Apps, Map and Guidebook Review

guthookGuthook’s  PCT Guide – We used this app most frequently on the PCT. It cost $25 but was well worth it. The app was especially useful in the Sierra when the trail was under many feet of snow for miles upon miles. It works in airplane mode with the phone’s location service enabled which helps conserve battery life.  We had this app loaded on Andy’s Samsung Galaxy S5 and were pleasantly surprised that it didn’t drain the battery too quickly.

Pros – great maps, uses Halfmile mileage, many more camping options than Halfmile, helpful descriptions and photos of campsites and water sources. There is an option to add real time descriptions and updates (the usefulness of this depends on the activity of the hikers in your class- particularly those ahead of you- but it is a great feature). If you get off trail you can see your location (love that blue dot!) on the map in relation to the trail.

Cons – It’s not free, but it contains A LOT more info than any of the free PCT apps. Some of the water sources are inaccurate – especially in Northern California or later in the season in the Sierra. A few water sources listed as reliable year-round were dry. There was one source off trail that didn’t even exist. I would trust Halfmile and the PCT water report for water. There are different user interfaces for iPhone and Android users. We only had this on a Samsung and cannot comment on the differences between the two platforms.


Guthook Android app detail

Halfmile – App is easy to use and very helpful. You can select a campsite or water source north or south of your current location and quickly get information on mileage and how much elevation gain and loss you will encounter before you get there. halfmile-app-logo

Pros – It’s free. Includes accurate data, is easy to use and has basic descriptions of water sources and other pertinent information. It is consistent with the information noted on the half mile printed maps. This app provides information on elevation gain and loss without having to add it up yourself (this is way too tedious and arduous after hiking all day!). When off trail (such as in the Sierra when the trail is covered in snow) the app will tell you how many feet you are away from the trail. This helps give you a sense (i.e. 50 ft vs 250 ft) as compared to Guthook which just shows your dot compared to the trail.

Cons – Few campsites listed. No pictures – just data. With Android phones, there is no map feature. On iPhones you see a map along with your location, but on Androids you see a dot (your location) and an arrow pointing to where the trail should be. Still useful but you get the sense the app was developed primarily for iPhones. When off the trail you have to simulate the trail mile. Often the closest PCT mile is not where you will be rejoining the trail so it takes a few more steps to get accurate information. This produced frustration in town when trying to plan for the next section.

Left: Android app map detail Middle: Same for Android and iPhone Right: iPhone app map detail

Left: Android map detail Middle: Distance – same for Android and iPhone Right: iPhone map detail

We liked having both Guthook and Halfmile for a more complete picture. We opted to have Guthook on Andy’s Android and Halfmile on Laurie’s iPhone. This worked well, as well as having Verizon on Andy’s phone and ATT on Laurie’s phone.  This was a bonus of hiking together – we had more comprehensive cell coverage  (more on hiking as a couple to come…)

**With both apps, or any others you plan to use for navigation, download them a week or two before your hike and get acquainted with them before you start hiking. It will make life on the trail easier**

halfmile topo mapsHalfmile Printed Maps – We liked having these maps but rarely used them. Map reading is an essential skill in the backcountry, but navigation by phone is here to stay. Because we were traveling together most of the trail, having two phones fail was unlikely. But if either of us were hiking solo, having the maps as a backup would have been more important. We would often look to the maps to see the names of the surrounding peaks but unfortunately the maps are PCT centric and don’t often include landmarks more than a few miles from the PCT.  If you like to identify surrounding mountains, it may be helpful to carry a PCT section map (heavy but fun to look at) or a forest service map (helpful in Washington where the likelihood of fires increases and you may need to find an exit route).

yogis guideYogi’s PCT Guideook – Andy liked reading other hiker’s accounts of their trail experience but didn’t care much for Yogi’s subjective dictation. “If you can afford to buy a beer in town you can afford to donate to trail angels. It’s the right thing to do.”

Sure some hikers need to read this, but Andy was turned off by this.

Yogi’s opinions aside, the town guides and trail notes are helpful, except for when they are out of date. Yogi has updates on her website but even some of those updates were inaccurate by the time we hit the trail. It wasn’t a big deal and I imagine it’s a heck of an undertaking to update every detail for every town or campground. Prices increase, businesses close. Things change in small town America. In short, don’t expect perfection with any guidebook or app.

If I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t buy Yogi’s book. The town maps were convenient but not worth buying the entire guidebook. Instead I’d use the following resources:

  • As The Crow Flies
  • Craig’s PCT Planner
  • Boston and Cubby’s Trail Journal
  • PCT-L

As The Crow Flies constantly updates her website with the latest information for the entire trail. This was my go-to resource.

Craig’s PCT Planner is a great tool for creating an itinerary for your hike. Things will undoubtedly change but having a plan in place can help keep you on track if you have to stick to a timeline. You can also use the planner to create multiple shorter itineraries. For example, you can create an itinerary for the first 300 miles averaging 17 miles per day, then create another one in which you average 20-25 per day for miles 301 to 702 (Kennedy Meadows).

Boston and Cubby share a great resupply strategy if you plan to ship yourself all (or most) of your packages. They also have a good gear strategy and gear review, along with a food strategy post.

The PCT-L is a great forum where people talk all things trail. There can be a lot of fluff to sort through but lots of good information is shared as well.

Lastly, the Facebook group(s) for the current year class are a great resource. Often times people who live in towns and are well connected with the trail will post pertinent information (changes to the Post Office hours for example) to the groups.

icon_postagram-701d2aa3Postagram – we loved this app. We used it to send postcards to friends and family whenever we had service. The app lets you write customized messages as well as a picture. The pictures are printed on perforated paper so they can be cut out and saved. Very cool app and a great surprise to anyone who doesn’t expect to hear from you for 6 months!

postagram detail

Favorite piece of gear

Ironically we both forgot to include our favorite pieces of gear in our respective gear reviews. Perhaps subconsciously we felt they were special enough to warrant a separate post.’s favorite item: Exped Schnozzle Pumpbag

This ingenious stuff sack weighs a scant 2 ounces and makes inflating a sleeping pad enjoyable rather than an annoying task. And believe me, after you have hiked 25 miles day after day after day, the last thing you want is another task.

It is a waterproof stuff sack with a schnozzle at the end of it. You gather air in the stuff sack, roll down the top, and a large gust of air funnels directly into the valve of the sleeping pad. This greatly speeds up the inflation process without having to gasp for air – especially at higher elevations.

The schnozzle is made for Exped pads. When our Exped Hyperlite pads failed us for the 2nd time and we switched to the Thermarest NeoAir Xtherm pads, Andy cut the intake valve to fit over the Thermarest valve. Thermarest makes their own version of the schnozzle but it didn’t work as well (nor was it as light) so we stuck with our tried and true Exped schnozzle. The schnozzle isn’t cheap (around $40) but for us it was worth every penny.

Over a time span of 2 years and 3,000 miles, it has only one small hole which was easily remedied with a piece of duct tape. Once you buy  a schnozzle –  you will never go back. Inflating sleeping pads have never been so fun and easy!

aeros_ultra_light_reg_resultAndy’s favorite item: Sea to Summit Aeros UL Pillow

Little pieces of comfort go a long way. This pillow held air for over 1,500 miles, then slowly started to leak but luckily since we frequented so many REI’s it was easy to replace. They come in two different sizes – regular and large. Andy started with a large and switched to the regular. Both worked well and honestly he didn’t notice a difference.

The pillow didn’t slide around and allowed him to easily add or remove out air (thanks to its ingenious dual valve design) to maximize comfort. It also felt really good against his face, unlike plastic stuff sacks.

In the thru hiking world a pillow is probably the most luxurious item one can carry. Sleep was important to both of us and Andy was willing to carry 2 extra ounces to ensure a good nights rest.

Andy’s one complaint with this pillow is the deflate valve. He had to use a lot of force to open the valve and over time this put a lot of pressure on the areas where the valve met the pillow fabric. Andy believes this is what caused the slow leak.

Click here for a detailed review of our shared gear.

You can find Andy’s gear review here, and Laurie’s gear review here.

As always, please comment or contact us with any questions.

PCT Gear Review Part 2 – Andy

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.

REI Flash 65Backpack – 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 n2Pearl 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 mindbenderVasque 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 bootsKeen Logan 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.

zpacks quiltSleeping 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.

Thermarest NeoAir XthermSleeping 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.

insect shield

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.

Rei sahara cargo pantsHiking 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.

darn-toughHiking socks REI wool liner socks / Darn Tough women’s crew socks

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.

OR helium jacketRain jacketOutdoor 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.

Ghost WhispererDown jacketMountain 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.

marmot fleeceFleeceMarmot 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.

Terramar silk long johnsSleeping clothesTerramar 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.

beanieBeanieMountain 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!

Brooks wind jacketWind 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.

exofficio-boxer-briefsUnderwearExOfficio 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.

nike running shortsExtra 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.

Weighing under 4 ounces, this is one piece of gear I will never think twice about taking with me. And since they have built in undies, I don’t carry more than one pair of underwear.

mountain hardwear grub glovesGlovesMountain 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-originalBuffBugproof 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.

platypusPlatypus 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?

sawyer_mini_water_filterWater 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.

nutrasilverWater 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.

NutraSilver does not alter the taste of the water at all, although it does give the water a yellowish tint. It also stains my Platypus bottles but those are non-issues for me. What matters to me is that I have NEVER gotten sick in the backcountry while using this product. It’s super lightweight, super compact, super effective. I LOVE it!

gerber l.s.t. knifeKnifeGerber 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.

samsung-galaxy-s5Smartphone 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.

EuroSchirm Swing Liteflex UmbrellaUmbrella – 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.

halfjacketSunglassesOakley 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.

levagaitersScree 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.

LevaGaiters dry super quickly and breathe very well. They exceeded my expectations from day one and I can’t say enough about these gaiters. They are awesome!
After a while they do lose their elasticity but they are still very functional.

Outdoor Research SunRunner CapHatOutdoor 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.

s-l300Sun glovesCoolibar 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.

And you can find our mutual gear review here. This includes our tent, groundsheet, camerastove, battery pack, etc.