What’s in my Pack

There are three subjects thru-hikers prefer not talking about: Religion. Politics. Gear.

Gear is a personal subject. What works for you might not work for others. What works for others might not work for you. I started the AT with a 45-pound pack filled to the brim with electronics. I had a GoPro and its million accessories, a laptop and two USB batteries. Going off what information I thought was best from a desk in Afghanistan, I packed three hydration bladders with a total capacity of 2.5 gallons, a drinking tube and a pump-action water filter. I stuffed it all into an REI pack not suited to carry such a sizable burden and I soon found myself shipping most of these things home in the first hundred miles. As I approached Mt. Katahdin, my pack (a new Gregory model) weighed in at an envious 18 pounds, fully loaded. As I add more and more unnecessary things to my pack, I can’t help but think that I failed to learn from my earlier mistake. But with a sub-20lb base-weight, it’s still a comfortable load.

Below is a list of all of the gear I will be hauling over the course of the summer. Some of it, I am certain, will find its way into a flat-rate box destined for Florida before my trip is over. If you have questions, ask below.

The Big Four ($680 – 8.2 lbs)

  • Pack: ULA Catalyst
    • $260 – 48oz
    • I purchased this pack in Hot Springs, TN toward the end my AT thru-hike after tearing a sewn-in shoulder strap on my Gregory. While I had no day-to-day complaints with the Gregory, I was looking for a pack that could accommodate the large BV500 bear canister in a horizontal orientation. My Catalyst has about 1,500 miles on it now and it’s holding up great. It has large hip belt pockets where I can store my phone, camera and snacks for accessibility without having go through the ordeal of halting to remove my pack. It’s not perfect. The side pockets are large enough to hold four 1L Smart Water bottles, but they can sometimes be difficult to reach. There’s no ventilation between my back and the pack which causes me to be soaked throughout the day. The hip belt chaffs on my waist, but I’m certain that I’m at fault by not properly adjusting the pack. Though it has its drawbacks, overall its a great pack. After this hike is over, I plan to dive into an ultralight setup. If you want to move quickly, have a look at my next purchase – The Pa’lante V2. If you need a 58L pack, I’d recommend the Catalyst. I’ve also heard good things about the Osprey Exos 58, but they’ve just revised the pack and eliminated pockets on the hip belt and shoulder straps. A revision that makes little sense to me.
  • Sleeping Bag: Marmot Meteor 15°F
    • $250 – 39oz
    • This has been my go-to winter bag since early 2014. The only cold night I’ve had in this thing was a camping trip in Yellowstone during December where temperatures dipped into negative territory. Seeing as how most PCT hikers are bringing bags or quilts rated for 20°F, I should weather any inclement weather better than most. If you’re looking for something lighter, Enlightened Equipment has a large-line of quilts. Their 20°F Revelation Quilt comes in at 20oz for $285.
  • Shelter: US Military GORE-TEX Bivy Cover
    • $0 – 32oz
    • I scored this for free from a cousin serving in the Army. I originally intended to use this on the Southern Tier Bicycle Route, but stayed in hotel rooms most nights as the temperatures were brutal and A/C and swimming pools were too wonderful of amenities to turn down. I’m going to sleep in this thing for the first 700 miles to Kennedy Meadows. The mosquitos shouldn’t be bad. The bivy cover is lightweight, waterproof and breathable. The downfall is that it doesn’t seal completely. The zipper stop at the shoulders. The Marine Corps recently switched to a fully sealable bivy sack with mesh at the face, but the footbox is tiny compared to the amount of room you get in the Army version. I’m not sure what I’ll do for shelter in the Sierras, but I’ll have plenty of options to consider after taking note of what other hikers are sleeping in each night.
  • Pad: Therm-a-rest NeoAir XLite
    • $170 – 12oz
    • I have a love-hate relationship with this sleeping pad. I’ve had to send it in twice for replacement due to exploding baffles at both ends. Exploding is not hyperbole. When these things burst, it sounds like a gunshot went off by your head. I’m not sure if the problem lies with overuse, retained moisture or over-inflating. With that said, it’s by far the best damned pad on the market. It’s a bit pricey in comparison, but I look at things in relation to the cost of a hotel room. My sleep system, which has provided more than a year’s worth of shelter, cost less than seven nights in an average hotel. This pad has paid dividends on my initial investment and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy another if I lost or destroyed the one I own now. It’s six-feet-long, warm and comfortable. I can’t ask anything else of it. There is a torso-length model available, but I don’t mind carrying the extra weight to keep my feet on a pad. They have an extended model for the tall.

Clothing ($750 – 6.5 lbs)

  • Shoes: Altra Lone Peak 3.5
    • $90 – 10oz
    • I’m a long-time Solomon customer. I’ve hiked in nothing else for the five years. After watching Altra steal market share for years, I’m going to give them a shot. They’re ugly. They look like clown shoes. But they’re cheap, lightweight and have a ton of width at the toes. Based on my research, the craftsmanship doesn’t seem to be consistent. Some hikers get 200 miles from a pair, others 700. I’ll report on my experience with the Altras along the way. Note: They run small. I’m a 11.5 in Solomons, but I had to move to a 12 in these. There’s an excellent chance you’ll need to size up as well.
  • Socks (x2): Darn Tough Vermont Hiker 1/4 Cushion
    • $36 – 4oz
    • I have no ill words for Darn Tough socks. They’re the best. They cost a sixth of what you’ll pay for shoes but they have a lifetime guarantee. Buy them on Amazon for $16. I recommend nothing else. I love the things.
  • Shorts: Under Armour Speedpocket 7″
    • $45 – 4oz
    • I picked up five pairs of these shorts from Dick’s Sporting Goods. They’re still available from Under Armour but they’ll be phased out soon enough. They have a soft, wide waistband reminiscent of lululemon. Since they’re thin and synthetic, I can wash these daily to remove residual salt. They dry out in under an hour. Wear whatever makes you comfortable.
  • Underwear (x2): ExOfficio Give-N-Go Boxer
    • $22 – 6oz
    • I normally go commando in the mountains, but when hiking in pants, an undergarment is an essential accessory. I wear these at home off the trail. I own seven pairs. They’re often on sale at Amazon for $11 so stock up when the price is good. I’ve never had to replace mine as there is no wear, but if I have to, I won’t be changing brands. ExOfficio makes great stuff.
  • Pants: Kuhl Konfidant Air
    • $90 – 15oz
    • I’m bringing pants to protect against the sun, dirt and poison oak. These offer SPF50 protection, are synthetic and breathable. I’m not absolutely certain about the fit, but I live and Florida and wear shorts year-round. I hate wearing pants. I’ll change them out along the way if I’m uncomfortable.
  • Shirt: ExOfficio Air Strip
    • $45 – 8oz
    • It has long sleeves, offers SPF50 and is whiter than a wedding dress. It also came highly recommended by prior hikers of the PCT. If I had to design a shirt for walking in the desert, this is what I’d stitch together.
  • Shirt: Under Armour Charged Cotton
    • $25 – 12oz
    • I normally avoid cotton on the trail like the plague. However, I’ll be wearing it while sleeping and in town. If you want to hike in a short-sleeve tee, this isn’t the shirt you want. Go synthetic. Hawaiian shirts are all the rage these days.
  • Jacket: Patagonia Nano Puff
    • $200 – 12oz
    • I own two of these. One to destroy on trail, one to wear around back home around town. The baffling is synthetic, not down. That means I get to wash it every time I do laundry. It’s kept me warm, and after five years of use, there are no holes, rips or tears. It’d be nice if it had a hood, but sewing one on is impractical – Hence the…
  • Beanie: USMC Watch Cap
    • $0 – 2oz
    • Wore one of these while in Iraq and Afghanistan. They’re comfortable and do their job.
  • Neckwarmer: TurtleFur Heavyweight
    • $15 – 2oz
    • This might be overkill. It feels like I have to remove this within minutes of putting it on. It’s good for camp, but I can’t endorse it for hiking. There are lighter and roomier options out there. Consider other options.
  • Upper Baselayer: Patagonia Capilene Midweight Zip-Neck
    • $35 – 7oz
    • Purchased these after having success with Patagonia’s now-discontinued merino wool lightweight baselayers. Some hikers report that the lightweight layers are not enough for the PCT. I’ve erred on the sign of caution here. I’ll report back if I find that they’re too warm.
  • Lower Baselayer: Patagonia Capilene Midweight Bottoms
    • $29 – 6oz
  • Gloves: Mountain Hardwear Power Stretch Stimulus
    • $40 – 1oz
    • Picked these up from REI in a hurry back in ’13. I’ve been wearing them ever since. They’re not waterproof. They get waterlogged. Keep them dry and you’ll be fine. I’m not a fan of insulated waterproof gloves.
  • Bandana (x2): Carolina MFG Paisley
    • $4 – 1oz
    • Generic, run-of-the-mill bandanas. They’re good for headgear, cleaning dishes, bathing and a million other things. I’m bringing two.
  • Wind/Rain Jacket: Nishiki Cycling Windbreaker
    • $35 – 6oz
    • I picked this up for my bike ride across the South. It’s advertised as water-resistant, not waterproof. Since I’ll be carrying an umbrella, I’m going to leave my Precip and Cloud Ridge jackets at home. This will also serve as a windbreaker and warming layer. If this works, I’m not buying expensive raingear ever again.
  • Umbrella: Gossamer Gear Liteflex Hiking Umbrella
    • $39 – 8oz
    • A highly popular accessory in desert hiking circles. I’m going to give it a shot.

Electronics ($1,290 – 4.3 lbs)

  • Headlamp: Petzl Zipka
    • $25 – 3oz
    • There aren’t enough lumens here for my liking. I used to carry a Tikka. After loaning that headlamp to an older couple who were trapped on a mountain in the dark, it was returned to me at the base of said mountain with a sweat-logged headband. Disgusted, I soon switched to the Zipka. I wish it had more lumens. I’ll consider other options when it’s lost or destroyed.
  • Phone: iPhone 6 128gb with Otterbox
    • $335 – 10oz
    • This was the last smartphone I owned before I swore off smartphones. Our relationship ended prematurely when it drowned in the James River last summer. After a friend told me that simply replacing the screen normally resuscitates drenched iPhones, I spent $20 bucks on Amazon and performed the operation. After the phone rose from the dead, I installed blog and camera software. This will sit in the bottom of my pack the entire trip. I’m bringing an iPod for music, podcasts and audiobooks.
  • Camera: Sony RX100 II with CPO and ND Filters
    • $600 – 15oz
    • There are a million reviews out there for this camera and the general consensus is that this is the best point-and-shoot on the market. I bought the II before there was a III, IV and V. I have no desire to replace it with a newer feature-rich model. This camera led me to ditch my Nikon DSLR kit and go 100% Sony. If photos are important to you, this is the camera you should own.
  • Tripod: Joby Gorillapod 3K
    • $63 – 8oz
    • I used to own a ZipShot. It had tent poles for legs and I took it all over the world. It went MIA in the same incident where my iPhone went for a swim. People swear by these things, so I’m giving it a shot. I need a completely flat surface for my Syrp Genie and it’s been difficult to get it just right when inserting the Genie between the legs and the ballhead. I’m not sure how it will perform, but I’ll report about it along the way.
  • Timelapse Motion Control System: Syrp Genie Mini
    • $200 – 8oz
    • I love timelapses. I shoot a lot of them. Panning adds a lot of life to a scene. I’ve owned this for two years and haven’t used it enough. I’m forcing myself to get my money’s worth out of it. It’ll make for some great videos.
  • Battery Bank (x2): Jackery 12,000mAh
    • $52 – 20oz
    • I bought these in December of 2014 and they’ve been banging out power ever since. I take them everywhere. They are heavy, but I like having lots of power on the trail. Since I won’t be connected to the internet on this trip, there’s a good chance I’ll be able to mail one of them home.
  • Keyboard: Omoton Wireless
    • $15 – 10oz
    • I don’t text. I hate texting. I have a blog. I’ll be typing, thank you.

Hydration ()

  • Bottle (x2): SmartWater 1L
  • Bladder: MSR 6L Dromedary
  • Filter: Sawyer Squeeze

note: the feature image is my gear from the Appalachian Trail

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