OK, just in time for Christmas, here is my long promised gear review of some of the equipment I used on my hike. I did all my research and purchasing about a year ago, so there’s probably new products or new fabrics out there now that are maybe better? And I should say I know nothing, I don’t represent these companies, I’ll just tell you how I liked the gear on my unique experience. YMMV.
Pack: Gossamar Gear – Mariposa – 40 L
Loved it! Felt very comfortable up to about 35 pounds (I don’t expect any pack to feel “good” with 40 or 50 pounds in it, but even when I had big loads, it wasn’t the pack that was bothering me, it was just that the pack was too damn heavy). Good pockets for everything. Size was perfect (pretty maxed out when I had the bear canister, snow gear, and 9 days of food, but it fit!). Side pockets and hip belt pockets were showing wear when I quit. I think it would have made it to Canada. The snow and rocks in the Sierra are scratchy. This was possibly the most common pack I saw on the trail. Apparently, other hikers like them too. I also used it for the bottom part of my sleep insulation (i.e., from the knees down), and it worked OK (metal internal frame needs to be just so). Anyway, I love my pack. My good friend.
Sleeping Bag: Z-Packs 10 Degree Down
I liked this bag a lot. Light weight. Packs down small. I’m not sure I would be happy at ten degrees in it. Normally, at home, I don’t use a lot of covers, but there were some nights on the trail where a warmer bag would have been nicer (and that’s with me inside with all my clothes on). But I figured it wouldn’t get below 25 on the PCT, and I was right, and I lived. It’s not a mummy bag, there’s no hood. I wore a wool hat, and was mostly fine. A few nights I had to scrunch down into the bag, but it was OK. The advantage is it can be a “lefty” or a “righty” as needed just by turning it over!
Sleeping Pad: Thermarest NeoAir (the yellow one)
Light. Nice and small. Only poked holes in it twice, once I found the hole right away and patched it right up, the other time I had to wait a few nights to get to town and a bathtub to find the hole. For a time I thought it had a hole when it didn’t. The difference in temperature between nightfall and dawn reduced the cushion. I realized what was going on the morning I elected to dry my gear in the sun before packing up. I draped a slightly limp pad over a bush, but after an hour of full sun it was full and stiff like when I inflated it. Ah hah! No leak, just cold. I definitely liked the cushion compared to closed-cell pads. I was beat up enough during the day.
Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Flick-Lock Carbon Cork
Loved these poles! I only accidently hit the flick lock (collapsing the pole) twice. I liked the cork grips. At first I was annoyed at how hard it was to tell right from left, but then one day around mile 160 as I was complaining about this, I noticed the top of the right pole had a little ding on it. Problem solved! You may want to intentionally mark one of the tops for this reason. Around mile 900 I realized the poles are identical. The only thing that makes them left or right is the straps. Once I figured that out, I could tell by looking at the straps. I didn’t have much luck getting the snow baskets to stay on, and lost one in the High Sierra somewhere.
Water Filter: Sawyer Squeeze Mini
I think this is a good product, especially with the guerilla trick of using a SmartWater bottle to back flush it instead of carrying the plunger. I only used it three times, so I’m happy it was small and light weight. It may have frozen on Mt. San Jacinto, but I never used it after that, so I don’t know if it was compromised or not.
Down Jacket: Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer
This is a great piece of gear! Light, packs down small, and surprisingly warm. I got two tiny holes, which I patched with tiny pieces of tape. Great jacket!
Shoes: Brooks Cascadia 7 & 8, Montrail
The Brooks Cascadia 7’s were very popular on the trail (stealth footprints!). They were OK, but got a big hole above my right big toe around Acton. I had a pair of Cascadia 8’s sent to me in Tehachapi, and I did not like those. I didn’t get blisters, but they weren’t that comfortable and I couldn’t wait to get rid of them. I got a nice pair of Montrails in Bishop (sorry, they are so worm I can’t tell what model they are) and they were awesome! Very comfortable, and I wore them for the rest of my trip and they are still going strong after 400 miles or so. I can attest to the trail talk that says to buy shoes much bigger than normal (I normally wear size 9, the Montrails are size 11) and wear thin socks. Only problem is trying not to catch your toe on a rock with your “clown shoes”.
Pants: pRhana “breathe”
I loved these pants! Nice and cool in the desert. Very comfortable. Dries quickly. Good number and distribution of pockets. The hip pocket was perfect for my iPhone/camera. And of course the adjustable belt, so you can tighten them up as you lose weight. I got a hole in them and was really happy when I was able to get a new pair.
Headlamp: Petzl Tikka+
I actually didn’t use this at all on the trail, although I always carried it in case I wanted or needed to night hike, or if I really needed a lot of light. I did use the little light I carry on my keychain, which is not much bigger than the battery that powers it. Generally speaking, I try hard to develop and maintain my night vision. Starlight is surprisingly adequate… until you shine a light and destroy your night vision. But I did use it quite a bit when I was working the fires. I really like the red light option, which is less damaging to your night vision. I never tried hiking with it, but it has an option that is REALLY BRIGHT. It’s got everything I need.
Phone/Service/Case: iPhone 5s/Verison/Lifeproof
This was arguably my most important piece of gear. I used it for my camera, navigation, checking weather and water reports, staying in touch with the outside world and of course blogging. I heard that Verison had the best coverage on the PCT and mostly I was pleased with how often I was able to get service. There was a long stretch in Yosemite with no service, but I’m not sure ATT or anybody else would have been any better. And I kept my phone safe in a Lifeproof case. Highly recommended. I only dropped it in the bathtub once, but it sat next to my head in quite a bit of rain and frost and I didn’t have to worry about it. Kept the dust out in the desert too.
Phone Charger: Powerpak Xtreme NT120R
I got the idea I didn’t want to mess with solar panels from Wired, and I’m not looking back. Like her, I called it my “brick” because it’s that shape, about that size, orange, and heavy (11 ounces). But it’s waterproof, has four lights to show you how much juice you have left, two charging ports, and would keep my phone fully charged for over a week. I loved having it on the trail. I loved having it on the fires, and it’s so convenient I’m still using it at home! Battery technology is really evolving, so there’s probably newer, smaller, lighter options out there, or if you don’t need that much power. My phone was so important to me, I was glad to carry a little extra weight and not have to worry about running out of power. Love my brick!
Apps: Halfmile, WeatherUnderground
I would say Halfmile’s app is a must. It was awesome to check my position on the trail at any time and see how far to the next water or whatever. Or just check that I am still on the right trail. I also got a full set of maps from Halfmile that matched the app and it was pretty cool. And you don’t need cell service to use it! The other app I liked is from WeatherUnderground. You do need cell service, but you can check the forecast for anywhere and see real-time radar images. Great for tracking thunder cells!
Stove: JetBoil Sol (titanium) and JetBoil MiniMo
Both of these stoves were great! They don’t call it JetBoil for nothing, it’s fast and therefore doesn’t use a lot of fuel. I mostly used the titanium Sol, which is supposedly only for boiling water (no cooking in it, although there is some debate on the trail about this). By eating a lot of dehydrated backpacking dinners (Mountain House, etc.), or rehydrating my ramen or whatever in a separate bag (those big beef jerky bags work great). By the time I reached Tahoe I decided I wanted the ability to simmer and swapped the Sol for the MiniMo. It’s quite a bit bigger and heavier, but it does simmer like a champ.
I think that’s all the main stuff. Let me know if you have questions.