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?

Cold Weather Preparation on the PCT

What kind of weather will we have before we start backpacking the Pacific Crest Trail? That is a question we are frequently asked. The amount of precipitation above or below normal for the season and, especially the amount that falls a few months prior to departing, will be a good indicator of the snow levels in not only the Sierra Nevada region but also southern California. High snow levels in the early miles will require extra gear and will slow down anticipated mileage. Most hikers prefer to start in mid-to-late April to avoid this potential early slowing from the border.

With 3 years of extreme drought, thru-hikers may have gotten complacent in their preparation, preferring to leave earlier because previous reports have not indicated a problem during these early weeks. We prefer to leave at an earlier date anyway, but will be watching weather reports to see if snow gear is required even before reaching the Sierras. So far, for the 2 months of the season starting in October, the precipitation in the northern Sierra Nevada is at 18.3 inches or 145% normal! Lake Shasta, in northern California, is still only at 33% normal, but up from 23% three weeks ago after recent heavy rainfall in the area. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have issued a forecast of 75% chance of average or above average precipitation for January to March. Over the last 5 years the organization’s precipitation forecasts have been significantly lower.

El Niño has yet to be declared but remains a high possibility for the coming year. The warmer waters of the Pacific Ocean affect the jet stream causing it to come ashore in California instead of the Pacific northwest, bringing with it moisture and storms. Increased rainfall means more snow on the PCT, more gear worn and in packs for longer stretches, and potentially unprepared hikers. Will we be hiking or snowshoeing in the southern Sierra Nevada? Only time will tell for sure, what is to come, but we will be keeping our cold weather gear close at hand.

Will Snowy Conditions Be More Likely on the PCT This Year?
Will Snowy Conditions Be More Likely on the PCT This Year?