The Pacific Crest Trail is perhaps the ultimate testing ground for gear. The deserts are harsh and spiky, the mountains wet and jagged, and the tired thru-hiker is less than gentle on their gear. All the gear below has been personally tested by me on the PCT. The few items I have added since have been taken across the Grand Canyon twice, from the salt flats to the highest point in Death Valley, and to the top of Southern California’s highest peaks.
This pack survived a thru-hike and is ready for another one. I saw other packs ripe and develop so many holes they looked like Swiss cheese. At 34 oz, it is light, but more importantly it is made of materials that will last and stand up to the serrated granite rocks of the Sierra. The extremely stretchy side and back pockets are outstanding. I could easily reach back and pull out a water bottle or snack. Another great feature is the replaceable hip belt. I needed to size down to a small during my thru-hike.
Granite Gear came out with the Crown 2, but there are some important differences. The new hip belt has adjustable sizing and pockets, which are big pluses. It also comes standard with a removable brain. The two shoulder strap pockets, however, were removed. Weight remains the same at 34 oz.
Both packs are great options and you may be able to get the Granite Gear Crown VC 60 Backpack at a discount.
Trash Compactor Bag (2.45 oz)
I used a simple trash compactor bag to compress and waterproof my quilt and clothes. Everything that could get wet stayed outside the compactor bag.
Quilts are quickly replacing sleeping bags in the thru-hiking community. Lighter and more versatile, they are adaptable to a variety of situations and a wider temperature range. While most people recommend a 20ºF (-7ºC) quilt, I recommend a 10ºF (-7ºC). Going a little warmer makes sure you are ready for an unexpected dip in temperature with negligible weight gain. If you get too hot, open up your quilt. Nothing is worse than needing to crush miles after having a sleepless night because you were too cold. The Enlightened Equipment’s 10ºF (-7ºC) Enigma packs a lot of warmth for only 20 oz.
Nemo Tensor 20R (13 oz)
Getting a good night’s sleep on trail is important. I used a z-lite in the desert because I was afraid of popping an air pad, but once I got to the Sierra I switched to the Nemo Tensor 20R. It is was light (13 oz), comfortable, and most importantly quiet when I rolled around. I have nothing bad to say about it. Most people with an air pad had the Therm-a-rest NeoAir X-lite, but my god was it noisy. I always tried to camp away from those people. Since the trail, I have used the Tensor in mid-20 degree temperatures and been comfortable.
If you sleep really cold, are hiking in a high snow year or plan to camp on snow, I would suggest getting the insulated version of the Nemo Tensor. The couple of ounces will be worth the good night’s sleep.
The Skyscape Trekker is a light-weight shelter (26 oz) that doesn’t break the bank. It is a hybrid shelter that is essentially a tarp with a bug net and bathtub floor sewn in. This means that 80% of the shelter is double-walled with the remaining 20% being a single-walled panel. A nice feature is that you can roll up both vestibules and essential have a bug net shelter. In addition, you can set it up with your trekking poles. I used this shelter in the desert and Washington State. In hindsight, I would have just carried it the length of the trail. It was light, compact, and more than enough shelter for the conditions I encountered, even in a record snow year. When I cowboy camped, which was often, I used it as my ground sheet.
Big Agnes Copper Spur UL1 (36 oz)
For some reason, I had it in my head that I needed a free-standing tent for the Sierra. I blame it on too much internet research. In reality, that wasn’t the case. Even with complete snow coverage over 9,000 feet, we were always able to find tent sites where you could stake out or guy out your shelter using rocks. Pro-tip: the snow melts out at the base of trees first. If you are getting near the end of the day and in a snow field, head towards a stand of trees. You should find a snow-less spot to set up your tent with a little searching. People with non-free-standing tents were always able to find spots. It just took a little more time and they couldn’t be as picky. If I did it again, I wouldn’t have bought or switched to a free standing tent.
I used my trekking poles to hike and support my Skyscape Trekker. These poles were light and folded down compactly, which was great when in town or traveling.
MSR Mini Groundhog Stakes (.4 oz each)
These stakes worked well in the soil conditions I found along the trail and since. If I camped on granite, I used rocks to secure my tent.
Napping & Relaxing
Some of the nicest moments on the PCT are laying out next to a lake, under a Joshua Tree or at the top of a mountain pass. To extend your lounging comfort, it is nice to have something to lay on. A few panels of a Therm-a-rest Z-lite are great in this regard. Also, if you ever cross a snow banked river in the Sierra, you will be thankful you have this. Nothing is worse than crossing a river swollen with snow melt and then sitting directly on the snow bank on the other side while you change, try to warm up and wait for your friends.
Cook & Water System
I was both stoveless and with stove on the Pacific Crest Trail. To be honest, I don’t have a strong preference either way. In the hotter sections (i.e. desert, NorCal, Oregon) I didn’t want to eat anything hot. In the Sierra and Washington, I enjoyed having hot drinks throughout the day and having a hot meal for dinner. Not necessary, but a nice luxury, especially after moving at 1 mph for 12 hours a day in the Sierra.
I used a Optimus Terra Solo Cook Set, the pot was fine, but the stove was a fickle piece of crap. I have since switched out both items. I now use a Snow Peak Trek 600 pot (2.8 oz). It is titanium, light, and the perfect size for a Knorr Rice Side or Ramen Bomb. I use tin foil folded over a couple of times for a lid.
For a stove, I use the ultralight Etekcity (4 oz). It’s cheap and light, two things that normally don’t go together.
Mini Bic Lighter (.5 oz)
Small, light, lasted the whole trail and is still going.
Spoon (light AF)
Any plastic spoon will do. Just don’t get a spork. It sounds like a good idea, but just try to get the last of the tuna or peanut butter with it.
Swiss Army Classic SD Pocket Knife (.74 oz)
You don’t need a knife for protection just like pilots don’t need guns on airplanes. The most you will do is cut some cheese, guy lines or packaging so a small simple pocket knife is good enough. To be honest, I used the scissors on this pocket knife more often than the knife itself.
Sawyer Squeeze (3.6 oz)
I filtered all my water on the Pacific Crest Trail. Some people didn’t. Some people did, but not in the Sierra. Some people got Giardia. I didn’t. If abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea and bouts of watery diarrhea doesn’t sound like a fun time to you, you should too. The Sawyer Squeeze is by far the most common way to filter water on the trail. Pro tip: use a Smart Water bottle for dirty water, attach the filter to the top, and sit on it. This is hands down the fastest way to filter. I recommend making all your bottles/bladders except one dirty. This way you can quickly fill up and keep moving. Use your one clean bottle for mixes, instant coffee, and tea. No need to spend 15 minutes filtering 4 liters of water.
Platypus 2L Bladder (1.3 oz)
In waterless sections, I generally had 4-5 liters of capacity. One .7L bottle, two 1L bottles, and one 2L bladder, which I kept in my pack. The great thing about a bladder is that it folds up when not in use. Smart Water bottles don’t. I kept the bottles in my side pockets and the bladder in my backpack.
LIFEWTR Bottles ( 1.4 oz)
Cheap, light and always available, LIFEWTR or Smartwater bottles are one of the best ways to carry water. Their filter thread also matches the Sawyer Squeeze. A match made in heaven.
FujiFilm XT-20 & 18-55mm F/2.8-4 Lens (24.4 oz)
Photography is one of my passions and I knew I wanted to capture my PCT thru-hike in the highest quality possible. I was also shooting for the Pacific Crest Trail Association as part of their P3 Initiative to protect, preserve and promote the Pacific Crest Trail. I wanted the best combination of quality, compactness, and weight. After research and testing, I went with the FujiFilm XT-20 and couldn’t have been happier. It is incredibly well-built and survived the dust of the desert, snowy glissades, and being dunked in a river. I shot timelapses, edited RAW images in camera, transferred images via the on-board WiFi, and shot 4K video. Oftentimes people saw my camera and said, “I would have brought mine, but it’s too heavy.” I never regretted it and now that I am back, I am so thankful that I have all the images and video I shot.
One of the most important things to have if you are bringing your camera is a way to attach it to the outside of your pack. If you keep it in your pack, you will never use it. I used the Peak Design Capture Camera Clip to attach my camera to the webbing of my shoulder strap near my hip. This meant it was out-of-the-way, but still accessible.
Anker Astro E5 13000mAh Portable Charger (10.4 oz)
I already had a battery pack so I used what I had. In hindsight, I only needed something with 8,000 – 10,000 mAh even with my camera. I never ran out, even during our 10 day stretch between Kearsarge Pass and Mammoth Lakes. Keep you phone in airplane mode, use GPS only when you need it, and don’t obsessively listen to music or podcasts and your phone’s battery will go a lot further than you think.
Samsung Galaxy S5 (5.55 oz)
Princeton Tec Fuel Headlamp (2.8 oz)
Anker 2-Port 24W USB Wall Charger (4.6 oz)
Toiletries & Miscellaneous
Tooth Brush (.45 oz)
Travel-sized Tooth Paste (.65 oz)
Wet Wipes & Toilet Paper (2.25 oz)
Hand Sanitizer (2.5 oz)
Cut Down Pack Towel (1 oz)
First Aid w/ Sunscreen & Floss (4.8 oz)
Trowel (1.8 oz)
Para Cord 50 ft (2.7 oz)
Suunto A-10 Compass (1.1 oz)
Bear & Snow Gear
BearVault BV500 (41 oz)
The BearVault is an essential piece of equipment when in bear country. You are even required to carry one in certain sections of the Sierra on the PCT. It can be uncomfortable and heavy, but you are doing this to protect the bears from becoming habituated to human food. I met a few people on the trail who didn’t want the “man” to tell them what to do or thought they hiked “fast” enough to not carry a canister (they didn’t). Please don’t endanger bears or hikers’ ability to travel through areas where bears roam. The NPS and other agencies will ban camping in certain areas where people have disregarded proper food storage. It has already happened in Lassen Volcanic National Park near Lower Twin Lake.
Kahtoola K•10 Hiking Crampons (21.5 oz)
These crampons were a star of my snow/Sierra gear for my 2017 PCT thru-hike. They provided excellent traction, stayed securely on my feet, and didn’t break. People using micro spikes complained that the spikes would shift/slide on their shoe when traversing a steep slope. Two others using the more aggressive Black Diamond Neve Strap Crampons had the metal bar connecting the front and back plate snap. The five people in my group using the Kahtoola, plus myself, never had an issue. If you hike the PCT in a low snow year or plan on entering the Sierra late, micro spikes may be fine, but you will need to make your own call.
Petzl Glacier Ice Axe (13 oz)
I used my ice axe regularly while in the Sierra. Whether it was the steep approaches to Forester or Mather Pass or the steep descents from Glen and Sonora Pass. It was also necessary to safely control my glissades. The most important thing when it comes to an ice axe is getting the right length. Make sure the spike just about touches the ground when holding the head with your hand at your side.