Gear is important. It shouldn’t be more important than the trip itself but it’s so fun to play with gear, to try things, to see what works and what doesn’t, to add weight to the equation and play again…
Weight is important. It shouldn’t be more important than the trip or the gear themselves but it’s so fun to play with gear when you consider how much it weights. I’ll not be making this a discussion on the benefits of lightweight gear but it’s clear to me trail life is much better when your load is not a burden. Not only that, trail life is also so much better when there are less things between you and your environment. Lightweight gear is not only lighter, it usually is also simpler. But, finally, lightweight gear is sometimes not too durable.
I routinely go under 7 lbs. base weight for short trips. For the PCT, I’m aiming at 9 or 10 lbs. I’ll not be taking more things but I’ll be using gear that I can reasonable expect to keep for the whole trip. The really fringe items will be left behind, the philosophy stays.
I like the idea of heading out from the trailhead with all the things I’ll need. It gives me this independence feeling that’s so nice and exclusive to this kind of situation. And while this gets impractical as the length of the trip increases (and it’s obviously not feasible for such a long trip as the PCT, not just for the consumables), I’ll try to keep this feeling with me, even if that means carrying some more weight at times.
I expect to not replace anything from my gear (except shoes and socks). The PCT is quite consistent as far as conditions along the way go so it quite makes sense to use the same gear all the way through. I know it can be a bit overkill to be prepared for rain and cold in southern California (is it, after all?) but I’ll definitely sacrifice some potential weight savings for the sake of autonomy.
Here you can see my PCT 06 Gear List.
Some reasoning behind the choices:
Nunatak Arc Special X
This is rather a quilt but it’s cleverly designed so that it drapes around the sleeper on the sides and a little part of the bottom. There are quilts out there that don’t do this and it’s said they’re drafty. I don’t know first hand but I see the problem. Not at all with the Arc Special X.
It is less than a pound of (PCT) 3 season worthy warmth. I need clothes to sleep well when temps go below freezing but that’s expected. I love the no hood feature as I can put my head cover items to double duty and I’m never worried about breathing inside the bag (a bad thing). With the non-hooded Arc, I can turn in my sleep independently from the bag, much as I do in a bed and as I naturally do. In fact, that’s the way it should be with a quilt.
Golite Cave 2 + home made bath tab floor and net shelter
I can do with a much smaller tarp and be fine for a few days or whenever it’s not raining but for the potential extended periods of rain I love the space. They say this is a two person shelter but I find it tight (doable but tight) for two. I must say my Cave 2 has some odd size that’s not the advertised, it’s some narrower and slightly tapered on one end. I love it as a versatile shelter for any 3-season condition. I feel safe in it no matter the weather.
In the rain, it’s open and livable. In high winds (with or without rain), I can lock it down and be safe. I also like Golite’s Sil lite stuff more than the regular 1.3 oz silnylon, it feels considerably more robust for a little more weight and I prefer this for a long trip. I also think it’s easier to get a taut pitch than with the lighter silnylon. The bath tab feature of the floor is really not necessary but I feel it’s nice to have. The difference in weight between this and a non bath tab floor is only the weight of the tiny lines it hangs from. It’s 1.3 oz silnylon. The net shelter is meant to be hang from the tarp or it’s vertical support. It’s as small as possible and I’m afraid it can get not too livable, I’ll see how it turns out. It’s a new item as I don’t usually need one where I backpack.
Granite Gear Virga
Frameless for a lightweight (1 lb.) pack with the right size for a thru-hike (for me, at least) and sturdy enough to be expected to last for the whole trip with no problem. I’m afraid of taking a silnylon pack for such a long trip. There are a few things I don’t like in the Virga but it’s a tried item I can trust.
I want a pack that can carry real weight if needed for the long sections without ressupply. I’ve loaded it with more than 25 lbs. in the past and I know the pack can carry that with no problem. Some of the lighter packs (of which I have a couple) may have a problem even to carry that weight as the seams may not be ready for those loads. The main thing I don’t like is the waist belt, just a piece of flat webbing. I tend to carry most of the weight on my shoulders which is not a good idea unless the load is really light. Another drawback of the frameless sack is the lack of ventilation on the back. The pack rests flat on it and it gets so sweaty… For what it’s worth, I have a Vapor Trail of the same brand that solves all these problems (excellent, well padded waist belt) but it weights almost twice. I stay with the Virga.
I’ll always keep a set of dry, “clean” clothes for sleeping, it helps keep the bag cleaner which is important for the long run. This clothes are meant to live in the pack during the day (though they can still be used for emergencies) so it’s very important they’re as light as possible. I’ll use polypropylene top and bottoms. For some reason, polypro stuff is the lightest. Silk is a good option too but the equivalent weight garments are semi-transparent and I don’t know about their durability.
Torso: 4 layers: base, wind, insulation and rain. A polyester, light coloured, long sleeve, high neck and chest zip base layer; same design for the windshirt. A Primaloft pullover for insulation and a Micropore rain jacket
Legs: I love shorts but eventually one needs long pants for several conditions that include the desert sun. This one rules out the shorts + wind pants approach as I don’t see myself in black pertex enveloped legs in those conditions so it’ll be the more usual convertible pants option. Any light coloured, cotton-like nylon will do. I stopped carrying rain pants long ago for mild 3 season conditions I prefer to wear shorts and cover them with the definitive rain garment: a silnylon mini-skirt. If it rains consistently I may leave the shorts and wear just the skirt so I become the sexiest hiker on the trail.
I’ve eventually decided to go with gas canisters. I appreciate the simplicity and light weight of alcohol stoves but it seems I can’t get used to the pouring, eventual spilling and general odd character of my alcohol stoves. The fact that all of them are home made probably has an influence on this. Anyway, I use them a lot for short trips but I can’t imagine cooking on one of these for 5 months.
I love the clean, aseptic character of gas canister fuel and its efficiency, particularly when used with a well designed windscreen. I loathe the heavy weight of the canister itself which probably the one big drawback of this option. The fuel weights nothing but the container weights a lot.
The last factor that made me choose to go with canisters is the autonomy they give you. With alcohol you’re bound to find a ressuply every few days if you don’t want to carry a lot of fuel weight. This shouldn’t be difficult with a bit of planning, I know, but I love the fact that I can grab a 8 oz canister and forget about fuel for 5 weeks. I may go the whole PCT with four canisters.
I’ll still carry the lightest of my alcohol burners in case I’m stuck with no canister somewhere and because I like this one. It’s only 8 grams.
The pot will be just for heating the water so it’ll be on the small side. I’ll cook in ziplocks + cozy. Good ziplocks are reusable many times; I wouldn’t like throwing away so much plastic… so I won’t avoid the “dish” washing but I’ll save a lot of fuel and/or the weight of a bigger pot.