The Things we Carried…Gear Review!

Big Pack

Where’s Stopwatch under that gigantic pack? Oh, there she is, being crushed under its weight.

Early on in the hike, Tatu Jo aptly named us Team Sherpa, because we tended to have big packs and carry lots of stuff. While we did carry a lot of stuff, we trimmed down our packs over time and re-named ourselves Team Sherpa Lite because our packs, while still heavier than the average ultraliter/gear junkie, were might lighter and more comfortable than when we started. By Old Station, mile 1377, we mainly were carrying food, and then had other gear as a small addition to our packs. Here’s a list of all the gear we carried, along with a small review of it. This may be a bit boring if you want to read a good story, but if you’re planning a hike, it might be pretty darn helpful by learning from our mistakes and good decisions.

Optimist: Granite Gear Ozone – Very light, maybe a bit large (as most other hikers had the smaller version), but was great for our long food resupplies. The material got lots of holes over time due to snags during plane travel, and the pack really only lasted one trail. Pros: Lightweight, fewer pockets meant less stuff; Cons: Material tore a bit easily, only top-loading, and Optimist lost so much weight that the medium pack’s hip belt was too big on him and all the pack weight was on his shoulders.
Stopwatch: REI Venus (Women’s Pack) – Definitely not a pack for long-distance hiking, but was what I had, and I didn’t want to spend money on another one. The base weight of the pack is too heavy for long-distance hiking, and I got rid of the top loader because I ended up carrying too much stuff. Liked how it opened from the top and the front, but I never really used that feature. Would definitely look for a smaller, lighter pack, such as Granite Gear and Ospreys.

Sleeping Bags
Both of us had REI Sub-Kilos. Optimist’s was rated 20 degrees and Stopwatch’s was rated 15 degrees, and the bags zipped together; however, by the end of the day, neither of us wanted to take the effort to zip the bags together, and we smelled quite ripe by then, so we oftentimes just passed out in our own bags. My sleeping bag was my favorite piece of gear for its lightweight, comfort, and addition to my quality of life.

Sleeping Pads
Optimist reused his ¾ Z-rest from the AT, but by the end its padding was pretty nil, but it lasted pretty well for 2 trails. Stopwatch used a ¾ Z-rest as well, starting off with a brand new one. A great piece of gear for sitting on at lunch, around camp, and for sleeping of course.

We used a 2 person, stand along tent, Marmot Nyx. We shared the weight of the tent, tarp and poles, and were really happy with the tent. We borrowed it from Optimist’s brother, so it was free. It kept us pretty dry during the rain, as long as you don’t touch the walls too much, and was really easy to set up, but we did have problems with the zipper by the end. If we were to do it again, we’d look at a lighter tent, but since it was free, roomy, and not very heavy since we split the weight, we were really happy with it.

We went old school and used an MSR Whisperlite stove. We shared the weight as well of the stove and the one pot, and were really happy with this stove, despite it being heavier than the alcohol stoves that everyone else used. But, since we were cooking for 2, boiling 4 Cups (2 Liters) of water at a time, it was very quick at boiling water, and we were able to conserve fuel by only bringing the water to a boil, and then turning off the stove and keeping the food covered while it cooked. We each carried a 20 ounce bottle of fuel, and never actually paid for fuel along the way because so many trail angels and stores had open cans of fuel and just let us have it for free. Overall, we’d probably stick with the same stove because it was virtually problem free (we had to clean it once, and near the end we had problems with the fuel can keeping pressure), it boiled water VERY fast, and wasn’t too heavy since we split the weight. If I were a single hiker, I’d think about using the alcohol stove or the single jet boil cup stove.

Water Purification
We started out pretty old school with water purification, as we used a First Need water pump, which worked quite well for the first few hundred miles, but one sketchy water source, and our pump slowed waaayyy down. So after 700 miles, the pump completely died on us, which was at least good timing for it to die, as we had just entered the high sierras, so we just drank straight from the springs, creeks, and snow melts until Truckee at mile 1155. We were smart about drinking from upstream, flowing water at higher elevations, and avoided lakes and other standing water, and never got sick. Truckee was really our first town since Kennedy Meadows, which is when the pump broke, so we decided to shed the pump and use bleach. We used two drops of bleach per quart (one 32 ounce Gatorade bottle), let it sit for 30 minutes, and never got sick from the water. We felt safe with this method since it was approved by the Red Cross (on their website) as a method for water purification. We were very happy with our decision to use bleach, as it was light, cheap, didn’t taste bad, and just as effective as many other water purification methods we saw along the trail. I’d use bleach again for another long-distance hike. We only carried a small dropper that we bought at a drug store, and filled a travel size shampoo bottle with bleach, and only used about half of it for the last 1500 miles.

We were pretty average (I think) when it came to clothing, as I don’t think we carried too little or too much. Optimist carried one dri-fit shirt for hiking, North Face convertible pants, one long sleeve Brooks dri-fit shirt, Columbia rain/shell jacket, Adidas running shorts, one pair of running underwear, 3 pair of running socks (had both Nike and Smartwool), Gloves, a balaclava, bandanna, sunglasses.
Stopwatch had 2 short-sleeve dri-fit shirts (one for hiking, one for sleeping/town), REI convertible pants, REI rain jacket, Sierra Designs Rain Pants, a thin New Balance Fleece, Adidas running shorts, one Adidas sports bra, tank top for sleeping/town bra, REI thin long underwear pants, gloves, fleece hat, 3 pair of socks (mix of gobi sock liners, Nike socks, REI socks and Smartwool socks), sunglasses-Chili brand, baseball cap, bandanna, one pair of dri-fit underwear
Overall we used every piece of clothing that we packed, and sent home anything we didn’t use. Together we sent home one short sleeve shirt, one long sleeve, 2 pairs of underwear, thick hiking socks, a quick dry towel, and a sports bra. Each night I changed into my tank top, dry shirt and either long underwear or running shorts, depending on the temp. My extra clothes were worth their weight when it was cold, as I’d wear my tank top, dry shirt, fleece, rain jacket, long underwear, rain paints, socks, gloves and fleece cap. I’d say I wore all those layers on at least a third of the nights, even in my sleeping bag. I’d get hot in the middle of the night, but couldn’t fall asleep if I was cold, so I was happy with my clothes. Optimist was fine wearing the clothes he hiked in during camp time after hiking, and then slept in just his running shorts or naked in his bag, and was warm most of the time. Our Nike running socks claimed to be dri-fit, but the felt a bit too cottony and dried really slow, and the smartwools were comfortable and dried pretty quickly. I liked the gobi sock liners, but put holes in them pretty quickly. Overall we went through about 10 pairs of socks between the two of us.

After seeing all the different shoes that were on the trail, I’d say that shoes really depend on the person wearing them. Optimist started with hiking boots, and hated them because he’s a toe walker, and they pushed on his Achilles, so he ended up wearing his running shoes, Nike Zoom Elites, from mile 454 on. He put over 1000 miles on each pair and was extremely happy with his decision.
Stopwatch wore Saucony trail runners for 500 miles of the desert, and while I liked the lightweight, meshy feel of trail runners, they gave me blisters on my heels because they just didn’t fit that well. I wore Vasque low-cut hiking boots for over 1300 miles, and never got a blister, and they were pretty much brand new on starting the trail, and I was really happy with the support, cushion and function of the boots. I had to duck tape the sole for the last few hundred miles of the boots, but was happy despite that. For the last 830 miles of the trail, I wore Brooks trail runners, and was happy with the cushion and tread of the shoes, but would not get them again because they were made with mainly mesh on the forefoot. The shoes had huge holes in the mesh within 100 miles, so I got lots of dirt/sticks/rocks in the holes. I liked the shoes otherwise, and would buy them again if they had more leather/less mesh on the forefoot of the shoe.
Overall, I think we put more miles on our shoes than some other hikers, but we didn’t plan out our shoe strategy until during the hike, so considering we figured out as we went, we were happy. And, we knew that our feet were going to hurt pretty much no matter what, so why spend more money on more shoes when we could just deal with our feet being uncomfortable.

We started with good intentions of reading a lot along the trail, and realized that other than hiking, all we wanted to do was eat or sleep, so on the third day we sent home 6 pounds of reading books (Tolstoy and Proust; talk about lofty intentions!), and kept the PCT data book and the guidebook. Unlike many hikers, we couldn’t bring ourselves to cut up the books (part of our Team Sherpaness), so we carried the entire data book and the entire guidebook. However, by Old Station, when we had the Northern CA guidebook, we realized that we rarely read the guidebook and even more rarely used the maps, so we ended up sending home the guidebook and going with just the data book after mile 1377, and overall were just fine. We only had trouble a couple of times without the maps, if that. I got very good at tracking footprints of those in front of us, and someone armed with a black sharpie always seemed to mark the trail signs for the PCT (thank you sharpie writer!). Oh yeah, and there were plenty of rock cairns.

Between the two of us we carried one first aid kit, each a whistle (mine had a compass and thermometer), each a watch, two spoons and a fork, nail clippers, an itty-bitty can opener that Bear Paw gave to us at Tuolumne Meadows, an Olympus digital camera, the camera charger (which we sent home at Cascade Locks since the camera held a charge very well), a cell phone and charger, nylon rope for a clothesline/bear-bagging (probably didn’t need, as we used it so little and never for bear-bagging), deet (absolutely necessary for the sierras and southern oregon), each had an REI pack cover (wonderful in the rain), each a roll of toilet paper, one REI potty trowel (a luxery item for some, but it got tons of use by us, and it’s only an ounce in weight), and each a bear can when required.

Things we didn’t carry but would consider for another hike
If we were to do another hike, we’d consider getting a watch with a built in altimeter, for while it’s not necessary to survival, it’s a luxury item that we wouldn’t mind having. Sometimes the data book didn’t match up with data points, or we would have a 2000 foot climb and we wanted to know how many feet we had climbed already, so in those instances, an altimeter would have been nice.
The other luxury item we’d think about getting is an mp3 player for those days when we’ve run out of conversation, we need a pick-me-up, or we’re just plain sick of trying to sing songs in our heads when we’ve forgotten half the lyrics. We would look for something small and light and that can hold lots of songs and most importantly, that has a long battery life.

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