See how the gear below actually performed in our Post-PCT Gear Review.
Now that we’ve announced our plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, let’s talk about what’s really important here:
What stuff do we need to buy?
As we’ve discovered with our research for the Pacific Crest Trail, “gear” is a loose term that applies to everything you’ll be taking with you, from shelter to water treatment to clothing.
Thankfully enough, we’re not just starting out on this whole backpacking thing, so we’ve got most of the basics covered. If you just want to try the whole backpacking thing, and aren’t invested in a longer thru-hiking trip, check out our post on Essential Weekend Backpacking Gear first.
For this post, we’re just going to cover the basic backpacking equipment we’ll be taking with us, and cover the wearable aspects of gear in Part II. So without further ado, our official Pacific Crest Trail Gear List:
The Hiking Part
Sally: Deuter Women’s ACT Lite 60 + 10. I’ve done most of my hiking with this pack and it gets an A+ with me where it matters: durability and comfort. It was immediately comfortable when I tried it on in the store, and I’ve had no problems since. I have a stereotypically feminine frame, with a small waist and larger hips, and I’ve found that the Deuter ACT Lite sits and distributes weight extremely well. Can’t wait to bring it along!
Nikita: Gregory Contour 60 Backpack. Brand spanking new, it got good reviews and does have some really nice features, so hopefully it works out!
One of our first experiences with hiking/trekking poles was watching a father-daughter duo get ready for a weekend hike at one of the AT gaps in North Georgia. The father geared up and grabbed his pole last, while his daughter looked on with disdain and asked, “You’re really bringing those?” “Yeah!” he said, enthusiastically.
Fear of gear bloat, and of looking extremely nerdy, eventually gave way to Nikita’s knee pain, which was exacerbated after steep, rocky descents. As he picked out a set at REI, I gave into peer pressure and bought a pair too.
After a few weekends of use we came to the conclusion that hiking and trekking poles aren’t necessarily, but holy shit are they nice to have. Walking with poles essentially turns you from a two-legged animal into a four legged one, which has several benefits: stabilization (a nice safety net for a top-heavy backpacker), minimizing lower body fatigue, and making hiking more efficient.
Once you’re accustomed to hiking with poles, you’ll find that you can hike at a much faster pace, and love the feeling of being able to hike not just with your legs, but with your arms too. BONUS: You can triumphantly jam your poles into the ground whenever you need to stop, making you look like less of a bitch for stopping.
Nikita: REI Traverse Trekking Poles.
Sally: I bought a pair of Black Diamond poles on sale. They featured a clasp locking mechanism instead of a twisting one, and had to be adjusted frequently for slippage. Now I use the women’s REI Traverse Trekking Poles. I think any poles that use a twist lock mechanism should be fine.
Sleep & Shelter
We will both be using the 900 Fill Power Down Twin Size Quilt from ZPacks. It’s lightweight performance down and is warm to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s a bit of an unconventional choice. When Nikita first showed it to me, I’d never heard of ZPacks and was skeptical about buying performance gear from anything other than a reputable brand. Reviews for ZPacks products however, have been great. The company is very much a made for hikers by hikers company.
That being said, Twin Size Quilt is not a standard size sleeping bag, with a mummy style design, or even a zipper. You simply put your feet into the pocket at the bottom, and tuck the sides underneath you. For extreme temperatures, you can cinch the top to prevent heat loss.
We have tested this sleeping bag against my dust allergy, and being both over 850-fill and comfortable to sleep in at night, it passes the test!
Yes, you need it. Sleeping on the ground sucks. Your sleeping pad will be much less comfortable than your bed, but will protect you from heat loss, because, as it turns out, the ground is really cold.
We will both be using the Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite. One of the few things we have that we can say is “top of the line,” these sleeping bags are extremely lightweight but also comfortable and provide a lot of insulation from the ground. Combined with the ZPacks Quilt, we’re completely insulated from the cold from the bottom to top.
We also purchased these sleeping pad straps from ZPacks as well. A great invention that keeps the sleeping surfaces locked together so we can sleep comfortably without the pads constantly sliding out from underneath us.
Sleeping Bag Liner
Sleeping bag liners prolong the life of your sleeping bag. As expensive as performance sleeping bags can be, the down insulation is quite delicate and difficult to care for, and should avoid the washing machine at all costs. Your nasty trail body will be covered in dirt and sweat and god knows what else; combined with the heated insulation of the sleeping bag at night, it creates a cocoon of filth that’s the last thing you want to crawl into at night. A sleeping bag liner will absorb all of the grime and smell, so you can wash it, instead of your sleeping bag.
Sally: Sea to Summit Thermolite Reactor Extreme Mummy Bag Liner. This liner adds an extra 15 degrees (Fahrenheit) of warmth, because I can get cold pretty quickly. The polyester material feels almost like jersey, and can feel very clingy, which has taken some getting used to.
Nikita: Cocoon Silk Mummy Liner. This liner doesn’t add as much warmth, but it’s lightweight and takes care of the filth and stench problem well enough.
If you go to rei.com and find “Tents” underneath the “Camp and Hike” tab on the main menu, you’ll notice there’s a distinction between “Camping Tents” and “Backpacking Tents.” “Camping” tents have more space for wiggle room and lots of nifty features like gear pockets and dividers. They are also much heavier and pack down about twice as large as “backpacking” tents, which are lightweight and also pretty expensive.
If you’re serious about long-distance hiking, a lightweight “backpacking” tent is your only option, and it’s best to get a 3-season tent from a reputable brand that will stand up to the elements and actually protect you when you need it.
Big Agnes Fly Creek UL3 Tent. We have a 3 person tent. Yes. Back when we were hiking with the dog, the 2 person tent we did have made me go crazy with claustrophobia. I don’t think the addition of 1 person to the tent’s capacity adds that much in weight, and the extra wiggle room is worth it.
Food & Cooking
BearVault BV500 Food Container: A canister isn’t necessary everywhere, but we’ve found that it’s worth the annoying task of securing your food in a tree. The Bear Vault is heavier than a trash bag, but you’re going to need it at some point anyway, and when it’s time to tuck in for the night, all you have to do to secure your food is walk a good ways away from your campsite and drop it on the ground.
While the American Black Bear has a wide habitat distribution across the country, it occupies the entirety of the Appalachian Trail, so bear protection ranges between strongly suggested and mandatory. We got the BearVault for the more bear-heavy parts of the trail, but ended up using it all the time because the durability and convenience were worth the weight.
MSR WhisperLite International: Light, very portable and extremely versatile, but with a bit of a learning curve if you’re new to camp stoves. We chose the WhisperLite International, you guessed it, because of our international travel aspirations (on the off chance that we ended up taking it with us). The “International” comes from the fact that the stove runs off a solid range of fuel sources, and at least one of which you should be able to find in even the more remote parts of the world.
Let me just say now, that I am (probably irrationally) terrified that I will blow myself up using this, so all of the use has rested on Nikita. It’s served its purpose about 70% of the time, and Nikita has been surprisingly humble and attributes the other 30% to human error.
We’ve heard that this stove is an “unusual choice” for the PCT because of the weight. We’re told that most people use disposable fuel canisters. While we’re all about cutting down on pack weight, this seems wasteful, and we’re happy to carry the weight and cut down on trash.
Cookset and Eatin’ Things
GSI Outdoors Pinnacle Dualist Ultralight Cookset: In addition to having the longest name for a set of plastic dishes and a pot, this cookset is lightweight and packs up small. The description is a mile long, and as I’m reading it now I can’t say that the “features” were anything more than barely noticeable details.
It came recommended by a hippie girl team member at REI, and although it hasn’t been our favorite piece of gear, it’s necessity doesn’t rank high enough on our list to bother us. The main con for the item is the included collapsible sporks, which are incredibly flimsy and break for almost everybody that uses them more than a few times. We replaced them with non-collapsible alternatives made from titanium or thick plastic.
Water Treatment & Storage
MSR Sweetwater Water Filter: This portable system pumps and filters your water, and can protect you from all of the common water-bourne pathogens in North America. It takes up a little space in your pack, and you have to spend time pumping out a lot of water (expect about 15 minutes if you need a lot), but you don’t have to use iodine or purification tablets that leave a funky taste.
Depending on the clarity of the water, it can get clogged easily, and sometimes requires more than one person to ensure it filters smoothly. We will probably ditch it in favor of tablets once it gives out.
MSR Dromedary 10-Litre: An indestructible water skin that only takes up as much space as the amount of water it’s holding. It’s got a nifty cap that adjusts to 3 different stream outputs, as well as an adapter for our filter. We use the Dromedary for filling up on cooking and cleaning water before setting up camp, but on many of the water-starved sections of the Pacific Crest Trail, I’m betting we will be using it a lot more than that.
Be aware that 10 litres of water weighs 22 pounds.
That concludes our Pacific Crest Trail Gear List… Part I! Overwhelmed yet? We were too- it’s a lot to take in! These are just the basics when it comes to survival in the wilderness, and keep in mind there are alternatives for every item we’ve listed. It’s important to find the gear and equipment that works for you.
Got comments, questions or suggestions? Share them with us below in the comments section!