What Gear Do I Need for a Big Thru-Hike?
I figured anyone who's hiked hundreds of miles across the United States would probably have some useful advice, so I asked five Pacific Crest Trail veterans about the most essentials tools in their packs
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By the time Pacific Crest Trail hikers reach Ashland, Oregon (my hometown), they’ve walked either 1,706 miles, if they’re heading north, or 844 miles southbound. Either way, they’ve spent a helluva long time on the trail and have been forced by necessity to dial in their kit. To glean some gear tips from these masters, I chatted with a handful who were hanging out in town (all identified by their trail names).
Trail name origin: “I draw sketches.”
Hometown: San Francisco, California
Tip: Pete Brook, who’s written about his time on the PCT for Outside, suggests backpacking in cheap shorts. “If you are happy hiking in shorts, it’s the one piece of gear where you don’t really have to get anything high tech. You can go to a thrift store, you can go to Walmart. The only thing I would say is to get a pair with pockets,” says Sketch. As a bonus, they’re relatively cheap and easy to replace.
Trail name origin: “I really, really love french fries, specifically McDonald’s french fries. I am a pretty healthy person, but that is my Achilles heel.”
Hometown: Temecula, California
Tip: “Get big hipbelt pockets [on your pack],” says French Fry. Why? Because with big pockets, you can store your lunch and eat it on the move, which is important when you’re trying to log a lot of miles. Same goes for your water—hikers suggest using a hydration system or making sure water bottles are accessible with a pack on.
Trail name origin: “It had something to do with the smell of my feet at some point.”
Hometown: Cologne, Germany
Tip: Start cheap and upgrade as needed. Blue Cheese didn’t want to spend a lot of money on the wrong gear, so she started with what she already had at home and figured out what to invest in while on the trail—there are stores that carry gear along the way. So far, she’s bought a new backpack, a new sleeping bag, and a new tent, all of which meet her specific needs.
Trail name origin: “I was in Cajon Pass, 300 miles in, and I just woke up one day and stumbled around for three days.”
Hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba
Tip: You can spend weeks in the same set of clothing. Proof: Vertigo has gone hundreds of miles in one pair of shorts, one shirt, one pair of underwear, and two pair of socks. He likes wool because it cuts down on the inevitable stink and suggests going for nice kit from brands like Icebreaker because the quality stuff will hold up better to the abuse.
Trail name origin: “I had lots of Swiss chocolate cookies at the beginning, and I was giving them to other hikers…I was also scrambling up boulders to get the best pictures, and that’s how I got the scrambler.”
Hometown: Zermatt, Switzerland
Tip: You don’t have to go ultralight when you’re backpacking or thru-hiking. “I couldn’t afford the ultralight gear. In Europe, to get ultralight gear is very difficult, so I thought I would start off with what I have,” she says. Without water, her pack weighs 45 pounds, but she’s worked up the fitness to keep up with other hikers on the trail.