I am in preparation for a very long hike on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) this year.
Big news — yes!
I have wanted to hike the PCT since meeting several PCT hikers (namely, Thump Thump, Cloudbuster, Sunseeker, Princess, Johnny Appleseed, Jolly Green Giant, Blizzard, No Pants, Microburst, Paparazzi, and Sweet Sixteen) on my 2010 bike tour through Oregon. Luckily I work for a nice lady who gives me all the time off I want. But I am definitely on a very tight budget. Thankfully, I already have a lot of the things I need because I like to bike tour. But there’s new criteria: it also needs to be done with weight and size in consideration.
I was very careful — or so I thought — researching and purchasing gear for my bike tours, but in retrospect I see how ultralight (UL) backpackers take that kind of care to the next level. In bike touring I was aware of the need to save space. But since I was on wheels and had less impact to my joints, I wasn’t quite as concerned about weight. Granted, I did get some great, light, and small things. The Therm-a-rest Neoair mattress, the Optimus Crux Lightweight Stove and the Sierra Designs Lightyear 1 tent, for examples.
But UL backpackers take lightweight gear-hunting to the extreme. They really put cyclo-tourists to shame. Their gear puts my gear to shame.
It’s sort of intimidating. I mean, I know you have to have it all on your back for months. That at some point early on, every step on the trail comes with a thought about when you can take your pack off, maybe send something home. At some point everyone sends something “heavy” home… and lives to regret it. As I work on my gear list, I am thinking about all these issues. It’s a game of back-and-forth, in my mind. If something is a little heavy but will make me very comfortable, maybe take something else out of the pack or make something else lighter.
Just because it is light doesn’t mean you should carry it.
After deciding all the things you think you need, you then go through a majorly painful reality check whereby you again leave things behind. A pencil? Fingernail clippers? Can’t I just borrow these from another hiker? Three pairs of underwear? Why not two, or heck: why not just one?! Or maybe I can borrow them from another hiker! Is a tent necessary? A lot of UL backpackers don’t think so. These braves “cowboy camp” in bags on tarps under the stars, proud of the realization that a tent — a tissue paper-thin layer of nylon — doesn’t protect you from things that go bump in the night. But it does protect you from rain, wind, and bugs… so what do you do? Of course you think of some configuration of tarps and bug mesh and hiking poles and rope and stakes that somehow weighs half what a lightweight tent does. And you look like a genius. It’s a trail miracle! But does the added difficulty of procuring those fancy and expensive things, setting them up (try setting up a drum-tight tarp in diagonal rain, I dare you), and protecting them from damage outweigh the weight savings? Who knows… bottom line is, everyone likes what they like. The truth will come out on the trail. And yet, it might change every day.
Here are some of my dilemmas:
- I’ve been told by one PCT finisher that carrying trekking poles AND a tent with poles is “stupid.” I think I’m going to do that anyway. How do you win this one? Will someone make me some carbon hiking poles please? Or carbon tent poles? Can I just use my tent poles to pick my teeth and call it multi-purpose goodness?
- What the heck am I going to eat? I’m not a finicky eater, with two exceptions. One, I avoid soy like the plague. Two, I don’t really like to eat most packaged food. It makes me feel gross. How does that go? Garbage in, garbage out? Haha. So, that sort of means I’ll struggle at the convenience stores along the way. I think I’ll make myself a bunch of little snacks like the famous D Sharp Homemade Energy Bars (I’ve made this recipe in variations several times and its great, though ingredients are expensive) and send them to myself. And dehydrate some things to send to myself. Like yak meat and papaya. Not together! That’s gross. On second thought… that sounds pretty good. On the trail, I will eat ANYTHING. In fact, I plan on foraging wild edibles on the trail as well. Watch out chipmunk.
Some of my silly contributions to UL packing
As a seamstress, I have some things to contribute:
- Cut the tags out of the inside of your clothes and gear. Cut off any brand label patches on the outside, too. Get over your brand snobbery. (A seam ripper will help with that.)
- Cut off any patch pockets you won’t be using.
- Get clothing that fits (keeping layering in mind) and get it hemmed if it’s too long. Actually, get clothing that is too small, because you’re going to get scary skinny.
- Look at your tent and pack and consider shortening straps when possible, or cutting off straps/features you will not need.
- Cut the tongues out of your shoes. OK, just kidding… but I know at least one very notorious PCT hiker does just that.
Put that on your scale and weigh it
Here is my gear list. What do you think? It’s a little heavy at 17lbs with some easy fixes that I have plenty of time to make. Also, I’m considering hiking a lot of the trail without a tent, and cowboy camping. Yee HAW!
Have any advice or questions? Add them in the comments and we’ll chat!