleeping pad into a square shape.
  5. My pack is stored in the vestibule so I grab that and take everything out of it – this may seem weird, but I found it a lot easier (and just as fast) to pack everything into an empty pack each morning, rather than try and stuff things around where items settled overnight.
  6. Put the sleeping bag in dry bag into the bottom of the backpack.
  7. Vertically position my clothes/pillow dry bag in the pack off to one side.
  8. At this point nature usually calls, and while I’m out of the tent I grab our Ursacks.
  9. Take out snacks for the day, put in hip pocket.
  10. Pack Ursack into center of pack, vertically.
  11. Slide raincoat, rolled into burrito, in empty space in pack.
  12. Pack the misc items into the front compartment of the pack – poop kit, stakes, flip-flops, etc.
  13. Slide squared sleeping pad into front of main compartment of backpack – this worked way better than storing it rolled up and saved some space.
  14. Take down tent, put into stuff sack and compress into remaining open spot in backpack, also vertically.  I experimented with stuffing it without the stuff sack, which just resulted in everything else in the pack getting grimy/wet.  The stuff sack weights nothing and is CF anyways.

A couple of other packing related thoughts that made the day to day routine easier:

  • Store tomorrow’s dinner in cook pot overnight.  My pot fits ramen, couscous, etc pretty easily.  This is wasted space otherwise.
  • Use a different colored bottle cap for dirty water bottle/bladder, just so you always know what’s what.
  • If you have a ZPacks Duplex and you haven’t tried rolling vs stuffing, you should!  Saved me a surprising amount of space, made packing the bag easier.  It’s pretty nominal extra effort.

Stuffing:

Rolling:

Gear Swaps/Replacements

There’s not a great way to turn this into a paragraph, so I figured I’d leave it here in case it’s of use to any future PCT hikers.  Here’s a chronological list of what I changed gear wise, during our hike.   Note that we skipped most of the Sierra’s, stopped in San Francisco for a couple weeks before skipping up to South Lake Tahoe.

  • 1 new smart water bottle in Wrightwood
  • 1 new fuel canister in Wrightwood
  • Added mid layer ibex hoody to clothing
  • Replaced most stakes with ones from hiker boxes
  • Added 3rd pair of same socks into rotation in Tehachapi
  • Added nite ize multi/pry tool thingy, impulse buy, useful for tightening trekking poles and prying/proding stuff
  • New earplugs in Tehachapi
  • Added flip flops/camp shoes
  • Lost sawyer gasket then found one in hiker basket
  • Trekking pole tip lost on morning walking to KM
  • Kennedy Meadows/San Francisco (skipped ahead to South Lake Tahoe) – new trekking pole tips, shell gloves, atom lt, ice axe, water bottles, ursack
  • Replaced earbuds at Apple Store in SF
  • Sent home from Chester shell gloves, patagonia merino sleep shirt, atom lt (its hot!)
  • Added poly t shirt in Chester for town wear
  • Sent home ice axe, snow baskets and added bug net in Mount Shasta, added cheap bug net
  • Swapped out boots for trail runners, upgraded to 4 port USB charger, new toothpaste, sent home Bear bag rope
  • Got rid of scoop, we both don’t need one
  • Sent home pot, capilene, got new toothbrush, insoles/superfeet, and OR sun hoody in Bend

Oddly enough, after a few months, I found myself wanting an extension cord every time we were in town.  It’s not ultralight, a bit bulky, and I never ended up actually carrying one though.  It would have been nice for situations with limited plugs, or space near plugs.  i.e Using that random outlet behind a store front that doesn’t quite fit your USB adapter.  Or when the cheap hotel has beds blocking the plugs, etc.

How did everything hold up?

This was the state of my gear after 700 miles, while taking a few days off trail in Sam Francisco:

Backpack showing the dirt a little:

Overall I’m quite satisfied with the gear chosen and how it held up.  Over the course of the trip:

  • Sleeping pad was the only critical failure – I punctured a hole in it after about ~1400 miles of use.  Easy field repair with patch that came with it, lasted the rest of the trip with no leaks.
  • “The Big 3” are all well worn, but have plenty of life left for another long distance hike.

As long as I’m not tempted too much by new fabrics or designs, I expect to reuse most all of this gear for the next long distance hike.

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PCT 2017 Starting Gear List

I’ve got some past experience with long distance hiking, so I’d like to think this list won’t change much.  It will though, I’m sure – already considering going stove less at some point in the hike, following Sara’s lead.  For now, this is what I plan to take with me on my 2017 northbound attempt.

Gear List (LighterPack)

Base weight: ~15lbs

A little weight will be added in the Sierras for the BV500, Kahtoola MICROspikes, CAMP Corsa Ice Axe, and possibly snowshoes, depending on snowpack this year.  Since this year is a little unusual weather wise, we will determine what gear to bring when we hit the Sierras sometime mid June.

I also have some flexibility in my gear.  Through working in the outdoor industry and general nerding out over gear, I’ve accumulated a plethora of backpacking gear over the past several years.  This gear sits in boxes at my parents house, ready to ship out if I want to change something up.  This flexibility gives me peace of mind as the start date draws ever closer…

Sawyer Squeeze Mods

These aren’t my mods, but a couple I’ve read about in a few places that I think are worthwhile.  On the Long Trail, I treated my water with AquaMira and a bandana as a pre filter when there were a ton of floaters.  Based on what I’ve read about water sources in the Desert section of the PCT I’m going to want a pre-filter of some sort.  With some testing at home, the screen in adapter seems to work well.  I’ll update this on the trail if it fails or if I MacGyver anything else.  In the meantime here are some tips in no particular order:

  1. Buy a Sawyer SP150 Coupling:415WLmIxN8L
  2. The syringe the Squeeze comes with is good at back flushing, but not necessary when I can just use the adapter and a clean water bag.   One less thing to worry about.  There’s a thread about it on WhiteBlaze.net
  3. Use the plastic cap to keep it clean.img_1021.jpg
  4. If temps are going to drop below freezing at night, put the filter in your bag/quilt with you to prevent it from freezing.  If you can blow air through it after you suspect it’s been frozen, it’s definitely broken.

LT 2011 Gear List

This is the gear I brought with me on my 2011 SOBO End to End hike of the Long Trail.  I have some notes added to the gear list after the trip;  for the most part the gear worked out fine.  This isn’t too complex of a trip to prepare for gear wise – any Appalachian Trail hikers or people with experience in the New England area can expect to bring what they normally would on any other backpacking trip in the area.

gear on bed
The small bladder is for liquor.

2011 Long Trail E2E Gear List

Base Weight: ~16lbs

First off, I made a couple glaringly obvious mistakes with my gear:

  • Titanium spork – nice and light and fancy right?  Not so complementary however with my REI Ti Cookpot – I quickly replaced it with a plastic spoon after scraping my pot for a few nights.
  • Ray Way 1P Quilt w/ “Alpine Upgrade” – For my first sewing project ever, I made a sleeping quilt using the Ray Way quilt kit.  Supposedly with the “Alpine Upgrade” dual layer insulation it was rated down to 28 degrees.  In reality is froze my ass off and cursed it any night it got down to the mid 30’s or lower.  I learned a big lesson here and this has since become my summer weight bag.  I think Ray Jardine makes some great products, but this one was not good for the conditions.
  • Gore-Tex Trail Runners – Prior to this trip I had switched from hiking in traditional hiking boots to lighter trail runners.  In general I bought Gore-Tex lined ones because who doesn’t want dry feet?  Well within the first couple days my feet were soaked regardless.  Attempting to dry the shoes by the fire didn’t end well (effectively hardened them) and I was looking for a new pair of shoes the next resupply.  I picked up a pair of Solomon XA Pro 3Ds and have been buying that model for the past 6 years.  My feet love em.  More on the why “waterproof” shoes suck on Andrew Skurka’s blog here.

Thankfully it was really easy to send back gear along the trail and buy anything needed in towns.  To any future Long Trail thru hikers I suggest the following:

  • Prepare to get wet – It rained more days than not during the hike.  Gore-Tex, Laminates, everything but rubber is going to soak through.  If you are active and it’s raining you are either going to get wet from your sweat or the rain when your jacket wets through – it’s inevitable.  My “raincoat” was crucial for blocking the wind, however soaked it was.
  • You don’t need a tent – Like the Appalachian Trail that it shares miles with, the Long Trail has pretty well maintained shelters for the entire length.  I only used my Tarptent Moment once on the entire trip when a shelter was near capacity.  A light versatile tarp is all I’d recommend carrying.
  • Aquamira > Filter – The water sources along the trail were plentiful, crystal clear, cold, and delicious.  I sent home my water filter as soon as possible and switched to using Aquamira with no regrets.