I’m not a gear expert in any other sense than I used a bunch of it over 2,660 miles. If you want weight ratings in grams, stress tests, and videos of important looking people fondling gear in scientific ways, there’s THOUSANDS of sites that offer those things with the mere press of a button. Go there. I’ll just tell you what I brought, loved, protected, ditched, replaced, and made little shrines of gratitude for. I’ll tell you what was a waste of money and how for me, ultralight meant ultrasuffering in some circumstances. No company gave me gear or sponsored me in any way, so this account is simply just how it was. Let’s start with:
My Top Three Favorite Pieces of Gear on the PCT in 2013
- Without debate, the most useful and treasured resources for me were the Guthook PCT apps. There I said it. All of your visions of me as a wild woman out there surviving the chaos of nature with only the sun and some twigs to orient myself with have been shattered. I used an app. On an Iphone. It told me where the water was, what mile I was at, where it would be easy to camp, where the bailout roads were. It did it mostly accurately and seamlessly. I had real maps on my Kindle (I can feel you shuddering), and on my phone, but never ever ever had to use them except when looking for an alternate route for one section and an alternate water source for another. The apps were useless off the PCT. But I was ON the PCT, 99.9% of the time. This trip wasn’t about earning any Boy Scout badges for orienteering for me. I wanted to enjoy it. I wanted to think about my life and be in nature and love the mountains and behold the unicorns. This app really made that possible.
- My Teva Dozer III Women’s Water Sandals made walking the PCT relatively painless. I walked only in them until the very end when deep snow and sub-freezing temperatures would have made it crazy dangerous to do so. I borrowed someone else’s shoes for that part of it, and my feet are STILL all bruised and swollen from the impact of having virtual ice caskets on them for 200 miles. With the sandals, I suffered not a single blister, calf cramp, or rotting toenail. My feet were free to feel and grab the earth, thereby letting the rest of my body know what was going on in any particular terrain. I probably didn’t walk as fast as other hikers who could fearlessly stomp their way across rock fields and mud, but I could hike longer before pain would stop me. We did the same miles.
- You know how no matter how much you love and enjoy someone, there’s always moments in your relationship when a little time and space away from them becomes necessary and even healthy. In my passionate affair with the earth these last six months, that moment always occurred at the end of the day when I wanted to sleep, and my Thermarest NeoAir Full Size (you read it right, FULL SIZE) facilitated that “space” for me. It took up every square inch of real estate inside my tent and took 15 minutes of serious dizziness to blow up, but I was protected and coddled by a Bellagio-like luxury of comfort each and every night regardless of terrain. I slept 2 out of 5 nights instead of no nights, and I have Thermarest to thank for it.
And with that we have:
My Top Three Worst Gear Choices On the PCT 2013
- Webster defines “waterproof” with these three simple words: impermeable to water. Seems pretty straighforward. My Frogg Toggs Teal Rainsuit was not even close to being “impermeable to water”. I was near hypothermic in 50 degrees and a drizzle wearing this thing. And it didn’t even look good. I looked kind of like an ill-wrapped piece of spearmint vanilla sea taffy in it. And every brush with a fern tore it. I quickly spent the money for better rain gear.
- As much as any other structure in my body, I love my clavicles. They provide a useful bridge between my motion happy shoulders and make my pre-breasts chest area appear elegant and defined. My Osprey Exos “Ultra-Light” Pack declared war on them without reprieve. I’m not sure how many grams they ended up saving on the weight rating by installing clavicle sawing ribbons on the pack for shoulder straps, but comfort was compromised to say the least. The foam straps compressed into sheet metal within 200 miles and I consequently looked like I’d been in a car accident in my chest and shoulder area. I was leukotaping all kinds of puffy things to those straps the entire trip. Also, the hipbelt cannot be cinched any tighter once you dip below 130 pounds body weight, which I’m pretty sure every single thru-hiker reached for time periods. It’s not very comfortable to walk with a 35 pound pack sliding down your ass.
- I’m not sure this piece of gear belongs on this list, because I both loved and hated it, but one resounding fact is pretty clear that the Sawyer Squeeze Water Filtration System is not actually designed to filter dirty water. It clogged irreparably if there was the slightest amount of silt in the water, and yes Sawyer, I backflushed it religiously. I also didn’t enjoy the squeezing process when the temperatures dipped below freezing. No amount of glove protection would shield my vulnerable hand temperatures from dangerously plummeting while trying to eek out a teaspoon an hour of drinkable ice water. At the end of the day, it did it’s job. I didn’t get a parasitic infection of any sort, it was light, and still cheaper than a more durable system, even though I had to replace it three times. But I don’t think it was designed for this application (ie: filtering natural water on a backpacking trip).
Those were the best and the worst for me. If anyone has the desire to know how any other piece of gear worked out, please feel free to ask. It’s not easy to know beforehand what will make any particular hiker happy, but I’ll let you know what made ME happy. Happy trails!