I spent months researching gear before hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. I read blogs and trip reports and meticulously planned every detail to ensure I had the best, lightest kit possible. But here’s the thing: even the best planning couldn’t prepare me for real-world testing. Some of the pieces I picked up have proven invaluable. Others were left in hiker boxes almost immediately, and I had to purchase alternatives. Two months in and nearly 1,000 miles up the trail, here are my seven favorite pieces of gear so far.
Western Mountaineering UltraLite Sleeping Bag ($500)
Lots of ultralight sleeping bags forego a hood. I don’t know about you, but in cold temperatures, I like to pull a hood over my noggin and yank the drawstring until only the smallest window remains for my mouth and nostrils. That’s why I went with the UltraLite, which weighs under two pounds yet keeps my entire body warm down to 20 degrees.
Duckworth Vapor Tee ($60)
I sweat a lot, so I needed something that would wick and fight stink. For the past several weeks, I’ve been swapping out two of these shirts every hour. I hike and sweat in one while the other is draped over my pack to dry. Even after seven days without a shower or access to laundry, these shirts don’t reek, and that’s worth a lot on the trail.
Altra Olympus 2.0 Shoes ($150)
The zero-drop, wide-toe design of Altra’s trail runners isn’t for everyone, but it works for me. It seems to work for others, too: Altra is the most popular brand on the trail by far. The shoes are ultracomfy, and the wide sole has proven to be a solid platform that’s kept me from rolling my ankle, even on sloped, technical terrain.
Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket ($160)
This jacket is another trail favorite. It weighs a scant 6.4 ounces, takes up very little room in my pack, yet it’s totally waterproof and breathes well even when I’m huffing up a steep section of trail. I’ve also used it as wind block on summits when I need extra warmth.
Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Down Hooded Jacket ($350)
This jacket is the perfect trifecta of warm, light, and reasonably affordable (compared with some other down puffies out there). It has saved me on mountaintops in the snowy Sierra, and, like the Helium, weighs next to nothing (7.7 ounces) and takes up little room in my bag.
Kahtoola MicroSpikes ($70)
The steep, icy scramble over both sides of Glen Pass would have been impossible without MicroSpikes, which provide significantly more traction than your regular boot soles but aren’t as extreme as a pair of crampons. Don’t carry them from the Mexican border, but make sure you have a pair waiting when you get to the Kennedy Meadows General Store at mile 700.
Class of 2016 Bandanna (Free)
My bandanna works as a towel, headband, dishcloth, sweat rag, and memento. You can’t buy them in stores. You have to walk 478 miles to Casa de Luna and do a dance for trail angel Terrie Anderson. The bandannas are an annual present from the PCT Class of 2002 to all the hikers who’ve followed. The colors are different each year, but the design is the same and lists the essential off-trail stops for resupply, laundry, burgers, and beers.