This is my CDT To GDT Pre-Hike Gear Review. Here I will provide a detailed description of my chosen gear for my upcoming thru-hike of the CDT and GDT.
MAY 21 UPDATE: See italicized comments of each piece of gear below the original review in this post. This is a “mid-hike” review. I have also added a couple additional pieces of gear to my pack, which have been added to the list.
See my Gear List for a summary breakdown of this gear and the individual and total weights.
My goal is to give you information about each piece of gear as well as my opinion on how the gear performs (if I have used it on a previous hike), why I chose each piece over other competing brands and any downside or flaw I see in the gear. I hope this summary helps you choose the appropriate gear for your own hike.
The “Big Three”
Regardless of whether or not you are an “ultra-light hiker”, I believe it is important to consider these three pieces of gear carefully because the shelter, backpack and sleeping bag/quilt are three areas where your money can have the largest weight-savings impact, and these three will most likely be the most expensive pieces of gear you will purchase. By making smart choices here, you can literally shave off several pounds or kg’s from your base pack weight.
Osprey Exos 58L Backpack (40 oz/1.14 kg) – I have yet to make the move to a pack with no internal frame. I like a pack that will stand up straight when I set in on the ground and will not cave in or slouch on my back when I am wearing the weight on my hips. I also like a pack with adequate ventilation on my back to keep me dry from sweat. While many ultra-lite packs claim to have these features, none do it as well as the Osprey Exos 58 Liter pack. Osprey also has a its “Almighty Return Guarantee” in which it claims it will replace or repair any product from any era for any reason. I tested this policy by finding a creative way to ruin a brand new pack, before I even set foot on the trail in 2012, and I was not disappointed.
UPDATE: The Exos is still performing well. A couple of small holes in the mesh fabric that rides on the hip area have developed, as they did with the pack I carried on the PCT. This is nothing that affects comfort or use. I have also used the hip-belt pockets to hold my smart-phone, which has resulted in a hole due to the odd size of the pocket. I would recommend that Osprey redesign these pockets to be more smart-phone friendly!
Tarptent Notch (27 oz/0.77 kg) – While researching my 2012 PCT gear I had lots of recommendations for Henry Shire’s TarpTent Contrail, which was used up and down the PCT in 2011. After putting in an order for the tent, and then voicing some of my concerns about the design on the PCT Class of 2012 Facebook page, Henry called me up personally and suggested that their brand new “Notch” design would better fit my needs and concerns.
I carried the Notch on the PCT and it performed beautifully from day one, so I will use it again on the CDT and GDT. I have made a couple of repairs to the tent to get it ready for six more months on the trail: patched a hole in the fabric of one of the air vents that I punctured with the tip of my pole while trying to batten down the tent during a windy night, re-sealed the seams using Sil-Net silicone seam sealer, sprayed the tent with ReviveX waterproofing spray, replaced the stake-out line on both ends of the tent, and replaced the ground stakes with new light-weight aluminum mini ground hog stakes.
UPDATE: The only issue I am having with my Notch is the zippers have built up with dirt/dust and do not perform correctly anymore. This mostly affects the bug net zipper near the bathtub floor of the tent. I have attempted to clean the zippers with a toothbrush, which helped a bit, but I am still having problems. I will try again and then contact Tarp-Tent for further recommendations. Other than this (which will really only be an issue with mosquitos) the tent has served my needs perfectly on the entire Pacific Crest Trail and all throughout New Mexico of the CDT!
Western Mountaineering Versalite 10° Down Sleeping Bag (32 oz/0.91 kg) – It became apparent early on during the PCT that my Marmot Sawtooth 15° down bag was one of the heaviest and most bulky pieces of gear in my pack. The sawtooth weighs about 3 lbs 3 ozs and takes up almost half the space in my Exos. In addition, I would experience less than stellar customer service from Marmot to fix the cold spots that developed in the bag per their warranty.
For the CDT/GDT, I have upgraded to a Western Mountaineering Versalite 10° bag. With this upgrade, I reduce my pack weight by over a pound and add extra warmth for the cold nights I will spend in Colorado. Also, WM is a local company and their products are all made in the USA, and they have a stellar reputation for both customer service and quality products. I am going to spend the next six months in my bag so I spared no expense in purchasing the best bag I could find.
UPDATE: This sleeping bag is “da bomb!” After more than 800 miles of constant use, it still retains it’s warmth and keeps me toasty even at 12,000 foot elevations with high winds. With some layers on, I can sleep comfortably in the high teens and 20’s.
Ground Cloth and Sleeping Pad
Tyvek Ground Cloth (3.8 oz/0.11 kg) – Tyvek, the weatherproof construction material used to wrap the frame of most buildings, makes a great ground cloth. It is most widely available at home supply stores in large 150 ft x 9 ft rolls. More and more though, outdoor gear suppliers, such as Next Adventure here in Portland, are offering to sell it by the foot. I purchased about 5 feet of the material for $10 and then trimmed it to fit the base of my tent. TarpTent will also send you a custom-sized piece of tyvek along with your tent order for about $20.
TIP: Also serves the purpose of a sign for hitch-hiking. I have written “Hiker To Town” in large bold letters with a sharpie on a strip of the tyvek to use when hitching into town.
ThermaRest NeoAir Xlite – Regular (13 oz/0.38 kg) – The Xlite was tied for my favorite piece of gear on the PCT. It weighs less than the Thermarest Z-Lite Regular folding pad(14 oz), packs much smaller and has a better R-Value (3.2 vs 2.6) which means it retains warmth better. But my favorite feature of this pad is its comfort. At 2.5 inches thick, you can lay this over all kinds of irregularities on the ground and you will not feel a thing.
UPDATE: Still the most comfortable sleep you will find on the trail! In fact, I often use the pad in CHEAP HOTEL ROOMS, laying it on top of springy mattresses that dig into my back. It works like a charm!
Marmot Zeus 800 Down Jacket (15.1 oz/0.43 kg) – This down jacket performed beautifully for me on the PCT. It is a little less lofty now, but a hand wash with a down cleaner and a couple of cycles on low heat will perk it right back up. I highly recommend carrying Tenacious Tape repair tape for those random careless moments when you brush by a thorny bush and it decides to rip a hole in your jacket. My jacket has four patches and counting.
UPDATE: I typically wear this jacket only when sleeping on a particularly cold night. As soon as I am up and packed up, it comes off.
MontBell Torrent Flier Rain Jacket, with stuff sac (8.9 oz/0.25 kg) – MontBell’s Torrent Flier rain jacket is manufactured using 2.5 layer gor-tex paclite technology and it weighs 8.6 ozs. This meets my needs for a fully functional rain jacket that is not a burden to carry. You can find lighter weight jackets, such as the MontBell Versalite (6.7 oz), but I was sold on the durability of the gore-tex fabric. I am anxious to see how it performs on the trail.
UPDATE: This is a beautiful jacket. On Mt. Taylor it kept me dry in a blizzard. In the mountains north of Ghost Ranch it kept me dry while hiking in a snow-storm with white-out conditions that forced me to camp in early evening and wait for the storm to pass. In the San Juans, I have worn this jacket as a barrier to guard against the bitter cold winds.
ULA Rain Skirt (2.5 oz/0.07 kg) – I picked up the rain skirt before my PCT hike and ended up using it one time on the trail. On the other hand, it was perfect for wearing while doing laundry in town. At just 2.5 oz, it doesn’t hurt to throw it in my pack this time around just to see what kind strange looks I can get in town wearing a black skirt that looks like a garbage bag.
SmartWool PHD NTS Light 195 Wind-Zip T (9.2 oz/0.26 kg) – Smartwool makes some really great wool layers for hikers. I plan on wearing my Light 195 as a base layer over the top of my other Smartwool long sleeve shirts for cooler days on the trail. The Light 195 is made of Merino wool and has a 1 cfm* windproof rating which comes from the wind-resistant front panel. I also love that they design the seams to run along the back and front of the shoulder, not on the top, which wears much more comfortably under a heavy pack. Along with my down jacket and rain jacket, this should provide me with plenty of warmth.
UPDATE: I have worn this layer almost 24/7 since leaving the desert and entering the higher elevations. It is comfortable and durable, and keeps me warm for all except the early mornings. It also looks good even when not washed for a week so I can walk into a restaurant in town and not be completely self-conscious.
*Cubic Feet per Minute per Square Meter-a measure of the air permeability, or wind resistance of fabric. The higher the number, the greater volume of air passing through. i.e.: a hardshell would have a cfm rating of 0 (meaning no air passes through) while a simple fleece would have a cfm rating of 60 (allows a lot of air to pass through).
Smartwool NTS Light 195 Bottoms (6.2 oz/0.18 kg) – These lightweight bottoms should keep my lower half warm in the toughest late spring conditions. They are a bit expensive, at $85/pair, but they are 100% merino wool and extremely warm for their weight. Smartwool also makes a mid-weight layer bottom, but I chose the lightweight layer because in my experience, my legs are the last part of me that gets cold and the mid-weight bottoms would just be too warm for most hiking conditions.
UPDATE: Once I put these on the first night out of Chama, they did not come off until I reached Pagosa Springs five days later. The Light 195 base-layer is warm enough to keep me comfortable in my sleeping bag, but not so warm to make me overheat on the strenuous hill climbs.
SmartWool PHD NTS Light 195 Wind Boxer Brief (2.5 oz/0.07 kg) – Yes, there is such a thing as a WIND boxer brief and yes you should get a pair. Sorry Ex-Officio, it’s time for you to welcome the new king of crotch – the SmartWool PHD Wind Boxer Brief.
UPDATE: I have not been able to try these out. So far, the standard wool boxer-briefs are holding up well.
SmartWool Mountaineering Socks and Toe Socks (approx. 4.0 oz/0.11 kg) – I got hooked on toe socks when I tried them out on the PCT. My Ininji toe socks reduced blisters by providing a second layer underneath my heavier and warmer hiking socks, and between my toes reducing toe to toe friction. However, I found that holes would quickly form in the big toe and forefoot. The SmartWool toe socks are better designed and are made of 57% merino wool and 40% nylon instead of a synthetic fiber (reducing odor). I will report back once I have a few hundred miles on them and let you know how they hold up on the trail.
UPDATE: The SmartWool Mountaineering socks combined with toe socks have been a great combination in the mountains. I began wearing these once I entered Colorado. Before this, I was wearing SmartWool ankle-high medium mini socks throughout New Mexico, also combined with their toe socks, both underneath my Brooks Cascadia trail-runners. I have not once had a problem with seams causing blisters or hot spots, a major concern of mine.
After about 400 miles, at about the time that the cushioning and soles of my shoes started to degrade, these socks developed holes in the back of the heel (where the top of the trail-runners rubbed against my Achilles) and in the forefoot (the area with the most impact on the shoe/ground) The toe-socks also developed holes in the forefoot. For a single pair of socks to last 400+ miles worn under trail-runners is pretty exceptional. If SmartWool would add additional reinforcement in these two areas of the sock, they would be able to handle the demands of the most extreme runners, hikers and athletes. SmartWool’s customer satisfaction policy is second to none, and I have been told they would replace these socks no questions asked.
Mountain Hardware Polyester Wind-stopper Hat (2.3 oz/0.06 kg) – A warm hat for those cold mornings while you are packing up camp. It is not the most stylish hat, but who cares about style, right?
Food & Water
JetBoil Sol Stove (10.0 oz/0.28 kg) – My second favorite piece of gear (after the Xlite Pad). I suffered through half of the PCT with an MSR SuperFly canister stove (pictured above) before I discovered the JetBoil. The JetBoil can boil a cup of water in less than 2 minutes while the MSR stove would burn for more than 5 minutes (often up to ten if there was wind) before my water reached boiling. It may seem insignificant, but a few minutes can be the difference between eating something hot during a quick lunch break on a windy day or settling for a cold snack. The JetBoil Sol is best used as a single person stove for simply boiling water and adding dry ingredients, or making coffee or tea. If you need to cook for two or more, or often cook complex dishes, or often need to simmer food on a low heat setting, than consider a larger more versatile system.
UPDATE: Still a favorite! I use more fuel than most due to my consumption of coffee in the morning, tea at night, and boiling water for dinners, and it has sometimes been a challenge to get fuel on the trail. Heet, on the other hand, is typically available everywhere. This has been the only challenge with carrying this stove system on my thru-hike.
Light My Fire Titanium Spork (0.8 oz/0.02 kg) – A simple tool with a fork on one end and a spoon on the other. The plastic version weighs less but the titanium spork will last forever (assuming you don’t have a habit of leaving things behind in camp).
GSI Outdoors Plastic Bowl and Mug (4.13 oz/0.12 kg) – I may leave the bowl behind, but it is so convenient when you want to make two dishes for a meal. TBD.
Sea-To-Summit Ultra-Sil Dry Sac (2) (1.1 oz/0.03 kg) – I will carry a 4 Liter sac for misc. storage and an 8 Liter sac for food storage. Sea-To-Summit claims the silicanized Cordura fabric is water-proof up to 2.8 psi, but the seams are not tape-sealed and therefore the product is only water-resistant, not water-proof.
UPDATE: I have carried the same Sea-To-Summit 8 Liter sac throughout the PCT and CDT and it still has no holes!
Sawyer Squeeze Water Filter (6.3 oz/0.18 kg) – The best thing to come along for water filtration in a long time. This simple, lightweight filter has no moving parts, no tubes and no pumps. Simply screw the end onto one of Sawyer’s collapsible water bags or use a third-party bag such as Platypus’ durable one and two liter bags, and squeeze. I can filter 2.5 liters in about five minutes. I also carry a plastic cup to scoop out water from less accessible streams and ponds where I am not able to submerge a platypus or Gatorade bottle. Add a custom wire screen filter at the intake end to prevent dirt and scum from getting in and clogging the filter, or use a handkerchief. The filter comes with a large plastic syringe as a back-flush device, but I find that holding the end of it tightly under a faucet does the job just as well.
UPDATE: I finally ditched my Sawyer Squeeze (pictured) and replaced it with a Sawyer Squeeze Mini. The old filter was difficult to filter and slow, taking about 10 minutes to squeeze enough through to fill a Gatorade bottle. Even back-flushing it did not help. I believe these filters have a shelf life and I exceeded that life. I carried the old filter for the entire length of the PCT and 600 miles of the CDT and it served me well during that time. The new mini shaves off a couple of oz’s and I expect it to last to the end of my hike in September.
Platypus 2L Collapsible Water Bottles, 2 L (1.3 oz/0.04 kg) – I need the capacity to carry at least 6 liters of water during the hot dry New Mexico and Wyoming sections of the CDT. With two 2L Platypus bottles (each carries approximately 2.5 Liters) and one or two Gatorade bottles, I should be covered.
UPDATE: one of my 2-Liter Platypus bottles developed a leak where the plastic near the nozzle became separated. I don’t know if this is a defect or simply because these bottles are not designed to be used with a Sawyer Squeeze filter.
Emergency & Misc
Kershaw Collapsible Knife (2.5 oz/0.07 kg) – Made in the USA, this stainless-steel blade has a great feel in my hand and I expect it will keep it’s edge for most of a thru-hike. While some thru-hikers choose smaller blades, such as mini Swiss Army Knives, I know that if I run into any trouble out in the middle of nowhere, one of the first rules of survival is to have a good knife with a solid grip. I wouldn’t trust a 1-2 inch blade to keep me alive. If all you are doing with your blade is cutting cheese for lunch, then a smaller blade will suffice. But for a couple more ounces in weight you might as well get a better blade that will serve you well in a survival situation.
UPDATE: Besides user error, accidentally slicing my thumb on the trail while attempting to trim off the hanging end of a bandage, this knife has done everything I have asked of it including shaving wood for starting fires, slicing cheese and opening food packaging. A solid knife for a paltry 2.5 oz.
Sunto Compass (1.1 oz/0.03 kg) – A standard compass with base plate, declination scale, rotating bezel and all that jazz.
Tenacious Tape (0.6 oz/0.02 kg) – This is one of the few “repair” pieces of gear I bring on a hike. I have used it to repair my Sil-Nylon tent, my down sleeping bag, my down jacket and it could potentially be used to repair an air mattress (at least temporarily) or a rain jacket. It is well worth the $5 price tag and the <1 oz weight.
Mosquito Net (1 oz/0.03 kg) – I only needed a mosquito net a few times on the PCT, but when I needed it, I REALLY needed it. I managed to avoid the worst of the mosquitos through Oregon and Washington (it was an exceptionally dry year and snow melted off early) but I can’t count on favorable conditions on the CDT and GDT.
Ben’s 100 Max Formula Insect Repellent, 1.25 oz (1.8 oz/0.05 kg) – I understand the concern over the use of Deet on human skin. But do you understand the pain, agony and quite frankly the danger to your life and health that mosquitos can present? I don’t use it often, but when I do, I use Ben’s 100 Max.
Banana Boat Sunscreen, SPF 30, 1 oz (1.4 oz/0.04 kg) – I find that I use sunscreen during the first few weeks of a long hike, just to ease my skin into developing darker layers that let it do what it is designed to do naturally. This bottle should be enough for my entire thru-hike.
Go-Lite Chrome Dome Trekking Umbrella (7.8 oz/0.22 kg) – I watched in amusement as people carried these umbrellas on the PCT. However, I was a bit jealous in the Mojave Desert when I only had the narrow shade of a Joshua Tree to hide behind during my break while they sat comfortably underneath their chrome domes. Therefore, I have decided to give this a shot on the CDT. The Chrome Dome was by far the most commonly carried umbrella on the PCT. You can pick one up for $25 on the Go-Lite website.
UPDATE: I used this umbrella three times in the desert. For the most part, the high winds in New Mexico in April have prevented me from taking full advantage of the shade this can provide. In Colorado, I have not found myself using this at all. The winds are still unpredictable and I find my hands are best used on trekking poles or an ice-axe, or holding a map and/or gps. I will likely send this home.
Petzl Tikka XP Headlamp (2.9 oz/0.08 kg) – Petzl makes great products. Unfortunately for me, they no longer manufacture the USB rechargeable battery that works with this headlamp, and since I dropped mine out of a Kayak in the Sea of Cortez in December, I will have to make due with standard triple A batteries.
Ultra-Sil Medium Pack Cover (3.8 oz/0.11 kg) – Although this weighs almost 4 ozs, I hesitate to leave it at home. I will also use a trash compactor bag inside my pack for further protection from moisture, and two Sea-To-Summit bags for electronics. Like my rain jacket and mosquito net, I pulled this out just a few times on the PCT, but I can’t rely on exceptional weather to save me from misery or disaster.
UPDATE: I decided to leave this at home and instead use a trash compactor bag inside my pack. This has worked well. I don’t foresee myself ever carrying a pack cover again, except maybe in the most extreme weather environments.
Goal Zero Nomad Solar Panel with USB (13.3 oz/0.38 kg) – In Bend, Oregon, three-quarters of the way to Canada on the Pacific Crest Trail, I decided to add the Goal Zero Solar Panel to my pack. I should have carried it from the Mexican border. This is the best solar unit I have found for its weight and capability. It charged up all my USB Chargeable devices (phone, iPod, headlamp) while on the trail. I would simply either latch it to the top of my pack while hiking or set it out in the sun while taking a break. This would have been extremely useful in the Southern California desert but I still found it worth carrying in Oregon and Washington.
*NEW REVIEW* Goal Zero Guide 10 Battery Pack (0.4 lbs) – After numerous issues keeping my phone charged (see my update below for the iPhone 4S) I have added a Goal Zero Guide 10 Battery Pack to my kit. This unit uses either four AA or AAA recharge-able batteries to hold a charge that will recharge your smart-phone 2-3 times on a single charge, and can be used in any device using standard AA or AAA batteries, like a headlamp. The unit weighs 0.4 lbs (0.18 kg) which is about half the weight of the solar charger. Due to issues with my phone’s battery, and until I make it through the Rockies where having a charge on my phone (which is also my GPS) is critically important, I will carry both. Once I get to Wyoming, I will ditch the solar charger and save 13 oz. of weight.
iPhone 4S with headphones and case (6.5 oz/0.18 kg) – My phone will hold all my maps for the CDT and GDT, a rotating library of music from Spotify and of course cellular and data access to Sprint’s network. After spending a day researching the different provider’s plans, and running into a myriad of road-blocks (I could go on forever about how UN-consumer-friendly our wireless service provider industry have become in this country) I decided to sign on with Ting – one of the only carriers that offer a pure pay as you go service for both data and cellular service, and requires no contract. This is not a “prepay” account, but you can cancel your plan at any time with no penalty. If I pay attention to my usage, I may be able to achieve a monthly bill of less than $25/month. I believe this arrangement is ideal for a thru-hiker who rarely needs cell and data service while on the trail and can benefit from free wi-fi availability in most towns.
UPDATE: The battery life on this phone has been disappointing. I believe that because it was acquired used, after 2-3 years of previous use, the battery just cannot hold a charge like a new phone can. The Gaia App I use for GPS tracking has worked well and all other functions of the phone are fantastic, but that doesn’t do me any good when the phone suddenly dies at a 50% charge level! As a temporary measure, I have purchased an additional battery pack (see above) while still carrying a solar charger. I am also limiting my use of all phone functions (music, audio-books, etc…) to just the Gaia GPS App. It will probably cost more for Apple to replace the battery than to just buy a refurbished phone, so for now, this is the solution.
Moleskine Journal and Pen (4.4 oz/0.13 kg) – I plan to write in my journal daily and share the best bits with you when I get into town. I like the freedom and simplicity of writing in a paper journal vs. a smart phone or any other electronic device. A journal can be a piece of art as well as a historical document that I can share with my family and friends. Notes kept on a smart phone or tablet are limited to the keys on a keyboard and are quickly lost or deleted as soon as the hardware gets replaced with the next year’s model. My journal will not look like Condor’s Journals (a.k.a.: The Hike Guy) but I hope to freely express my thoughts, ideas and my mental journey throughout the trip.
Canon S100 Compact Digital Camera w/ extra battery, charger and case (12.2 oz/ 0.35 kg) – I took some amazing shots with this compact camera on the PCT, and also discovered some limitations – such as a 15 second shutter speed and no wide-angle capability. Regardless of these limitations, this camera is one of the best compact cameras made, and since upgrading to a DSLR right now seems out of my reach, the S100 will be in my front pocket the entire way capturing the images that I will be sharing with you.
UPDATE: Still taking beautiful pictures (check out this gem!) and well worth the weight. Smart Phone pictures just don’t compare to a dedicated digital camera.
Custom First Aid Kit (5.5 oz/0.16 kg)) – My kit includes a signal mirror, vaseline soaked cotton balls in foil, spark rod, gauze, standard adhesive bandages, cloth tape, Moleskin blister prevention, emergency whistle, tweezers and various over the counter medications.
UPDATE: I have used several knuckle bandages, lots of the tape (to hold the bandages on) tweezers, anti-septic gel and the cotton balls for starting a fire.
Hygiene (4.4 oz/0.13 kg – not including wet wipes) – My hygienic needs on the trail are simple. I will carry a small 0.75 oz tube of toothpaste, short toothbrush, 1.5 oz bottle of Dr. Bronner’s biodegradable soap, wet-wipes and TP.
UPDATE: I have added a small pair of scissors for facial hair and nail-clippers. I am not going bush-man on this hike!
Brooks Cascadia Trail Runners with SuperFeet orange Insoles (28.8 oz/0.82 kg) – These worked so well for me on the PCT, I do not want to fix something that is not broken, so I picked up two more pairs. I am adding SuperFeet insoles to these shoes (orange) which adds a bit of extra padding at the forefoot and support in the arch. I found these to be necessary after hiking half the PCT without them and getting major pain in my forefoot area. After putting in the SuperFeet, the pain went away.
UPDATE: They lasted 650 miles! (Border to Chama). Still one of my favorite shoes.
*NEW REVIEW* Saloman X Ultra Mid GTX Hiking Shoes (33 oz) – In Chama I switched out my Brooks trail-runners with Soloman Gore-Tex ankle high boots for use in the snow in the higher elevations of the Rockies. So far I am really impressed! During the entire 64 mile section from Chama to Pagosa Springs, through five days of snow-shoeing and post-holing, my socks did not get wet once. The only issue I have with the shoes is that the eye-lets for the laces end up right beneath the strapping for my snow-shoes, creating a pressure point on top of each foot. This typically results in pain in the morning when first walking away from camp but then the discomfort dissipates as the concerns of the day take over.
The North Face Zip-Off Pants (10.1 oz/0.29 kg) – Long pants protects your legs from sunburn, mosquitos provides a warm layer during night-hiking or when at camp at night. Fashion sometimes has to take a backseat when considering the extra weight of carrying a separate pair of shorts.
UPDATE: I replaced these at the last minute with Kuhl zip-offs. They are much more stylish and the fit is better for my body type. I am loving them!
SmartWool NTS Micro 150 Crew Long-Sleeve Shirt (5.9 oz/0.17 kg) – The first shirt I wore on the PCT, an Arcteryx Polyester/Polypropelene shirt, held up well but as the miles went by I found that it held odor and stained easily in the arm-pit areas. (I still have the shirt but the stains and the odor have never completely been washed out.) When I switched to wool I was impressed that I could hike for several days and then go into town without worrying about offending people with my pungent smell. I wore the short-sleeve version of this SmartWool merino wool shirt from Bend, OR to the Canadian Border, for more than 600 miles, and I still wear the same shirt today.
UPDATE: I sent the long-sleeve version home in Chama and replaced it with a short-sleeve version. In the Mountains I typically wear two layers, so the longer sleeves are not needed for sun protection. After 650 miles the shirt had shoulder-strap stains and pit-stains but no major holes, just minor holes where it snagged on thorny brush or where it rubbed against my belt-buckle and the pack strap.
Suncloud Sunglasses (1 oz/0.03 kg) – Sunglasses you take on the trail should be inexpensive but have good UV protection, as there is a high probability they will not last an entire thru-hike because of getting squashed in your pack, being left on the trail or any number of other possibilities. I carry SunCloud sunglasses that can be found at REI for about $40 per pair.
UPDATE: I hooked these over my chest-strap and about an hour later, they were gone! I have been using a pair of cheap “Ghost Ranch” gift shop sunglasses, but I am planning on investing in a good pair of glacier glasses when I find a decent outfitter that carries them.
DirtyGirl Gaiters (1 oz/0.03 kg) – If you haven’t hiked long distances or run ultra-marathons, you may not have thought about the importance of gaiters worn over shoes. They keep out dirt and rocks which are irritating and cause blisters to form, and they keep your laces from un-lacing. I wore gaiters for most of my PCT hike and I will do so again on the CDT and GDT.
UPDATE: Worked great for New Mexico-no holes. The adhesive that holds the Velcro on the back of the shoe fell off once but I just cut a new piece, cleaned with alcohol, re-attached, and off I went!
Black Diamond Alpine Carbon Cork Trekking Poles (17.6 oz/0.5 kg)These are a great pair of poles that are designed to last. I am replacing the tips on mine ($10 at a gear shop), but otherwise these performed well for me on the PCT as both hiking poles and tent poles for my TarpTent Notch.
UPDATE: After 2600 miles on the PCT and 800 miles on the CDT, the right cork hang-grip has finally started to come off. This will not prevent me from continuing to use these until I complete my hike in September.
Colorado Only (And Possibly Parts Of Canada)
Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe, 65 cm (16.4 oz/0.47 kg) – These are made in varying lengths depending on your torso and leg length. Ideally you should be able to stand up straight, hold the ice axe down from the axe side, and just touch the ground with the spike. It also helps to have some experience using an ice-axe to self-arrest.
Kathoola Micro-Spikes (13.3 oz/0.38 kg) – I considered carrying a full set of crampons, but based on feedback from others who have hiked the trail in early season snow, I have decided that I can get by with Micro-Spikes. These fit on your existing boots or trail-runners and weigh much less than a pair of crampons, and should give me enough perch to get through all of the steep and icy sections of the trail.
UPDATE: I sent these back home in Chama after my experience with wet spring snow in the section from Ghost Ranch. I believe that was a good choice. I have had snow-shoes on my feet the entire time north of Chama and these would have been just dead weight.
Silk Sleeping Bag Liner (3.8 oz/0.11 kg) – This will be thrown in my resupply box in northern New Mexico (likely Ghost Ranch) as a backup for my 10° WM sleeping bag. It adds an additional 10 degrees of warmth for those spring storms that can pop up in the Rockies at any time.
Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) Light-Snow Gaiters (2.3 oz/0.07 kg) – Rob from MLD is a genuinely nice guy with a passion for supporting hikers and outdoor athletes. MLD makes some of the best ultra-lite backpacks and tents in the industry, but did you know he also make gaiters? These are the lightest fully waterproof tall gaiters you will find anywhere – perfect for a thru-hike through potentially snowy conditions. I will give a full report on how these performed after I finish the trail.
UPDATE: Pefect used with my Soloman Gore-Tex boots. Through all the wet snow during the 64 miles from Chama to Pagosa Springs, I have not had wet feet once thanks to this combination.
Mountain Laurel Designs (MLD) eVent Rain Mitts (1.2 oz/0.03 kg) – Another potential life-saver from MLD. These are meant as an outer, waterproof, layer to be worn over your existing fleece or wool gloves. Ron provides a silicone sealant with the mitts so you can seal the seams. Look for a report on how these perform after the hike is finished.
UPDATE: I have not used these yet but I am glad to know they are there in case another weather system blows through. Warm and dry hands are vitally important in the Rockies!
Atlas 1225 Mountain Snow Shoes, pair (65 oz/1.84 kg) – At just over four pounds, you only want to carry snow-shoes if you absolutely have to. I am prepared to carry these through Colorado, but only if conditions call for deep powdery snow. The trade-off for not carrying snow-shoes is having to post-hole through many miles of deep spring powder, which can slow your pace considerably and put you in danger of exhaustion and over-exertion, running out of food, and in general having a miserable time in the snow.
UPDATE: These are lightweight and versatile. They are specifically designed for climbing in the mountains where slopes can be steep. The strapping system is designed to flex to allow hiking on steep angles with less stress on the ankles. The strapping system is really convenient, and easy to use, allowing one-handed tightening or loosening with gloved hands. I have not used these long enough to determine the longevity of the product, but after 64 miles of continuous use, I am happy with this choice.
Guidebooks & Maps
Hiking Canada’s Great Divide Trail Guidebook by Dustin Lynx, per section (2 oz/0.06 kg) – The one and only guidebook on the Great Divide Trail. I have cut this book into six sections to be carried through each section of the ~800 miles of the GDT. The data in the book is from 2001 and the maps are almost certainly not 100% accurate, but that is part of the adventure of hiking on a little used trail.
Ley CDT Maps, per section, CDT Only (2.7 oz/0.08 kg) – Similar to the Halfmile maps for the PCT, Ley’s CDT maps are indispensable to anyone hiking the CDT – and they are free. Ley created these while preparing for his CDT hike in 2001, and then provides yearly updates based on feedback from other hikers, new alternate routes, new water sources, and other valuable information that he shares in the comments box on each map. The maps are numbered going southbound, but it is not terribly difficult to re-order them for a northbound thru-hike.
UPDATE: I would not hike the CDT without these maps. They are generally very accurate and they provide alternates that can be very valuable on a hike. My only regret is not printing them out in the larger 11×17 format. The 8.5×11 paper size is just too small to see details like names of forest roads and other information provided on the topo maps.
My total base pack weight (including maps carried) with this list is approximately 17 pounds. Adding a 4 oz canister of fuel puts me at 17.5 pounds. I could reduce this by about 1.5 pounds if I switch out the solar charger for a battery pack, leave the umbrella at home and remove a couple of the smaller unnecessary items, but it looks like a sub-15 pound base weight might be just out of my reach for this thru-hike.
Which pieces of gear would you add or remove from this list?
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