With the exception of a few items, I accumulated, tested and refined most of my gear to suit my needs over the last two years. Overall, I was very happy with most of my gear choices. I won’t be providing a review for ALL the gear I used but I will touch upon the major items.
Backpack – REI Flash 65 – I love this pack. Used it for over 2,000 miles and much to my surprise, it is still in very good shape (although quite stinky!). I started the PCT with my 6 year old ULA Circuit, but that pack never fit me quite right – I could never get enough of the weight off of my shoulders and onto my hips. Even with only 25 lbs, it wasn’t super comfortable.
After trying 6 or 7 packs I settled on the REI Flash 65 pack and carried it all the way to Canada. This pack does a great job transferring weight to the hips and is padded very well. It’s super comfortable, lightweight and very durable. Definitely worth considering.
There are a few things however REI can improve upon to make it more thru hiker friendly. For starters, the sternum strap tends to pop out from time to time but when this does happen it is easy to pop it back into place.
Second, the side pockets are small and angled badly. They are made to accommodate Nalgene bottles and not much else (like SmartWater bottles).
Lastly, the hip belt pockets are small and made of mesh. I’d prefer them to be bigger and made of Dyneema fabric which would be water resistant and more durable.
Shoes – Brooks Cascade 7 – Loved them, got 700 miles out of each one, but they are too old now and the current versions don’t work for me. But the ones below did..more or less.
Pearl Izumi em v2 n2 – In Oregon my feet hurt after wearing these shoes for 100 miles. The trouble is, those were brutally tough 100 miles, with over 1,000 downed trees, snow, rain and mud. I hiked in them again for about 300 miles from the Sierras to Beldentown.
These shoes have wide a wide toe box, are pretty comfortable and very durable. The uppers are very soft and very breathable. These shoes are very well made.
And in regards to traction, they are very grippy and still have lots of life in them. I’ll hike in them until they fall apart.
Vasque Mindbender – I wore these shoes from Crater Lake to Canada – almost 900 miles! They required a few days of break in time but they got more comfortable the longer I wore them. The toe box is narrower than its competitors – such as the Brooks Cascade, Pearl Izumi – but surprisingly they got wider and accommodated my feet really well over time.
Simply put these shoes have great traction, very rugged soles and durable uppers.
But will I buy them again? Probably not because they weren’t very comfortable the first few hundred miles. On uneven terrain, which is a lot of the time on trails, my toes hurt when they rubbed the inside of the toe box.
Keen Logan Mid Waterproof boots (for the Sierras) – I wore these high quality boots in the Sierra. They were very comfortable, kept our feet warm, handled the snow with ease and worked quite well with our crampons.
On average we hiked 11 – 15 miles per day in these boots, with our maximum being just over 20 miles. Like most Keens, these shoes have a nice wide toe box. They also have durable and grippy soles.
Unfortunately however, to no fault of their own, these shoes worked against us in the many swollen, freezing river crossings. Once wet, these boots required many, many hours to dry. And when they were dry, we crossed another river and our feet were once again wet the rest of the day.
I wouldn’t normally hike in boots on dry trail because they would be too hot for my feet, but for cold weather hiking where river crossings aren’t a consideration, I’d definitely wear these boots.
Sleeping bag – Zpacks 20 Degree Quilt – Very lightweight, roomy and durable but if I had to do it over again I wouldn’t buy this quilt. I have no complaints about the craftsmanship and longevity as I used it the entire trail.
My biggest issue with this quilt is the constant need to fluff it and bring the down back into the center of each baffle. The down tends to move to the corners all the time and on a thru hike this was one extra chore every time I got to camp.
Also, this quilt wasn’t warm enough for me. When the temps got down into the low 30s, I was cold and wore my down jacket – and I’m a relatively warm sleeper. I contacted Zpacks to see if they can add more down to my quilt for extra warmth but unfortunately they don’t offer that service.
Sleeping pad – Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm – This air pad is great! It’s warm, durable and not too loud. I started with the Exped SynMat Hyperlite air pad but a baffle burst on the first one. I exchanged it for another and same thing happened again.
With the NeoAir Xtherm I feel more confident. It feels much more durable and is my go-to sleeping pad. I definitely recommend it.
Hiking shirt – Smartwool long sleeve base layer and White Sierra bug proof button down shirt.
I love wool shirts for their breathability, comfort and odor control. But wearing one day after day led to breakouts on my shoulders and traps. Not to mention they are not bug proof unless you treat them.
So after the desert I switched to my long sleeve bug proof shirt and wore it the rest of the hike. It’s looser, breathable and very comfortable. And no breakouts.
A comfortable hiking shirt is – as with everything else – a personal choice. Find something that works and go with it. And if you have something that works but it doesn’t work as well on the PCT, change it. Be comfy. It’s important.
Hiking pants – REI Sahara pants – lightweight, breathable and very comfortable. I’ve had these pants since 2012.
These are cargo pants which means they don’t have convertible zippers. The zippers aren’t very comfortable for me and since I don’t hike in shorts often, I opted for pants. And they performed great.
Thin socks work best for me. Regular hiking socks are too thick and make my feet sweat too much.
In the California desert I only got 3 blisters – the first one formed 400 miles into the hike!
I typically got 100 – 150 miles out of the REI liner socks. I taped my feet as a preventative measure and the Leukotape rubbing against the socks probably decreased the life of the socks. While I was happy with them, I ultimately changed to the Darn Tough socks because I got more mileage out of them.
Darn Tough women’s everyday socks – They either don’t make these in a men’s version or don’t carry them for men in REI stores. So I bought the women’s socks and made them work.
Super comfortable, durable and they come in fun patterns. Great socks. I highly recommend them.
Rain jacket – Outdoor Research Helium II – I started with Frogg Toggs but those were shredded to bits early on so I went back to my trusted OR Helium.
It doesn’t breathe very well but it keeps me dry. Lightweight and does the job when I need it.
Down jacket – Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer (no hood) – this was my least used piece of clothing the entire hike – especially once I added a fleece. When I did use it, I loved the warmth it provided.
And even though this jacket feels and looks very delicate, it held up very well. Many times I thought I’d be reaching for the duct tape to patch it up after snagging it on a branch, but it survived the hike without a single tear.
I will say that I wish I had purchased the model with the hoodie. I thought with my beanie I’d be fine but my neck was cold without the hood.
Fleece – Marmot Rocklin 1/2 zip – I was always opposed to carrying a fleece because of its weight, especially when I already carry a down jacket. But once I added this fleece as another layer, I never looked back.
It’s very cozy and feels great next to skin, unlike down jackets. While not as warm as a down jacket, when layered with other clothes I was plenty warm with just this fleece.
Sleeping clothes – Terramar Thermasilk EC2 top and bottoms – I’ve had the same silk long johns for 6 years. And they are still going strong. No holes yet. Super comfy and feel great next to my skin.
Beanie – Mountain Hardwear Windstopper – Great beanie. Have had it for 6 years and don’t plan on updating it anytime soon. It’s warm and comfortable. Exactly what you want from a beanie. Oh, and it keeps your ears warm too!
Wind shirt – Brooks LSD Lite jacket IV – Super lightweight, warm and durable. I used it mainly for biking prior to the PCT and used it for about 400 miles. And since I wasn’t getting much use out of it, I ditched it.
I recommend it if you like wind shirts. It is an older model and you may not be able to find it, but most wind shirts (such as the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Lite) are very similar.
Underwear – ExOfficio Give-N-GO boxers – Very durable and comfortable. I used one pair for a few years, including the first half of the PCT, but the elastic waist bad had lost it’s elasticity, so I switched to another pair and wore it the rest of the trail.
They are great. Never have to worry about them.
Extra shorts/boxers – Nike running shorts – I love these shorts because of their versatility. I wore them primarily in towns on laundry days and sporadically when I took dips in rivers and lakes.
Gloves – Mountain Hardwear Grub gloves – I liked these gloves because of their versatility. If it was cold I would wear them with the synthetic mittens over my fingers.
When the mittens were unnecessary they just flapped about. A small piece of velcro would be nice to eliminate the mittens from flapping about, but overall these are good gloves and warm enough when the temps dipped into the low 40s.
Buff – Bugproof model – I loved my Buff. I wore it around my neck or on my head for extra warmth. It’s soft and very comfortable.
And if you need to, you can use it as a pillowcase by stuffing clothes into it. MUCH more comfortable than a stuff sack against your face.
Platypus bottles – Platypus 1 Liter PlusBottle With Push Caps – These bottles are my favorite for the trail. I’ve used the same ones for 6 years now with no issues.
The current ones seem less durable because they don’t feel as thick as these, but they are light, pack up small when not in use and are easy to clean. What more can you want from a bottle?
Water filter – Sawyer Mini – Does the job but very slowly. I was annoyed with the flow most of the trail. Get yourself the Sawyer Squeeze instead. It will save you time and your experience will be faster and more enjoyable.
Water treatment – NutraSilver Colloidal Silver – This product peaked more interest from hikers than any piece of gear.
Hands down, this product is the best, most efficient and easiest water treatment system available, period! The last thing I want to do on the trail is filter up to 5 liters of water each day. I’m too lazy for that. With this awesome product, all I have to do is add 1 drop to 1 liter of water, wait 15 to 20 minutes, and drink to my heart’s content.
Knife – Gerber Ultralight L.S.T. – I used this knife the entire trail. It’s very well made, small and very light. It’ll cut chord, apples and cheese.
And I never had to have it sharpened in towns. Highly recommend it.
Smartphone – Samsung Galaxy S5 in Ottorbox Commuter Case – I specifically bought this phone for the PCT. The camera is good enough, but what I like about it most is that I can access the memory card and battery. This is not the case with the models that followed it.
Unlike the Galaxy S6, S7 and iPhones, I can increase the phone’s storage capacity by inserting a microSD card into the phone (up to 128GB) and change the battery when it died.
I carried an extra battery with me (2 were always enough to get me to the next town) and used the battery pack (review is in our shared gear post) to charge Laurie’s iPhone.
Umbrella – Swing Trek Liteflex Umbrella – This is the original Chrome Dome umbrella. Nowadays there are different retailers (Gossamer Gear) and various names for the same umbrella (euroSchirm Swing is another) but this one is the cheapest.
I used this umbrella in the California desert and loved it. It is much cooler to carry this umbrella than to wear a hat and have the intense sun constantly beating down on your head.
It also works well in the rain and hail. It is an umbrella after all 🙂
This umbrella can withstand winds up to 15 mph, maybe 20, but not anything past that, unless you hold onto it with your hands.
Having said that, it is very sturdy and even it it does bend, it won’t break as easily as other umbrellas. We even rigged it to our backpacks for hands free use, making it even better.
Sunglasses – Oakley Half Jacket – Polarized, sturdy and dependable. Great sunglasses. In my opinion, any polarized sun glasses will do.
The key is for them to be comfortable for your face since you will have them on for most of the day. Another important factor is how well they fit around the top of your ear. It needs to work well with the hat you wear.
Scree Gaiters – LevaGaiters – You may not have heard of them but these gaiters are really great. And super easy to use – no glue, no velcro, no mess.
And no string looping around the bottom of the shoe either. Simple and very effective. I wore the same pair on the entire PCT that I’ve had for 5 years and they performed great.
Hat – Outdoor Research SunRunner Cap – Dorky but effective. It’s lightweight, breathable and keeps the sun off most of my head, face and neck.
I’ve used this hat since 2011 and I’m not looking to replace it anytime soon. A word of caution though – if you put this hat in the dryer and expose it to high heat too many times the brim will start to bend awkwardly from the shrinking fabric.
Sun gloves – Coolibar fingerless gloves – Coolibar has updated their gloves in recent years. And by updated, I mean made them worse. Their current Sun Gloves are crap. Ours fell apart after 80 miles.
Their Unisex Fingerless Gloves however, are much better. They are a little thicker and a lot sturdier while being light and breathable enough for use during the hottest days.
If you’re like me and don’t like slathering yourself with sunblock, I recommend these gloves.
If there’s anything on my gear list I didn’t review that you are interested in, email me and I will give you my thoughts on them.