#LifeIsWILD - moments from the trail.

Jonathan and I have both been rigorously submitting attempts to win the #LifeIsWILD contest. The contest is built as part of a marketing campaign for the new movie, WILD, about Cheryl Strayed's adventure on the PCT (adapted from her book). The contest is looking for transformative experiences.

Cheryl Strayed was changed forever by her adventure in the WILD, and we want to learn about YOUR transformative experiences in the great outdoors!
— http://contest.howwilditwas.com/

Everyday was an adventure. Every day we were in nature. Every day was wild. The moments captured by pictures, these blog posts with our stories are more our attempt to make sense of the experiences we had. Nothing we create comes close to the time spent on the PCT. But take note and I try to remember that the PCT is just a dusty path. Dusty paths are everywhere. Pick one and follow it. You don't have to try to be John Muir, Cheryll or us. You can get lost anywhere.

Anyway, here's some of my favorite entries. The contest ends today so cross your fingers for us.

 

Dan's shots:

Jonathans shots:

As always, thanks for reading. 

Dan

PCT data

It's been a couple months since we've gotten off the trail. We have had time to reflect a bit on the experience as a whole. To try and summarize the Pacific Crest trail is a difficult thing to do, but what we can do with much greater ease is show you some numbers and answer some questions that help put our hike in perspective. 

Favorite section

Pedi: Depends on how I look at it. In terms of beauty, the Sierra Nevada is the clear winner. The things I saw up there were beyond the realm of things I knew existed. When it comes to all around good times and adventure, though, it's hard to beat Oregon. It was such a fortuitous time on the PCT. Everything fell into place and new avenues opened up that blew our minds.

Soapbox: Hiking in the Sierra Nevada was also my favorite. I dreamed of that section, seeing Half Dome, experiencing the challenges, and no part of it was disappointing. Many other PCT hikers will echo Pedi and myself. If I had to offer each section an award:

  • Oregon - most fun, least strain
  • Washington - most challenging, diverse, and wet
  • SoCal (desert) - most dry, possibly heaviest average pack weight (long water carries)
  • Sierra - most iconic, best town stops, best tasting water, highest altitude, bear canister award
  • NorCal - most weird

Least favorite section

Pedi: I can't say I really have a least favorite section. Even through the hard times I was thankful to be on trail. If I had to pick something though, it would be split based on how the sections affected me. Southern California was the most physically challenging. I was in near constant pain from blistered feet. Not only did this make hiking difficult, it also meant that I was practically immobile once we were done hiking for the day. This was incredibly inconvenient. Mentally, I think NorCal was the most challenging. It's long, hot and I found myself getting more grouchy during this section. 

Soapbox: Not really applicable for me. Even my sick days didn't keep me from enjoying Washington.

Favorite town stop

Pedi: Portland was a magical place. It was one of only two times I went to a town that was far off trail. It was my first time, and I got a grand tour that packed as much delicious food and culture into two days as possible. We were given a car to drive and town clothes to wear. We were practically normal people! Boy did that make life convenient. All of that being said, most town stops were a delight in their own way.

Soapbox: We had a chance to experience so many places for such brief moments and in such unique ways. With that in mind, I loved our first town stop and zero day(s) spent in Idyllwild. We learned who our hiker family was (kind of). We succumbed to a hiker vortex for the first time there. Two days! As we hiked out we got a hitch from two really interesting dudes.

Least favorite town stop

Pedi: Sierra City. Many, if not most town stops are very circumstantial. It totally depends on who you meet, when you're there and, especially, how long you are there. Sierra City was a tiny thing that would have been fine for a quick afternoon, but the two and a half days I spent there was way more than I would have preferred.

Soapbox: Chester, California. The day I reached the PCT halfway marker I hiked 22 miles with Midway. He and I were both experiencing some kind of stomach bug And we could not get a ride into Chester - the only time that hitching completely failed me. The next day I spent in Chester I mostly slept under a flight of stairs at a hotel.

 

Number of shoes used

Pedi: 6 (This is an unusually high number. I used three pair in the SoCal alone because of rapid feet swelling and size problems. The second pair I traded for)

SoapBox: 3 pairs... trained in my first pair + 700 miles. 1300 miles in the second. Still wear my third pair sometimes.

 

If I did the PCT again, what would I do differently?

Pedi: Two things specifically. First, I would start with bigger shoes. Avoiding the blisters and foot pain of the desert would dramatically change my experience during that section. The shoes I started with were only one size larger than normal and were not wide enough. The sweat, heat and friction caused them to become "meat grinder feat" as Soapbox so aptly call them. Once I got shoes that were a full one and a half sizes larger than normal I was good to go. Second, I would add more variety to the food in the resupply boxes we mailed ourselves. I thought they were diverse when I made them. Little did I know how wrong I would be by the end of the trail. I could barely look at a bag of that same trail mix, Pop Tarts and peanut butter crackers.

Soapbox: There are sections where I wish I had hitched off-trail to experience side adventures, days I could have hiked more miles, and to trust that "the trail provides" earlier would be useful at the beginning. More explicitly, I would learn more about the areas we hiked beforehand. We did so much research to prep for the trip itself that I wish I would have obsessed over gear a little less and researched some history, flora and fauna. I found myself often wanting to know more about the places we passed through. That said, I gained so much info about the PCT and logistics, I'm not upset.

DATA SETS

PEDI DESERTSIERRASNORCALORWATOTAL
DAYS4029342024147
MILES7024005954575082662
RESUPPLY STOPS9476533
ZERO DAYS7354120
NEAR-O DAYS3551317
MILES/DAY20.417.321.426.923.321.3
MILES/DAY (+ ZERO DAYS)16.815.518.321.522.318.4
LONGEST DAY353054523254


SOAPBOXDESERTSIERRASNORCALORWATOTAL
DAYS4029342024147
MILES7024005954575082662
RESUPPLY STOPS9486533
ZERO DAYS6334117
NEAR-O DAYS3661319
MILES/DAY19.818.219.727.323.121.3
MILES/DAY (+ ZERO DAYS)16.815.518.321.522.318.4
LONGEST DAY273140363240

We hiked the same PCT, but some days Soapbox hung back, Pedi sped up or one of us wasn't feeling well so we would do our own thing. Let us know if you have questions! 

Cheers,

Dan and Jonathan

 

The case for ultralight

There is a trend among backpackers toward using less and lighter gear which has grown over the past decade and is popularly known as the ultralight or “UL” movement. This shift is part cultural, part technological.

The packs carried in the past were significantly heavier than those we carry today because we have materials that simply did not exist five or ten years ago. Packs in the '70s had external aluminum frames that weighed 3.5 lb minimum. My pack (just the backpack) is 2 lb 2 oz. Apply this same shift to nearly every piece of gear available and it totally changes how people outfit themselves for long distance hikes. This is especially true on long-distance trails like the Pacific Crest Trail. When you hike 20+ miles day in and day out for five months, every ounce matters.

I truly applaud the women and men of older generations who went mountaineering and hiked long-distance. They faced far more challenges than I did, and they did it with base weights far greater than mine. For reference, your base weight is how much your pack weighs with all your gear in it, but without food or water. To really start getting into the realm of lightweight and ultralight backpacking, your base weight will should be around 20 lb and 10 lb respectively. Carrying much below 10 lb is both impressive and crazy. It should be noted that achieving a base weight of 10 lb or less probably involves foregoing any medical kit or creature comforts. It definitely means you aren’t carrying a stove.

While "going UL" is becoming more popular on long distance trails, you should heed a few warnings before buying a bunch of fancy, lightweight gear. A better or more expensive set-up (read: more UL) isn’t going to make you a good hiker. For that matter, what does it even mean to be a good hiker? There's nothing competitive about it, and generally speaking, there is no exact right way to do this hiking thing. All I can do is share my perspective, and in my opinion going UL is a good way to go.  

For many, UL gear is simply not an option. You can pretty much count on the lightest gear being the most expensive gear (with some exceptions, mostly in the homemade category). Many hikers may decide they want to join the UL ranks, the big challenge is balancing cost and weight. Sometime you have to sacrifice dollars for fewer ounces. As you learn about gear you may find it can become an obsession.

If you do decide to join in the UL movement, here are a couple pieces of advice.  First, don't be a dick about it. Just because you might be UL and don't have any single piece of gear weighing more than 2.5 lb doesn't make you better than any other hiker.  Second, there are other things to talk about on the trail than your gear. A little bit of gear talk is great. Most hikers, myself included, love learning about new gear and seeing how it works for different people.I hiked with a couple of UL bros who pretty much never shut up about their base weight. It got really old, really fast.

For those long-distance hikers who are not UL, having a higher base weight does not mean they’re doing it wrong. Some people are perfectly happy carrying extra weight or like the luxury of a few key items. Sometimes these items are about preparedness. This could include a SPOT device, compass, maps, jackets, warm clothing, etc. If you get caught in the wrong weather at the wrong time with the wrong gear, things can get very scary, very quickly. It can be dangerous and potentially lethal. While I don’t like carrying more than I need to, I’m never advocating neglecting gear that very well may save your life if it starts raining and gets cold or windy. A good friend of mine from the trail, Smokes, carried an extra of damn near everything and often that was really handy (not just for him!). Smokes is well-versed in wilderness survival. He was ready for anything both in terms of gear available and mental preparedness. On the luxury side of gear, certain people enjoy their creature comforts. Maybe you want your book, harmonica, wind shirt or town shirt. Dan carried a harmonica for the whole trail. Hike your own hike. (HYOH. It’s a phrase/acronym you hear often around trail. It means do your own thing, and let other people do their own thing.) Those people probably value those comforts over big miles anyway. There is nothing wrong with that.

There are, however, other hikers who are not UL and who may not even have the heaviest of gear but just have way too much gear. These people's gear choices seem to be guided by fear. You should never go into a situation unprepared, but do not underestimate how much you can do with very little. Do a shakedown of your pack sometime and consider how much you truly need each item. There are likely quite a few that will never be used nor missed once you have ditched them. (A shakedown is when you dump everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, out of your pack to re-evaluate exactly what you do and do not use/need.) Do you really need that Tiger Balm? Why on earth do you have a knife that big? How come you always walk into town with at least two days worth of extra food?

Once I lightened my pack I quickly realized a few things. My legs hurt less, especially going down hills. I could go faster and I was more nimble. Heavy, bulky packs can be unruly and make it harder to maintain a brisk pace. It makes climbing over obstacles more cumbersome too. I could go farther each day. Because you burn fewer calories with less weight, you are usually less exhausted. Even if you don't want to do big miles or hike hard, the fact that it reduced leg pain and strain would have been enough to convince me.

Because of the UL trend, at least in part, the outdoor gear industry has been shaken up over the last few years. Smaller cottage companies are springing up all over the place because they came up with new ideas on ways to approach gear. Sure, it’s a cliche word nowadays, but I love seeing this innovation. The proliferation of cuben fiber in the backpacking world is perhaps the best example. Do a search for cuben fiber gear and look in awe at what you can make out of it and how little it weighs. (i.e.: Z-packs and Hyperlite Mountain Gear.

I don’t think the trend will completely take over the backpacking/hiking world. There are still more than enough people who aren’t worried about weight and want to take their time. This trend will, however, continue to grow, just as thru-hiking does.

Take it from me, a guy with absolutely no credentials who has only done one big hike and then made a blog about it, dropping your base weight can make life way easier on trail.

Cheers,

Jonathan

The passes - Pinchot and Mather

This posts takes us back to the High Sierra when we carried solar panels, extra clothes, and bear cans. Refer back to the previous two posts about both Forester and Glen passes - climbing them took time and required some logistical coordination. Surely climbing two in a day wouldn't be a great idea...

We had put ourselves in a tough spot, we hiked out from Kearsarge with 6 days of food hoping we would be okay hiking through the Sierra, we had a deadline. To get to the next food resupply we needed to hike both Pinchot and Mather in the same day and we thought we could do it.

The two passes were only 5 miles apart, both were over 12000 feet. Pinchot was straightforward, we camped in its shadow so the approach would be easy: hike a short distance and climb 2000 feet as soon as we woke up. I woke up late - around 7:30 or so, and was hiking alone. The climb was steady, but snow fields covered the trail most of the way. It was easy to get lost with the pass not yet in view.

I lost the trail several times, but once I could see where the pass was I just hiked straight for the it. Closing in on the final climb I stopped in the snow field. When I looked around and saw Quinoa and Pedi making their way in the snow behind me. Somehow I had gotten ahead of them by climbing over a rise in the snow pack while they followed the trail around the rise. I laughed because I was ahead now and because I was having the time of my life in the most beautiful, rugged landscape I'd ever been in. The pass was in sight and Half and half was ahead. It was time to get to the top. Looking forward, I saw the trail in the distance and plenty of foot prints in the snow to guide me.

I was third to gain the pass and the view was incredible. All four of us had made it and we ate a late breakfast together. Next we set our sights on Mather. The descent from Pinchot was easy - the trail was mostly uncovered and the north side of the pass was fantastic to look at.

Mather was a more gradual climb over 6 miles, but took longer than two hours. On the way up we encountered a ranger! She was headed the opposite direction and just asked for our names, but it was an incredible encounter to me. She was clean and carrying a huge pack and a shovel. She wished us luck and took down our names and let us go. I couldn't help but admire how clean she looked next to us, with our worn out shirts, shorts and tiny backpacks. She was hiking out to her summer appointment, most likely.

We made it to the final climb quickly - a couple stream crossings and walking on some snow, we crunched across hoping to avoid postholing as we went. It had looked easy from distance, but was not. The first part of the climb was fun compared to the other passes. The switchbacks were steep. I was able to look around and really observe the scenery. Mather had a gradual approach with a big lake at its base and the trail snaked around to the east. As we began the climb up switchbacks we entered the shade of the afternoon sun and we were totally exposed. After just a short way up I looked back to see what where we had come from.  I took in that moment in the mountains.

The High Sierras are really like no place I've ever been. Snow covered and treacherous, they command respect. From the high places we could see vast expanses of white and grey teeth jutting upwards. We got to sample some the forces that helped shape the landscape as the cold wind whipped. I felt my own smallness and was struck by my insignificance relative to the giants I crawled upon. In that moment, on the side of a mountain pass, I was humbled by the enormity and majesty of the raw expanses which I was granted passage over. My moment of romance passed quickly, though - I had more altitude to gain and then we had to get down safely.

Loose talus (gravelly rock) and snow covered, the trail on the last few switchbacks was a littler nerve racking, and the mountainside was a deceiving 60 - 70 degree incline so no one fancied slipping. At one point I was clambering on softened snow and ice and slipped, feeling a shock from my feet, up my spine and in my neck - the image of me with my heavy pack (bear can included) sliding and falling down a mountain flashed in my mind. Immediately, I punched my fist into the snow on my left side and stabbed my trek pole hard on the right. No harm. Just sweating like crazy and that image not fading quickly enough. The snow had been in the sun all morning, after all, we couldn't rely on it to carry our weight as we gained altitude in the hundreds of feet.

The rest of the climb I finished carefully and was really happy to see the final switchback was mostly cleared of snow. The down climb was going to be rough - it was late in the day and the snow was soft and the first part of the descent was completely covered with thick snowpack and a few jutting rock points.

Pedi and Half and Half chose a different route than Quinoa and I. All of us postholed over and over again. I was soaked from falling in the soft snow, sweaty and exhausted by the slow, slipping down climb - fearing with each step I would sink into the snow, into some unseen pointed rock. Oh, and I was concerned the other two wouldn't find a safe way down and that I'd hear a yell from higher up on the pass as the sun began to set. The north side of Mather Pass was steep and had some shear cliffs and the trail probably navigated them well, but we had no idea where the trail was underneath the layer of thick snow.

Finally I made it to a boulder field and could hop from rock to rock downwards. Quickly I descended and found the trail - until that point I was just searching for a route in soft snow that led safely downward. Even though the trail was acting as a channel for ice-melt, I walked the cold water, completely soaked, but happy to take a full step again with confidence. To make progress. After what seemed like hours, I was anxious to find the others and to find a spot to camp. 

After a few minutes of trudging in the water I saw Pedi and Half and Half! And they were ahead of me! Quinoa had postholed a lot and fell once or twice, but scrambled down quickly as well - I had a sense he was not far behind me the entire time as I could hear him cursing when he postholed (I'm sure he could here me, too. I'm not Soapbox because I'm the quiet one). Finally we could hike down and find a spot to sleep without slipping. We were exhausted.

With the four of us reunited and the trail immediately in front of us we hiked as fast as we could to find a place to camp for the night. As a reward for our double pass day we hiked to Palisade Lakes just as the sun set. Beautiful end to a day, but the Sierras had taken quite a toll on us.

Cheers and thanks for reading,

Dan (aka Soapbox)

 

View all the snow fields we crossed that morning from the top of Pinchot

View all the snow fields we crossed that morning from the top of Pinchot

Quinoa encountering a ranger.

Quinoa encountering a ranger.

Nature.

Nature.

the snowy, icy slopes of the south side of Mather Pass. Almost fell here... 

the snowy, icy slopes of the south side of Mather Pass. Almost fell here... 

Jonathan standing at the top of Mather.

Jonathan standing at the top of Mather.

View of Palisades Lake and the north face of Mather Pass.

View of Palisades Lake and the north face of Mather Pass.

Sunset at the outlet of Palisades Lake, we were still searching for a camping spot.

Sunset at the outlet of Palisades Lake, we were still searching for a camping spot.

IMG_0004.jpg

Soapbox's gear reviews: pt. 3

Use sites like Steep and Cheap, I suggest knowing what you want and watching for deals if you have the time. Also, this is a great gear reference: 10 lb Backpack.

The other stuff:

Navigation

Yogi's Guide

I read the book to help prep. I made little notes in it and used it as a reference point and to help me feel less insane since everyone I knew thought I was crazy for deciding to walk across the country. At least this Yogi person and the people that answered the questionnaire understood my mania.

The book comes with “beta” pages or tear-out pages about sections of the trail. They included phone numbers, diagrams, notes from other hikers. Jonathan and I shared a copy. I saw these pages only a couple of times, but the info was quite useful.

Halfmile app

I love this app. It’s free. It’s accurate. It was reliable. I wish Halfmile made an app for my everyday life. “You are 2.2 miles off trail for your life. Get it together. The shortest distance to achieving your goals is ...” I could use support like that. I miss looking at this and knowing where I was, where I needed to go and the fastest way to get there.

If you are hiking with a smart device, this is the way to go.

Guthook app

While using Guthook and Halfmile I could answer most questions about the trail. Guthook costs money, each section was $6. You can buy the whole suite of apps for $30, I think. Go for it, although if you are on super strict budget, you could get by without.

Water storage

Smart Water bottles and a wide mouthed Gatorade bottle. Don’t carry Nalgenes for they are heavy.

Maybe use a platypus or camelbak container for the ease of packing. In the desert I carried up to a 6 liter capacity using plastic bottles from gas stations. They're light, durable and cheap!

Water purification

AquaMira - Mix part A with part B. Wait. Add to bottles. Wait. Drink. Tedious but effective as long as you use it correctly. Chlorine Dioxide (active Aquamira) /= bleach.

Sawyer / Squeeze (3oz) - This is a great purification solution. Compared to the pumps and thing I used growing up, you can't ask for a better innovation. That said, using it every day gets old fast. Its not as quick as using drops because you have to fill the bag and squeeze it, which can get more difficult with dirtier water. Also, the bags can break or leak and contaminate your clean water. The filters do fit on several water bottles, which helps with the bag issue. For me - this is for short trips or back up/emergency water purification method.

Bleach (household bleach is typically Sodium Hypochlorite, although you should always check the container for potency and composition if you are planning on using a chemical to treat your drinking water)

Treating water with bleach is definitely effective, but there are certain risks and may not be able to destroy cryptosporidium pathogen with 2 drops in a liter. I used bleach to treat water from Northern California to the border and have used bleach in the past very frequently. There are plenty of studies out there discussing the use of bleach as water treatment. I would consider reading up on water treatment. Start with the CDC or something.

Misc

I carried a myriad of other items in my backpack. These included a harmonica, an iPhone, iPhone charger, sketchbook, pen and pencil, permanent marker, some paper, my hiking permit, and some money and credit cards. These extra things can add up fast. Your friends may put rocks in your pack. You might put a beer in your bag to have on the first night then forget about it (great surprise when you do end up finding it later, though). It's a fun trip, enjoy it. Try not to flip out about gear too much. I'm sure while you are planning your trip you will freak out a few times... once you are on the trail, stop doing that.

Cheers,

Dan (aka Soapbox)

Soapbox's gear review: pt 2

Use sites like Steep and Cheap if you can tell they post brands or gear you like. Also, this is a great gear reference: 10 lb Backpack. Feel free to ask questions. Try things on before you buy them. Go to a store and look before you make an online purchase!

Wearables (clothing):

In general you're going to probably be able to figure out what clothes to wear without consulting blogs, but here's my data for the sake of completion. I hope someone finds it useful.

Shirt - Columbia Silver Ridge

It’s a shirt. Whatever. Oh - it cleaned up well in the wash. You’ll want to wear something. Or maybe you are a nudist? Me? I prefer a “Tradewinds Grey” color to protect from the sun and harsh elements on the PCT. 

Bottoms - "I can't begin to care.” - Pedi.

I wore these stupid heavy canvas pants I bought for $2 at a thrift shop until I stopped worrying about getting sunburned behind my knees then I tied the pants to the bottom of my pack and forgot about them. Seriously… I left these things tied to my pack for 200 miles or so until I threw them away in Bishop, CA when I was doing a shakedown. I wore some elastic Prana shorts I found on Steep and Cheap the rest of the way. Sometimes I wore compression shorts or running tights.

Compression shorts - Nike something.

Personal decisions are hard. 

Underwear - Ex Officio / Give-n-go boxer brief

"BEST. UNDERWEAR. EVER.” - Pedi

I really can’t improve upon Jonathan’s review. I hope to own these boxers for a long time and I intend on taking them all over the world. And damnit, for $20 they better last forever.

Extra shirt - Stoic / Breathe Composite (pretty light?)

Warm long sleeve. Especially nice to have in the Sierra otherwise useful as a pillow or sleep shirt (protect your sleeping bag/quilt from getting dirty). Personally? I don’t use sleep clothes and I ended up getting rid of this after the halfway point. Probably could have gotten by without it the whole way.

Sleep pants - I had running tights but definitely did not sleep in them more than a few times. I am a warm sleeper.

Socks - Stoic Synth / Trail Crew Sock

I used Injinjis and Stoics almost exclusively. Stoics were the best; I went through six pairs or so the entire trail and still have a few of them. Injinjis were nice early on to help prevent blisters, but they wore out within 100 miles and were a pain in the ass to get my weird toes into. I only picked these because I found them on Steep and Cheap for a great price.

Interesting side note - Injinjis make great sun gloves if you cut holes in the toes once you wear them out as socks. I started the trend and Pedi picked up on it pretty fast. You’re going to want to wash them before you put them on your hands…

Shoes - Solomon / Sense Mantra (16 oz) AND Brooks / Cascadia (13 oz)

I had very few foot problems the entire trail. I went through 3 pairs of shoes, but only two different models.  In general, I think shoe choice is very personal and you'll know what is right when you try them on.

Brooks Cascadia: Join the Brooks Club! If the PCT had a fork in it, we'd search for Cascadia shoe prints. It was usually the right way. A very popular shoe for a good reason. I hiked 1300+ miles with one pair. 10mm heel-to-toe drop

Solomon Sense Mantra: Really loved this trail runner while I was in the desert. I was able to get 800+ miles out of them. I trained in them then wore them to Kennedy Meadows, CA. Solomon has a great manufacturer guaranty as well. I think if you are hiking with under 25 lb, this is plenty of shoe and it's light, dries very fast, and is pretty durable. Note: the synch shoestring never broke, someone told me it definitely would. It did not. Also, I think this is a 6mm drop shoe.

Gaiters - I’d wear 'em if the whole trail was in the snow, but otherwise they make taking my shoes off too much work.

Jacket Mountain Hardwear / Ghost Whisperer (7oz)

Expensive, but worthwhile, I think. This lasted the entire trek and I washed it with Nikwax and it’s like-new (minus the hole and lack of branding/logos). The material is very delicate. Wear something over it if you are being active, I climbed a tree and the bark caught and ripped a hole instantly. No bueno. That said, all down is an investment. It lasts if you treat it well.

Rain Jacket - Outdoor Research / Proverb (13oz)

Another Steep and Cheap find. Great value when found on sale. Certainly not the best jacket on the market, but it served its purpose.

For "next time": Jonathan said in his review, consider: Outdoor Research / Helium 2. I'm also researching some Marmot-made options like the Mica and the Essence. Check out Snarky Nomad's reviews.

Rain pants - Mountain Hardwear / Alkane Pant (9oz)

Great pants. They saw heavy use in WA when we were in the rain for days on end. Also great for in the Sierra. Not sure if they are essential, but it was nice to have them, particularly in the multiple day long downpours.

Warm hat - Some outdoorsy hat, you need a hat. It's just a hat. There are many like it.

Gloves - Nope.

I thought about buying gloves every time I went into an REI or outfitter… But I never bought them. I would have worn them in WA if I had them. In the desert and in the Sierra I would cover my hands with a bandana, cut up injinjis, cut up sleeves from a cotton shirt. Whatever. HYOH.

Sunglasses - Solar Shields

Solar shields. Solar shields. solar shields. They may get worn out, scratched, or lost, but never stolen. Don’t get attached to your shades because you’re going to lose them at some point. Or break them. Probably both.

Happy hiking,

Dan

Soapbox's gear review: pt 1

I’m a gear head, and I can obsess about gear, but by the third day of the Pacific Crest Trail I was exhausted with all the gear talk. It’s one of the most popular topics on the trail. It’s great to learn the ins and outs of the materials, the weight, the costs. Learn to compromise size, durability, and comfort for weight, speed, and simplicity. Many PCT hikers spend tons time researching every single thing they choose to carry (certainly not all of them). Naturally, people tend to have opinions about what to bring. These discussions were not always constructive and after awhile I kind of toned gear talk out.

Either way, I hiked the PCT and lived out of a backpack for five months and these are the things I took and what I thought of them.
Jonathan, three days from the Canadian border, was still giving me grief about carrying a harmonica I hardly played. I was not a UL master. No one is perfect.

The Big Three and essentials:


Pack - The Osprey Exos 58 (2 lb 6 oz for a medium pack with brain. 2 lb 2 oz without the brain)

Loved my pack. I loved the suspension system and that aluminum frame. I loved how easily my kit fit into it. I loved that I could put things I wanted in the hip belt pockets, shoulder strap pockets, back pouch or in the brain. Many ultralight backpackers tend to go for more minimalist packs, but I liked having the extra support for the long stretches and first few days out of town when my pack would be loaded to 40 lb or more. The Exos fit a Bear Vault bear canister with ease, and I often had extra room in the pack.

To shave weight you can elect to cut extra straps, remove the brain (which is adjustable, detachable and works as a fanny pack or something like that), or get a smaller size. I saw people using an Exos 48 and even the 38, the compromise is a dedication to minimalism. Also, Osprey is an extremely hiker-friendly company and will honor a lifetime warranty on their gear.

For "Next time": Saw a ton of ULA / Circuit (2lb 6oz), the most popular pack on trail. Our friend, Mongo had a completely stripped down Z-packs pack (this was literally a bag with straps).

Sleeping bag < QUILT!!! - Enlightened Equipment Revelation 20ºF (26 oz)

The specs: Revelation 750 fill goose down, 20ºF rating

Prior to the PCT I only used mummy bags, but now I am in love with Enlightened Equipment quilts. Great idea, functional, lightweight, great company. Within the first week of hiking the trail I knew I had made the right choice. The general idea is that you save on material because you don’t need down underneath you when you sleep - that just wastes down because down needs to loft in order to provide warmth. The quilt has fasteners or straps that keeps it tight around you on cold nights and you can sleep with it loosely covering you on warmer nights.

For "next time": Would have sprung for the 850 fill goose down to get an even lighter quilt, but 26oz for a 20ºF sleep system is a great deal. Plus you cant beat the manufacturer's prices considering the great quality of the product.

Sleeping pad - Thermarest / Prolite 4 (1lb 8oz)

Lighter options are out there. Smaller options are out there. This was one of the first things we each bought and we found it on Steep and Cheap so it was quite affordable. Bottom line: it’s durable, it’s warm, and it’s comfortable.

For "next time": Thermarest / Neo Air XLite, Were I to do the trail again, I'd get this in a Small and use some z-lite or my pack for my legs and feet. I thought about using my Thermarest Z-lite, but when I used it I noticed I had to be strategic about where I slept. If the ground was wet or soft or muddy or snowy my body heat would get sucked out of me. I pay attention to the "R value", which describes the thermal resistance of the pad (higher is better, but weight and size are directly related). A great table comparing sleeping pads makes picking easy.

Groundsheet - 2' x 7' sheet of Tyvek (4oz?)

I bought a single sheet for 9$ in Wrightwood. Split it with Jonathan, cut it in the hardware store. Bing, bang, boom. Done. Protect your tent and your sleeping pad.

Tent - REI Quarter Dome (2 lb 10oz)

This is another piece of gear where you can find lighter and cheaper options. The trade off: this tent is spacious and bomb-proof (not literally, but it's stable). The people I hiked with got tired of hearing me talk about how much I liked it. Easy to put up. Plenty of room for activities. Big vestibule for those gross nights where everything has to be stored under it. Complaints are mostly that, like with all ultralight gear, the material is delicate. If I were to hike again I would consider lighter shelters if I could find them at low enough prices. I bought my Quarter Dome on sale at REI so it was a great buy.

For "next time":  For the right price I'd try out the Notch or go waaaay UL maybe with something like the Hexamid and buy a big piece of Tyvek to protect my pad.

Headlamp - Some old Black Diamond thing (?oz)

Bring a light. Make sure it's bright if you plan on night hiking.

Knife/multitool - Multitool (?oz)

I went most of the trail without a knife and I lost my spork in my backpack every day. I made it from border to border. Without a gun. Without a sword. I bought a comically tiny multitool in Bend because it had a bottle cap opener on it.

Power - Goal Zero / Nomad 7 and Guide 10  (13oz) and (6.4oz) respectively

The Nomad 7 is a solar panel. I used it for charging my phone and camera. It worked, but it may not be the best power solution.

For "next time": I'll buy a little auxiliary battery pack for my iPhone and make sure to charge that in towns. Solar panels work and work well sometimes. But not all of the time. And they aren't the most convenient thing to strap to your pack while you glisade (slide down snowy mountains) and stuff.

Trekking Poles  Black Diamond / Distance Z-Poles (13 oz)

I still don't know if I like hiking with trekking poles that much. I bet that as I get older I'll use them more. I've been camping and backpacking for a long time and I'm still not sure how I feel about some gear.

Bottom line: I'd say grab a set on sale and if you don't like them return them.

Stove JetBoil / Flash (15 oz)

An incredibly fuel efficient water boiling device is what this thing is. You can kind of simmer, but you have to be careful. If you are going to cook full meals you may want to look at larger pots and a different stove. I like cooking on the trail quite a bit. Bottom line: I'd use this again, but if I found a cheaper/lighter stove + pot system I'd go for it.

For "next time": If I stick with canister stoves I would consider the gnat (1.6 oz) and a 4 - 5 oz pot or find a stove similarly minimal. Save money upfront and save weight. You wont beat the Jetboil for fuel economy.

Stuff sacks

There are tons of options. I mostly used gallon/quart zip-locks. My food bag? Grocery bags or a trash bag. Lots of other hikers went for the roll top sacks. HYOH. End of the day - everything you carry should be in some kind of bag in a bag (in a bag… BAG-CEPTION).

More to come on gear because it's Gear Week 2! Don't worry, we have more cool pictures and stories, but these are questions a lot of people had about the trail and we wanted to share it.


Love,

Dan

The grand finale

Throughout the second half of my time on the PCT, I conducted a personal project to explore a novel way to document the trail. I took two portraits of each thru-hiker I passed. One tight facial portrait and one foot portrait. This I managed to do with 49 different hikers, and all with the minimal amount of lightweight gear in my pack.

Below you will find some highlights of the series. The full project can be viewed on my personal website. Special thanks to Soapbox and Ms. Frizzle, without whom this project would not exist.

 

Hiker Trash: noun: a term used to describe thru-hikers and all of their hairy, dirty, grunginess. They are typically characterized by their far-beyond disheveled appearance and god-awful smell. These are people that set out to complete a 2,663 mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, a long distance trail spanning California, Oregon and Washington. I consider them my friends and comrades. They put aside their daily lives in ‘the real world’ to spend about five months walking in the woods and experiencing life and nature. They attack a pile of food like no human you have ever seen, and they do it without remorse or shame. The nomadic community created by Hiker Trash is one of the most beautiful and ephemeral tribes a person can experience. For the five months I spent on the PCT, everyone I met treated me as one of their own. They were my tribe. I was their kin.

They embrace the constant and daily challenges presented by the grueling terrain, merciless pace, and mercurial weather. All in the name of making it from Mexico to Canada armed with nothing but sheer force of will and their own feet. It is with perseverance and grit that every thru-hiker is able to put one foot in front of the other. The pounding on a thru-hiker’s foot is constant and brutal. The cost of their dream is shown in their battered and bruised feet. Their indomitable spirit and fortitude is shown in their faces. These are their faces. These are their feet.

Iceman

Iceman

Joaquin

Joaquin

Pot Luck

Pot Luck

Trail Dancer

Trail Dancer

Mr. President

Mr. President

Snail Trainer

Snail Trainer

Polar Bear

Polar Bear

Quickdraw

Quickdraw

Cheers,

Jonathan

Trail life in Washington

Washington was a pretty crazy place. While our saga of being sick wasn't exactly the greatest, we had some phenomenal times walking through the final state of the PCT. As always, the people we hiked with were some of our favorite highlights. We had such great times on trail.

You eat that lunch Butters. You eat it good.

You eat that lunch Butters. You eat it good.

Smitty traversing a snowfield in Goat Rocks.

Smitty traversing a snowfield in Goat Rocks.

Dan decided to hang up his tent to let it dry while he ate breakfast. Who does that?

Dan decided to hang up his tent to let it dry while he ate breakfast. Who does that?

Butters at the hotel in Snoqualmie.

Butters at the hotel in Snoqualmie.

Dan (with Winston) Hiking out of Snoqualmie Pass.

Dan (with Winston) Hiking out of Snoqualmie Pass.

Butters at the Dinsmore's Hiker Haven in Skykomish.

Butters at the Dinsmore's Hiker Haven in Skykomish.

traversing the "impassable" trail with Trip, Mongo and co.

traversing the "impassable" trail with Trip, Mongo and co.

Impassable? Ya, we don't think so. Trip, Dan, Mongo and Frizzle.

Impassable? Ya, we don't think so. Trip, Dan, Mongo and Frizzle.

Loved the way the light hit this bridge.

Loved the way the light hit this bridge.

DANG, this bridge is hella messed up.

DANG, this bridge is hella messed up.

Dan was a cat on the monument at the Canadian border.

Dan was a cat on the monument at the Canadian border.

Border to border, baby.

Border to border, baby.

Dan had to pull the harmonica out and play a quick song for Canada.

Dan had to pull the harmonica out and play a quick song for Canada.

Cheers,

Jonathan

Fun with time-lapses

Knowing I might undergo some radical physical changes while on the PCT, I sought to document this transformation. You see, in the “real world," I love fashion and like being "that weird looking guy." To find me in colored skinny jeans, with makeup and oddly colored hair is not uncommon. On the trail, however, I put all my pampering and primping aside. I wanted to do this without the costume and style of my regular life. And so I left my eyeliner and hair dye at home. For the first time in my entire life I even let my facial hair grow, which turned out to be the saddest of sights. It should be noted that I didn't trim my facial hair at all, I simply don't grow any. Definitely not going to be winning a moustache growing contest anytime soon.

At one point I met some section hikers completely in awe of the thru-hikers they passed, who told me that we all looked either homeless or sporty. I kind of hoped I was some mix of the two, to be honest. While most men on trail looked more and more like Paul-freakin’-Bunyan each day, my hiking companion among them, I maintained this odd sort of boy band / homeless look.

The guy who left as Jonathan was not the same person who returned as Pedi. The transformation goes far beyond the visual, but even still, the visual changes are staggering. I photographed these changes with a selfie-a-day project, which I present to you now. From newbie to seasoned hiker, from scrub to full-on hiker-trash, here is my transformation as I hiked that 2,663 mile trail.

Hitchiking

Hitchhiking is one of those aspects of trail life that non-hikers tend to find shocking. The first question people ask when they hear about the trail ("You walked how far?!") is often followed by "How did you get food and supplies?" My explanation to is that we hitch into the small towns near the trail to buy food. This invariably elicits interestings reactions.

"What do you mean hitching? Like hitchhiking?" they say, wide eyed.

The logistics of getting a hitch are pretty much the same as they've always been. Stand on the side of a road with your thumb out and hope that some kind soul will stop to pick you up. This is the most common form of soliciting a hitch, at least. Getting a hitch can be about much more than simply sticking your thumb out. When I talk about hitchhiking I am referring to the general act of getting a ride from a stranger. This can happen in so many more ways than my pre-trail self could have imagined: sometimes you find yourself in a parking lot, and you just have to approach a stranger or two and ask for a ride. Other times you have to divide and conquer; there are too many hikers to fit in one normal-sized vehicle. There are even times where you have to do, well, nothing. On these rare occasions rides were solicited to us, which is an incredible experience.

From the day we landed in Southern California until we returned to our hometown of St. Louis, I hitched 43 rides. They varied greatly in quality and novelty, but every one of them was a blessing. Of those 43 times, only once did I ever feel remotely unsafe, and it was due to the driver's carelessness, not because I ever felt I would be harmed.

Before the PCT I had never hitched a ride. I had never ridden in the back of a pickup truck. I had never done a lot of things that I have now done. Sure, I was a little nervous. Mostly, I think the nerves were caused by fear of continual rejection by passing cars. I never really worried about my personal safety or uncomfortable situations. Or at least I accepted it as an inherent risk. Then again, I'm a 6' tall white male who tends to be a bit callous with things like safety, so that might have something to do with it. As for my nerves, they were immediately put to rest after our very first hitch came completely without solicitation. A nice couple saw us walking through San Diego and stopped to see if we needed a ride. HOW CRAZY IS THAT? I would soon find out that this was only the tip of the iceberg.

In case you are still worried, let's see if perspective and clarity don’t put you more at ease. When you go through towns on or near the trail, most people know about the Pacific Crest Trail. When those people see us with our dirty clothes and backpacks, they usually know we're hikers. There really is a community around this trail that looks out for hikers. We are all strangers, but we are strangers within a hiking community.

Beyond that, you have to be willing to let the unexpected happen. You have to let go of absolute control, go with the flow and leave some things up to chance. You are always going to hear stories on the news that someone was found dead in a ditch because some evil monster picked them up. But what about all the times where humans rise to the occasion and help each other out in little ways? These aren't news stories, they are random acts of human kindness. I bet if you look around you will find lots more of those acts than you do big scary stuff. I saw it happen day in and day out on trail; it was a beautiful thing.

Here are a few examples of what hitching on the PCT was like.

Best hitch: We got a hitch out of Bishop, CA from a 70 year old woman in her RV. She came into the cafe where we were sitting and offered my crew a ride. She even offered us some cold Bud Light Limes for the ride back to trail. This woman embodied the spirit of adventure.

We sometimes joked about the most epic hitches imaginable. Firetruck hitch was always at the top of our list. We never got one, but a few hiker trash friends of ours did get a hitch in the bucket of a front loading tractor. We were jealous, to say the least.

Worst hitch: Being shoved three-deep in the back of a car with all our gear and a dog on our laps, winding down mountain roads with a driver who was less than concerned about staying on the right side of the road. The guys that gave us a ride were quite kind, but their driving was less than stellar. As noted earlier, this was the one and only time I ever felt the least bit uncomfortable in a stranger's car.

Weirdest character who gave us a hitch: This super right-wing guy who told us the national economy was on the brink of collapse explained that precious metals were the only thing that were going to be worth a damn. He then preceded to show us a minted silver coin that he happened to carry around in his pocket.

A word of politeness to those who choose solicit their own hitches: if possible, it's best to offer a few dollars in gas money to those that give you a hitch. Ya know, because paying it forward, being a good person and all that jazz. Screw karma, it's just the right thing to do.

One last detail that eluded me before the trail: Oftentimes when someone gives you a hitch, they load you up, drive off, start chatting and roll up the windows. Make sure they don't do this last part! This kind, unassuming person obviously doesn't realize you smell TERRIBLE and should be warned before enclosing themselves in a small, mostly airtight capsule with filthy hiker trash. I didn’t even want to be enclosed in a vehicle with my own smell. I can't imagine how bad it must be for 'normal folk' to have to smell us.

Cheers,

Jonathan

Dan (Soapbox) trying to hitch out of Chester, CA.

Dan (Soapbox) trying to hitch out of Chester, CA.

Myself and Half'n'Half trying to walk and hitch a ride in Big Bear City, CA

Myself and Half'n'Half trying to walk and hitch a ride in Big Bear City, CA

Dan hitching in the back of a pickup to Kennedy Meadows Resort in central California. We had to ride with the gate down because the bed was so full.

Dan hitching in the back of a pickup to Kennedy Meadows Resort in central California. We had to ride with the gate down because the bed was so full.

Frizzle riding in the bed of a pickup on our way back to trail from Trout Lake, WA

Frizzle riding in the bed of a pickup on our way back to trail from Trout Lake, WA

Half'n'Half, myself, Quinoa and Choop hitching back up to Tuolomne Meadows from Yosemite Valley.

Half'n'Half, myself, Quinoa and Choop hitching back up to Tuolomne Meadows from Yosemite Valley.

Looking Back: struck down by sickness (pt. 4)

Dan took you through the brunt of his own illness and the toll it took on him as we continued making our way through Washington. Now I'm going to pick up the baton and finish out the saga. Oh how I wished it had ended with some annoying mice that kept us up in the night.

As I awoke on this, the 137th day on trail, I felt my stomach lurch. I ran off into the woods expecting the worst, and that's exactly what I got. Making my way back to my tent, I couldn't bring myself to start eating breakfast or packing up. I tried to go back to sleep. As I turned onto my back I felt immediate discomfort. Dan had described that exact discomfort not two days prior. After a few more trips back into the thicket I knew I had fallen prey to the same condition from which Dan had been ailing. Now I had Giardia too. Horror of horrors. This was not going to be easy.

And it wasn't. Luckily, Dan was incredibly patient and empathetic. After all, he was only now recovering from mostly the same symptoms. Like I had done for Dan, he showed great patience as our situations reversed. We stopped when I needed to stop and kept going as soon as I was able. The nausea came in waves, and I had to make the most of the times of stability before again having to urgently rush off trail. 

Oh yeah, and it was raining all day. Did I mention the rain? For the next 36 hours we would experience almost constant rain and cloud cover. This was supposed to be one of the most beautiful sections of the trail. Not only could we not see anything through the thick fog and cloud cover, but instead of sharing vistas we both had nausea and diarrhea. In case you've never experienced it before, diarrhea in the cold rain sucks. A lot. 

It was at this point that I realized this was only the second time on trail that Dan and I had been hiking completely by ourselves. No crew, no loose group of friends with whom we would leapfrog. Just two friends out in the woods shitting our brains out in the cold rain. What else can you really ask for? Honestly, it's an amazing bonding experience.

After two days of trudging along and trying to keep our spirits up, we made it to Steven's Pass, a skiing/mountain biking resort. We found ourselves a ride to the Dinsmore's Hiker Haven, a trail angel house in Skykomish, WA, where we were reunited with Butters and Frizzle. I may have felt like crap, but the comfort of friends meant the world to me. It was also at this point that Dan noticed a voicemail he had received from the clinic in North Bend. HE DIDN'T HAVE GIARDIA! Huzzah. Which also means that I didn't have Giardia. Again, HUZZAH. We simply had a common stomach bug. Food poisoning, or something like that.  Unfortunately this news did nothing to alleviate the nausea I continued to feel. There wasn't much we could do at this point except ride it out.

Butters too had been experiencing the pangs of sickness, only his manifested in an inability to keep food down. Consistent vomiting does not make for easy hiking. Less because it's had to walk while vomiting and more because it's hard to take in adequate sustenance required to do 25+ miles/day.

One day out of Skykomish and Butters was officially worried. There was no indication that his vomiting would cease. He was going to hike back to Skykomish, get a ride to Seattle and see a doctor. We didn't want to see our friend go, but only he could know what was best for him. We woefully gave him goodbye hugs before seeing him head off the same way we had come. This would be the last time we saw Butters. We missed him dearly in the week it took us to finish out the trail. Thankfully, it did not mean his hike was over. More on that later.

As Butters left us we gained a new crew member in Mongo, a fellow St. Louisan, jokester and all around good guy. So our crew would stay until the very end: Dan, Frizzle, Mongo and I.

Unfortunately, Mongo was not the only thing to see us to the trail's end. The nausea, diarrhea and general feelings of discomfort persisted off and on throughout the rest of the trail too. I guess you could say I learned to manage it well enough, but it put a damper on my mood to be sure. For 95% of the trail I felt up-beat and excited for what was to come. During dark moments in that stretch I could only hope that the trail would simply come to an end. We had walked 2500 miles since the Mexican border. I wasn't about to give up on the last 163 miles without a fight. 

I never actively wanted to quit before the finish, but I did occasionally wonder how much grit I had left in me. On one hand, we had already accomplished a great feat. We walked really far, we learned things about ourselves and we had a great time. Technically, we could have stopped there and still gotten a great deal out of the adventure. I wasn't willing to stop until we reached the end, though. I wanted to follow through on the commitment we made to this journey. I wanted the closure of making it to the monument at the Canadian border. Willpower and camaraderie were what kept me going. 

Dan was mostly better in that last week, though he too had bouts of diarrhea from time to time. Even Ms. Frizzle was unable to fully avoid our misfortune. It was less severe than what Dan and I went through but far from optimal. Huge props to that girl for being a driving positive force. It was with this unwillingness to let our ailments and Washington's elements bring us down that we finished the trail.

On September 8, our 146th day hiking this Pacific Crest Trail, we made it. We arrived at the Canadian border with adrenaline surging through our bodies. Nothing could have brought us down in that moment of triumph, although it didn't hurt that we all felt some respite from illness. The weather, too, had cooperated with us. We hadn't seen rain in at least three days. 

Now we could rest. Glorious rest. After getting back to our respective homes and a week or so of recuperation I'm happy to report that all are once again well. Even Butters managed to make it back to trail and finished it out. 

You tested us, PCT. You threw us some curveballs, and still we stuck it out to the end. What a wild ride.

Cheers,

Jonathan

Looking Back: struck down by sickness (pt. 3)

While we had a 3000+ ft climb that stretched over four miles, I hoped it would be downhill for my sickness. The clinic doctor in North Bend and I thought I had contracted a case of giardia. Luckily by the time Jonathan and I started hiking again I had been on the antibiotics for 18 hours or so. The rumor on the trail was that 24 hours on Flagyl would leave me feeling like normal again - so we were pushing it a bit, but we didn't plan on hiking far. We could not wait around in hotels anymore.

The last post left off with Jonathan and myself at the northbound Snoqualmie Pass trail head. I was still experiencing symptoms, but we were ready to move again. We had a big climb and a challenging section ahead but were only 2 - 3 days away from the Dinsmore's Hiker Haven and Steven's Pass. And I had medication.

My main concern was that as we began this huge climb with full packs, heavy from our resupply I knew I would frequently need to go to the bathroom (normally toilet time in the woods is rather pleasant). This time either side of the trail was very steep, and there were lots of day hikers since we were close to a major highway. This meant that as we ascended the PCT, making our way to a section of trail known as the Kendall Katwalk, I had to frequently throw down my pack and scramble up cliff-sides to find a place to hide and squat. This was challenging for me... but also hilarious as Jonathan patiently sat on the side of trail by my pack and the same couple of people leapfrogged (we'd pass them, they'd pass us) with us. Each time he'd have a brief exchange, but they knew I was in need of some space. One couple hiking back to the highway gave us muffins and fruit, which was great because I was starting to get my appetite back.

Finally, we made it to the top of the climb. The trail at this section was breathtakingly stunning. We had hiked out of old growth forest, waterfalls, and gravity defying rock formations and into fully exposed cliffs and seemingly infinite vistas. There had been heavy cloud cover earlier in the day, but as the evening approached we were watching puffy clouds rise and fall up and over entire mountains like airships. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness certainly lived up to it's name - there were pristine blue, teal, azure waters hidden high up  and away from the rest of the world. As we crossed the ridge I looked out to see Mt. Rainier in the distance as well as sheer valley walls and new mountaintops. The majesty of the Cascade range took my breath away, and I forgot about being sick.

We hiked 11 miles that day. It took around 6 hours and there was one point on the 'Katwalk' where I had to clamber up 25 feet of rocks to find an appropriate perch to do my business (yes, I know, I was in the Leave No Trace grey area here). I finally felt hungry again. We were camping in the clouds. As the misty curtain cleared Jonathan and I ate dinner while we enjoyed a view of Mt. Rainier at sunset. When I say ate dinner, I mean we really, really ate. I mean I made two dinners and had some candy bars, chips and fruit snacks. I was still technically sick; I felt thin as a rail, but I knew as long as I could get calories in and if we took it easy for a day or two, I would be past the worst of it.

Hiking the PCT faced with sickness was frightening as hell. If my condition had deteriorated during a bad storm - we were in Washington, temperatures were dropping and rain can hit any time and last for days - I could have been in serious trouble. There were many other people who had gotten sick on the trail and would get sick in the remaining days of the trail. We faced difficult decisions while experiencing both emotional and physical challenges all while battling out the weather and the trail.

That next morning we woke up enveloped by clouds. I had slept through the entire night, the first full night of rest my body had allowed me to have for three days. We woke and began hiking by 9 am, late by normal standards, but considering our previous circumstances I felt pretty good as we set out. Our goal was to just get as many miles in as we could, but not push it or over-stress my racked body. Clouds rolled in as the day went on, but the scenery was consistently gorgeous and we hiked a decent pace... airship clouds, impossible rock spires, typical PCT stuff. By the afternoon we were starting to get hit by some rain and it felt like the clouds were going to start dumping serious moisture. We had hiked 26 miles. An alright day under normal circumstances, excellent if you are recovering from sickness. We made dinner as it got dark.

"Dude, mice" said Jonathan. Oh man. We were finishing food and getting ready to call it a night when suddenly there were little grey streaks flitting all around us. Great. Mice. I hate mice. But I know better, all the food and anything that could smell like food goes into a bag and the bags hang on a low branch. I rarely hang my food to protect it from bears because bears can climb trees. I will definitely hang my food 12 inches off the ground or higher to keep mice and rodents away from it. I do not like holes in every pocket in my pack, bag or my tent. Even though the food was up I still woke up in the night. The mice had found a single plastic bag outside my tent and were chewing through it repeatedly (probably to spite me). Jonathan did not fare any better - he had left crumbs in a wrapper by his pack. We both woke up multiple times, afraid mice were chewing through tents or bags.

The next morning I was up and moving by 7 am. The damage from the mice was superficial. Jonathan was still asleep, but I figured I could get moving and he would catch me. I felt like I was at 80 or 90% and wanted to get some miles in. This did not happen. I yelled over to him while I was striking camp and all I got was a groan. No. Effing. Way. I finished packing while he ran off into the woods. I knew his pain and he had my sympathies. Getting to Steven's Pass was not going to be easy.

The second Captain was down. Washington wasn't pulling any punches.

Cheers,

Dan (aka Soapbox)

Side note - the Kendall Katwalk section of trail was featured in Backpacker Magazine's October issue. It is an awesome section of trail with a really interesting history. According to the Backpacker article the trail crew "marked the route along the cliff face by dropping beer bottles full of red paint from a helicopter" when they were building it. If you live in Seattle there's no reason to miss out on this hike.

The ridge top crossing of the Kendall Katwalk

The ridge top crossing of the Kendall Katwalk

Another view of the Kendal Katwalk

Another view of the Kendal Katwalk

One of my favorite vista of the trail.

One of my favorite vista of the trail.

Airship clouds

Airship clouds

Making camp the first night out of Snoqualimie.

Making camp the first night out of Snoqualimie.

Looking Back: struck down by sickness (pt. 2)

We left off with Jonathan and myself making our approach toward Snoqualmie Pass (see part 1 if you're curious). My condition was somewhat stable - I was experiencing stomach pains and suspiciously frequent trips to the tree toilet (going to the bathroom meant running off into the trees as quickly as possible), but my spirits were high, I could eat and I had caught my hiker friends.

After our 30 mile day we woke with a 12.5 mile hike to Snoqualmie Pass. I was still feeling good and was hiking fast. I was so hungry! We got moving early and hoped to reach the pass by lunchtime. As I went I started to get that familiar stomach ache, but didn't think I would have a problem eating.

Soapbox the morning he and Smokes hiked into Snoqualmie Pass

Soapbox the morning he and Smokes hiked into Snoqualmie Pass

View of Mt. Ranier before we hiked into Snoqualmie Pass.

View of Mt. Ranier before we hiked into Snoqualmie Pass.

The hike to the pass was gorgeous. We were high up on a ridge looking down into a valley, able to see highway 90 and hear the sounds of cars echoing off the mountains, quite amplified as they were a thousand feet or more below us. Again, I'd like to emphasize Washington's beauty. As we walked north through the state I was continually struck by the raw quality of the forests, challenges presented by the sheer mountains, and the impressive infrastructure people had built to cross the wild country.

We gained the pass and I descended with Smokes to Snoqualmie (I'm not sure if it's really a town, maybe more of a highway exit with a ski resort?). We ran down a ski run towards a gas station and hotel at the bottom. We knew there was food. We knew there was beer. We had resupply boxes at the gas station. Pedi and Frizzle were there already, having camped ahead of Butters, Smokes, Trail Dancer and me (oh, and Frizzle and Pedi tend to get up early and walk crazy fast).

We arrived at the Chevron gas station as a school bus was making a pit stop. Smokes and I dropped our packs and made a bee-line for the toilets. Oops. Huge lines. Two toilets. School field trip. Not. Good. Anxiously I walked around the store - tons of random stuff. Hiker resupply boxes apparently were delivered from a post office in North Bend (20 miles away) and stored in a walk-in cooler-turned-post office, and your usual gas station food and drink options were all over. Finally, I could take care of my business (the toilet). Next was the food. I assure you, gas station cheeseburgers never tasted so good. Eventually, Smokes and I tracked down Pedi and Frizzle at a coffee shop/DoT bathroom and shower facility (the two shared a building; I don't know how else to describe it).

Hiker trash hanging out, going through resupply boxes in Snoqualmie Pass. (Smokes, Trail Dancer and Frizzle)

Hiker trash hanging out, going through resupply boxes in Snoqualmie Pass. (Smokes, Trail Dancer and Frizzle)

Still feeling okay. It was early afternoon. My stomach may have been a little sore, but I attributed this to hunger, not sickness, and hoped all that was behind me. I'm not sure I've ever been so wrong.

Our little hiker band had reunited - Pedi, Butters, Frizzle, Smokes, Trail Dancer, myself and even Early Bee had joined up while we went through our resupply boxes (on the ground on the side of a public restroom). We were able to buy some beers, we had some coffee, we decided we would share a hotel room and rest up (thank god).

I think the trouble started at dinner when Smokes and I went to the hotel restaurant. I started eating my sandwich and french fries. Then disaster struck. The first time I just briskly walked to the restaurant bathroom. Not good. Let me just summarize that everything coming out of me was liquid, and I didn't feel safe leaving the bathroom. I threw my card at the server, quickly signed, and ran back to the room, replacing myself on the toilet therein.

Not good. My condition rapidly deteriorated from beer-drinking, burger-eating hiker to a feeble, shaky and pale toilet-hugging mess. As the rest of the hikers were enjoying beers and eating in the room I struggled to lie on the bed without running to the bathroom. I managed to drink water and eat some Triscuits (both of which still upset my stomach and triggered toilet trips). I kind of slept, but I discovered rolling onto my stomach, my back, or right side was more movement than my body could deal with. I would have to drag myself back to the bathroom. It was truly a sad state of affairs. I think somewhere between 10 pm and 1 am I was unconscious, but 2 am to sunrise was a back and forth routine from bed to toilet. I felt like hell - I was painfully hungry as my hiker body craved calories to replace the thousands it had consumes over the previous couple of days (not to mention that this was day 130, and I had virtually no body fat left) on top of the frequent ejections my body forced me to make.

Morning came and the other hikers woke, packed and hit the restaurant. I took Imodium and was scared and uncertain about what to do. I could not hike. The closest clinic was in North Bend and there were no public transit options. As sick as I felt, thumbing it was out question. Pedi and Frizzle asked around to find a ride. I called a trail angel, no luck - the angel was on vacation. Once the Imodium took effect I passed out. Thank god. Sleep never felt so good. While I was passed out Pedi and Frizzle had found a ride! Ghost Angel's husband was driving past North Bend and would help us out. I loaded up on Imodium (I wasn't sure how long I could last without a toilet nearby) and we waited for him to get back.

All the hikers who had seen me get sick waited around to make sure I got help - the trail is an incredible culture and  there is a camaraderie and sense of family among these beautiful strangers that I have not experienced in regular society. I mean, these folks don't know me but still watched to make sure I got a ride. We hugged, shook hands and said we'd see each other again before I got in the car to find a doctor.

We made it to the clinic in North Bend; our ride dropped us exactly where we needed to go. The clinic was great and helpful. New experience: I had to shit in a "hat"... they needed to test my stool for all the gross things that cause violent pooping and nausea and all that jazz. Unfortunately, I had to evacuate as soon as I got to their office so I had to bring the "hat" with me - Pedi, Frizzle and myself stayed in a North Bend hotel where I would have to collect a stool sample (yippee!). It was strange to spend so much time off the trail around people and more strange to not be able to eat. The clinic doctor, who went to med school in St. Louis, prescribed me Flagyl, a strong antibiotic used to treat Giardia, and I went to the hotel to PTFO (pass the f@#$ out).

I still had to run to the bathroom, but the severity of awfulness I was experiencing had subsided slightly. I slept off and on through the night. I was on antibiotics for 12 hours. By morning I was hurting, but hurting from hunger more than anything else. We went to a restaurant and talked over our plan. Frizzle would hitch out immediately after breakfast. Pedi and I would squat in the room as long as we could. For lack of other options Pedi and I decided we would hit the trail and just hope I would recover quickly.

At 11 am we packed our bags and walked out of the hotel room. I was shaky and honestly afraid I would have to run behind a building to go to the bathroom while we walked to the highway to hitch back to the trail. Luckily we made it and promptly were picked up by a thru-hiker from a previous year, she dropped us at the trailhead at Snoqualmie Pass where I was able to use a privy. We were back on the PCT and would continue our hike while I (hopefully) recovered.

To be continued

Hope you are enjoying the saga

Dan (aka Soapbox)

Sick Soapbox and trusty friend, Pedi hitching to get back to the trail from North Bend.

Sick Soapbox and trusty friend, Pedi hitching to get back to the trail from North Bend.

View of highway 410 before we hiked into Snoqualmie Pass, near Sheep's Lake.

View of highway 410 before we hiked into Snoqualmie Pass, near Sheep's Lake.

Some nature being all natural and stuff.

Some nature being all natural and stuff.

I was low on substantial food so i make a Cheeto, mayo, parm, mustard, hummus wrap. Felt like Arrested Development. No way this is why I was feeling sick...

I was low on substantial food so i make a Cheeto, mayo, parm, mustard, hummus wrap. Felt like Arrested Development. No way this is why I was feeling sick...

Looking Back: struck down by sickness (pt. 1)

I was walking along thinking about how close we were to finishing the Pacific Crest Trail (we were at mile 2330 at the time). I reflected on my transformation into a long distance hiker, how little I needed to get by, how strong I felt, how hungry I was. Through it all my body was still doing all the crazy things I was asking of it. Then I got a little stomach ache.

Pedi, Frizzle, Smokes, Butters and myself had hiked to Urich Cabin - we had hoped for trail magic and we weren't disappointed. The cabin was occupied, but there were coolers of soda and snacks and beer! And the cabin had privies (that's right, more than one!). I knew something was wrong when the idea of a beer made me cringe. My stomach was starting to hurt and I had a Gatorade (you know, to be safe). That's right, folks. I turned down a free beer in the middle of the wilderness - a clear sign something was terribly amiss.  As we sat at the cabin clouds rolled in. It seemed like it was going to rain so we decided to hike on to a campsite for the evening - I just hoped I would make it without blowing chunks.

Side note, the Urich cabin would be an awesome place to stay, not far from road access, fireplace, privy, and plenty of room for friends to hole up from bad weather. 

Anyway, onwards we walked. As we hiked out from the cabin I was wearing rain pants, rain jacket and my regular hiking clothes and was still having trouble staying warm. It had begun raining and it was definitely getting chilly - the others were starting to put on jackets. As my gear got wet I got colder. 5 miles I told myself, no big deal. Frizzle stopped and hiked with me for a minute. Then I told her to keep going and I'd catch up at water, I was having a hard time not puking while I walked. 

Finally, we made it to a spring. I was done. I felt exhausted. I still had made it 26 miles for the day and it was only 5:30pm. I was wet and cold. I barely said anything to the group and they decided they would hike on to get closer to Snoqualmie. I stayed not far from the spring and put my tent up and jammed myself in. Somehow I got the damp clothes off and into a sleeping bag and passed out in a feverish sleep until 11 pm. I woke up and the fever had broken - but I had a crazy dream where Pedi and Frizzle and the gang brought me pizza in the night. This normally would have been a great dream except that even in the dream I had a terrible stomach ache. Before I could get to sleep again after a generous late night dinner of four single teddy Graham's I had to literally run out of my tent shedding my clothes in the process and evacuate all the things I had eaten or drank that day. Let's just say I was still not feeling well. I passed out again and kind of slept until morning.

This was just the beginning of a saga of sickness. The next day I felt off, but much better. I even ate an entire puch of Poptarts without feeling sick. Frizzle had left a bunch of Imodium with me before the gang took hiked on - she probably knew if I wanted to hike to the next town or keep up with them I would need the medicine. I just needed something to keep my body from becoming some kind of uncontrollable fountain... you get the point. I popped a few in the morning and hoofed it. 

I hiked 30 miles that day. I stopped a lot to go to the bathroom, sometimes running off-trail or diving for bushes to hide myself. I was definitely not 100%, but I hoped I would be fine if I kept taking in liquids and eating properly (and taking Imodium). By the evening I caught Butters and Smokes and all three of us caught Trail Dancer at a campsite. We shared the site and talked about life and the world and about how much I hoped I wouldn't be shitting everywhere all the next day - we would make it to Snoqualmie Pass in Washington and I was desperately craving a burger and beer and as many other forms of calories as possible. Frizzle and Pedi were just a mile or two ahead and everyone was glad to see me and that I hadn't perished the night before. I was in good spirits and was hoping everything would be okay.

Little did I know what trials both Pedi and myself had in store. Stay tuned for disaster.

Sincerely,

Dan (aka Soapbox)

As a post script I'd like to include some cool pictures from two days BEFORE I got sick. The trail is like life in society, good days and bad. Incredible views and great hiking, trials and hard times. I didn't take many pictures while I was sick nor did I write or draw (i was lucky to be able to eat a few Triscuits.

Nature takes it's toll on an old PCT sign. Mt. Rainier in the distance.

Nature takes it's toll on an old PCT sign. Mt. Rainier in the distance.

the gang hiking down from the Knife's Edge

the gang hiking down from the Knife's Edge

PCT selfie

PCT selfie

naaaaaature. It's a good thing. Rainier is impressive.

naaaaaature. It's a good thing. Rainier is impressive.

Mt. Adams in the back. Butttttttters on the way up! YOTOOOOoOooooooh

Mt. Adams in the back. Butttttttters on the way up! YOTOOOOoOooooooh

The Knife's Edge is the trail running from the foreground along the right of the photo. Rainier in the topleft.

The Knife's Edge is the trail running from the foreground along the right of the photo. Rainier in the topleft.

Good dudes. Butters on the right, Smokes on the left.

Good dudes. Butters on the right, Smokes on the left.

I walked really far with a bunch of stuff and this is what I think about that stuff: Navigation and Water

I guess you could also call this post "PCT gear review."

Note: UL means ultralight. There is a trend among backpackers to carry gear as light as possible. 

Note II: Always look for gear at a discount. Steep and Cheap is my favorite, but you get almost any piece of gear for a discount. Just because someone has a pack full of nice new gear doesn't mean they shelled out for it.

Note III: There is almost never an end all, be all for any single piece of gear. See what fits for your style and budget. These are simply my observations and opinions. 

Navigation

Yogi's Guide

As someone who had never really hiked before, it's a nice primer for the PCT and lightweight hiking. The 'book' section of the guide helps you figure out if this trail is really for you. The 'trail guide' section is a nice supplement to Halfmile while you're actually hiking. It's by no means necessary, but I don't regret buying it. Remember to hike your own hike (HYOH) and not simply follow Yogi though.

Halfmile maps

I personally didn't use Halfmile maps, but they are great if you are a visual person who likes to see topo maps. The elevation profiles at the end of each section are the best. They're free to download, but you still have to print them.

Halfmile app

Indispensable. This was the No. 1 way for me to get trail data. You get distances and up/down to pretty much anything on trail, especially towns and water. It doesn't do everything, but the features it does have work very well. Free. Available for iPhone and Android.

Guthook app

At $6 per section ($30 total), I found the Guthook apps a useful and worthwhile companion to Halfmile's app. I did most of my navigation via iPhone, and Guthook was helpful as a map and for finding campsite locations. Available for iPhone and Android.

 

Water storage

Smart Water bottle and wide mouthed Gatorade bottle.

Smart Water bottles are great because they use space well on the side pockets of your pack since they are tall and slender. They are less fussy to get in and out while you're walking too. Having one wide-mouthed bottle was handy for putting in drink mixes like Crystal Light or Nuun tablets. Each of these are lighter than your heavy duty bottles like a Nalgene. You will get laughed at if you carry a Nalgene. They're so heavy.

Platypus / SoftBottle 1L (1.4 oz)

During the desert you may need to carry five liters of water at any given time. During certain sections, you may even need to cary six (coming out of Tehachapi, Hat Creek Rim and leaving Crater Lake). It's nice to have an extra liter or two of storage that is compressible when you're not using it. This is a great choice and pretty much everybody uses them.

Water purification

AquaMira

You mix seven drops from two different bottles, wait five minutes, put it in your water and then wait another 20 minutes. I loved these for the desert where we would get three to five liters at a time, but found them a bit more tedious for the rest of the trail where you only need to get between one and three liters at a time. I didn't notice much of a taste either.

Sawyer / Squeeze (3oz)

The plus side of the Sawyer is that it fits on a SmartWater bottle. You can fill up your bottle and drink straight from the bottle with the Sawyer on it, if that's your thing. Also, it filters out debris that you might have picked up your water. Otherwise, I found the Sawyer to be slow and inconvenient. I didn't use it much and we ended up sending it home. 

Bleach

Regular, unscented bleach. Two drops per liter. Wait half an hour and you're good to go. I switched to bleach somewhere in NorCal and never regretted it. Just don't add too many drops or it'll taste terrible and can destroy your stomach lining.

 

Cheers,

Jonathan

I walked really far with a bunch of stuff and this is what I think about that stuff: Clothing

PCT gear review part 2: CLOTHING

There are always more things you could bring on trail, but this should help you find best options to limit the number of items in your pack.

Note: UL means ultralight. There is a trend among backpackers to carry gear as light as possible. 

Note II: Always look for gear at a discount. Steep and Cheap is my favorite, but you get almost any piece of gear for a discount. Just because someone has a pack full of nice new gear doesn't mean they shelled out for it.

Note III: There is almost never an end all, be all for any single piece of gear. See what fits for your style and budget. These are simply my observations and opinions. 

 

Shirt REI / SaharaTechShirt

This shirt made the hike as awesome as it was. I bought it the day before we left and it's the best purchase possible. Breast pockets, a collar to look less trashy in town, durable fabric and sleeves that roll and button up make this shirt the ideal hiking top. The brand and model don't matter. You can find those features in a shirt from any brand, but dammit get a hiking shirt. 

Bottoms

I can't begin to care. If you must know, I did the desert in 3/4 capris, the Sierra through Oregon in running shorts and eventually ditched those to only wear compression shorts on bottom. 

Compression shorts - Under Armour

Yup. 

Underwear - Ex Officio / Give-n-go boxer brief

BEST. UNDERWEAR. EVER. I wore them the whole trail and they still look brand new. Hell, I even shit my pants once on trail and I'd wear the same pair for another thru-hike.

Sleep shirt - Under Armour / Cold Gear compression shirt

Nice and warm. Long sleeve sleep clothes are also good for keeping your disgusting skin from touching your sleeping bag. This helps keep your bag cleaner for longer. Mine might have been a bit heavy.

Also consider: Icebreaker long underwear. Like SmartWool's merino wool products, they are not cheap, but they are incredibly light and super comfy.

Sleep pants - SmartWool / Microweight long underwear

Merino wool is kind of expensive, but it's great quality. Lightweight, warm and very comfortable. Most any tights will do I guess.

Socks

Injinjis, Darn Toughs, Wigwams, Stoics and Balegas all worked well for me. Darn Toughs and Stoics were the best. I like the lighter weight running socks as opposed to the thicker, taller hiking socks.

Smartwool can suck it. Instant holes. 

Shoes

They can't make your hike, but they can break it. My feet swelled a size and a half almost instantly. I like my shoes light and with a wide toe box. Don't wear boots. Trail runners are the way to go. 

La Sportiva / Wildcat

Way too narrow for my feet and those of most hikers.

Brooks / Cascadia

The most popular shoe on trails. Solid shoe. Decently wide and wears well. A great go-to. Highly recommended.

Altra / Lone Peak 2.0

Wide toe box and great fit for my foot. Another bonus: they have Velcro for gaiters built in, in case gaiters are your thing. They are for me. Note: these shoes are zero drop and can require a little getting used to. Perhaps not as well suited for the Sierra Nevada or Washington sections. They wore out way faster over rough mountain terrain.

Gaiters - Dirty Girl

I really loved having gaiters. What kind you have doesn't matter, but the variety of designs Dirty Girl offers is cool. Not everyone likes them, but I found them great for keeping large amounts of sand and rocks out of my shoe. Yes, you're feet will still get filthy, and sand will still get in your shoes, though it won't be as bad as it would be otherwise. 

Outdoor Research Gaiters

Pretty much the same as dirty girls, but plain looking.

Jacket Mountain Hardwear / Ghost Whisperer (7oz)

This is hands down my favorite piece of gear. It's so light, so comfy and so warm. Not cheap, but I love it. As always, respect down and keep it dry.

Rain Jacket - Outdor Research / Proverb (13oz)

A solid rain jacket that was neither too expensive nor heavy. Not exactly the most breathable, but what good rain jacket is? There are lighter option out there, but I can't speak for how water resistant they are.

Also consider: Outdoor Research / Helium 2. It's lighter than mine.

Rain pants - Mountain Hardwear / Alkane Pant (9oz)

Great pants. Only really needed them for the Sierra and Washington, but boy were they great in Washington. The zipper up the side makes them easy to get on and off even with shoes on, they're very water resistant and surprisingly breathable for rain pants. 

Warm hat Outdoor Research / WinterTrek Fleece Hat

It was a nice, warm hat. Plus it had a wind-stopper in it.

Gloves Seirus / Soundtouch hyperlite

Only really used them in the Sierra, but they work just fine. For the rest of the trail I used a pair of Injinji socks that I cut up into hobo gloves. Very hiker trashy, but they worked. I thought the ability to use my phone was going to be nice, which is why I got these gloves. Were I to do it again, I'd get some lightweight liner gloves that are easier to get on/off.

Sunglasses

Yup. Preferably polarized. You WILL lose or break at least one pair on the trail. 

 

Cheers,

Jonathan

I walked really far with a bunch of stuff and this is what I think about that stuff: Pt. 1

I guess you could also call this post "PCT gear review."

Note: UL means ultralight. There is a trend among backpackers to carry gear as light as possible. 

Note II: Always look for gear at a discount. Steep and Cheap is my favorite, but you get almost any piece of gear for a discount. Just because someone has a pack full of nice new gear doesn't mean they shelled out for it.

Note III: There is almost never an end all, be all for any single piece of gear. See what fits for your style and budget. These are simply my observations and opinions. 

Pack Granite Gear / VC Crown 60 (2lb 2oz)

Your pack needs to do two things. It should hold your stuff and ride comfortably. That's about it. That's exactly what the Crown 60 does, and it does it well. It does not have tons of bells and whistles, but it doesn't need to. It's comfy, light and reliable. One of my favorite pieces of gear. If it has a shortcoming, it's the lack of hip-belt pockets, but you can buy them and add them if you like. A very popular pack this year.

Also consider: ULA / Circuit (2lb 6oz), the most popular pack on trail. If you're really UL try out a Gossamer Gear or Z-packs pack.

Sleeping bag North Face / Blue Kazoo (2lb 6oz)

My sleeping bag is slightly heavier than average, but not by too much. It kept me warm almost every night but the most bitter cold and did so at a cost that was impossible to pass up. Not the fanciest piece of gear I own, but certainly one of the best values. 

Also consider: Mountain Hardwear / Phantom (2lb)or Western Mountaineering. Expensive, but incredible bags.

Sleeping pad - Thermarest / Prolite 4 (1lb 8oz)

My pad is an inflatable one, so you have to blow it up. Not a big deal, since it is one of the more comfortable options out there. It doesn't pack down as small as other pads, nor is it as light as most others, but it performs well and was cheap.

Also consider: Thermarest / Neo Air , the Cadillac of sleeping pads. Expensive, but the most comfortable and definitely UL. Requires lots of blowing up. Were I to do the trail again, I'd get this in a 3/4 length and use my pack for under my feet. (8oz for the shorty)

Also: Thermarest / Z-lite. Very popular, UL, durable and inexpensive. Doubles as a sit pad. Not exactly the cushiest pad though. (10oz for the shorty)

Groundsheet - 2' x 7' sheet of Tyvek (4oz?)

Totally necessary. I bought mine for $5, it weighs next to nothing, adds mild insulation and protects both your tent and sleeping pad from punctures and abrasions. 

Tent Easton / Kilo 1p (1lb 14oz)

I loved my tent. It's light, reliable, kept me warm and dry, has a decent size vestibule, and doesn't take too long to set up. Add the great price at which I purchased it, and it is a great buy. The big downside was that it is a monopole tent and, therefore, not freestanding, which means you have to be careful how you set it up in the wind, but that was never really a problem for me. Unfortunately nobody seems to have it in stock anymore. 

Also consider: Big Agnes / Flycreek UL 2, a very popular tent on trail and with good reason. (1lb 15oz)

Don't consider: Tarptent / Contrail. Everyone I knew who had one if these hated it. 

Headlamp - Petzl / Tikka XP 2 (3oz)

While the headlamp can be a pretty inconsequential piece of gear, I loved mine. Bright/dim, beam/diffused, white/red lights. It's got all the features and doesn't weigh much. 

Also consider: I can't be bothered to care. 

Knife/multitool Leatherman / Style CS Multitool (1.4oz)

Great little tool. Not too heavy and just the right tools, which include a knife, scissors, clip/bottle opener and a file.

Backup power

Goal Zero / Nomad 7 and Guide 10  (13oz) and (6.4oz) respectively

These worked well for the desert and Sierra, but their effectiveness dropped off rapidly by time we hit dense forest in NorCal and Oregon. Useless in Washington. Plus, they aren't exactly UL, especially not with the Guide 10 attached.

EasyAcc / 5000mAh Ultra Slim Power Bank (5oz)

At only $20 and and 5 ounces, I think this is a much better option for recharging your phone. It'll give my iPhone two charges, which should be enough for pretty much any section of the trail. It's also much smaller and less cumbersome than dealing with a solar panel.

Trekking Poles Black Diamond / Ultra Distance Z-poles (10oz)

These are among the lightest poles available on the market and worked well for me. One broke, but Black Diamond had great customer service and immediately replaced it. Poles are actually one of the few pieces of gear where weight doesn't seem to matter so much. Even having poles is up for argument. The lighter your pack, the less necessary they are. Sometimes I wouldn't use them for most of a section and find them irritating, especially over rocky terrain. Other times I found them invaluable. Mostly, I recommend looking for a pair that are affordable.

Stove JetBoil / Flash (15oz)

The JetBoil is faster than anything else out there, but it's really only effective for boiling water. If you try to cook pasta and stuff in it you're going to burn stuff to the bottom, which is a major pain in the butt to clean. It's also slightly heavier than other options. If you cook a lot of Mountain House, Ramen or instant potatoes, though, it's awesome.

Also consider: MSR / Pocket Rocket with an Evernew / Titanium pot

Nothing is going to be perfect, but this setup allows for actual cooking if you have things like Knorr sides or Mac'n'cheese. Not as fast as a JetBoil, but it's a little more versatile and lighter. Remember, variety is key when it comes to eating on the PCT.

Stuff sacks

A small one for odds and ends like toothbrush, permits and Ibuprofen. Also for sleep clothes. You could honestly just use a gallon ziplock bag though. Why didn't I think of that while I was still on trail

 

Cheers,

Jonathan