Gear: common gear questions answered.

I was asked about my favorite boots. I’m like the 70-80% of backpackers that hike in either trail shoes or trail runners.

If you really want boots I’d suggest mid-tops over low-tops—they do help keep stuff out of your shoes at least.

I really liked the Hoka One One brand (especially ATRs in a wide) but the PCT surface tears them up.

I’m back to being positive on Moab 3, the new version fixes the quality control issues that crept into the final year’s production of the Moab 2. I wear a 40.5 wide (European sizing).

I’m planning to hike the PCT in Ultra Raptors which are more protected than the La Sportiva Wildcats, come in a wide and have less of a drop (but the same last). Very similar to the Moab, just better and more expensive. I wear a 41.5 wide from La Sportiva.

That said, shoe fit is very individual and personal. What works for me might not work for you. And what works for a couple months may not work long term. I really liked Altras but they threw my knees out.

On the other hand, my wife loves hers and the Olympia is like a Hoka but with zero drop and cuts a boot track in snow better. Altras are a huge favorite of long distance backpackers (to were it is the punch line of a joke. Some people will answer just about any question suggesting Altras and a hammock).

I don’t do much bush crafting. Boy Scouts used to be all about that until population density increased. Now it is anathema in so many places—being replaced with LNT (Leave no trace—shorthand for sustainable outdoors use).

As a result I generally don’t carry a knife and my wife carries one that weighs less than an ounce and is very simple. My wife and I both own Petzel Spatha knives—they just aren’t allowed on airplanes.

Many carry the smallest Swiss Army knife available.

My favorite essential is an alpha direct fleece hoody and a lightheart gear rain coat. Very light. Very warm.

And a polyester baseball cap.

Finally, pack liners are good. Essential even. Everything from Dyneema to garbage sacks.

Five dollars, high tech and is a scent barrier. The current best lightweight bag liner. No need to spend a lot of money. Keeps rain and sun out of your eyes. So much less expensive and so much more waterproof than many. Warm. Light. Not a bad discussion in spite of being affiliate marketing. What real hikers wear. Tiny. Inexpensive. Perfect for long trails. a nice knife, a lot cheaper than many alternatives but like all knives you can’t carry it on an airplane. Comes in blue, yellow and gray.

Off topic: what I’m doing besides preparing for the PCT

I do some other things. I’m part of a group blog. Wheat & Tares. I’m finally working on the Companion volume to the Expert Set. It is only forty years late. 🙂

I’ve a D&D module being produced by Fehu Games.

This fall we will be in Charlottesville, Virginia and I hope to start practicing karate again then.

Covid, moving some and being on the trail has cut into my ability to train in Shotokan though I have done other things (obviously, the backpacking).

And I’m a father and a grandfather. Not everything has to be tragic. Some things can be filled with hope and joy.

Finally, I’m on Facebook at

Anyway. Back to backpacking and hiking posts again for my next post.


Many thru-hikers don’t seem to be aware that the number of thru-hikers is infinitesimally small compared to the number of long trail users overall and that many locations have hikers as a small, small part of what they do.

This is more true of the Appalachian Trail north of Damascus but applies to the Smokies, the Shenandoahs, the Whites and where the trail intersects the NOC.

Compared to the PCT outside of some of the few locations, where the Pacific Crest Trail intersects the towns, the AT has a much larger presence in local communities. This is another difference between the AT and the PCT. The easy way to measure trail’s impact is whether there is a good resupply available.

There are places on the PCT where the trail goes right through and no resupply is available.

For specifics, look at some places on the Appalachian Trail.

The NOC is a whitewater kayak and rafting business. For many it is the first major stop where the hikers are a tiny minority of those passing through. And only 25% of the “thru-hikers” going through that location will finish their hikes.

Both times when we went through the NOC had resupply, a list of shuttle drivers and provided printer access for hikers. However, hikers really aren’t the NOCs focus (though I thought they took good care of hikers).

By the time you get to the Whites (which get more visitors than Yellowstone and Yosemite put together each year) of the millions coming through the Thru-hikers are less than a tenth of a tenth of a percent.

Not only that, but from the NOC to the Whites many of the people using the wilderness areas are repeat visitors while the thru-hikers tend to come only once. Thru-hikers are tourists and the others are the residents.

This comes more into focus especially when you realize the Whites and the AMC were around for scores of years before the Appalachian Trail existed.

Often you will meet people who lack that perspective and think that all of these places exist only for or because of them.

(Though it is important to realize that hikers can be an important source of revenue for many communities, it just isn’t universally true).

The PCT has more trail involved small communities. Though places, like Tuolumne Meadows, and any place without a good resupply have thru/hikers as a sideline and not their significant focus, many are significantly impacted by the trail.

The PCT also has a lot of very active trail angels and trail angel groups.

Ideally, some perspective will help a hiker be grateful rather than entitled, though in my experience most hikers are pretty great types.

Gear: Sit pads.

Many times on the trail it is going to be a little muddy where you want to sit.

The solution is a sit pad.

My first was half a zlite. That is seven ounces. Win and I each had one (and we both gave them away).

A sit pad from Thermarest from a hiker box was next, that was two ounces. While smaller than the half a zlite it is kind of heavy and bulky —not to mention thirty dollars.

Next is the current half ounce iteration.

You can buy them one at a time for under a dollar or in bulk for less than $.75 each.

Soft. Flexible. Waterproof. Bright colors. Packs very small. Seems perfect for keeping my bottom dry while sitting down to eat dinner.

Gear: Camp Shoes

Originally on the Appalachian Trail I carried clone Crocs from Walmart—the ones lighter than the originals.

I walked up to 9–10 miles a day In them, though I usually only wore them at night or for hostels and town stays. AT hostels often require you to take your shoes off.

I would not use them for a water crossing—not secure enough.

They wore out. I picked up some water sandals. I’ve carried them on and off. I used them for water crossings on the Pinhoti Trail.

13.3 ounces

I’ve also done water crossings in my shoes. Just take the socks off (better than leaving them on) and hike on through.

I picked up some replacement Croc-style camp shoes but they were heavy and my feet didn’t like them. They were left, looking sparkly new, in a hiker box.

5.5 ounces

Recently I’ve tried some flip flops. Almost eight ounces lighter. I’ve also tried doing without.

Finally I made some DIY camp shoes.

Really two ounces

Stout enough to wear in a public shower.

Video on how to make camp shoes.

More details on making insole camp shoes

I’m obviously still thinking about it all. But dropping weight is a good thing.

A breakdown of the PCT into its five sections.

There are five distinct sections of the PCT. They are surprisingly different.

  1. “The Desert” or Southern California. This covers from Campo at mile 0 on the border with Mexico to Kennedy Meadows South at about 703. It is really a type of terrain known as high chaparral. Known for long water carries and stunning desert flowers.
  2. “The Sierra”(s) from Mile 703 to South Lake Tahoe at Mile 1092. This has snow for early hikers, water crossings, high passes and some dramatic scenery. It also offers Mt Whitney as a side trip and requires a bear canister through roughly Truckee (which is past the edge of the Sierra section).
  3. Roughly six hundred miles of Northern California. Mile 1092 to mile 1692. I really enjoyed hiking this section though there is a lot of fire damage. The trail is beautiful. Too late in the season and it is also very hot but if you get
  4. The next section is Oregon, which has a calmer beauty and too often mosquitoes. Greener than California but not as dramatic as Washington. I’m glad we hiked this first because on it’s own terms it is beautiful. It is a softer/easier hike than much of the trail and Crater Lake is incredible. This is usually the fastest part of the trail for most hikers.
  5. Washington, where the trail finishes. Miles 2147 to 2650. Many people have this as their favorite part of the trail. It has many sweeping vistas, some real isolation and the northern terminus.

A wiki that describes each section at greater length

About that snow in the Sierra Section

Here is a picture of the snow at the town where we got off. With five more feet coming in the next week there is record breaking snow coming. Yes, this means that right now we are definitely planning on Campo to Lone Pine, then up to Ashland and then to Canada.

From @Snowbrain.

Yes. We have our permits amended for a flip. The PTCA is really good about adjusting permits.

This means that around June 13 we will be back where we were last June. The big difference is there won’t be historic highs for the snow in the north which means that this time Oregon and Washington will probably go as planned.

Our training hikes haven’t had the great weather from last year but we are hoping for almost one good month of practice and training. We may not be in perfect condition but it looks like we are ready for a good start.


We got permits to start NOBO in Campo on April 13. Usually that would be perfect.

The desert looks good right now, with the snow melting just in time.

The Sierra section has record breaking snow. They had to change the comparative charts. closing on 300% of normal besides being the highest snow year ever.

That means dangerous cornice conditions and high flood river crossings. Deep postholing conditions. Until August 1 when it melts.

However, Oregon is a normal year. Close to perfectly average.

Our goal is to head north from Ashland, hit those sections of the trail we missed (Lionshead) and the family reunion, Washington and get to Canada ahead of any fires.

Then we head south. Either from Ashland or from Truckee depending on how we are doing, with the goal of getting Lassen done (it was closed last time) and then getting altitude training.

Then we do the Sierra section starting August 1 (more or less, depending on how the snow melt has gone). This gets us through it before September’s cold weather or the late fall snows.

We are looking for a September 5 or earlier finish so Win can start a locum position on September 15.

I’m looking forward to it.

Then we do a section of the CDT next year and maybe a Camino.

The post trail location we are looking at offers weekend hikes in the Shenandoahs and they have Shotokan and the health club my health insurance covers.

Our class bandana.


Bottom line. The incredible snow continues. Amazingly deep and thick snow.

The positives are the desert section should have more wildflowers than ever, and trail reports have the snow already melting off in the south.

In addition, there is a place to flip to (had the heavy snow hit the entire trail that could have been a problem). Coincidentally it works with our plan from last year that didn’t work.

Should be memorable and a great experience.

Appalachian Trail and PCT differences.

I was responding to an AT hiker who was going to do the PCT and wanted to know the differences.

The following are points I made that are different than the usual lists you will see. I’m pretty sure he had seen all of those.

  • Instead of social gatherings at shelters the social gatherings occur in towns.
  • Resupply tends to be a little further apart once you leave the desert. You also often have to go a lot further off trail to get to resupply.
  • There are a lot fewer privies. And the few shelters on the PCT are only suitable for emergency use.
  • On a SOBO stretch we would pass 50-60 NOBOs a day and they were all sure they were pretty much alone. People tend to think they are a lot more isolated than they are.
  • We only had a very few times outside of towns where we camped with a lot of other people.
  • It is very hard to find a tree for a good bear hang.
  • There are many more water crossings.
  • On the AT I finally quit carrying sunglasses. On the 1600 miles we did on the PCT we used sunglasses regularly.
  • On the AT a short sleeve t-shirt did me for most of the trail. On the PCT I live in a sun hoody.
  • On the AT everyone is a purist. On the PCT it is more about “continuous footpath” and blue blazes are fine.
  • The PCT also has a lot more altitude —much, much more trail above 4,500 feet.
  • I thought the water carry in Pennsylvania was long. Then we got to the PCT. The PCT has a lot of long water carries.
  • The most elevation we climbed in a day on the AT was around 4,800 feet. The most on the PCT was over six thousand feet—though we took twenty miles to do it so the AT was steeper, we just did shorter miles.
  • The trail is better trail in a lot of ways (or why we could do twenties readily) but the surface is rougher (tore up my Hokas which I really liked on the AT).
Hiking shorts on sale at Costco. I found I wanted shin protection more on the PCT but hiked in shorts anyway.

I know that isn’t the usual list of differences between the trails, but it is the differences that stuck out to me and that I think of as useful to keep in mind.

Typical list of differences

Appalachian vs. Pacific Crest Trail
  • The PCT is open to both hikers and horses (note the horse people do trail maintenance ++++).
  • More gradually graded, easier tread
  • Almost no shelters (and, as I note above, the shelters are really emergency only, not terribly useful).
  • Goes through more extreme environments
  • Longer days and miles between re-supplies
  • Due to the easier tread way and more gradual grade, (hikers) tend to do more miles per day on the PCT than the AT
  • Narrower window of hiking. Can’t start much earlier than mid-late April or you will hit (too) much snow in the High Sierras. Finish much past October 1st (or even around), and you will more than likely have a snowstorm in the Cascades. Reverse problems for south bounding (PCT SOBOs typically start in June)
  • Fewer people attempting to thru-hike the PCT per year than the AT.
  • Higher completion rate of the PCT due to more experienced hikers on the PCT overall (though, that is changing rapidly)
  • Typically, if you did the AT in 6 mos, you will finish the PCT in 5 mos. If you did the AT in 5 mos, you will finish the PCT in 4 mos
  • Or to put it another way, you tend to do five miles per day more on your hiking days on the PCT than the AT. A person who averaged 15-20 MPD hiking on the AT will typically average 20-25 MPD on the PCT.
  • If you were already in good shape when you did the AT, used to longer hiking days and used light gear, probably won’t notice much difference. Most ATers typically spend more time both in camp and towns vs a PCT hike as well.
  • Miles per day typically goes up after the High Sierra
  • Fewer towns..but the town stops tend to be more expensive. Call it a wash vs the AT.
  • An average thru-hike costs ~$1200 per month. (Food is just more expensive but there are fewer town stops and fewer hostels).
  • Most aspiring thru-hikers of the PCT have a few key concerns. Typically they involve desert hiking (sun exposure, heat, water situation), travel through the High Sierras (ice axe use, bear canister regulations, snowfield travel), and re-supply.

Gear: New bear canister

This was a gift from my wife:

It is about two cups less in volume than a BV500 (did the fill with water and pour from one to the other).

We now have four BV 500s, one Garcia, a Bearikade and one on the way. Enough to equip the whole family with bear canisters.

I just needed to pick up some more stickers.

So. We had the Garcia. Bought two used BV 500s for the PCT as they are larger and lighter.

Realized it was cheaper to rent if you had no mailing expenses.

Then they moved the bear canister boundaries while we were out so we bought two BVs in Truckee.

Then Win/Happy/Six decided I needed a Bearikade to save the ten ounces and because.

I had some money saved and just couldn’t face her not having the best so I bought her one.

That makes seven bear canisters —but we have two kids, one husband and two grandkids so now everyone has a canister of their own. 😄😄.

I’m pleased. I couldn’t justify the expense but I feel very pampered by the gift.

And by her. (Bluebell picture from our short walk today).

Not a lot of detailed thought in this post. We have some tall gaiters coming but also look to be flipping around the snow so we may not need them.

Tommie Copper calf sleeves are out of stock everywhere. It is strange. Walmart, for example has all their products except the calf sleeves.

Looking at going with only shorts again but not sure. Calf sleeves really make a difference.

Off-topic—thoughts for Sunday reflection.

Denunciation of the Scribes and Pharisees (Mk 12:38–40; Lk 11:37–54) Matthew 23

1Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and his disciples, 2saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit upon Moses’s seat. 3Therefore, do everything they tell you and observe it, but do not act according to their works. They do not do what they teach.

4They bind together heavy burdens that are difficult to bear and then lay them on the shoulders of others, but they are not willing to lift a finger to move them.

5Every work that they perform they do to be seen by others. They broaden their phylacteries and enlarge the fringes of their robes.

6They love to have the prominent places at dinners and the first seat in the synagogues 7and to be greeted at the markets and to be called ‘Rabbi.’

Matthew 23:1-7

Worth introspection.

Easy enough to criticize others but introspection often is better focused within.

In context

“The worst sinners, according to Jesus, are not the harlots and publicans, but the religious leaders with their insistence on proper dress and grooming, their careful observance of all the rules, their precious concern for status symbols, their strict legality, their pious patriotism…

…the haircut becomes the test of virtue in a world where Satan deceives and rules by appearances.”

By Hugh Nibley