"What will you carry?"
What do you take with you when you embark on a 2,650-mile walk in the woods? A good question with a simple, yet not easy answer: ‘only what is important.’
I learned a great deal on my first hike of two PCT sections in Washington a few years back – my first ever backpacking adventure. I come from Ontario and a family of campers. In Ontario, we paddle canoes and do short backpacking stints over portages – or at least that is what my family did – and my outdoor gear was well suited to that type of activity. A heavy canvas backpack ideal for throwing into and out of canoes, a fair-weather sleeping bag, a standard 2-man tent and a whole lot of paraphernalia that seemed useful and lightweight, but which settled to the bottom of the backpack, never to see daylight over the two weeks of my hike, but were on continuous replay on my mental screens as I struggled under their collective weight. I lived to tell the tale, and a very good lesson was learned: the less kit you have, the more fun the hiking is. Full stop.
The other thing I learned from my Washington hikes came from a thru-hiker I met on the trail. He was in his mid-20’s and knew a lot about life. I listened to him all the same when he said to me: “you carry what you fear.” I thought about this a great deal as I looked at my excessively over-weighted pack. I must admit, after living the last quarter-century in the Caribbean, the one thing I fear the most is being cold. I am hoping that our trek through the desert will allow me the time to climatise to the mountain snow. But hope isn’t a plan and many of my choices here have been built on my fear. I can always switch stuff out in towns.
As far as packing lists go, there are a ton of them available online, and as with everything you find on the www, some of it is useful advice and some of it is not. I hope that I have been able to ascertain which is which.
Basically, the requisite gear is broken down into five categories:
2. Sleep system
4. Everything else
Goodbye heavy canvas bag and hello Gossamer Gear Mariposa! I purchased this pack for my second Washington hike and I can tell you, the only way to compare this genius piece of kit to my rugged camping backpack is “chalk and cheese.” Super lightweight, perfectly balanced and great access pockets. I have hiked almost 200 miles with this pack, which is enough for me to know whether we were going to be friends for life or not. We are.
The Gossamer Gear Mariposa backpack
The Sleep System
The items on this list: tent, sleeping bag and mattress. I don’t know about you, but one thing I have always held is a firm belief in good sleep. I know it if I have not slept well (and perhaps the people around me know it too, and if that is true, I extend apologies for past and future bad behaviour). So, for me, I am happy to carry a little extra weight and bulk to get that. In my past hikes, I have carried the Big Agnes sleeping pad, but on my last trip it sprung a slow leak and no manner of dousing it in a soapy bath when I got home would reveal the leak’s source, so I am going to invest in a new one.
My Feathered Friends sleeping bag was my big indulgence a few years ago. Every once in a while, I pull it down from the closet’s top shelf, just to wrap up in it. It is one of my favourite possessions and I think this love affair will continue to grow over next summer. I will purchase a sleeping bag liner as well, which will give me more warmth as well as be easier to launder, because I am pretty picky about keeping my stuff clean. One person I hiked with on the trail in 2018 gave me the trail name “Mrs Clean.” Hmm.
I did manage to pick up this incredible Big Agnes Fly Creek tent, which is a 2-man tent but is still lighter than many singles. This also has a couple hundred hiking miles on it and weighing in at 1 pound, 10 ounces, it will definitely be coming with me on this trip.
Here is the list of clothing I will carry and the brand names of the items I currently have. I will update this list periodically as I purchase things. Also, some of these things will be traded out depending on the location I am in (i.e. desert versus mountains, or full summer versus late fall).
Rain poncho - Zpacks
Rain pants - Zpacks
Long-sleeved button-up shirt
Base layer shirt
2nd layer shirt
Pants with zip-out shorts - Prana
Wool socks & sock liners (X3)
Puff jacket - Eddie Bauer Pertex Quantum
Windbreaker - Cotopaxi
Hiking shoes - Altra Lone Peaks
Gaitors - Dirty Girl
Headband - Buff
These are the other random things that I will need/want. I am seriously considering a small drone, to help document this adventure. What do you think? Should I carry one and produce a documentary of the experience?
Small mesh bag for electronics (I like things to be organised in my pack, not drifting to the bottom)
Charger - Anker
Phone - Samsung Note 9
Emergency call system - InReach/Garmin (A must-have, with a paid subscription)
Hiking poles - Vorosy Carbon
Pillow - Sea to Summit Aeros Ultralight (What did I say about sleep?)
Towel - 12” X 19” microfibre (Quick-dry, all purpose)
Maps - NatGeo/HalfPeak (Essential survival gear. Will pick up in ‘bounce boxes’ along the trail)
Compass - (Essential survival gear)
Toothbrush/toothpaste (Cut the handle off to save weight)
Toilet paper (Take the cardboard tube out)
1/3 green scrubbie (Handy for cleaning the cooking pot)
Non-scented, biodegradable soap (Non-scented because of bears. Never wash directly in a water source)
Knife/utility tool (essential survival gear)
Insect repellant - Deet
Parachute cord 100’ (For hanging food in high places – anti-bear/critter. Essential survival gear)
First aid - Basic kit, but must fit in a 5” X8” baggie (bandages/pads, ibuprofen, antibiotics, antihistamines, tweezers, safety pins, needle/thread, rubbing alcohol, nail clippers)
Cat hole trowel (Don’t know what a 'cat-hole' is?
Pee cloth - Kula Cloth (An anti-bacterial alternative to toilet paper for pee)
Dry compression sacks X 2 (For keeping clothes and sleeping bag tightly compressed to reduce size and keep things dry)
Ice axe (Sierras only)
Crampons (Sierras only)
PCT hiking permit
Mobile keyboard (I am considering this as an alternative to journal and pen. Works with my phone)
Credit card/passport/vac card
I have put this category last, as I will create a separate blog post about it. Food supply is one of the most complicated aspects of planning my trip, as I am committed to eating healthy and will not be one of those hikers who lives on tortilla chips and Snickers bars.
I am also partial to hot food and while some hikers forego the weight of a stove and fuel to eat all cold meals, that would not make me happy. I want hot coffee in the morning.
Stove - JetBoil
Bear Canister (Sierras only)
Water bottles (X3) - SmartWater (Seriously! Ultralight and easy to replace)
Looseleaf tea bag - Homemade!
Water purification system - Sawyer Squeeze
Back-up water purification - LifeStraw
Water bladder - Camelback
This list looks so long! But, it does indeed fit into a 60L backpack, with lots of room to spare. The dry compression sacks are lifesavers for my sleeping bag and clothes. Because of my fear of being cold, I am willing to go heavier on the compression sacks being dry bags, as I don’t want to sleep in a wet sleeping bag. Ever.
What do you think of the list? Leave your comments below.
Note: This is a list of my personal gear, which I have purchased myself. I am not receiving any endorsements from any of the products I have mentioned here