In 2018, I thru-hiked of the Pacific Crest Trail with my brother, “Shocks”. This was the first long distance hike for either of us; we learned a ton about gear, what ‘ultralight’ means, and how to make miles. In this blog I will share my thoughts and give a thorough review of the gear I used.
Other Blog Topics
Gear is probably the most frequently discussed topic other than water conditions and how many miles you plan on doing that particular day. After all, if the only things you own are on being carried on your back, you think about them constantly. Not in a materialistic way, more in a practical way. “How can I carry less? What can I cut out? How do I see more and spend less?”
After about 1,000 miles of hiking (at least for me), you'll have some sort of epiphany and realize it all comes down to the level of comfort you're willing to sacrifice in order to lighten your pack. What “misery index” can you function at? This doesn't apply to all hikers, but most people I encountered had or grew into a lightweight mentality.
With that said, here's what I carried for the majority of my time, why I carried it, and what I would change on my next thru-hike.
(Click links below to jump to a specific section.)
Big Three (Pack, Shelter, Sleep)
The “Big Three”, as they are commonly referred to, are the main items all hikers need. You have to carry your gear. You need shelter from the elements and for sleep. You need a way to stay warm at night. These are also the items which usually cost the most.
Pack: Hyperlite Mountain Designs 3400 Southwest
BOTTOM LINE: Absolutely great pack. Probably better options out there with some personal testing, probably some user error on my behalf. Comfortable hip belt although the shoulder straps are a little sharp and rough. I have the first model with smaller hip belt pockets and didn't find them as horrible as some people talked about. Exceptionally water-resistant. 32 ounces.
OVERVIEW: A 55 liter cuben fiber pack with a decently padded hip belt. There are two metal stays in the back to give hold and shape. Billed as “100% waterproof” it lived up to expectations, though ultimately I didn't have enough days of rain to definitively say the pack was water-tight. It held out the dense fog and mist in Washington just fine. The side pockets can each hold two SmartWater bottles and the rear external pocket seemed just barely large enough most days. It seemed like the pack was designed to carry a maximum of 35 pounds. It can carry heavier loads, which I frequently did, but I started to notice tears where the hip belt attaches to the pack. It still functions great. I purchased it during Black Friday for 15%-off, totaling $345.
STORYTIME: I made a fairly large mistake when ordering my pack. They offer a few ranges of sizes, each one has a larger hip belt and slightly larger capacity, like 2-3 liters more for a large versus small size. I thought to myself “three extra liters sounds great” and found my 30-inch waist struggling to fill out a large hip belt. Completely my error. Please stop laughing. Cinched as tight as allowed, I barely had enough waist to keep my pack on my body, not accounting for the 20 pounds I was eventually going to lose throughout. I mitigated this with three sections of my Z Lite sleep pad stuffed around my hip belt. Another 'mod' which effected overall comfort was my camera which was attached to my left arm strap.
DO AGAIN?: Hard to say. For a thru-hike; probably not. They were one of the popular packs for 2017 and 2018, but there are so many different ultralight packs on the market to choose from. Ideally, I would downsize my carrying capacity to 35-45 liters. Hyperlite makes a 2400 which looks enticing. Many hikers had a ULA Circuit, but several complained of the padded mesh back not breathing well. It’s also 40 ounces. Friend “Combo” had a MLD Burn which looks great if you plan on carrying below 25 pounds—always. I would sacrifice a little comfort in my hip belt and overall capacity for a durable pack with comfortable shoulder straps weighing between 1-1.5 pounds. Best advice: try and wear a few options before making a purchase if you can.
ONE COMPLAINT: The pack does not have load lifters/adjustments which I found to be one of the biggest downfalls. I had to pull the arm straps tighter to compensate and they weren't particularly comfortable (especially with a 2-pound camera on my clavicle). It also becomes slightly ungainly and bulgy when the rollover portion is stuffed to the max.
Shelter: Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL2
BOTTOM LINE: A solid, generic approach to solving one of the biggest concerns on trail; shelter. The Fly Creek has a bathtub floor, rain fly, vestibule, and two zippers. I thoroughly enjoyed my nylon home; a sanctuary from mosquitoes and things that go bump. Billed as a “three season, free standing, ultralight tent”, it lived up to the hype. Ground cloth not included, I opted for Tyvek and cut a sheet weighing 6.6 ounces. 47 ounces total.
OVERVIEW: The Fly Creek also requires a lot of stakes to fully set up; nine, but you can get away with three or four while still using the rain fly and have a comfortable and mostly dry night. Using all nine got tedious, but it was very stable. Once set up, I felt completely safe and comfortable inside. I don't suffer from claustrophobia at all, in fact it was quite cozy. Because I had the two-man, I could fit my pack and all other gear inside the tent which was important on potentially wet nights. The tent is durable, but ultralight fabrics aren't meant to be treated like normal gear. I coddled the door zippers constantly, pulling both sides while pinching each side of the fabric closer.
STORYTIME: From mile 0-700, 'The Desert' Adam and I shared a tent. We were both pretty convinced sharing a massive tarp (a 'tarjp-mahal' if you will) for the entire trail was the best idea. We purchased a Hyperlite Ultamid 4; a 9-by-9 cuben pyramid weighing under 1.5 pounds which sets up with hiking poles. Throughout the desert section, we set up that shelter less than a dozen times, opting to 'cowboy' under the stars most nights as most people do. The plan was to also purchase the interior bug net for the Sierra, but Adam quickly realized spending every night a foot away from each other was going to get rough. He had his Nemo Hornet 2P sent from home and I purchased the Fly Creek in Tehachapi for a delivery to Kennedy Meadows South. After the desert, mosquitoes became so persistent I couldn't imagine not having a shelter to seek refuge. Once bugs stopped becoming a pervasive issue, rain became the next threat. Don't expect any dry nights in Washington. Just because you went to bed with clear skies doesn’t mean they will hold until morning.
DO AGAIN?: I would get a Zpacks Duplex or a Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid XL for any long distance hike. They are significantly lighter, both requiring the use of hiking poles for setup. Since I carried a hiking pole(s), it makes more sense to me to lose the weight of tent poles. However, I will continue to use my Fly Creek until it breaks. I've had great luck with Big Agnes' return policy and I'm a customer for life.
ONE COMPLAINT: The vestibule zipper was a nuisance, it constantly caught on the flap of fabric intended to keep water out.
Sleep 1: Enlightened Equipment Revelation Custom
BOTTOM LINE: If you're new to quilts, this is a stellar, affordable solution. Durable and lightweight. Plus, it makes a great blanket. One of my favorite pieces of gear. So good it will make you a mummy-to-quilt convert. 30.7 ounces.
OVERVIEW: Quilts are a great, lightweight solution for warm sleep. There's less zipper and less fabric under you than a traditional mummy bag. The Revelation has a quarter-zip at the foot, giving it the option to lay flat or zip up around your feet. A few plastic clips along the sides help keep the quilt in a general taco-shape snapped around you and/or your pad. The top has a drawcord and snap to fasten around your neck like a snug jacket. I opted for a wide, 0-degree fill, red and black color, and purchased it on Black Friday for $288.
STORYTIME: Enlightened Equipment offers a zipperless sewn-footbox option—Enigma (stock $315, 21 ounces)—which seemed to be the most popular option on trail, especially for the ounce-counters. While shopping, I saw that a heavier 0-degree fill and 6 inches of extra width was going to cost about $60 more and weigh about 10 ounces more. The trade-offs seemed worth it, and now having completed the trail, I can say it was worth it to me. Plus, my brother got the exact same thing one year prior and I couldn't argue with his logic. Down provides instant warmth, something I was unaccustomed to having camped in synthetic mummies for nearly 20 years. When I cowboyed and my quilt got a lot of condensation, I made sure to dry it out in the sun during lunch before the next night of sleep.
DO AGAIN?: A big heck-yeah. Probably won't have to buy another sleep-system for many years because of how well it held up. Currently, I sleep with it in Breckenridge, Colorado. I think a down quilt, ultralight or not, will always be in my gear arsenal.
ONE COMPLAINT: That f&%$*#% draw cord was placed in the middle of the quilt. Cinched or not, the additional cord and toggle strangle, poke, and garrote you in the middle of the night. Someone, please, move it to the side in v2.0.
Sleep 2: Therm-A-Rest Z lite Sol
BOTTOM LINE: Reliable and very easily replaced, cost-effective, decent R-value (2.6 for the Sol), durable. Bonus: ass-pad. 14 ounces.
OVERVIEW: A closed-cell foam pad, each of the 14 sections weighs one ounce and it never pops. Oh, and you don't have to inflate it each night or deflate it each morning. You just unstrap it from your pack and unfurl it like some sort of 90's T.V. goofball showing you photos of their extended family from their wallet.
STORYTIME: I thoroughly enjoyed not having to hyperventilate each time I wanted to go to sleep (inflating a pad). I cut off three sections and carried it: as my butt-pad, extra hip belt comfort and girth, and each night I put it under my hips for extra cushion. Over time, my hips and knees struggled to find a comfortable sleep position, but usually I was so tired I fell asleep in five minutes. At $45, you could buy two and swap out halfway. Inflatable pads looked nice, but they all seemed loud, slippery, pricey, and all have the potential to pop. And don't forget inflating and deflating every day.
DO AGAIN?: I could have suffered slightly more and carried far less, or carried slightly more and probably had far more luxury. I might go inflatable in the future to save on pack volume. Plus, any extra comfort for my knees and hips would be greatly appreciated. I probably wouldn't do closed-cell next hike, but I'm certainly bringing a butt pad.
SENT HOME: I started with a Big Agnes AXL Air, boasted as a sub-10 ounce inflatable. Adam's popped on night five. I coaxed mine until Big Bear (Day 15, mile 266), at which point I switched to the Z Lite for the remainder of the hike. Heard good things about Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite and Nemo Tensor, but I opted to stay cheap and not upgrade.
ONE COMPLAINT: Therm-a-Rest, please offer an option 6 inches wider. I'm skinny but I don't sleep like Dracula; keeping all my body parts on the pad was a struggle.
Being pale, ginger, and probably Irish, I was committed/sentenced to wearing long sleeves and pants for sun protection. Applying sunscreen multiple times a day didn't seem like a probable long-term solution, and after completing the trail, I stand by my original assessment. I managed to stay fully covered for the entire trail with exception for a few days in Northern California. Oh, and if you are as pale as me, sun gloves are probably a good choice. I didn't use them but kinda wish I did.
BOTTOM LINE: After four shirts, the Nike Dry-FIT lives up to it's namesake by drying quickly and fitting snugly. Durable. Bonus: comes in a flattering shade of cyan for us gingers.
STORYTIME: I started the trail in mid-2000 JCPenney 'Arizona' button down dress shirt. My thinking was, “it's gonna get destroyed, I'll just be that kooky guy with a weird shirt” which is totally acceptable in the hiking community.
At Warner Springs, California (Day 7, mile 109), and after learning what nipple chafe was due to some poorly placed embroidery, I walked into 2 Foot Adventures and got a RailRiders Sahara sun hoody. It was light—6 ounces—breathable, protective, comfortable on my nipples, and the hood alone meant I could now wear a mesh trucker hat instead of a wide brim. I never thought I would like a shirt so much. I probably appreciated it more after an entire week of struggling and sweating. This shirt lasted until Chester, California (Day 72, mile 1340). The shoulders were ripping and I was beginning to get sunburned. The only option was Dollar General which provided me a Hanes cotton T-shit. I purchased it, cut off the arms and hood from ‘Shirt 2.0’ which were still in good shape, and over the course of the next few days, sewed them onto my T-shirt. 'Shirt v3.5' was shaping up to be über trail-chic and functional.
This was not a permanent solution, nor was it meant to be, but it made me feel a lot better about hiking in the sun. Plus everything got the same shade of dirty, so no one really noticed the off-colored sleeves, not that I would have cared if they did. This fix allowed me to hike on to Ashland where I got 'Shirt v4.0'; a Nike Dry-FIT quarter-zip long-sleeve. Frankly, I wish I had started the trail in this shirt. It probably would have lasted the whole distance plus it was outright comfortable to wear. The high neck, and my now much longer hair, covered me very well allowing me to continue wearing a baseball cap. There also wasn't a whole lot of sun in Washington.
BOTTOM LINE: If you prefer to cover your legs, PrAna Brion are hands down the best choice. Plus, they are made with “Stretch Zion” which means high-legging over blow-downs is a breeze. They dry quickly and are surprisingly durable.
STORYTIME: I used two pair of pants. My first pair were the Brion which lasted until Ashland, Oregon (Day 88, mile 1,717). They were a size 30-30 and I used a 1-inch webbing strap as a belt, intended more for future utility. I finished the trail in Kuhl Renegade which were purchased at REI in Ashland.
I also packed board shorts. They weighed 5 ounces and were great for laundry days and my modesty, but ultimately, I could have ditched them entirely.
On Day 35 I noted in my journal that my clothes were starting to feel big. Over the next 40 days I got fed up. There were substantial rips on the inside seams from my ankle to mid-calf, mostly just from friction. Sometimes when walking the tread on my advancing step would catch the ripped inseam of my planted foot. I never fell, but after a few exhilarating stumbles, it seemed like a recipe for disaster. Plus, I had lost so much weight, they were bunched around my waist with my aforementioned webbing strap 'belt' and were outright uncomfortable; I needed a smaller size.
For a few untimely days after Chester, California through Hat Creek Rim (read: hot and exposed), I wore the aforementioned board shorts I had been carrying since mile 0. I pulled my boot-cut hiking socks as high as they would allow, making it a few days before a small band of sunburn developed below my knee. It was time to fix my pants. At Burney Falls State Park (Day 75, mile 1,419), I sewed up the rips, thus eliminating the 'danger' aspect from my pants. I cinched my 'belt' even tighter and coaxed them/myself to Ashland. My hiking group was planning an excursion to the famed REI, which seemed like an excellent opportunity to find a new pant solution.
I entered through the hallowed doors and struggled to find suitable pants in the Men's section. After a few laps of “I love my Brion's but 30's aren't going to fit me”, the kind associate showed my to the Kid's section. Fortunately, there was one pair of Kuhl Renegade in large which fit like a dream. I paid at the front and hell-to-the-yes I used my REI credit card for more dividends. Booyah. These pants worked out just fine, but I didn't enjoy them to the same level as my Brion's. The Renegade has two additional zippered pockets on the thigh which turned out to be amazing Pop-Tart storage locations. Sewing on the inseam and gusset as well as the knees started to fray after 500 miles, but they held up solid for the remaining 935 miles.
SENT HOME: I sent my Brion's home in Ashland. After the trail, I gained some weight, gave them a thorough wash, and they still fit and look great.
Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 3.5
BOTTOM LINE: Large toe box for us hikers with bunions. Zero-drop, if that’s your thing. Durable, but delicate toe-guard. Gaiters seemed useful for the desert.
STORYTIME: I'm not a shoe guy. All research seemed to point to Altra. I should have purchased them well ahead of time and broken them in, but alas, I didn't. After the first 800 trail miles, I didn't have any complaints and didn't want to switch brands or styles. With their inevitable failure ahead, I ordered my second pair in Bishop, California (Day 45, mile 831), and had them delivered home for request at a later date. Ultimately, I had them sent to Sierra City, California (Day 65, mile 1,950), exactly halfway from my finish date (who knew?). The second pair were a half-size bigger and I wore them until the end; two pairs of shoes for 2,800 miles of hiking. I purchased them through a Pro-deal membership, saving me about $60 in total.
There was a lot of shoe-talk on the trail. Frankly, it was one of the topics I got tired of almost immediately. From the desert until Kennedy Meadows (Day 36, mile 702), everyone was trying figure out what shoe worked for them. I didn't understand the hikers who went through three pair before the 1,000 mile-marker. It seemed like their thought process was too neurotic. My brother liked to sarcastically joke, “oh, your feet hurt? You must be thru-hiking!”. I saw a lot of people change footwear, most likely because of sore feet. But at what point does one blame the shoe or walking 25 miles a day? And as for “blowouts”, I saw a ton of shoes in hiker boxes with PLENTY of great miles still left in them. A little rip or tread that's slightly worn still works great. But then again, those hiker's joints post-trail might be in great condition because they always had a fresh foot bed.
BACKUP: At Warner Springs (Day 7, mile 109), I purchased a $2 pair of shower sandals. They were useful for long lunch breaks where I wanted to air my feet out. They weren’t a complete necessity and I probably could have ditched them, but they came in handy on a frequent basis. I had space, so I kept them.
Jacket: Montbell Superior Down Parka
BOTTOM LINE: Exceptionally warm for sitting around camp, waiting for water to boil, and lunches in the shade. A hood was a necessity. 8.7 ounces.
STORYTIME: After months of searching for a Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer and never finding it below $180, I decided to look elsewhere. I checked the outlet at Montbell and found the parka for 27% off full retail. Down is a wonderful material and it kept me warm in critical situations on more than one occasion. I slept in it on cold nights, I wore it when I did laundry. But due to the price and fact it doesn't function well wet, I continually wondered how well a fleece layer would perform. After completing the trail, I'm not entirely sure if only a down jacket is the best solution. However, it’s light and warm and packs smaller than an Arrowhead water bottle; it’s going to be a regular item in my pack for future hikes. Back in Colorado, I wear it almost daily.
Rain Gear: Montbell Versalite
BOTTOM LINE: Only piece of dedicated rain gear. Blocked out wind and kept out rain. Wore infrequently; 6.4 ounces.
STORYTIME: I also bought this from the outlet and saved 32% off full retail. The zipper is not ideal; it has a lot of resistance and is sticky, but it keeps the water out. A nice addition were pit zips which I found myself using quite a bit through Oregon and Washington. Summers in New Mexico trained me for monsoon-like conditions, but the few rain storms I experienced were very mild.
Socks: Darn Tough
I carried three pair. Not only are they great socks, their return policy is unparalleled. I've worn Wigwam, SmartWool, Stance, but Darn Tough are now my go-to brand. In Mount Shasta, California (Day 79, mile 1,501), a local gear shop was doing a trade-in. I gave them my ripped pair in exchange for a fresh pair. Most hikers carried two pair. At good stream opportunities, I would wash the dirtiest pair(s), weather dependent, which then became my hiking pair for the next day. The cleanest pair among the three were kept for sleeping. A lot of hikers chose lengths below mid-shin. I favored the longer boot cut variety.
Underwear: Exofficio Give-N-Go boxer-briefs
I carried two pair. They used to advertise “14 days on a single pair”, but most likely ditched that slogan because of how gross it sounded. No matter to me, I've been wearing them for years and can't think of anything else better.
“Going commando” is not my thing. The thought of not having that critical layer for friction and sweat does not sound appealing.
Base layer/sleep clothes:
A lot of hikers prefer not to sleep in clothes but I hate the sticky-factor of dirty skin. Plus, clothing helps prolong the life your sleep system.
Additionally, I didn't know how cold I would be at night. I used an old pair of synthetic leggings but splurged for a SmartWool Merino 250 wool shirt. At 9 ounces for the top alone, it kept me warm but I probably could have gotten a synthetic layer for cheaper and lighter. Doing again, I would ditch the wool layer and get a fleece.
A beanie was important especially as a young balding man. I wore a simple fleece beanie from childhood until around mile 2,460 where I think it fell out of my pocket. RIP.
A synthetic neck gaiter, or “Buff” is a mission-critical piece of gear. On cool, damp mornings, it was like wearing a light jacket. At night, it worked great to keep the draft out and allow me to sleep without cinching my quilt tight.
You don’t need much as a thru-hiker; everyone has their definition of necessity. But here are some gear items which rank closer to mandatory rather than optional.
BEAR CANISTER: BEAR VAULT BV500
BOTTOM LINE: A requirement for Yosemite National Park. Good lord, I hated carrying this damn thing. 41 ounces. The only bonus; you have the perfect seat for 390 miles.
STORYTIME: Make sure your bear canister fits in your backpack. In my past experience, I’ve been able to carry a canister inside, horizontally. The BV500 only fits into the Southwest 3400 vertically with plenty of free space on the sides. This was a slight setback, but ultimately, I found a way to pack my clothes around the canister in order to provide some padding for my back. Plus, I didn’t have much choice; there wasn’t much room left with my quilt and canister packed anyway. I used a canister from Kennedy Meadows (South) until South Lake Tahoe. Lassen Volcanic National Park is the only other required zone; I didn’t camp there.
Gossamer gear LiteFlex Hiking Umbrella
BOTTOM LINE: There isn’t any shade in the desert; bring your own. I found an umbrella to be a mission-critical piece of gear. Solid construction. 8 ounces.
STORYTIME: An umbrella seems like a laughable thing to bring on a hike. It wasn’t. Most hikers got rid of their umbrellas at Kennedy Meadows, but I chose to keep mine for the entire trail. There were a few times I was waiting for a hitch in the scorching NorCal sun, cool as a cucumber under my portable shade. I used it a few times for heavier rain in northern Washington. Carrying an umbrella all day long isn’t ideal, but it was better than being exposed.
I head a hiker after Tehatchapai say, “I don’t think I’ve ever loved anything as much as my umbrella” with total sincerity. It was one of the most relateable statements I heard all trail.
ONE COMPLAINT: The handle didn’t seem long enough. An extra 6 inches would make all the difference.
Routa Locura Yana carbon fiber poles
BOTTOM LINE: Feather-light, exceptionally durable, game changer in terms of trekking poles. Pricey, but worth it. 3.75 ounces each.
OVERVIEW: A two-section twist-lock carbon fiber trekking pole, straps are extra. Adam found these suggested on a forum when looking for ways to set up our Hyperlite shelter. Initially, I was skeptical at how a lightweight pole would perform over a thru-hike. I saw many other poles with blown out tips, most are easily replaced. After 2,500 miles, my tip finally broke off. It has a Black Diamond base, eventually I'll order a replacement tip.
STORYTIME: I was constantly shocked at just how little the poles weigh. You barely notice them in your hand. Hikers asked how I liked my trekking pole and I just smiled and handed it to them. Looks of incredulity and amazement always followed. It feels like a magic wand from Ollivanders. Because they were so lightweight, when I began to trip I could easily plunge one in front of me to keep from falling. Sadly though, on Day 2, I lost one due to poor placement on the outside of my pack (one hand for an umbrella). I finished the rest of the trail with my one remaining pole. #onepolepatrol
ONE COMPLAINT: The only downside to a pole this light was...how lightweight it was. Small shrubs and roots easily caught and snagged my pole in-stride which made it hard to plant firmly. It may sound trite, but imagine your walking stick not making contact with the ground every dozen steps. It gets annoying. The foam handle should extrude over the webbing between your thumb and index finger, like ski poles, for enhanced grip.
Water System: Katadyn BeFree and Hydrapak Seeker 3l
BOTTOM LINE: Great squeeze filter but short lifespan. Amazing and effortless flow-rate when it’s new, then slows to a crawl. Will save your life, but you’re probably going to die from squeezing before you get a full cup to drink. 4.2 ounces total.
STORYTIME: For the entire trail, I used a Katadyn BeFree, three for that matter. Adam and I shared one on and off through the desert. At the beginning of the Sierra, I neglected to sleep with mine in my quilt and awoke to it covered in frost. I didn't want to take any chances. Adam graciously shared with me until Bishop, California, where I purchased a second filter. It lasted, or rather I put up with it, until Ashland, Oregon, where I purchased my third filter. I finished the trail with that filter and it was slow going for the last 400 miles. Filtering performance is great for the first 30-50 liters, and then 50-100 becomes a patient wait. After that, the filter is very slow and irritating to use. I had to squeeze my Hydrapak for such a long time. I think my flow rate was 6-7 min/L.
Shovel: Deuce of Spades
How can you resist? It has a bitchin' name and weighs less than one ounce. My LNT instructor had moded his handle with a small piece of leather. I used mine just fine, but the handle can be quite sharp when digging into hard and rocky soil. Ultralight Hack: ditch your spoon; the shovel is a great multi-tasker!
Getting to disconnect is one of the best things about long-distance hiking. But then again, you’re probably going to have to carry some electronics, a phone at the least. But how you choose to use it is up to you.
Power: Anker 20000mAh QC3 compatible AC to USB power bank
BOTTOM LINE: Having quick-charge (QC3.0) was completely worth it. Many times I would spend half a day in town and leave the pack to charge. Intended for two people to share; 13 ounces.
STORYTIME: Adam soon realized we needed our own so I kept it and he bought a smaller 10000mAh option. I didn’t want to spend $40 to lose six ounces, even though that was probably one of the cheapest ways to lose weight. However, this meant I could listen to podcasts with impunity. And sometimes when I didn’t feel like getting my flashlight, I used my phone’s light. And sometimes when I really didn’t want to know how far I hiked but I checked anyway, I had plenty of juice left until the next recharge point.
Flashlight: Petzl AKTIK Core Headlamp
BOTTOM LINE: A no-nonsense solution for having light where there isn’t any. It has firm angle delineations, is USB rechargeable, and has a red setting. Weighs 2.9 ounces.
STORYTIME: My only complaint was the price; $65. There are a lot of other solutions out there, don't get lost and overwhelmed reading Reddit. From a practical standpoint, I didn't use my headlamp all too frequently. Night hiking isn't really my thing; only one night did I hike until 11:00 p.m. Mostly, I used it to cook at night and pack up pre-dawn. I used the red light more than the white. If I were to do again, I would find a light with a higher red output. I was able to charge the headlamp from my battery pack.
Device: iPhone 7+
BOTTOM LINE: It works. Lightning connector only. Way too big. And the lack of a g@#$!&@ headphone jack meant a lot of struggling to find appropriate earbuds. Decent pictures, 2-3 day battery life depending on how much screen time and GPS I used. Phone and case weigh 9.8 ounces.
STORYTIME: You’re probably going to want a phone for your trail experience. Using paper maps and reading water reports can be fun and challenging, but if you’re reading this review, that’s probably not your speed. A device to use apps like Guthook or Halfmile are a borderline necessity. I bought a lightly used iPhone 7+ from a third-party marketplace and slapped on an Otterbox case. I also went through three pair of earbuds and three Lightning-to-3.5mm adapters.
Camera: Canon Rebel Sl2
BOTTOM LINE: Great image quality in a reasonably sized body. Body, lens, mount, batteries, and charger weighed 29.5 ounces total.
To photograph my trail experience, I chose to use an APS-C DSLR. Canon’s SL2 is the second-lightest DLSR on the market. I used an 18-55mm f/4-5.6 IS STM Lens for the entire time. I mounted the camera to my left shoulder strap with a Peak Designs Capture 3.0 for easy access. I used two batteries, one third-party, and charged them with an OAproda Slim USB charger. I also bought an UltraPod III tripod, but found out it wasn’t entirely useful for the type of shooting I was doing. It got sent home in Kennedy Meadows.
- Stay tuned for a comprehensive review of this camera.
And here’s the few other notable things in my pack. These don’t count as necessity but I’m very glad I brought them.
Well, these are a necessity. As a photographer I'm spoiled and accustomed to great optics and glass. Having owned only one pair of prescription sunglasses, I decided to splurge on a new pair. Readers might get a sour taste in their mouth but I spent a disgusting amount of money on a pair of Julbo mountaineering style glasses. Most of that money went into custom mirrored prescription lenses from Revant. Although pricey, their service and product is sublime and worth every cent. With less than a two-week window, they rushed my order for delivery the day before I left. In total, I spent $350, $250 of that was for the custom prescription. I can confidently say this was a great choice.
Let me be clear; $20 can buy you a great pair of sunny's, which if taken care of, should last the entire trail.
Plenty of opinions out there as to if a pillow is worth it. This hiker says abso-freaking-lutely yes. I used the Nemo Fillo Elite which weighs 2.9 ounces.
It's relatively quiet and has a soft liner on the outside. One downside is it skids around at night if you are an active sleeper. I folded up my pants and shirt and put it under my pillow for added comfort.
I used two brands of ditty bags to keep various bits and bobs together in my pack. For my clothes, I used a Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil 4 liter. This barely held my board shorts, thermal top and bottom, two pairs of socks, undies, and a bandanna.
I also had Yama Mountain Gear dyneema bags. This was part of a DIY kit which Adam purchased. It made several little bags; I had three sizes. I used them for my toiletries, electronics, and wallet respectively.
To journal all my thoughts in the evening, I used two Rite in the Rain top-spiral notebooks. The 4-by-6-inch size was a little small. Doing again, I would get a larger size.
Writing was the best medium for recording my memories. Typing into my phone worked, but it wasn’t the most productive. I typed random thoughts into the Notes application while I hiked.
Invest in good gear and it’ll take care of you; treat it well and it will last a long time. Almost everything I bought could be used for another thru-hike. From the above list, I only destroyed two pairs of shoes, three water filters, and two-ish shirts (frankly, I made one of them better), and my pack is well-loved.
Remember, gear isn’t everything. And you’re probably carrying too much.