With the desert section behind me I feel it is a good time to look back at all of the gear changes that took place over that 700 miles. There were some pieces that shined greater than expected and others that wound up complete duds. Now that I have a greater understanding of what works for me, I will also be making some adjustments as I move forward into the Sierra Nevada. There is also a handful of additional items I will need to prepare for the terrain and wildlife of this coming section.
For reference, here is my gear list that I started with. You can also read my pre-PCT gear post for a more detailed breakdown on what I brought from the start. Lastly, you can view my final desert PCT gear list for a run down of everything I ended this section with.
The Surprise All Stars
Pack – Osprey Exos 58
While many people on the trail carried packs lighter than the Osprey Exos such as the ULA Circuit and various Hyperlite models, I was more than very pleased with my pack. The extra half pound translated into increased comfort. I heard many hikers complain about awkward hip belts as a consequence of weight shaving with the lighter packs, and at the end of the day going ultralight is all about improving comfort. In that regard, an extra half pound for less back pain and hip chaffing is totally worth it.
The pack itself is fantastic for organizing gear. There is one main compartment where the bulk of my stuff went, and then a few large outer mesh pockets and a handful of smaller compartments located along the straps and hip belts. I was able to load up the center compartment and then fill the remaining pockets and compartments with everything I needed quick access to.
Watch – Casio Pathfinder PAG240
Before hiking the Pacific Crest Trail I was not one to wear a watch, but now I feel naked without one. In addition to telling time, this watch can give me the temperature, elevation, barometric pressure, compass direction, and sunrise/sunset. It runs on solar power, is rugged, and waterproof.
I was expecting to make good use of the barometric pressure to help predict the weather, but this ended up being rendered obsolete by the rapid changes in elevation. The trending pressure is great if you remain in a single area, but when you are traversing over mountains it tends to be all over the place.
On the other hand the elevation and temperature features proved to be great to have. I could look at my map on my phone and determine my current elevation and that of the next destination I was aiming for. With that knowledge I could check my progress towards the next water source/tentsite/McDonald’s with a simple flick of the wrist instead of having to pull my phone out.
The temperature proved great for decision making throughout the day. I could determine how much water I might need or what layers to put on before getting out of my sleeping bag. I would also wake up throughout the night on colder nights and check it to decide if I should sleep with my water filter to keep it from freezing (and breaking).
Umbrella – Liteflex Trekking Umbrella
The desert sun is hot and the terrain offers little protection. Any bit of shade that can be found will be grabbed up like a diamond in a coal mine.
Enter the Liteflex Trekking Umbrella. It works as portable shade and makes the desert sun much more bearable. I can’t imagine trying to get through the desert without one.
The one downside is that it can be annoying to the use in the wind, and the desert has a lot of strong winds. It broke one of the joints on my umbrella, and once that went it made it even more susceptible to wind. It eventually resulted in another to break later on, rendering the umbrella close to useless as it couldn’t support itself anymore. Thankfully that happened on the second to last day of the desert so I didn’t have to travel far with it.
Pants – REI Sahara Zip Off
It was a week before I left for the PCT that I picked up these pants. I prefer hiking in shorts and I had a really light and comfortable pair that I was excited to bring. But the need for greater sun protection untimely brought me to reluctantly pick these up. Boy was I glad I did.
They are extremely light and breathable, in shorts mode they barely felt any warmer than the running shorts I had wanted to bring. In pants mode they could still be worn on a hot desert day without feeling too sweaty and at the same time provided just enough insulation for the colder mornings I experienced. Being able to switch between pants and shorts without having to carry much extra weight proved to be a blessing.
On the pants half there is a zipper that runs the whole height. This allows you to easily put them on and off without taking off your shoes. It also allows you to open them fully and allow air flow while hiking in hot weather. The feature was excellent for when I needed sun protection but still needed to keep my legs cool.
Mid Layer – Ibex W2 Hoodie
Unfortunately Ibex went out of business right after I purchased this, although you can still find it on Amazon as of writing this. It was a fantastic mid layer that I wore on the coldest days and on some of the hottest.
The insulation could keep me warm in the upper 30s without needing to put on my down jacket. But it was thin enough that I could use it as long sleeves for sun protection on hot days. It also has a thin hood that I could pull up over my baseball cap which would allow for either warmth or full head sun protection, depending on the situation.
Satellite Messenger – Garmin InReach
As I’ve written about before, I carry an actual personal locator beacon for emergencies. But I decided to bring a Garmin InReach for it’s additional communication benefits. It proved to be an excellent addition for the people back home.
Each night I would send my girlfriend and family my location and they loved being able to watch my progress change in real time. They would know things about the trail that I wouldn’t even know, like what towns were nearby and the next highways I would be going along. It also let me finish up conversations that might’ve ended short due to a sudden loss of phone service. I am glad to have it as I enter into the Sierra Nevada where phone service will be even more limited.
The Unexpected Duds
Tent – Nemo Hornet 2P
Those who’ve been following my trip know by now that I’ve had many issues with my tent. On the first night the floor tore open. A few nights later another small tear appeared. By the end of the first week the stuff sack was completely shredded. On the second week a large hole in the bug net along the seam appeared, followed by another hole a couple weeks later.
In addition to the extremely frailty of the material, the tent was unable to handle any weather. It would collapse in the wind, and worse the rain cover couldn’t keep out a drizzle of rain.
On top of all that it was deceptively marketed and very uncomfortable. It claimed a 7.5 feet length, yet I at 5’10” had both my head and feet touching the ends. It’s advertised as a 2 person tent yet a single standard sleeping pad fills the base of the tent. I barely fit with my gear. The claimed weight is just over 2lbs, but with the paper thin floor a groundsheet such as Tyvek is mandatory. Going no groundsheet or using the lighter polycryo will destroy the floor in days.
I made it through the desert with the Nemo Hornet 2P, but I am returning it under warranty due to all of it’s issues. Replacing it is a new Zpacks Duplex. It’s an expensive tent, but the material it’s made out of, cuben fiber, is 15 times stronger than steel per pound. Water cannot permeate it, and it uses hiking poles instead of separate tent poles to set up. All in all it will be lighter, more durable, and more waterproof than the tent I had.
Sleeping Quilt – Enlightened Equipment Enigma 20° Quilt
Going into the PCT I succumbed to the ultralight hype train and decided to go with a sleeping quilt instead of a sleeping bag. A quilt is essentially half of a bag, the philosophy being the down compressed underneath you does not provide much insulation so you can remove it to save weight.
In theory this is great, in practice is a whole different story. The quilt works so long as you never move in your sleep. The moment you turn and the quilt gets an opening in it, the heat you’ve spent all night generating is gone in seconds. I had to purchase and carry an insulating sleeping bag liner to get by, as any night below 50 I would be up constantly due to the cold.
I ended up ordering an Enlightened Equipment Conundrum 10° Bag to replace the quilt. The weight of it ended up less than the quilt plus the liner, and it keeps me warm all night long, no matter how much I might move around. I feel confident heading into the Sierra Nevada with this improved sleep system.
Knife – Gerber Paraframe
This one is a little different of a story. The Gerber Paraframe knife is a really great knife. It’s size to weight ratio is great because it has an open body design. The openings also allow you to put it away wet or a little dirty with no risk of mold.
The issue is that I lost the knife on my second week. I didn’t end up getting a new one, and I found that I didn’t really need one. If I wanted cheese or salami (the main reason I carried a knife) I could just pick up shredded cheese or sliced pepperoni.
I will be bringing one into the Sierra however. I may not need it day to day, but I do feel it is an essential tool to carry in case of an emergency. I am replacing it with a small multi tool my dad got me, which actually weighs a little less than the Gerber. I initially didn’t think I would need the extra tools, but I had situations such as the screws loosening up on my poles or on my stove where a multi tool would have come in handy.
Storage – LOKSAK
I had purchased a number of LOKSAKs for my food, electronics, and first aid kit. They are advertised as durable, waterproof, and smell proof, all the things one could want for food and electronic storage.
Water and smell proof they were, durable not so much. I have ziplock bags that lasted longer than some of them. The whole top part of every one of them is completely shredded. I am replacing them with Zpacks cuben fiber stuff sacks as well as some other miscellaneous silnylon bags I had lying around.
Chafe Relief – Gold Bond Powder
I did pretty well with not getting much chafe. I am going to hold onto my Body Glide for another week or two, but that may be going as well.
The one time I did get a little, the Gold Bond did not do much but to relieve it. There was about 20 minutes of soothing, but it quickly faded after that. On the other hand some baby diaper rash cream worked wonders and has since replaced the Gold Bond.
Not Carrying a Windscreen
This wasn’t a gear failure but a failure due to a lack of gear. At the very beginning of the trip, my fuel unexpectedly ran out in a couple of days. Thankfully there was another hiker who had carried an extra canister and sold it to me, but I learned the inefficiencies of the wind from that. Going forward I made a windscreen out of cardboard and aluminum foil before ultimately getting a real one. My fuel usage has improved tremendously since then.
Sierra Nevada Gear List
As I enter the Sierra Nevada, one of the biggest terrain changes will be having to deal with snow. This involves gear to improve traction, safety, and warmth.
To help stay stable on slippery conditions I will be carrying a pair of microspikes with me. Snowshoes and crampons are both great tools for specific circumstances, but would be overkill for most of what I will be encountering.
For added safety, I will be taking an ice axe. This tool is to be used like a hiking pole when I am on steeper terrain and as a means to stop a fall should that happen.
For added warmth I will be adding rain pants to my backcountry wardrobe as well as trading my sun gloves for an actual pair of gloves. I got away with not carrying the rain pants through the desert due to the extremely unlikelyhood of extended precipitation, but that changes now as I enter the Sierra. They will also work well to double as snow pants.
Due to the increased water content from the snow, I will no longer be in the bug-less environment of the desert. In fact due to the rapid melting of snow, there can often be an extreme amount of bugs. For that I will be carrying a bug net with me.
There is also the issues of bears, and because of that much of the Sierra requires all food to be stored in a bear canister. I will be carrying the 2 and a half pound BV500, a not so fun addition to my pack weight.
For a complete break down of all the gear and it’s weight, view my complete Sierra Nevada gear list.