Packaging Parties! The Process of Filling Out Your Resupply Packages.

As we draw ever closer to our Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) departure date it becomes increasingly important to make sure that all of our trail ducks are falling into their places in line. One of the most important ducks is the supply packages that will serve as our lifeline as we make our way from Mexico to Canada over the next few months. There are many ways to organize your packages and really there is no ‘correct way’ to do it other than to go with the method that makes sense to you (and whoever is going to be mailing your packages for you while on the trail). Jon and Gary have been doing a lot of their packaging together in the great room at Gary and Sandy’s house. We’ve been filling boxes, rolling toilet paper rolls into half rolls, filling bags of trail mix and rationing out meals to make it from stop to stop and town to town. The method that we chose to use in order to keep everything in line was to lay out all our boxes (predominantly flat rate boxes from the United States Postal Service) marked for each of our mail drops and support crew delivery spots. This allowed us to visualize the trip in a way and to then divide our meals into each box based on how many days it takes to get from one spot to the next.

Jon's Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Supply Boxes All Lined Up. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Jon’s Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) Supply Boxes All Lined Up. (Click Image for Larger View.)

There are more things to pack than just food though. We also needed to divvy out toiletries such as travel sized toothpastes and toothbrushes, fuel canisters for our resupply spots that are hand deliveries (can’t ship the fuel cans), Halfmile maps, toilet paper and the like. Toilet paper provides a bit of ‘fun’ during the packing process as we ‘got to’ roll out half rolls of TP to put in each box because a whole roll would be overkill to carry at any one time and the half rolls save shipping space which becomes a premium in the spots where it is a bit longer from one city to the next.

Sandy, Marissa and Jon Rolling Out Half Rolls of TP for the PCT. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Sandy, Marissa and Jon Rolling Out Half Rolls of TP for the PCT. (Click Image for Larger View.)

We are coming down to the wire with our leave date set for April 1, 2015 but after our packaging parties we’re just about ready to get rolling (or slogging, rather)! We’ll be printing shipping labels with addresses for each spot, setting aside our sierra gear for Kennedy Meadows, and putting our last finishing touches on our boxes over the next week or so. We’re so close we can smell ourselves on the trail (ewwww)!

Jon's PCT Gear Rests Under the Packing Pool Table Used to Roll TP Half Rolls and Bag Out Trail Mix. Gary's Supply Boxes line the background. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Jon’s PCT Gear Rests Under the Packing Pool Table Used to Roll TP Half Rolls and Bag Out Trail Mix. Gary’s Supply Boxes line the background. (Click Image for Larger View.)

Time Has Changed the Trail and Technology Has Changed the Hiker

“Time has changed the trail and technology has changed the hiker.” I keep hearing this phrase over and over in my thoughts as I think about the changes that have occurred since my first PCT hike. What has happened to hiking boots rates right up there with the most dramatic changes I have seen with equipment and applies to how technology has changes the hiker.

Yesterday, our boots from Salomon arrived, the Quest 4D GTX. We plan to use them in conditions which exceed the capabilities of our light weight trail runners, primarily in the southern Sierra, but also in the early sections of the PCT like San Jacinto and San Gorgonio. The technology involved in making these shows the depth companies have gone to today in making high quality products. They are made with a chasis construction with 2 different mid-sole components, a patented Contagrip for traction, Goretex for breath-ability and water protection, rubber heel and caps, patented ortholite foam, and so on.

I couldn’t wait to try them out, so today I hit the local mountains. I am use to trail runners, so I immediately felt the increased stability and grip on the steep inclines and the rocky downhill where small pebbles lead to slip and slide. Naturally, they are heavier which slightly slows down the speed of my stride. With a high cut profile I was expecting a stiffer feel, but their light weight and flexible construction gave a fairly close feel to a trail runner.

I tend to compare boots to the classic Vasque Hiker II’s from years ago. These one time popular boots of the seventies were typical of those of that time period in that they required a break in period. Before taking them out on the trail I would wear them for weeks, wear them to school, to work, around the house, and just about anywhere to put the time in needed, so as to avoid the blisters that would come with new, stiff boots on the trail. Half of the break in taking place was more like my feet molding to the boots instead of just the boots becoming more flexible. Hiking in Mission Trails Regional Park today, I climbed North Fortuna, then after dropping to the saddle I headed up South Fortuna. Being a warm sunny day where the fields were green with grasses, I had to look at the deciduous trees to be reminded that it is still winter. Before lunch time I had added Cowles Mountainn to the hike, having exceeded 11 miles and 2500 ft. In the end, I had no blister or hot spots making this a great day of preparing for the PCT, and a reminder of what today’s technology has allowed hikers to do with a brand new pair of boots.

Gary and His New Salomon Quest 4D GTX Boots for Snow on the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)
Gary and His New Salomon Quest 4D GTX Boots for Snow on the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click Image for Larger View.)

Gary’s Gear List, First Edition

As someone who has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for the first time forty years ago it has become more and more important for me to become gear and weight conscious as the miles tally up on my hiking career. It is for this reason, that I’ve made it my goal to leave the border with a pack weight of just twenty pounds including my food. Obviously, when in the Sierra Nevada region more cold weather gear will be required which will increase pack weight in that area. One benefit of having such a long hiking career is that I’ve been able to accumulate a healthy list of gear items that can accommodate a variety of weather conditions. This will allow me to cut ounces by swapping items in and out between mail drops and drop offs from our support crew. Keeping that in mind, when you browse through my gear list remember that items along the trial will be picked up and dropped off and this list is more fluid than rigid.

Starting with my “Big Four”, which is made up of my pack, tent, sleeping bag and sleeping pad, you’ll see this section will account for the mafority of non-food/water weight. My pack is the ULA CDT Pack, which could be swapped out should I need more space in the Sierra’s. Jon and I are splitting the weight of the Big Agnes Copper Spur 2 as our tent. My main sleeping bag, which will change in the Sierra’s as more warmth is needed, will be my Marmot Hydrogen Bag which is rated down to 30 degrees. I’ll be sleeping on the Therm-a-rest NeoAir XTherm which adds some warmth by having a layer of air between me and the ground and is also quite comfortable.

Gary's "Big Four" Items for the Pacific Crest Trail (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s “Big Four” Items for the Pacific Crest Trail (Click for Larger View.)

Moving on to how I’ll cook my meals. I’ll have my pocket rocket stove from MSR along with, typically, an eight ounce fuel can, 2 sporks (because I am notorious spork breaker) and a simple lighter.

Gary's Cooking System for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Cooking System for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

Now that we’ve covered my food preparation let’s talk about hydration. I’ll mostly be carrying two collapsible Platypus bottles for the majority of the trail and supplementing during the long dry spots on the trail with a regular old two liter bottle. My filter will be the Sawyer mini water filter, you can’t beat the ease of use and the weight saving size of that thing!

Gary's Hydration System for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Hydration System for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

Now that we’ve met some of the basic needs along the trail like shelter, food and water we can move on to some of the other items I’ll be carrying inside my pack. Let’s start that off with the navigation and trail essentials I’ll have with me. This includes crucial things like maps, compass, headlamp, first aid and repair kits, my knife and cordage. These are all things we’ll need at some point or another along the way.

Gary's Navigation and Trail Essential for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Navigation and Trail Essential for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

After trail essentials and navigation I’ll have some sanitation and hygiene items along the way. Here is the list of those items.

Gary's Toiletries for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Toiletries for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

Outside of sanitation and trail essentials there are always some items that don’t seem to fit into a certain category, these might be organizational items like stuff sacks and wallets, or personal items like journals and a phone. Here is what I am calling my miscellaneous category, for lack of a better term.

Gary's Miscellaneous Items for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Miscellaneous Items for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

We’ve basically covered all the stuff that I can’t wear, so let’s circle back to those items that can be worn. Firstly, there are the clothing items that will, for the most part, be in my pack. These are situational items such as thermals, jackets, rain gear, beanie, gloves, etc.

Gary's Clothing in Pack for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Clothing in Pack for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

Secondly, there are the items that will serve as my primary clothing pieces. I’ve also included items that will mostly be outside of my pack in this section. These other items are predominantly trekking poles, watch, and eyeglasses.

Gary's Primarily Worn Clothing for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Primarily Worn Clothing for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

Finally, there are those items that we’ll need only as needed. These things include ice axes, snowshoes and bear canisters in the Sierra Nevada area and possible heavier boots, gaiters and crampons should conditions dictate.

Gary's Sierra Nevada and Cold Weather Gear on the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Sierra Nevada and Cold Weather Gear on the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

So that’s it, that’s the first iteration of what I’ll be taking with my on the trail this year. Some items may drop out if I can save some ounces here or there. I’ll leave you with my pack totals as they stand now. Keep in mind, if you are doing the math on your own here that these totals have the weights of the “Clothing Worn” section dropped because it’s a pack total and those items won’t be in my pack, they’ll be on my back.

Gary's Pack Total Weight for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)
Gary’s Pack Total Weight for the Pacific Crest Trail. (Click for Larger View.)

Testing Gear Before the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT)

Long distance hikes are unique because of the fact that they span multiple months and a variety of weather conditions. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is no exception to this rule and because of this it is crucial that those embarking on such a journey as the PCT have tested all their gear ahead of time. Being able to trust your gear when you encounter conditions that call for a certain piece clothing or equipment is imperative to success on thru-hikes.

Recently, the San Diego area received a cold front combined with a wet weather system that created snowy conditions in nearby Mount Laguna. The Mount Laguna area is roughly a 45 minute drive east of San Diego city (still in the county of San Diego) but receives, on average, the most snow fall annually in San Diego County. During this weather system the area received roughly 8 inches of snow over the two day storm. Many city slickers made the drive out to play in the snow after the main system had cleared making the roads in during peak times quite congested. In fact, when we were leaving the area there was still a line of cars approximately 10 miles long spanning from the Mount Laguna general store all the way to the I-8 freeway. Our game plan was to avoid all of these less frequent visitors to the Mount Laguna area (Gary and other family members jointly own a cabin in the area which allows us to go up and play in the area on a regular basis, this also allowed us to find a nice spot off the main roads that wasn’t so congested with hundreds of people fighting for sled runs down a slope that was more mud than snow because of overuse…but I digress). We left San Diego early in the morning and missed the majority of the traffic on the way in, we also had the benefit of this trip being on New Year’s Day meaning most of the city folk probably got a later than normal start on their way out. When we got off the main road and to the cabin, we were the only people in our cabin tract which allowed for some great test runs of the gear we wanted to try out as well as some private sled runs later on.

We wanted to take this snowy opportunity to test out a range of cold weather gear that we may or may not need in the Sierra Nevada region. Gary and Jon have recently purchased new snowshoes and Lora is in the market for them so we definitely wanted to test Those out.

Jon's New PCT Snowshoes
Jon’s new snowshoes which could come in handy if a heavy snow year persists in the Sierra Nevada region.

In addition to this equipment we also got a chance to test a variety of cold weather clothing that was new to some of the Sloggers’ repertoire. In the picture below you’ll find Sloggers Jon and Lora along with support members Steve, Ann, and Sandy checking out some of the winter gear to be tested on the day. These articles included trail crampons, shell pants, snow gaiters, snow shoes, snow baskets on poles, cross country skis, and various jacket combinations to determine effectiveness with moisture balanced with warmth and weight.

San Diego PCT Sloggers Check Out Winter Gear
San Diego PCT Sloggers and Support Members Check Out Winter Gear

The testing of gear went swimmingly as our entire group spent all morning running around in the snow on skis and snowshoes determining what they like and don’t like about each item. The star of the day seemed to be the Hillsound Trail Crampons that we tested. Originally purchased by Jon, they were tested by all the Sloggers and Gary went home and bought a pair that evening.

The only casualty in gear for the day was Jon’s soft shell pants. He purchased them in hopes of being able to wear a lighter shell pants on the trail but the issue was that the material was just a bit too thin and actually snagged and tore in two areas which would be a disaster if that happened on the trail. This is pretty big benefit of testing your gear beforehand, if Jon had taken those pants and had them snag a hole along the way it would have been quite bad for him and trying to stay warm on the trail. Now he has the opportunity to upgrade materials, which will mean slightly more weight, but will be worth it in the long run to have additional heat and weather protection.

All in all, it was a very successful day of cold weather gear testing and fun in the snow for the Sloggers and crew. We always recommend testing any new gear you have purchased with the hopes of taking these items on a long thru-hike.

Jon Throwing A Snowball
Jon “Tests” His Gloves By Hurling A Snowball.
Marissa Defends Herself From Snowball
Marissa Defending Herself From Jon’s Snowball. We’ll Call This “Testing” Her Snow Poles?

Jon’s Initial Gear List

Nowadays, as gear technology continues to advance, it seems as though the mantra “less weight is best” resonates far and wide. With lighter weight often comes heavier cost though, so the trick for someone in most situations (myself included) is to balance the two. How does one maximize functionality but not spend a small fortune doing so? You’ll find in my gear list there is a pretty decent mix of higher end and lower end items to do just that. My mindset is that you spend in the areas that you feel are most important for you along the way and maybe skimp a little on the items you feel like aren’t as vital. Those decisions are left up to you and your personal preferences with the exception of necessities and food/water type items.

I’ve broken my gear list into sections to make it a little easier for me to keep track of what’s what. Keep in mind, as you’re going through everything, some of these items may or may not actually make it onto the trail. Since this is an initial list I am listing just about everything I could be taking should I need them at some point based on the weather conditions we encounter on the trail.

The Big Four

First section we’ll look at is “The Big Four”. This consists of my backpack, Shelter/stakes, sleeping bag and sleeping pad. Basically, everything you need to carry stuff and sleep outside. I have the REI Flash 62, which I got the REI outlet store for a pretty sizable discount making it a deal I just couldn’t pass up. Sure there are lighter packs out there, but for the price I wasn’t going to get one. I’m splitting the weight of the Big Agnes Copper Spur UL2 with another person I’m hiking with so that 25oz. represents roughly half of the weight of everything included with the tent. Sleeping bag and sleeping pads vary in preferences and while these are the two that I decided on after doing my own research based on my needs/wants I recommend doing the same for what you want. There are definitely cheaper options and there are definitely lighter options out there, but these were a nice balance and the XTherm is like sleeping on a cloud. The only downside is the risk of puncture, but it also compresses down nicely for easy packing with little space taken up so I’ll take the risk and a patch kit. Here’s the chart:

the big four
The PCT “Big Four”: Backpack, Tent, Sleeping Bag & Sleeping Pad. (Click image for larger view)

Clothing in Pack

Next, we’ll move on to the secondary clothing items in my pack. Things I won’t be wearing every day, or at least not during the day while I’m hiking. This section includes things like alternate shirts, base layers for cold nights, insulated jackets and rain shells, underwear, socks and a hat. My big ticket item in this group was far and away the Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket, but it’s much lighter and just as warm, if not warmer, than the other options I was considering for a down jacket. Then, when you factor in the fact I found someone selling one for below retail on eBay I couldn’t say no. The rest of the items are all things I found on sale at one time or another, with the exception of the ExOfficio’s (totally worth it though). Here’s what we’re looking at for clothing in the pack:

PCT Clothing in pack: Thermals, shirt, insulated jacket, rain shell, underwear, socks, hat & gloves. (Click image for larger view)
PCT Clothing in pack: Thermals, shirt, insulated jacket, rain shell, underwear, socks, hat & gloves. (Click image for larger view)

Worn or Carried Outside Pack

Since we’ve covered what clothing I’ll be carrying in my pack we might as well go right into what will be worn. There is some overlap here, as expected. I put two different kinds of socks on this section because the weather will really dictate what style I’ll be wearing. Outside of clothing, this list also includes accessories and carried items such as my watch, sunglasses, and trekking poles. Enjoy:

PCT Clothing: Underwear, Shirt, Pants/Shorts, Socks, Shoes, Sunglasses, Hat, Trekking Poles, Watch. (Click image for larger view)
PCT Clothing: Underwear, Shirt, Pants/Shorts, Socks, Shoes, Sunglasses, Hat, Trekking Poles, Watch. (Click image for larger view)

Hydration

Water is an essential part of life, as we all know. So let’s talk hydration on the PCT. I typically like to be able to carry as much as 6 liters of water at any given time, that isn’t to say I’ll always be carrying that amount, but there are stretches where you can end up going 20 miles or more without a watering hole to fill up at. For this reason I have 2 counts of 2 liter platypus collapsible water bottles, my standard 3 liter CamelBak reservoir which fits nicely into my pack which allow me to carry up to 7 liters at a time (I threw in that extra liter for free!). You can get smaller Platypus bottles, but the price is so negligible between the sizes and weights when empty that I just decided the bigger the better, can never have too much water. My filter is the Sawyer Mini Water Filter, which is crazy light and only cost about $25 if I remember correctly. Can’t really beat that for the money, easy to use as well. Here’s the rundown:

Hydration on PCT: Water treatment and water carriers. (Click image for larger view)
Hydration on PCT: Water treatment and water carriers. (Click image for larger view)

Cooking Items

We’ve already touched on water and shelter, so now seems about as good a time as any to talk about how I’m gonna eat for these 5-6 months or so. While I didn’t include food in my gear list, though it will be a necessary added addition of weight, I stuck to my cooking items. Mostly, I’ll be filling up on freeze dried meals as I make my way north. For the cooking of those meals I’m bringing along my MSR Pocket Rocket, will typically have an 8 oz. can of fuel, my handy dandy Light My Fire Spork and my Zippo Lighter. Pretty straight forward:

PCT, Now We’re Cooking: Stove, Fuel, Utensils, Ignition (fire). (Click image for larger view)
PCT, Now We’re Cooking: Stove, Fuel, Utensils, Ignition (fire). (Click image for larger view)

Navigation/Trail Essentials

Now there are a couple schools of thought when it comes to our next section. For some, it’s entirely superfluous and unnecessary. For others, it’s a can’t live without type of thing. Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. I’m talking about sanitation and hygiene. I’ll be taking some items, but certainly not the full gambit of cleaners and goodies that some bring. Here is my list:

PCT Navigation & Essentials: GPS, Compass, Lighting, First Aid, Knife, Cordage, etc. (Click image for larger view)
PCT Navigation & Essentials: GPS, Compass, Lighting, First Aid, Knife, Cordage, etc. (Click image for larger view)

Sanitation and Hygiene

Now there are a couple schools of thought when it comes to our next section. For some, it’s entirely superfluous and unnecessary. For others, it’s a can’t live without type of thing. Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. I’m talking about sanitation and hygiene. I’ll be taking some items, but certainly not the full gambit of cleaners and goodies that some bring. Here is my list:

PCT Sanitation & Hygiene: Toiletries and pleasantries. (Click image for larger view)
PCT Sanitation & Hygiene: Toiletries and pleasantries. (Click image for larger view)

 Miscellaneous Items

This next section is a bit of a mixed bag, so I just went with ‘miscellaneous’ for lack of a better categorical term. Of all the sections I’ve created this is the one most likely to have things possibly left off of it. While it’s unlikely I would leave behind a pack cover, solar panel and definitely not my passport and permits, it is possible that I end up ditching the old school writing devices (although there are few things on this earth like a good pen to paper). I will be carrying the AEE Magicam so we can add videos and pictures as we make our way north. Here is my list of miscellany:

PCT Miscellaneous: Ditty Sack, Pack Cover, Solar Panel, Journal, Pen, Towel, Camera, Permits, Passport, Phone, Wallet, Batteries. (Click image for larger view)
PCT Miscellaneous: Ditty Sack, Pack Cover, Solar Panel, Journal, Pen, Towel, Camera, Permits, Passport, Phone, Wallet, Batteries. (Click image for larger view)

Sierras, Oregon and Washington Items

My final section is that which I may need only seasonally, or in the High Sierras, or really just as weather dictates. These are your typical, ready for anything, types of items. Your shell pants, bear canisters, and heavier mountaineering gear. For most of these items the plan is to send them up to Kennedy Meadows where we will most likely be swapping out for heavier items as weather reports demand:

PCT Cold Weather Gear: Rain/Shell Pants, Ice Axe, Bear Can, Bug Spray, Gaiters, Jacket, Socks, Heavy boots, Crampons. (Click image for larger view)
PCT Cold Weather Gear: Rain/Shell Pants, Ice Axe, Bear Can, Bug Spray, Gaiters, Jacket, Socks, Heavy boots, Crampons. (Click image for larger view)

Total Weights

There you have it, the breakdown for all my different categories of gear one by one. What’s that you say? You want to know some totals? Alright, I get it. What’s my base weight, what’s your cold weather weight, blah blah blah. Well friend, here you go. Some very rough totals. Do keep in mind that these totals include the few duplicate items and other items that may not make the trip with me. So take that with a grain of salt for now, I hope to update everything once we get closer to the trip and then again after completion.

PCT Total Pack Weights. (Click image for larger view)
PCT Total Pack Weights. (Click image for larger view)