Backpacking Gear Review – 2014

Below is the gear I will carry on the PCT in 2014.  The gear changes I’m making from the AT to the PCT were done with the overall goal of reducing my pack base weight, anticipating the long water carries in the desert and needing to carry a bear canister in the High Sierra.  I’ve officially become a gram weanie.  And edging from being a “lightweight” backpacker towards an “ultralight” backpacker.  First steps, at least!

Backpack:  Gossamer Gear Mariposa, ~27 ounces.  I’ve had this pack since 2012, but didn’t take it on the AT because the rest of my gear wasn’t in the UL range, and so I typically carried >30 lbs.  The Mariposa is awesome, large with great organization, but I’ve found the suspension maxes out at around 30lbs for me, thus until I made other gear changes at the end of January I had only used the Mariposa for weekend trips.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t careful enough and ripped a few small holes while in Canyonlands (rock always wins, I’ve found!) and so I’ll actually be starting the PCT with my trusty (but 1 lb+ heavier) Osprey Aura 50L (“Big Green 2.0”) while the Mariposa is being repaired.  My main concern for the Mariposa, not unexpectedly, is durability on a thru hike;  I tend to be hard on my gear.  I use a trash compactor bag as my pack liner, and won’t be carrying a pack cover on the much less rainy PCT.

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:  I ended up using my Osprey pack for the entire time while on the PCT in 2014.  The repairs took a while, and by the time my mom could send it to me, I was at Kennedy Meadows South (700 miles into the hike) and about to enter the High Sierra, through which a (heavy and bulky) bear canister is required.  When I loaded both the Mariposa and Osprey, I had to admit the Osprey carried the load (see below) much better for me.  With a sigh I sent the Mariposa home knowing I would at least have it for upcoming trips.  Gossamer Gear has since come out with an updated model which looks super sweet.

Wearing the Mariposa in Canyonlands, Photo by Joan

Tent:  Zpacks Hexamid Solo-Plus Tent with twin cuben groundsheet, ~19.5 ounces with 10 stakes.  After struggling with “tent angst” from October through January, I decided to just go ahead and buy the tent I was mentally reserving for an eventual CDT hike, and sell the 2 tents I was trying to make work.  I may switch to my trusty Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 tent that saw me through the entire AT for Washington state, if I get there later in the season and need a bomb-proof tent for weather reasons.  Overall, I love this tent so far.  After struggling a bit with being able to stake it down in rocky desert conditions, I cowboy camped for the first time in Guadalupe National Park, which will undoubtedly be part of my PCT experience before the mosquitos start to swarm.  I really like the fact that the tent floor is detachable and I don’t need to carry a separate groundcloth and that I only need one of my trekking poles to set it up.

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:  I love the Zpacks solo-plus tent – its light, compact, and an innovative design.  It is also not for me – at least in a desert environment.  At Tehachapi, about 500 miles in, my mom sent me my trusty BA Copper Spur to swap out.  In addition to taking too much time to pitch well on shifty soil-sand environments (I distinctly dislike fiddling with gear in camp on a long distance trip particularly when I just want to set up and go to sleep having hiked into the evening after the afternoon siesta) the main problem was actually a weird health related issue – if you don’t have a chronic breathing related problem, know that this tent can be annoying in sandy conditions and you’ll have to search for rocks to weigh down your 10 stakes, which can be a lot of rocks which makes the LNT trainer in me sigh unhappily – am I really going to remember where all those rocks came from?  Only 1 night did it collapse on me from incredibly high winds literally ripping the stakes out of the sandy ground – I ended up wrapped in the tent like a burrito.  Not fun.  If you like to cowboy camp (and I never became that fond of it due to ongoing paranoia about it raining overnight – totally eastern US hiking induced!), this is a great tent to carry – or its even lighter cousins on Zpacks’ website (some of which have a more standard bathtub type floor which I envied).  This tent is HUGE for 1 person – I had tons of room for me and my gear, which is good because I don’t feel claustrophobic in it.  No condensation issues at all.  I think it would have been fine in Washington state – the heavy rain I encountered was offset by being able to find sheltered campsites.  There were a few exposed ridge campsites which I wouldn’t have chose in nasty weather anyway.  Still no experience dealing with it when actively snowing.

I’ll be selling the Solo-Plus, if anyone is in the market and would like a used one.  I patched one small tear in the mesh (which was my own fault – got caught on a pack zipper) and another in the reinforced area where your trekking pole tip goes.  If your tips are new and sharp, you may want a buffer between the tip and patch area.  While the mesh seems fragile, especially in the desert, its much tougher than it looks.  As always, be careful about camp selection.

Now onto my weird breathing problem:  the mesh on the bottom of the tent (in this model you have a groundcloth on the inside of the tent over a mesh floor) allowed the breeze in, which was great for ventilation, but not so good for breathing in sand all night long.  Here’s the thing – I have asthma and am a mouth breather.  Having only used a traditional style tent before (except for the angsty tent testing phase before the PCT) with solid fabric around the bottom of the tent above the bathtub floor, I didn’t realize having mesh there instead would so drastically impact the sleeping environment.  It only became a real issue when I got a head cold, which morphed into a bad sinus infection and bronchitis developed in my lungs from the nasty congestion.  I was literally coughing up sandy mucous balls for weeks, just gross.  My poor lungs got so strained and my lung capacity went down so much I had to take several weeks off to recover – wheezing and high elevations in the Sierra really don’t mix.  Now, this happening to me in NO WAY is the Solo-Plus’ fault.  Through 500 miles of the desert I was breathing sand in every night there was a breeze (vast majority) either when in the tent or cowboy camping.  I can’t say that having the Copper Spur the entire time would have significantly helped, but the sandy/dusty soil continued well into the Sierra and no more sandy mucous balls.  Ultimately, if I ever do another long distance trip (I do think the cumulative nature of the trip had an effect) in the desert, I’m going to seriously consider a shelter with greater coverage near where my head will be.  Probably not a bad idea for me outside of the desert as well since my lungs are so sensitive to foreign matter being breathed in.  This is disappointing for me since I ultimately wanted to move towards using a tarp in non-buggy situations – maybe I’m too gun-shy now?

As far as the BA Copper Spur is concerned, I have the 2011 model year, and wow is this tent awesome, but heavy.  The most recent model year (2014) is over 1 lb lighter than my setup.  I did have trouble with the tent body’s zipper getting fouled up with sand and junk (I didn’t specifically clean the zipper after the AT) but BA was great and swapped out a new tent body for me which I carried from Mammoth onwards.  Considering this happened well over 2000 miles of use with no maintenance, I’m happy.  I love the side entry, and the vestibule space is generous.  The inside space isn’t at all coffin-like, I can fit myself and all my gear inside without feeling cramped.  Great headspace to move around, change, etc.  No problem with the poles (this is a freestanding tent) beyond their weight.  The fly’s fabric is interesting – it dries incredibly fast in sunlight, but seems to somehow absorb water rather than letting beaded water roll off.  Maybe this is a result of my applying the rain resistance stuff every so often, but I never had a problem with rain leaking in the tent unless the wind was blowing sideways and rain blew in the small vent on the head end.  Either way, if it has rained overnight and the fly is wet, just pack up and then haul it out when you get to a convenient spot for a break and can let it dry in the sun.  When I had to set up again in the rain which miraculously only happened ONCE the entire PCT (and the last night!!) you’ll be fine, if a little damp.  Its only after several days of unceasing rain that you feel like your tent should be declared a wetlands and that’s not restricted to the Copper Spur!   I have now hiked over 3000 miles with this tent and I just love it.  If I sell the Solo-Plus I’ll probably buy the newer lighter model.

Hexamid Solo Plus

Hexamid Solo Plus

Cowboy camping on Guadalupe Peak!

Cowboy camping on Guadalupe Peak! Photo by Joan

Sleeping Bag:  Katabatic Gear Palisade 30 degree quilt, 6ft wide ~21.5 ounces.   While I adore my 15 degree Montbell sleeping bag, its a furnace (even with me being a cold sleeper) and the hood always seemed like such a waste – it was huge for my head and so never cinched down well, and the vast majority of the time it was merely holding my arms as I sprawled on my tummy/side hugging my “pillow”.  I figured I was a prime candidate for a quilt, plus I’ve been wanting a 30 degree bag for when I’m out of shoulder season hiking.  I had read reviews that this quilt was really warm for its degree rating, and was sold when I could order the “wide” version, giving me a bit more wiggle room.  After having slept in below freezing temps, I can heartily endorse this quilt’s ability to stay warm in chilly temps – amazingly warm and cozy!  Definitely a keeper for the PCT.  The attachment system to my sleeping pad takes a bit to get used to in the middle of the night when I need to get up to pee, but so far so good.

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:  This quilt is beyond awesome and worth every penny I paid for it.  EVERY PENNY.  It was perfect for the PCT and kept me warm well into the 20s overnight.  Only when it was in the 30s overnight did I bother with the sleeping pad attachment cords.  I did end up getting my Sea to Summit sleeping bag liner for the High Sierra and kept it for summer – probably not needed outside the Sierra, but nice on the warmer summer nights in central and northern CA.  I kept the quilt the entire trip and can’t remember 1 night I didn’t pull it over me at some point.  If I eventually do more winter camping I’ll be looking at Katabatic’s 5 degree quilt for sure.  All in all, nights on the PCT tend to be much cooler than the AT during June and July at the elevation you’ll be at.  The only way this quilt could be improved is to have the stitching on the diagonal like Montbell does with their bags to allow for more stretchiness, particular in the knee area for us stomach/side sleeper-sprawlers.

Katabatic Gear Palisade Quilt

Sleeping pad(s):  Thermarest Neoair Xlite Womens, ~12 ounces, irregular.  I took this pad for half of the AT, and while I switched to a huge Big Agnes Q core pad for the summer (and then lazily didn’t switch back), the xlite still has lots of life left in it.  What can I say, I’m a ground dweller, I like some cushion.   For both extra insulation in the cold and a sit pad the rest of the time, I have a Lawson Equipment Insulite foam pad, 1/8 inch and torso length, as the back panel support in my Mariposa pack.  I used one of these Insulite pads on the AT and loved it.

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:  Well, the original pad died literally on night 2.  I don’t know if I set it up on something spiny (I was in the tent both nights) but the failure was beyond patching (on one of the seams).  Happily, the next afternoon I walked into Mt Laguna and got a 3/4 length ridgerest foam pad.  I used this alone until Tehachapi, where I got a replacement Neoair Xlite in the mail (yea for REI dividends!).  I’m glad I used the ridge rest for so long – so much easier to not have to inflate the Xlite, but my sleeping comfort was definitely different.  If I do a desert hike again I’ll use a foam pad so I don’t bust the Xlite again, but my preference is definitely for comfort – sleep quality is KING.

Umbrella:  GoLite Chrome Dome Trekking umbrella, ~8 ounces.  A new piece of gear for me, and I am absolutely a convert to the umbrella cult.  Boy I wish I had carried one on the rainy AT.  While I need to still learn to watch out more for trees and brush, I’ve gotten savvy using it both in “attached” mode and simply carrying it for greater versatility.  Good for both the unrelenting sun in the desert (it feels at least 10 degrees cooler in the instant shade) and for temperature regulation as well as actually blocking the rain. Earlier in the day in the picture below, I was simultaneously using it for both sun and rain!

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS: Ahh, another gear failure in the first few days of the hike.  My original umbrella had a broken spike/hole in the canopy which I patched but GoLite sent me a replacement.  Since I had partially fixed the first one, I decided to start with in the desert.  What I didn’t take into account was the constant windy conditions.  With a broken spoke, the strength of the umbrella goes down drastically.  After “Old Gimpy” was replaced the second umbrella fared well for a while, then a spoke broke when the umbrella blew inside out.  “Old Gimpy 2.0” was dumped in Agua Dulce at the Saufley’s when I found an unbroken umbrella in the hiker box.  “Old Gimpy 3.0” also eventually had a broken spoke, but eventually I got beyond the crazy desert wind and just had to be careful about the spoke poking me in the eye.  I carried 3.0 the rest of the trail.  Okay, clearly I had some issues with reliability.  Strong wind and this umbrella do not mix unless you are VERY careful.  Even then a gust can come up out of no where in the desert and before you can react your umbrella is inside out (though that didn’t equal a broken spoke eventually it would happen).  However, I would still carry an umbrella in SoCal – the shade from the sun is utterly fantastic.

Lots of folks dumped their umbrellas at Kennedy Meadows South, but I was SO GLAD I kept mine.  I used it a lot in the intense sunlight above 10000 feet in the Sierra, and got many compliments for using it as a sun shade around Truckee and South Lake Tahoe, and even in Washington in the exposed areas.  Ironically, I used it the least in WA since I didn’t have much rain and there’s a lot more tree cover.  But when it was raining it was priceless – the rain was cold and relentless when it was there and the umbrella remains an important part of my “keeping dry as much as humanly possible” system.  Gimpy 3.0 is currently in my car to grab when its raining on my daily walks in the metro parks near home.  I did buy a new one to have for backpacking from Euroshirm, which doesn’t have the ugly GoLite logo (several day hikers asked me rather confusedly if it was a golf umbrella).

On the Vista Trail at NC's Muleshoe Ranch - Photo by Joan

On the Vista Trail at NC’s Muleshoe Ranch – Photo by Joan

Trekking Poles:  Leki Lhasa Lite Speedlock Women’s, 15.8 ounces for the pair.  These are new poles for me, as I managed to bust 2 pairs of Black Diamond Poles on the AT.  Though I miss the simplicity and lighter weight of the folding BD Ultra Distance poles, for my new shelter I needed an adjustable pole.  While holding the umbrella, I’ve gotten used to only using 1 pole.

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:  Great poles, grip is very comfortable and no gear failures this trip!  Though I wish I had bought the folding ones from Black Diamond like Hemlock has which are lighter and more convenient for storage.  I understand that Leki now has a folding version of their own!   These poles have a lot of life left in them so it’ll be a while before I can justify replacing them.  I replaced the tips once (in Bishop) over 1700 miles.  At times on the PCT, I was ambivalent over having poles at all – the trail is so well groomed and gradual (some exceptions obviously) that I think you could more easily get away without having poles if that is your preference. Unlike the AT with all of the steep ascents and descents where having poles significantly helps.

Poles

Leki poles at Lobo Overlook, near Wolf Creek Pass CO

Clothing Worn:  Ahh, a change in my “uniform” was needed for the desert and different environments out west.  While I’ll still be wearing my trusty Mountain Hardwear skirt and shorties combo, I switched to a Railriders long sleeved top (the Women’s Adventure top) with good success on the Southwest Tour.   For protecting my lower legs from sun/brush (I tend to burn/peel, with minimal tanning), I’m planning on making leg gaiters from an old pair of hiking pants as the “sun legs” I bought (marketed to cyclists) were too clingy – I learned breezy is good in the desert to keep cool.  My trusty visor with a bandana (or SUL tank top) covering my scalp for times of high sun when I for whatever reason don’t want the umbrella out) and sunglasses will complete the ensemble.  For cold mornings I have my Army Surplus pair of wool gloves (thanks Joan!) and my buff (now cut if half).

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:   The Railriders top was great for the desert and the sunny exposed areas of the Sierra.  It was chafing in the mesh under my arm as it got pilled by the end of the Sierra, so I switched to a synthetic t-shirt in Mammoth which I wore the rest of the way.  For the Sierra and WA I had a long sleeved layer to hike in when cold – my Patagonia Capilene 4 top (I bought this in NH on the AT and wore through much of Maine for very similar conditions).  Climbing Mt Whitney was COLD – make sure you bring your puffy and rain jacket.  Also very cold on Forester Pass and Glen Pass.  Well, all the high passes really, but only on Forester and Glen did I need more on my hands than the wool gloves.  I carried my fingerless gloves/mitten combo (Mountain Hardwear climbers gloves, I think) in the Sierra and was very happy to have them for the added warmth.  In SoCal, the gaiter legs I made out of an old pair of hiking pants worked wonderfully!  If you go with a skirt or shorts, and have sensitive skin, you’ll probably want some protection – not from the sun as much as the brush and countless prickly plants.  Coming down off of Fuller Ridge in particular I remember so many areas where the trail was completely overgrown with prickling bushes.  I kept them until Bishop when I realized I wasn’t using them after I got into the Sierra.  Over the knee is best if you make/buy some tall gaiters for this purpose.  Make them loose so air can circulate and probably a lighter color is best – the dark gray nicely matched my skirt but seemed hot at times.  They looked horribly dorky, but I still got lots of compliments from other hikers.

My old Mountain Hardwear hiking skirt is a bit worse for wear with over 3000 miles on it now, but still alive!  I had to sew a few seams up, but the repairs held up well.  Only for a week or 2 did I switch to my super light summer skirt (Andies Undies) as it just wasn’t that hot enough in CA before I skipped up to WA.  I wore my Andies Undies shorties underneath, or in the Sierra a pair of Minus 33 longjohn bottoms when cold – same combo I used on the AT.

Sunglasses are a must – for the entire PCT.  I wore them everyday except for the last 2 in WA when it rained all day.  For headwear, you’ll definitely want a hat or visor for when the umbrella is stashed away in the high wind.  I went back and forth between a Nike visor/bandana I could wet down (but would flap incessantly in the wind and not do much for coverage other than my scalp), and the OR runner’s sun cap with the dorky detachable skirt to cover your neck and sides of your head.  For cover, the OR couldn’t be beat, but the skirt was hot.  Ultimately, neither was an ideal solution but I wasn’t about to buy something else for SoCal.  Once out of the Sierra I switched to the visor full time (adding the buff as a headband when cold in the morning), which is what I wear when hiking in the east.  I was envious of the folks (like Hemlock) who had the Sunday Afternoon Sport Hat – without using it myself it seemed an ideal compromise between coverage and breathability.

Starting in the Sierra, I carried a bug headnet and definitely needed it daily starting at least at Rae Lakes through the rest of CA (the mosquitos weren’t terrible the entire time), and then again at the beginning of WA the mosquitos were just terrible around Mt Adams in the mornings and the flies horrible in the afternoon. The afternoon I climbed up into Goat Rocks I did 15 miles before noon just trying to outrun the little suckers. Once up higher in elevation they seemed to calm down – somewhat (which didn’t matter in the Sierra if I’m remembering correctly but I didn’t hit any truly nasty swarms either in retrospect).  I hate to use it, but 100% Deet saved the rest of me from getting chewed up while the headset saved my sanity (at least they couldn’t get at my face).    In WA, I carried bug juice the entire way, but didn’t really need it starting somewhere between Snowqualmie and Skykomish (remember I was there in August – the latter half of August by that point).

Feet:  Shoe angst was high after the AT, searching for a shoe with both a wide toebox and narrow heel, and I’ve found success thus far in Altra’s Lone Peak 1.5 trail runners.  Try to guess why I’ve named them my clown shoes!  These are “zero drop” shoes, so allow for plenty of converting time if you want to try these out, initially they feel very different than regular trail runners.  Very sticky soles – they excel in a hot, dry, rocky environment, and gave acceptable traction in wet leaves/mud here in the east, too.  I continue to use Superfeet insoles, though I’m tempted to try another brand at some point.

Toe socks are also a new adoption – they feel great so far.  Along with my Dirty Girl gaiters, I make quite a statement, if I do say so myself!

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:  Loved the Altras Lone Peaks, but they wore out quickly – started to develop small holes by 300 miles or so in the mesh and completed blown out by 500-600.  I am HARD on my shoes.  Very very hard.  Others wearing Altras had them last longer, but everyone noticed problems with long term durability.  For me, they seemed to fall apart quicker if they got wet a lot (which is going to happen with stream crossings in the Sierra and WA).  That being said, I had NO PROBLEMS with my feet.  None.  No blisters, no tingling in my toe, no numbness in my toes, nada that I can recall.  If my lungs were the unhappy campers on this trip my feet were dancing along.  If I did a 25 mile day I would start to get some “wow you’ve gone a long way today” pain, but it would be fine by morning – that limit was more like 17-18 miles on the AT.  Granted, the relative lack of rocks on the PCT probably helped with the daily foot pain situation, but even so while others were moaning about their feet, I was happily giving my tootsies a message in thanks for carrying me so far.   With the Altras, I wore a full size bigger in the desert, then half a size bigger than I normally wear (which is my new norm for exercise) for the rest of the hike starting in Mammoth – in the Sierra I noticed my feet slipping around too much as I wasn’t getting as much swelling.  I replaced the insoles (Superfeet Blue for me) with each new pair.  So – expensive but not having any issues with my feet over 1700 miles was absolutely worth it – EVERY PENNY.  Once I got back to the Zero Drop and my foot muscles got conditioned, its hard to even try on a pair of the Keens I used to wear.

Foot care – I used lotion every night (usually carried a 1 ounce travel container you can find in drugstores in towns) and TrailToes anti-friction creme every morning.  Trail Toes is a great product, I used it for other chafing if I ran out of vaseline (which is much cheaper and you can find in 1 oz containers at Rite Aid, or slightly larger at other drug stores).  You can get 10 gram containers from Trail Toes which is perfect for backpacking use – if you have mail drops, especially.

Socks – started with 2 pairs Injinji Run 2.0 Toe Socks to hike in, which I would rinse out the sand and alternate (things actually dry nicely in the desert) with a separate pair of sleeping socks.  Near the end of the trail, I went back to Darn Tough hiking socks primarily due to convenience to purchase and MUCH longer durability.  I liked the toe socks, they just got holes in the big toe (left foot only for me) very quickly.  Other hikers with them reported the same.  Not sure how much of a contribution the toe socks were in the desert for keeping me blister free, keeping my toes from rubbing together, but I’d wear them again.

Dirty Girl Gaiters were awesome as usual – I was getting to the point in WA that I would’ve switched to my OR waterproof gaiters (more helpful for mud and thick wet brush) but only if my shoes hadn’t been falling apart.

Altras

Packed clothing:  I’ll continue to sleep in my Minus 33 merino wool tights, undies, and Patagonia capilene 4 long sleeved hoody, Goosefeetgear down booties (if my feet are cold, I can’t sleep), and Black Rock Gear foldback down mittens (ditto with hands), at least until summer.  I have my Montbell down hoody, which does double duty as my pillow, and a pair of Teva Mush II flip-flops (instead of my old Vivobarefoots) for camp.  My old Rab Pulse rain jacket and new Montbell Versatlite rain pants for foul weather (primarily anticipated to be wind in the desert and for swarming mosquitos in the Sierra), though I do plan to swap out with my beefier Marmot Minimalist rain jacket/pants in Washington depending on when I arrive.  I’ll have my rain skirt in my bounce box, for possible swapping out in summer.   I plan to carry 2 pairs of socks to rotate, and a third pair to sleep in.  I only carried 2 pair on the Southwest Tour, and I think it’ll be important to rinse the sand and grit out of my socks (and then let air dry the next day) in desert conditions.  Being well endowed, I carry a second sports bra to rotate, ’nuff said.

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:   Everything performed admirably.  Only substitutions I made was a warmer pair of tights in the Sierra (where I was using my normal lightweight tights to hike in), and I got the Marmot Minimalist rain gear at Snoqualmie Pass WA and was glad to have it from that point forward – mostly as a warmth layer.  Could have stretched it to Skykomish or even the Canadian border (others were quite chilled and borderline hypothermic in some cold rains we got with similar lightweight rain gear and clothing set ups) but since I had them in my bounce box I switched out and was happy for it.  The old Rab green raincoat was great for the SoCal, Sierra, and central CA.  However, the waterproofing was wearing off again and I had ripped the sleeve pretty badly, so I retired it.

Cookset:  no major changes here, same 0.9L Evernew pot, Soto Micro Regulator canister stove and lighter, a Sea to Summit long handled spoon and knife (both of which are new since the AT), and my Sea to Summit collapsable mug.  I’m leaving the collapsable bowl at home – transitioned completely to freezer bag eating.  In the High Sierra, I’ll be packing my Bear Vault canister – oh joy.

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:   I purchased an Ursack on the trail in Bishop when I was on my illness hiatus and was really glad I did – I used with the Opsak odor proof bags (just like I used with my old Sea to Summit dry sack feedbag).  I used it the first few days out of Kennedy Meadows South, when you don’t officially have to use a bear can until Cottonwood Pass (I think – make sure to check current regulations when you hike in this area).  I was coming back on the trail after my illness, and the great folks at the Horseshoe Meadow pack station gladly stored my filled bear can for me to pick up.  This really helped me (if only mentally!) coming back on the trail not having to carry as much food weight out of KM and planning shorter days (so more days of food needed to get to Independence/Bishop) to build my endurance back up. I ended up using the Ursack for the rest of the trail once I sent my bear can home.  Overall, the it was super easy to tie to a tree at night and not worry about sleeping with my food or hanging a bear line.  Here’s the scoop for eastern hikers – folks just don’t hang food out west along the PCT.  I think I hung my food the first night and never again.  For me, the Ursack was the perfect compromise (though a few ounces heavier than my old food bag) – critters couldn’t get in and I didn’t have to deal with a food storage hassle in camp.  One night in WA I was camping with another hiker and he had a mouse chew into his food bag AND his tent in the middle of the night.  I was 5 feet away and the mice left me alone.

Loved the new knife and long spoon, the collapsable mug and bear canister performed as expected.  One note on freezer bag cooking – for a cheap cozy, I buy a Mountain House meal and put the food into a ziplock.  I then clean out any food particles from the MH foil pouch and carry that for several weeks to put my freezer bags in when eating.  Helps the rehydration process and potential burning of the hands on the ziplock.  Just throw out and repeat whenever needed.   The old pot and stove both performed great, I only had to use my emergency lighter 1 time in the Sierra to light the stove.  Someone else with the same Soto stove reminded me to wipe off the burner top if the petzo igniter fails to catch – build up can delay the gas.  I had to do that more often (maybe every few days to once a week) but for a stove that has over 3000 miles on it, I can certainly live with that!   Just basic maintenance really.  One item about gas canister performance – high elevation and colder operating temps are a double whammy.  A small gas canister lasted me 3 weeks in SoCal, and much less time in the Sierra.  However, the major resupply points (Lone Pine, Bishop, VVR, Mammoth) all stocked canisters, you just may have to carry a big one for a while or even 2 if you cook more than once a day.

Water treatment:  I’ll be trying out a Sawyer Mini filter in the desert, perhaps going back to my Steripen Freedom/Baby Nalgene combo starting in the High Sierra. Either way, I’ll have my old extra small pack towel for wiping off water/gear.  I’ll be carrying 8L capacity for water (between my 3L platy water bladder and 1-2L bladders/bottles) in the desert – of my fears continues to be running out of water.  I’ll have ample opportunity to work on this fear considering the drought.

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS: I really dislike fiddling with water treatment.  How I wish my stomach could tolerate aqua mira long term (I still use the tablets as my backup and when I’m feeling exceptionally lazy and want to treat the water overnight).  I was sick of squeezing water by the Sierra, so switched out to my Steripen Freedom which I used for the rest of the trip.  For some reason swirling water isn’t as annoying to me as squeezing.  Having now used both the original Sawyer and the Mini, the Mini definitely goes slower and gets clogged easier.  That being said, I was incredibly pleasantly surprised at the water sources in SoCal – nothing really nasty at all that would really recommend a filter over other water treatment. So, if you can tolerate drops or bleach, go for it.  As far as water capacity is concerned, I ended up with a 9L capacity at some point, but never carried more than 8 – and that was a heavy carry indeed in SoCal.  Luckily, I only did that for when I had more than a 20 mile waterless stretch with needing to dry camp.  The section after Tehachapi to Walker Pass/Lake Isabella has some long stretches without natural sources and you shouldn’t count on the water caches.  The water report will be your bible until the Sierra, and I’d say I carried 5-6L on average most days. I do drink more water than lots of other folks and get dehydrated easily when I sweat a lot, so 1L of that was always gatorade.  You’ll quickly learn to dial in how much water YOU need so don’t worry about it excessively.

Electronics: My iPhone5 has a new Lifeproof waterproof/shockproof case, which is considerably less bulky than my old otterbox (plus the waterproof feature!).  I’ll still be carrying my Delorme InReach satellite locator to send my daily “I survived another day along the PCT!” message to the folks.  Other than a dual charger and cords, a new piece is a small external battery – since I’ll be journaling on my phone for the PCT, plus still using it for my camera, and intermittent music/book reading in the evenings, I didn’t want to worry about running out of juice.  The other new “electronic” is my headlamp – RIP BD Spot, you were so good to me.  I bought a ZebraLight H52 recently, and will making a DIY headband to cut down on the weight a little bit.  The biggest incentive was to switch to a light that used AA batts instead of AAA – to cut down on the type/# of extra batteries I needed to carry (the Delorme takes AA).

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:  iPhone 5 with Lifeproof case, and external battery were completely reliable.  The charger cord – not so much.  It was old and had to be replaced in Bishop – see the guy at the Radio Shack (I went all over Bishop so I know he stocks them). At other resupply points I saw cheap cords at checkouts of gas stations, so it’ll just depend on where you are if that happens to you.  The new headlamp was great, though the DIY headband elastic was worn out by the end of the trip and I need to make a new one.  I didn’t use it that much actually – my phone was handier (since I slept with it in my bag to keep it warm/conserve battery) if I just needed to find something in my tent at night.  I didn’t miss not having a red light, but there aren’t any shelters along the PCT like the AT where you’d perhaps want it for etiquette reasons.  For the ZebraLight, the 1 AA batt lasted a long time – I ended up changing out 1x/month just to make sure it wouldn’t die on me in a long resupply section.  Delorme InReach was great, and functioned incredibly well, even in the remote sections of the Sierra.  Only 1-2x did it not send the message, and that was probably because I wasn’t patient enough at night to find other area with a clearer view of the sky.  Most tree cover in WA it was just fine.  It was really nice to have the two way messaging paired with my phone’s app to talk to home in the more frequent No Cell Phone Signal sections.  I actually used that in Stehekin instead of buying a calling card to use with the payphone!

Ditty Bag:  I carry 2 separate smaller bags actually – 1 for easy access for bathroom: pee rag, TP, montbell trowel, wipes, feminine, and hand sanitizer; and 1 in the top of my pack:  Allegra D allergy medication, rescue inhaler, first aid kit, foot care, small comb, 2 extra AA batteries, toothbrush/paste/floss pick, small dropper bottle of Dr Bonners, and (definitely a luxury item!) a few Tide pods for doing laundry – I’m convinced they make my clothes actually smell good while in town.   It’s my delusion, at least!  POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:  Not much to say here other than I ditched the Dr Bonners (either I got even more resigned to dirt than previously or there just wasn’t as much opportunity to use it) but typically kept at least 1 Tide Pod!  Ohh, I did end up using more baby wipes than the AT – the PCT really coats the grime on for some reason though there is less mud.

Wallet:  I’ll be carrying the same Butterfly wallet  in a new waterproof Zpacks cuben fiber zip pouch along with my headphones (I got so sick of replacing the ziplock around my wallet for some reason), and a Rite in the Rain small pocket journal and all-weather pen. I carried a few of these little journals on the AT, but since I’ll be journalling primarily on my phone this will be for jotting down notes to myself during the day, such as getting people’s names/contact info, etc. POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:   Only thing I’ll change here is to ditch the journal on future trips and just keep a sheet or 2 of paper in my wallet for notes to other hikers.  I didn’t need it for the “jotting down notes” feature as my phone was easily accessible to directly take the notes.

Maps/Guidebook/Compass:  I had Half Mile’s maps printed on mostly legal sized paper, 2 to a page, which is just large enough to see topo detail, while still fitting in a quart sized ziploc when folded in half (1 map showing).  I split the printed maps up into 5 major sections – CA is split into 3 sections (SoCal, Sierra, and NoCal), OR, and WA.  I could have split them up farther, but I found on the AT I liked being able to look ahead in the evenings/in towns.  My compass is a basic Suunto, but it has a magnifying glass which may help if the maps’ print gets small.  I’ll also be carrying Yogi’s PCT guidebook “on trail” pages, and have the PCT Databook and state guidebooks on my iPhone, along with various apps (Guthook’s Guides, PCTHYOH, Halfmile, Gaia GPS).  Needless to say, I like multiple sources of information.  😉

POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:  While I loved carrying the paper maps because I’m a geek, I’d have to say you really don’t NEED them if you have them on your smartphone with a backup charger/solar charger like I had.  If you don’t carry a smartphone, you’ll want them on paper for the notes and waypoints.  I liked having Yogi’s pages for the towns, though I ended up having my mom scan some pages to me when a box got sent back to her by mistake at Tuolumne Meadows.  I have to say the scanned pages were great, as I didn’t use them everyday – but please note Yogi only produces a paper copy of her books.  I would pass on the old datebook and guidebooks I got through Amazon for my Kindle app, though if you really like history type information the guidebooks were nice to read at night.  What’s better for that information is one of the apps I used called eTrails.  Hemlock did a great review of apps for the PCT and hiking on her blog – though I used Guthook’s app as often as Halfmile’s, I was one of the ones who likes Guthook’s set up more especially the elevation profiles – I pace myself better if I know ahead of time if I have a long climb, a long descent, etc.  His app was also more accurate/easier to use during some of the detours in SoCal, and with Verizon I thought his app picked up my location quicker than Halfmile’s.  The only place on the portions of the trail I hiked that GPS reception was spotty was in northern WA – or it could have been my phone, who knows.   I’d often review all 3 apps (eTrails, Halfmile, and Guthook, plus PCTHYOH water report in SoCal and when I didn’t have paper copies of the Halfmile maps) in my tent at night for the upcoming day to check on water sources, potential camping areas, etc.  eTrails wasn’t complete for Washington when I hiked there, and I missed its info on small water sources and info about the area.  It is definitely set up more for section hiking with the mileage marker info but it wasn’t that hard to convert it over.  I don’t know if I’ll go strictly to apps when I go back to section hike OR and NorCal, I’ll probably still carry the printed Halfmile maps I have (though I’ll have updated versions on my phone) as a backup.

One app I used that Hemlock didn’t was the WordPress app!  I thought it worked great, though a few times I mistakenly deleted a post by going too fast though the menu items.  As soon as I had cell phone coverage I could go in, upload pics to the post(s) and upload them.

Overall base weight (minus the bear canister) is at just about 12 lbs now, which is great compared to my AT pack!  Especially considering there’ll be more times I’ll be carrying 5+ days of food and definitely more water than I did on the AT. POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:  My base weight ended up being higher with the tent swap in particular and smaller things like extra layers in the Sierra, the sleeping bag liner, the Ursack purchase, etc.  I seemed to have longer food carries, which really increased the weight at times.  I’m glad I used the Osprey as I definitely would have been over 30lbs coming out of town (which maxes out the Mariposa’s suspension in my experience though the GG website I believe states 35 lbs max). Little things add up!  I want to take an “step back” look at my gear again soon to rededicate myself to lightening my load.

Special snow gear:  Depending on the snow report, I’ll be sending my microspikes and perhaps an ice axe to Kennedy Meadows before the High Sierra. POST TRAIL THOUGHTS:  I carried the spikes from KM to Mammoth where I sent them home.  I was happy to have them on steep and icy Glen Pass.  Otherwise I didn’t need them and couldn’t survived Glen (though more anxiously) based on when I entered the Sierra in a low snow year (6/10/14).

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4 thoughts on “Backpacking Gear Review – 2014

  1. Fabulous post on your gear! You’ve come so far. Seems like just yesterday that we had our first shakedown, and now look at how much things have changed and progressed. Can’t wait!

    Like

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