See how the gear below actually performed in our Post-PCT Gear Review.
In Part I of our Pacific Crest Trail Gear List, we covered the basic equipment, our backpacks, sleeping accoutrement, and all the things we really need to not die out there- like water and food storage.
Because the Pacific Crest Trail wanders through a number of dramatic climates and environments, it requires bringing more performance clothing than we have. Most of our gear accumulation has involved finding items that will keep us cool in the desert, warm in the high mountains, as well as items that can stand up to the trail without becoming completely threadbare.
Based on advice from other hikers, and a lot from planyourhike.com, we’ve compiled a shortlist of performance clothing we’ll be bringing with us on our Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hike.
First, let’s address the problem of the extreme environments we’ll be traversing first, like the desert-like climate of Southern California, and the cold, potentially very snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Sally: ExOfficio Sol Cool Zip Hoodie. A hoodie in the desert? Sounds crazy, but I’m very fair-skinned and sun protection is a big priority for me. The Sol Cool Hoodie achieves long-sleeved, hooded sun protection without being uncomfortable because Xylitol, the cooling agent in many mints and gum, is woven into the fabric. When wet (usually with sweat), the Xylitol is activated and creates a cooling sensation. The product itself also has the highest SPF rating possible for a garment, 50+.
This is one item that I’ve had my eye on for a while, even before planning this Pacific Crest Trail thru hike- sun protection is that big of an issue for me. The Sol Cool Hoodie won an Editor’s Choice award from Backpacker Magazine in 2014, and it’s gotten great user reviews, so I’m excited to be able to be protected from the sun while minimizing my pack weight by cutting down on sunscreen!
In case I need something to wear underneath, I have a simple UnderArmour Women’s UA Tech V-Neck, which I already wear to work out. It’s incredibly light and made of 100% polyester to keep me cool.
I also have an ExOfficio Women’s Dryflylite Long Sleeve Shirt, an extremely lightweight, long sleeve button-up. I want something protective to change into when my Sol Cool Hoodie gets grimy.
Nikita: Columbia Men’s PFG Tamiami Long Sleeve Shirt. The “PFG” stands for Performance Fishing Gear, so the shirt’s made for keeping you cool and protected during long periods of time under the sun.
He’s also taking the strange, but hopefully sage, advice of an older hiker, who said to wear a 100% cotton T shirt in the desert. His reasoning was that because cotton isn’t moisture wicking or quick-drying, your sweat will soak into the fabric and keep it wet, and you cool, while you wear it. Once it gets hot, you take it off for a bit get some air on you and the shirt, then put it back on. Repeat. Hope he wasn’t just pulling our leg, because Nikita is all about it.
High Mountains – Cold
In the Southeast, where we’re from, it’s rare if the temperature drops below 30 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. The cold, and snow, is just not something that we have a lot of experience with- especially outdoors (Southerners just hide inside until it gets warm again), so we’re buying it all!
After much research, we both decided to go with Merino Wool for our base layers, because of its moisture wicking properties and resistance to smell D:
Sally: SmartWool NTS 195 Long Sleeve Crew. I tried on a 200 mg Merino shirt by SmartWool, and it was amazingly soft and comfortable, but I felt that it might be too hot. I also tried on Icebreaker base layers and found that the fit varied widely between different items, but that SmartWool was more comfortable overall. (They’re also almost twice as expensive, and you have to look hard to get them at a good price.)
For bottoms, we both went with Under Armour Cold Gear. I’ve worn the Under Amour Women’s Cold Gear Cozy Leggings running in cold temperatures, and can say that the insulation definitely keeps my legs warm. Nikita has the Under Amour Men’s Cold Gear Evo Compression Leggings. I can’t wait to see my boyfriend in tights.
Down insulation is the go-to choice for many backpackers because it is incredibly warm and insulating, while being extremely light and compressible.
We took the advice of Plan Your Hike, and went with Montbell’s UL Down Insulated Jackets, which apparently weigh less than a cotton T shirt.
Sally: Women’s Montbell UL Down Insulated Parka (I got my jacket with a hood because I hate wearing hats)
Hopefully it won’t even rain once during our thru hike, because hiking in the rain sucks. Since that’s never the case, we already have rain jackets that we’ve used on previous trips.
I’m pretty sure we both use the Marmot PreCip Jacket. These have been impossible to ID with 100% certainty because Marmot does not list the item name on the item, the serial-looking number listed brings up a completely different item, and online listings aren’t completely consistent with the jackets we have.
All that aside, these jackets are lightweight, indeed waterproof, and fit nicely over our Montbell UL Down Jackets.
Now that we’ve got the extremes out of the way, we’ll go into the items that won’t change with the environment. I’ve listed them by body part:
Pants were difficult to decide on. Because pants have a lot of fabric to them, they’re one of the heavier pieces of clothing you’ll take with you. At the same time, you don’t want to just hike around in shorts because your legs will be in the line of fire for prickly bushes, poison ivy/oak, and creepy crawlies.
Sally: ExOfficio Bugsaway Damselfly Pants. Extremely lightweight, comfortable and the legs roll up. They also have insect repellant that’s good for 70 washes. Awesome- should keep ticks and other nasties from crawling up my legs. The only con to these was that ExOfficio thought a good way to fasten the pants would be with velcro instead of a zipper or buttons. Whatever, I guess if there’s no one around, there’s no one to hear me take my pants off.
For the rest of the time, I’m going to be taking Robin’s advice from So Many Miles and wear a polyester skirt slip from Wal Mart. It’s a really great idea and helped her to stay cool and low maintenance on the trail.
Nikita: Kühl Radikl Pants. Crazy comfortable, durable hiking pants. They are made with cotton, so if they get too hot, he can swap them for these super fashionable Columbia Silver Ridge Convertible Pants.
Sure a clean pair of underwear always feels nice, but if you’re out to “feel nice” on a Pacific Crest Trail Thru Hike, you’re in for a hard lesson. It’s also dumb to lug around tons of pairs of underwear.
So as gross as it sounds, we’re both going with a few pairs a piece of the ExOfficio Give-N-Go underwear, which are the favorites of travelers and hikers alike. They have a reputation of being extremely comfortable, lightweight and quick drying, odor resistant, moisture wicking, and durable. Most people only travel with 2 pairs; they dry so quickly that a quick wash gives you a completely clean pair of underwear in a few hours.
One of the most important things we’ll wear on the trail: shoes and socks. Off the trail, shoes and socks aren’t as big of a deal, but when you’re walking all day every day, carrying your life on your back, even the most minor discomfort on your feet is quickly exacerbated into a painful situation.
I have a serious blister problem. I have managed to eliminate blisters on my heel by using Engo Blister Patches on the insides of my shoes, but I still get them on the balls of my feet and in between toes. So far, the heel blisters have been the worst (as they’re not so much blisters as just thumb-sized patches of bloody, exposed flesh) and I’m happy to have eliminated them, but since I’ll be walking 20+ miles everyday for months, I can see those meek little toe blisters quickly getting out of control.
To prevent blisters (hopefully), I’ll be wearing the Injinji Liner Crew, toe socks, underneath my Darn Tough Micro Crew Light Cushion Socks. The Darn Tough are made of Merino wool, so they will help control the moisture, while the Injini liners will hopefully help minimize friction on the ball of my feet and between my toes.
I fully plan to write a post about my progress with blister control after some experience with it on the trail, but I’m sincerely hoping that properly outfitting my feet like this does the trick.
Nikita: In all of our backpacking experience, this motherf—-r has never had a single blister. I don’t even know if he’ll wear liners. For now he’s using the Darn Tough Men’s Micro Crew Light Cushion Socks.
We decided to go with the Darn Tough brand after reading a review on Halfway Anywhere. I hope he wasn’t lying when he said, “By the time I hit Snoqualmie Pass on the PCT in Washington, every single hiker I met (at least two dozen) had converted to Darn Toughs. True story.” “True story?!” He can’t be lying.
Mac’s done a complete thru hike and his blog has been a great resource so far in planning our hike. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re planning on thru hiking.
When you research what shoes to wear on a long distance hike like the Pacific Crest Trail, you start to read some crazy things, like:
- A long distance thru hike like hiking the Pacific Crest Trail requires a lot of footwear. Not just performance footwear, but multiple pairs of them, as a single pair of shoes typically can’t withstand the beating hikers put them through for the full 2,600+ miles. In my research I’ve seen people say you’ll need anywhere from 2 pairs to 5 pairs of shoes. Wtf.
- The majority of the Pacific Crest Trail community advocates hiking in running or trail running shoes, instead of traditional hiking boots, because they are lighter, more breathable, cause fewer blisters and dry faster. We have always hiked in boots, and while they could very be my reason for chronic blisters, I’m nervous about hiking in anything less.
- Foot-swelling. Yes, apparently when you hike for that long a time, your feet will swell so much that it is recommended you start at least a half size up from your normal shoe size. This swelling effect is apparently exaggerated in the heat of the desert, where the trail begins. Also wtf.
This drove me crazy.
How much my feet will swell, and how quickly? How much swelling is normal, and how much heat-induced swelling from the desert will I need to account for when I buy my first pair? And do I buy all my shoes now or try to get them on the trail?
I still have all these questions, but I’m trying to put my anxieties about all this shoe madness on the back burner. Only walking the trail and experiencing everything first hand will answer all of my questions. For now, I’ve decided to buy the trail runners I like best, at a half size larger, and have my next pair shipped to me on the trail when I need new ones.
Sally: Salomon Women’s XA Comp 7 Trail Running Shoes. They are lightweight and comfortable but still provide a lot of support. I ended up buying a size 8, a whole size larger than my normal shoe size.
Nikita: Salomon Men’s XR Mission 1 Running Shoes. I’m glad Nikita has backed down from his original plan to wear his light Nike running shoes for the first part of the trail. They were scary thin in the soles.
That sums up Our Pacific Crest Trail Gear List Part II: Clothing. We put a lot of research into our gear (and this post), but ultimately, the trail itself will tell if we made good decisions. We’ll definitely provide an update on our gear and clothes turned out later on.
Read more about our gear list:
See anything you recognized? Anything you liked or disliked? Let us know in the comments!