Every July, Pacific Crest Trail hikers swarm my hometown of Ashland, Oregon, as they come off the trail to rest and resupply. During a normal year, hikers heading north (as most do) would have walked 1,706 miles by this point. But the Sierra Nevada still has a lot of snow from a banner season, so many hikers caught rides around the mountain. Regardless, I took the opportunity to track a few down to ask about their favorite piece of gear to this point. Here’s what the latest batch said.
Chris Carter, 31
From: Portland, Oregon
Trail Name: Chris
Name Origin: “I’m stubborn, so I’m Chris.”
Favorite Piece of Gear: Platypus GravityWorks Water Filter System Kit 2 Liter ($110)
These water filtration systems were designed to hang from trees and use gravity to move water through a filter from a dirty reservoir into a clean one. Carter doesn’t like sitting around and waiting, so he fills his system, attaches the top reservoir to the top of his pack and the bottom reservoir lower down, and lets gravity do its job while he hikes. He made some modifications to make the system lighter and drinks from a CamelBak-like hose right out of the clean reservoir.
Sarah Vodrin, 28
From: Portland, Oregon
Trail Name: Sarah
Name Origin: Her trail name was Key when she hiked portions of the PCT in 2014 and was photographed for a different Outside story. This year, she wanted to keep her regular name.
Favorite Piece of Gear: Western Mountaineering MityLite 40-Degree Sleeping Bag ($370)
Vodrin, who’s hiking with Carter, says they unfolded this bag and sewed an equal-size piece of nylon onto the underside, turning it into a 1.5-pound two-person sleep system. The bag is rated to just 40 degrees, but if they sleep on a pad and cuddle, they’re comfortable down to 20 degrees. “With a pad, you really only need a piece of nylon underneath you,” Vodrin says.
Elise Varescon, 25
From: Lausanne, Switzerland
Trail Name: Mongoose
Name Origin: She almost walked onto a rattlesnake but narrowly avoided it, so people started calling her Mongoose, which are known for battling snakes.
Favorite Piece of Gear: Darn Tough Hiker Quarter Cushion Socks ($18)
Varescon wore these socks all the way from the start of the trail to just south of Ashland. One night, before entering town, she hung them up to dry, and some critter, probably a mouse, chewed several holes. Thankfully, Darn Tough guarantees all of its socks, no questions asked, so she got a new pair at the Ashland Outdoor Store for free. “We are going to buy some more here in the U.S. and bring them back to Switzerland!” she says.
Severin Sidler, 26
From: Lausanne, Switzerland
Trail Name: Gilligan
Name Origin: He has a bucket hat.
Favorite Piece of Gear: La Sportiva Ultra Raptor Trail Running Shoes ($130)
Sidler used La Sportiva mountaineering boots at home in Switzerland, so he opted for the Italian brand’s trail running shoes to hike the PCT. “My first pair held up for more than 1,000 miles, which is quite impressive,” Sidler says. “I have friends using the Altras who had to exchange them after merely 500 miles.” Sidler also noted that the sole is stiff and has good grip on snow and wet rocks—something he came across a lot this year because of the intense winter in the Sierra.
Juliana Chauncy, 25
From: New York, New York
Trail Name: City
Name Origin: “Other hikers say I act like I belong in a city. There was a time when the pasta wasn’t fully cooked, and I wouldn’t eat it. There was also a gross water area, and I had my friend fill the bottle for me.”
Favorite Piece of Gear: Snow Peak 450 Titanium Cup ($30)
A lot of hikers eat and drink out of the same cup or pot to cut weight. Not Chauncy. She likes having a separate cup just for liquids and appreciates that it weighs only 2.4 ounces. “It’s nice to know that even if my pot is dirty, I can have a cup of hot chocolate and don’t have to clean anything out of my pot first,” Chauncy says.
Ethan Howell, 23
From: Fayetteville, Arkansas
Trail Name: Gilligan (Yes, he has the same trail name as Severin Sidler. It happens.)
Name Origin: He wears a bucket hat, has the same last name as Mr. Howell in the show, and smiles a lot.
Favorite Piece of Gear: Tenacious Tape ($5)
“Everything I have gets a hole eventually,” Howell says. For example, he caught his tent on his ice ax and ripped a two-inch hole. He likes that Tenacious Tape is even more durable than duct tape and is totally waterproof.
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