the big three

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.