I was really comfortable with my gear along the Pacific Crest Trail, so I thought I would share it with you, and explain why it worked. Please note beforehand that I purchased all these items with my own money after carefully researching them, and was not given anything for review. The following are my opinions.m
If you look at this photograph with me, I will talk about the items shown, left to right, one row at a time. Click a link to skip forward to that gear item.
- ULA Circuit Backpack, medium with S-strap
- Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15' down sleeping bag
- Sea to Summit compression sacks
- Ursack S29 Allwhite
- BV-450 Bear Vault (not shown)
- Whippet Self-Arrest Ski Pole
- Eyedropper full of bleach
- Titanium Pot
- Long-handled spoon
- Soto Stove
- HydraPak/Dakine water bladder
- Sun gloves
- OpSak Contents
- Leatherman CS
- iPad mini with Verizon (regular size iPad shown)
- Powermonkey Extreme
- Thermarest NeoAir Women's
- Thermarest Z Seat
- Mosquito Net
- Julbo mountaineering sunglasses (not shown)
- OR Verglas Gaiters (not shown)
- GoLite Chrome Dome Umbrella
- Big Agnes UL-1 Tent
- Titanium Tent Stakes
- Dyneema IronWire
ULA Circuit Backpack, medium with S-strap
Originally, I was going to hike with an Osprey Aura, but when I saw the ULA Circuit's style and weight, I switched out at the last minute. I have absolutely no regrets. I bought directly from ULA, choosing some customizations such as the camoflage Cordura (as I am tough on my gear and wanted tough fabric) and the S-curve strap (to fit better around my breasts and armpits). This is a fairly minimalist pack with just enough room to get by on 4-7 day stretches. When packing for anything more than a week, I knew I was exceeding the weight limit of the pack. The pack's construction is excellent (as a seamstress I am very picky) so I knew the seams would hold up to such weight, but the fact of the matter is the pack stopped distributing the weight comfortably when loaded over ~40 pounds. When I was loaded with tons of water for the desert, or with my Bear Vault for the Sierras, my pack weight was around 37lbs, and the pack remained comfortable. In fact, I cannot remember a time when this pack was uncomfortable! I never suffered any chafing or neck/back/hip pain from this pack, except when it was my own fault. (At one point I had the metal frame inserted backwards, and another day my pants waistband was sitting funny.) The only thing that went wrong with this pack was a hip belt zipper came off its track and stopped working. I was unable to repair it on trail myself, so I contacted Chris at ULA and he FedEx'ed me a new one to my next stop at Independence, California.
I washed this pack in sinks and tubs with liquid soap and air-dried it when possible, and it remained fresh and like-new. It dries quite quickly in the sun with the frame removed.
If you get this pack, make sure you learn how to care for it, how to fit it, how to load it, and how to put it on before you complain about it. It is an excellent example of an excellent pack that should work for most people! (Indeed, I'd venture to say most people on trail this year either had a ULA or an Osprey pack. Very few people complained about their ULA packs.)
Mountain Hardwear Phantom 15' down sleeping bag
I found this incredible bag new on Craigslist for half price and snatched it up, even though it was a long and a left-zip. I took it home, cut the end off and sewed it back together with extra down in the foot box to make the ULTIMATE SLEEPING BAG, EVER. (I do not recommend you try that at home. Feathers. Everywhere.)
The new version of the Phantom 15-degree bag is lighter weight, has waterproofing on the down itself, and has a half-zip. I'm not sure I like the half-zip idea, but otherwise, the new version sounds like a nice improvement on my 2012 version.
Everyone is different when it comes to what temperature they are comfortable sleeping in. I am thin and like to sleep cozy and warm. Fifteen degrees was perfect for cool desert nights, but by the time I got to Northern California, this bag was too hot. If I had a tent that would have been fine, but I was cowboy camping. I had to stay in my bag to dodge the mosquitoes. So, it was hot, sweaty and miserable. I switched to a 55 degree synthetic bag for Oregon, which was drastic, and a poor choice. The 15-degree bag became perfect again for cool Washington nights, but became more and more of a burden to keep dry as the weather got wetter.
You MUST keep your bag dry, or be able to dry it in the sun sometime before the next night's sleep. Compressing a wet sleeping bag is sinful. If my bag was damp at all, I would pack it loose in my bag and get it out ASAP to dry in the sun. I washed my sleeping bag with McNett's down wash in Tahoe, and it took 6 hours drying on "low" at the laundromat. Tedious. Many quarters. But it came out like new -- very fluffy and no longer smelling of farts. But despite the extra care and worry down incurs, it is worth it. My down gear was PRICELESS on the trail.
Were I to have a good $600 budget for a new sleeping bag, I might search out a 20- or 25-degree bag. In colder weather there is always the option to wear all your clothes to bed, but in hot weather, you are screwed if you are cowboy camping. My next bag will definitely be down feather. Also, I would not mess around with a down "quilt" just to save weight, as comfort is much more important to me. If you are used to something and like it, great! Use it. But if you are relatively new to fancy sleeping bags, start with something traditional and avoid gimmicks... there's a reason sleeping bag design hasn't changed much in the past century.
Sea to Summit compression sacksGet some of these sacks! They help to organize your pack and keep your things clean and dry. Have one for your clothes and one for your sleeping bag, at least (to keep your down dry). I used the "Nano™" and the "Ultra-Sil®" versions and can say that though you will save weight with the Nano, they won't last as long. Over the course of 5.5 months, I went through:
- Two 4L Nanos and one 4L Ultra-Sil for my iPad (attached to my shoulder strap on my backpack every day. The Ultra-Sil was a better choice.
- Two 8L Nanos for my clothes. I got a new one in Independence, CA when my first one felt on the verge of tearing. By the end of my trip, my second was threadbare. This sack doubled as my pillow every night, usually wrapped in something cotton or wool for comfort and to absorb drool.
- One 13L Nano and one 13L Ultra-Sil for my 15-degree sleeping bag. Do NOT buy a Nano for your sleeping bag. I did this and regretted it. It will eventually tear under the force of you stuffing your bag, and cannot be trusted to keep it water proofed once it starts to go threadbare (the silicone coating wears off over time). The Ultra-Sil was a better choice.
These take a few days to get used to, because they don't have straps like most compression sacks. Stuff in your gear, give the top one fold over, kneel on the bundle to compress it really well, shake it down and re-squeeze if necessary, then continue folding over the top several more times and clicking the buckle shut. Another tip: if the bag is inside-out, the buckle not work.
I know of someone who was very happy with her Sea to Summit eVent stuff sack, but in a relatively dry year, it was a bit over-kill weight-wise.
Ursack S29 Allwhite
I replaced my bear vault with an Ursack in Tahoe because I believe in bears. I've seen them on trail and they do exist! I think it's unfair to them to assume they will not find your food, like it, and want to to eat it again. After seeing my biggest bear August 7, I learned from a local that it could have been a "bad bear" moved from Yosemite after eating from dumpsters. That thought is terrifying! You never know if the bear you run into on the trail will run from you, or approach you for food. My Ursack was actually most useful protecting my food from rodents. Since I did not have a closed shelter most my hike, animals were free to roam all over me. Occasionally I would wake up to them chewing on this or that, and once I caught a chipmunk desperately trying to chew into my Ursack, but none EVER got my food. And that was crucial.
BV-450 Bear Vault
I carried one of these bear vaults in the required areas because I'm a good girl. I never got asked if I had one, and... uh... only saw two bears. WHAT? Actually, I saw SIX bears in California, so I was more than happy to carry a bear vault! I packed it upright in my bag, on top of my sleeping bag and next to my clothes in their 8L stuff sack. I alternated sides it was packed on to keep my back happy. Sometimes I felt it in my pack, but most the time I did not. Filling it was a bitch, loading it was a bitch, carrying it was a bitch... and I was more than happy to sell it at a loss in Tahoe. It will be a good day when the Ursack is approved for use in the parks. Approval by Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon parks might happen in time for the 2014 hiking season - stay tuned!
To get as much food in the vault as possible, move packaged food (esp. boxed food) into ZipLock bags (I recommend quart-sized freezer bags as they are strongest). Pack items like rice and oats first, then place in another layer of food like puzzle pieces, and pack things you eat most frequently last. If you can't fit everything in your bear vault, maybe you can leave out well-packaged items like sealed tuna packets, or tins/tubs of things -- until there is room. When everything is loaded, tap/bang/drop/tamp the canister on the ground to make everything settle for more room.
If you want to continue eating well, you will probably want to just dump out the entire vault at dinner time so that you can graze, then repack. I found that the burden of packing and unpacking the vault led to considerable weight loss, so my advice is -- get good at it!
Whippet Self-Arrest Ski Pole
I loved my Leki Carbon/Titanium hiking pole, but I loved my Frankenstein Whippet pole even more! Alongside my funny hat, my Whippet pole was my trail trademark. To make my "Frankenpole," I bought a Whippet Self-Arrest Ski Pole and put its top section on the bottom section of a Leki pole. They mated perfectly, which was strange considering they were different brands. A lot of people wondered why I would carry a self-arrest pole on a low-snow year, but man alive! This thing was awesome! Not only did it make a great cat-hole digger, but it helped me feel safer on the trail. It was in my hand all day long, and by my side every night. When I saw a cougar on May 26th, my grip tightened around my Whippet. When I ran into strange men on the trail, I'd look down at my Whippet. And so would they. And they would respect me. And on the very last day of my PCT hike, high up at 7000 feet on a ridge covered with ice, I was right to have an ice axe in my paw. Highly recommend. Plus, the 2013 Whippet color is nice: black.
Eyedropper full of bleach
For water treatment and white whites. I started my hike with a SteriPen Traveler, but switched to bleach in Oregon because the SteriPen finally died (after four years' use). I hated the idea of using chemicals, but I was out of money (having spent it all on CR123 batteries for my SteriPen) and bleach was free. I lost my bleach several times and all I had to do was get a new dropper bottle from a hiker box and ask the nearest restaurant employee for a fill. Two drops per liter and wait 30 minutes. I barely treated any of my water in the Sierras or Washington because it was flowing fast and cold high up in the mountains. I avoided bleach AND drank wonderfully fresh water. Once you drink fresh water for five months, you WILL miss it.
One mechanical filter I tried on the trail and really liked was the MSR Hyperflow Microfilter. It was impressively small, light, and worked efficiently. I might like to have one of those some day.
Titanium PotI used an MSR® Titan™ pot, and I left the lid and the handles behind. It was my pot and my cup and -- ahem -- occasionally my chamber pot in horrendous weather. When I was using my SteriPen to treat water, it was my water collector, holding the water until it was treated. Only twice did I burn food to the bottom, but it was easy to scour off using sand and water. I would not have traded this pot for any other. It could also be used with a Caldera Cone stove, but you would definitely need the handles in that case. I did not need the handles. If the pot was too hot to hold, the food was too hot to eat anyway.
Long-handled spoonI loved my Sea to Summit Alpha Light long-handled spoon so much that when I lost it in the trash cans at Warner Springs community room, I dug through those cans until I found it! If you carry a spoon, trust me you will be happier if it has a long handle. Don't ask why. This Sea to Summit one has a nice squared bottom which was great for scraping the bottom of my pot (and ice cream tubs). Don't take the carabiner with you; it is silly. I put my spoon in the side pocket of my Circuit and it stayed there the whole way.
Soto StoveI used to use a similar stove from Primus, but switched to the OD-1R because it not only had a Piezo ignitor, but was 0.3oz lighter. I am happy with both brands of stove; however, I am happier that I now have an ignitor. Taking the lighter or matches out of the equation streamlines cooking so much. I open the stove, screw in a fuel canister (I recommend Primus or JetBoil, because they are available along the PCT and contain slightly more fuel, usually for less money), open the valve, press the red button, and I am cooking! The unit was sturdy when unfolded and as long as I set it on solid, level ground, held my 1L pot securely. I never tipped or spilled the unit.
The stove's control valve seemed to get a little fussy at high elevations (>10,000ft). The manual says that ignition can become a problem at elevation, but ignition was never a problem -- it lighted EVERY time I pressed the red button. The control valve was fussy at elevation and started to recover once down out of the Sierras, but to be safe I requested another stove from Soto. They shipped a replacement, no questions asked. My second Soto stove worked perfectly the rest of the trip (I never got above 8000 feet).
Stove troubles are ubiquitous at high elevations and cold temperatures; this is hard to get around. That said, I recommend this stove if you are looking to use a butane stove and a 1L pot. If you are looking to use an alcohol stove, I hope you will be very careful. I borrowed one a few times on my PCT hike and frankly, could not understand the fuss. My cook setup packed smaller and hardly weighed more, and I was able to control my cooking temperature. I was able to procure fuel for free from hiker boxes for most of my trip. Plus, I strongly believe butane is safer (despite being less ecological, blah blah). Unlike with alcohol stoves, the fuel can be cut and fires extinguished immediately without fuss. Once, I watched someone set the ground around their stove on fire with alcohol. Since the flame burned invisibly, they did not notice this going on right between their legs! Try adding some specks of regular salt to your alcohol so that it will burn orange and you can see the flame. Promise you will be careful.
HydraPak/Dakine water bladderFrom my biking experience I could already say before my hike that the HydraPak water bladder/hose/bite valve (available at many bike shops under the Dakine brand) is superior to the CamelBak. It comes in similar sizes (1L, 2L, 3L) to the CamelBak, but IMO is more rugged, easier to fill and clean, more compressible, a better ice pack, and much lighter. To demonstrate its ruggedness, there is a picture on the packaging of a car running over a bladder full of water -- it doesn't pop. No joke, these are the best. If you are going to run a bladder for part or all of your hike, consider this brand. I carried a 1L version without the hose through Washington as a backup water reservoir for longer stretches without water and dry camping. It didn't leak out the hose port, and folded down tiny when not in use.
2019 update: I still use the Hydrapak, and have never had one break or leak, despite never being particularly careful with them.
This is an odor-proof (OP) sack that is recommended for hikers to keep away bears and rodents. I used this for the first portion of the trail until the Sierras to make myself less attractive to animals when I rested and slept, and did not have a problem with animals. However, do not over-estimate the durability of these bags. First the top 1/2" or so of seam at the top sides (on the black part) separates, then eventually the zipper separates from the plastic on one or both sides of the bag. It takes weeks of abuse before this happens, but once the zipper falls off, the bag is useless for its purpose. Otherwise, these things are tough! I used a smaller 9" one for my toiletries the whole trip, otherwise, I stopped using them when I got my bear vault in Kennedy Meadows.
What was in my toiletries/first aid Op-Sack, anyway?
Despite being a former nurse, and a fairly tidy and well-kept lady, my toiletries bag was bare. It had:
- A cut-off toothbrush (this can be accomplished with the Leatherman CS)
- Dr. Bronners liquid soap, peppermint. This was for laundry, hair, body, AND was toothpaste
- Unwaxed dental floss for the teeth and for any mending needs. Kept in a tin with a sewing needle
- A hair comb with half the bristles cut off
- My precious hair tie
- Sunscreen. My favorite became Babyganics 50 SPF because I had to wear so much every day, and I didn't want to wear awful chemicals. Also this was thick and stayed thick instead of going rotten and runny in the heat like other brands did. Tip: you don't have to buy sunscreen. You will find it in EVERY hiker box.
- Tiny tube of triple antibiotic
- Tube of Desitin diaper rash ointment. This is handy for a lot of issues. Get an ointment with the highest zinc content
- Ibuprofen and Benadryl
- earplugs, a must have
- a Sharpie, very handy for sign-making, register-signing, and other hi jinx
- Lip balm with SPF
- ID, bank card, and PCT permit
- a foot or two of duct tape, folded on itself for travel (not shown)
- a roll of 1.5" athletic tape - useful for blisters, stress fractures, amongst other things (not shown)
- my Diva Cup (not shown)
Sun glovesUnless you don't care about the skin on your hands, get sun gloves. I wore them every day except in Northern Washington where I wore Smartwool merino wool knit liner gloves. The areas on my wrists that were not protected got extremely sun-damaged, and my fingertips got very tan, but my hands stayed fairly pale. I tried both the Patagonia SPF 30 and the Columbia Coolhead™ SPF 50 types over time, and preferred the Columbia brand because it has a longer sleeve, a closed grip (although the open grip on the Patagonia glove didn't particularly bother me, it was strange) and was more durable.
Leatherman CSI agree with Wired that the Leatherman CS multi tool is a "luxury item" that I would not do without. Many people borrowed mine as well. When I lost mine before reaching Kennedy Meadows, I was sad and immediately purchased another. It is a sharp knife, sturdy and sharp scissors, tweezers that grab, and a nail file that files, and a bottle opener. It is lightweight and strong and works. It was useful almost every day. I kept it clipped to a loop on my backpack's shoulder strap, within easy reach. 1.45oz
iPad mini with Verizon
A decent camera, phone, Internet, books, videos, games, topo maps, GPS, HalfMile's guide, mirror... seriously, as much as you might balk that carrying a high-tech item like this negates the purpose of going into the woods, you have to admit that for the weight and cost, I got a lot of function. Most people were jealous, and MANY people borrowed it. When the snowstorm hit in Washington, I became one of the few people on trail with the ability to find the trail by GPS. I kept it protected in a RooCase and 4L Sea to Summit Nano bag. I bonked and dropped it near the top of Kearsarge pass and cracked the screen, otherwise this thing was unphased by the hike. I got it pretty damp several times with no issue. I *HIGHLY* recommend this item. It cost $630 for the 32GB iPad with Verizon, then $20-30/mo. for phone and internet service. You essentially make your money back if you are willing to port your number and drop your regular cell and/or data service. The new iPad mini coming later in November will have a modem twice as nice as the one I have, and mine worked great. Come on... you know you want it. 15oz
If you are going to have a larger device like an iPad mini, you will need a more powerful charger like the Powermonkey Extreme. A battery pack might do for 4-5 day jaunts, but if you can't afford to run out of battery while you're hiking through California and Oregon you might as well carry a solar charger. (A solar charger might become a little useless in cloudy Washington.) The Powermonkey Extreme does what it says it will do, and is relatively affordable and lightweight. I don't have enough experience with solar chargers to have an opinion other than that. Mine is yellow, which made it easy to find in my pack. I was able to charge while hiking by strapping it to the top of my pack, but it charged best when in bright, full sun. The battery pack provided my iPad with 1.5-2 charges. Half way through my hike I noticed I was charging it mostly by wall outlet, and I ended up ditching the solar panel when I hit Cascade Locks.
Thermarest NeoAir Women's
I graduated from a first generation square-shaped regular Thermarest to the women's version for my PCT hike, and I sort of regret it. My decision to change was based on a weight savings of an ounce or so, and a better R-rating (meaning it was supposed to keep me warmer). I do have to say that I have used several other types of pads, including the Z-Lite and Pro-lite, and the NeoAir was my favorite. However, if I had my way I would get the old square shape back, and take a full-length one. Bottom line: if you can find any way to sleep better on the trail, do it. It is worth the ounces or the pack space. As for the durability of the NeoAir, I am impressed. I am very hard on my things, and was never especially careful with my inflatable mattresses. Over the past four years using NeoAir mattresses, I have only had three punctures. Unfortunately the last puncture occurred somewhere in Oregon on the PCT and I was never able to find the hole. It was a slow leak, but it meant that every night I would wake up and have to put a couple lung-fulls of air in my mattress to stay afloat. I might end up sending the mattress to Thermarest to have them find the hole (costing me about $25) -- it really is that hard to find this time! 12.5oz
Thermarest Z Seat
If your butt ain't big, cut one of the Z Seats in half and carry it. You will always have somewhere clean and warm to sit, and extra padding under your hips at night.
Get a comfortable one and start carrying it at Kennedy Meadows, or at Campo if you are cowboy camping. Thank me later.
Sunday Afternoons Hat
I started my hike in a baseball cap, and was miserable trying to keep the sun off my face with a cap/bandana combo. I picked up the Sunday Afternoons Traveler hat in Idyllwild and never regretted it. Of course I used my scissors to cut out the (useless) little pocket in the back and the tags. This hat kept the sun off my face and neck very well, was lightweight and packable, and tolerated both hand and machine washing. Not that it got particularly smelly or dirty. I was surprised to be the only person wearing this hat on the trail after Idyllwild! What? Did it look funny? WHO CARED!
New Balance Leadville WT1210 shoes
I started my hike with New Balance Leadvilles instead of Brooks Cascadia, the super popular PCT trail runners. I tried a pair on at my local running store and they were instantly comfortable, better than the Cascadias. I have a fairly wide forefoot and a very high arch, and they gave me room. I did walk through the Sierras in a pair of Cascadias, so I can offer you this comparison:
- The Leadvilles gave me blisters on the sides "bumpers" of my heels, whereas the Cascadias gave me blisters on the sides of my pinky toes. The blisters on the sides of my heels were alleviated by lacing my shoes to the tops, and tightly, to prevent heel-lift; whereas I simply had to wait out the pinky toe blisters.
- The Leadvilles seemed to allow much LESS debris in. I did not wear dust gaiters and only saw the need for them in the Sierras. I wish I could walk the Sierras in my Leadvilles so I could compare, but I suspect I wouldn't have had to empty my shoes as much as I did. There is a lot of sand to walk through in the Sierras, and it got in my Cascadias. Also, the Cascadias let in a LOT more dust into the toe box.
- The Leadvilles have an Ultram sole which seemed more durable and which was definitely more grippy than the Cascadia sole
- The construction and body of both pairs of shoes were comperable. I did not notice that one or the other fell apart more quickly. Though, the Leadvilles do weigh significantly less than the Cascadias, AND have much better shoelaces. I swear, the Leadvilles have the best sneaker shoelaces I've ever used. Except for when a rodent chewed through one, I never worried about breaking them.
- I felt like the Leadvilles had more toe room (after a few days breaking in) than the Cascadias. Another hiker who tried both shoes (and who ended up cutting her Leadvilles to pieces in order to tolerate them) disagrees. She feels the Cascadias have more room. Each to his own. When I was ready for more room in Washinton (where my feet were tired and perpetually soggy), I graduated to a pair of Leadvilles in the wide D width. So nice.
I introduced a few other hikers to the Leadville (namely, Cherub, Running Commentary, and Haggis) and they all adored them. I believe Goldilocks was also happy in her Leadvilles; she wore them the entire way.
The politics of shoes, clarified: both of these shoe companies are American, only New Balance tries to make shoes in the USA when possible, and Brooks is largely owned by Warren Buffet, a private investor billionaire.
WaldiesWaldies is another company pushed out of business, alongside Holey Soles, by Crocs. A few people had Crocs on the trail, but not many. They were happy with them, but nobody was as happy as I was with my squishy, slim, and light Waldies Aruba Sandals. Also, almost everyone who saw them was envious and asked where I got them, both on and off the trail. I can see why these were so popular on the Appalachian Trail years back. It was so nice to have a pair of sandals to wear around town and camp, to ford rivers in, and to occasionally hike in. When blisters were an issue in Southern California, I shaved some rubber off the backs of my Waldies where they hit the heel (and my blisters), switched out of my blister-causing shoes, and was able to continue making miles pain-free. I would say I put about 300 miles in my Waldies, and they are still in good shape.
This is so personal. Everyone liked different socks. But here are some socks I tried and liked very well: Icebreaker ultralight multisport socks, Pearl Izumi Attack socks, and Injinji lightweight mini-crew toe socks. For an interesting sock for hurting feet, check out the Experia Thorlos. I tried the Experia multi-activity mini-crew sock and liked it a lot -- it's very, very durable and made in the USA. Here's a tip: if you're sock shopping, look for socks with at least 35% nylon content. Nylon makes a sock more durable.
Shirts and Pants
White Sierra makes some extremely lightweight nylon clothing, available on Sierra Trading Post. I loved the Quick-Dry Nylon Pants with UPF 30 and the Gobi Desert Long Sleeve Shirt with UPF 30. I cut the belt and tags off the pants, and the tabs and tags off the shirt and they became simple, no-frills hiking wear. The pants weighed 6oz! I know it seems frivolous, but I did cut extra things off all my clothes because I thought to myself, "Do I really want to carry this for 2660 miles? This?" I tried the convertible pants that zip at the knee and found that if I wanted shorts, I'd rather just wear my cheer shorts. And when I wanted pants, I didn't need all the extra weight and bulk of zippers.
Make sure if you buy a nylon shirt to wear for months on end, you buy it in white, beige, or tan. I noticed that the color dyes reacted with sweat and dirt to make a disgusting smell. I almost couldn't bear to wear my blue Gobi shirt, and wished I had my white one back (I lost it near Mt. Shasta). A disgustingly filthy white shirt is a badge of honor on the PCT. But do wash it here and there!
If you are a lady or a fun guy, consider carrying one set of underwear and one pair of cheerleading/running shorts with built-in underwear. You will probably want to wear the shorts almost everyday until you hit rains in Washington, and when they get dirty and need washing, you can switch to your underwear/pants combo. Old Navy makes running shorts that are lighter-weight (because they are more inexpensively made) and that come in cooler prints than the usual standby, Soffe Shorty Shorts. I preferred the Old Navy brand because they were lighter, fit better, and had a more breathable panty. (Granted, I bought my Old Navy shorts so long ago I can't even remember when. They may have changed. But the Soffe ones might have fit better put on backwards, they were that weird.)
ExOfficio Boy Cut Briefs
When I realized I wanted my underwear to double as a swimsuit believably, I picked up a pair of the Ex Officio briefs in Bishop, CA. For $18. They were pricey, and that made it sting when I lost them near Mt. Shasta, but they were wonderful. Couldn't feel them at all. The key to underwear that double as swim bottoms is that they not be saggy when wet. These fit the bill, and resembled classic, demure swim bottoms from the 50s. I will buy them again when I can afford them!
Barely There Bandini Bra
I liked these bras before my hike, and then super-appreciated them during it. The CustomFlex Fit® Bandini™ has little straps that sit high up on the shoulders, out of the way of backpack straps. It can be worn as a bandeau if straps become an issue, and is totally convincing as a bikini top (assuming you're not wearing the white or nude color). Plus, they are very lightweight. I am a C cup and this bra provided plenty of support. Get 2 black ones (or a black and a print or nude) to go with your black underwear, and be careful not to buy the new type with foam inserts! I carried two so that I would always have a clean one to wear.
Get some. Carry it. A lot of hikers don't carry theirs, hoping it won't rain, and are then screwed when it does rain. Also, if it is part of your layering system and it gets very cold (such as at the top of mountains), you will be screwed if you don't have it with you. I did not carry mine until I got to Kennedy Meadows, and I only saw rain once. I was lucky. The Marmot PreCip jacket is fantastic. I altered mine to remove the collar and the pockets, bringing down the weight and pack size. It became invaluable in Washington, where it rained all the time and was cold. Rain pants were also invaluable when the rain stopped letting up in Washington, and in snow. Other times when I was very cold (such as at the top of mountains), I put my rain gear over my other layers in order to stay warm. So I would say carry your rain pants in the Sierras and Washington, at least. Ultra lightweight waterproof mitts (I made my own but they are available for sale online at ZPacks and at Mountain Laurel Designs) are wonderful in cold rain.
I think I've already made it clear that I absolutely love my Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer hooded down jacket. If I could put every PCT hiker in one of these, I would, and the world would be a better place.
A set of long johns for sleep wear. It doesn't matter what brand, but do buy wool if for the only reason that it stinks less than polyester. Get 150-200 weight (200 is a great weight for the whole trip). You will not wear anything but your sleep wear in your sleeping bag, especially if you fart in your bag. Promise me?
Julbo mountaineering sunglassesIThese might have looked a little funny, but nobody was laughing at me in the desert or on the snow. One person told me I looked like Wesley Snipes, and another told me I looked futuristic and cool. Who knows? But I had full eye protection and saw the world in glorious color. The Julbo Sherpa mountaineering glasses are super lightweight and pretty durable. The pins holding the leather side pieces on broke after a while, but I was able to repair them with pieces of wire and string I found on trail.
Outdoor Research Verglas Gaiters
If at any point during your hike you are going to be walking through more than a few inches of snow and/or postholing, you will be MUCH MUCH happier if you are wearing gaiters. I altered my OR Verglas gaiters, dropping in two inches at the calf so that they would fit better, but other than that they were perfect. I hiked the entire PCT in trail runners, so my feet did get wet. But my ankles and calves stayed dry and protected from icy snow, and warm ankles helped keep my feet warm.
GoLite Chrome Dome / euroSCHIRM Swing Liteflex
Update: GoLite is no longer distributing these gems. HOWEVER, you can get the same exact umbrella without the GoLite logo by seeking out and buying a Swing Trek LiteFlex umbrella in Silver (make sure you get SILVER and not black)!
I love my Chrome Dome. I never had any doubt I would love it and it never let me down. This thing is super sturdy, like really expensive umbrellas, and so valuable on the PCT, yet the Chrome Dome only costs $25 at golite.com. I enjoyed the "25 uses for the Chrome Dome" before my hike and after my hike, agree with most of them.
Get one, figure out how you can get it rigged to your chest and shoulder strap to hike hands-free with it, start your hike with it, and if you don't like it, sell it to another hiker for $25. No risk! Seriously though, this thing kept the sun off me in a very hot and dry hike through California and Oregon, dropping the temp around my head what felt like 10 degrees. And when it rained non-stop in Washington, it kept my upper body and pack dry. If you are hiking with a Circuit backpack, the umbrella pole goes under your chest strap, and the umbrella bauble can be affixed to the lower ULA shoulder strap bungee then adjusted for lateral play. Voila! Hands-free sheltered hiking and MANY envious glances.
Big Agnes UL-1 Tent
I traded in my old Sierra Designs Lightyear 1 for the Big Agnes UL-1 and might have regretted it. The UL-1 is much lighter than the Lightyear, but felt much smaller (the floor plan specs don't agree with me here, so maybe I'm just nostalgic). Anyway, I am 5'10" (177.8cm) tall and the UL-1 was cramped. I couldn't sit up or lay down in it without touching the sides (this was a problem when the tent was damp or mosquitoes were trying to bite me through the mesh). I solved this problem by cowboy camping and using the UL-1 in its "fast fly" setup. I would say I cowboy camped approximately 75% of nights on the trail, spent approximately 14 nights in the complete tent setup (to get away from bugs, and 4 nights in Northern Washington to help stay warm and dry), and the rest under my simple "fast fly" setup. To the credit of Big Agnes, the UL-1 is sturdy and well-made despite feeling very thin and being lightweight. I don't know what tent I would buy instead.
My shelter was a highly customized UL-1. I did not want to buy the Big Agnes footprint, so instead I called them and asked them to send me the footprint straps. The straps are the black nylon bit with side-release plastic buckles and brass grommets. They sent me three for $16 (shipped). I tied these straps to three calculated points on a closed loop of nylon parachute cord. My shelter was this cord, my UL-1 fly, and a piece of Tyvek. To set up the tent, I placed the poles in the grommets of the straps to shape the tent frame, then attached the fly. I staked it with replacement titanium tent stakes (lighter than the factory stakes). I could then use whatever ground sheet I wanted. I preferred Tyvek because I could also use it to make hitch hiking signs. Polycryo plastic was sturdy enough, but not as durable, and I couldn't write on it.
I further altered my UL-1 fly in Ashland, Oregon. I was able to borrow a friend's sewing machine, and I sewed 10" of no-see-um netting along the inner hem of the fly so that the fly kept out insects. It did not keep out rodents. In fact, two Washington mice had their way with me. One chewed the pompom off my tuque while I slept in it, and another ran across my face as I fell asleep. If you are willing to deal with some wildlife, I highly recommend sleeping without a tent. Cowboy camping is the most amazing way to sleep in the wild -- unless it is rainy or cloudy with mosquitoes. I cowboy camped -- without a head net -- all the way to Kennedy Meadows and did not suffer a single insect bite while sleeping. Consider it.
Dyneema IronWire Guy Line
Possibly the most important piece of equipment in my pack, even though I really only used it a couple times to hang laundry... and once to reel in a friend from a raging glacial river. Dyneema IronWire cord is good, strong stuff. It weighs next to nothing. Carry some.